Thursday, 19 December 2013


Quest has now been sold and has a new home in Saldanha as I understand. 

The sale occurred through Legacy Yacht Sales who I can thoroughly recommend. See my endorsement here. Thank you Malcolm McRobert!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Quest is now "For Sale!"

Quest is for Sale at R56000 through Legacy Yacht Sales.
Please contact Malcolm McRobert for further info.

After ten years of fantastic sailing in this lovely little boat, I have decided to sell her and move on to something bigger for cruising. Over the years Quest has been very substantially refitted and upgraded, and is in good condition all round. She is a great boat for single-handing, Wednesday races, day-sailing and the Cape Regatta circuit. She has sailed in Hout Bay mostly, but also done a few regattas in False Bay. She can be sailed "as is" with no money needing to be spent - all her kit is very serviceable. 

Rigging and Sails:
  • Sails and running rigging in good condition. Includes main, roller furling genoa, spinnaker and pole, storm-jib. 
  • All running rigging in good order with nothing needin replacement.
  • Standing rigging replaced about 5 years ago.
  • Andersen self-tailing primary winches are fairly new.
  • Halyard winch is old bakelite thing but seldom required!
  • 5 Hp Yamaha 2-stroke longshaft. Recently serviced at Anchor Boats, very reliable. This engine pushes her at 5 knots on half throttle, easy to motor to Simonstown in 6-7 hours on about 12 l.
  • 2 x 12v 22 Ah lightweight lead crystal batteries, newly installed
  • C-tek smart charger
  • Switch panel for all systems
  • Wiring is rough but very reliable
  • 2 electric Rule bilge pumps
  • Interior lighting (fluorescent)
  • All nav lights working, (except deck downlight)
  • Basic shore power system
  • Cobra 25W fixed VHF (brand new)
  • Navman 3100 depth sounder
  • Magnetic binnacle compass
  • 4 regulation lifejackets
  • Capsize bottle
  • Danbuoy and life-ring
  • Usual signals and flags
  • Flares and fire extinguisher now expired, should be replaced on transfer
  • Clip-on points in cockpit
  • Puship, pulpit and guard rails
  • Grab-handles on coachroof
  • Matresses covered in blue "yacht covers" all-round
  • Some shelving
  • Place for porta-potti
  • Basin under chart table
  • 2 drawers for minor items
Ground tackle:
  • CQR, 20m chain, 50 m twisted nylon rode. Very effective.
  • 3 decent sized fenders
  • GRP, built by H Vink as far as I know, approx 1984
  • Last antifouled June 2012
  • Keel cast iron
  • Boathook
  • Manual bilge pump
  • Boarding ladder on transom
  • Stainless Steel Trapezium bracket for outboard motor
  • Bosuns chair
  • Quest is one of the later Flamenca designs with raised foredeck. She is a very sweet handling boat with good balance and rudder control. She can survive very heavy wind conditions and is well proven in Hout Bay over the past ten years where she has sailed very regularly. She is easily singlehanded, and has claimed a fair number of race wins on PHRF in the club fleet. She is setup for short-handing rather than highly competitive racing, but could easily be changed.
  • As Quest is < 9m, there is no requirement for annual C.o.F or skipper's tickets.
  • Ideal learner boat, or club racer that requires very low capital investment
  • Flamenca is a very active class in the FBYC Spring Regatta.
  • Registered with SAS as SA2568.
  • Lying Hout Bay
  • A Raymarine ST-2000 tiller-pilot in perfect order. This is available as an option at R3000.
  • Garmin 520s GPS Chartplotter / Fishfinder with G2 charts for SA at R6000.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

About "Quest"

Quest is a Flamenca 25, designed by (the late) Oswald Berckemeyer. The Flamenca was his first creation - designed at the time to compete with the Buccaneers which were common in Cape Town and False Bay - as an affordable day sailer and coastal cruiser. Berckemeyer was known for his stiff and seaworthy designs - most notably the Miura-31 which is legendary for its seaworthiness, and abilities as a small cruiser.

The Flamenca was a fairly modern design for her time - being moderate/light displacement, fin keel, and spade rudder. The Flamenca was conceived at a time when sloop rigs favoured a dominant headsail, and allowed a fairly simple rig without much need for running backstays etc. Her proportions are moderate in every sense, with a narrow stern, and relatively low freeboard. For a small boat, she is drier than one might expect, as the bow is able to rise over chop and headwaves - due to fairly generous rocker on the underbody (i.e. she is not long and flat underneath). Downside of this is she won't plane easily or at all perhaps. She has a fair whack of ballast in the cast-iron keel - and a respectable displacement of around 2000 kgs. Berkemeyer estimates her AVS at about 140 deg, and certainly she feels very stiff in strong winds. For all her seaworhiness and seakindliness - these are not high-performance boats. They are slightly under-canvassed in light winds, but are fairly safe in the challenging conditions of the Cape waters. Quest is able to reach 6.5 knots beating (given 12 knots or more), and about 7.5 knots on a broad reach - both of which are in fact higher than her theoretical hull speed. Tacking angles are not too bad but not great - mainly due to the poor sheeting angles for the genoa, limited by the position of the shrouds. I have recently fitted some barber-haulers to improve the sheeting angles. I think the rounded hull is also plays against this - compared with say an RCOD which not only makes better angles but also appears to make less leeway - it seems to me. But overall quite respectable performance for a small boat, and downwind she does remarkably well - perhaps a bit suprisingly. Overall, she seems to have the same performance as the Sadler-26 I would say.

The cabin is a bit cramped compared with modern boats. No standing headroom. Depending on layout one could have up to six full-size berths but heaven knows why. There is no heads compartment - Quest has a portaloo just below the (deck-stepped) mast. I think one person could live in such a boat, and two people could share for brief periods.

Quest has a gas cooker - on 2-axis gimbals, which works really well at all angles of heel. The 3lb gas bottle acts as the pendulum weight. Not great to have gas in the boat, but then again there are no pipes or fittings.

The hull is made of GRP. Most were made by Nebe in Hout Bay - though Quest was made by an "H. Vink" in Natal somewhere I think. I think she was made in about 1988 or so - and build quality is generally good. She has some slight osmosis but nothing to be concerned about. Action Yachting gave her a good workover a year or two ago - and found nothing to be concerned about. A more recent anti-fouling showed no deterioration at all. I think she'll last me another twenty years before the hull needs any work.

Quest has an outboard (see the dolphins in the pic). Outboards are great if you want to avoid the complications of inboards -and also much lighter and cheaper. But they are not really effective in a big chop - and a nuisance to ship and unship each time (as they tend to get swiped). An outboard in a well must be the ideal solution I think - but the well must be designed by a genius, and not too intrusive in the cockpit. That would be ideal . . . as it is my little Yamaha 5hp is fine for most situations, and drives the hull at 4.5 knots easily under half throttle. Full throttle gives about 5.5 knots. In fact there is a large space under the cockpit floor where a decent inboard could be fitted - ideally with a saildrive. That would be nice - but over-capitalising on a small boat like this.

For her size, Quest has a fairly generous cockpit. Easily seats four (if motoring for example). But whilst sailing - I just find one in the cockpit is enough - as one wants to have the tiller and the mainsheet in the hands of the helmsman. Maybe it's just my dinghy heritage showing here - because in fact it does work quite well if the sail trimmer sits forward and helmsman sits back.

Is there any other boat in this class I would rather have? I would have to say the Sadler 26. Most of the virtues of a Flamenca, but considerably more space and comfort. Plus they are unsinkable, and usually have inboards. And they cost about 3x more - but still quite affordable really. They are safe, have good manners, and good for shorthanding.

I reckon I'll get a bigger boat when I go cruising. Until then - the enjoyment of sailing - for me anyway - is more about improving my skills, and getting the most from the boat (any boat). In many ways small boats are more challenging than big boats -at sea. Quest is great for singlehanding. She is also great for sailing onto the mooring (i.e. quite cheap!). One doesn't want to practise this in a new Shearwater for example. And, she has quite favourable PHRF rating!

Around the Horn!

Actually locals call it Cape Point to be honest. We sailed from Hout Bay to Simonstown and back - around Cape Point. Its about 40 nm or so, and can be a pretty challenging route. The fact that there is even a surfski race over much of this passage did nothing to deter my sense of accomplishment in completing this trip. Nor did the fact that the wind was so light on the way back we had to motor the entire way. Thing is we got there and back in this little boat, without bothering the rescue services or anyone.

The trip there (to Simonstown) was quite exciting. Nick and I (again) set out early one morning in the Christmas break - probably about 6am. No wind initially. We motored until just past Kommetjie - when a light Northwester picked u p. The forecast was for a light Northwester, changing to a moderate South Easter by afternoon. Ideal forecast for this trip, if it could be believed. With the light NorthWester we raised the spinnaker, and made gentle progress towards the point. The swells were actually quite large - about 3m or so - and we were both discinclined to try the sandwiches we had for whatever reason. The scenery was probably excellent had we been interested on the day. We were running at about 3-4 knots which was a bit slow really. But better than motoring. I had plotted a conservative course oustide Bellows, but it seemed fine to cut inside on the day. So we did.

We actually rounded the point with the bag up. And just then we saw a large Roberts 45 Charter coming up the other side of the point with a fully reefed main and a rag of a jib. And heeling. @$%%$#!!! We got the bag down promptly. #2 up in its place, and full main. A minute later we were hit with 20 knots of Northwester. Quest heeled over, settled, and took off on a long beat up into False Bay. It was exhilirating! I don't think we dropped under six knots at all for an hour or two. We left the Roberts miles behind. The wind freshened a bit more - maybe 25 knots - which was still fine. But as we passed Millers Point the chop started picking up with the long fetch from Simonstown, and it started getting wet and cold. And the wind got stronger still. It was quite ominous as the clouds came over too, and the wind was beginning to shriek through the rigging. We were clearly over canvassed at this stage - but reefing was a nuisance at that time - with the hank-on jib etc. We dropped the main and resolved to motor the last few miles. But by now the wind was blowing a steady 35 knots and we could only make about 2 knots against it under motor. The chop was absolutely horrible. Just about every wave came over the bow, and blasted us at high-pressure in the cockpit. It was cold and plain horrible. We took the jib up again, and motor-sailed on a loose beat out into False Bay -and approximately towards Simonstown. But Quest was behaving quite well under jib alone - despite the spray coming over. I set the tiller pilot and we went below! Managed to get into some dry clothes etc. I was able to make minor course adjustments using the remote control on the tiller pilot. I stuck my head out from time-time through the "conning tower" - or so it felt - to check for other vessels. We manged a cellphone call to False Bay Yacht Club - they said probably better not to come round today - strong wind blowing, racing cancelled, and not safe to sail in there! I can't recall my choice of words but we agreed soon after we would be coming in, and they graciously agreed to meet us on the quay!
A few minutes later I was able to bear off and point Quest into Simonstown harbour. We approached at about 6 knots under jib alone (motor idling), and headed into the marina. Fortunately we had the course mapped accurately on the GPS and went into the correct entrance first time - before dropping the jib and motoring up to the walkway. Was quite glad to step onto terra firma that day. Had a good sleep that night too come to think of it.
It was a few days later before we sailed back. I say sailed - but we motored the whole way. Weather was perfect but not a breath of wind. Great for sight-seeing - and a chance to admire Cape Point from the sea. We did the trip in eight hours exactly - arriving in Hout Bay within seconds of the GPS predicted eta. Nearly all under autpilot. We used 10l of fuel for the trip of 40 nm.

So that's done then.

Friday, 8 June 2007

The Big Blow

It started as a routine Sunday Club race. We started in a moderate South Easter to race around the mark under Chapman's Peak, then to Vulcan Rock - a mile or two out of the bay, and back. Fiona was with me on this occasion - and we did reasonably well sailing out behind the larger boats to Vulcan. Wind freshened a bit to about 25 knots I suppose as we approached Vulcan - but no big deal with the full main and number 2 flying. However as we approached Vulcan I noticed the gooseneck had come loose or broken - and the mainsail was definitely at risk. Said a few bad words, dropped the main, lashed it to the boom, and then decided to retire from the race. But the wind was picking up quickly. I had just got the main down when the wind went through 30 knots. We would have to beat back - about a mile or two, without the main. The chop was big about a metre at this stage. I thought to motor-sail back under jib and outboard. Then I decided just to motor back if I could - rather than go off an a loose tack to keep the jib happy. So I dropped the jib too - clambering about on a very lively foredeck . . .

I managed to get the motor down - the trusty little new Yamaha 5 Hp. It started ok and revved up - but battled to get traction off the back of the boat as we pitched about in the large chop. And then suddenly it died. DAM! Started it again. It ran a few more seconds then died. @#$%^&*!!!! I was sure it was was to do with the fuel supply from the external fuel tank - the line is always hard to prime - and I had neglected to fill the header tank on the motor itself. And this was clearly not the time to do it! I would have had to decant from the external tank, and pour into a container of sorts, and then pour into the motor over the stern in these wild conditions.

So I gave up on the motor and raised the #2 again, sheeting it in as it in as hard as I could. Even as I did this the boat rolled heavily under a vicious blast of wind - somewhere in the high 40s I reckon, and I was forced to let it fly and get back to windward quickly. I asked Fiona to get below - pass me a harness - and stay down. I clipped on and sheeted the sail in again. We tried to beat out to sea to get some searoom - South towards Kommetjie. . .

What a ride! The chop was running at 1.5m now. Wind was averaging 40 gusting upper 40s. I was over canvassed with just the #2. As we lifted up each swell - so the wind would lay us down again. But we were in fact making some progress to weather under jib alone - later review of GPS tracklog showed a tru angle of about 55deg (i.e. we seemed to tack through 110deg). So it was going to be a long hard slog to get back, and I wished I had a #3 or less up. Luckily this boat sails quite well under jib alone.

At this stage I thought to radio the committee boat. Told them I was no longer racing, had broken gooseneck, no motor, and was slogging it back under jib alone - but under control and in no immediate danger. Had to use the indoor set - stretching the mike out to the cockpit - as the mobile wouldn't reach. Gavin - our race officer who officiates from his boat Dolphin - a large converted fishing boat- was having some fun himself under Chapmanspeak as the wind kept catching him abeam. With the sea running - we couldn't see each other. Gavin relayed our situation to Cape Town Radio and the N.S.R.I. and asked them to standby - as the conditions were still deteriorating. Meanwhile - Chris Sutton (skipper of the Farr-40 Farraway) - had enquired about us and set off to see if they could help. Farraway eventually appeared with a fully reefed main, no jib, and about 6 crew on the weather rail. Even they had a torrid time of it. Not much they could do but they could at least see us and report we were making progress.

Meanwhile I kept slogging along in Quest, beating as best I could under jb alone. Each wave came over the bow, launching spray into the wind and blasting my face in the gale. Luckily it wasn't too cold - and as I was clipped in and by now getting into a routine with this - I did have a moment to reflect there was a slight element of fun in this. I didn't think we would capsize with just the jib. Except Fiona was in the cabin and I had to find a way to get her home safely eventually.

The next challenge came when I had to take her about - as we had insufficient space to clear the headland under the Sentinel. On first attempt she stalled in irons - under pressure from the strong wind and chop. So I bore off again to pick up speed and tried again with more pressure on the tiller. She made it. And off we we went again. There were times I thought the sail would burst under the wind gusts. I did think I could have gybed her right around if she had failed to come about second time.

It was an hour or so later we made it back into the bay, where conditions were far better, and we sailed into the harbour without incident. Even managed to get the motor going again briefly to get into the mooring.

Lessons learnt:
  • Outboard motor is completely useless in these conditions - even if it stayed running
  • This boat can be sailed fairly safely in very strong winds under suitable headsail alone
  • Low freeboard seemed like an important element in this experience, as the windage on the hull was obviously a major factor at times
  • I felt a lot better with the harness on
  • Nice to have a good, well installed and tested VHF main set
  • Mental note to keep the outboard's header tank full in future

I have several times since then had experiences in strong winds but nothing quite like that day. However, each time I have been reassured that I know can manage under headsail alone, and its not so scary when you know what the boat can do . . .

Thoughts on Safety at Sea

The issue of Safety at sea immediately raises a number of different emotions and views in me.

In my view, the adventure of sailing is primarily all about taking risks, managing them and overcoming them. Just like other forms of adventure - eg mountaineering, flying etc. Its a deep-seated element of the human psyche. As much as people are interested in adventure - so they are naturally interested in techniques that enable this - i.e. safety - managing the risks, and developing the skills. Talk to any old salt at the pub and inevitably the conversation turns to the subject of how to survive a storm. About sea-anchors and drogues, good boats and bad etc etc. Sailors are naturally interested in safety, for obvious reasons. And in my own view, one can only enjoy a sailing trip if the basic elements of safety are catered for. I need to know I can contact help. I need to know I can stay afloat, and reasonably warm. Etc. Otherwise I'd worry consistently.

I absolutely hate the safety bureaucrats. I just hate it that some people think it is their entitlement and right to legislate about how others should conduct their lives - as long as they don't place others at risk (that's completely different). For commercial and passenger vessels - safety legislation and compliance are not debatable in my view. But for the private yachtsmen it's a real nuisance - particlularly in South Africa which has gone seriously overboard with red tape, costs, and petty officials. Far far more than the UK, US or Europe. This irritates me beyond belief.

From a club perspective (I serve on the Hout Bay Yacht Club Committee) - enforcement of the legislated safety standards is critical. Club will be shut down if not obviously complying properly - as as happened in other cases. Much as we might hate it - its still a "Licence to Operate" issue. So I do champion the cause of safety and compliance. Hopefully in a proactive and supportive way - rather than a "bureaucratic way".

Now comes an interesting reflection:

You may have read my earlier posting about sailing from Cape town to Hout Bay a day or two after purchasing my first keelboat - Quest. No keelboat experience. No knowledge of the boat. No radio training etc etc etc. Rather stupid if I say so myself. Would the current regulations have stopped me doing something quite this crazy at the time? Undoubtedly. However, I would never have got sailing in the first place under the current regime of autocratic bureacrats. And right now I see the same thing happening all around - people are selling boats, or simply breaking the law by not complying with the current draconian regime. But could this effect - much as I hate it - potentially have saved my life? Yes it could have - as I would probably not have bothered to sail in the first place. But what kind of life is that?? Damn them again. To make the point from another angle - yachting is not statistically a high-risk sport. Ask the insurers. Ask the NSRI. Don't ask the government. Don't ask the bureaucrats.

There is a middle ground - education rather than legislation. As I mentioned - most yachtsmen are naturally interested in safety. And almost without exception (besides a few nerds) - they hate bureaucracy. So why don't we have a proactive form of yachting education - with safety as a key theme? In he UK, US and Europe yachting safety is driven by he theme of education rather than legislation. Skipers tickets are not compulsory (for private yachtsmen), but nice to have. Certificates of fitness are not compulsory. Do they have high accident levels? No. But South Africa, with its rampant lawlessness - thinks it prudent to have the most prescriptive regulations for yachtsmen of just about any country in the world? Who we kidding? This is a very small group (yachtsmen), with a good safety record. I will have to stop here in case I suffer a coronary. Damn them again and again.

But coming back to safety at sea - which I do care about - it is really useful for yachtsmen to share their views and learnings. I love to read about this. My learnings and views:

  • Always have a sail ready to use at short notice. I have several times lost engine power leaving or entering harbour, and being able to sail on has saved me some considerable nuisance several times.
  • The anchor is a useful thing for parking. It is also a brake. Once when recovering the pin-mark at the end of a race, I wrapped the mark line around my prop in 20 knots of wind, just to windward of the harbour wall. Anchor went down in a flash and again saved a grounding on the harbour wall, while I dealt with the rope and the prop etc.
  • If conditions are very bad - climb into your wetsuit. You are more likely to die of hypothermia than drowning - in cold waters such as where I live. I could survive quite a while in a wetsuit, and maybe swim to shore.
  • Clip-on when conditions are bad - especially when singlehanded. Losing the boat must be very embarrassing. A lifejacket with a built-in harness is a must. Find a way of keeping a handheld VHF on your person.
  • Prepare things in advance so it all goes smoothly. Reef early.
  • Maintain your boat. Obviously. But especially the electrics. You need a radio. You need a GPS. You need nav lights. Radar. Bilge pumps. Engine starter. Cabin lights.
  • Navigate properly. However you know how to. I like a chartplotter and GPS. Old salts like paper charts and compasses and things. One way or another you need to know where you are - easily, and at all times.
  • Buy the right boat. It should have a strong stability curve - AVS of 130deg plus is minimum in my view. Unsinkable boats also get my vote and I still don't really see why these are not more popular. A sealed mast is another great thing as they dramatically improve the AVS, and external halyards are far easier to maintain - (if a bit messy). Go easy on the high-up weight (radar sets, stainless steel structures, wind-chargers, solar panels etc). These are not factored into the predicted stability curve. Won't matter at all until the day you go turtle! And be sure the keel is solid and won't fall off. . .
  • Be very careful with petrol and gas! Automatic fire extinguishers also a good thing, especially in engine room.
  • Find a way to understand the weather. By old or new principles. Avoiding bad weather is more important than having to survive it . . . For coastal sailing I use a variety of weather and swell reports. For ocean sailing - get those GRIB files.
  • Know the basics of first aid - and how to manage seasickness in the crew - laying down flat with head flat down brings quick relief as the ears stop confusing the brain.
  • Read all you can about "series drogues".

Thats my list for now. I would love to hear your views and experiences!

A good boat for singlehanding

After delivering Quest to her new home in Hout Bay, I had good access to the boat which was now just a five-minute drive from my home. I was able to sail her and mess about with stuff to my heart's content. Initially we (my girlfriend Fiona and I) would take supper down to the boat and simply enjoy being on the water in the lovely Hout Bay marina. Next to all the big boats . . .

But soon it became clear to me my appetite for boats and sailing was considerably more than most people I knew - perhaps verging on obsessive - or maybe even well past that . . . . To keep going - I resolved to start sailing singlehanded even though this didn't look like common practise in the keelboat community. Especially not when starting out. But then I had sailed dinghies singlehanded for years and this little keelboat seemed easier in some ways - at least if one could be well prepared - I thought. So a few weeks later I set off on my own - not without a few mistakes - eg forgot to disconnect the shorepower as I cast off etc. And then just as I was exiting the harbour mouth the outboard died on me! This was a bit alarming as I had a steady breeze blowing me onto the harbour wall, and no steerage. Managed to get the jib up very quickly and got just enough way on to steer out the harbour, which gave me a few minutes to attend to the outboard. Just a fuel supply problem, but a bit of a wake-up nevertheless. And then I hoisted the sails, recovered the fenders etc, and set off for a really nice sail of a few hours around the bay. No further problems - just had to be careful to stay ahead of the game - eg get the sails down before re-entering harbour etc, have lines at the ready etc. I had no autopilot, and no roller furling etc. Just the basics. Although this first experience was fine, I realised there was tons to learn to get this down to a polished and relatively safe operation. I made a nice checklist to place under the lazarette lid - including reminders to check fuel line was primed, halyards connected, fenders ready to be unclipped etc etc etc. I kept a few spare lines at hand, had a knife ready, lifejacket and harnesses ready, cellphone and flares within reach etc. And so it improved almost by each trip.

The challenge of single-handing soon became the focus of my sailing. I wasn't racing or anything - just trying to get everything working properly. This was enough - especially in Hout Bay which brings enough of its own challenges by way of extreme catabatic winds within its mountainous surrounds. Luckily the little boat lived up to its name and proved very seaworthy and equal to the conditions. It was designed by Oswald Berckemeyer - who also designed the famous Miura - all noted as excellent seaboats. The Flamenca - at 25' - is decidedly small - but displaces a respectable 2000 kgs, with low freeboard, moderate beam, and narrow stern. She clearly has impressive stability, and rides a big chop very well. No obvious handling problems or vices. To date, despite some very challenging weather, I have yet to have her mast in the water or even a broach.

So it's a safe, small boat, and actually ideal for single-handing. She is easily capable of 6-6.5 knots on a beat (given wind upwards of about 10 knots), and will hit about 7.5 knots reaching - according to my Garmin. Highest speed I have recorded is 10-12 knots surfing downwind on a broad-reach in about 35 knots, for periods of about ten seconds at a time. Not bad for a waterline length of 20.6', and a non-planing hull . . . So while not too fast - like these performance racing boats - she is safe and manageable. More recently I have raced her quite a bit - and she appears to be very equally matched with a Sadler 26. By chance more than foresight, I seemed to have ended up with a very appropriate design for my needs.

With my ambitions to get the boat optimised for singlehanding - the boat needed a few improvements and additions. Yes I am sure you can see the signs - since when have boats not been like large black holes devouring money and resources forever and ever - brought to an end only by bank managers, irate partners or simlar. Its a terminal condition I think - usually leading to further and bigger boats along the way too. And even if one can recognise the signs quite clearly, there's not much can be done about it. . . . .

So I added a few bits including a handheld GPS chartlotter, a boomcover, new mooring lines, anchors, cusion covers, a cooker, a wooden cockpit sole, new outboard, new safety equipment, new charts, almanacs. And then I added a tiller pilot, new anchors and lines. New running rigging. New standing rigging. New VHF radio too. Digital depthsounder. New battery. Electric bilge pumps. New manual bilge pump. Cupholders. Did I mention new sails, including a roller furling? Then a few barber-haulers for the jib-sheets. New windex and VHF aerial. Handheld VHF. Had the bottom scubbed down properly and well resealed. New stanchion bases and a spinnaker pole. New transom bracket for the outboard. New lifejackets with built-in harnesses. And a dinghy - nice inflatable canoe called a fishduck - you can get from That sort of thing. Just a bit of maintenance really, or for safety. Plus I bought a marina berth but thats more like a real investment I think. Can't be too careful! Don't ask - yes it might be slightly over-capitalised by now - but I really needed all these things you see. In spite of all this - I have spent less than R100k all told (about 15k USD) - so less than the price of a small car.

So now the boat is reasonably well setup for singlehanding. The roller-furling headsail is a dream. Despite these things being a bit of a compromise - they make it faster for singlehanding as one can adjust sail to the conditions more readily. And its a nice tough sail that can be used in very strong wind - almost as a storm-jib. When racing - I keep it furled until the one-minute gun and then let it fly - so easy . . . .

The autopilot has to be the most useful thing ever. Its a Raymarine ST2000 and probbaly a bit overspecced for my boat. But it works beautifully - never complains - and is just about as good as an extra pair of hands on the boat.

Personally - I really like the handheld chartplotter. Its a bit old by now - a Garmin GPS-V - but it holds all the SANHO charts ever made, and allows me to navigate with great confidence. I have all possible and likely routes plotted into it - including harbour entrances etc. Have used it a few times in anger - including a trip back from Cape Town once in very heavy mist - which simply wouldn't have been possible without it (or at least a GPS with routes loaded). I no longer am concerned with all the submerged rocks along the coast here - and I can the depths straight off the chart. I have linked it to my VHF (an ICOM M301) - which is a DSC set - and so I can send automatic Maydays with coordinates. Not sure who would hear them round here but its a nice idea.

The handheld radio is also great. Far more practical than the fixed set - its an ICOM M-71. Great for racing or short-range comms - and comes with me on the dinghy etc.

The new outboard is also a good thing. Its a Yamaha 5Hp 2-stroke. Far lighter than the original 8Hp Mariner (which was nationalised by some local truants I think) - it is far easier to lift on and off the transom - at about 25kgs. It also has the benefit of having an integral header fuel tank - which is more reliable than the long feeder tube which runs a long way down into the lazarette and often caused problems . . . It is super economical - a recent trip from Simonstown used only 10l for 80km of motoring - at around 4.8 knots.

So by now I have done a fair bit of singlehanding - including the weekly club racing, our recent Admiral's Regatta over three days, and two trips to-from Cape Town. I have sailed in pretty lively conditions with winds up to 45 knots (see posting on "The Big Blow"), and many other fresh conditions. Singlehanding is a particular challenge, and for my money, perhaps the most enjoyable way to sail, on the right boat.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Fools rush in where angels fear!

Quest was test-sailed on a Wednesday evening, paid for on the Thursday, handed over on a Friday (and insured). And I wanted to get it to Hout Bay soonest - where I live. That's about 30 km down the coast. The weather report seemed ok - very light wind in the morning, freshening to about 20-30 km/h in the afternoon from the NW - which would be on a stern quarter except for the last bit. In those days I didn't say knots and miles and stuff. Just good old TV weather reports. I knew the coast fairly well having traversed it in my little rubber duck a few times. I knew how to sail (dinghies). And I felt I was pretty resourceful with mechanical things and all.

So I phoned my mate Nick - said what about sailing the little boat down to Hout Bay on the Saturday? Never mind how we came to this extremely foolish conclusion. We had almost no keelboat experience between us - just a HUGE taste for adventure at this moment! And at that time there was no law saying one had to have a skippers ticket etc. The challenge just seemed too tempting to resist. . .

At 0500 on Saturday morning we headed off to Royal Cape Yacht Club. With lots of petrol, sandwiches, and plenty of tools. For safety we had wetsuits (!) - and cellphones - plus the usual flares and all. We had to get into RCYC in a way that wouldn't arouse suspicion. Especially since we weren't even members. Well it was no problem. Gate security saw us arriving with hands full and very politely let us through. I signed the boat out (permanently) in their book - happened to see a sign saying all vessels had to keep a "listening watch" on Channel 14 in the harbour - and of we went to the boat. It was a lovely still morning, with a bit of mist.

Soon we were on the boat, unlocked the cabin and lazarette, had the motor on. One or two sails out. We had no idea what sails were available, or where they were. Some looked bigger than others, and some were different colours. Each one was stowed below and had to be fitted. Even the main. The foresails were hank-on sails. I hauled out the outboard and fitted it on the transom bracket. Pumped the fuel through and managed to start it without much ado.

Nick was busy connecting the battery. We thought it would be good to have the radio connected - just in case! We certainly weren't going to speak on it and had no idea what to say anyway. After connecting the battery we were rewarded with some smoke and a strong burning smell which seemed to be coming from the ancient radio-tape player. With some urgency we ripped the wires off it. And the VHF just wouldn't work. It wasn't a good sign at all. I decided to phone the broker - Carl - at this very early hour - but even while speaking with him it occurred to me we probably had the polarity wrong. We quickly changed it around (the colours were wrong) and luckily it worked - i.e. the VHF - and the nav lights. Somewhat relieved - and slightly encouraged - we quickly cast off and headed out through the harbour. It was very still at 6 a.m. - and we moved along at a steady 4-5 knots with the little 8hp outboard gurgling along happily behind us, hoping Port Control would not have anything to say. We had already decided we would not answer the radio under any circumstances. I seemed to remember one had to "keep right" on the water which is what we did - and actually had a very smooth transit out of the harbour, and into the Atlantic - where I turned left (South) for to Hout Bay . . .

It was quite exciting. Our safety plan - if it all went pear-shaped - was to head for the shore, don our wetsuits and swim the last bit! As I would do with a surfski anyway. One way or another - we made steady progress under motor all along the way as far as Llandudno or so - thats about 20 kms - on a gentle sea with almost no wind. It was quite relaxing initially as we surveyed Table Mountain and the beautiful Atlantic seaboard from the sea. We then scratched in all the drawers and found some lovely things like an old compass, a book on lighthouses and lights and whatever, a few old lifejackets, some strange black disks and a few rags that turned out to be flags of some sort. And a nice aluminium pole with a hook on which has been quite useful too. Marvellous! I had kept the motor running at a very gentle pace as we had no idea if the available fuel would be sufficient (25L). In fact we thought we would not have enough to motor the whole way which was a bit of a worry . . .

South of Llandudno the weather usually changes - and it did. Fortunately we expected this and could see the water darken under the wind pressure. Nick dropped the headsail we were flying - some kind of light-weather drifter, and replaced it with a smaller headsail - actually a number-3 (I now know it to be). Good. Well the North Wester came up behind us and freshened to about 15-20 knots, and we sped off down the coast on a broadreach, at the heady speed of about 6 knots! Not bad considering there was about a 2" beard under the hull. And as this is a rather wild piece of coast with lots of submerged rocks etc - Nick was standing up at the mast keeping an eye forward as we whizzed along. I think we did have an old chart - but we had no accurate idea where we were in relation to the submerged horrors of this stretch. And while I had covered it a few times in a R.I.B. or surfski, those didn't have keels on. However - with hindsight - we were in fact far enough offshore to be quite safe . . .

It seemed like just a few minutes later we were actually in Hout Bay. The second half of the trip seemed to have just vanished - partly because we were moving quite swiftly, and partly because we were having tremendous fun seeing the little boat moving like that!!! Coming back into Hout Bay we had hardened up onto a tight beat, with the boat heeling nicely. From a dinghy sailor perspective, this was not alarming at all and in fact it all seemed so easy. Not much physical exertion - no tired stomach muscles. And the boat seemed to point very faithfully and make exceptional angles to weather (later I noticed the windex had a distinct bias to port - so my amazement was recalibrated a bit - but still it wasn't bad).

I headed into the middle of the bay - out of the way of other moving things, and just off the beach. This would allow us a bit of safe drifting time to get the sails down, outboard started etc. And predictably we needed it. Nick had the sails down quite easily - we lashed the main onto the boom and let the jib lie on the foredeck. I battled with the outboard meanwhile - both with the transom bracket and also to get it started. Eventually it did start fortunately - or our arrival in the marina would have added some good material for this blog I reckon. So we headed into the harbour under engine power - note that the engine was way out the back with no remote control. We sniffed about for an open marina berth - cut the motor - and made land in a relatively dignified way as it turned out. No-one fell in the water, no fingers were sunk, and the boat was unholed and undented. Bloody marvellous. We tied a few ropes to bits of the quay - resolving to get back to this technical matter once we'd had a beer or whatever. Then it dawned on us - we hadn't touched our sandwiches, cooldrinks etc at all. We had nearly all our fuel left too. And our e.t.a. had been had been hoplessly pessimistic. We had completed a fairly significant little coastal passage without incident, without experience, first time on a new boat, and looking back on it, without much brains either . . . But we undoubtedly had the time of our lives!!

Eventually, I locked up, tied some more ropes on, phoned the marina officer to confirm our arrival and berth number -and joined the Hout Bay Yacht Club a few days later.

See the posting "reflections on safety" for my current views on this adventure, safety laws etc.

How it all started . . .

Quite by chance in fact. It just happened I was on my way out to look a shiny new cabin cruiser with my mate Nick - and I had to go past Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town harbour - where I also knew there was this little Flamenca for sale. I believe all boats are good - even motorboats - but something made me duck off to see this little yacht. In fact I would have bought a yacht - any yacht - years ago if I could have afforded one. And this one was for sale at what seemed like a bargain price of R40k (about 5k USD) at the time . . . Although I had had many dinghies and open boats until then - I always dreamed of a boat with a cabin on - a bunk, and a cooker for some reason - where one could spend some time. And I liked sailing of course.

The little boat seemed fine. Not too complicated, not too big, and nothing too complicated to fix. It had a seaworthy certificate and could be sailed just as it was . . . . People said these little boats (Flamencas) were extremely seaworthy and good mannered - if a bit slow. Traditional looking and moderate in every sense - she just looked right.

I was tempted to take it away right there - but thought it prudent to do the test sail thing and all. So a few days later the broker (thats Carl of - a good guy) arranged a test sale for me. The owner came around and we (myself, my mate Nick, the broker, and the owner) went on a jolly little sail around Cape Town harbour. All amongst the big container ships, with the VHF Radio bleating out all kinds of stuff from Port Control. Jolly exciting it was at the time. And we headed out of the mouth of the harbour into the actual sea for good measure too. Wah!

With the engine off the little boat just moved along so easily and quietly. She was really easy to sail, compared to a dinghy. I could get used to this I thought . . .

That was on a Wednesday. On Thursday morning I paid the money, and on Friday I had the papers. It all happened quite quickly. Now I wanted to get her to my home port of Hout Bay as soon as possible . . .