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  • Writer's pictureTom

Boys toys and Flying Fish (OCC)

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

The famous flying fish pennant of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC)
The famous flying fish pennant of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC)

It was great to be back on Skyfall this week. The China trip, although worthwhile, had been far more stressful than I had imagined. (Although special thanks to Ding, Yonggang, Ruanbo, Zhoubo, Gonghongbo etc for a really enjoyable welcome dinner and to Isabelle for making it all possible). But being back onboard, relaxing on deck at sunset, aperitief in hand, seemed like the perfect antidote to the Chinese covid craziness.

Of course, boats like to be used and Skyfall, after 5 weeks neglect, required some attention. What with the sand blown across from the Sahara ( yes, we are off the coast of Africa) and the local seagulls, the decks were in a sorry state. But nothing an hour or two with a hose could not sort out.

Skyfall's deck with sand and bird poo
Skyfall's deck was covered in sand and bird poo

Next up, we unpacked all the 'boat bits' we had brought with us. First up a new pennant. The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) is an invitation only organisation that caters for long distance sailors. The number of sea miles sailed by a typical member make our endeavours look like a weekend coastal sail. For instance, there is an annual award for most challenging or exceptional voyage. The winner was in a motorcycle accident some years ago and ended up losing an arm and a leg. During his recuperation, he discovered a list of circumnavigators on the Joshua Slocum Society website. He noted that no-one like himself, a double amputee, had made it onto the list. He immediately committed to somehow buying a boat and sailing around the world single-handed. Problem: he did not know how to sail! Several Youtube videos later and he felt confident enough to set off (in 2014), completing the voyage last year. As I said, reading about these people can make you feel very humble. However, earlier this year, we met Mike (S/Y Exulans) in the Azores and he liked our website enough to offer to invite me to join this veritable institution. Now, as a member, I am entitled to a 'flying fish' OCC pennant (see photo at the top of the page) which we had brought with us.

After the OCC pennant, it was time to start with the toys. First up was work on the newly installed Hydrovane self-steering. The system uses the wind to control an additional rudder which keeps the boat pointing at a constant angle to the wind. But, for it to work, the main rudder has to be locked in position with the boat sailing more or less straight

Skyfalls simple system to lock the wheel in position
Skyfalls simple system to lock the wheel in position

Skyfall has a Lewmar locking system (circular knob in the picture) but this is completely useless. So we rigged up some clip on, easily adjustable, ropes ( one either side) to lash the wheel properly. We will see how well this works on the crossing.

The hydrovane also has a 'remote control' to tweak direction. The knob at the back (with the rope running over it) adjusts the angle of the vane to the wind and hence the direction the boat sails in. In order to avoid having to leave the cockpit to make any adjustment, the 'remote control is a continuous looped rope which runs over the knob and forward, round a block in the cockpit. Provided the rope is tight enough, there is enough friction to rotate the knob by pulling on the rope from the cockpit.

Hydrovane steering system
Hydrovane steering system

To create the continuous loop two ends of rope had to be joined together neatly enough that the join would still run through the block. I did not trust the 'heat weld' technique so decided to strengthen this using my (very rusty) whipping skills ( no not the BDSM variety). Not quite neat enough to warrant a photo but hopefully the line stays together.

I went up the mast to do a rigging check in Madeira but, even though that was relatively recent, we thought another look before the Atlantic crossing would be a good idea. But Annick was not too confident belaying me using a halyard round the winch.

Using a drone to do a rigging check
Using a drone to do a rigging check

So I decided to bring out the drone and see if the photos had enough resolution to do a 'remote rigging check'. I took lots of photos in the half hour that the drone circled the mast and spent even longer pouring over them. One issue is the anti-collision software that prevents you getting too close. It is possible to disable this and, if I was relying on this technique, I think I would take the risk to get better 'close-up' pictures. The downside is that, with one mistake, you are 1000 euros poorer.

Another essential task to prepare for the crossing was the provisioning. We had stocked up with non-perishables before we left mainland Europe. But we thought it best to take everything out again, remind ourselves where everything was, make a new inventory and generate a new shopping list. The big supermarket in Playa Blanca is some distance from the marina and it took us all morning to walk there, load up two shopping trolleys, push them back to the marina, unload and finally to take the trolleys back.

After (another) engine check we were, in principle, ready to leave. However the forecast predicted thunderstorms on Nov 12th and 13th so we now expect to leave on the 14th. This gave me time to play with our latest toy.

In China I acquired a submersible drone providing the capability of checking the bottom or how the anchor is set without getting wet. This may be superfluous in the Caribbean (where getting into the water is a luxury) but it may be valuable in Australia where the number of dangerous creatures in the water make me wonder how Australians make it to adulthood! It is also supposed to be great for filming fish as they are attracted to it's lights. We shall see.

Submersible drone
Submersible drone

The task here was to get to grips with the controls and check I could operate it. No small feat with all the instructions in Chinese! We played in the swimming pool first as the water is clearer and I could visually see what was happening as I manipulated the controls. I know I took videos, which are stored on the submersible. Unfortunately I am currently having issues getting them downloaded to my computer or you would have had some underwater shots.

As already mentioned, we expect to leave on the 14th November. The trip to Cap Verde should take around six days. Sean is not with us for this leg as he has a very important birthday celebration in Berlin next weekend. But he flies to Cap Verde on the 23rd to boost the crew for the crossing to Grenada. That means we will have 2-3 days margin to relax in Mindelo (Cap Verde). Expect the next blog post from there.

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