Behind the scenes: sailing on a VO65 ocean racer...

On an ocean racer, everything is built for speed. The boat is stripped of any comfort. There are no cabins, no beds, no shower, no toilet, no personal space to put your stuff. There is no cooking done on board.

The only personal space you have: each crew has a hook - this hook #7 was mine - to hang your safety jacket and maybe a small bag with your sailing gloves and head torch.

There is no toilet.
Forward below deck, without doors or curtains to close or give privacy, there is "the throne".
It is a carbon fibre bowl (everything on this boat is carbon, to save weight). You can do pipi in it (manually pump water in and manually pump it out. Electrical pumps would add more weight), though most crew (except our female crew), pee standing at the stern of the boat.
If you need to do a #2, you strap a biodegradable bag over the throne bowl, do your thing, make a knot in the bag, put it in a bucket, climb on deck (holding your "bag" in one hand and hanging on for life on anything you can grab to hold your balance), and toss the bag overboard (preferably downwind, otherwise the bag with "your thing" ends up in the boat).
PS: The throne "swivels" on two hinges. So, as our boat heals a lot, the throne stays horizontal through the swivel. I have never done "my thing on a swing" before... There is a "first" for everything in life, I guess.

There is no cooking done on board.
There is one small "cooking" platform (which I got to know intimately as I hit my head hard on its corner while pulling the gennaker belowdecks) with 4 mini compartments: A very small sink with salt water and fresh water pumps, two small compartments (left and right), where crew water bottles are stored. And in the middle, there is a small camping gas stove, which can be used to warm up like 2 cups of water in a small pot. Even for that small amount of water, it takes 10 minutes to heat it up.

We don't take the heating pot off the camping cooker as pouring hot water on a healing/moving boat is a hazard. So to heat water, we (manually) pump some fresh water in a cup, and pour that in the pan. Light the camping burner. When the water is warm, turn burner off (important, don't forget!), and with a cup, scoop up the hot water from the pan into a drinking cup for instant coffee, or into a freeze-dried food bag.

So we never warm up meals in the pan... For warm meals, we warm water, and pour it into a freeze-dried food bag. Close it for 10 minutes and then use a spoon to eat it from the bag. We had good quality, high calorie freeze-dried food on board. Goulash, spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, mac-and-cheese, vegetarian pasta, meat-potato mash, etc... All of these were stored in a grab bag.
The pro-crew of our boat knew exactly which freeze-dried food to go for: They knew exactly which bags had the highest calorie and tastiest meals. As we were burning so many calories, we were eating almost every 6 hours. I never drunk that much water in my life, neither. As you are sweating a lot, we were -eh- quite active and we were sailing in the tropics, we needed to drink a lot. I think I consumed 3 litres of water per 24 hours. Note: to save weight, the fresh water tank was only 40 litres, so the water maker was running several times a day.

There is no fridge or freezer on board. So your "source of food", are 3 bags: One with all freeze-dried food, one with all snacks (protein bars, chocolate bars, cookies, nuts, muesli..) and one bag with longer lasting fruits (apples and oranges mostly).

I said I know "the small cooking platform" intimately: One time while pulling a big gennaker sail from the deck into the storage area below deck below, I was standing in this area with the cooking platform, "receiving" the sail bag. And instead of the bag coming down half a meter in a go, the boat hit a wave and the 200 kg bag came down 3 meters in a go. I was pushed off my feet, and landed 3 meters further back, slapping the back of my head against the corner of this cooking platform. Luckily, on this boat, there are no sharp corners, to avoid crew to get hurt. It was quite a dive, but apart from a bump on my head, and a damaged ego, I was not hurt...

There is no washing or showering on board.
There is just no space for it, nor can we afford the weight. The small sink we use to rinse our spoons and cups, we also use to brush our teeth, and splash our face.
If you want to clean yourself a bit more thoroughly than cleaning your teeth or splashing your face, you need to use a small cloth from a box of wet cleansing cloths. And that is it.

In the picture you see the "entrance" of the below decks, as you come down from the deck. Left and right the hooks for our safety jackets, left and right each 2 bunks. Grab bags for freeze-dried foods, snacks and fruits. Middle under white cover, the engine (mostly used to come in-out of the harbour, and to charge the batteries). The cooking/washing sink, water bottle storage and bags on the wall with instant coffee, sugar, dry powder milk, some plates, spoons, paper towels.

PS: this picture gives the wrong impression as if it were bright below decks. It is an enhanced picture. During the day or night, it is dark, like really dark. During night, there is only a very faint red light in each compartment, so we use head torches with red lights (no white light allowed on this boat at night, with one exception: to look at the sails while trimming).

This boat, below decks, is really, mostly, empty space.
So, below decks, there are three compartments: As you come down from the deck, the central area with 4 bunks, the "cooking area", food storage, engine cover (oh and also the window to look at the kanting keel): the aft area with 8 bunks, navigation station and media desk.
And then forward, apart from "the throne" (our substitute for a toilet), there is nothing. Just empty space. That is where we store the sails. It is just one black carbon fibre space-ship like area, with no light. And where sound from the deck (grinding winches) and waves hitting the hull, are amplified...

A big black whole of nothingness. But exciting, by itself, as it give you the sound, touch and feel of just mere raw optimization for.... speed.

There are no beds on this boat.
Below decks, there are three main compartments:
In the middle, as climb down from the deck, you have the space you saw in previous pictures: the cooking platform, our hooks for safety jackets, 2x two bunks, food grab bags, access to engine and kanting keel.
Forward is an empty compartment with "the throne" (substitute for a toilet) and sail stowing area.

Aft is a space with 2x 4 bunks (4 on each side), and in the middle, the navigation desk, and aft of that, the "media" desk. Both desks' seats are on one side: a two person swing, which keeps you horizontal somehow.
So, in the aft compartment there are 8 bunks and 4 bunks in the central area. The bunks are a bare-bone frame of carbon with a woven mat. The angle of the frames is adjustable, so, if you sleep windward, you can adjust a rope, fixed to the ceiling to basically tilt your bunk 30-40°, avoiding you to fall out and hurting yourself.
The 2x 2 bunks in the central area, are slightly higher from the bottom, so they also have straps, as in that space, you need to strap yourself in as you would get really hurt if you fall off your bunk when we tack or gybe, or when an awkward wave would hit us.

Below each bunch set, is an area you can store your personal bag. But as there are no compartments in the stowage area, all bags are on top of each other. So as each crew grabs their bag, to get their stuff, your own bag keeps on moving within the stowage area.
As we are 17 crew with only 12 bunks, we are "hot bunking" (sharing the same bunks): no-one has a dedicated bunk. When you come off watch, you look for a free bunk, and climb into it. That by itself is a bit of an adventure as the boat is often healing 30° to 35°. So if your free bunk is the upper one, you step on the side of the storage area, step on the side of the lower bunk (where someone is already sleeping in, trying not to hit or step on them), heave yourself into your bunk, adjust the angle of the bunk with a rope, and hope for the best. After your rest, you take all of your personal belongings, and clear the bunk.

As an interesting note: this boat does not have a "flat floor" or floor boards. The bottom - which you use to move around - is the actual hull, and is slanted. And it gets wet. So moving around forward and aft, below decks, is an "art" to hold your footing, trying not to twist your ankle, keep your footing, holding on with your arms to whatever you can hold on to...

We run on 3 hours on-shift and 6 hours off-shift. But when we do maneuvers (tack, gybe, hoist or drop sails), we needed to have all hands on decks. So you never know, in your "off" period when you will be called on deck. And normally we only get a 5 minute warning before any "hands-on-deck"... This might be during the day or in the middle of the night. So it can be quite a scramble to get ready.
Many times, when I knew manoeuvres were coming up (as in this regatta, we were sailing inbetween islands and course markers, I could estimate how long it would take until we reached the next manoeuvre), I just did not undress nor did I even take off my safety jacket during a rest period. I just grabbed my sleeping bag compressed into a tight bag, from my personal storage bag, which I used as a pillow cushion, and tried to rest. I never "slept" during our 3 days regatta. I kinda dozed off a bit, as a "all hands on deck" call could come any minute.

The compartments, where the bunks are, apart from a very faint red light, are completely dark. Dark during the day, darker-er at night. Apart from using our red-light head torches, no other light can be used. So sometimes it is a bit of a challenge to find your own storage bag in the stowage compartment, and go through your stuff, at night... I was looking for my spare socks in my bag, one night, as mine were soaked when our bow took a nose-dive. But I never found them in my bag...

The central area bunks were the least popular to sleep in, as this was also the space where crew came down from deck and went up, prepared their freeze-dried food, dressed and undressed, so loads of red light torches, people talking, bumping into your bunk etc... It was also the area which was used to push sails up on deck, and drop sails down below. So "a lot of activity"...

Note to be made: as our below-decks was pretty hollow, and housed in a carbon fibre hull, it acted as a sound-amplifier, a boom-box. Every trim, or sound made from the deck got amplified below decks. But it did not bother me, the sounds belowdecks were less than on the catamaran we sailed across the Atlantic 2 months ago!

Read the full post...

To cat or not to cat? My experience crossing an ocean on a catamaran.

While I have been sailing yachts for over 20 years, I always sailed on monohulls and never sailed on a cat, a catamaran. Came last winter, I finally had the opportunity to crew on a catamaran from South Portugal via the Canaries and Cape Verde to Grenada in the Caribbean. And that gave me an equal opportunity to compare sailing on a cat versus monohulls.

Just as no two types of monohulls are the same, neither are two types of cats the same. Some cats are geared towards cruising and comfort, while others are more performance oriented, or even racing cats. So my reflections are limited to that single type of cat I sailed on, and are - I realize - highly subjective.

The cat I sailed on, was a cruising cat: SV Sturdeee (yep that's with 3 e's - like "echo-echo-echoooo") is a 45 foot Lagoon 450F. The "F" stands for "Fly bridge", which is an option for this type of Lagoon: The fly bridge is a superstructure on top of the main saloon, acting as the main helming position. It features a solid roof and a large bench - and of course the helm, all navigation instruments plus all winches and clutches to handle the running rigging.

Sturdeee was about five years old, purchased two years earlier by its current owners Ian and Dee, a pilot and flight attendant couple. - And it was interesting to experience how their professional experience also translated in how Ian and Dee sailed, maintained and managed the boat. By itself, this is a golden tip if you want to crew on a boat and with a crew or owners you never sailed before: their past professional background DOES profoundly affect the way the boat is set up, and run. Which, on Sturdeee, was a good thing! :-)

When I stepped on Sturdeee for the first time, in Faro (South Portugal) mid September last year, I was immediately impressed: A 45ft catamaran is big! Sturdeee features a large saloon and galley (with three fridges/freezers - what a luxury!), generator, two engines, a large "cockpit" (aft deck sheltered seating area), a large foredeck seating area, a sundeck, 3 double cabins (each with their own bathroom or "head"), plus an extra cabin used as work/storage area.

This immediate highlighted the first (and obvious) difference between a 45 ft cat versus a monohull of the same size: A cat has MUCH more space (seating, cooking, sleeping, stowage). Pretty obvious, knowing that instead of one hull, you have two - and that, by itself, already +- doubles your space compared to a monohull. And on top of that, you have a large platform connecting the two hulls. That platform holds the space for the galley/saloon, aft cockpit, and, on Sturdeee, also the flybridge.

We were kinda joking that Sturdeee felt like an apartment with 5 floors: "Deeper down", slightly below sea-level, you had (floor 1) the 3 cabins and bathrooms. You take one set of stairs up, and you come into the saloon/galley and aft seating area - the cockpit (floor 2). From there, you take a set of stairs to come to the main deck (floor 3). And from there, some more stairs to get onto the flight deck (floor 4). From there, there were more steps to climb onto the roof of the fly bridge where one could reach the boom and the mainsail running rigging (floor 5), about 4-5 meters above the water level...

I had never sailed on a yacht with that many different "floors"... And it might sound funny, but in our passage, we sometimes "lost track", of where our crew was: "Where did Ian go? Last seen in the galley, but have not seen him for 30 minutes - maybe he is on the aft deck? or maybe he is in one of the cabins? or maybe on top of the fly bridge?"... Oh, look, he is sitting on the sunbeds on the foredeck!

Apart from the space on a cat, another more obvious observation: a cat always has two engines, one in each hull. So you basically have "a spare" if one engine dies.. But that also means double engine maintenance, and maintenance costs...

For two years Ian and Dee had prepared the boat for this ocean passage, and their planned upcoming cruising years in the Caribbean and Pacific: She was VERY well equipped for her upcoming adventure: redundant satellite comms (Starlink and an Iridium Go), plenty of solar panels (flexible panels atop of the fly bridge and solid panels aft above the davits holding the dinghy), water maker, large house battery bank, generator,...

This showed another (obvious) difference between a cat versus a monohull: As you have more top-deck surface, it is easier to fix plenty of solar panels to charge your batteries. Important, as "electricity management" is quite crucial while cruising: the more "systems" (fridges, freezers, satcoms, autopilot) you have, the more you depend on a reliable electricity supply (and charging systems).

Beyond that, what impressed me the most, was that Sturdeee looked as if she was brand new. When I first stepped onto her, she looked "spic-and-span". Everything looked like she came out of the factory a month ago: the standing and running rigging, the deck, the interior, the engines,...: I could not see a single scratch, sign of rust, or even a bit dirt.

Sure, when I boarded her, Sturdeee had not sailed a lot up to that point - leave alone sailing long distances... But still, a vessel of five years old would typically already show "some of her age". Kudos to Ian and Dee, who clearly took pride in maintaining "their home" in a more than perfect shape.
I translated that observation to the owners' previous professional lives: Ian being a pilot and Dee being a flight attendant. Pilots tend to care for technical systems and details, while flight attendants take pride in a tidy and well run cabin with happy passengers :-)

Another short sidestep here: immediate impressions when stepping on a yacht for the first time, are important: In two minutes, looking around, you can see 95% of how a boat is maintained and up-kept. While those are more "superficial" observations, most of the time, this also reflects on how the boat's "inner guts", which you can't see at first glance, are maintained and serviced.

And that, by itself, contributes to (the feeling of) "safety" aboard a vessel. Important for me, as I came on board the evening of Sept 11, and we set off on the first leg of our ocean passage from Portugal to the Canaries, the next morning. So I would be sailing in an open ocean on a vessel I did not know, and with a crew I did not know neither. But I felt totally comfortable in slipping the mooring lines on Sturdeee, based on those positive first impressions...

As we left Faro to Lanzarote in the Canaries, the morning of September 12th, motoring in initial light winds, and gradually hoisting more sails, some of the main "on passage" differences between a monohull and a cat came up.

Sturdeee's "out of the box" sails consisted of a genoa (a 120% genoa if I remember well), originally sheeted through cars on the foredeck close to the mast, and a heavily baton-ed stiff mainsail with a broad top. In addition (not part of the standard sail-package), she had a Code-0 sail (which we never used as we never had upwind conditions during our passage) and a Parasailor wing/spinnaker, which would become our downwind powerhouse.

As the genoa was originally rigged, with the sheets running via the cars on the foredeck, in front of the fly bridge, there was no way to trim the genoa for a good broad reach or down-wind sail: The genoa sheeting was running too close to midships, which inhibited us from keeping the sail "open" in a broad reach or sailing downwind.
Luckily, Ian had planned for that, and we ran the genoa sheet via a home-made barber hauler through an aft block, onto a winch on the flight deck. That by itself, was a winner for our mostly down-wind transatlantic sailing, allowing the genoa to open up more. But it also meant a bit more work when tacking: each time we tacked or gybed, we had to move the barber hauler to the other side of the boat. A little extra effort for a lot of gain...

That, was not our main challenge. Our main challenge was more related to the mainsail: As we sailed further south towards the Canaries, with Sturdeee's stiff, battoned and large mainsail, it became clear that raising, dropping or reefing the mainsail while sailing mostly down wind, as we did, was a challenge. A challenge even more so, as the reefing lines on Sturdeee were very stiff and just a bit too thick and stiff, making it difficult to feed them through a number of bends (at the mast, the goose neck and at the end of the boom). This meant that the reefing lines had to be manually fed at the mast and at the end of the boom... So for any mainsail changes, Ian had climb onto the roof of the fly bridge, about 4-5 meters above the water line, to work on the main sail. A manoeuvre I did not feel happy about: Seeing Ian standing that high up, working at the end of the boom, with no secure place to hook his tether line onto, always gave me an uneasy feeling in my tummy. The more so as, to hoist, drop or reef the main sail, we had to motor into the wind, straight into the open ocean waves, which made Sturdeee buck heavily.

Later on, we refined any manoeuvre involving working on the main sail, by blocking the boom with two preventers, but still having anyone work on a sail 4-5 meters above the water line, does not make me happy... And any main sail changes, something which on any other boat I sailed on before, could be done single-handed, on Sturdeee, involved a "all hands on deck" call for our 5 crew: Ian on top of the fly bridge, Dee at the helm, and Lana, Michele and me, alternating on the main sheet and reefing lines in the cockpit and at the mast, and managing the preventers...
That is why, as we sailed along in our ocean passage, we were hesitant to do any mainsail changes during night time...

I have mentioned before that the mainsail reefing lines, as typically installed on a Lagoon were too stiff and too thick to be able to feed through the goose neck on the mast and on the aft of the boom. A similar challenge with the running rigging was faced with the furling line of the foresail. This line went through - if I remember well 6 - tackles angled at almost 90°. This caused quite a bit of inherent friction in furling or unfurling the genea. On other boats I sailed, a genoa could be furled easily "by hand", pulling straight on the line, or with 1 or 2 twists over the winch. On Sturdeee, this was not the case: when we wanted to furl the genoa, we had to fully winch the furling line and winch it. And winch it at full force. We overcame that challenge with one crew sitting on the foredeck and manually pulling the furling line, and the one at the helm station, just taking in the slack. An unconvenience, nevertheless.

Another observation was that the manufacturer of Lagoons, advised NOT to sail with only a genoa (without a mainsail up). A feat which still mesmerises me, especially as they did not object to fly the Parasailor without the mainsail - knowing the Parasailor is much more powerful and pulls the mast much more forward....
In past years, sailing on monohulls, we often sailed downwind only on foresails, which makes -in my book- a comfortable and easy passage, and a sail configuration which was easy to "manage" (it is easy to take in or shake out a reef on furling foresails). That by itself, limited our sailing abilities - according to me - on Sturdeee: We had several instances where we were sailing the Parasailor wing without mainsail, but the wind got too strong, and we had to dose the Parasail. What do you do then? My obvious choice would be to unfurl the genoa, but Lagoon advised against it, without raising the mainsail. A thing we hesitated to do at night. So, as a compromise, when, in the middle of the night, we dosed the Parasail, we were sailing on a tripled reefed genoa, crawling along - as we did not want to raise the mainsail in the middle of the night...

Moving on from sails and wind angles to wave angles...: As we were sailing on, from Portugal to the Caribbean, roughly 4,000 Nmiles, mainly down wind or in a broad reach, in the open ocean, we had the waves mostly from a starboard quarter. Even though ocean waves are less steep and short than what we experience in the Med, still each wave made the cat swing left and right.

That "swing" or "roll" was less than on a monohull, but it was just enough, to make the mainsail "swing" left and right. Even with two preventers on the boom, the boom was not moving, but the mainsail was flapping left to right. And a heavy battoned stiff main sail, as we had, deflating and re-inflating 2-3 times per minute, for days on end, causes a lot of strain, wear-and-tear- on the sail, the mast, the rigging, and the cars which fix the mainsail onto the mast. Each swing could be felt as a shiver throughout the boat. And each swing of the mainsail deflating and re-inflating, went with a loud bang, which did not make the skipper happy at all. Loud curses were usually uttered by Ian, at each "bang". Understandably...
The only solution we found, was to triple-reef the mainsail, so it had less power, and would have the mainsail "swing" less, or at least less violently. So in most of our passage, we were underpowered on the mainsail. Even while doing so, after our passage, Ian found some damage, and wear on the sail and the cars connecting the mainsail to the mast.

In addition - something I had not previously experienced on monohull yachts: Sturdeee could not sail with a mainsail only: she needed a genoa to balance the mainsail. With only a mainsail, even when triple-reefed, the boat would turn into the wind, no matter how much you counter-helmed her.

That became a bit of an issue when sailing downwind in squalls: As we came closer towards the Caribbean, we had more frequent squalls, with the winds jumping from an easy 10 or 15 knots to 30 knots. When we hit a squall, we had to heavily reef the genoa on its furler. But that also meant we could not use the barber hauler anymore, and had to rig the genoa sheet through the cars on the foredeck, which were close to the mast. With just a "handkerchief" of a genoa out, rigged that tight to the mast, and the squall hitting us with a downwind of 30-40 knots, the genoa was difficult to control as it would not stay "open", and start to flap. A violently flapping genoa does not make me happy.
On top of that, with a heavily reefed genoa, and even with a triple reefed mainsail, both sails were not in balance, so in those conditions, the boat tended to turn into the wind.

I clearly remember one morning, about three days sailing from Grenada. I had just finished a double shift with Michele and Lana, during which we had dodged several squalls, and Ian came on watch. On the radar and visually, we saw a massive squall building up behind us, one we could not dodge. The main was already triple reefed, and I took off the barber hauler from the genoa, running the sheet of the reefed genoa through the car on the foredeck, trying to avoid it from flapping too violently.
When the squall hit us, it was clear the reefed genoa could not balance the power of the triple-reefed mainsail, and the boat tended to turn into the wind. Ian had to start the windward engine and throttle it quite a bit, to keep the boat holding its course.
It was tense. Even with a downwind squall of "only" 30 knots, which, on a monohull, with tightly reefed sails, would not be a problem, was.. eh.. uncomfortably tense on Sturdeee. I remember that instance very well: Lana and Michele were off shift and sleeping. Ian and me were on the fly bridge trying to keep the boat under control, and as the wall of rain in the squall hit us, Dee tried to close the sides of cockpit, but too late: all stuff in the cockpit got thoroughly soaked. As we were hit by a torrential downpour, poor Ian only had a T-shirt and shorts on, and was totally soaked. I just came out of a night watch, so I still had my rain coat on. After an intense hour, navigating through the squall, all three of us were shaking on our legs. No need to tell you we all hi-fived, once we came through the squall, but once again this reminded me, that on a monohull, that would have been less of an issue.

On the upside: We had a Parasailor spinnaker. On a cat, this massive and powerful sail can be run with tack lines on both front hulls, and its sheets, run aft on both sides. A Parasailor wing on a cat, is a marriage made in heaven: This was a configuration much easier to sail with, on a cat, than on a monohull. Jybing the Parasailor was a breeze: you just ease one side and tension the other side. We had great runs on the Parasailor. I loved that sail!

Another observation when running downwind: In the passage from the Canaries to Cape Verdes, our ARC+ fleet was hit by a 20-30 kts wind from a North-Atlantic depression. We had planned our course well, and kept a more westerly course than the rest of the fleet, so we had less violent wind, but still: Sailing straight downwind in 20+ knots on a monohull makes it "a very rolly day". Sturdeee, on the contrary, hardly moved, surfing happily on the 3-4 meter waves. First on the Parasailor kite, and when taken down, on genoa and mainsail, she sailed very happily and very stable on a true downwind track. At that point, I realized that monohulls, in the same conditions, would roll a lot. Like A LOT! That was one of the times where I felt lucky to be on a cat. Beyond that, we had several stretches where we could sail 100% down wind (with the apparent wind coming from 180°, straight aft), an angle which would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to hold on a monohull.

On the downside of it - and this now goes into one of the main differences between a monohull and a cat: A cat does not like waves coming from the side, and certainly not from a broad side. On a monohull, you basically sail according to the wind, but on a cat like Sturdeee, you also have to sail according to wave angles. She does NOT like waves from a broad side or an angled aft.

Aft-angled or broad-side waves would hit Sturdeee's windward hull first, with a bang. And do keep in mind Sturdeee's hulls are about 2 meter tall and vertical - So it looks like side waves are hitting a vertical wall. So first the wave hits the windward hull, then goes under the boat and would hit the horizontal platform upwards with another bang (at times almost lifting the boat up vertically). And then hit the leeward hull with yet another bang.
At times, each bang, each hit, was so violent, in the open ocean, that it made the boat shiver. I remember laying on my bunk, touching the hull with my hand, and feeling how my bunk moved differently from the hull. You can imagine the strain that puts on the structure of the boat. No wonder some Lagoon owners had complained that their bulkheads (part of the main structure of the boat) would delaminate due to the pressure...

Below deck that also translates into a lot of cracking and creaking of the floorboards and upholdestry (the doors and cabinets). That by itself was quite a difference with sailing on Nerio, our 72ft aluminium monohull we crossed the Atlantic with the year before - where at times we were sailing at 10 knots and I woke up in my bunk as I heard no noise - thinking the boat had actually stopped. A cat surely generates much more noise: bangs and creaks.... :-)

Beyond that, I observed more differences in sailing a cat versus a monohull, particularly a cat with a flybridge with a solid roof. And I would not qualify those as observations of a cat versus a monohull, but rather "a cat with a solid roofed flybridge" versus a monohull:
On Sturdeee, the flybridge is about 3 meter above the water line. So, at the helm, one has a good view of the surroundings. Which is a plus: in the tropics, sitting that high up above the water, one catches the breeze more, making it less hot, but one also feels the wind much more fierce than her actual speed. I remember that one time when we sailed downwind in 20 knots the sleeves of my jacket would vibrate in the wind, even though we only had like 14 knots of apparent wind...
But beyond that, as sailors, we always want to keep a good eye on our sails. With a solid roof above the flybridge, that was a challenge: We could not see the sails easily. To trim the genoa, Parasailor, or mainsail, one had to step out of the flybridge, or lean outwards, to look at the sails. Unlike a monohull, where, from the helming position, one could see the sails at a glance, making it much easier to trim the sails.

And of course a cat does not lean, as both hulls are always in the water. So on a cat, this contributed to the feeling that one gets far less "feedback" from the boat if you are over or under trimmed.

And yet another observation which I saw as we approached the Mindolo harbour in Cape Verdes, sailing close to the wind. Something I had not realize before: A cat has no keel to speak of, so she "drifts" off downwind by A LOT.. As we approached Mindelo, visually, it looked like we were pointing to the rocky outcrop of the island, but when we looked at the plotter, showing our actual course-over-ground, it indicated that while the boat pointed to land, our actual course was 30° off: lacking a keel (or dagger boards), had the boat drift quite a bit leeward. Again, a difference between a monohull and a cat I had not experienced before...

And all of that, would make me come to my conclusion while sailing on Sturdeee: On any boat I sailed on before, from a slow 35 ft Sunsail charter "caravan" to a 72ft racing cruiser, on each of those monohulls, after a couple of days, I felt like I got in sync with the boat. After a couple of days sailing on any of those monohulls, I felt a synergy between the boat and me, and a love affair building between me and the boat.

I never felt that on Sturdeee. In the 4,000 miles I sailed on her, I never felt that synergy, the moment where I felt truly what the boat wanted, and where I had the feeling the boat felt I could give her what she wanted. She continued to feel like a cat, a creature needing attention, and hicking up the moment I did not pay attention.

But maybe that is just me. And the way I am used to sail on monohulls.
Or maybe that was just me, sailing on a cruising cat, versus sailing on a performance cat.

In conclusion: Yep, sailing a cruising catamaran on an ocean passage was the experience I was looking for. I enjoyed the passage, and the company of Ian, Dee, Michele and Lana. And surely, we achieved our goal of a safe passage with no damage to the boat... But I would prefer sailing on a monohull any time above sailing on a cruising catamaran...

But that is just me...

Read the full post...

A choice between Afghanistan or Italy...

A story compromising between “spaghetti alle vongole” and Internet connectivity.

This story is based on an article I wrote for a local magazine covering Fregene, the village I live in, near Rome. I updated it with my recent struggles to get reliable internet at home.

From the original magazine article:

Throughout my career, I have worked, lived or travelled in 163 countries (and yes, I do keep track of the number). Since 2007, my home base is Fregene. And I can tell you, that, hand-on-my-heart, Italy – and specifically- Fregene is the first place ever I have felt “at home”. I love the people, the culture, the food, the social atmosphere, the proximity of both the sea and the mountains, the weather…

But, on the other hand, Fregene, is also one of the worse. No, I am not talking about the traffic jams in the summer, I am talking about telecommunications: internet or mobile phone access.

You see, “telecommunications” is my job. For 10 years, I headed the United Nations technical intervention team. Any war, earthquake, flood, drought, famine, anywhere in the world? We were always the first ones to fly in and set up telecommunications and other infrastructures for the UN staff. Nowadays, I head a global team supporting UN telecommunications globally. So, I know a thing or two about telecommunications.

Coming back home from field missions, in quiet Fregene, there was always one thing that bothered me: Often in remote areas in Africa or Asia, the telecommunications services there, were better than here in Fregene.

When I moved to Fregene in 2007, I applied for an internet connection at home. Internet is important for me, as I work a lot from home, coordinating my team which is always spread all over the world. I thought I would get a high speed cable or fiber connection, after all, this is Italy, this is Europe, right?….
But no, where I live in North Fregene, there was only copper wiring in my street. “Copper wiring?!”, I told them, “I have not used copper wiring since I lived in Uganda, back in the late 1990-ies?!”. Apart from the fact that it took the Internet Service Provider, Fastweb, 4 months to get my internet modem installed, the maximum Internet speed I got (for the nerds amongst you, the max speed was 1.5 mbps), was far slower than what I had in Afghanistan. Over the years, my internet connection, would regularly go down, and often take weeks to get repaired.

Apart from that, to get a reliable mobile phone connection, to make voice calls or access the Internet, I had to stand, with my phone in my hand, on my terrace, to get any connection. Inside the house, no way to get a good connection. And I tried all of the providers: Tre, TIM, Vodafone, Iliad, WIND…. All of them, in vain from a mobile phone.

When, some years ago, a lightning stroke the house across the street, my internet connection died. For two years, I was pulled between Telecom Italia, who manages the physical infrastructure, and Fastweb, which provides the Internet services. Fastweb said that after the lightning strike, there was too much interference on the line – the copper infrastructure-, to be able to give me a good connection, blaming Telecom Italia. On the other hand, the technicians from Telecom Italia, said the line was good enough for them, and blamed Fastweb.

To make a long story short, late last year, I cancelled my Fastweb contract, and I put on my hat as a telecoms engineer. I thought “if I can succeed to design and install the first mobile phone network in Afghanistan, right after 9/11, surely I must be able to solve my own connectivity problems in Fregene, right?”. Little did I know that Fregene would be more challenging than Kabul.

In December 2021, still during the COVID lockdown, I bought the most sophisticated equipment on the market, using external antennae, to connect to the Internet via the mobile phone network (4G-5G). And again, I tried all mobile phone providers: Tre, TIM, Vodafone, Iliad, WIND,… and systematically tested each provider. I was convinced, I was going to solve my problem!

And that resolution “to solve my problem”, came well in time, as with COVID, I had to work from home for three months, so Internet access became my professional life-line to be able to do my work. But I had not expected to be challenged more in Fregene, than I had been in Kabul or other remote parts of the world…

I now have a sophisticated set of equipment to test all the mobile phone providers, but I am sad to conclude that Fregene is worse than Kabul…

To provide a good and stable Internet connection via any mobile phone system, you need three basic things (and I simplify things a bit):
- you need the mobile phone tower to be able to reach your location via a radio signal. With the cellular towers we have, spread over Fregene, my tests concluded, that was not a problem in Fregene.
- the mobile phone tower systems need to have the capacity to cater for all the clients’ mobile phone connections and their traffic demands. And that, is clearly a problem here in Fregene. During COVID, when most people living in Fregene during the winter/spring lockdown used the Internet to work from home or stream videos in their spare time, none of the mobile phone providers clearly had a mobile phone tower capacity to cater for the demand. – Problem 1.
- But even if the mobile phone towers would have the capacity to cater for the “radio connection” to the users’ mobile phones, those towers also need to have the capacity to connect to the actual Internet (in technical terms, we call it the “backbone connection”). In my tests, I concluded that even if the cellular phone towers could connect to your phone (which they can), and have the cellular tower capacity (which they have not), the connection from the cellular towers to the backbone clearly lacked the needed capacity – Problem 2.

During the months of the COVID lockdown, in my home I was able to set up a sophisticated system with different pieces of equipment. My main link is via 4G-5G on Vodafone (see picture), my two backup links are via external modems linking (again via 4G-5G) to WIND and Iliad. All of that, worked reliably during the last weeks of the lockdown, but towards the summer, with more people moving to Fregene as their summer residence, and more “tourists” coming to the beaches during the day or weekends, even with my most sophisticated set-up and my three mobile phone links, I often find myself without any mobile phone connectivity, during the day or at peak times.

So I have two questions:
- How come, in a developed country like Italy, it is possible that I can have better connectivity in Kabul, than in Fregene?
- And even if I, as a telecoms engineer, can not solve my connectivity problems, how even the “ordinary” people be able to solve their connectivity problems?

After all, it is not normal I can get better connectivity in Kabul, than in Fregene, right? Even though the “spaghetti alle vongole”, “Calamari Fritti” and “sautè di cozze” are far better in Fregene than in Kabul!

Update - April 2024

So, with the 4G-5G mobile phone modems (one shown in the picture above), I was able to connect to the Internet, but barely so. During the summer months, the mobile phone network was totally saturated. And since I retired in July last year, my Vodafone SIM from work was disconnected.

Once again, I found myself in a "connectivity desert".

I travelled a lot since the time I retired and only now, I am back home for one entire month. And found myself "disconnected"... What to do? A terrestial line (copper), over the past years, proved not to work. Fibre did not reach my home. Mobile phone 4G-5G connectivity was too erratic, and prone to overload. So what to do?

Last week, I bought a Starlink satellite system (see picture) - about €200 for the hardware and €29/month for unlimited internet access (which was cheaper than my original Fastweb ISP connection, and cheaper than the Vodafone 4G-5G subscription).

Installed yesterday. Easy plug and play. And 1 hour after the installation, I had a highspeed (for the nerds: 100-200 mpbs) connection to the internet.

So, I am holding on to my nickers that this solution will be the ultimate solution, to - after almost 20 years - get reliable internet connectivity here in Italy... A technological challenge indeed, a challenge which goes beyond enjoying the spaghetti alle vongole, sea food pasta and all other joys of life here in Italy

Read the full post...

Sailing faster than I ever did before: training on a Volvo Ocean 65

I arrived in Antigua two days before the training started on Sisi. It gave me the opportunity to relax a bit, enjoy the local scenery, and to go and have a look at the boat.

She was in port, but no crew was on board. She looked sexy, and breathed "speed". It was the first time I saw a Volvo Ocean racer from close by, in "real life"... It was a special feeling, as I followed the Volvo Ocean race for years, and had always meshmerized how it would feel to sail on one of these stallions, the "top of the top, of the open ocean racers"...

We had a Whatsapp chat group with the whole crew, active already some weeks before the regatta. We exchanged some pleasantries before, and coordinated some logistics (transport, lodging, etc..), so we had breakfast with some of the "amateur" crew, a day before the actual training started, and together went to see Sisi.

This time, the crew was on board preparing the ship. I have to say, I rarely stepped on a boat which was clearly so well maintained. Sure, she was completely stripped and refurbished 18 months ago, but in the mean time, she did many regattas and several ocean crossing. And still, there was hardly any scratch I could see. All rigging looked super well laid out, orderly, well labeled,... She looked like "new". Her hull shone in the morning sun. Later on, I learned the crew dove in the water every morning, to scrub her hull, to avoid any growth - as growth slows down the boat. She was a beauty.

The evening before the first training day, I wrote this:

I have a confession to make.
I’ve done a lot of real crazy stuff in my life. I’ve done four expeditions to the world’s most remote locations. For a decade, I lead a UN team which was the first in, last out, in any emergency, anywhere in the world.
Where I am at now, in sailing, I don’t get the least bit worried to plan and execute a transocean passage even with a boat or crew I don’t know. Or to take a novice crew out sailing, teaching them the art of sailing, in the end being, as the skipper, responsible for their safety.
But tonight, I realized, as of tomorrow, I will be sailing on one of the fastest, most aggressive monohull sailing boats in the world, competing against some of the best in the sailing world.
One of our competitors is Charlie Enright, who just won the last year’s Volvo Ocean race, one of the most challenging and high-stake around-the-globe races… He was actually having breakfast at the table next to us, this morning, BTW. Almost felt like Bono from U2 was sitting on the next table. Or president Obama… Pip Hare and Bouwe Bekking, two other notorious global ocean racers are also around, and will be competing in the same regatta..
And I have to confess, I am nervous, like I have not been for a long long long time. I guess this is how we grow and keep on learning, right? Raising the bar, facing the abyss, and… just jump..
But this is really crazy shit. I gotta be nuts. Even at the age of 63.

When the morning of the first of 3 training days came, we were all hyped up. Apart from the six professional crew, we were with 11 amateur sailors, mostly from Europe and North America. Some of the "amateurs" were hardcore regatta sailors. Some, like me, were more cruising sailors. Some had sailed on Sisi before, and others were less experienced. The ages varied from 18 to 70. I was the 2nd oldest on board. Some were physically very fit, built like athletes, others were, well, like me: not built or trained like an athlete, but nevertheless knew how to move on a boat :-)...

Needless to say, we were all excited the first morning, ready for our initial briefing by Gerwin, the skipper and Ollie, the boat captain. Both were part of Sisi's permanent crew and part of the contingent of 6 professional sailors onboard.

From the first moment onboard, it was clear these guys knew how to handle a large and diverse amateur crew. Gerwin and Ollie gave a basic safety briefing, and an overview of the boat, and its operation. As Gerwin said: this is not an overly complex boat, in terms of "systems": most of its operations were "manual". The only electrical pump-driven hydraulic system was the kanting of the keel, which could swing 40° sideways, but all the rest (such as the winches) were manual. There was not even an auto-pilot on Sisi. But boy, there were a lot of "ropes" on this boat - the running rigging to hoist and trim the many sails she could fly.

There were basically two "modes" we would sail in: One mode was "maneuvering" - where all crew is on deck, each with a specific task or "position". "Maneuvering" was the mode when changing sails (dropping or hoisting), while tacking or jybing (changing wind direction).
The second mode was "passage" mode, when we would sail longer straight lines, with only 5 crew on deck, while the others were off duty. Watches were run with a 3 hours on and 6 hours off cycle. When "off duty", you were resting, eating or "hiking" (sitting on the rail, to help balancing the boat).
Even when "off duty", "all hands on deck" could be called, when we were preparing a maneuver or changing sails. At that call, you had a few minutes to drop whatever you were doing, or crawl out of your bunk, to get on deck and take your maneuvering position. - which later on proved to be one of my personal challenges, as, even when trying to rest, my subconscience was always listing to a call for "all hands on deck".

When maneuvering, each of the 17 crew had their specific position (or "task"). One at the helm, several crew on the bow, 6 "grinders" who worked on the pedestrals - the "coffee grinders" which controlled several of the massive winches, someone controlling "the pit" (which controlled which line was grinded by the pedestrals), two controlling the main sheet (powering the main sail), and the "runners".

I was part of the 4-person "runners" team - and yep, after I was assigned my task as "runner", I had to ask what "a runner" does... Well, the 30m tall carbon mast, is kept up with several cables, or "stays": The forward stays, or "forestays", keep the mast up straight, forward - and were also used to hold the fore-sails. There were two fixed side stays, and two back-stays, running to aft of the boat. The back-stays put pressure on the mast, counter balancing the pressure all sails put on the mast, which push forward. So the backstays are the only "things" which avoid the mast from collapsing forward. And dependent if we got the wind from starboard or port side (from the right or the left of the boat), the left or right running backstays, had to be tensioned up, or released. That was the task of the "runners", including me.

So every time the boat tacked or jybed, one backstay had to have its tension released, while the other backstay had to be tensioned up. And that had to happen quickly, as the boat could not tack or jybe unless the tension was ready, otherwise the mast would collapse under the forward pressure of the sails. So, to put it simply, the speed in which the "runners" did their task, determined the speed the boat could maneuver.

As "a runner", I was part of a team of four: When we tacked or jybed, Sheila would, at the right time, release the tension on one backstay, while Dan, Alessandro ("Ale") and me, would tension up the other backstay, which would become the "active" backstay. The tension on the backstay was about 2.5 tons of pressure when sailing downwind, and between 3 to 5 tons of pressure when running upwind. The faster the runners could tension up the backstays, the faster a maneuver could be done, as no tack or jybe could be done unless if the right tension was applied to the back stays.

So here is the scenario: We would be sailing in "full hiking mode", with 5 crew on the helm and sheets, and the rest of the crew sitting upwind, on the rail, on the side of the boat. The helmsperson would call "prepare to tack!", and all 11 hiking crew would jump, crawl or scramble to their assigned maneuvering positions. Quite a challenge, as most of the time, Sisi heals 30° to 35°. And as she is very wide, getting up from my hiking position on the rail, it looked like I was somewhat looking down into an abyss, downwind of the boat: Ale, Dan and I, had to, as quickly as possible, crawl to our winch, which controlled the backstay. But as the boat was always healing that much, it felt like crawling down a 5-6 meters slope through a hurdle of ropes and obstacles, with little to hold on to, and while all other crew crawled to their maneuvering positions too.

During the first training day, it looked a bit like "organized chaos". And I have to admit, we, the runners, were often slow in tensioning up our backstay. But during the 2nd training day, we got the hang of it: When the call "prepare to tack" or "prepare to jybe" came, Dan, who is a professional sailor and a 1000% more agile then me, would "fly" over to the winch for the backstay, and prepare the backstay line on the winch, ready for Ale to grind, and me to pull in the backstay rope by hand, while I was watching a small display, which measured the tension on the backstay (or the other way around: I would grind and Ale would watch the display). During the maneuver, Sheila would release the pressure on her backstay, and Dan, Ale and me would tension up the active backstay.

To read the tension on the backstay, we had to monitor a small display, measuring the tension, which we could only see while looking in-between the legs of the crew grinding on the 2nd pedestral. I have never spent that much time, on my belly, looking between the legs of two other men, who were grinding on the second pedestral. So I got quite "intimate" with the inner legs of Erik and Ed, "manning" the 2nd pedestral - who - as time went by - proved to be great people and became good friends.

So, during the training, and during the regatta: this small display, between the legs of Erik and Ed, became "my life" for my stay on Sisi: on the bottom left and right of the display, are the numbers for the backstay pressure. Getting that number to the right value was my sole purpose in life while on Sisi - well, at least during maneuvers, apart from also running my watches...

As I said: the first day, it was a bit like "organized" chaos, but by the 2nd day, we got the hang of it, and hi-fived amongst the runners, when we tensioned up the backstays well in time, allowing the boat to do a fast maneuver. While maneuvering this boat, in full speed mode, it was quite a sight, to see 17 people all working together, each with a specific task, all depending on each other.

We had two days of "full-on" training, which showed the real power of Sisi. We were often sailing at speeds matching or going faster than wind speed, something which is really rare on boats I had sailed so far in my 20-odd years of sailing. She was fast... The speed was exhilarating. The view off the back of the boat as Sisi was racing through the water, on her massive sails, was... special. "Hiking", sitting on the rail, while you see the fluorescent keel kanted below your feet, and the water rushing by at that speed, was... special.
And even more special was when I was given the helm of Sisi, with the orders like "Oh, take it easy, keep her speed below 10.5 knots", which was close to the fastest I had ever sailed before. And that was "relaxed cruising mode" for Sisi...

At the end of each of the first two training days, I was exhausted. But happy. My initial "nervousness" made way to pure excitement.

The third day, we had our final briefing, and the fourth day, we were starting the three days and three nights regatta. Which proved to be quite a challenge for me.

More in the next posts.

Read the full post...

My love affair in Antigua

Sisi is Austrian-Italian. Dark-skinned. Slender and tall. Her body shape is dazzling. People get excited just looking at her features. She always attracts attention wherever she goes.

Named after the legendary young Austrian empress, she lives up to a reputation of passion and adventure. And love.

And we were with 17 to share our love with her, for a week, in Antigua, February this year.

Sisi is a VO65 - a 65 foot full-bred Volvo Ocean sailing racer. She races under the brand "The Austrian Ocean Race Project Powered by Team Genova", thus showing her Austrian-Italian pedigree. As far as non-foiling monohull open ocean sailing boats go, she is amongst the fastest boats in the world. Less than a dozen of VO65's were ever built.

For those rather unfamiliar with "open ocean" sail racing, "the Ocean Race" is probably the most prestigious and challenging around-the-globe sailing team races. It is held every three or four years since 1973. Originally named "the Whitbread Round the World Race", in 2001 it became the "Volvo Ocean Race" and in 2019 it was renamed "The Ocean Race".

Pre-2014, the fastest open ocean racers were VO70's - 70 ft boats, which were found to be structurally rather unsafe. So, after many issues with VO70's, as of 2014, the around-the-globe race was held with new single-design 65 foot boats, the VO65's. "Single design" meant that all boats participating in the "Volvo Ocean Race" had, up to the slightest details, the exact same features, systems, hardware, and sails which levels the sailing competition to the skills of the sailors, rather than the features of the boat. People told me that even the slightest details, like the bags holding cups above the stove, were uniform and standardized.

In the past, Sisi did the two around-the-globe Volvo Ocean races - last was the 2017-2018 campaign, when she sailed under the brand "Vestas - 11th Hour Racing", with the infamous Charlie Enright as skipper and Simon Fisher as navigator. After each campaign, the boats are stripped to the bone and totally rebuilt.

Sisi was fully refurbished/rebuilt in Genova 2 years ago, to make her ready for the 2022-2023 Ocean race, and she was re-launched about 18 months ago. Sisi was the Austrian/Italian entry in the 2022-2023 Ocean Race participating in the European legs.

She is a full carbon boat featuring a carbon hull, boom, mast and rigging. She is 65ft, with a mast of 30 meters, weighing only 12.5 tons (empty). She has a 4.8m keel, which kants up to 40° sideways. She has a 1000 litre ballast tank (pumped between forward and aft tanks) and 2x800 litre side ballast tanks.

The VO65 record stands at 38 knots boat speed, with their 24 hour record in open ocean standing at 601 nautical miles, averaging 25 knots. So they are at par with the 100ft Supermaxi's (like "Comanche") - which has the current world record for non-foiling monohulls at 618 nm in 24 hours, making VO65's on par with the much larger Supermaxi's, as the fastest non-foiling open ocean monohulls in the world.

So how did I get to know Sisi? Well, via an internet site. And no - not the kind of sites one links up with Russian or Thai girls. The other kind of websites... :-)
I was looking to charter a performance cruiser for this summer, and someone pointed me to a website of a company which could help me in this endeavour. Exploring their website, I saw they also marketed crew positions on high performance boats, like Sisi, for different regattas.

And that is how I got to know Sisi, back in January this year: Sisi had crew spots available for the RORC Caribbean600 (C600) regatta, starting and ending in Antigua, in February. I did a background check, and found the C600, to be one of the world's top regattas, in the same class as e.g. the UK Fastnet race and the Sydney-Hobart race. As in the 600 (nautical) miles of the race, the C600 regatta rounds many different islands, the race is reputed to be a very challenging regatta, with loads of maneuvering, and often challenging winds and open ocean wave activity...

Sisi would sail in the C600 with 11 amateur crew - like me, and 6 professional crew of which three - including the skipper - are part of Sisi's permanent crew. All professional crew, were... well... professional sailors: a young and fit bunch who sail these kinds of boats and do off-shore regattas for a living.

I did not hesitate a moment to apply as crew on Sisi for the C600, which was about 6 weeks before the event. My application was accepted in 24 hours, and we were a go.

Little did I know what Sisi had in mind for me... And how she would test me to my limits...

More in the following posts.

Read the full post...
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Kind people supporting The Road to the Horizon:
Find out how you can sponsor The Road

  © Blogger template The Business Templates by 2008

Back to TOP