Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Maiden Voyage Complete - Now what?

We have now been home over a month and I must admit, I am scratching my head and saying "now what?"  I thought it might be an interesting and worthwhile conclusion to this "episode in life" to recap the trip - the good, the not so good, and lessons learned.  Wow - there were quite a lot of those and I am sure I will miss the most important ones!  and for anyone who has stumbled on my blog and not read the last 6 months.....well this will be a quick summary.  I won't go into all the details of the trip - but if you are interested, look back over the past 6 months of posts on this blog and you will see the full story.

Reason Why we Did it

First sight of the Boat
We had decided to buy a new boat.  We had researched the used market extensively looking at other monohulls and catamarans.  For a number of reasons - largely comfort, our own agility, and at some point potentially a growing family (maybe grandkids), we decided that a catamaran was the next boat for us.  After looking at 2-3 year old boats, I found I could potentially buy a new boat for a similar price if I did it right.  For example, the delivery price component of a new boat is between $16,000 and $89,000 depending on where its going, and how its being delivered (on its own  hull or on a ship).  This in itself was a big motivation to "self deliver".......and it was a bucket list item for me to sail across the Atlantic on my own boat.  So it just seemed a no-brainer. We will sail it home.  We had actually decided to place the boat in charter for a year with Dream Yacht Charters in the BVI.  But for various reasons, we decided against this once we got to the BVI.  If you want that complete story, you will have to read a bit deeper in the blog, or contact me  by email.  So, our plan changed significantly adding about 1,500 miles to the journey and a new plan for the boat.  But that's how boat plans go - while its important to have a plan, you must have flexibility.

Recap of the Trip - Geography

We selected a Lagoon based on a combination of build quality,  sailing/handling, physical dimensions, reputation, and price.  I would perhaps say that those criteria were also weighted in about that order of priority.  The next issue was that Lagoon is part of Beneteau Group and are built in France - so logically, that was the starting point of our trip.  Actually, La Rochelle, France which is located on the Atlantic coast (Bay of Biscay).  I did a lot of research on cats in our price range and to me, the Lagoon was the clear winner.  Having now owned the boat  for 7 months and sailed it 7,100 miles, I am happy to say we made a great  choice!

Our Route from France to the US

While I did a lot of thinking, planning and research on our route, the basic idea was to follow the Trade Wind Route to cross the Atlantic.  Some sailors chose to depart for the Atlantic crossing from the Canary Islands; others go farther south to Cape Verde.  We elected the latter - a little longer trip, but based on my research, a better chance of seeing consistent trade winds for the Atlantic crossing.  I had studied the wind data and statistics and January was looking like an optimal time for this leg.  Coincidentally, this ended up aligning great with our actual dates.

We experienced the worst weather in the early part of the trip - the Bay of Biscay from France to northern Span.   See  Things started to improve in the upper part of Portugal.

A quick recap of our route and the countries visited is below:

  • France (Atlantic coast/Bay of Biscay)
  • Northern Spain (a Coruna)
  • Portugal
  • Madeira (Portuguese island)
  • Canary Islands
  • Cape Verde
  • Antigua
  • St. Marten
  • British Virgin Islands (BVI)
  • USVI
  • Puerto Rico
  • Dominican Republic
  • Bahamas
  • USA
We made one major change to our original plan.  We had originally planned to go from Cascais (Portugal) to Morocco, and then Cape Verde.  But we fell in love with Portugal and were encouraged to go to Madeira by many people that we met.  So we elected to go to Madeira in place of Morocco - and very glad we did so as Madeira was perhaps the favourite place for me and most of the crew.

Our total trip distance ended up being 7,100 miles from La Rochelle, France to the inlet at Pensacola, Florida.

So, as stated in the intro to this post, i am not going to recap the entire trip - if you are interested in that, please simply search down this blag as that has been the topic for the last 6 months.  What i am going to recap is the good, the not so good and some lessons learned.  Here goes,

Seas never look very big in a photo!

The Not So Good

A Coruna, Spain
Crossing the Bay of Biscay in December was certainly the not so good!  We left in 25 knot headwinds and 20-25 ft seas.  Why - because the delivery crews we had met told us that's about as good as it gets at that time of year.  Sure there were a few days better, but they were rare; and there were certainly days that were even worse.  That first leg to La Coruna, Spain was perhaps the worst.  In fact we cut it a little short and went in to Ribadeo, Spain.  We loved Spain and the people.  We were told things would get much better once we headed south along the cost of Portugal - past Finistere.  Well eventually, that was true, but rounding Finistere was awful.
At midnight we heard distress calls
from a 100 ft fishing boat, and saw helicopters and search rescue services.  Their deployment and efforts were impressive, but unfortunately, two men were lost overboard.  It was a very sobering thought that will stay with me forever - how easy it is to loose someone overboard.  it reinforced our rule that after dusk or in any bad weather, anyone out of the salon wears a lifejacket and tether.

Viana do Costello

The weather resulted in some short hops in northern Portugal, and a memorable stay in Viena do Costello.  A town I would love to revisit some time.  Red carpets on the streets for Christmas, and just a gorgeous and friendly small town.

The Good

We actually made it to Porto, Portugal for Christmas and this was a wonderful place to spend a quiet Christmas holiday.  Needless to say we took in several tours of port wine cellars and enjoyed the superb hospitality of the locals in the traditional fishing village called Afurada which is actually a very small suburb of Porto, located nearby the marina.  What wonderful people!.....and very cheap drink prices.  Porto was definitely one of my favorite stops on the trip.

We also enjoyed Cascais and Lisbon.  We spent New Year in Cascais and added additional crew - Ron, Julie and me son Austin.  Mike left us in La Coruna.  And since I am talking about :the good", I must say that great crew made the trip both a joy and way easier.  I should also put this as a "Lesson Learned", i.e., only take crew that can get along, and that you trust implicitly to handle the boat.  Our crew did exactly that, with Larry and Tracy being our "core crew" and best friends that completed the entire trip with us.  So crew selection - each one, was the best decision I made.  Thank you everyone!

Our other favorite places included the Canary Islands, Funchal, Madeira (I think overall, the crew voted this our best stopover); Antigua; Puerto Rico, and the southern Bahamas.  I am not going to go into detail on these, as I have separate posts on each that are not too far back down from the blog from this one.  So scroll back for more information on any of these.

Favorite Equipment

Under the general category of "The Good" I think its appropriate to mention some of our favorite items of equipment that we had on the voyage.  Notable items, with a brief statement as to why are as follows:
Rainman - coolest thing ever!
  1. Rainman Watermaker - for its simplicity and reliability.  We made water every day, especially when we had a crew of 7.  It was a vital piece of equipment and worked flawlessly.
  2. inReach Explorer +Satellite Communicator - we sued it every day as our preferred means of text communication and tracking.  We preferred this over our Sat phone, an Iridium Go.  We figured out how to "one way post" to Facebook.  Yes, I hate FB, but the rest of the world seems to need it.  One day I hope it will follow in the steps of bell-bottom jeans and just go out of style!
  3. Tool kit provided by DYC - a small compact tool kit that had 99% of the tools we needed in one location.
  4. Code Zero Sail - made for us by Schurr Sails of Pensacola.  It fit perfectly and worked well with the Lagoon supplied bowsprit and Facnor continuous line furler.
Fortunately, we had very few equipment failures, and those that we did have were manageable.  The biggest issues we had to address were:
  • Leaking window resulting from poor installation
  • Failed AIS resulting from incorrect factory installation
  • Chafing reef lines - we have addressed this through a  rigging modification
We love the boat.  The best attributes are: comfort, safety, visibility in bad weather (huge salon windows), general quality of build.

Lessons Learned

This really is a hard one because one of the things I love about sailing is that every day is a learning day - the weather, the boat, the crew dynamics to mention a few.  I will stress again that crew selection is the key to success, and this was one that I definitely got right.  I had the best crew for this trip.  In addition to being great sailors: 2 engineers, registered nurse, precision fabricator, adn great cooks. Very briefly, here are a few things that I would put down to "lessons learned" based on this trip:
  1. Spend as much time as needed to "learn the boat" before setting off.  What systems does it have; where are they physically located; where are the thru-hulls and points where water can enter or leave the boat; understand the electronics and have multiple back-ups.  Another vital thing we learned on a catamaran was to "learn the numbers", i.e., what wind speeds and points of sail do I need to reef at?  Without the feel of a monohull, it is very important to know when to reef sails to avoid becoming overpowered.  And practice reefing in good conditions first......make sure the crew can do it at night.  Find any chafe points and watch them very closely.  The loads on a cat can be far greater than a monohull and lines can chafe very quickly with small movements and friction.
  2. Communications  - have multiple communication systems.  In our case: VHF, Iridium Go Sat phone, inReach satellite tracker/text (2); EPIRB; multiple cell phones and iPads.  Of course each one has limitations, especially range for cell and VHF.
  3. Weather - we had multiple weather options:; a PredictWind subscription; local weather services (check marinas); and we used WRI Weather Routing for the atlantic portion of our trip.  WRI were excellent with daily check-ins via satellite email (Iridium Go).  Moreover, take time to teach yourself as much about the weather as possible.  I am not an expert, but i know a whole lot more now as a result of this trip.  
  4. Tools and spares - you can never carry too many, and if you do you won't need them.
    Packing the Pallet
    We carried lots of tools, spare filters, oil, impellers for critical pumps, line, shackles, blocks of various sizes etc.storm sail, without really knowing what would be provided with the baot, i did actually ship a pallet of "stuff" from the US.  As it turned out, the charter package from our broker was very well stocked.  The experience of shipping a pallet had its own issues from delays by the shipper to clearing customs in France.  I could write an entire article on this.
    Camping Gaz
    The other option would be simply to budget enough money to buy everything needed locally. However, this may not be a viable option for some things.  For example, the boat was built to US electrical standards, so we shipped a small TV and microwave (110v as europe is 220-240v).  Also, european "Camping Gaz"is a substitute for propane, but uses different canisters and fittings; so you have to be prepared with the correct adaptors.  Camping Gaz is also a mixture of propane and butane, so does burn differently, especially at low temperatures.                                                                                                                                                                                               
  5. Patience - this also goes hand in hand with weather.  Don't be in a rush.  No schedule should mean no schedule.  Wait for the right weather, or at least the best weather.  We did jump the gun by leaving a day or so early on a couple of legs, and paid the price either by having an uncomfortable passage, or more motoring than anticipated.  There were a couple of times when we thought we could "catch up to better weather" ....this simply didn't happen, you must wait for a  good window.  I will say that patience is probably the hardest lesson to truly embrace.  Someone is always ready and wanting to get going and its hard for the Captain to say no we will wait a couple of days.  Also, patience when waiting on services such as mechanics, technicians etc.  Europe has a different schedule and philosophy to schedule than the US, and there's no point in trying to change it - embrace it and enjoy the time. 
  6. Plan the Route - this may sound obvious, but when going to ports and countries that you are not familiar with, plan the route, but include flexibility.  Study charts and read guidebooks.  Reeds Almanac was an excellent resource.  Always look for bail-out options for bad weather, changed conditions, boat issues, crew issues.  What if a port entrance or marina is closed?  It happens quite a bit in europe in bad weather.  Also, on many parts of our route, anchoring was simply not an option due to depth, no safe anchorages etc.  Marina availability was only an issue in the Canary Islands - but that can be a big issue.  We did use a reservation service in the Canaries because every marina we called was full.  We carried basic paper chart coverage, and multiple versions of electronic charts, on multiple devices.
  7. Carry a cash reserve - there will be glitches with credit cards.  Countries that don't accept them, or banking systems that shut down for no apparent reason (e.g., Cape Verde).
  8. Internet - oh boy, don't rely on it being available or reliable  If you are a person that needs to be constantly connected - just stay home.  This isn't for you.  Internet frustration is something you just need to get over, and watch out for the charges.  Its far better to just accept that you're connections will be limited and sparse otherwise you will drive yourself crazy chasing electrons.
I know I have missed some obvious ones.....but hopefully these will give food for thought.  I am sure there are many more thoughts embedded in my previous posts on the trip, but I will end this article for now. by simply saying - yes, it was an amazing trip and experience of a lifetime.  Truly one checked off the bucket list!  But it does leave one thinking...."what next?"