On this last trip, we crossed the Mediterranean sea from the south coast of France to the north coast of Africa and back again. We sailed for 30 days, and encountered a variety of conditions from dead calms to 35 knots of breeze and everything in between. We were at anchor for 29 nights and in a marina for 2 nights, and since it’s just over 1 year since we took delivery of Wildling, we are still learning how she behaves in different situations. Here are a few things we learned on this trip:
We need storm sails
The current sailplan is great up to about 30 knots, but over that things get out of balance. Since I posted about the sailplan balance, I have been in contact with the Outremer factory and with Philippe Escalle at North Sails in Marseille. I’m closer to a decision about changes to our sailplan, and I’ll cover that soon in another post.
Our anchor seems a bit undersized
We have a 35 kg Spade anchor, which if you follow the sizing guidelines published by Spade is the correct size for our boat. Our Spade set and held well in most conditions, but during this trip I had two issues with the Spade.
- In shallow water (5-8 meters) if the scope is less than 4:1 it will not set. This is part of the design of the Spade, and it makes it very easy to retrieve, but in crowded anchorages, 4:1 is sometimes a bit difficult to achieve as there’s not enough room to swing.
- We had an experience where at 5:1 scope in shallow water on a sand bottom the anchor would creep backwards in gusts over 25 knots.
There’s a lot of windage on the 5X, and it is lighter than most boats of the same size, so maybe sizing the anchor based on boat length and weight alone is not sufficient. If I go through the sizing process with a Rocna anchor it tells me I need a 55 kg anchor for our boat. The Rocna and the Spade are very similar designs, so I’m not sure why there is so much difference in their sizing recommendations. Rocna says their sizing is conservative and is based on 50 knot winds and moderate holding bottoms, so perhaps that’s the difference. In any case, I feel like we need to go up to at least a 45 kg Spade for our primary anchor and I’m inclined to go to 55 kg to be safe. I need to do more research on this and also see if I can fit a larger anchor on our bow roller.
One engine is usually enough
I experimented more with engine speeds and combinations during this trip, as we had a few days of dead calms and some days of very light headwinds where we had to motor. There is not much difference between running one and two engines. Here’s what I recorded in calm conditions:
- single engine at 1,900 rpm = 5 knots
- single engine at 2,500 rpm = 5.8 knots
- both engines at 1,900 rpm = 6 knots
- both engines at 2,500 rpm = 7 knots
If we add the sails and use the apparent wind created when motoring, we pick up an extra 0.5 to 1 knot, so even with one engine at 1,900 we were doing 6+ knots most of the time. I found 1,900 rpm to be the best setting for our engines as they are running smoothly with no vibrations and are quiet, and they use much less fuel. We used less than 1 tank of diesel per engine for our entire trip.
Don’t arrive in “unknown” destinations at night
We crossed into Tunisian waters late at night, and spent a lot of energy and stress avoiding fishing boats before reaching land at sunrise. It would have been better to time our arrival for the afternoon, when there are few other craft around, and visibility is much better. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but I could have planned better on this trip.
Furl the gennakers by hand
Our Code-0 and Code-D gennakers are removable sails that attach to a continuous line furler on the bowsprit. The furling line is run back to the cockpit and can be driven by a winch, but I have found using the winch to furl and unfurl is not a good system. It’s too easy to put too much stress on the furler, the sail and the halyard when furling, and its more difficult to unfurl at the correct speed when unfurling. When the join in our continuous furling line was damaged by too much winch force, I started doing it by hand, and found it was very easy to operate and worked much better than using the winch. The sails also furled much more cleanly and evenly when furling by hand.
I also rigged a pulley block in the cockpit to keep constant tension on the end of the continuous furling line. This made it much easier to operate the furler by a single person. I’ll post some photos of how this works soon.
Carry more spares
I’m still organizing my spare parts inventory, and didn’t have the things I needed to fix a few of the problems we had onboard. Both of our pump issues (seawater and shower drain) could have been easily fixed if I had some spare parts. There are very few places to buy parts once you leave the mainland, so we had to go the entire voyage without some of our systems working.
We love our boat
I know I write a lot about problems we have, but the fact is, we really love our boat and we trust her more and more as we get to know her better. A 59 foot catamaran is big, and it’s pretty cool that a regular family can sail her without the need of a large or professional crew. We got a lot more practice at sail-handling maneuvers of all types on this voyage: reefing, gybing, tacking, raising, lowering, furling, helming, etc. and it was great to see how well we were working together as a team by the end of the trip as we all learned our roles for each maneuver. This was also the first trip where both Lindsay and Gavin were doing night watches (2 hours for Lindsay and 3 hours for Gavin), which gave Robin and I a lot more sleep during passages.
Although Wildling is not a difficult boat to sail, it is really important to think through each maneuver, anticipate conditions and be conservative when cruising as a family. The forces onboard this boat are massive, and you can do a lot of damage very quickly if you’re not careful!
In a previous post I described what happened to us when we were sailing in northern Sardinia, and how the extreme helm pressure required to head up into the wind caused the rudder linkages to slip on the rudder shaft. The rudder slipping was a symptom of a sailplan balance issue. In this post I will explain what happened and what we can do to fix it.
Our current sailplan is unbalanced in strong conditions
A balanced sailplan is important. In basic terms, we need to have the force that’s trying to turn the boat into the wind, balanced by the force that’s trying to turn the boat away from the wind. The mainsail is behind the center of the boat, so when the wind blows from the side, it will push on the mainsail and rotate the bow upwind (this effect is called weather helm). The headsail (jib) is forward of the center, so the wind blowing on the headsail will push the bow downwind (lee helm). If these forces are not balanced, the rudder must be used to counter the unbalanced force and keep the boat moving in a straight line. Rudder pressure acts as a brake and slows the boat down, so unbalanced sailplans are not efficient, and create more work for the helm and autopilot.
Here’s a good article that explains weather helm and lee helm and the importance of a balanced sailplan.
Most boats are well designed, and their sails are balanced in most conditions. Wildling is like this, she is a very balanced boat, requiring virtually no rudder pressure to keep her sailing straight. Our last boat was not well balanced and had too much pressure from the mainsail, so she kept trying to steer up into the wind.
The problem becomes how to keep these forces balanced as the sailplan changes. On Wildling this is a problem when we reef the mainsail without changing the headsail. As the mainsail is reefed, it gets smaller, so the force pushing the bow to the wind gets less. Since the headsail hasn’t changed, it’s force starts to overcome the mainsail and we have the bow constantly turning away from the wind. If the wind gets strong enough, the amount of rudder pressure required to point up into the wind becomes considerable. If we reef the jib, the problem gets even worse, because we move the force on the bow forward, so it has a greater lever effect. This is what happened to us in Sardinia.
The solution is simple, and is what Outremer recommends: When the mainsail is reefed, you switch to a smaller headsail positioned further back towards the mast. In this configuration it’s possible to keep a balanced sailplan upwind in winds up to 45 knots.
Wildling was built to have the staysail and storm jib added, but I haven’t ordered them yet, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to incorporate them into the sailplan along with our self tacking jib (which I LOVE by the way).
On the other 5X boats I have seen that have staysails, they have the inner sail setup on the auto-tacker, and a genoa that tacks manually around the staysail. Like this:
But on Wildling, we don’t want the staysails to interfere with the self-tacking jib, so we need a way to rig them when necessary that isn’t too onerous in strong conditions, and I would really like to be able to disconnect the sheets from the jib and connect them to the staysails, so we can autotack on all of the headsails. I’m not exactly sure how we will do all of this, so I’m going to work with the Outremer factory to see if we can find a good solution.
So although the rudder slipping problem was a hassle at the time, it was very easy to fix, and it helped me see clearly how important it is that we add a staysail and storm jib to our sailplan!
We had very light winds on our passage back to France, so we had to motor a fair bit. The sea was perfectly calm though, which made for a very relaxing passage.
We stopped in at Bandol this morning to get some diesel since we were getting pretty low, then we continued on to La Ciotat where we will stay the rest of the day today and will continue on to Marseille tomorrow.
No wind forecast again tomorrow, so more motoring required, but we have to be back on Sunday before the Mistral arrives on Monday. We will try and stop for lunch at one of the calanques near Cassis on the way.
It’s our last night in Corsica. Tomorrow morning we begin the voyage back to Marseille and soon we will return to life on land, which makes me sad.
Robin tells me that Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom were on a super yacht in Sardinia this month, and judging by the huge number of super yachts we saw while in Sardenia, it is certainly the trendy thing to do, but let me tell you, Sardinia has nothing on Corsica. Sardenia is OK, don’t get me wrong, but Corsica is WAY better.
Here are some of the things we found in Corsica that we thought were better than Sardinia:
The huge variety of beautiful countryside, the excellent wine, the friendly people, the beer, the olives!!! (Just kidding, Sardinia has great olives too 🙂 The beautiful beaches, no mooring police! No hooligan boat drivers trying to run us over! The great food (Corsica belongs to France after all!)
We loved Corsica and will be coming back for sure!
We left Sardinia yesterday, and had two perfect days of sailing up the west coast of Corsica. Winds were 8-12 knots and we were close reaching a little under the true wind speed.
Aside from the rolly sea between Sardinia and Corsica, the water was very calm. Ideal sailing conditions!
We decided to spend our last few days in Corsica at Sargone beach, about halfway up the west coast of the island. The wind is forecast to start blowing 30+ knots in the northern part of the island this afternoon, so we will wait here until it calms down a bit before sailing back to the French mainland.
As usual, while I was writing this post in our peaceful anchorage, some dude shows up and decides he has to anchor RIGHT NEXT to us, while there’s plenty of space all around. This happens so often that Robin and have started placing bets on how close someone is going to get to us.
We left Tunisia on Friday morning, after making a donation to the border police’s drinking fund! We had a nice sail back to Sardenia with fair winds and smooth seas. We decided to stop for the night on Saturday after making it to the NE coast of Sardinia. Strong westerly winds 25-30 knots were forecast to arrive by midnight, and we decided we didn’t want to deal with those until morning.
This morning was dead calm so we motored for a while until we rounded the cape and hit the westerlies. By 2pm we had gusts up to 35 knots, and since they were forecast to drop early the next morning, we decided to find shelter for the night (again) before heading across the straight between Sardinia and Corsica.
And then the fun began!!!
We had a double reefed main and single reefed jib and we were scooting along at 10+ knots, then when I went to turn to starboard to tack, the boat would not come up into the wind. Damn!
I tried everything I could think of to turn us, but the helm would not respond. I turned on the port engine, furled the jib and tightened the mainsheet to create some weather helm, but nothing worked. The 30 knots of pressure against us was too much. We were fast running out of room and we had to either tack or bear off before we hit the coast.
The last thing to try was to drop the mainsail and use the engines to turn us. Since we were at 45 degrees to the wind, I had Robin put the traveler down to leeward and I rotated the mast. We could then drop the main and I was finally able to get turn us to starboard using the engines, but the steering was all messed up! I could turn just to port but not at all to starboard.
I aimed us at the right hand side of the anchorage, which was jam packed with boats, so I could turn up to port and try and find a place to anchor. We found a spot inside the mooring field between two super yachts. As we moved into position, the mooring field police came up in their Zodiac to tell us we were not allowed to anchor here. I told them I had no choice because we have lost our rudder. I would need to anchor long enough to fix it and the we would move.
After illegally anchoring, I worked on the rudder problem and found the rudder linkage had slipped on the rudder shaft, so full starboard helm was giving us a centered rudder! No wonder we had problems. I thing the rudder linkage was not tight enough, so I realigned everything and tightened it up REALLY well. With our steering restored we could relocate out of the super yacht moorings, which made the mooring police dudes very happy!
The winds should calm down tonight so we will be able to continue on to Corsica tomorrow.
We arrived in Tunisia early this morning. It was a pretty uncomfortable sail across from Sardenia because we had wind at 15 knots off the port bow and we were close hauled the whole trip, punching into the now all too familiar short, steep waves of the Mediterranean Sea. I found that slowing us down to around 8.5 knots made the ride a bit more comfortable than bashing into the waves at high speed. This required a double reefed mainsail and single reefed jib. Wildling was perfect the whole trip!
There was a lot of boat traffic as we approached the African coast around midnight, and we had one scary incident where we were chased by a fishing boat during Gavin’s watch. I took the helm as the boat came alongside us and started shining his spotlight on us. I changed course multiple times and he kept turning with me. Then I jibed and bore off quickly in the opposite direction and he eventually broke off and went back to whatever he was doing. It was pretty scary and made us realize how vulnerable we are, just a family of four people on a sailboat!
Robin and I didn’t get any sleep after that, as we were dodging around fishing trawlers and tankers all night, but we had no other issues. It was a relief to see the sun rise as we entered the Gulf of Tunis with no other boats around and a short 15 mile sail over to the Gammarth Marina.
The marina is essentially brand new and the people here are very friendly. It’s also a relief to be able to speak French again after all our language struggles in Italy! It’s hot and humid here, so everyone on board was happy to plug into the shore power and fire up the air conditioning. The first time we’ve needed to run it this year!
We cleared into the country of Tunisia with the help of the border police and customs officials who both have offices at the marina. The process was quick and easy, with just a small “tax” payment required to complete the affair.
Tomorrow we have arranged for a guide and driver to take us into the capital city of Tunis.
We are at the south eastern tip of Sardinia tonight after a perfect 55nm day sail. We motored for about an hour this morning until the winds reached 6 knots, and then we sailed the rest of the day in SE winds at 6-7 knots and calm seas. We had the main and code-0 up and were doing about half a knot under true wind speed at 38-40 AWA. A very relaxing day!
We leave tomorrow morning for Gammarth Tunisia, which is just north of the city of Tunis. It’s about 150 nautical miles and winds will be light and coming from the direction we’re headed so it might be a slow journey. We’re a bit nervous about visiting Tunisia given the recent strife, but other folks we have talked with who have been there recently say it is really nice, and they had no problems. It will be amazing to sail to the north coast of the continent of Africa!
Problems in Ajaccio
We left Ajaccio on Tuesday. To keep on schedule we want to get to Tunisia by the middle of the month, so we had to keep moving. Things didn’t go so well for us in Ajaccio, our port engine driven 110 Amp Mastervolt alternator that charges our main lithium battery bank stopped working. Outremer arranged for parts to be sent to Ajaccio for us, so we waited there 3 extra days, but they never arrived and we needed to keep going, so we had to leave without them. Our starboard alternator is working fine, and pretty much all our power needs are handled by the solar panels and the hydro generator, so it’s not a huge issue to be without half our engine charging capacity.
We had an accident at the Ajaccio fuel dock before we left. I was pulled up well forward of the dock and we had the fuel fill hoses extended out to top up our tanks, when a power boat came in behind us and lost control of his boat in a wind gust and smashed his anchor into the back of our transom. The damage isn’t severe, but we exchanged insurance info and he called his insurance company to tell them it was his fault. We will have to deal with the repairs and claims once we get back to Marseille.
This accident happened the day after Gavin and I had to push off another boat that was about to run into us in the anchorage as they were pulling up their anchor. It’s just too crowded here and too many of the people have very little experience.
We stopped on Tuesday night in another crowded anchorage 20 miles south of Ajaccio, and after having to adjust our rode twice during the night so other boats wouldn’t swing into us, we decided we had had enough of crowded Corsica and it was time to move on to Sardinia.
The passage to the NE coast of Sardinia involves traversing the Bonifacio straight which was pretty sporty as we had 25 to 30 knot winds and 3m seas. We had a very fast sail over to Sardenia and found a nice anchorage just south of the islands.
Another 25 knot wind from the NNE yesterday brought us to Porto Frailis on the SE coast of Sardenia. It’s one of the only anchorages we could find that gives protection from northerly winds. We are staying here an extra day as it’s blowing a gale from the north again today. The strong winds have given us some excellent, fast sailing days, but the crew is getting a bit tired of all the motion.
Things that have broken
Ocean cruising boats have literally thousands of systems and components and for the most part everything works great, even in such a harsh environment of wind, motion and salt water. But stuff breaks all the time and that’s just part of the experience when cruising. The trick is to have enough spares, tools and MacGuyver skills to fix or work around the problems as they occur.
I’ve really benefited by talking to other sailors about problems they have experienced and how they solved them, so I’ll do the same and list the problems we encounter on Wildling as we go along.
Mastervolt alternator failure. I’ve already talked about this, see above.
Sea water pump failure. The pump stopped working because the internal pressure switch broke. I can’t find a replacement switch so this remains out of action until we get back to France.
Starboard shower drain pump failure. It looks like the pump got stuck and the nylon gears stripped out. There was nothing unusual about how we were using the pump so it’s a fault in the pump. We can’t get a replacement until we get back to France so we are all sharing the port side shower.
The water level gauge in the port fresh water tank is broken, it constantly reads 100%. I will need to get Outremer to look at this as it’s the second time it has happened.
The top batten on the mainsail has snapped at the back of the fitting that attaches to the mast track. This is not a new problem, I think it happened during the Outremer cup, but I didn’t realize the issue until yesterday. We can still sail but I’m a bit worried about why it happened and how we can fix it to be sure it won’t happen again. We will have to talk to Incidences, the company that made the sail.
Getting Ready for Tunisia
Corinne, our guest for the last week, is leaving tomorrow morning to go back to London. She has been a lot of fun to have on board and we will miss her a lot!
Once the winds ease a bit we will continue on to Tunisia. It looks like the weather will be good the next few days, so we will hopefully leave tomorrow.
We arrived in Ajaccio this afternoon. The sailing today was perfect! Winds 18 to 20 knots true at 50 degrees apparent. The forecast was for 20 knots by 10am, but as we left at just after 10, it was only 5 knots. The forecasts in the Med are pretty accurate though, so we raised the sails with 1 reef in the main and full jib and sure enough, within 30 minutes we had 18 knots just forward of the beam. We spent a very fun couple of hours between 10 and 12knots boat speed.
After leaving Calvi we stopped in an anchorage under some cliffs, just west of Porto for a night, and then spent the next night off the beach in Sagone. The Porto anchorage was very deep and very rocky. We arrived as it was getting dark, which was not great because we couldn’t tell where the rocks were. We took a guess, dropped the anchor, and then I had Gavin shine a flashlight into the water while I snorkeled around the boat. The water was so clear, that I could see a lot of big boulders around us but they were deep enough that we weren’t in any danger of hitting them.
Tonight we are in a very crowded anchorage just beside the port of Ajaccio. It’s deep again. We are anchored in 17m which is right at the limit of our 50m of chain. I really should have ordered 75m of chain when I purchased the boat, 50 is not enough. I do have more nylon rode attached to the chain, but it’s not very useful because I can’t attach the bridle to it.
There are a lot of boats in this anchorage, squeezed in like sardines, and they have been arriving steadily all afternoon. I suspect many are looking for a refuge from the 25-30 knot winds forecast for the next few days. It seems pretty calm in the anchorage, but the winds are swirling around and everyone is swinging all over the place. It’s a bit of a worry because in deep anchorages like this with lots of boats, there’s more likelihood of someone swinging or dragging into us.
We are going to a restaurant tonight for Robin’s birthday celebrations, and we are very excited to have Corinne, a family member from Australia joining us on Sunday, for the rest of the trip down Corsica and then to the south end of Sardinia.