Saturday 1 February 2014

The Plan

It seems auspicious that as I write this blog after a long absence, forty five boats have crossed the start line in St Lucia for the World ARC, bound for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  In exactly one year from now, that will be us, insha‘Allah, and I feel my pulse quicken.  I remember not so very long ago, crossing the English Channel seemed a huge adventure, but since then, the Bay of Biscay, a Mediterranean circuit, an Atlantic Crossing and now the possibility of heading into the Pacific on a circumnavigation – gulp.

Over the past few weeks I have been on a recruitment campaign; wrapped up against the gales, a roll of charts under my arm, I tramp around in my old land rover visiting wary friends, pitching them the beauty of the Caribbean islands, the drama of the Panama Canal, the ecological marvels of Galapagos and the charms of the South Pacific, with illustrations by Gaugin – well maybe not Gaugin but I hope you get the picture. I like to think of myself as Indiana Jones planning his quest for the lost Ark or Richard Burton rounding up his team in the Wild Geese for one last mission. Fatty's not convinced that anyone in their right mind will want to schlep across the Pacific Ocean with me - other than her of course.

Ha, she’s wrong! My stalwarts, Paul and Andrew, have already signed up, Kim has raised an antipodean eyebrow at the prospect of Tahiti, Steven is planning his conference calls from Galapagos and Kerry, Saz, Gill, Lisa and ‘Suelo have asked for the pitch, and subject to contract of course, they just might be tempted. I am also hoping that we will also be able to persuade my mother Fleur to join us again and i have seen that twinkle in her eye. What I love most of all is the generosity of spirit and enthusiasm that so many of our friends have shown for participating in our adventure.

So this is the plan. After a winter of upgrades and enhancements to Juno (much more on this later), we will haul in Palma in April, then launch in May for a summer season in the Med. After cruising Sicily and some more islands we will return to Palma in September for a month of final preparation before departing for the Canary Islands in time for the start of the ARC in November.  We will return from the Caribbean to the UK (by 747) for Christmas and then back to St Lucia in time for the start of the World Rally on January 10th 2015. The schedule beyond that is roughly as follows: Panama in January, Galapagos in February, Pacific Crossing to Marquesas in March, Tahiti and Bora Bora in April, Cook Islands in May, Tonga in June and Fiji in July, arriving in the Whitsundays on the Western coast of Australia in August. That’s about 15,000 nautical miles so we plan to stay in Australia for the southern hemisphere summer and take stock.  Phew.

Now back to those winter jobs.

Top of the list are some new, bigger batteries. We carry about 400 amp hours of total capacity in our service batteries. In other words we can draw one amp for 400 hours, or more usually around 20 amps for 20 hours – except that we can’t. To prevent damaging deep cycle batteries, they can only be discharged to about 50% of their capacity, and at sea it is uneconomic to charge batteries to more than 85%, because the fuller they get, the harder it is to push amps into them. So that reduces the useable capacity to 35% of 400 amps, which is only 140 amp hours. Given that Juno devours around 300 amp hours every 24 hours while at sea, it means that we have to run the generator twice a day for two hours at a time to charge our batteries, and on occasions we have found that in the early mornings mid-Atlantic, there is insufficient power to furl the sails when the tropical squalls deliver our morning shower.   So there are two solutions to this that I am working on:

The first is to replace the existing battery bank with greater capacity and better technology. The new bank comprises 12 two-volt cells, connected in series to provide 24 volts, with each cell having a capacity of around 700 amp hours, almost doubling what we have at present. The only problem is that these beasts are much bigger, weighing in at half a ton in total, and requiring changes to the battery box to accommodate them.  We have now removed the batteries and the battery box so that the carpenters can enlarge it and we have temporarily used two start batteries as our domestic supply. This has also allowed me to climb down into the bilge and clean around the keel bolts with a scrubbing brush.   While I was down there, I also serviced the strum boxes which filter the water before it enters the bilge pump ensuring that the impellor doesn’t get damaged by all the paraphernalia that accidentally slips between the floor boards. The enlarged battery box was then installed and we loaded the new batteries using a spinnaker halliard and a bosun’s chair to lower them, one at a time, through the companionway and into the bilge.   I also took the opportunity to replace the start batteries for the main engine and the generator with new high-powered Red Tops which have a much higher cranking capacity due to their tubular design.  After a happy day rewiring we now have our new batteries fitted snugly into the box and powering all our domestic appliances.

The second part of the energy solution is to find a better way to generate power. Many yachts use a combination of solar or wind energy to generate renewable energy, however neither of these systems is very efficient and doesn’t provide adequate power for a boat like ours. Solar energy requires a huge array to generate sufficient power and on a sailboat there simply isn’t space to do this – until the day that someone produces a solar sail.  Wind generators are fine as long as you have the vital ingredient, but they have a reputation for being noisy and as they rely on strong apparent wind, they aren’t quite so effective on trade wind routes, which are generally downwind.  This brings me neatly onto hydrogenerators, devices that generate power from a propeller which turns as it is towed through the water. Because of the higher resistance of water, these devices can generate much greater power and due to the clever design the drag is minimal, so much so that 90% of the yachts in the Vendee Globe yacht race now have these fitted.  The great benefit is that at 8 knots, the hydrogenerator will produce 20 amps, 24 hours per day as long as the boat is moving, topping up the batteries continually – for free.  When I say ‘for free’ as you know there’s actually no such thing on a yacht and I am trying to decide whether the hydrogenerator makes the cut or in this era of austerity we might just use the existing diesel generator instead and burn more smelly diesel. It always strikes me how committed one has to be to implement renewable energy solutions with their high capital costs.

The other big project over the winter has been to convert our mid-cabin from a rather cluttered junk room to a single cabin with purpose-built storage for paper charts and the large inventory of spares that we need to take.  The results are amazing. Carpinser, a marine carpentry firm in Palma, have done the conversion with such skill and craftsmanship, exactly matching the oak and the joinery that you would think that Juno had been built that way from scratch. Juan and his team are real craftsmen. When I first showed him the pictures of a similar layout on another Oyster I asked if he could do the same on Juno. He shook his head and said, “no, we do it better”, and if anything he has. Pictures below show the cabin before and after.

In addition to these major tasks we have fitted new up-lighters in the cockpit, a VHF charging station at the chart table, new chafe bars on the bow and next month the new bimini gets installed.  Fatty and I are now returning to the UK after a week in Palma, enjoying the winter sunshine and the relaxed way of life.  Fatty has ordered new colour co-ordinated bed linen and Rory and I have serviced all the winches, moored outside the Real Club Nautico where the King of Spain is the patron and lunch on the terrace is taken in T-shirts in January.


  1. Just love the neatness of the new battery array plus red tops.....almost as professional as the new chart storage facility! Nice job. Batteries obviously going to be needed to run the A/C as we cross the equator!


  2. So how much lateral movement would you get at the top of that mast with even a 10% roll ... might even be fun