Sunday, October 24, 2021

The first season with a sailboat

Looking back at the first season with a sailboat

At the end of April this year I bought myself a small sailboat, which came as quite a surprise to most of my friends. It was maybe something of an impulse purchase, since I ruthlessly used the fact that I turned fifty to justify this. On the other hand, I have from time to time looked at sailboats but for the most part been quite realistic about it and haven’t taken it any further. My main reason for this is that I want to do so many things: Buying a sailboat that would fit the entire family of four would moneywise be an investment big enough that we would have to spend most of our free time in it, in order to justify it. I wasn’t willing to do that, nor was the rest of the family. With five weeks of vacation per year and maybe some extended weekends I simply haven’t had the time for it, and I still don’t. I want to do sea kayaking, packrafting, fatbiking etc as well. Now, though, the kids are big enough that I have more possibilities to go out alone or with one of them.

Still, sailing has been at the back of my head for a long time. I’ve never dreamt of a big boat with all kinds of comforts and luxuries, I’m into more simple outdoor life close to the nature. I want to explore the archipelago and for most part a sea kayak is an excellent tool for that, allowing you to go almost everywhere, but I do consider sailing being able to complement that quite well. A big sailboat would however provide fairly limited possibilities to go outside the well-known guest and nature harbours and I think my dream boat would pretty much be something like a Fabola Campus 7.4, which should sail quite well and still be able to access most places with a draft of 30 cm with the swing keel in the up position. It is also be big enough to sleep in, important since there are a number of places in the Archipelago Sea where you are not allowed to camp on, though a boat is ok. Unfortunately, it is a fairly new model and thus again too expensive for my use. The second option that I always considered was a classic long-keeled boat with a shallow draft around 27’ long, something along the line of an Albin Vega from the late sixties and seventies. These are available on the used marked for a reasonable amount of money. The draft of this category of boats is typically around 120 cm and a long keel means that you don’t easily risk any real damage running aground in low speed approaching unknown harbours. And no, I don’t generally want to anchor, I want to land and explore the islands.

I thus started to look at older boats, the Albin Vega being a strong candidate. The Vega, however, does have enough of a reputation to keep the price slightly higher. After all, just about everything has been done with an Albin Vega, Cape Horn, Antarctica, Northwest Passage etc. Still, there were number of these around, and I could very well have ended up with one if I hadn’t looked further into a Halcyon 27 as well. There were also some other boats in the same price and size range available. These boats are quite cheap, starting from around 4000 €, and the condition varies, but generally they need some effort and money to be invested. The price is very much dependent on the engine included. Many still have the original 40 – 50 years old engine installed, and it might or might not be barely working. In many cases they come with an outboard engine, since installing a new inboard engine is quite expensive. I went to Dragsfjärd to take a look at the Halcyon 27, and while I wasn’t entirely sold on it immediately I soon decided that it could very well be the boat for me.

The Halcyon 27 is a 27 foot British boat that is considered to be a folkboat derivative with its long keel, transom-hung rudder and fairly heavy displacement. Its 8.23 m (27 ft) long, 2.34 m wide and has a max draft of 1.22 cm. By today’s standards it is very narrow. The total displacement is 3048 kg, with a lead ballast of 1361 kg, which is quite much since it is made for offshore open water sailing. The rigging type is Bermuda sloop with a masthead rig. The model has circumvented the world and crossed oceans, which is very far from what I plan to do. It is however a tough boat from the time when they didn’t know how to optimize fibre glass constructions and is therefore a bit overbuilt with a thick hull. The fairly shallow draft and tough construction, including the keel, is suited for my intentions of landing on places with dubious suitability for sailboats, but the rigging, which is made for tough ocean weather is a bit small for archipelago use. Inside the boat is a bit smaller than an Albin Vega, though it has clearly better headroom, somewhere around 183 cm, which means that it isn’t horribly cramped for my 192 cm. The main selling point of this particular boat unit was the fairly new inboard engine, a Nanni 2.10, installed in 2011 for a total cost of 5700 € (the receipts are still in the boat). At the time of me buying it the engine had run for around 100 h, so it is almost as new. I paid 4000 € for the boat, so in that sense it was a fair deal. On the other hand, without a working engine you would have a very hard time to get anything at all for a boat like this currently, since there are things to fix and renew on it.

At the end of April the boat was lifted into the water and I made a short evening trip with the previous owner checking out the system. The next day, the day I turned 50, my wife drove me to Dalsbruk, where I started the 60 NM journey home with the boat. The previous owner joined me for the first 16 NM. At Högsåra I switched out the genoa for the jib, since the forecast mentioned a wind of 10 m/s (around 20 knots) and more in the gusts.

Now I was on my own, with no sailing experience but in an area I knew very well from my sea kayaking. I also knew how to navigate at sea as well and was familiar with the rules at sea, from my sea kayak guide education and even before that. After a motoring a narrow section in headwind, I raised the sails and started sailing. It was a bit exciting but went without any drama, though an autopilot really would be useful when going single-handed (I got one soon after this). I landed at Högland for the night and sailed the remaining 25 NM the next day. 

I didn’t have any grand plans for sailing the first summer, just some shorter one and two night trips, as well as one trip of up to a week, which didn’t happen due to kayak guiding jobs. The main idea was to learn to sail and figure out what needed to be fixed on the boat. I did some some small fixes and improvements, but didn’t let that be my main focus.

I did come up with a good system for the stern anchor, which is out of the way and also fast to deploy. The anchor line roll was switched out to a bigger one taking 56 m of anchor line, which should be plenty for the shallow Archipelago Sea. The boat has no good solution for a bow anchor currently. I don’t see myself using a now anchor much, since I intend to have a land line from the bow in conjunction with a stern anchor. Still, I do consider a bow anchor that is fast to deploy a possible security factor, to be used when everything else fails. The boat, being a British model, does have an anchor locker with space for a fair amount of anchor chain in the bow, but the actual anchor has not good spot. A bowsprit with space for an anchor would be a possible solution that could provide other advantages as well, but it is quite expensive, like many other boat parts.

Among the next things to do was to restore the starboard bunk in the cabin. The bunk consists of a sofa with space for the legs under the chart table. That space however had been changed to accommodate a refrigerator. The refrigerator was quite well insulated, but the actual refrigerating unit was an inefficient Peltier model and a better compressor unit would have been very expensive. I thus took it out and restored the bunk. At just under two meters it is still a bit short but couldn’t be made any longer since the air pipes from the heater limited the space a bit. Instead of the old refrigerator I purchased a 40 liter compressor cooling box and placed it in the forepeak. It seems to be very energy efficient. The port side bunk is a little longer, with leg space extending into a clothes locker. The forepeak also has a large bunk fitting two persons, but I intend to have only one in use and the cooling box on the other side. I see no need to have more than three bunks in a boat this small for my mostly solo use.

There is a small galley with a two burner stove running on propane gas, which should be enough for me. I’ll use the Omnia oven if I need fresh bread or oven food and I might very well bring the Ooni pizza oven if the intention is to make pizza, there should be enough space in the boat for that. And I still see myself making dinner on land in a nice spot, instead of in the boat, and therefore will also have an ordinary outdoor stove in the boat.

The head is a water closet with a holding tank, but it would also need some work to get it tolly odour free. The tank itself definitely leaks odours, the tubing might or might not do it. For the next season I will remove it and replace it with a chemical toilet, which should suffice for my use. I’ll leave the thru-hull fittings for now, but if the chemical toilet is enough, I’ll remove them after the next season.

I also installed two small solar panels of 60 W each, which should suffice for my use, since I’ve replaced all bulbs with LED versions and the only real power consumption comes from the cooling box. The solar panels should be enough for this. In addition, the inboard engine does have a quite powerful 40 A alternator, and the engine will be used for getting into and out of harbours. The heater, an old Wallas Sail 1800 running on kerosene, doesn’t use enough power (0.5 A on full 1.7 kW heating) to be significant, since I won’t use it more that maybe a few hours in the evening and a little less in the morning.

I continued to sail through the summer and into the fall. The summer until August was unusually warm and there was lots of very light wind, meaning that there was number of occasions when the wind really wasn’t strong enough to move the boat. When the real wind is under 3 m/s it isn’t enough for a boat like this, except for maybe beam reach. A larger flying sail could maybe help here.

In the beginning of August the weather changed completely and became unstable with lots of rain and clearly more wind. From the middle of August to the middle of October I didn’t use the genoa at all, the jib was always enough, with the wind typically being 7-11 m/s (14 – 21 knots) and more in the gusts. With the jib a first reef on the mainsail starts to be needed at around 9 m/s (18 knots), depending a on the wind direction.

There are of course lots of things to do on the boat, but I didn’t want to spend the first season only fixing the boat. I now know a lot more about what needs to be done. There are e.g several leaks with thru-deck hardware that needs to be fixed. These leaks mean that in hard and gusty wind some water will collect into the deep bilge, since the boat easily can heel over 30 degrees in gusts with too much sail up. I would estimate that the boat is designed to sail efficiently at a heeling of maybe a little under 20 degrees and much more that that is quite suboptimal for several reasons. These leaks shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

Parts of the rigging also seem to be quite old and I will replace most of the standing rigging, since the wires definitely need that. If I’m going to get our in higher winds next year, this year has been at most around 14 m/s (30 knots), I don’t want to have any uncertainty about this. From what I’ve understood, and to some extent experienced, the rigging of this boat isn’t subject to very high loads, since the boat will heel and allow the wind to spill over, but the equipment should still be in order.

The current sails consist of a main sail, a self-tacking 100 percent jib and a genoa of probably around 130 percent. The main sail is clearly too small for this boat, and presumably being very old it quickly became clear to me that it needs to be replaced. The self-tacking jib is in good shape and a nice sail to have. It is hanked to the forestay, meaning that the genoa has to be removed first. The jib cannot be rolled in, since it has horizontal battens. The genoa is just a lot of cloth and can be rolled in completely on the furler. The genoa is also hanked to the forestay and the furler is a more simple unit that cannot be used for reefing. After much deliberation and discussions on a forum, I decided to also renew the genoa and upgrade the forestay to a furling unit which allows reefing. The genoa itself needed repair, so the decision to renew that one was easy, but the choice between hanked on sails, meaning that the sails cannot be reefed by furling, wasn’t easy. The Furlex 104S furling unit isn’t exactly cheap, though I think I got a good price for it in conjunction with the sails, but the main point to decide on was functionality. A reefable furling unit in practice means that you don’t switch out the foresail, meaning I wouldn’t use my nice self-tacking jib, which really is excellent when there is too much wind for the genoa. A genoa reefed by furling is supposed to be a lot less good in close reach or close hauled. There were even suggestions to install an extra removable Solent stay, to be able to use a jib with a furled in genoa. I’ve seen pictures of that configuration for this and similar boat types. Well, I will end up with new sails and a reefable furling unit, and after that I’ve used more money on the boat than what I originally bought it for. You could see this as being totally foolish, and I certainly wouldn’t get the money back if I would sell the boat, but another way to see it is that the boat fortunately wasn’t too expensive in the first place.

At the time of writing, I had my last weekend trip a week ago, and that is realistically about as long you can have the boat in the water in Finland. Much later than that and you might be in a hurry to get everything packed up for the winter. The boat is now de-masted and should be lifted at any time now. If I get the boat into the water as early as I would like to, in the middle of April, that would mean a sailing season of six months here in Southwest Finland, which isn’t too bad after all. This would mean starting to work on the boat already in March.

So, did I like sailing? Yes, I did. It pretty much has been like what I had imagined, in part probably since the environment is the same as in sea kayaking, so there wasn’t too much unknown about it. This first year I took it quite easy and focused on learning to sail and enjoying it, and a total of little over 500 NM of sailing isn’t really much. Almost all of it single-handed, though, so in one way it has been quite intense and a pretty steep and fun learning curve. And I am looking forward to the next season, after a hopefully cold winter with lots of snow.

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