Sunday 29 November 2009

La Gazelle des Sables

This remarkable craft is a scaled down tuna fishing boat from Les Sables d’Olonne on the Breton coast. The 55kg hull is 2.70 metres (8’10”) long and 1.22 wide, it is double skinned, unsinkable and, carrying 65 litres of water ballast, self-righting. The hull is made from polyester and with its gaff mainsail, topsail, flying jib and jib set on aluminium spars it can carry from 3.9 m2 to 11.8m2 of sailcloth.

The salty looking boat is reportedly fast, stable and safe. It was one of the only interesting craft at The Barcelona Boat show and a long chat with the sales woman quite tickled my appetite to try one—all those sails and bits of string.

More photos and video too at La Gazelle des Sables.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

The stupidest thing (I’ve done this year)

The stupidest things we do are the ones that we knew were flawed from the start, that go against our personal grain or that undermine our better judgement. It’s not that you should have known better, it’s that you DID know better, but you went ahead and did it all the same.

I have a 2hp Yamaha outboard on loan from a friend, for use on this old Zodiac of mine.

(I think it’s early 70’s but if anyone can give a more exact date I’d be grateful.) The outboard pushes the inflatable and one person at 4.5 knots, so it’s suitable for a pootle but not much else, though I have done a 10 mile round trip. So, out pootling one afternoon I thought how nice it might be to pootle under power in OB. And besides, people are always telling me that I should get an engine, that rowing is for masochists and that, to put it kindly, I’m a stubborn, raving Luddite. I imagined facing forwards while OB merrily putt-putted along. (Though the 2hp doesn’t actually putt-putt but wails and hammers. In fact it is far more efficient at turning petrol into brute noise than into forward motion.)

Galvanised, I broke out the workshop and began bashing together a gunwale mount for OB. I thought about sanding and painting the mounting but decided to leave it rough, which was just as well as I ended up using it as kindling for the wood-burning stove.

On a grey early morning I crept out of bed to try OB under power. I met my 8 year old son on the stairs and he sleepily signed up for some pre-breakfast adventure.

We launched the boat into calm water and hopped aboard. I pulled the starter cord and all conversation was drowned. OB accelerated through the calm water. We chortled along at low revs smiling broadly. Then I opened the throttle. And suddenly everything happened very quickly. OB shot forward. The outboard seemed to rise up. The mounting broke apart. I held the engine’s tiller tight to stop the motor falling but suddenly released my grip when I felt a sharp pain in my forearm.

The engine spluttered and sank. I watched it with disbelief. The motor had taken half the mounting to the bottom, 5 metres below. OB trickled forward. Keeping my eye on the place where the outboard fell I rowed the boat round, speechless with astonishment. My son appeared equally stunned by our sudden loss but as I threw out the anchor he mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of blood escaping from my arm. I looked down. Something sharp had gouged the underside of my forearm. One of the things about being with children in these situations is that you absolutely don’t want to freak them out. You take everything nice and calmly as if there was nothing urgent, stressful or even unusual going on.

‘I’m just going down to get the outboard.’
‘But you’re bleeding.’
‘It’s nothing. Look I just wipe it off with this tee shirt and…’
‘You start bleeding again.’
‘Well I’ll only be gone a moment.’
‘But won’t sharks smell your blood.’
‘There aren’t any sharks and even if there were, well it’s Sunday morning, sharks would still be in bed after a wild Saturday night.’

I grabbed a length of line and dived in. I got down there, passed one end of the line round the outboard and, with both ends of the line in my hand, swam back up and pulled myself aboard. Then I hauled the engine up from the bottom. To add to my growing chagrin a slick of 2-stroke mixture flexed on the surface.

I hauled in the anchor and rowed back to the beach. What a fine rowing boat is my Onawind Blue, I thought, she is not a motorboat, so why would you ever interrupt her clean lines with a dirty, noisy, smelly outboard? She hasn’t even got a transom that can take one. But where I had really failed was in building the engine mount. I’d underestimated the amount of force the outboard would exert and in which direction. Two large screws pulled right out, though admittedly they were screwed into end grain. (It was one of the screws that gouged my arm.)

Before I burnt the mount I rebuilt it more robustly and tried again, confirming conclusively that OB is not suited to carrying an engine. (But I knew this already!) The hull is easily moved and at low revs she hits a good speed. Any more power though and she starts to rock, trying hard to dunk and extinguish the engine. You have to work quite hard physically to compensate the rocking while stretching across to steer the motor, and by the time you hit four knots you’re wondering if you’re totally in control. I didn’t dare try turning on anything but minimum revs. Once back at the beach the added weigh of the engine is a great hindrance.

To conclude: you’re much better off rowing. (But I knew this already!)

If anybody wants to know how to re-start an outboard that has been submerged in saltwater let me know and I’ll pass on some won knowledge.

Friday 20 November 2009

Slow sailing

Watching the sea to windward, milking every gust, keeping the boat exactly trim and when boat speed falls below 3 knots breaking out the oars and rowing for billy-ho. That’s how I sailed this summer. Driven by an urgent unwillingness to sail at night. Spurred to action by its inherent horrors I raced across the sea. And in the moments when I could relax I studied the GPS, course made good, miles covered, average speed, ETA…I was a regatta sailor racing against time.

Back on my home beach I can once again take up what my friend Joan Sol terms ‘Slow Sailing’. Joan is the author of the top Catalan sailing blog El Mar es el Camí. It’s the blog of reference on these shores and Joan is one of those lynch pin figures who manage to organise events and bring like-minded folk together. Recently he coaxed a good number of Spanish bloggers from behind their screens to a big meet up and presentation at the Barcelona boat show. A man of great sensibility in all things maritime he has an enviable collection of maritime literature and is the owner of the lateen rigged El Corb Mari, in which I had the pleasure of sailing this summer. (And sailing quite fast at that.) As an antidote to go-faster times Joan wrote a manifesto, which, at Joan’s request, I am happy to translate and pass on.

The Slow Sailing Manifesto

1.- Whatever your craft, whether a rowing boat, or a luxury yacht, it’s your realationship with your boat and the sea that matters. Regardless of length, price and equipment, your craft isn’t just another of your many possesions but rather an agreeable travelling companion with whom you can learn about the sea and, more importantly, about yourself.

2.- Spend time aboard your craft even if it’s just tied up in the harbour. Make the boat part of your living space. Do little jobs aboard, this will hieghten your sense of ownership and will strengthen the ties between you and your craft.

3.- Leave your hurries and worries on the quay when you go sailing. Go without a set time to return, as if you were leaving for a long journey. Forget your watch and let the sun guide you. If you take speed and time out of the equation you’re left only with space: the sea.

4.- Sail without a strict course or destination. Let the wind and sea take you where they will. Don’t think about miles covered or those still to go. Don’t go anywhere, just sail and enjoy the moment.

5.- Disconnect the electronics and sail like they used to. Learn not to depend on your instruments. When was the last time you took a bearing? Or a sun sight? Find your position and mark it on the chart. Forget the windspeed indicator, feel the wind on your face. Learn the art of sailing, become a real sailor.

6.- Disconect the mobile and turn off the music. Cut your ties with the land. Listen to the murrmuring sea, the bow wave, the flap of the sail, the breathing wind.

7.- Don’t hog the helm. Let somebody else take it. How long has it been since you stretched out on deck or sat at the bow? If you’re sailing alone, tie off the tiller, balance the sails and let yourself go. Trust in your crew and in your boat.

8.- Write a log book. Detail your sailing trips and note down your feelings. Then go back over your notes and re-live the experience. Share your experiences with others in what ever way suits you best.

9.- Race, if that’s what you like but don’t go for the prize. Go to learn about the sea, your boat and yourself. There’s no more stimulating prize than this.

10.- Don’t desert your boat, she’d never desert you. (This is a play on a famous Spanish campaign to stem the amount of pets that are abandoned by the roadsides in Spain, particularly during the summer holidays.)

11.- Contemplate the sea for a while each day, let it’s energy flow into you and take it where ever you go.

Slow sailing in Onawind Blue. Cooking lunch while ghosting along at one knot on a November afternoon.

And what better when the sun’s gone down and the woodburner’s glowing than some armchair slow sailing with Keep Turning Left and master of the go slow crowd Dylan Winter. I’ve followed Dylan up to Essex and now find myself wishing he’d go a little faster so that I don’t have to wait so long between episodes.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Monday 9 November 2009

Sunday 8 November 2009

Sailing northwest

Friday 6 November 2009

Thursday 5 November 2009