Currently we are in Palermo Marina, Sicily, waiting on a few spare parts after our bow thruster decided to choose for an early retirement. Giving me a little time to reflect on what we thought we were going to do in the spring of this year and how our plans have kept on changing on an almost weekly basis for some good reason or other.
Spring 2021 was a great time for us to order and install all of equipment that we thought was necessary for the comfort of our long term adventure. This has been done with various degrees of success and overall we are pleased with our choices, some more than others, but more details of this later.
Our key objective after 5 months in Brest was to get away from the rain and cold and find the sun and warmer weather. When you need full ocean proof clothing with several layers to keep you warm, it is difficult to imagine being in your swim wear while sailing. Now in Palermo, we sit in 35-40 deg. C, with the perspiration dripping down our bodies, we hunt for shade and a cool breeze to keep life tolerable ! We also sail in our swim wear, so I think we can safely say that our major objective was attained.
We thought, originally to sail from Brest to Gibraltar, then to Cagliari in Sardinia and onto Venice (Plan was about 2-3 weeks) and then spend the rest of our summer working our way down through Croatia and Greece.
By the time we had reached Cagliari we were quite worn out and we had also said goodbye to additional crew who supported our night passages and assisted with our sailing. We wanted to “slow down” – I am retired after all and have time on my hands. So we decided to make a circumnavigation of Sardinia and then head off to Sicily.
With this decision we chose to “do it ourselves” and perform all the navigation, watches and activities without any additional assistance from other crew. We wanted to be sure that we are independent and competent in all situations.
We developed our own routines and learnt how to anchor the boat safely, how to moor up in a “Mediterranean Style” and how to find sleep when needed.
What massive learning again and we are so much more confident and able than we were before.
The equipment that has helped us significantly include:
1) Motorised in-mast furling – this has worked so well in many different conditions. We have not had any problems with the sail jamming and our sails have never looked better. When the wind picks up or drops off, it is so easy to increase or reduce the sail area at the touch of a button and single handed. In anticipation of increasing winds we easily reef in advance for safety and when the wind drops we can quickly increase the sail area for maximum speed
2) The Desalination System has allowed us to make as much fresh water as we need, so we can spend more time at anchor without the need to go to port. We have had some difficulty with the filters and sometimes sucking enough water while sailing, but we have got used to the system and it is working quite well. In the winter, when the boat will be taken out of the water for cleaning, we will improve the water inlet to allow better water making while sailing.
3) The solar panel, which we originally thought too big is actually insufficient to give us all of our electricity needs. We are very happy with its contribution as it greatly reduces the time required for running the generator. It is such a pleasure to see the input current from the solar panel being greater than the draw on the battery capacity and for most of the day it is like this.
Unfortunately, at night the current draw is the same and our batteries get close to the minimum safe charge levels. We are discussing whether to go for 2 panels and a large bank of Lithium Batteries that would truly make us independent – it is just the cost is considerable!
4) The ultrasonic antifouling system has been installed, but it is a little early to judge if the system works and is a success. I do have some small weed growth on my hull, but what would it have been like if there was no ultrasonic system. ?
I think the key will be to see how it looks at the end of the season and how easy it is to remove any growth with a high-pressure hose at this point.
5) The wifi booster is not a great success at present – all marinas seem to have such poor wifi that there is nothing to boost. What is great is that the 4G is quite amazing and even 10 nm offshore we get a good mobile signal that allows for phone calls, emails and video conferencing whilst on the move. Currently we don’t expect to be out of contact for more than 1-2 night at most, so the system works well for us.
6) Our HydroVane - wind controlled autopilot has been a disappointment to date. Initially the setup was incorrect, so it did not work at all and this created some frustration. Now the setup is correct, but due to the warm summer conditions, there has been little opportunity in the last weeks for long periods of sailing and to really try out the system. The setup and running is supposed to be very easy, but we have not found it so.
We have been “surprised” at the poor quality of the weather forecasting from the major models such as “Predict Wind” and “Windy”. Many time the wind direction is 90 to 180 degrees away from the predicted and either much lower or much greater than expected – making our planning appear to be quite useless and requiring the use of the engine to get us to where we wanted to go within a reasonable time frame. We are not in a rush, but we do prefer to arrive in daylight hours, so there are some constraints with our view of time.
At present we are expecting to set sail for somewhere, either the Aeolian Islands or Ustica – depending on the actual wind direction. From there, we will go to Catania to pickup Ingrid’s sister Jolanda who will join us for the second time.
From there, we don’t actually know where we will go at present, either North, West or South, again depending on the wind. We have discovered that to sail, we need to follow the wind – otherwise we should have bought a motor boat.
We hope to be in Greece for the end of August/beginning of September to meet with Kathy & Jonathan (My sister and brother in law) when they take a holiday in Corfu.
After that there is no plan, other than to find a place to head for the winter, maybe Sicily, Greece, Croatia or Malta; life is quite interesting when there are so many choices. Keep following to see where we end up !
A lot of water has flowed under the hull (almost 2.000 nautical miles) since we started living on our boat in July 2020.
We have managed to sail up to Norway and down the coast of the Netherlands to France and the UK, avoiding the traffic, ferries, container ships, dredgers and anchor areas full of stacked ships. We visited our home port of Cowes on the Isle of Wight - just in time for my mum's 89th birthday, discovered the massive tides and complex currents around the Brittany and Normandy coasts.
Comfort has been generally of a good level, though there have been more storms than expected in our journey out of north west Europe on our search for the sun.
Being stuck in Brest was also unexpected, though it was not an issue as we had no firm plans. It was an opportunity to finalise other projects and to get to know our boat better.
The major project plans included:
Practice of manoeuvring in the marina for Ingrid (no additional scratches to the boat)
Installation of a solar panel – in process
Installation of an electrical in-mast furling, Selden's SMF system – ongoing
Purchase of an inflatable dinghy – hyperlon type from Highfield, currently in one of our guest cabins staying dry !
Purchase of an E-propulsion electric outboard engine for the dinghy – done
Purchase of an Ultrasonic Antifouling system – waiting on delivery
Purchase of a water maker (salt to fresh water) – pending, but soon
Purchase of a windvane autopilot system – pending, but soon
Enhancement of our 4G and Wifi connectivity through a booster – installed and Wifi Working, just waiting on a SIM card for the 4G
There is quite a lot there, but these are the main requirements to become safe and self-sufficient for our travels. Everything should be installed before the summer time as we are already well under way with these plans.
Once our current purchases are installed (solar panel and in-mast motorised furling) then we are ready to start sailing again. Our hope was to head direct for Portugal at the beginning of April, but due to Covid, the Portuguese marinas are not open to recreational boaters at this point in time. We are therefore either considering remaining in France for a little longer to continue with our projects (water maker and windvane) or to head for Gibraltar in one step to avoid Spain and Portugal altogether. Assuming also that Brexit does not put an additional spanner in the works. I have informed the French Customs of our plans, so I hope there will be no issues as they have not come back to me with any comments, but you never know what may happen after my initial 90 days in France are passed.
We learn so much each day by working alongside the local professionals and I am quite pleased that I did not try some projects without their help. €70/hr is a good incentive to do it yourself, but some things you just need to leave to the professionals to make sure a good job is done. In many cases it is a question of having the right tools and buying them is often more expensive than the job itself.
Ingrid has also been learning how to adapt her sowing skills into practical projects like making bags for cushions as the first steps to making a bigger bag for our inflatable dinghy. Part of our “new toolkit” include a hot knife to cut and seal cloth, so it does not fray over time. I have enjoyed playing with this to cut the cloth, cut rope and seal rope ends in a more professional way than using a normal sharp knife and a gas lighter.
Part of our “problems” with the mainsail has been to furl it in and out without it getting jammed in the process. It has taken us a while to understand how the straightness of the mast, the positioning of the boom and the tightness of the backstays has such an effect on this process.
The mainsail itself may or may not be a problem as it looks slightly stretched. Discussing with the original sailmaker (Lundh) I was a little disappointed as they would not work with a local loft to help checkout our sail and wanted us to send it back to Sweden for 3-4 weeks. I see how important it is with a circumnavigation in mind to have a sailmaker to assist wherever in the world I am and not to have to send a sail back to Sweden.