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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.