May 30 2003

One more day…

Well, we have been working non-stop to get the O’Comillas ready for the trip. Why is it that everything that could possibly go wrong before a deadline always does?

Emailed a repair center a week ago with the information regarding an RPM/hour-counter for the engine so they would have the part ready. When we arrive at the store, first they didn’t remember, then they found the email and the name of the person to whom it had being assigned to. When this guy finally shows up he said “Ah, yeah! I remember this, but I haven’t done shit on it.” Hello? The customer is right here! Another guy took pity on us and decided to help us. After waiting for a while for him to search through service manuals, he found the equivalent part. We took it to the sailboat and installed it.

Later we had to replace a remote panel for the power generator only to find out that its battery was dead. Replaced that too. The pump from the auxiliary diesel tank to the main tank was not working so we took it apart only to find out that it was burned, ordered a new one and we are waiting for it. Fixed the metal railings for the bimini, which did not withstand the rough seas from the shakedown voyage. We reinforced them significantly more so we shouldn’t have a problem on our voyage. Added connections for the Raymarine PC interface so that we can have all the vessel information (wind, depth, heading, GPS) available on the computer including routes and tracks. Went to fill out the gas tanks only to find out that they are butane (used in Europe) and not propane which is what is common around here. We lucked out and the folks at the place had a tank of butane from an European ship which they gave us since nobody could use it here in the USA. Phew!

Since that moment our luck finally began to change for the better. We provisioned the sailboat with food, organized the two refrigerators and the freezer.

The list goes on, and despite everything now going smoothly we’ve decided to change the departure date from Friday to Saturday so we could leave a bit more rested. We’ll have a bon-voyage dinner tonight and weather permitting we’ll set sails Saturday…

May 30 2003

One more squeeze

I’m going to miss them so much!!

May 29 2003

Working with your sails, then and now

For the first real installment of Gear Talk I wanted to cover the topic of sails. How working with sails has changed on a typical sailboat with the advent of furling sails, electric winches and other things and in particular our own personal experience comparing sailing aboard a Morgan ’42 Mark II racing yacht twenty-five years ago vs. O’Comillas today.

Some terminology:

  • Furling sails: a sail that can roll on itself to reduce the surface exposed to the wind.
  • Reefing: the process of reducing the main sail by lowering and reattaching it at a lower point on the boom. Thus exposing less surface to the wind.
  • Trimming: the process of adjusting sail angle to the wind.

As I explained in the weather info section, for any given wind direction, wind speed, and waves there is a corresponding combination of course, sails and trimming that is optimal and a range under which such a combination will operate safely. This premise has not changed in the last twenty-five years, what has changed is how easy it is to adjust how much sail to use at any given time.

So lets take a look back at sailing aboard Sagitta, a Morgan ’42 Mark II racing yacht. This sailboat had multiple sizes of genoas and jibs and a mainsail that can be reefed. So basically in the front sail you had a selection of sizes and depending on the wind you would take one down and put a different one up. On the main sail you had four, perhaps five, reefing points. The winches for raising and lowering the sails where at the base of the mast while the mechanical winches for trimming the sails where on the cockpit.

O’Comillas has a furling genoa, a furling jib and a furling main. Once the sails have been raised, they stay up the whole time unless they need to be taken down for repairs. To reduce size, a sail is rolled or furled on it’s self. All of which can be accomplished from the cockpit without having to move to the base of the mast.

So lets put both boats through the simple scenario of going from light winds to heavy winds.

On the Sagitta, you may go through several reductions in the front sail. This entails going below deck picking a new sail and bringing it up. Then for example, you would lower the large genoa, tie it, and then raise a smaller genoa. Both of these tasks have to be done at the base of the mast. Then repeat the operation until you are using a smaller working jib. For the main sail, you may also need to reef twice or more. Each time, you need to go to the mast to partially lower the sail, reef it by hand since we didn’t have one of those reefing systems that exist today, and then raise it again. All these operations can be physically demanding for a short handed crew.

On the O’Comillas, you will start with the genoa and the main fully unrolled and as the wind picks up, from the cockpit area you would roll up more of the sail to make it smaller. At some point it will be better to completely roll-up the genoa and then unroll the working jib but that operation is also easy to do from the cockpit area as well. No going below deck, no physically changing anything on the base of the mast. Easy. The electric winches are also a huge improvement. When talking about a large genoa with a surface area of 754 ft² (70.1 m²) trimming with an electric winch is a cinch.

We do have extra sails such as a spinnaker, spares, and a storm main but for the most part everything can be done without having to move from the cockpit area. Furthermore, rolling a sail is much less challenging than raising it. All these changes make it possible to operate a 49-foot sailboat between two people very reasonable. A task that would have been impossible aboard Sagitta.

May 26 2003

The family meets O’Comillas

We are now in Newport! The whole family got to see the sailboat and we went out sailing with our friends from Buffalo (Jim, Rosanne & three wonderful kids) My son’s first word when he saw O’Comillas was “enormous.” My wife Kristi, on the other hand said she thought it would be bigger. I guess 50 feet seems smaller or bigger depending on your perspective. I can think of a bunch of other jokes involving wives and sizes but I’ll leave that to another day.

José Manuel went out shopping at Costco and he must have bought half the store. I guess he must be thinking that we just keep sailing around the world while we are at it and thus why the massive amounts of food. He does have a point though; if we have too much we can use it in Spain or donate it, but in the middle of the ocean, like I’ve said before there are no stores.

May 22 2003

El miedo es libre

Unfortunately, after all the preparation and anticipation work, you can still get it wrong or something unexpected happens. Here perhaps is the best lesson I learned sailing in the Caribbean many years ago. If you find yourself with too much sail surface area, and the sailboat is sailing uncomfortably on the higher end of its range, get everyone ready aboard and reef and/or change sails to reduce the area exposed to the wind. Always!

Regardless of how tough conditions may be, and how difficult it may be to reef any of the sails, you will always be better off. Even if the maneuver involves going to the bow (front section) to bring down a genoa (large jib, a type of sail) in rough seas. Of course, don’t rush to do the maneuvers before everyone is ready. But remember: if you think a given task is risky now, always consider the possibility that the weather may get worse and the maneuver will become more and more dangerous the longer you wait. Furthermore, the larger the sail’s surface area the higher the forces exerted. Therefore, the longer you go with too much sail in rough weather, the more you expose the mast, the sails and the whole sailboat to conditions beyond their designed limits risking all sorts of bad things happening.

In the occasion I was referring to in the Caribbean, I was quoted as saying to my cousin Amalia “El miedo es libre” which in Spanish roughly translates to “you are free to fear.” I guess I didn’t have anything inspirational to assure her that everything was going to be ok. After all, fear had grabbed a hold of me as well. In forty to fifty knots of wind with rough seas that are completely soaking you, changing a sail is the last thing you want to do. But as I’ve said already, if you think it is tough now, how about with fifty to sixty-knot gusts of wind? Thankfully, my father gave the order, we did the maneuver regardless of puking all over, and I mean all over, and we survived to tell the story.

Do not ever let fear cloud your judgment. Fear is not useful in the middle of a dangerous situation. Be respectful of the sea. Be aware of your own capabilities, of those on board, and your sailboat; and always anticipate the likelihood of conditions getting worse.