Friday, 26 September 2014

Jib Sheets and Snap Shackles

There is a much under-rated musician, Chris Rea, who made an album in the 1980’s called ‘God’s Great Banana Skin’. The title track implied that over-confidence can bring bad luck. I always liked the song and now I have special reason to re-play it and take note of the lyrics. ‘Why?’ you may ask. Well, a couple of weeks ago I announced that, having renovated this boat, I knew her intimately, better than someone who simply goes out and purchases one from a production line.  Her construction and her ways on the water held no mysteries or surprises, I said. A lot can happen in a couple of weeks.

Last week Susan and I decided we would take her for a sail on Wednesday afternoon. The September weather here is unusually pleasant and mid-week we have the estuary to ourselves. Wednesday duly arrived and although it was sunny the wind was not ideal, a gusty North Easter. At times it was calm, hardly enough breeze to give us steerage-way and then a force five would come charging across the water, laying us over and sending us off down-stream like a goods train. All these terms are relative of course, A Westerly Nomad doesn’t heal like a dinghy and five knots is her speed limit – but it is fair to say that, at times, without a reef in her sails, she was over-pressed and the trip wasn’t easy or comfortable.

Earlier in the year, when I raised the mast and launched her I should have set up the slab reefing system but in my eagerness to get afloat I hadn’t bothered and so now, in this wind, reefing wasn’t an option. I suppose I could have set up some kind of jury reef if I had gone into the cabin and selected a suitable piece of rope from the tangle I had carelessly bagged up and thrown in there, but leaving the helm wasn’t really an option because I didn’t have much sea room in amongst the cluster of moored boat where I happened to be at the time.

My solution was to tack, push out across the estuary into clear water where, hopefully, I could find the space and time to sort things out. No such luck, as the boat came round onto her new tack, the jib sheet jammed in the port spreader. How could this happen? Well, again in my haste to get this boat sailing I had connected the jib to the sheet using a large snap-shackle. They say that if something can go wrong it probably will and today was no exception. On this, our fourth trip, the first trip where the wind was strong and less than perfect, the snap-shackle had ‘snapped’ itself firmly onto the shroud and the jib was well and truly aback. The weight of wind was such that the shackle could not be unfastened without bringing the bow back into the wind. Fortunately, we drifted past the cluster of moored boats, got ourselves sorted and no harm was done – except maybe to pride.

Ah well, I guess I got some changes and adjustments to make, might play that Chris Rea song a few times more too.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Knowing Your Boat Well

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness – lines from a poem by Keats; it’s not quite autumn yet but still there is a hint of it in the air even though the weather remains beautiful at the moment.

This is the first time in my life that I have been able to wake up any morning and go sailing if I choose. Work always used to get in the way so now I’m taking every chance of getting on the water while I have the estuary to myself– and it is beautiful – even in the morning mist, even when there is no wind, even when there is nowhere in particular to go. Sometimes it’s good just to be out there drifting. Sometimes I just sit on the boat and think, sometimes I just sit.

Maybe the eighteen months of boat renovation added something to the pleasure I’m now getting from being on the water. Would sailing my own boat be as satisfying if I could have afforded to purchase a new one from the production line? Who knows? Different people have different tastes and drivers, some people I know seem to get great pleasure from owning the latest, biggest, most expensive toys and for them it seems that the ability to purchase these items is an essential component of the satisfaction they gain. 

The problem with this approach is that nothing stays new forever, and last year’s model can’t hit the spot. Either they change boats with astounding regularity or they have to accept that the good warm feeling of satisfaction in owning this boat will fade pretty quickly.
From my point of view, I don’t have the resources or the inclination to purchase new or sell-on regularly, I like to build a relationship with my boats and I tend to keep them a long time. Usually it takes quite a while to get to know a boat but this is the first boat I have renovated and in some respects, because of that, she is different. I got to know her quite intimately, every nut and screw, every inch of her gelcoat hull and every bit of rope and wire in her make-up. I have only sailed her five times to date but already she is an old friend.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Don't You Just Hate Midweek?

I couldn’t help taking the opportunity to send younger friends and ex colleagues a few pics from my first ‘voyage’ on ‘Susan’, the Westerly Nomad I have worked on to save from dereliction over the past two years. It wasn’t so much the triumph of getting afloat at last; it was the joy of being able to do it mid week – when most other people have their heads down and their noses to the grindstone. I gave up the corporate world a couple of years ago, reducing my income but gaining time – and now it has paid off – I have a boat and I have time to sail.

There is an added bonus too – this September is one of good weather and, with everyone back at work and children back in their schools, I have this beautiful estuary to myself.

So, where have I been and how does this boat sail? Well, I haven’t been far. In and out of the pontoon about six times to perfect the technique and then a trip across the estuary to the beautiful village of Mordreuc (translates as village of the Druids), and a longer sail down the estuary to the even more beautiful village of St Sulliac (listed as one of the ten most beautiful villages in France). The wind on this longer trip was gusty from the North East and the boat performed as predicted.

The weather helm is hardly noticeable in light airs and easily manageable in gusts. She leans easily on the wind and leeway is less than I expected. She will not win any races and she is slow and heavy – qualities I like. In return for her weight and lack of speed, I have easy motion and very predictable behaviour. The cabin roof, stretched right to her beam, provides an excellent clear wide space for deck work and, on a good reach, she pretty much steers herself. An excellent boat for a single-hander but with plenty of room for family and friends.

On the return trip with the wind behind us, we sailed goose-winged for several miles and on one brief occasion we actually attained 5.1 knots over the ground.

Now there is still plenty of work to do in the cabin but that can wait until the weather deteriorates. While the sun still shines I’ll be sailing –  especially MIDWEEK!


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Canal Boat

Regular readers (and there are a surprising number of you) will recognise this boat. She’s a Channel Islands 22 belonging to my good friends Dave and Nat. Before they bought her, she lay in Jersey pretty much neglected for several years. She was for sale but no purchaser could be found because she was slow and seemed unable to reach the speed needed to lift the semi displacement hull out of the water above her bow-wave. Over the years the asking price fell and fell. That’s when Dave took a look at her and noticed something that everyone else had missed. At some time in her past an owner had fitted bilge keels to her hull. It’s understandable, in that most Channel Island harbours dry out at low water. Bilge keels means that this boat could take the ground and remain upright without the need to carry and fit ‘legs’ each time. But those bilge keels were the reason why she behaved like a slow displacement motor-vessel rather than a semi-displacement boat capable of a good turn of speed. Dave, bought the boat, removed the bilge keels and then invested 1000 hours of work on her, bringing her to a condition better than you would expect of a new boat. He and Nat now have a luxury vessel with a cruising speed of over 12 knots.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because a few weeks ago, Dave and Nat were cruising North Brittany waters and took time to come up the Rance estuary and into the  canal. For a while they have been considering purchasing a holiday home here – they didn’t find one, but, they did find an eleven metre English narrow boat for sale on the canal in the beautiful village of Evran. Here’s the story.

Several years ago, someone decided to purchase a fleet of English narrow boats and operate a boat hire company here. The venture wasn’t particularly successful and as a result several of these boats were sold to private purchasers – mainly English people who know and love these vessels. Other nationalities probably failed to see the point in buying such a narrow vessel when continental canals are so much wider than English ones.

This particular vessel moved into private ownership and was used by a Guernsey family as a waterside
holiday home for several years but when Dave came past in his boat last week she was for sale, and had been for some time. Dave looked her over but the owner couldn’t start the engine. So Davy took a risk, made a reduced offer to purchase her immediately ‘as seen’. The seller, probably thinking of the lack of interest to date, the coming winter and the costs of insurance, mooring, maintenance and visits, accepted the offer and the deal was done.

Davy came back to the boat this weekend with a
friend who is a car enthusiast. The car, a beautiful 1968 MGB roadster attracted a lot of attention locally and within half a day, Dave and his friend Paul gained additional support and expertise from a local aircraft engineer and another guy who acted as translator. Dave and Paul stayed on the boat two nights and when they left, the engine was fixed and there was a fresh coat of paint on the cabin roof.

The plan now is to bring her down the canal into the tidal estuary and lift her out for a thorough inspection and re-fit over the winter months. She already has a wood burning stove for heating and a fully functioning galley so they’ll be comfortable even in the coldest of winters. Now if I were a gambling man, I’d make a significant bet that by the end of next summer Dave and Nat will be sailing one of the prettiest and most comfortable barges this side of the English Channel.