If you don't start you will never finish
12 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
Seneca a 1st??? century Roman scholar said quality counts and to achieving anything first you must have a plan.
After a brief visit to the Southampton Boat Show I realised we had bought a tug. My beautiful streamline and sleek looking machine with masses of German engineering was designed to take German tourists on lazy holidays around the Adriatic and Greek Islands. It was safe and secure and built for reliability not for crossing an ocean! What I desired was a Bentley, what I had was a stately Rolls Canhardly (rolls down hills can hardly get up 'em). When I bought it, as is normal when acquiring a secondhand boat, it came fully equipped with everything down to the bedlinen and knives and forks. It had previously been the property of a Croatian Marina owner, he had registered it as a charter boat to get round the local tax rules but had used it as his personal yacht. As such it had all the safety features for a party of ten with all the knobs on. It seems I was the beneficiary of East European gerrymandering. However, I could console myself in that the Germans had learned something after the Bismark and my baby was virtually unsinkable. Or at least that is what I told Lizzie.
Yachts come in all shapes and sizes and are designed for the a specific market. All I needed to do was to put a bit of British flair into a Tutonic bathtub, rather like Maclaren do with Mercedes. Ron Dennis was not available so I called upon a lot of other people to help and advise me on what to do. Furthermore, I wanted something that would allow us the freedom to roam the Caribbean unhinded by variables such as water quality and electricity restrictions, with hot and cold running water at all times. I wanted to turn on a sixpence and keep cool when the weather was tropical and have ice-cold beer on tap. Otherwise what was the point.
It was like remodeling a Victorian townhouse with all the new features and creature comforts without changing the outside appearance within Westminster Council guidelines. Not easily achievable so seldom undertaken without costing lots of money. Fortunately I had Neil on hand and he would, as it turn out, relish the undertaking. Unfortunately like all remodeling not everything goes to plan.
Keith started the ball rolling by taking Royal Yachting Association (RYA) navigation, competent crew and day skipper courses with his best friend and fellow Sheffield United supporter Steph (like many others he help us by helping Keith go through a difficult learning curve). The enormity of the task slowly began to sink in as I attended lectures and seminars about intercontinental travel by sea. Fortunately, we came across the World Cruising Club which was founded 25 years ago to help yachtsman travel around the world. I signed us up for the Atlantic section (ARC), Canaries to the Caribbean but increased the specification on my new equipment to be world standard. The safety features are a little more demanding, having an SSB radio on board becomes mandatory. So we thought let's go world standard.
SSB stands for Single Side Band and uses special frequencies to communicate over large distances (halfway around the world). With the added advantage of being able to send email by radio at no extra cost a real bonus. However, user needs a license obtained after taking a test. What seemed like a formality turned into a nightmare 4 days for Keith and I. Sharing a twin room to replicate life at sea and reduce costs we spent 8 hours a day learning in a classroom and a further 7 hours at night and early in the morning trying to keep up. Frequencies and method statements don't seem to stick so well in the brain after you have had your first SAGA holiday. We convinced ourselves it was our teacher, Bob Smith of Yachtcom, only to find out later that he and his lovely wife Claire run the best courses in Europe and many superyacht owners insist on having their crews attend their classes. Thankfully we passed and can now pollute the airwaves with our chatter and email messages, hopefully in code.
The next important factor after being able to communicate whilst isolated at sea is health of the crew. We attended a couple of great lectures by Ian Hardy, though only calling himself a pharmacist, seems to specialise in health and treatments at sea. He gives very colourful hands-on demonstrations including how to apply an Epi- pen into a tennis ball (great if you want to make pass at Annette, I suppose)! Even the doctors present were impressed with his teaching style. Many ARC participants end up buying his offshore first aid kits and "The Ship Masters Guide to Medicine at Sea". I now think all young people should have compulsory first aid lessons. Both Keith and I became aware of what simple things that anyone can do that might reduce trauma or even save a life. Later Keith signed up for a 4 day course but was too ill to attend... a case of medic heal thy self.
However, we were now confident of being up to speed on the basic necessities and we moved forward on to the boy's toys and how to fit all our kit into our tub. Items on the list 32" LEDTV, upgrade stereo with ondeck speakers both attached to ships computer for full multimedia experience. Take out ice-cream tub side fridge and replace with diesel generator (sounds odd but it just fitted in it's place). We made room for a full sized fridge-freezer by sacrificing the double bunk room (who sleeps in a bunk these days anyway, unless you're under ten and like to crawl into small spaces). The bunk room still had space for a watermaker (we now know that this is the most essential piece of kit on an Atlantic crossing apart from sails, of course) as well as ducting for the aircon unit that conveniently slipped in under the seats in the salon. We also found room for the inverter (which takes any incoming electrical current and upgrades it to 220V to run our domestic appliances on a ring main). We ditched the couple of "house batteries" for 5 super-duper AGM longlife ones. We took out the old oven and replaced it with a new microwave oven with lots of buttons. We didn't neglect the outside either. By designing a stainless steel arch frame off the back (which looks like the downforce wing on an F1 car that Jeremy C would gush about) we were able to support all manner of gadgets from aerials to a radar scanner and UV panels to a wind-charger, and that it just the top bit. The sides have convenient ladder type bars which have brackets for fishing gear and scuba bottles etc. I won't go to bore you any more other than to say we did leave enough room for the essential safety gear that nobody is interested in except when you have an emergency. We did however, double up on such items as navigation equipment and communications systems including handheld YHF radio's and ultimately but almost too late a satellite phone.
You've guessed it. All this stuff in a very confined space with different lead times and most items being ordered via London source from another country ordered over the internet and delivered via Rob Francis at Algarve Freight Centre (who were our saviors many times) to Vilamoura in Portugal was no mean feat. With Neil fitting out everything and coordinating local suppliers we nearly pulled it off! Despite our best efforts we were not able to meet our first, second or even our third agreed finishing date. The trials of the Summer of 2012 will not be reported here but will remain with me for some time to come.
However, we did reach Las Palmas 6 days before the official start date of the ARC on 25th November. This final part will be posted soon.