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.

SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY

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”.

MUST HAVES

  • 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…..

Strengths

  • 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

Weaknesses

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

Opportunities

  • 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

Threats

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

SIREN MARINE

Strengths

  • 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.

Weaknesses

  • 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 .

Opportunities

  • 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

Threats

  • 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.  

Power to the People

On the new catamaran, we have gone with 750AH of AGM batteries (hurts me to say but we couldn’t justify throwing out the existing batteries and going Lithium straight away). These will be charged with: 

  • 2000W of Sunpower solar panels out the back. 
  • An Onan 11KVA genset hooked up to two Victron Multiplus 80A/2000W Charger/Inverters
  • Two 115A Mitsubishi alternators that come with the Volvo Engines, which I’ve been told are excellent alternators.
  • No wind generator this time!

One of the useful additions I did to my previous boat was install a pair of Mastervolt Alpha Pro regulators, hooked up to the standard alternators to provide intelligent 3 phase charging; making the alternators much more efficient, whilst providing an added level of protection for the batteries. After putting in a bit more research waiting impatiently for our new Saba to be built, I’ve looked at three solutions:

Installing two Wakespeed WS500 regulators (http://wakespeed.com/products.html). 

Seabits(https://seabits.com/wakespeed-ws-500-regulator-review/), Panbo (https://www.panbo.com/how-wakespeeds-ws500-alternator-regulator-solves-complex-charging-issues-a-new-approach/), Ghost and Catamaran Impi all use this solution and I rate their experience highly. This solution requires that I get the alternators modified to bypass their internal regulators. However there are a few internet posts suggesting that Volvo take a dim view of these alterations, vis-a-vis their warranty. 

My second option is to leave the alternators as is and use a couple of Sterling DC to DC chargers to charge the house batteries. 

My third option is to install a couple of VRC-200 Charge Reference Controllers (http://nordkyndesign.com/product/nordkyn-electronics-vrc-200-charge-reference-controller/) from Nordkyn Designs, a small New Zealand outfit. The beauty of this solution is that I don’t have to modify the alternators, their reference engine is the same Volvo D Series engine as isused on our Saba 50 Catamaran, and this option is also the cheapest one. It’s quite a clever solution, using the voltage sensing input on the alternator to drive intelligent 3 phase charging. In talking to Eric from Nordkyn Designs, he suggests hooking each of the VRC-200 units (NZ$475) to a Victron Argo FET Battery Isolator ($140US each) to charge all three battery banks from each alternator, eliminating the possibility of a flat starter battery causing any grief.   One running engine will start the other, even with a near-dead battery.

All three options provide intelligent 3 stage charging for the house batteries. They also work for both AGM and Lithium Batteries.  I’m leaning towards Nordkyn Design’s solution because of its simplicity and seamless integration.  

To complete my solution, we will install a Victron BatteryProtect after the house bank to ensure my batteries don’t drop below 50%, even if it means turning off the boat power. I will set up an alarm on the Victron monitoring so that we know when it is approaching this low SOC. 

Talking of power monitoring, Victron also has some interesting upgrades that we will take advantage of. We want to hook up all our battery monitoring to a Cerbo GX and it’s companion screen – the GX Touch 50. We can connect our two Multiplus 80A/2000W Charger/Inverters, MPPT Controllers and BMV-712 Battery Monitor, as well as some temperature probes for the engine rooms, to give us a complete view of all our power usage and generation. These units supersede the GX Colour Controller we had on our last boat. We can hook this Cerbo GX up to Victron’s VRM solution to allow us to see what’s going on when we are onshore or travelling away from the boat.      

My plan is to buy all the necessary parts in the USA and take them with me to La Rochelle, where I have the whole winter to install stuff and get it working.

Boatless in Somerset

LATEST UPDATE

  • We are still hanging out in the relative seclusion of Meyers Ranch. It 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.
  • We have been allocated an ex-Factory date of 15th October. Then there’s about one month of commissioning work before she’s ready to move on board. Exciting!

  • Dee still hasn’t decided on a name that I will agree to. We have a shortlist.
  • By process of elimination we have decided on the Cook Islands for our flag.

As part of this process, we will become members of the Cook Island Yacht Club.


  • Have finalised our aftermarket list with Multihulls Solutions/Uchimata. Still working on options for the Vinyl Wrap and screen covers for the heads, which we will probably organise ourselves. We also changed our factory order, dropping the swim platform and going back to hydraulic davits.

  • All our stuff (60+ boxes) from La Mischief is still sitting in East Coast Shipping’s warehouse in Ft Lauderdale (http://www.ecshipping.net/contact/). We will add to this with a few more things (Keenan Fuel Filter system etc.) and will ship sometime in August to give it the time to get to France just after us.
  • We are still waiting for France/Europe to allow us to fly there. At the moment, the USA is banned. Hopefully things will change in the next couple of months, before we try and fly there in October. My USA Visa is about to expire, but because I have applied for an extension I should be right to stay where I am until we fly. Extensions are taking 12 to 18 months to process!!!
  • Have been busy getting quotes for insurance from the likes of Topsail UK, Jacklines and Pantaneus Australia. Looking like around $8K for the Med (will jump a lot the next year to $20K+ when we head across the Atlantic). Will finalise this closer to the time.
Kerstin
  • We are still trying to organise our pre-delivery survey. Another Saba 50 owner recommended Kerstin and Hans from KPYM Yacht Management (http://www.kpym.de/team/) in Germany and they sound really good, especially given all their experience with FP in La Rochelle.
Hans

However, they currently don’t have any other clients that need their services in La Rochelle in October so we need to find some way to make their trip worthwhile. They offer a whole heap of services geared to new FP owners in La Rochelle so if you are interested…..