Squall – Maldives

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but here is the next chapter. I had originally intended this to be a potted history of my experiences on board yachts, in chronological order. It will be a potted history for sure, but, to paraphrase Morecombe and Wise, it will have all the right items, but not necessarily in the right order, or indeed be recent… but I’m trying to catch up…. so this will get my story to the beginning of 2011!

I joined Squall in Singapore in October 2010. She is another vessel built by Perini Navi, but very different to Clan VI. She was launched in 2002. Her design is by naval architects Ed Dubois, and this makes her unique amongst Perinis. The difference is very visible. She is a performance cruising ketch.

Details on this boat can be seen on Perini Navi’s website.

On day 2 we departed Singapore for the Maldives. This was an 8 day passage… with no wind! We did try a couple of times to get the sails out, but to no avail, except to find that what goes up doesn’t necessarily come down on this boat… we spent a whole day trying to get the mainsail to come down after the motor driver for the halyard winch developed a fault! On the second attempt at sailing, the winch for the Jib Sheet jammed…. Oh boy! She is in need of some TLC that’s for sure.

The Maldives are a strange place I think. As you approach the principle Island of Male (pronounced “marlay”), the view is just buildings… every scrap of the island is built upon, and it has indeed grown several times with land reclamation projects over the years. The Airport is next to Male, entirely built on reclaimed land. The rest of the archipelago consist of tiny, flat islands, mostly now developed with resort hotels for honeymoon couples. There are many hidden reefs which are poorly charted too, so navigating the area was going to be interesting. This indeed proved to be the case, especially as the navigation equipment on board was decidedly out of date.. so in fact the most up to date charts we had were those used by my iPad…

Yachties are a strange breed too and tend to hang out closely together, so it is always interesting to hear the opinions of other about the places we visit, and the Maldives was a particular example… most people would consider a holiday to the region a once in a lifetime exotic holiday, but myself and most other crew that I talked with about the experiences of being there were unimpressed… and would quite happily miss it out another time. The Diving was mostly disappointing, and the area has a certain coldness as a result of the large exclusive resort hotels… so, after 2 months there we were not sorry to leave.

Next stop…. Langkawi…

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Generating Aggravation

It’s sometimes a pity that the Italians can build such pretty yachts! Unfortunately, practicality often takes second place as I discovered this week whilst doing some temporary work on board Clan VI, an aging Perini Navi sailing yacht.

In the World of sailing superyachts Perini Navi is probably the best known builder, and certainly the most prolific, having recently launched their 50th boat. The original yard is in the Tuscan town of Viareggio, but the company has expanded with yards in La Spezia and also Yildiz in Turkey. Clan VI was originally named Felicita and was the first yacht built by the yard in 1983.. so she is an old lady now.

Clan VI is 40m in length, small compared with the latest 56m yachts produced here. She has a staysail ketch rig, with an semi-automated sail handling system. This system was the real breakthrough that Perini Navi brought to the yachting scene. Before Felicita, sailing yachts required so many crew to handle the sails, that there was little room for the comforts required by luxury yacht owners. With the use of captive winches and hydraulic furlers , all coupled to joystick controls on the bridge, it became possible to sail a large sailing yacht with only a single person on deck… and this revolutionized the sailing yacht sector of the business.

Since then, several builders have been turning out larger and larger sailing yacht using the same basic idea for sail controls… The materials used have developed towards todays all carbon fibre masts and booms, and even kevlar rigging on some race yachts.

The reason for this post though is different from singing the praises of modern yacht design. Instead I am choosing to marvel and the ignorance of some fitters when they put a boat together… normally, changing a generator alternator belt should be a routine and simple task… but not when your generator has been fitted backwards (yes really) so that all the service components are squeezed up against the hull, and also obstructed by a huge ventilation fan assembly at the front! Result, instead of half an hour to change the drive belt, it took a whole day of standing on my head, wedged between the generator and the hull wrestling to undo nuts one flat at a time, and having to dismantle half the cooling system of the machine to get to the vital areas… Grrrr… if only I could get the guy who put the thing where it is to come back and do the job….

Clan VI in Ft Lauderdale

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Cuan Law Days… Prologue

The next part of my history in yachting may well evolve into more than one blog entry as so much happened… but I’ll start and see where I end up.

The 105′ Schooner rigged trimaran ‘Cuan Law’ is a legendary name in the world of liveaboard diving and family charters in the British Virgin Islands. Her designers, builders, owners and operators , Annie and Duncan Muirhead can be credited with being major players in the beginnings of liveaboard  diving holidays in the region and the whole concept worldwide. Cuan Law is the third vessel that they built, Misty Law and Lammer Law coming before her 1989 launch.

She was for many years the largest trimaran in the World, loosing this only recently to some of the modern racing tri’s, but these are fundamentally different vessels with their outer hulls being non-displacement floats, rather than displacement hulls as with the Muirhead designs.

As for diving, well, Duncan and Annie explored the Caribbean thoroughly during the 70’s  with the ‘Misty Law’ . So many of the favorite diving spots that are regular dive sites today bear the names given to them during these explorations… the story of ‘Brown Pants’ on Norman Island will remain a secret in this article!

Back in 2002 I was working full time for a large defence contractor, BAE Systems, in the UK as a Design Engineer and Project Manager for Underwater Weapon Systems. I’d been doing this since 1998 after completing my time as research assistant at Leeds University. The Sea School business was a weekend  and holidays part time venture at this time. The summer in 2002 was a particularly nice one, by UK standards, and I was fortunate enough to be off work (from the office) on sick leave owing to a minor operation that I’d had. This op didn’t impede my life at all, but health and safety rules forbade my return to work… so out teaching sailing I went!!

A client throughout the summer, Chas Ashby, was a diving instructor on board a large trimaran in the BVI, and he wanted to take his Yachtmaster ticket so that he could be elevated to the mate’s job, and possibly become captain down the line.  He sailed with me and my friend James Fawcett for a considerable number of miles, before passing his Yachtmaster exam and then heading back to the islands at the end of the summer.

In February 2004, I was still in the same job at BAE, and slowly becoming more and more frustrated with the corporate World. Engineering is about solving practical problems with real World solutions… not politics and accountancy, but this was what I was doing every day… defending my every move. I had become tired of this, and was contemplating taking a sabbatical for 12-18 months to sail my own yacht ‘Cartman’ across the Atlantic to the Caribbean for a season, then to the Med for the summer, before returning to work. I was well into planning this, and was close to advertising the trip to prospective clients who would buy sections of it as I moved around….

Then, one February evening I returned from the office to my house in Portsmouth. As was usual, I switched on my home computer and downloaded my email… and there was one from Chas Ashby… entitled… ‘Wanna Job??’ He wrote that he planned to move on from Cuan but had to find his own replacement, and knowing that diving is a hobby of mine, and my general demeanor, he felt that I was suitable for the job… was I interested?!

I thought briefly… Career, House, Car, Girlfriend…. pfaff… and replied… “No… it would be too complex to just get up and go”. Then I got ready and went out to meet with some of my office colleagues. During the evening’s beer drinking in Southsea (I think it was a Friday night) I happened to mention this email and my reply to my friends… their response… “YOU SAID WHAATTT!!!???”. That got me thinking again, and that night, I returned home after several beers and the usual half a Donner Kebab on the way home (the rest would be breakfast).. I sent another email… “Disregard the previous message… tell me more!”

To cut a long story short, emails went back and forth between me and the Muirheads, and then in July I traveled to the BVI to meet them and see the boat. I was sure that we would all get along and they indeed offered me the position. I accepted and returned to the UK, resigning from BAE the next day… and never have I felt better!

It was unbelievably easy to clear up my life in the UK… Cars can be sold (even when it’s your pride and joy Subaru Impreza Turbo), houses can be rented out, career’s can be changed and girlfriends.. well they are still more complicated, but the split was amicable and we remain good friends to this day. I booked my flights for November the 4th 2004… to the Island of Saba, where I was to meet the boat mid charter…

An interesting side story here… in booking my flights, I used Expedia’s website and searched for a ticket from London to Saba… the site chewed on this for a few moments and came back up saying… Flights from ‘London to WHERE????’, or words to that effect. I’d been told that I had to go via St Maarten, so revised the search to that and sure enough found a ticket with KLM there. Now I search for flights from St Maarten to Saba on Google… hit… http://www.dangerousairports.com (I notice this site no longer exists.. shame).. and it listed Saba as number 3 (behind the old Hong Kong airport and St Barts I think)… anyway, I followed the link to the Winair flight and booked a ticket. Then I wrote to Duncan, with my travel details… adding that I was a little concerned about flying into the third most dangerous airport in the World. The reply I got was priceless… and I remember it word for word…

“What are you worrying about… the runway is 400m long with a 50m cliff at each end and a 1000m high volcano to the side. It’s like landing on an aircraft carrier without any arrester wires… we’ll be anchored and one end and will watch the plane come in. If there’s anything worth scraping off the tarmac, I’ll send somebody to come and meet you.”

I knew at this point that Duncan and I would get on just fine… as indeed we did!

Details of Cuan Law can be found at www.cuanlaw.com

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Confessions of a Sailing Instructor

OK… some interesting stories from my past boats will be what we get on with first in this blog and I suppose I should probably start from the beginning of my professional… well to begin with semi professional yachting career.

As a sailing instructor I got to meet many interesting people. They came from all sorts of backgrounds all over the UK and sometimes from abroad too. One of the most exciting parts, of the weekend trips in particular, was waiting for my clients to turn up on a Friday evening. We usually began by having dinner in a local Gosport Pub. The Castle Tavern was probably my favorite as it served massive portions of hugely calorific food – perfect for the beginning of a weekend at sea.

Then, following a slap up dinner, it was either a few beers and bed, ready for an early start with boat handling tuition around the Marina, or, back to the boat straight away and catching a suitable tide to head for France or west towards Weymouth.

The latter ‘Mile Building’ trips were interesting as, if I wanted to sleep at all, I had to trust often a boat full of unknown people to stand watch while I “slept” with one eye open… it was a constant source of frustration to my students that without looking outside, I could stick my head out of the forward hatch and yell… “you’re off course!” to them… just from the feel of the boat. That skill comes with experience!

Letting the students make mistakes was also very much part of the learning… so those that didn’t think the tides mattered all that much would get a nasty shock in the Alderney Race and we were often overtaken by fishing buoys or even a lighthouse when they got it wrong! I just brewed up some more tea whilst watching the valuable lesson sink in.

Boat-handling weekends were something of a speciality with our school… we used to watch other yachts play pinball down a marina aisle with much glee, and then go in and let our students show off their new parking skills with impunity… got quite a lot of business for own boat tuition that way! After a morning of ‘bumps and scrapes’ we would then usually head of for Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and I guess 6 times out of 10 end up at the Folly Inn on the Medina River.

This is an interesting place on a Saturday night with a regular music act by a certain Danny Bianco… he’s done the same show for years, but it always works… everybody is dancing on the tables by the end of the evening. The tender run back to the yacht at the end was often exciting, given the drunken state of all involved and the temperamental characteristics of my Seagull Featherlight outboard.

One week and ten day trips took us further afield, usually to Brittany and the Channel Islands. This is a coastal zone that I love, indeed I hope to retire to Brittany one day when I decide that I’ve spent long enough on the water. Probably the most memorable one of these involved some real character clients, who had become good friends by this time.. and then the one unknown gent… the trip was fraught with incident and adventure… of entirely the wrong kind!

One night in particular we had sailed up from Jersey to Guernsey. St Peter Port is the principle town of this island and has a very nice marina, with an extremely tidal entrance. It’s also expensive, so rather than waste time trying to get in, we decided to anchor in the neighboring bay, blow up the tender and motor ashore. So off we went for dinner, with Cartman safe at anchor.

So, now with bellies full of food and a fair amount of beer, we returned to the harbor wall where we had left the tender. The wind had un-expectedly turned so the waves were slapping at the steps alongside the wall, that we had to negotiate with the small boat, in order to return to Cartman. Realising that this required some organisation in order to avoid a surprise swim I briefed my crew. Sure enough a beautiful job was done in launching and boarding the tender, and… the trusty Seagull fired on the third pull of the ‘magic string’ as it always did. Slowly we chugged away from the wall and the peaking waves and all was well.. until… a plastic bag became attached to the propellor. The only solution was to stop the engine, remove the bag and re-start it. This would take an eternity (about 20-30 seconds) during which time we were pushed back towards the wall by the wind. Result… one surprise swim for all of us, in out best going out togs! Re-boarding the tender was completed, the engine re-started and back to the boat we went.

Now, as the wind had turned, the anchorage was no longer the place to be, and as it was also high tide, the Marina was available to us, so we decided to move… So Deborah went forward to haul the anchor up… she was he head of corporate sales for Vodafone UK, and is an extraordinary woman. Pulling the hook was tough with the boat pitching, but she, with the help of Nikki sitting on top of her managed to get the anchor up. We motored round to the Marina… the final member of the crew was an gentleman named Frank… to say that he was accident prone was definitely an understatement… so on entering the Marina and coming alongside the dock, he stepped from the boat, just like he’d been shown with the lines in his hands.. unfortunately he had forgotten to unclip his harness…. so fell flat on his face on the pontoon and was then picked up and dropped again by the rolling motion of the boat until we could get him unclipped! No injuries fortunately apart from hurt pride.

So there we were in the Marina… soaked to the skin in our dinner clothes, smashing this poor guy on the dock repeatedly in full view of maybe a dozen other yachts (all wearing full foul weather gear etc and dry) with http://www.cartmansailing.co.uk sea school badges all over the boat… don’t think I got much passing trade from that bit of advertising… but oh boy did we laugh about it once we had dried out… oh and I’d re-attached the head door that Frank presented to me later when it came off in his hand….

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Hmmm… How does this Blog thing work then

Thought I would write a short piece to upload and then test out the formatting of this new adventure… my blog of the World, according to a Sailing Yacht Captain.

The fact that I am un-employed at present means that this will be quite a short article to start with, but I hope that I will be able to add many interesting stories about places and people (both on and off the boat) as I get going with this. It will be historical to start with before I get into new stuff, but should be entertaining none the less.

I hope it will provide a useful vehicle to stay in touch with family and friends as well as possibly inspiring to those whom want to travel and explore, or who may consider entering this ‘industry’ for a career.

Anyway… that’s about it for the moment… now to play at getting a format I like.

The town where 'Jaws' was filmed Me (left) and my mates Rick (Middle) and Andy (Right)

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