After Robin and I did the handover and training on Puffin in August, we left the boat for a few weeks so Outremer could take care of our list of repairs and adjustments. I returned in September with Robin’s brother, Kirk to take Puffin to Genoa and get her ready to load on the Sevenstar cargo ship for the transport to Newcastle, Australia.
All of the items on our list except one were completed. I met Stephane from Outremer on the boat the morning of our departure and went through everything. The only thing they didn’t have time to finish was the privacy curtain in the owner’s hull. The fabric is a special order so it didn’t arrive in time. No big deal though, Stephane will send it to us in Brisbane and I will work with the Australian Outremer dealer, Multihull Central to get it installed.
With Puffin all ready to go, Kirk and I left La Grande Motte for our voyage over to Genoa, Italy. Our original plan was to load onto the Sevenstar ship in Palma Majorca, but it turns out that Australian Quarantine requires that all cargo (including yachts) departing European ports for Australia must be treated for Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. This little bug apparently causes a lot of crop damage and is not at all welcome in Australia. There are no Australian Quarantine certified Stink Bug fumigators in Palma, but there are in Genoa, so off to Genoa we go.
Our trip over to Genoa took about 3 days, including a stop to anchor overnight near Cannes to wait out some strong headwinds. We had to motor a bit more than we would have liked due to no wind in the beginning and strong headwinds at the end, but we did get some great sailing in as well.
What I learned about Puffin on this voyage
This was my first multi-day voyage on Puffin so there was a lot to discover. We used all of our sails except the gennaker, and we sailed with reefed main and staysail for part of the way and with full main and genoa for other sections. It gave me a chance to get to know Puffin a bit more. Here’s what I learned:
- Puffin’s sails and sail handling systems work really well – Managing Puffin’s sails is very easy and everything that I wanted to be able to do single-handed worked well. Performance was excellent in light winds and the boat was easy and balanced when reefed down.
- Puffin’s motion continues to exceed my expectations – We sailed in some rough conditions with 30 knot winds and waves, and the motion is definitely more comfortable than our previous boats. It’s hard to explain, but basically the lighter weight reduces the motion because there isn’t the lurching sensation that you get with heavier boats as they tend to dive up and down in the waves. Craig Schionning talks about this on his website as one of the benefits of light catamarans, but until I experienced it for myself, I didn’t really understand what difference it would make. I’m not saying that Puffin will be more comfortable than a longer, heavier boat in all conditions, but based on my experience so far it is definitely better.
- Motoring is easy and efficient – We did some overnight motoring runs on this trip and I was able to experiment with different engine configurations. I did a full speed test on flat water with no wind and no current. With both engines at full throttle we did 3,200 RPM on each engine and boat speed was 9.6 knots. I found that I could get 5 knots speed on a single engine at 2000-2200 rpm. At this configuration we burn 2 liters of diesel per hour which gives us around 160 hours motoring range on a full tank.
- The reef hook needs the mainsail to be unloaded to operate correctly – I found that when taking the first reef in the main using the Facnor reef hook, we needed to come up quite far into the wind to take the pressure off the sail. If the sail has too much pressure, the hook will not engage on the leech shackle. I found the best approach was to run an engine to push us a bit higher upwind to engage and disengage the hook.
We had three problems on this trip. There was a water leak from around the engine control levers at the helm station which leaked water into the cupboard above the salon fridge and down into the closet in the port hull. There was a loud creak coming from the shelves behind the stove in the salon, and we had an intermittent issue on the last night of the trip where the autopilot occasionally lost the boat speed data and sounded an alarm.
I called Stephane from our anchorage in Cannes about the water leak as this was a serious issue that could cause a lot of damage if it leaked during the trip back to Australia. Stephane agreed and sent Jerome, one of his technicians to meet us in Genoa. Jerome fixed the water leak and the creaking shelves. I’ll need to do some more testing on the intermittent B&G issue when we get back to Australia.
Preparing Puffin for transport
Sevenstar give detailed instructions about how to prepare your boat for deck cargo on their ships. In addition to this, I talked with some yacht captains that had experience shipping boats with various transport companies. Everyone agreed that the boats will get very dirty and any canvas on deck should be stowed and the sails removed and stowed also.
I also decided to remove all of the running rigging and replace the lines with messengers so we can easily reinstall everything in Newcastle. We applied a surface protection wax on the entire deck and the mast, and we wrapped the boom and as many of the fittings as possible in UV resistant stretch film and tape.
I called North Sails after we arrived in Genoa, and they came to the boat the next day and took down the genoa and mainsail and stowed them in their sail-bags for us. It was a huge help to have this done by professionals and we were really impressed by the great support provided by North!
The final step in the prep process was the stink bug fumigation treatment. This was done via ducted industrial heaters that pump heated air into the interior of the boat to kill any bugs. This was some serious equipment and was pretty scary as we didn’t know what damage would be done by the heat. Unfortunately there’s no way to enter Australia without fumigation, so we had no choice. Once the treatment was done, we found that the plastic frames around our salon fans had warped in the heat, so the fans will have to be replaced.
The plastic frames around our salon roof hatch blinds were also damaged by the heat treatment, but I didn’t see any other damage on the boat. We will have to purchase replacements from Outremer and fit them in Australia.
The Sevenstar ship that is transporting Puffin is named Happy Delta. We were given a loading time by the Sevenstar loaders and at the designated time we drove Puffin over to the port of Genoa to load onboard.
The Sevenstar loading team is very professional and they had no trouble lifting Puffin onboard and securing her on deck.
Now we have a long wait until Puffin arrives in Australia. We won’t be given an ETA by Sevenstar until Happy Delta is underway. The voyage plan is to stop in Turkey to pick up some motor yachts and then travel to Australia via the Suez Canal.
Here are some tips based on my experiences purchasing two Outremer catamarans. I took the lessons learned from buying our 5X and applied them to the construction of our 4X. This worked well for us, Puffin was delivered on schedule at the estimated price. There were a few problems that came up, but nothing serious. I have listed these at the end of the post in Lessons Learned.
1. Write a master specification document
There are too many details to keep track of if they aren’t written down in a master specification document. Outremer will compile a list of the options you have ordered, along with the price for each item and will send this to you for approval before proceeding with the build. The Outremer list doesn’t contain all the details of how each item will be built, so you will need to provide additional details. For some things it’s simple and a detailed description isn’t needed, the color of the boom for example. For other items, a detailed description with drawings or photos is needed to ensure the factory fully understands what you are asking for. Locations of remote controls for electric winches for example.
2. Find out what features are standard
Your order will start with the standard boat, and then your optional features will be listed. It’s important to know what is and isn’t included in the standard boat, otherwise you may end up missing a feature that you thought was standard, but Outremer considers an option. Looking at photos of other boats or even the sales brochure may not help, because pretty much every boat has some non-standard items. In cases where I wasn’t sure, I listed the item in my master spec to be sure it wasn’t left out, but it’s impractical to do this with every standard feature. Best to have a thorough discussion with Outremer when you begin the specification process.
3. Visit the factory periodically to make sure your boat is being built to your spec.
Outremer has good quality control, but boats are incredibly complex, so it’s inevitable that some details will get missed or instructions misinterpreted. I wasn’t able to travel to France during the construction of Puffin, so I hired a local consultant that I trust, to do regular inspections for me. I worked with Sandie Moreno from Services Plaisance. Sandie is a certified delivery skipper and has thousands of miles experience sailing and maintaining multihulls, and has acted as owners representative on the construction of multiple large multihulls. She helped me with a delivery passage on Wildling when I was short-handed and I found her to be excellent, both technically and as a sailor. Sandie visited the factory multiple times to check Puffin’s construction against the spec. and she sent me photos of each item. She caught some things with our North sails that were not correct and a few minor construction details that Outremer corrected before delivery, which helped keep the project on schedule and made sure nothing was missed.
If you would like to work with Sandie, you can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Schedule time to fully exercise your boat after handover
Plan to spend some time living on the boat after the handover week is complete. Be sure and go over every system and check its operation. Check for water leaks and loose fittings. Wash your boat and wipe the entire boat dry with a cloth. This ensures you check every square inch of the boat to find any scratches or surface defects that need to be fixed. Outremer will schedule a first warranty service for your boat soon after your sea trials and shakedown cruise. This is the time to get anything that isn’t quite right taken care of before you leave La Grande Motte.
5. Don’t forget it’s a boat
If you’re buying your first new boat, it may come as a surprise to find that your new boat will have some issues, and that things will break when you start using it. We’ve become so accustomed to new cars having no defects, and even no need for a service during the first year of ownership, but boats are different. They are hand crafted and hand assembled. There are thousands of individual components that have to fit together perfectly, and they operate in one of the most challenging environments on the planet. Your boat will have some items to fix, and it will require constant maintenance and repair even when it’s new. Outremer knows this and has an entire team dedicated to supporting new owners. This is why the service and support provided by your manufacturer should be one of the most important criteria when buying a new catamaran.
I followed the approach described above when building Puffin and everything went well with the construction of the boat. Sandie found a few things that Outremer corrected before launch and Puffin was delivered on schedule and on budget.
Only one of my specified options was not installed before delivery, the privacy curtain at the entry to the starboard cabin. This was due to a misunderstanding over whether it was an optional or standard feature (see Tip 2 above). Sandie caught this, but it wasn’t addressed prior to delivery. Not a big deal and Outremer will add it during the first warranty service.
We did have a few problems with the North sails. Sandie caught all of these issues before delivery, but after they had been installed on the boat, and it was too late in the process to correct everything, so North still has some work to do.
Here are the issues we had with our North sails:
- The 3Di Mainsail was delivered and installed on the boat with sail numbers on the sail. I had specifically ordered the mainsail with no numbers, but it was delivered with a sail number of ZZZ888. These numbers were each about 500 mm high, but neither North nor Outremer caught this. Sandie found it during an inspection and North removed the numbers before delivery with no damage to the sail
- The North spinnaker was the wrong size and the wrong fabric. North had no issues replacing the spinnaker, but it was too late to get a replacement made before delivery so we are sailing without our spinnaker until North can manufacture a new one.
- The Staysail bag is too small and does not fully cover the sail when stored on deck. Both Outremer and Sandie caught this, but North did not fix it prior to delivery.
The North sails on Puffin are beautifully made, so there are no issues with the sails themselves, but the quality control process between North and Outremer needs some attention. If you order North sails with your boat (and I recommend that you do) you should add an inspection step to verify the sails have been constructed according to your specifications before they are fitted on the boat.
I didn’t have a video camera and microphone with me during our first week of sailing Puffin, so I recorded this video tour with my iPhone. I clearly don’t know much about iPhone videos as the orientation is not correct, but Robin convinced me I should post it anyway. Please view at your own risk 🙂
Robin and I arrived in La Grande Motte last week and were given the keys to Puffin! She is all finished and we couldn’t be happier with her! The Outremer team has built us a magnificent boat. The level of finish and craftsmanship that has gone into Puffin is truly impressive, and Robin and I owe a huge THANK YOU to everyone involved!
Delivery of a new Outremer catamaran includes an action packed week of briefings, instruction, maneuvers, testing and practice. It’s fun and tiring, and at the end you feel like you really know how to operate and manage your new boat and you’re ready to set sail! Here’s what happened during our Puffin delivery week…
Day 1 – Meet the boat
The week of delivery is fully scheduled and managed by the Outremer delivery team. We arrived on Monday and met with Benjamin and Matthieu at the Outremer offices, and they took us over to see Puffin and gave us a tour of the boat. Monday was also Robin’s birthday, so she received a pretty epic birthday present that’s for sure!
Day 2 – Final signatures & first sail
On Tuesday morning we met Benjamin at the boat and went over all the delivery paperwork. We reviewed every item on the specification list and made sure everything was installed correctly on the boat. Then we signed the delivery acceptance documents and Benjamin left us to spend some time on Puffin so we could begin to get to know her.
During the afternoon we went on our first sail. We were accompanied by Patrick, who is an experienced ocean sailor, a great teacher and a super nice guy. We had winds of 10-13 knots so we put up the full main and 3Di Genoa. Puffin was easily doing 9-11 knots close hauled upwind in these conditions. I expected her to sail well, and I was not disappointed. I realized that I have never been on such a light catamaran before, it feels quite different. The motion is very easy, you can feel how well she glides over the choppy water. The light weight combined with our awesome North 3Di sails means that every puff of wind translates into forward motion, so the boat feels like it’s not under any stress at all. Robin loved how simple and easy she is to sail. We tacked and gybed a few times and it was no effort. We both felt that all our work to keep the boat light was really worth it!
One surprise for me was how high she points upwind. We could sail fast at 30-35 degrees apparent, and she doesn’t lose speed until we pinch up towards 25 degrees. This is better than any other multihull we have sailed.
On Tuesday Xavier Desmarest, CEO of Outremer came for a visit and we chatted about catamarans – my favorite subject!
During our sail on Tuesday we had problems with the autopilot losing its rudder angle data and disengaging. We had to turn off the autopilot and hand steer, which I didn’t mind because it gave me some time to get the feel of our cable steering system (smooth and direct) and also to try helming with the tillers, which is a pretty unique sensation on a 48 foot boat. Hand steering is fun, but we certainly had to get the autopilot fixed! Patrick called in on the way back to the dock and arranged for Pochon to come and look at the pilot problem.
Day 3 – Electrical systems and downwind sailing
Thomas from Pochon came to the boat on Wednesday morning and found the autopilot was getting interference from the NMEA 2000 barometric pressure sensor. He disconnected the sensor and the autopilot has worked perfectly since. This is aggravating, because I had the same problem when I tried to add a barometric pressure sensor on Wildling. The autopilot went into alarm when I connected it, and I never found a solution. I assumed the B&G autopilot didn’t work with barometers from other manufacturers, so for Puffin I ordered a B&G brand barometer, and guess what? B&G autopilots don’t work with B&G barometers either! The Pochon guys say they see this often when adding a barometer to B&G networks. So no electronic barometer on Puffin until B&G can come up with a fix!
Also on Wednesday morning, we met with Stephane Denner who manages post warranty services for Outremer yachts. We worked with Stephane on Wildling, so we know him really well. He’s a great guy, super knowledgeable, and responds quickly whenever we need help or to answer questions. Outremer yachts include a 2 year warranty so having great people like Stephane to help is an enormous value. Stephane went through all the electrical systems on the boat with me. It was a very thorough tour and involved a lot of tips and tricks for troubleshooting if anything goes wrong.
Wednesday afternoon was more sailing. Winds were a bit lighter so we sailed upwind away from shore for a few miles under main and Genoa, and then returned downwind with our Code-D gennaker. We gybed the gennaker to get a feel for how the sail handles. Once again everything was easy, fast and low stress. Robin and I are pretty much in love with Puffin at this point!
Day 4 – Electronics briefing and reefing tests
Thursday morning was the electronics briefing with Alain from Pochon. This included all of the sailing instruments, autopilot, navigation, radar, communications, video and data systems on the boat. Alain did the installation on Puffin himself, so he knew every detail of how things were installed and configured. He was very detailed and covered the location and setup of every feature on the boat, and like Stephane the day before, he gave me a lot of advice on how to troubleshoot different kinds of problems when underway. Information I was going to use sooner than I thought!
On Thursday afternoon we went sailing again with Patrick, and we also had Thomas from Pochon along. Our plan was to test the B&G electronics while sailing, and then try out the staysail and mainsail reefing. We also wanted to test the Watt & Sea hydro-generator.
We hoisted the staysail and tried out the mainsail 1st reef using the Facnor hook system. The hook works well, it just has to be fully opened before taking the reef, otherwise it doesn’t latch properly. Once Patrick showed me how to operate the hook, we reefed and un-reefed a few times to test it out. It’s very easy, and all done single-handed from the helm station.
The staysail is self-tacking, so we tested it out using the B&G autopilot auto-tacking feature. It’s pretty cool to just press a button on the pilot controller and have the boat tack on its own over to the exact same wind angle on the opposite tack without touching the helm or adjusting the sails!
We fitted the hydro-generator to its bracket on the stern and set it in the water to test its operation, all good!
Thomas spent some time showing me some of the features of the B&G system I wasn’t familiar with. I learned how to quickly set VMG laylines to waypoints, which I haven’t done before. We also tested the radar and checked it’s calibration by setting it to overlay the radar image onto the coastline shown on the chart.
At one point during the afternoon, Thomas inserted a defect in the instrument system without telling me. I was sitting at the helm seat when the B&G plotter went into alarm. I called Thomas over to show him we had lost our GPS position! He said “You just lost your GPS position, what are you going to do?” OK, so I guess this is a test to see if I was paying attention!
First I made sure our autopilot was still helming us. We still had course info from the electronic compass, so no worries for the autopilot. Next I went through my mental, instrument troubleshooting routine. 1st check communications between the GPS and chartplotter, then check the sensor. During the morning briefing, Alain had shown me how to check communications between different components on the system, so I went to the B&G plotter at the nav station and found my way to the GPS data source settings, and voila no GPS source selected! I selected the GPS source and our B&G system alarm disappeared and we had position data again! Nice one Thomas!
Day 5 – Plumbing systems briefing and anchoring
Friday was our final day of delivery week. Stephane came to the boat in the morning and we went through all of the plumbing systems. Fresh water pumps, hot water heater, water maker, filters, toilets, holding tanks, diesel plumbing and sea water pumps. Lots more great information and instructions on how to service everything and avoid common problems. Outremer are using a new variable speed pump that has a microprocessor controlled sensor to shut the pump down and alert if it loses prime or gets blocked. I’ve never used this type of pump, so I learned a lot from this briefing with Stephane.
Friday afternoon was more sailing and the focus of the day was testing our anchor and windlass and measure out our combined chain and nylon rode. We set a course for the anchorage and since we had wind on the nose, I motored the 3 miles over to our anchor location. I hadn’t really used the engines aside from leaving and returning to our dock so it was a good chance to give them a run and make sure they were working well.
When we reached the anchorage I picked an open area away from other boats so I had room to run out our entire 50 meters of chain. We dropped the anchor and laid out all the chain and attached the bridle. The boat stopped immediately, which is the usual with an Ultra anchor, they set fast with no drag, so you have to be careful to not go backwards too quickly as there is a strong jerk on the windlass when they set. All the chain was present and accounted for, so we stopped for a bit to have a swim.
As usual in the Med, while we were anchored, another boat decided to anchor right in front of us, over the top of our chain. There was clear space all around, but for some reason they needed to be right on top of us! Most of the sailors in France are pretty friendly though, so they will usually move if they are blocking your chain. I used our video camera to help with raising the anchor as I could easily see the angle of the chain to the bow so I could position us correctly as we pulled in the chain. The wind shifted a bit so we were able to sneak by the monohull in front of us and get the anchor in without a collision. The sail back was downwind so we unfurled the genoa and gybed back to the port. A nice way to end our delivery week activities!
With delivery week all finished we spent the next few days moving our things aboard the boat and making a list of items to be repaired at our first warranty service at the end of August. It was a pretty short list, and Stephane has promised he will get everything taken care of before we take the boat over to Genoa to load onto the cargo ship in September.
Coming up soon, I will post a video tour of Puffin, and will do another post with more detail about the construction process and share some tips from what we learned along the way.
A big thanks to Matthieu for taking this video of Puffin’s launch!
Puffin is in the water and the Outremer team is finishing off the final details to get her ready for handover. In this post I will describe the electronics, communications systems and sailing instruments we have selected.
Choosing a manufacturer
When it comes to instruments and navigation systems for boats there are a lot of choices from many different manufacturers. I chose B&G equipment for Puffin, here’s why:
1. Focus on sailing
We need instruments that perform well offshore in difficult conditions for extended periods. B&G spends a lot of their R&D effort developing products and features for offshore sailing boats. The Volvo Ocean Race boats all use B&G for this reason. If I wanted instruments for a power boat I would look at Raymarine for a similar reason, but for sailing I prefer B&G.
2. Product volume and market share
I don’t want a small manufacturer with a niche focus on say, just racing. It’s difficult to continuously evolve complex, mission critical software when there is a small user base to exercise all the features and identify problems. More software installed in a wide variety of applications ultimately leads to better software products. B&G has a large customer base in the sailing community both in racing and cruising so I’m comfortable with their ability to deliver reliable software, with minimal upgrade issues when moving to new versions.
3. Familiarity with the equipment
I’ve used B&G for many years and I know it well, which makes it easier for me to operate and troubleshoot when there are any issues.
Puffin’s Instrument Package
Outremer works with Pochon, a marine electronics company that does all of the electronics design and install on Outremer yachts. This was also the case when we built Wildling, and I found it worked very well. Pochon does nothing but electronics, and their staff are all highly trained on the latest equipment. I worked directly with Didier at Pochon on our instrument package and he was excellent. He listened to what I wanted and recommended the best solutions based on not just the manufacturer information, but Pochon’s experience with how the equipment has performed on other boats. We worked through alternatives when there were multiple choices available, and he recommended some things I hadn’t thought of.
The schematic above covers all of the equipment for navigation and sailing. I’ll go through them all by location on the boat. Some of the equipment in the diagram is surrounded by a dashed box which indicates optional. This has to do with what’s included in a standard 4X instrument pack, with the optional items being extra equipment that I added to Puffin. Everything in the diagram is installed on the boat.
The nav station is one of the primary locations used by on-watch crew to monitor the boat and keep a lookout for traffic. At the nav station we have the 16″ MFD. The MFD gives us access to the auto-pilot control, but I added a dedicated auto-pilot controller because I don’t like having to call up the software pilot controller on the MFD when I am using it for something else. We also have an H5000 display so I can always have important information displayed no matter what the MFD is showing. This would typically be depth wind speed and wind angle. There is a VHF radio at the nav station and a remote VHF station at the port helm. Behind the nav station is our AIS transponder. This is a Vesper XB8000 AIS which is connected to the B&G MFD.
The port helm has an autopilot controller, a 9″ MFD which I find important to have at the helm when anchoring or docking, especially at night. We have the H5000 display same as the nav station, and I have a small Triton display which I leave set to a graphical representation of true and apparent wind speed and angle. This gives me constant, easy to read wind information and frees my other instruments for monitoring boat speed, depth and course. There is also a repeater VHF handset at the helm.
Starboard tiller helm
I use the tiller helm seats all the time when sailing, so I have a set of instruments on the starboard salon bulkhead angled towards the helm chair so they can be easily monitored.
There is a Triton display in the starboard aft cabin so we can keep an eye on wind, boat speed and depth when off watch.
On the mast we have the wind sensor, antennas for the VHF, WiFi booster, FM radio and Iridium GO satphone and a mast mounted video camera.
We do a lot of sailing around coral reefs in Australia and the Pacific, so having an aerial view helps a lot when navigating between coral heads. It’s also very useful when anchoring.
The radar dome is mounted on the mast spreader. Since we have a fixed mast there is no issue with the software having to correct for the mast angle when displaying radar targets.
We’re using the Precision 9, 9-axis compass. This is all solid state compared with the flux-gate compass that we had on Wildling. I had some issues with the flux-gate losing its bearing when we were slammed by waves from the side when offshore. I replaced it on Wildling with the Precision 9 and it was fine ever since.
The autopilot is B&G with a hydraulic drive. I haven’t used a hydraulic autopilot before, but Pochon have found them to be very reliable, so I went with their recommendation.
In the hull we have the boat speed, depth and temperature sensor, and I added a barometric pressure sensor as well.
We have a Fusion Stereo which allows media playback via Bluetooth. There are two speaker zones in the salon and cockpit, so we can adjust the volume in each location.
We have a WiFi booster and LTE router which gives us internet access vie either shore WiFi or mobile data networks. The router also allows us to leave a webcam connected to watch the boat remotely.
For tracking we chose the YB3i system from YB Tracking. We had this system on Wildling and it was excellent. Their data plans are very affordable and the system is easy to configure via a smartphone App.
I tried to keep Puffin’s electronics as simple as possible, and included the features we found valuable on our previous boats, plus a few extras that I wished I had in the past. I’ll post an update when we have done some sailing and report on how things are working out.
Puffin was launched from the factory at La Grande Motte on schedule! Now she is in the water the mast, rigging, sails and electronic installation can all be completed.
I wanted Puffin to look a lot like Wildling, so we chose white for the hull, mast, boom and beams, but we kept the standard 4X black dagger-boards and stanchions. One other difference from Wildling is there is no stainless steel on Puffin. Everything is either carbon, gelcoat or anodized aluminum. There was a lot of stainless on Wildling and it’s a big chore to keep it polished and looking nice.
The factory build team did a great job. The only problem we encountered is the bow roller on the 4X doesn’t fit our Ultra anchor so the Outremer team are modifying it.
Here are some photos from the launch.
Our tender (dinghy) is one of our most essential pieces of equipment. It gets us on and off the boat and to and from shore so we can provision, transport passengers and crew, visit our neighbors and explore our local area. It helps with boat maintenance and difficult anchor sets and getting on and off a mooring in complicated situations. Our previous tenders have all been rigid inflatables (RIBs) and our most recent tender on Wildling was a Highfield with an aluminum bottom to reduce weight compared to the more common fiberglass bottom RIBs. As robust and useful as RIBs are, they have quite a few negatives.
What I disliked about our RIB tenders
- They add weight to the main boat – RIBs are heavy! This is a big issue for a performance catamaran. Not so bad on a 5X that can handle some extra weight, but a much bigger concern on our 4X. Even on Wildling, you could see the stern load up and the motion of the boat change when we hoisted the tender up onto the davits. And because of the davit mounting location, the weight of the tender is placed at the end of the boat which increases the pitching motion. The Highfield 380 (3.8 meters long) on Wildling weighed 82 kg plus another 60 kg for the 20 hp Honda outboard with electric start and battery. Add the extra weight for fuel and that’s about 150 kg (330 lbs) hanging off the end of the boat!
- Raising and lowering a heavy tender is a chore – Lifting 150 kg up and down off the davits required an elaborate pulley system and was quite a workout with the manual winch. We had a setup on Wildling that allowed us to use the electric winch, which was much better but it does use some of our valuable battery power.
- They are difficult to move around on shore – The heavy weight of a RIB and outboard engine becomes a problem on shore when the tender has to be moved around to deal with tide changes. This can be very challenging for two people and nearly impossible alone.
- They are wet – The inflatable tubes provide buoyancy, but they also smack into waves when underway, causing a lot of spray onto the passengers and into the boat.
- They leak – Inflatable tenders don’t stay inflated. You have to pump air into them periodically. Not a huge problem, but still something that has to be monitored.
- Their rowing system is a joke – Flimsy plastic oars and rowlocks that are barely usable make it hard to rely on a RIB in the case of an engine outage
What to do on our 4X?
We could get away with a 3.8 meter RIB on our 5X, but the 4X is smaller and more weight sensitive, so I really wanted to find another option. The standard solution to reducing tender weight is to get a smaller tender. The problem with that, is that to get the weight down to a decent level, it would be so small that our essential tender would lose a lot of its usefulness, so this approach is not very appealing.
A good practical length for a tender for our needs is about 3.2-3.4 meters. If we went with a Highfield RIB in that size range it would still weigh 70 kg, plus the recommended 15hp outboard weighs 50 kg so we’re at 130 kg (286 lbs) with gas. Still very heavy! Lucky for us there is another option!
The next generation of tenders
There is a company in New Zealand that is solving this problem by reinventing the cruising yacht tender. The founders are long time cruisers who used the standard RIB tenders and decided there had to be a better way. They started their company, Offshore Cruising Tenders to solve the problems that I listed above.
OC Tenders are all rigid with an integrated foam cushion fender to protect the main boat and the tender from contact damage. They have a very stable bottom profile so they don’t tip or roll when getting in and out, their rigid sides keep water out of the boat and passengers dry, they use full size, strong wooden oars and are easy to row, and they are much lighter than the equivalent sized RIB. Another great benefit, is that their hull design and light weight allows them to be powered by a much smaller outboard than the same size RIB, but still have room for all the passengers and gear that a RIB can carry.
I contacted the nice folks at OC Tenders, and we discussed a tender design for Puffin. We selected their OC330 model (3.3 meters long) and chose the all carbon fiber option to make it even lighter. Our tender will weigh 39 kg, so almost half the weight of an equivalent sized RIB. We have decided to use a Torqeedo electric outboard on our OC Tender. The Torqeedo weighs around 17 kg including the lithium battery, so our total tender weight on Puffin is 56 kg (125 lbs).
The electric outboard will not give us the same speed and range as a traditional gas powered outboard, but after thinking through how we use our tender, we think it’s worth a try to see if the Torqeedo will meet our needs. We can always replace it with a 5 or 8 hp 4-stroke outboard if we find the Torqeedo is too limiting.
Because we are right next door to the OC Tenders factory in New Zealand (so to speak) we decided to have Puffin’s tender shipped directly to us in Brisbane where we can keep it at our house until Puffin arrives.
I arranged for the tender to be delivered to the RQYS Marina in Brisbane so we could unload it from the truck and onto my trailer with a forklift before taking it home.
The standard OC Tender spec is very complete, but they also have some options available when ordering a new tender.
Here’s what we chose:
- All carbon fiber construction
- A telescoping boarding ladder to get into the tender when swimming or snorkeling
- Two fishing rod holders in the stern. These can also be used as a mounting location for a stern nav light for night runs back to the boat after dinner
- Inflatable, retractable wheels that make it very easy to move the boat around on shore. Very important when dealing with our large tides in Australia!
Our new tender is beautifully made and arrived in perfect condition! We can’t wait to start using it when Puffin arrives in a few months.
Things are progressing well with Puffin’s launch scheduled for next week. After she leaves the factory on launch day, there is still a lot of work remaining to finish construction. Once in the water, the work on the rigging begins, the mast is stepped and all of the instruments and electronics will be installed.
Also this week in Brisbane, we received Puffin’s new tender dinghy. Our tender is made by Offshore Cruising Tenders in New Zealand so we had it shipped directly to us in Australia to await Puffin’s arrival later in the year. Our new tender is the OC330 model made from carbon fiber and is much lighter then the typical rigid inflatable dinghys we have used in the past. I will go over all the details of it in my next post.
Here are some photos of Puffin’s construction progress this week:
A new boat construction project provides an opportunity to revisit the possibilities for reducing dependence on fossil fuels and attaining energy autonomy, and Puffin is no different. While the holy grail of 100% renewable energy supply is unfortunately still not realistic, we can get closer to it with a light, efficient sailing boat that isn’t weighed down with the appliances we’ve come to depend on when living ashore.
The 4X doesn’t have the load carrying ability of the larger 5X, so we have to pay closer attention to what we bring aboard and also what systems we install. Robin and I have evolved as cruisers over the years, to a point where some of the equipment we felt we couldn’t live without on our Catana, now seems completely unnecessary. Our Catana had air conditioning, a clothes washer, AC powered watermaker, a dive compressor and a diesel generator to power it all. On our 5X we went further down the path of simple, light and fast and passed on all of the above except air conditioning. On Puffin we will have none of these items, and we’re not worried about it at all.
The air conditioning on Wildling was never needed when away from the dock, and while it was certainly nice to have in a marina, we spend very little time on our boat in a marina, so it’s not something we used much anyway.
Our clothes washer on the Catana was never used. It always felt that if we had enough clothes to wash in a machine, we had too many to fit in the tiny marine clothes washer on board. These days we hand wash the clothes we wear on passage, and when we arrive at a port we go to a laundromat or use a laundry service.
The new DC powered Dessalator watermakers are very efficient and run off our solar panels and lithium batteries. (I will do a future post on why I prefer the Dessalator over the Spectra watermaker we had on the Catana.)
The dive compressor was nice, but we find these days we go diving with local dive operators and use their tanks, and freedive the rest of the time.
The generator on our Catana was a constant source of maintenance and headaches and I am glad to be rid of it. We didn’t have a generator on Wildling and never missed it.
It would be great to have enough solar capacity that we could install electric engines instead of diesel, and power all of our onboard equipment as well, but the reality is the amount of solar required is too great to be viable, and the weight penalty of the extra batteries needed to give a reasonable range when motoring, exceeds the weight saved with electric motors. The practical alternative is to add a diesel generator to make up the difference, which puts us right back where we started with a diesel power source, only now we have a single point of failure for all our energy systems and propulsion. Perhaps one day the technology will evolve to a point where electric motors are a viable option, but for now, I can’t make the math work, so we are staying with our two 30 hp Volvo diesels. Because our boat is light, we don’t need big thirsty engines, and we can sail more in lighter winds, so we don’t need to carry as much fuel. That’s good, but we still need to power our autopilot, instruments, electric winches, refrigeration, watermaker, pumps, lights and computers, without relying on the alternators on our diesel engines to charge the batteries, and for that we need renewable energy charging systems.
Our main source of renewable energy comes from 4 x 150 Watt solar panels mounted on the davits. These are charging two 180 Ah lithium batteries. I know from experience that 600 Watts isn’t enough and we will need to run the engines to top up the batteries using the alternators. My ideal capacity for our needs is around 1000 Watts of solar, so we needed to find another 400 watts, and for that we turned once again to our friends at Gunboat!
Gunboat uses an array of flexible solar panels on the salon roof to provide their renewable energy needs with good results. In the past Outremer has advised against flexible panels as they had high failure rates on boats that used them, and they lost a substantial amount of their capacity in the heat. The new panels that Gunboat are using are much better in both regards, so Outremer is willing to consider them on their cruising boats.
I worked with Matthieu at Outremer on a design that added three flexible panels to Puffin’s cockpit roof. Since this had never been done before on a 4X, The engineering team at Outremer needed to work out the mounting system and cable routing. The result is an extra 354 Watts, giving us a total peak capacity of 954 Watts. The real output will be less, because the cockpit roof has some shading from the boom, and the flexible panels will still have a reduced output in hot weather, but it’s still a meaningful increase over the davit panels alone. The other benefits of the flexible panels are that you can walk on them, and they are very light weight.
One technical detail to be aware of when adding panels, is that each group of panels needs to have a separate charge controller. This is because shading on any one of the panels will reduce the output of the entire group, so each area needs to be independent. This allows you to get maximum available power from the system.
Solar is great when the sun is shining, but when on passage at night a lot of energy is needed to drive the autopilot, winches, radar, chart plotter and instruments. For this we have a Watt & Sea hydro-generator. This will be the racing version, the same as we had on Wildling. It produces 600 Watts peak output and in most cases will handle all our energy needs when on passage.
There is a lot of debate around the real-world reliability and benefits of these hydro-generators. We used ours frequently on Wildling, and it worked very well, easily providing all the power we needed during night passages. On long voyages, some owners have experienced broken propellers. There are two causes for this. Something hitting the prop, which can’t be avoided, and propeller over-speed. The over-speed issue only occurs on the cruising version which has fixed pitch blades that get destroyed if they spin too fast for extended periods. The racing version uses a micro-processor controlled hydraulic pump to reduce the pitch of the blades as the speed increases.
There’s no way to protect against hitting something on passage though, so we carry spare blades. Replacing blades on these units is not difficult, but you have to keep a close watch over the hydro-gen to make sure you can quickly find and fix any issues.
For times when we are at anchor and there’s no sun for several days we can resort to the diesel engine alternators to keep our batteries charged. Since we have two engines, there is some redundancy so even if one engine or alternator fails we can use the other. On a boat where we depend on power to produce drinking water, this level of safety factor is very important. And as a final stage backup, in case of an emergency, we have a hand operated watermaker!
Meanwhile, at the Factory
Lots of progress being made on construction. Here are some photos from this week: