Our Journey on Voila…..so far

Our Journey on Voila to date

How we got to where we are….From leaving La Rochelle in April last year until arriving here in the Leeward Islands some 15,000nm later. Thanks to Romain Crozon, Alsino Ferreira , Jimmy Mathys, Maud Wierinckx, Tim Sandford , Barbara Groff, Joe Russo, Ken Robertson Jenny Thomas , Ann Clarke, Ian Clarke Annie Gardner, Eric Witte, Peter Yin, Penny Nash, Dale Rynvis and Irene Klemm for helping us on the various passages to get here.

Through the Maupiti Pass and into Paradise

Time lapse going into Maupiti. The pass is rather notorious, but we picked a good day with a forecast 1.5m swell and not much wind. Still it was very exciting with big waves breaking quite close either side of us. But we followed the Two Drifters “How not to get shipwrecked on the Reef” video (thanks guys) to the tee and made it safely through. The whole place is very scenic and we can’t wait to go visit the manta rays tomorrow morning. But now for a beer.Time lapse going into Maupiti. The pass is rather notorious, but we picked a good day with a forecast 1.5m swell and not much wind. Still it was very exciting with big waves breaking quite close either side of us. But we followed the Two Drifters “How not to get shipwrecked on the Reef” video (thanks guys) to the tee and made it safely through. The whole place is very scenic and we can’t wait to go visit the manta rays tomorrow morning. But now for a beer.Time lapse going into Maupiti. The pass is rather notorious, but we picked a good day with a forecast 1.5m swell and not much wind. Still it was very exciting with big waves breaking quite close either side of us. But we followed the Two Drifters “How not to get shipwrecked on the Reef” video (thanks guys) to the tee and made it safely through. The whole place is very scenic and we can’t wait to go visit the manta rays tomorrow morning. But now for a beer.

Progress Report

We are currently stuck in Curacao waiting on a suitable weather window to sail to Shelter Bay. Friday looks promising. Chris Parker is coming back to us today with his advice.

We are putting our time here to good use installing a set of Glendinning Electronic throttles to replace the awful Volvo Penta ones. Dee is also working on sunshades for the cockpit.

Our new throttles

We also ordered a Rainman High Output Portable Watermaker (100+ litres per hour) from our friend Kevin. We will leave this in its cases under our bed, pickled, in case our primary ESSBASE Watermaker fails. In the event we need to use it, we wiill pull it out, plug it into our 230V outlet, drop an inlet hose into the sea and the outlet hose into our water tanks and make water. Simple solution with no additional plumping. Barbara and Joe are flying it down to Panama when they come down to sail with us to the Galapagos.

We have made great progess on organising our Galapagos stay. We have engaged Javier Plúa Rizzo from YACHT AGENTS GALAPAGOS to organise our stay and paid him 50% of the fees to get the process underway. This needs to be done 2 months out from our expected arrival.

We have joined the Pacific Posse (www.pacificposse.com) for $175USD and thats already paid for itself with discounts for the Galapagos and Panama Canal agents plus Shelter Bay Marina. Nice to be part of a group (its a posse not a rally so we don’t travel together). We have also engaged Erick Galvez from Centenario & Co. as our Panama Canal agent. He will also organise our fumigation certificate for the Galapagos. We are looking to transit the canal at the end of February after visting Boca Del Toros.

Finally we are in the process of getting our French Long Stay visas for French Polynesia. We are still trying to organise an interview for the embassy in Panama. Fingers crossed.

Across the Atlantic – 5 Years After Our First Crossing


Now we are safely anchored in St Anne’s in Martinique, its time to do some copying and pasting from our Predictwind Blog to our “A Little Bit of Mischief” blog. 

So here is a day-by-day blow-by-blow account of our crossing….. 

And We Are Off

Tue Nov 16 2021

We left Mindelo at 10.30am with full tanks, the fridges full of fruit and vegies and an interesting forecast with great patches of calm ready to trip us u along our way. It’s going to be a slow crossing. But it will be very pleasant out there with no much swell.  


Pilot Whales

Tue Nov 16 2021

After a very pleasant sail down the strait after leaving Mndelo, the wind died as we went south of Santa Antao. But never mind, we managed to see a nice pod of pilot whales that came in reasonably close


We should be there sometime next year!

Wed Nov 17 2021

Its 6am and we have a whole 7kts of wind out here doing 3-4 kts and not getting far. The parasailor is just managing to fly in 4-5kts of Apparent. And worse still it looks like te wind is going to drop out to zero later this afternoon. So far we have only done 94nm in 20 hours at an average of 4.9kts. And that’s with 2 hours of motoring under the lee of Santo Antao.

Crew are well fed thanks to Tim’s culinary experience, and we are hoping for a fish tomorrow but dont think any are going to be interested if we keep going this slow.


Sperm Whales

Wed Nov 17 2021

What a treat. Seeing whales two days in a row. This time a small pod of sperm whales just cruising slowly past.


Motoring 😦

Wed Nov 17 2021

With 0-5kts of wind, we are making progress using the iron sails, courtesy of 1800rpms on one engine. Bummer to use the engines so early into the trip but we don’t want to be stuck in the calms for days.


Sailing Again 🙂

Thu Nov 18 2021

After 15 hours of motoring we managed to position ourselves in an area where the wind will slowly build (for a while anyway). Motors are off and Parasailor is up. Only doing 3-4 knots at the moment in 6-8kts of winds but according to the ECFWM model it should pick up to 10kts by 11am.

Its tricky out here as all the models are showing different routes and different pockets of dead calms. Prdictwind Offshore is getting a real workout.

Still the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and all is good in the world.


14kts of Wind – Unheard of!

Fri Nov 19 2021

Its 5.30am and we are doing 6s and 7s in 14kts of wind. The wind currently is out of the SE which would strike me as a bit odd except everything out here is a bit odd vis a vis the weather. We still have some significant blobs of purple coloured calms to dodge on our way towards steady winds which lay quite a way to the south of us. Alsino has managed to crank the parasailor around to 115 degrees to keep a bit of south in our course, not bad considering the best we managed on La Mischief was 127.

We have a full moon out and the seas are still pretty flat so all is good in our little world out in the middle of the Atlantic.


Heading South under Motor

Fri Nov 19 2021

Well that didn’t last long. As predicted, we sailed straight into a patch of purple nothing, so now its time for a bit of motoring. All the Predictwind models are politely asking us to head south, all the way to 8 degrees. Any further south and we would have to break out the rum to feed Neptune.

So with our trust in Predictwind and its promises of steady winds further south off we go towards the Southern Cross.


Gennaker Out and Flying through our first squall

Fri Nov 19 2021

Thankfully the motoring didn’t last long and we pulled out the gennaker for its first outing at a perfect 80 degrees wind angle. A couple of hours in we hit our first squall and we were flying at 10kts in less than 15kts apparent. We needed to come down a bit to keep the wind under the designated 15kts but we were making some miles.

We’ve had to go a bit east of our southerly course but given we were scootering along at 7s and 8s, tracking along the squall line, more directly towards Martinique, so we took the miles and are hopping we may get a more direct route across the supposed areas of calm. There’s weather predictions and then there’s the weather thats happening. We will see what happens.

At the moment, the winds died down a bit to 9kts and we are still doing 6s so we will see how we go as we bank some more miles under sail.



Nostradamus vs Predictwind

Fri Nov 19 2021

Its just gone midnight, and we are going through a patch where all the Predictwind models say we should be motoring. Instead we are zipping along at 8kts in 11 knots of wind, occasionally touching 10 knots of boat speed, with the Gennaker and full main. Whereas Predictwind would very much like us to head directly south to 8 degrees (and do not pass Go), to avoid this really good sailing, we are instead heading a touch south of west, much more directly to Martinique.

Hopefully we can keep going. and not fall into a wind hole, to get us to where Predictwind has good steady wind (much the same as we have now). If we keep up this pace we should get “there” in the early afternoon.

For where we are currently at in the Atlantic, I have as much faith in Nostradamus as in Predictwind. So, we will keep sailing in these good winds and then lean on Predictwind if we drop into a wind hole and need some ideas of where to head to find the good stuff.

In the meantime, we are all enjoying the magnificent full moon and the shimmer across the water, one of the magic parts of sailing at night.



Of Bread and Fishes

Sat Nov 20 2021

Just like biblical times, the plan was to feed the Voila masses with bread and fishes. Tim (minus the long hair and beard), came to the party with a great 2nd loaf of bred after experimenting with the oven, pot and the correct proportions on his first.

Fishing was a bit more problematic as none of us on board were seasoned in the art of fishing. We lost our first two lures to what we put down to fishing gear that had sat in the locker too long and probably had corroded at key places. A third was rigged up and we saw the Mahi Mahi jump on and bite the trace that was a bit too thin in retrospect.

With new gear all rigged up, both lines/lures have lasted a couple of days and each has seen a small jack jump on. We kept one and let one go – I’m sure we will get some stick for keeping one as we have always thrown them back, but given I’ve never eaten one and the white flesh looked quite good, so we are going to give it a try.

On the sailing front, we managed to do a respectable 152nm for the 24 hours, with Alsino hitting 12kts of boat speed at one stage. Mostly under gennaker and full main with a couple of hours of motoring, which was a tick. We still have 88% and 90% diesel left so that’s good, given it looks like we should be sailing from tonight onwards if Predictwind can be believed.



The Return of the Blob

Sun Nov 21 2021

After making great progress to my PhD in wind holes, I was confronted with yet another challenge. This passage is like being back at work given the amount of time I’m staring at the screen of my computer.

The ECFWM and SPIRE models wanted us to go SW to avoid a rather nasty looking wind hole to the west, whilst the GFS and UKMO models wanted us to track due West to avoid a different wind hole to SW. This was Predictwind’s version of Russian Roulette, pick the wrong set of models and you would be motoring for hours to get out of a purple blob; pick the right model and you get to keep sailing.

As you can no doubt guess, I picked the wrong set of models and now we are motoring. We tried sailing for a while at 2-3kts but the parasailor finally said enough is enough and just went on strike on the basis of no wind, no play.

On the way down, it somehow managed to get itself caught up on the end of the spreader and Alsino took a trip up on the bosons chair at 2am to retrieve it. No damage done but he found the cap on the end of the spreader was loose allowing it to grab hold of anything resembling spinnaker cloth. A second trip up the mast with some Allen keys rectified the problem. With absolutely no wind and a full moon, it was one of the more comfortable trips up the mast in the middle of the Atlantic.

With the nights entertainment over, we left Alsino on watch and on motor, whilst the rest of the crew went back to bed.



Twitchy Yellowfin Tuna Times Two (TYTTT)

Sun Nov 21 2021

After getting a little dig from Dale about our lack of results vis-a-vis the fishing, we produced not one – but two – yellowfin tuna to swing the ledger firmly in our favour. Tim was the lucky man who had the sunrise shift and he dutifully deployed the lines right on sunrise.

Not long after he appeared at my doorway with a worried look on his brow saying we had caught not just one fish but two at once. i jumped out of bed and helped him pull in the haul.

After bleeding them and taking the requisite photos, we took one each to fillet. Tim did his first, but when I got to mine it was still twitching. Spooky! Tim told me not to be daft as it was well and truly dead, but he quickly published a retraction after observing it himself. Even when I cut the first fillet off it, the fillet was twitching. Double spooky!!



First Full 24 Hours of Sailing

Mon Nov 22 2021

We are coming up to our first full 24 hours of sailing with the motors put away to bed for the first time this trip. It looks like we will do only 126nm for the 24 hours. Still slow going as we hunt better winds to the south. The parasailor is a bit underpowered in these light winds, having been sized to handle proper trade winds, not these soft WCE type winds.

Still it’s very pleasant out here with hardly any swell and sunny skies. We were treated to a spectacular sunset last night to cap off a pretty good day on the water. The Yellowfin Tuna was to die for. Hopefully it will freeze okay.

We have Blue Heeler 430nm ahead of us and the ARC+ fleet bearing down on us – 290nm behind. We can track all the ARC+ boats on our Predictwind system, but we need to get Blue Heeler’s position via Dee.

We have knocked off 740nm and have roughly 1600nm to go, according to Predictwind, so a little under a third of the way there.



One Week Down – 9 Days to Go

Tue Nov 23 2021

Today at 10am marks seven full days at sea, and I’ve got to say its been slow going. Only 861nm at an average speed of 5.1knots isn’t going to worry Lewis Hamilton. Just under 1500nm to go.

But I’ve got to say we have done remarkably well to sail a lot of the time, with only 35 hours of motoring for the week in some very light winds. We still have 750l of diesel in the tanks, so we aren’t worried about a lack of fuel to get us there now.

At the moment the wind is 10-15 knots and the seas are down making for a very pleasant, if slow voyage. The winds are expected to pick up above 15kts on Thursday so hopefully that will allow us to put the accelerator down.

Current ETA is Thursday December 2nd.



Excitement Squared – 1000nm and Another Yacht

Wed Nov 24 2021

It was a big 10 minutes all at once. We just clicked over 1000nm and then we spotted ORDAGO, a 12m tricked out racing boat, on the AIS – 5nm to our south, zooming passed us at 9.4kts (we were doing 5s and 6s). They are an entrant in the 2 handed Transact race, which left from Atlantic France, and finishes in Martinique.

We gave them a call on the radio and wished them luck.

It’s encouraging to see a race boat on our same course – maybe our navigation through these tricky ever changing weather patterns is on track.



In the Middle of a Race

Thu Nov 25 2021

Thankfully the wind has finally picked up and we are seeing 15kts a lot of the time.

We are also seeing a mini procession of Transact boats racing past us.

It started last night when I sighted some lights astern and to port. No AIS at all – even when it got within 3 miles of us. Tim saw another boat this morning followed shortly by another, making four in total. Eventually we got close enough (2nm) to see the first boats AIS but no name was transmitted. I guess they are racing and don’t want to give anything away. It was going 11kts and quickly cut across our bows and off towards Martinique.

Once again, the following boat didn’t give up its details on AIS until it got quite close (ie. the colision alarm came on). This time it came up with a name – MILIA. Be interesting to know if these boats are bringing up the rear or if there are more to come. Send us a message if you are following the Transact.

On the fishing front, our main catch has been sargasso weed, folllowed by a few Jacks that we’ve returned to Neptune.

ETA is 3rd December.




Thu Nov 25 2021

Happy Thanksgiving to all our US friends; and especially to my lovely Dee 

And today we are very thankful out here in the middle of the Atlantic for crossing our half way point (finally). And we celebrated by catching not one but two Mahi Mahi – so fresh fish for the next couple of nights.

After filleting one and then cleaning up and then filleting the next and then cleaning up again, Tim and I need a good lie down and a Bex. Its hard work, this hunting and gathering lark.


Whilst all this was happening, another Transact boat went by. We picked it up early on AIS for once and it was Optimus Prime. Nice to see some other boats out here, even if they are going to beat us to Martinique by a country mile.


Strange and Mysterious Ocean Swells and Currents

Fri Nov 26 2021

It certainly is a different passage to last time in 2016. For the past few days we have seen the ocean currents do some strange things. Most of the time, they are playing ball and helping us across, but occasionally they veer off to either the south or north and often we have them completely against us.

Same with the ocean swells, that sometimes get very confused, and come at us from two directions. Not your normal Atlantic Crossing.

And what’s really strange is that 4 or 5 times a day, we have been getting wind against swell, where it looks like we are in some kind of tidal race, but without the tide.

This first occurrence popped up a couple of nights ago on Tim’s watch, and really spooked him out, given the moon wasn’t out yet and it was pitch black. An hour or so into my watch it had calmed down and normal Atlantic service had resumed.




Sat Nov 27 2021

It took us a while but finally we had a decent 24 hours of distance covered. 173nm for the 24 hours to 9am this morning.

However, despite all assurances to the contrary by my good friends, ECMWM, GFS, UKMO, SPIRE, PWG and PWE, the wind has dropped out this morning down to 11-13kts and we are struggling to do 6kts. Still, the sun is out and the occasional seabird is swooping around so all is good.

After 2 meals of fresh fish, we relented and will let Alsino have some meat. The catch is he needs to take on chef duties. No doubt it will be accompanied by rice. Fishing will resume tomorrow as there is nothing like the taste of freshly caught fish. If all else fails we have plenty in the freezer still.

We are closing on Martinique with 915nm to go and the promise of getting there on Thursday 2nd December. The odometer on Voila has just ticked over 6075nm since we sailed out of La Rochelle in April, so we are putting some miles in the young girl.



When Two Yachts Want The Same Patch of Ocean

Sun Nov 28 2021

The Atlantic Ocean is huge so it’s really quite amazing when the AIS shows a yacht bearing down on you with an expected 235 metres of separation at the closest point of approach. In all reality when you see this number that small you have to assume that there is a very real possibly you will run into each other if neither party doesn’t change course.

Alsino was on watch and he was adamant that we were the boat on starboard and the Frenchman would have to get out of the way. I called up FRA115 myself to ask if he would cross in front or behind – and he said in front.

It all started with a VHF Radio call from FRA115, one of the Transact boats asking if we had seen him. Tim heard the radio and took the call. Up to this point we hadn’t seen him but quickly did after the call. He was still 3nm away, but he wasn’t showing up on our AIS and we weren’t showing up on his. All these French entrants seem to have limited range on their AIS, whereas we could see Optimus on our AIS from a good 7nm out. Eventually he popped up 2nm from us, about the same time our AIS alarm when off.

At that point I didn’t really care if we had the right of way or not. It was both prudent and polite to get out of his way. After all, we were on a leisurely cruise, and he was racing.

We were hard on at 130 degrees with the parasailor so there was no way we could come up any more to go around his stern, severely limiting our options. Likewise he was running his code zero, main and a small stay sail, so I wasn’t sure what his options would be.

We tried to go more downwind but when he’s doing 11kts and we are doing 6kts, it made no difference to the closest point of approach number. Don’t you love AIS. So we gybed away from him and waved to him, taking lots of photos as he cut across our bow. We were quite close but had plenty of wiggle room on the new port tack.

It was great to see this speed machine at close quarters.

As usual, an encounter like this teaches the more inexperienced members of our crew some valuable lessons, which lots of sea miles eventually impart. I thought it useful to document these for future crew briefings and for others who are contemplating long ocean voyages.

  1. We don’t just do watches for fun as there is a very real possibly, given the miles we do, that over time we could eventually collide with another boat if we aren’t continually vigilant.
  2. Wearing earplugs and listening to music means you can’t hear the VHF; and the VHF is a very good safety tool to have on board.
  3. You can’t always rely on the AIS to tell you about other boats. Eyes and Ears are also required.
  4. You need time to get out of someone’s way. If this had happened at night, with just Alsino on watch, it would have taken him a little while to reorganise the sheets and guys to gybe the parasailor. Luckily it was during the day and Tim and I were both able to man a winch each to speed up things.
  5. There may not have been time if we’d played cat and mouse with FRA115 waiting for him to make the first move. Its always best to assume that the other guy is not going to get out of the way (especially when he tells you on the VHF that he’s crossing in front of you), and taking your own avoidance measures is better than having your boat run over and sink, whilst arguing as a new landlubber that you were in the right.
  6. Its best to be on a tack that gives you options. On starboard tack we had no way of tightening up to go around the back of him to avoid collision.

But having said all that it was a wonderful experience to see one of the Transact racers at close quarters in the middle of the Atlantic. One of the highlights of our crossing so far.



White Sails Today

Sun Nov 28 2021

After many days and nights flying the parasailor, it was time to give it a break and break out the white sails to get a bit more north in our course. We contemplated the gennaker but the winds were a touch strong, gusting over the 15kt limit of the gennaker from time to time. Given that we would be going a lot faster with the geneker with the apparent wind pushed forward further, we would be well and truly over the 15kt limit.

So white sails it was and we’ve had a good day zooming along at 7s and 8s. Along the way, Piment Rouge, the Outremer 51 out in front of the ARC+ overtook us under spinnaker, passing 0.5nm in front of us and we had a good chat over the VHF.

We’d just caught a Mahi Mahi so we thought we’d invite them over for lunch but they respectfully declined saying they had an ARC to win. Damn, we were banking on them to bring some good French wine!



Perfect Sailing in the Tradewinds

Mon Nov 29 2021

We started the day with a torrential downpour that gave Voila a nice wash. That followed a squally night with the white sails up.

Then Tim and I popped up the parasailor and off we went in 20knot NE winds. Perfect sailing weather doing 8s in sunny conditions.

Got my first bread making lesson from Tim today. Stage 1 done. Lets see how I go with the rest of the process.

We will pull down the parasailor at night from here on in, so we don’t have to stress about night-time squalls, and then pop it up again at first light. No need to fish today as we still have fresh fish for tonight’s dinner.

540nm to go. ETA is still Thursday, 2 December.



Squalls, Squalls and More Squalls

Tue Nov 30 2021

We had a busy night and morning of squalls packing 35 kts of wind; but the sky has now cleared and we are going along nicely at 8s and 9s at a wind angle of 135 under parasailor.

We had our first gear failure last night when I managed to strip the protective outer on one of our parasailor sheets. It got caught in a jammer when we were trying to set up for a squall that was about to hit us. Luckily Multihulls Solutions gifted us a couple of extra sheets, so we had a spare. We will need to install a better jammer system in Martinique. Live and Learn.

Talking of the parasailor, we decided to leave the parasailor up last night through the squalls by flying it high on both guys with the wind directly behind us. In effect we just kept the configuration we use when a squall hits us and just left it there all night so when the squalls hit us we didn’t need to do anything. First time Ive done this on either boat, and I’ve got to say it worked a treat – everyone got a good nights sleep and the boat handled beautifully through a couple of overnight squalls.

Yesterday, Tim somehow managed to teach me how to make bread and to my surprise it turned out okay. Now out of honey and jam, so had to dive into the Vegemite supplies. Yum.

We have had a good run of 176nm for the 24 hours and that seems to be our run rate as we power towards Martinique, only 360nm away now. ETA is still Thursday 2nd December in the late afternoon.

It will be white sails tonight as we need to reach up to Martinique. .



200nm to Go to (for a Beer)

Wed Dec 01 2021

Just clocked over the 200nm to go point and we are sailing fast on a nice beam reach since 5pm last night, when we pointed Voila straight at Martinique.

192nm for the 24 hours aint bad, If we keep going at that rate then we will be in by lunchtime tomorrow…

The Attack of the Flying Fish

Thu Dec 02 2021

I was just coming off watch last night, just before 3am, when I heard the icing glass right behind me get hit by something largish. I grabbed the torch, but before I could focus it on the area of impact, I felt something wriggle on my toes. After returning to ground level from my vertical elevation, I discovered a fairly large flying fish was floundering about at my feet. He definitely had some sort of flight plan to get that high into the helm station.

I shoed him down to the saloon floor and out the back, past the 6 other flying fish on the back deck. These went with the 6 or so on the front deck we found this morning. Quite a night of carnage for our OCC emblem.

And what a night it was. We were barrelling along at 10+ knots with 2 reefs in the main and the wind-o-meter hitting 33 knots of true at times. I had to fiddle around with the main sheet and genoa to get the right balance so that the boat would not head up and push the apparent wind speed into the red. Took me all of half an hour to get it right.

This morning the wind dropped to 20-25kts and we took out the 2nd reef. We’ve been in awe watching the boobies fish off the side of the boat as we approach land. 27nm to go to the marina. Should be there by lunchtime – so I’m sure everything will be shut for the French to eat their plat de jour.

So it’s a wrap…..

2340nm in mainly light winds. Averaged 6kts for the trip, with a top speed of 20.2 it’s (down a wave). Went hunting wind as far south as 9degrees 31 minutes, quite a long way south, considering Martinique is at 14 degrees 28 minutes. A reasonable return for a couple of novice fishermen in 1 jack, 2 Yellowfin tuna and 3 Mahi Mahi. Still have fish in the freezer.

We will be in Martinique until about the 11th attending to a few boat jobs before heading to Bonaire for some R&R.

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