Monday 26 May 2008

Sails but no sailing

A boisterous second half of May has made launching too hazardous to consider viable and what time I’ve had has been spent playing with the sails in the placid calm of the garden.

The 30% more cloth that the new sail has over the old orange one certainly seemed to make a significant difference in terms of speed in light airs when I took it out last week. But that extra cloth and longer spars also makes the sail more difficult to handle. While the orange main was easy to brail up the new one is not; I’m not tall enough to tie the sail near the top of the mast which leaves loose canvas flapping about up there, making rowing in wind more difficult. And Mr Grill added a bolt rope to the luff which makes the leading edge stiffer and harder to fold.

I’ve been experimenting, lowering the sail into the boat and furling it on the boom and yard before re-hoisting and it all goes smoothly enough in the windless, stable garden but I can see that it may be an unhandy struggle at sea. I’ve toyed with a topping lift to stop the whole caboodle clattering into the bilges when I release the halyard, but again, although it seems to work, I wonder if it will be quite so simple on the briny with a bit of wind blowing.

I’ve been practicing reefing too, with the same reservations. But however much I think of alternatives I can’t be certain they will work until we’re on the water, and for that I need the weather to calm down a bit, just enough to get out there and try it all out.

From last week’s short sail I can report that the boat, with the new drain plugs and the centreboard lips, is now dry. Any water in the bilges now comes over the gunwales.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

She swims again

A work cancellation, a postponement of family plans and two clear days opened up before me. I set to work readying OB, pausing only for a dental visit and the extraction of a surprisingly recalcitrant molar.

The last coat of varnish applied and an anxious wait for it to dry sufficiently. When it was just hard I put everything together, rigged the sails on their new yards, screwed on the fixtures that I’d removed for varnishing and we were ready. But the day was done and with half an hour’s light left it wasn’t worth launching. At least the varnish would have more time to dry.

Wednesday dawned dull and chill with spitting rain and a light easterly. Some finishing touches and I wheeled OB down to the beach wondering if I’d remember how she worked after so long but there was no need to worry she was the same as ever only with a larger sail area and hence greater speed. We were doing 3 knots in a wind so light that with the old set up I’d have been reaching for the oars.

Due to the weather I’d planned nothing more than a quick spin. A practice on all points of sail, a heaving-to, a trial reefing but once I pointed her bows out to sea the natural thing was to continue towards the horizon listening to the lively run of water down her sides.

I did eventually stop for trials, heaving-to with the mizzen tightly sheeted and the rudder hard over. I put a reef in the main and continued sailing still making good speed then hove-to again for another reef, but here the gooseneck that supports the boom broke. It was off the previous rig and I knew that it was a bit dodgy, it’s as well that it broke now and not when cruising. I shook out the first reef and tied the boom to the mast and turned for home, a three-mile broad reach.

The boat is heavier on the beach but I can still manage single-handed—I’ll have to see how she is with all the camping gear on board. But whatever, I’m now heartily looking forward to getting away for a night, or a few days, or the whole summer…

Monday 12 May 2008

Still not done

I can’t believe how long it’s taking to get the spars and OB ready. If I’d built the boat at this rate we’d still be building now. I admit we’ve been rather held up by the weather which came crashing onto the scene just as I’d finished applying the first coat of varnish to the deck and spars. Some said I should have checked the forecast but I reckon it would have happened anyway. Sod just loves laying down his law.

Two days of torrential rain and tarpaulin-shredding wind followed with broad-shouldered rollers crashing over the beach, through the gaps in the dunes, filling the streets and gardens in the neighbourhood and leaving the boats, at the Club Nautico on the beach, all a-hoo. Unfortunately a new drainage system was recently installed so these storms don’t have such a dramatic impact—there’s no severe flooding, which I rather miss.

Then two days of excellent windsurfing conditions while the boat dried out and today we’re back in business sanding and fixing bits and bobs. I wasted a fair amount of time re-working the mast steps so that the masts were perpendicular to the deck. It wasn’t until I achieved a right angle with the deck on both the main and mizzen that I realised that the masts had been fine as they were—perpendicular to the waterline. In their new positions they looked quite peculiar; the main raked aft and the mizzen forward, of course when they’re perpendicular to the waterline the masts are parallel to each other and I’m pretty sure that’s how they should be.

If I can manage to refrain from exploring other misguided avenues of boat design, touch wood, we’ll be on the water with our new sails by the weekend.

Saturday 10 May 2008


Looked at in a harsh, rational light Onawind Blue might not be the most seaworthy boat; with her light weight, flat bottom and low freeboard high seas and wind will obviously be challenging. But I’d rather be in a blow at sea in OB than in some of the squid fishing boats tied up in Tarragona’s port.

Patched and repaired and listing, if their engines have received as much care as the hulls I don’t know how far I’d like to trust them and as for auxiliary power, well some of them have oars, some only one, some more, but none seem to have an even number of thole pins.

I grapple with how to propel this one, with three oars and a solitary pin I imagine she makes an unhandy rowboat.
When sailing to Formentera I repeatedly heard an advisory over channel 16, all craft were requested to look out for and assist a boat adrift south of the Ebro delta. I wonder if it was one of this lot.

Monday 5 May 2008

No progress but great sailing

Despite my best intentions to accelerate the work on OB’s decks and spars, an opportunity to sail to Formentera, on board my friend JM’s boat Kpitain Ulysse, arose and I had to jump at it.

JM, crew Aurore and myself had a beautiful trip with unusually constant winds of 15 to 20 knots abaft the beam and an even, though decided, swell. Leaving late, always late, meant that we sailed through two nights and one day. It was cold but the skies were clear, be-splattered with stars by night, a flawless blue dome by day.
Dolphins gambolled about our bow wave, I saw my first storm petrel and, at night, our wake was green with phosphorescence—the Mediterranean as enchanting as ever. We steered a course of 180º for the island is 150 nautical miles due south and glided to anchor in Formentera’s impossibly turquoise waters in the early morning light just 40 odd hours after leaving Torredembarra.

A day at anchor followed with drinking and a cold swim then into the marina at sundown and dinner at a familiar favourite restaurant. A party on another boat, rum and coke, guitars, laughter and voices raised in song, though some not so harmonious. Then my bunk, disappointingly calm and steady. A bleary start, fond goodbyes to shipmates JM and Aurore, a ferry ride, big, throbbing and diesel fumed. A brief afternoon with a close friend, a flight—the 40-hour journey completed in 40 minutes. And then work on Monday morning, the land still agreeably dipping under my feet but the experience so distant as to belong to another age.