Our 3rd crew member.....
07 December 2017
I know we told you all it was just Mo and me crossing the Atlantic but I lied, we do in fact have a 3rd crew member. But before I tell you about that, I want to discuss rudders in general:
A big eye opener for me on this trip has been the number of problems crew have had with their rudders. Out of 16 boats taking part in the Islands Odyssey, 3 have had rudder issues and none of these boats are very old - perhaps 2-4 years at the most. All the problems are associated with the bearings and two of the boats are manufactured by the same large East German company. Many older traditionally built boats would have a skeg. A skeg is an extension of the hull designed to support the bottom of the rudder sporting a bearing at the top and a second bearing at the bottom - a very strong and stable arrangement. An added benefit of this arrangement is that the skeg gives some protection to the rudder if you were to hit something under water, a log perhaps. In contrast to this arrangement, the majority of modern boats have top hung rudders - there is no skeg. They still have two bearings but they are very close together within the hull. I am no mechanical engineer, but common sense tells me this is not a very strong arrangement and there must be huge forces on those bearings. The first boat to have problems was a catamaran in Tenerife. There being no lift out facilities in Tenerife, the skipper tried to replace the bearing whilst the boat was still in the water but was unable to remove the old one so he decided to leave anyway - not sure what progress he is making. The problems on both the other boats came to light on passage from Tenerife to Cape Verde. Again there are no lift out facilities in Mindelo but luck would have it there was a company specialising in rudder problems and the rudders were removed with the boats on the pontoon. These guys did a fantastic job, of course they donât carry spare bearings for all boats and time to fly in a replacement would have taken too long so they manufactured new bearings from scratch! (Perhaps luck has nothing to do with it and the fact they have set up a company to specialise in rudder problems is indicative of the size of the problem). On Krabat we have a semi-skeg where the rudder is supported half way down the rudder - a good compromise I hope.
Of course the rudder is only one part of the steering system. The rudder is connected to the wheel often by a series of pulleys and cable. The cable is another potential source of failure but what I find amazing is that many modern boats have two wheels and possibly two rudders as well, an ideal opportunity to provide redundancy, but no, often a failure in a single cable will disable both wheels and rudders! Most manufacturers provide an emergency tiller to use should there be a problem with the wheel but these are difficult to control and would only be useful for a very short time. Krabat has a solid linkage between the wheel and rudder, hopefully less chance of a failure.
Which brings me on to auto-pilots: unless the boat is heavily crewed, hand steering any distance is unpractical especially if there is just two of you. The auto-pilot solves this problem steering the boat relentlessly mile after mile BUT what happens when there is a problem and the auto-pilot fails (which they quite often do)? If there is just two of you it means that you will have to take in in turns 24/7 - a very tall order. In fact after a few days of trying, people have become so fatigued that unless outside help is forthcoming it is likely they will have to abandon ship to the life raft. So where long passages are planned, as an absolute minimum, two completely independent auto-pilots should be fitted. However these are complex electronic devices and not only prone to failure in their own right but a lightning strike or battery failure, for example, could disable both units in a single stroke.
One of the boats mentioned above with the rudder problem has now got a problem with their auto-pilot (and no back up)! The rudder feedback sensor has failed (which the skipper believes was damaged when the work on the rudder was undertaken) meaning that the boat is swinging wildly from side to side. So they are hand steering during the day and using the auto-pilot at night but at reduced speeds. They have two children on board who take their turns at steering and the little boy loves it so perhaps, on this boat, not a complete disaster.
There is an alternative: Windvane steering. These devices are purely mechanical requiring no electronics or power and tend to be very reliable. They are mounted on the stern of the boat and consist of a small sail or windvane. Once setup, the windvane senses a change in relative wind direction and applies a corrective rudder action to bring the boat back on course - simple. Some designs apply the rudder correction using the boatâs own rudder but, in my opinion, the better design utilities an additional independant rudder. In addition to a regular auto-pilot, Krabat is equipped with the latter type. They are much more fiddly to set up and donât keep such a close course as a standard auto-pilot but their advantages, in my opinion, certainly outweigh the disadvantages. Although we have used it previously for short passages it is only now after a very long passage we have finally become friends with the windvane steering system relieving us of this mundane relentless task. OUR THIRD CREW MEMBER! The other advantage of this crew member is that (s)he never answers back or needs feeding! Incidentally, our third crew member needs christening so if you can think of a suitable name please let us know.
Water, Water everywhere!
06 December 2017
There is indeed water all around us but what about fresh water on board? I estimate, as a minimum to survive, we require 2 litres per person per day, so for a 20 day passage (including a bit of contingency) we need to carry a minimum of 80 litres just to survive. But we do, in fact, consume in the region of 50 litres per day (showers, cooking, washing up, odd bit of laundry etc). Our water tanks on board only hold 220 litres - enough for 4 days. To overcome the deficiency, we have installed a water-maker, more accurately known as a desalination plant, on board. This is based on the reverse osmosis technique where sea water is passed through a very fine membrane at very high pressure (up to 900psi/62bar). Our particular unit can produce 42 litres per hour so with a bit of overhead to flush it out at the start and finish we need to run it for about 90 minutes per day. This system is working well, it does however consume a lot of power (30 Amps @ 12V) - see my other posting on power....
In mainland Europe we generally top the tanks up when we are in Marinas but in some off-the-beaten-track places it is often recommended not to drink the local water (Cape Verde for example) and so we donât top up the tanks there but rely on the water-maker.
Despite the fact the water-maker produces very pure water (in fact the last part of the process is to replace some of the minerals that have been removed) we have an additional filter for drinking water - tastes sweet!
All very well, I hear you say, but what happens when you lose the water in your tank (perhaps through contamination or a leak) AND the water-maker packs up? Well we carry an additional 120 litres of âemergencyâ water (60 litres in 3 Jerrycans the rest in smaller bottles).
We also carry a hand held water-maker for use in the life-raft should we have to abandon ship for any reason so we could also use that on board if necessary.
So we have plenty of water when all is well and hopefully our contingency plans will cover us in an emergency also.
Note on water-makers: for some reason, these devices are notoriously unreliable especially the more modern units which use a system of âenergy recoveryâ. These systems are designed to be much more efficient (ie it uses the same amount of power to produces a larger quantity of water), the downside is they and much more complicated (and expensive). Also many designs are fully automatic in their operation, again requiring much more complicated systems using sensors and valves. My view, when choosing our water-maker, was to keep it simple and whilst it is less efficient and requires manual operation it is very simple and at least I stand a chance of fixing it if something does go wrong. My point was aptly demonstrated by one of the boats preparing to leave Mindelo on our Rally. Having had no luck, discussing his problem at length with the manufacture, the Skipper of a brand new boat had to completely remove his water-maker and return it to Italy for investigation leaving him no choice but to load up the boat with copious supplies of bottled water. Needless to say it was one of the new bread of fancy units!
04 December 2017
We all know that the Captain is in charge on any boat, the duty of which lies on my shoulders on Krabat however the higher ranking officer is the Admiral. Although often described as the 1st Mate, as on many yachts, in reality the 1st Mate is really the Admiral in disguise! I would just like to say a few words about the Admiral on Krabat......
She has and continues to do a fantastic job. The meals she conjurers up in the galley, often under arduous conditions with the boat rolling about all over the place, are second to none. We are now in our 11 day at sea and we have had a different imaginative meal every day not to mention fresh bread baked every other day and the occasional cake. She is always attentive watching over me, especially if I have to go on deck, making sure I clip-on or reminding me to wear gloves when handling ropes etc. I ignored this advice on one occasion and paid the consequence as a rope slipped through my hands and caused nasty rope burns - I was in pain for several days! She is always checking the sails making sure we are not over canvassed or at risk of gybing. Nothing ever flusters her, she takes what is dished up to us, in the way of weather etc, in her stride or if something goes wrong, she doesnât panic but looks for solutions and makes suggestions in a calm and collected manner. Like all of us, she may not like it at times when the seas are particularly lumpy but she still gets on with things that need to be done. Seeing her deal with the fish we catch, gutting and filleting the things wielding a 12 inch bladed filleting knife in the confined space on a boat which is rolling about, never ceases to amaze me! She is tolerant if I get a bit agitated when things donât go quite right.
Moira is a great 1st Mate performing her duties fully and well BUT she is an even better Admiral keeping an eye on the Captain.
03 December 2017
When sailing (with no engine use) for days on end the battery state of charge becomes a pre-occupation. Powering all the instruments (plotter, wind, depth, speed), VHF radio, AIS, lights, SSB radio, fresh water pump, Auto Pilot, Fridge, charging of Sat phone & iPads etc 24 hours a day, not to mention running the water maker for a couple of hours a day, takes a lot of power so the batteries need to be monitored and charged accordingly.
On Krabat we have six large solar panels mounted on the Bimini which, on bright sunny days (and provided they are not in shadow from the sails, radar etc), produce the bulk of our needs but, of course, they are only producing during the day time and, at this Latitude, that is 12 hours a day.
The solar panels are supplemented by a hydro-generator (a device hung on the back of the boat with a propeller in the water) to produce power by the action of the boat moving through the water. It however, produces much less charging current than the solar but itâs big advantage is that it produces 24/7 so is great at keeping on top of things especially at night.
Between them, these two systems are generally capable of keeping up with our demands however what I didnât expect was quite so much floating seaweed and this of course gets wrapped around the hydro-generator propeller rendering it ineffective (and also causing excessive vibration). I therefore have to lift it out of the water and clear the weed on a regular basis which is OK during the day but too risky at night so if there is a lot of weed at night I cannot deploy it at all. We therefore have no battery charging at night so the batteries become pretty depleted by morning time. If this happens then we hope for a bright day so the solar panels can recover them to full/nearly full charge. On a dull day there maybe insufficient charge and I have to resort to running the engine for an hour or so but, so far, I have only had to do that once.
Tenerife to Cape Verde day 3 Sat 28th Oct
01 December 2017
It's day 3 and we've had a good day, helped by the fact that we both had a good nights sleep. The night watch was uneventful with Moira taking the 10pm-3am watch and Bill 3am-8am. We have previously done 3 hour shifts but feel much better for doing a 5 hour shift and getting some proper deep sleep. We also take a nap in the day so all in all are getting 7-8 hours. The passage was slow during the night due to lighter winds so after breakfast we decided to change our sails and put out the parasailor which increased our speed to a more respectable 5.5 knots. Conditions were calm so we put the water maker on and decided to have a very welcome shower. Feeling refreshed Bill replaced a door handle (nothing worse on a boat than a door banging) and replaced a bulb in one of the navigation lights while Moira managed to make some delicious home made bread for lunch. All the boats are out of visual sight of one another but we are keeping in touch via the VHF radio although it is getting increasingly difficult to keep in touch as the distance increases between the larger and smaller boats. We took the parasailor down before darkness and had to succumb to putting the engine on but stronger winds are forecast for tomorrow.
Atlantic Crossing Day 8, completed 850 miles
30 November 2017
The winds are fickle. We thought, after having to motor for several days that at last we had found the trade winds. The sailing was good for two days, making good speed and distance but once again the winds have become lighter only 12 knots. Although still sailing we are not making way as fast as we would like. The winds are predicted to pick up this afternoon. It doesn't help that we have a broken bracket on the outhaul of the main sail so cannot have the sail fully out, hence going slower than we perhaps could in these conditions. In stronger winds we would have the main sail reefed anyway. The positive is calmer seas which makes it much easier for moving about on the boat and hours of sunshine for topping up the tan. We noticed a lot of seaweed floating in the water yesterday and initially it wasn't a problem but it now floats about in large dense patches and gets caught around the rudder of the Watt & Sea (hydro generator) and rudder of the Hydrovane (wind vane steering system). Bill has been hanging over the back of the boat several times clearing the weed off the Watt & Sea but as night fell we had to lift it, very annoying as this is when it's needed most for topping up the boat batteries. Apparently last year's rally boats reported seeing the seaweed in patches the of size large green fields. Some boats had to take their sales down and motor in reverse to dislodge the weed from their rudders and keels. Global warming with warmer seas are blamed for the prolific growth of this seaweed. Boats further ahead haven't reported any serious problems so we hope the seaweed just remains an inconvenience. Other than that all is well on the good ship Krabat.