Our Two Autopilots Setup


On our Saba 50 the steering system is a hydraulic system. The steering wheel operates a hydraulic pump, which itself operates a hydraulic cylinder (See Image 1 below) which pushes and pulls on the starboard rudder stock arm (Image 2 below). Note that we need to add a Rose Joint to this arrangement as the board that it is mounted on flexes and we are finding that the stainless steel bolt though the aluminium arm is leaving filings as it turns. John previously pointed out this problem to us and its on our jobs list.

Image 1: Hydraulic Pump for Steering
Image 2: Rudder Tiller

The starboard rudder is operated by the hydraulic cylinder and the port rudder is linked by a aluminium bar that joins both rudders together so that they move in unison.

We ordered the Garmin autopilot from FP and this works with a hydraulic pump (Image 3 below), which is installed on the hydraulic circuit of the helm system.

Image 3: Autopilot Hydraulic Pump in Starboard Hull

The autopilot pump will turn the rudders in either direction , and works in a similar fashion to the hydraulic steering that is driven from the steering wheel.

It is important to note that if either the hydraulic pump for the steering fails (see Image 1 above), then we also cannot steer the boat with the autopilot either. FP provides emergency steering for the Saba that you have to stand in the engine room to try and use. Totally impractical.

So not only did we need a second autopilot in case our primary autopilot failed, we also needed one in case our hydraulic steering failed.

Our Solution

Uchimata installed a Leroy and Smitt (L&S) cylinder (See Image 4 below) and a hydraulic pump (Image 5) on the bit arm of the port rudder. Our primary autopilot on La Mischief was also a L&S hydraulic system and we were very comfortable with this. We also kept hold of the maintenance kit, which is a bit of a bonus.

Image 4: L&S Autopilot Hydraulic Linear Drive Unit in Port Hull
Image 5: L&S Autopilot Hydraulic Pump in Port Hull

The operating principle is the same as for the main autopilot, but is independent of the helm steering system, thereby providing redundancy for this system also. We can throw away our emergency steering system (but haven’t). The L&S autopilot cylinder directly actuates the port rudder, with the starboard rudder being actuated by the aluminium bar linking the two rudders together.

To reiterate, we can now have a hydraulic break in our boat’s helm system, the steering wheel pump, the helm system cylinder or the main autopilot’s hydraulic system pump, and we can still steer the boat as the port system is completely independent.

Each autopilot has its own head, and each are equipped with feedback (Images 6 and 7 below), there is one for the main pilot on starboard and there is one for the second pilot on port. So no matter which autopilot we are running, we can always tell where the rudders are.

Image 6: Feedback Arm for Port Hull (Secondary Autopilot)

Image 7: Feedback Arm for Starboard Hull (Primary Autopilot)

The Second Autopilot

Now we have 2 autopilots on board, w must be extremely careful that we don’t have both on at the same time. This could be quite catastrophic.

Unlike boats with mechanical steering, on our Saba with its hydraulic steering the autopilot pump (See Image 3 above) is mounted on the hydraulic circuit and “closes” the system, meaning the steering wheel is effectively disconnected whilst the autopilot is engaged. Disengaging the autopilot “opens” the hydraulic circuit and allows the steering wheel to once again be engaged. Therefore to use the second autopilot we must also do this but manually by turning a ball valve to cut the pressure to the ram. This is the same ball valve that was installed to allow the emergency steering bar to be used.

Image 8: Bypass Valve in Starboard Hull (in closed position – Helm and Primary Autopilot in use)

When the second autopilot is used, the bypass valve (08) must be opened.

Whenever the bypass valve (Image 8 above) has been opened and then closed, its very important that you use the feedback (Images 6 and 7) to ensure that the rudders are in the axis of the boat.

Step By Step Guide to Using the Second Autopilot

  1. Make sure the rudders are centred using the feedback on the Autopilot Head.
  2. Make sure the main pilot is on stand-by.
  3. Power on the second port autopilot by setting the switch ( Image 9 Below) on the second pilot.
Image 9: The Power Switch for Moving Between Autopilots

4. Open the bypass valve (see Image 8 above) and simultaneously set the second autopilot to AUTO (Head unit is under winch).

At this point, the second autopilot will be steering the boat. Its important to note that manual steering is unavailable when this second autopilot is being used.

Moving Back to the Primary Autopilot

  1. Make sure the rudders are centred using the feedback (see Images 6 and 7 above) that displays on the Autopilot Heads. This is very important.
  2. Make sure the secondary pilot is on standby.
  3. Power on the primary autopilot by setting the Power Switch (see Image 9 above) to the primary autopilot.
  4. Close the bypass valve
  5. Set the Primary Autopilot to Auto.
  6. Test that the Steering works by disengaging the autopilot briefly to test.
Testing the 2nd Autopilot

The first time we tried it, it didn’t work. We had Sopromar in Lagos look at it and they set the “Drive Unit Class” to Solenoid and Voila!, we got power to the ram and it started working.

Getting Out of Dodge

It’s been over a month since we left La Rochelle on 4th April and we’ve made it to Portugal where we have been able to take a deep breath. We can legally stay here until the end of the year because of a special Covid law Portugal has passed, so that is a relief. So now I have time for a bit of reflection on what was an extremely busy time trying to get the boat ready to sail out of La Rochelle.

We are really happy with Voila. Lots of space and she sails really well. There’s a few things we need to change but nothing that money and time can’t fix. After all she is a BOAT (Break Out Another Thousand!)

The other thing I want to mention up front is the unbelievable support and patience we received from Romaine (Roms), Multihull Solutions’ man on the ground in La Rochelle. No request was too much trouble and he worked day and night, 8 days a week to help all his owners get what they needed and out of La Rochelle and onto the ocean.

So here’s a few observations from our last month getting her ready.  

Sun Power from Sunpower

The five 400W Sunpower panels have been performing reasonably well now that we have corrected 2 wayward panels. Loose wiring on one and a VE-Direct shutdown on another.  

We are still having trouble with one controller/solar panel which keeps turning off saying there is insufficient PV Power. Still investigating. 

We had originally specified Bluetooth dongles but got Uchimata to upgrade the Solar chargers to Smartsolar 30/100 MPPT Controllers  that have built in Bluetooth and can also be networked together using Bluetooth so they play together under one master and 4 slaves.  I think we will be able to survive our backward step from Lithiums to AGM batteries (albeit 900AH of them). 

Turning Sunshine into AC 

We quickly transferred over the Washing Machine and the Icemaker from Shore Power to the (Sun Driven) Inverters and watched our second 2000W inverter kick in on “Assist” mode to get us 4000W to run the washing machine and sometimes the electric kettle. Our plan of augmenting the existing 2000W Multiplus with a second similar unit seems to be working okay.  And we quite like the idea of having a redundant inverter given we lost one on La Mischief and it was a real pain.

Stress Free Parking

The Volvo Throttles are very sticky and not at all smooth like the Yanmar throttles on La Mischief. They seem to be loosening up a bit and I’m getting more used to them as well as docking a 50 ft catamaran, so I think we will live with them. Especially if I indulge in a Jet Thruster (https://www.jetthruster.com) to  help me and Dee get on the dock in any tricky situations. 

Look Mum, No Hands

We got Uchimata to install a L&S Autopilot as a second backup unit, but we are yet to try it out because we have only just got the documentation on how to switch from one autopilot to another from Uchimata. Its more complicated than on La Mischief because of the hydraulic steering, which the primary autopilot is hooked up to. The installers once again did not take into account the need to service equipment and now we need to pull the whole unit out just to top up the transmission fluid. Unfortunately the French don’t like to collaborate with experienced owners (citing Covid), which is unfortunate as we can offer them a wealth of cruising experience (ie. fixing things in exotic places). 

Where the F#!k Are We?

We ticked the box that gave us the factory installed Garmin instruments and in hindsight we should have gone with what we knew – namely Raymarine. The lack of some functionality is a pain – most notably the lack of a Restart XTE function. We could have also specified larger screens and dropped the Garmin Smart Cruising option, which we ended up transferring across to the Victron Cerbo/GX Colour as we don’t want to have to turn on the chartplotter every time we want to check our tank and battery levels. 

We also got the Garmin Panoptix Forward Facing Sonar and Uchimata made a unilateral decision to install it just in front of the lifting straps, when it should have been installed further forward. Now we will have our stress levels sky high whenever we lift the boat. A bit of consultation would get a much better result.

Keeping Track of the Electrons (and Tank Levels)

We got Pochon to install a Cerbo GX and its associated GX Colour Screen. These required a Smartshunt and a Victron Battery Temperature Monitor, which were also needed for the SmartSolar MPPT VE.SMART Bluetooth Network. This works really well, you can get up each morning and check how the batteries, solars and tank levels are going. However there is a hardware problem with the Wifi antenna and the HDMI cable being too close to one another meaning the CERBO GX cannot connect to the boat’s Wifi. Have played around with the channels on the wifi router as per Victron’s advice but no luck as yet. 

The IT Guy Gets Busy 

The two Pepwave routers/access points are going well and are receiving Wifi signals from both shore and from a (Euro a Day) MEO SIM card, installed in the PEPWAVE BR1 unit.  Hanging off that is our Synology NAS with all our movies and a Sonos Port that allows us to play music through a Sonos Wifi connection (instead of Bluetooth off a phone) through both our Fusion/Bose system and a Sonos Move portable speaker. I really like having Sonos on a boat.

We also have a Mikrotik Metal WIFI extender installed up the mast but my IT skills are sadly lacking and I’m struggling to integrate this in with the Pepwaves. I’ll wait until one of my IT mates comes on board to tackle this one.

Fresh Water Flushing

With our toilets being all fresh water, water is now more important than ever. We went with the ESSBASE ESW901 (105 litre an hour 12V system) and that seems to be going well. We got a full set of spares including a spare pressure pump so we are able to keep this unit up and running.  

We installed a triple filter system for dock water and a Grohle under sink system with a carbon filter for drinking water. This Grohle unit is really cool as its all integrated into the one faucet meaning no more holes need to be drilled into the benchtop. 

Bright Shiny Stuff. 

Romu, the Stainless Steel guy did really well out of us. We decided to go with 32cm high SS handrails down the sides of the boat and they are a great safety addition. The three teak steps to get up to the mast work really well. Finally, we quite liked our swim ladder on La Mischief as opposed to the FP one; which we ripped off and replaced with a you beaut custom designed swim ladder, with nice high handles, especially good for getting out of the water with a heavy dive tank on. Now looking forward for some nice weather and warmer water to swim in so we can actually use it.

Blowing in the Wind

For colour, we’ve gone for both an Incidence Blue geneker and a Multi-coloured parasailor once again. Parasailor gave Dee carte blanche to get out her set of crayons and design the Parasailor (for free as its our second). The parasailer is 170m2 (the other option was 190m2). We chose the smaller option because it will get most of its use in the trade winds crossing oceans day and night and the smaller one is more manageable with the higher winds, especially when we plan to leave it up during squalls (as we did during our last Atlantic crossing).  Uchimata installed a nice setup for the parasailor so we can easily run both the guy and sheet for each side back to two jammers on a single winch.  

The main is a square top and we ditched the Karver hook in favour of the old lagoon way of rigging it with the dyneema line pulling it close to the mast as she goes up. We also went with a 12mm dyneema cored halyard, as opposed to the 14mm halyard, and high end Harken C batten cars. She goes up and down like a dream. 

Bad Guys Beware

We’ve just finished installing the BRNKL system from Canada. It gives us peace of mind whilst ashore, telling us if Voila has moved out of its geofence whilst at anchor, if any motion sensors or door sensors have gone off, if any water has got into the bilge and if anyone has run into us. The on board 120 decibel alarm should scare off anyone on board. On top of this we have motion detector lights on the sugar scoops and a video camera that sets off with any movement. For A Little Bit of Mischief (our Dinghy), we have a Yacht-Sentinel monitoring system that does pretty much the same.  But unfortunately its not working and we have had to return it to them in England to see why. 

Sticking to the Bottom

We opted for a 40KG Rocna as we quite liked the Rocna on La Mischief. To this we splurged on 12mm Stainless Steel chain, when we saw how difficult it was to get in to the anchor locker and flake a galvanized chain. 10mm was more than sufficient but I like the extra weight of the 12mm chain on the bottom of the ocean. We added a Mantus swivel so it would swing nicely into position when we brought it back on the boat.

We replaced the woefully inadequate snap shackle on the bridle with a Winchard 2382HR snap hook, on the recommendation of my mate Paul. The bridal needs to be redone as its just tied to the boat and will chafe. We need to get busy with some splicing so that we can shackle it to the boat using two rings spliced in to a new bridal.

We bought a Fortress FX55 as a secondary anchor, to daisy chain off the primary anchor when more holding power is required. 

For the dinghy, Mantus have a neat 2KG anchor pack, that together with some SS chain, makes a nice solution.  

Comfort Pack

Once we worked out we would be moving on board at the end of winter, we added a cockpit tent to our order. It will be also useful to hang the sunshades off when we get around to getting these. 

We went with traditional slats on the 3 guest bedrooms but for ours we went with the Froli system on the recommendation of Michael and a few Youtube channels.

We missed a couple of tricks ordering the factory installed flexiteak (as it is not finished off with nice borders) and a much larger aftermarket cockpit fridge (read beer and wine) could have been fitted in the area provided.

Getting Busy in the Engine Rooms

We’ve had a few friends who have previously experienced engine issues from bad diesel over the years and we were determined not to join them in this misery. So we ordered a Keenan Fuel System whilst we were in the USA and had it shipped from Fort Lauderdale with all our other gear from La Mischief, using East Coast Shipping, which worked well.  Whilst in La Rochelle, we sent Alsino into the Engine Bays to install this very impressive looking system for baby bottom clean diesel. With this system, we can easily swap over to new fuel filter if one becomes clogged, we can polish the diesel in our tanks and we can also pump diesel from one tank to the other to balance things up.

At the same time, Roms helped us source some Automatic Fire Extinguishers for the Engines Rooms and Alsino fitted these. 

Bringing it All Back to The Helm

One of the things that we enjoyed with all our other boats was the ability to do everything without leaving the safety of the helm. The Fountaine Pajots have a different setup with no jammers for the Genoa lines, the Spinnaker halyard, or the Topping lift. Instead they expect you to either leave stuff on winches, organize a visit to the mast and/or remove and replace lines on blocks and clutches whenever you want to use them. Only Reef 1 was automatic, the other 2 needed to be clipped on at the mast, and these two are the ones you use when the weather turns bad and your enthusiasm for gymnastics on a mast step in large seas is at a low point.  

In these situations where major modifications are required, I’m a firm believer in picking the brains of others, and luckily there’s a few Sabas and one Saona who’ve already solved these issues with major Pit Redesigns by the time I got to do mine. Thanks to Quest, Ghost and SY8 for all their input.

There were a few challenges along the way. Pulling off the ceiling panels was the first. NASA would be proud of the glue FP use to stick these on. I employed Loic from La Rochelle to help us out and he came equipped with a range of tools and techniques to get them off without damaging them. Still it took him 2 full days before the last panel came down. 

The next challenge was Brexit. Products from the likes of Spinlock were impossible to order. Luckily Antal came from Italy and the Chanderlies could get hold of these part fairly quickly. However there were still a couple of rollers that we had to go up a size and a 5 way set of rollers became a 2 and a 3. We got Romu to make a Bale for the bottom of the mast to attach five vertical blocks to, and then we needed to get him to readjust the angle of the blocks when he didn’t get it right. As well as the new blocks, clutches, rollers, and frictionless blocks, we bought new dyneema cored lines for the reefing lines so we could go down from 14mm to 12mm and make them run well.  All in all it took Loic a whole week to finish off this project and so far its worked well on our way down to Portugal.  A very necessary and satisfying project. 

We’ve left one clutch free for an outhaul but this will wait for another day. 

Marine Wire – Whats That?

When it comes to tinned wire or heat shrink connectors, the French and Portuguese just wave their hands in the air and say “what are you talking about?”. So to get these you need to go internet shopping in Germany or Sweden. Paul put us onto svb24.com and I’ve just placed my first order so lets see how it goes. Remember this when you buy a French boat as all the wiring will be non-tinned wiring.

Still on the Drawing Board

Whilst we have been pushing through our project list, we still have some more stuff to do:

  1. Finish installing Lightning Protection system (Uchimata refused to help out here meaning we need to pay for another lift here). 
  2. Install Jet Thruster system.
  3. Connect Keenan Systems installed in each engine room together so we can pump diesel from one side to the other.
  4. Sunshades
  5. Flyscreens on all hatches and portholes (this is proving difficult as Lewmar don’t make them). 
  6. Install Engine Shutoff system for Automatic Fire Extinguishers. 
  7. Install Fans x 10
  8. Install Gas Detection and Shutoff Solenoid for Propane/Butane system.
  9. Fit automatic anchor light
  10. Handrails for stairs
  11. Build workbench in STB Forepeak
  12. Install Bypass Switches for MDI units on Volvo Engines
  13. Install Rose Joint on Steering Arm to stop Flexing and Wear from SS Bolt on Aluminium.
  14. Some Rats and Mice Stuff

Busy, Busy in La Rochelle

Well, we’ve now been in La Rochelle nearly two months, the weather is warming up, and we seem to have been incredibly busy despite not having moved on board as yet. 

She’s now looking like a sailboat with the mast on!

We are very comfortable in our 2 bedroom apartment, overlooking the old port where I docked 8 years ago after La Mischief’s maiden voyage from Les Sables D’Olonne to La Rochelle. It’s a great location, 5 minutes walk into the old town, and 15 minutes to Les Minimes Marina where the new boat is now located.

La Rochelle is a beautiful city – love living here for a few months

La Rochelle is a fantastic place to wander around, even in the times of Covid.  We have a 6pm curfew so all the wandering has to be done during daylight hours only. We’ve gone a little crazy with all the good French food and wine and the Market here in the old town is one of the best in France. Mussels, Scallops, Razor Clams, Prawns, Fish, cheese, cheese, cheese, plus all the fresh fruit and veg. And I almost forgot the French Pastries and Crepes. Top shelf Yum!

One of the key things about buying a new boat is that picking your dealer is almost equally important as picking your boat. And one of the great things about Multihulls Solutions, our agent, is their man on the ground in La Rochelle – Romain Cruzon. Roms (Australian like to shorten everyone’s name) speaks both Australian and French, with a bit of USA thrown in for good measure. Nothing is too much trouble for Roms and he’s been able to act as our interpreter, guide and problem solver extraordinaire.

Roms getting hands on with the Uchimata guys.

The first “problem” Roms had to sort out was how to get us into the commercial port without the necessary passes. There was no way we were not going to see our new baby, especially since it was Dee’s birthday, and Roms delivered, picking us up and driving us to the Commercial Port to see her.  Having spent several months in a working port, she was covered in port dust, but we saw past that and enjoyed our first look at her. 

Not a bad birthday present 🙂
On her way to the Travel Lift

Then it was down to work. There seemed to be lots to do. Getting a new boat ready is an exercise in both project management and solutions design. To Do lists, Actions and Issues logs, sourcing items in France (as opposed to Florida where it would be a lot easier), and filling in all the fine detail to allow Uchimata to keep on track with their aftermarket work.

Uchimata getting Down and Dirty

We also needed to add some items to our aftermarket options and we quickly found out that Uchimata were up to their armpits with a lot of boats that needed to be completed and there was no room in their schedule to add other projects. So we need to find other ways to complete the boat. 

2000W Sunpower Solar Panels Being Installed

 One of the biggest things we needed to address is the Pit layout, which was woefully inadequate with no clutches for the genoa sheets, topping lift or spinnaker halyard. Reefs 2 and 3 were also performed at the mast rather than back at the helm. Luckily a number of other Sabas and a Saona 47 had run into this problem and so there was plenty of help on hand to come up with a suitable design to make it as manageable as our previous Lagoon 421. Plus a few tweaks – a new outhaul and reef 3 back to the helm station. Thanks to Quest, Ghost and SY8 for all their help. Uchimata finally told us they couldn’t do it, so it was off to the Chanderlies to order a whole lot of Spinlock clutches, deck organizers and new line.  

Severe lack of Clutches

Once again, Roms was extremely helpful in organizing us a VAT free account at two of the Chanderies, and helping translate all our orders into French.  He also checked with a number of other service providers and in the end we are getting Loic to help us with this installation, as he comes well recommended by other cruisers and knows his way around Fountaine Pajot catamarans. 

We also got our head around the Power monitoring provided by the Garmin Smart Cruising solution on Fountaine Pajots.  I liked my old Victron GX solution so we are replicating this (albeit with newer tech – Cerbo GX and new touchscreen GX Colour).  Once again, Roms organized for Pochon to do the install, as we were not allowed to work on the boat until we had taken ownership.

Unboxing the Cerbo GX

We are anxiously waiting to do Sea Trails and Final Inspection, hopefully next week when Uchimata is finished. We are getting Hans and Kirsten to help us with this task, on the recommendation of John, another Saba owner. The timing is great because they are working on acceptance for two other Sabas immediately before ours. The French are keen for us to use locals for this final inspection but using Germans will keep everyone on their toes, Lol. Our aim is to find any and all problems before we leave La Rochelle, where they are much easier to address. 

Biggest tide of the year saw us stuck in the mud!

I’m sure we are driving Romain mad with all our requests to do this and do that. Putting on a new custom swim ladder and patching the Flexiteek became an exercise in multiple back and forths with the French supplier. Dee doesn’t easily give up and Roms was great in his role as middleman and his customer focus allowed us to (eventually) get a solution that we can live with. It’s certainly an adventure completing a boat in France, when you don’t speak French and we’ve enjoyed fighting through our frustrations to get things happening in the right way (a la the customer is always right). 

The cables on the dinghy were poorly installed – sent back for a cleaner and tidier job!

But its not all work and no play. The weeks are fairly busy, but we’ve managed to sneak away on weekends to Perigord, Cognac, Blaye Castle, Ile De Re, Rochfort and Sables D’Olonne for the finish of the Vendee Globe. This weekend we will explore the Island of Oberon. 

Getting out to the French countryside on weekends is a must

Pierre from Uchimata is the other key player in our journey and from what I’ve seen so far is that Uchimata don’t take shortcuts and seem quite professional in their work so far. Time will tell no doubt. Most of the time, Roms deals with Pierre in his role of middleman, but the times we have met with Pierre he has told us how difficult it is to do what we have asked and then has found a way to get the job done. One thing we are finding about the FPs is that a lot of panels are glued down and getting access to run cables etc., is not easy. I suspect this is a trend in a lot of the new production boats and not just FP as Pierre complained about Lagoon as well. 

Who needs a travel lift with these tides?

Good examples of where Uchimata have provided us with very comprehensive solutions are the second Autopilot install where we have a completely separate system, including a second head unit. The Parasailor fittings had jammers for both guys and sheets, going back to dedicated winches looks like a good well thought out solution as well. Where we have found issues, they have been good in remedying the situation so far.

Thank goodness the cold weather has largely gone!

Brexit and Covid are both raising their head up from time to time. Our upgraded Harken Batten Car system was delayed and delayed, which meant the mast was delayed and delayed. This had flow on effects with regards to the 2000W of solar panels and the lightning protection (which will require us to be parked up on the ramp for the anodes to be installed 3-6 inches above the waterline) and even the saloon door that needs to be adjusted with the rigging in place. 

The Harken Batten Cars took forever to get here – thanks Brexit!

But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Uchimata’s work is coming to an end. Roms is having the boat detailed and sea trials are going to start hopefully next week. Alsino arrived last night on the train via Amsterdam, where he flew in from Curacao. The lucky bastard has a Dutch Passport.  Wish we had one of those. It was great to see him again and we will have lots for him to do. 

We still haven’t sorted out Schengen and we only have to April 11th to sort something out – or not! We are about a month short as we have decided to give the Med a miss as Europe and Covid won’t be able to organize a divorce before the end of the cruising season I suspect. Instead we will head to Bonaire and get some good diving in. 

Topsail UK have granted us dispensation to go to the ABCs for Hurricane season, and after lots of to’ing and fro’ing, we have decided to sign up with them. Besides handing over lots of money to them, we also need to upgrade a couple of our bilge pumps to 25GPM. Having 4 bilge pumps doesn’t count. 

We’ve also been busy sorting out our Cook Islands registration. We found a deputy registrar in Malta, named Gary Miller and he has been great. Same time zone which makes it easy. 

Our new Flag

From here, we are looking forward to doing sea trials and Final Inspection; undertaking some training with Alain; upgrading our pit layout; installing our Keenan Fuel System and Automatic Fire Extinguishers in the Engine Rooms; moving our 60 boxes of stuff that is currently sitting in the garage onboard; buying some more stuff from the chandlery; paying our bills and then heading off on a shakedown cruise over Easter. Then back to La Rochelle for any warranty issues and off across the Bay of Biscay heading for the Canaries and then the Caribbean before Hurricane season. Then Bonaire! Sounds easy if you say/write it quickly.  

All our Boxes waiting to be moved aboard

Voila La Rochelle!

We made it. Now sitting in our very nice apartment overlooking the old port of La Rochelle. 10 minute’s walk into the old town and 15-30 minutes to the Marina (depending which part – with 5000 boats, it’s the largest in Europe). 

Yesterday, we managed to sneak into the Port and see our new boat. Very exciting! She will be down there until next week, getting all the necessary holes drilled into her hulls for underwater lights, forward facing sonar, watermaker, salt water deck wash and lightning protection. The antifoul will need to be applied on a clear day – a bit of a challenge with the rainy weather here. Then onto a truck again over to the travel hoist and into the water – next week hopefully. 

Then she gets motored across to Uchimata’s dock by Uchimata’s staff (we cannot do this “maiden” voyage because of Covid restrictions), where her  mast will be stepped (after mods – new halyard, automatic anchor light, new Harken C batten car system (for downwind reefing), lightning protection mods, Mikrotek Wifi extender).

Uchimata will spend 2-3 weeks doing all their aftermarket work, and then around early to mid February we will do our handover and sea trials. We will contract Julien Dagorn to undertake a final survey before we make our final payment. Then she will be ours. Alain Girard will give us some training and then we need to get to work ourselves.

We have 60 boxes coming from our old boat and our apartment has a lockable garage where we can store them before we cart them down to the new boat. These contain our new BRNKL security system, cabin fans and a Keenan Secondary Filter System, as well as all our gear from our old boat. And then we have all the stuff we managed to pack in our airline luggage on the plane and train. These all need to be installed along with a whole heap of other mods. 

New dining table, automatic fire extinguishers, Pepwave LAN components, more Jammers for Jib Sheets and Reef lines as per S/V 8, new passerelle, Gas Detection and Shutoff Valves, Dinghy extras, etc, etc, etc, etc 

When we are finished with our boat jobs, we want to head up to the Brittany Islands and possibly Vannes on a shakedown cruise. Any problems we find will be fixed by Fountaine Pajot on return to La Rochelle. 

Then it is off across the Bay of Biscay,  and down to  the Med, Covid restrictions allowing. We will do a season in the Med, before heading off to Madeira, and across the Atlantic via the Canaries and Cape Verdes. From there we will head to the ditch and into the Pacific early next year in preparation for the Galápagos Islands and French Polynesia.

Lightning Protection for Electronics

I am currently looking at protecting our new FP Saba 50 Catamaran from lightning as much as I practically can. I have Ewen Thomson PhD (http://www.marinelightning.com), an expert on Marine Lightning, designing a protective rib cage around the sensitive interior of the boat. We want to augment this with some Surge Protective Devices (SPDs) to further protect the sensitive electronics on board. 

My reasons for undertaking this project is:

  • Lightning can kill you and sink the boat, two things that would ruin my day. 
  • I can count up 10 friends that have been hit by lightning and have incurred significant delays (some lost a whole year of cruising), whilst they put their boat back together. 
  • I’ve had several close calls in the Med, Atlantic Portugal and the Caribbean. It a truly frightening experience to be surrounded by lightning. I particularly don’t like scaring the Admiral. 
  • Insurance companies are increasingly looking to up their lightning excesses, as the world experiences increased lightning (the journal Science reported that we could expect to see a 12% increase in lightning activity for every 1oC of warming). Pantaenius have already indicated that their lightning excess is 30%, unless an endorsed lightning protection system is installed. I can see other insurance companies following suit. Pantaenius look like the best option for our Insurance so long as I can get rid of this 30% excess.

To complete our design, we need to find some well-designed marine 12V Surge Protection Devices that are rated for lightning. I’m interested to see what other owners have actually installed on their yachts and their experience with fitting these SPDs. 

Above is a video of a monohull that got badly hit. Nearly sunk the boat.

On The Move

Well she is out of the factory and safely on the hard in La Pallice, where she will stay until we get there in a few months. Disappointed not to be able to drive behind her as she was trucked. Roms from Multihulls Solutions got us some video footage but its worth watching Out Chasing Stars video of their boat being trucked from the factory at https://youtu.be/REohRp_5X6k.

On The Truck

Arriving at La Pallice

Leaving the Factory
Safely on the Hard at La Pallice
Safely on the Hard at La Pallice

First Photos out of the Factory

We were excited last night to see the first photos of our new baby as she emerged from the Fountaine Pajot factory. Disappointed not to be there – but we are still working on getting into France.

It will stay in the factory yard until 20th October, getting its finishing touches. It will then be lifted onto a truck and transported to a secure hardstand in La Pallice. Here it will be vinyl wrapped, and have some of the aftermarket items we ordered installed by Uchimata. It will sit here until we fly in, hopefully in January (or before). Then it will be splashed, its mast and rigging attached and taken around to the marina at Port Des Minimes, the largest marina in France. This will give us a couple of months to get ready for our departure in April next year.

3 More Months

We have decided to look into delaying taking delivery of our new Saba 50 until January next year, as we were running out of runway given we still haven’t cracked the code to get into France from the USA. We had considered flying to London, quarantining there and then sneaking across to France but there is too much of a risk of becoming stuck in England with UK cases spiking.We also have run into a problem with the USA government dragging their feet with Dee’s passport renewal (she filled up her last passport).And finally we have got a lot of loose ends to tidy up here in California so the time won’t be wasted.

Its not all bad as hanging out in the relative seclusion of Meyers Ranch is one of the better places to be as Covid runs rampant and the US Cities are rather unsettled in these trying times. With 27 Acres to roam around on, we are certainly not cramped for space.

Meyers Ranch – our Home until it is Sold.

Multihulls Solutions have been really proactive in organising trucking firms and securing hardstand space in La Pallice, so we are able to put our new baby on the hard without any extra effort on our part. And it will save the antifoul and extend the warranty so all good there. And snow skiing will happen here in the USA (Vail?) rather than in Europe. Oh well. So now we are looking at storing the boat for 3 months, and flying over in mid-January to take delivery. This will give us a couple of months to get her ready to sail south to the Med in early April (as we did with our previous Lagoon 421). Frustrating, as we were really keen to get on the boat, but given the circumstances discretion is the better part of valour. This delay will allow us to get a letter from Fountaine Pajot so we can go back to the French embassy to get permission to fly to France as well as applying for a French Long Stay Visa.


I was reading a Delos post the other day about their BRNKL Security System and this prompted me to do something about Spec’ing up our own system. In the past, we’ve used Jeff’s Pirate Lights system, which gave us excellent service, but this time we wanted to include a more comprehensive set of requirements and find an integrated system that met all our “must haves”. 

So this is the requirements we’ve come up with broken down into “Must Haves”, “Nice to Haves” and “Not Really Required”.


  • I’ve often felt a level of anxiety when we have anchored our boat and gone to shore. Whilst we use an Anchor Alarm when we are on board, we really do need an Anchor alarm that works whilst we are away from our boat. One that uses geofencing on a map displayed on our mobile phones. We originally thought we could use our PEPWAVE system to do this but it turns out that this is really more suited to Fleet Management of the land variety rather than the marine environment.
  • IN the same vein, this needs the ability to track our boat if it is ever stolen. 
  • The system needs to works internationally everywhere we cruise.
  • Like Pirate Lights, it needs to sound a Siren and turn on Strobe/Deck Lights if an intruder gets on the boat, with motion detectors in both the cockpit and the saloon. 
  • We also need to be able to track the dinghy if its stolen (we will probably use SPOT Tracker for this). 
  • We need to monitor Engine Room Temperatures and raise an alert and sound an alarm when too high. Our house batteries are also in the engine room so we need to be able to monitor engine room temperatures for the health of these babies. 
  • We want Cameras to capture videos of the bad guys. 
  • We want to monitor Fridge and Freezer Temperatures and alert if high – both whilst on the boat and off the boat. We lost a freezer full of meat in Cartegena whilst we were on a trip to Medellin .  
  • We want to monitor the Automatic Bilge Pumps when away from boat, so that we can detect any problems. 
  • Whilst on land, we want to receive alerts to our mobile if the house batteries are low.    
  • We need to keep the Insurance Companies happy so they give us discounts from having a security system installed.  

Nice to Haves

The following requirements are ones we felt would be nice but we could live without.

  • Battery backup if power is cut
  • Ability to turn on deck lights when dinghying back to boat.
  • Collision Detection (0.5G or higher impact) whilst boat is on anchor and we are ashore. 
  • FOBs to arm and disarm system (otherwise will need to use phone). 
  • NMEA2000 Integration for engine and tank monitoring. 

Not Really Required

We’ve decided we can do without these:

  • Shore power monitoring. Charging and power management done remotely with VRM. 
  • Remote monitoring of starter batteries. 
  • High Water Monitoring in Bilge. The extra cost is not really warranted  given we are already monitoring the bilge pumps (see must haves) 
  • Motion Detectors inside Hulls. Just in cockpit and saloon.

With this in mind, we have narrowed it down to two suppliers that were reasonably priced, and did the following SWOT analysis. It feels good to be back in Solutions Mode…..


  • The BRNKL Mate add-on helps future proof the system – can use Samsung SmartThings and other appliances built for home security, which is a bigger market than marine security.
  • Therefore, adding Additional Sensors and Accessories is cheap (not paying BOAT Dollars for marine componentry).  
  • Comes with a FOB to arm and disarm system (as well as using the Mobile App)
  • Can get detachable motion detector for front of boat


  • Subscription Plan is more costly that Siren Marine’s. 
  • SmartThings aren’t necessarily manufactured for Marine environment.


  • Can connect up sensor pads for intruder detection. 
  • Can connect up to an Iridium satellite solution. 
  • Smaller Company run by founder = usually equals more Personalised Customer Service


  • Motion Detector False Alarms from Cockpit Sensor.
  • Small Company risk.



  • Sensors are manufactured for marine environment
  • Has satellite comms option for where mobile phone access is not available. It is also good to use satellite, as professional boat thieves sometimes use blockers to disable cellular tracking. 
  • Subscription service is cheaper ($180 per year for international coverage)
  • Have internal backup battery (48Hours) for when power is cut. 
  • Bigger company – sells through West Marine, Hodges etc., and partners with other marine suppliers.


  • No Camera (coming in Winter)
  • Extra Sensors are expensive (marine pricing)
  • No FOB – everything turned on and off with phone  app.
  • No Water Proof Motion Detector for front deck .


  • Can buy through West Marine Port Supply for an extra discount.
  • Siren Marine are releasing their new Siren 3 Pro next month, which is their latest and greatest.
  • Siren Marine are working on having a beam sensor which is supposed to be better suited for outdoors but they do not have any more information at this point as it is still in development


  • Motion Detector False Alarms when installed outside (see above).

As usual, I wanted to get this out there so I can get some good feedback. There’s a bit more work and research to do to come up with a decision and place an order, but I need to do it next month and have it sent to East Coast Shipping who will include it in our shipment to France.