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:
Choosing the sails and sail handling setup on Puffin was a fun part of the process, but also a bit nerve-wracking as there are so many factors to consider and trade-offs to make. It’s difficult and expensive to fix mistakes after the boat is built, so every detail has to be thought through. It took a lot of discussions and research and I really want to thank Benjamin and Matthieu at Outremer for their detailed advice and patience with all my questions!
I feel like sails and sail handling systems are possibly the most critical areas of the selection process when purchasing a new catamaran. I’ve had poor setups in the past and they make it a frustrating experience to handle and trim the sails and can be downright dangerous in certain conditions. A good setup gives you the confidence to handle any conditions you encounter, and can make your boat a pleasure to sail, so it’s well worth the effort to get it right.
The basic setup on the 4X is good, but after previous lessons learned and my goal of configuring Puffin for easy single-handed sailing, I needed to go over every detail to make sure we would end up with a solution that meets all our needs. In this post I will go over what we are trying to accomplish with our sail plan and the solution we have chosen for Puffin. I’m going to cover the important things I wished I had known when I bought my other boats, and what I have learned from my earlier mistakes. This post gets a bit technical, so for those that want to skip the science lesson, here are the top three things I wished I knew when I was buying my first boat:
- It’s a sailboat. Sails matter, a lot! Don’t skimp. Good sails and sail balance can make you love sailing your boat. Poor sail balance can make you hate it, and can put your boat and lives at risk
- Most manufacturers put cheap sails and grossly inadequate sail handling systems on their boats. They do this to keep the price low, and because virtually nobody attending a boat show wants to talk about sailplan design. Beware of this, you’re buying a sailboat not a motor boat, see point 1!
- Work with a manufacturer you trust, and talk to them about your sails and sail handling. Good manufacturers like Outremer are happy to do this. When they give you advice, listen to them! They have seen just about every scenario you can imagine and they know what works and what doesn’t out on the water.
Our design goals
Let’s get started with Puffin’s sailplan. In order to determine the best solution, I had to first define our goals. Here’s what is important to me on our boat:
- Excellent light wind performance – I talked about our goals for light wind sailing in the Chasing Performance post. A lightweight, well designed boat is fundamental to this, but we also need sails that can provide maximum power with minimum weight.
- Easy reefing – We want the minimum amount of sail up at any time to maintain our desired boat speed. This means that we will spend a lot of time sailing with one or more reefs in the mainsail. We need to be able to easily take and remove reefs, and we need to make sure there is minimal wear and chafe when sailing long distances with a reefed sail.
- Balanced rig – As we reef the mainsail we also need to reduce the headsail area to keep the boat balanced and minimize the load on the autopilot. The headsail area has to be easily adjustable and the location of the center of effort must move back towards the mast as the headsail area is reduced.
- Controls at the helm – We want to minimize the need for going forward to make changes to the sails, so most of the operations need to be done from the helm station.
- Single-handed operation – All sailing maneuvers on the boat need to be as easy as possible when performed by a single person
- Storm mode – We need to have a storm configuration that’s simple and safe to configure and can handle winds in the 40-50 knot range
There’s no one or perfect answer in any of this, so every decision becomes a compromise. I had to determine my priorities for choosing among different alternatives. I decided that I would start with high performance sails, but after that I would put ease of single-handing above performance when making tradeoffs.
We chose North 3Di Endurance for our 68 square meter mainsail. The sail is fully battened with three reef points. We added three colored lateral bands to assist with trimming. Although the sail in the image has numbers on it, we deleted the sail numbers from our sail. They’re ugly and unnecessary for cruising.
North mainsails are almost half the weight of the equivalent hydranet sail and they are able to keep a good airfoil shape in light winds. The downside is they are not as tough as hydranet and they will chafe if not handled carefully.
For our 55 square meter Genoa we chose North 3Di Endurance.
We get the same benefits with the 3Di Genoa as the main. Significantly lighter and holds an excellent airfoil in light winds, so more power. There are two donwsides to 3Di genoas. They have less resistance to chafe, and they don’t roller reef very cleanly. Our Genoa is on a roller furler and because of the molded airfoil shape of the 3Di sail they work best when fully unfurled. When furling partially to reef, they develop creases along the luff and lose performance. This sail uses a new system by North to reduce the creasing along the luff when reefing. I’ve not seen or used this, so will have to report back later on whether it works or not.
We are adding a staysail to Puffin, which is not standard on the 4X, but is offered by Outremer as an option. In my experience, catamarans over 40-45 feet should have a staysail (I explain why below). We added this on Wildling, and it completely changed our sailing experience. We were able to point higher and drive the boat easily upwind in strong conditions, and we maintained helm balance as the sails were reefed.
Our staysail on Puffin is on a movable inner stay which is tensioned in place when needed. I expect to be using the staysail a lot when sailing upwind, so we are rigging it to use the self tacking track. This is the same track the Outremer 45 uses for its self tacking jib, which we don’t have on our 4X. Because it’s on a movable stay, we are not using a roller furler, instead the sail will be hanked on, with a single slab reefing point.
We had to make a tradeoff here. The optimum staysail size recommended by North is 32 square meters, but that would require the sail to be rigged slightly overlapping the mast and not self-tacking, making it more work to route the sheets when deploying and more work to tack. From past experience I know we will spend a lot of our time upwind under staysail, so because my tradeoff criteria favors easy single-handed sailing over performance, I went with the smaller, self-tacking staysail.
The storm jib takes care of winds in the 40-50+ knot range. It hopefully won’t see much use. I needed ours on Wildling when we sailed 12 hours in 45-50 knots and was damn glad to have it, so there’s no question for me about getting one on Puffin.
The Balance Problem
One of the lessons I learned the hard way is the importance of rig balance when sailing upwind in developed conditions. This is so important, and so seldom mentioned by boat manufacturers, that I’m going to go into the science behind it a bit to explain what it is, and why I care. Let’s start by looking at a boat with full main and jib in balance to understand the forces involved.
Imagine that our boat is sailing upwind with the wind at around 45 degrees to the bow. There are three important locations where a force is being exerted on the boat:
CE-main: This is the center of effort of the force pushing the mainsail sideways
CE-jib: The center of effort of the force pushing the jib sideways
CLR: The center of lateral resistance. This is like the post of a weather vane and opposes the sideways movement of the boat.
You can imagine if the boat is in balance and the force acting at CE-main is increased, the stern of the boat will tend to get pushed away from the wind. Also, if the force at CE-jib is increased the bow will get pushed downwind. If they are equal the boat will not rotate and will be balanced. You will feel this on the helm. The boat will sail on course with no helm pressure. When the forces are out of balance, the only way to stay on course is to compensate with the rudder. A small amount of rudder is fine, a large amount will overcome the auto-pilot, and if the force imbalance gets too large, the rudder can no longer compensate and the boat can no longer be held on its current course.
The relationship of forces can be represented by a simple lever diagram. In our high school physics class we learned the mass (or force at the CE for us) x distance on one side of the center of resistance is equal to the mass times the distance on the other side when the system is in balance.
Moving M2 further away requires a reduction in the force to maintain balance.
Just for fun, let’s do the math on our theoretical 4X diagram above. I’ll just pick a number for the force acting at CE-main because it doesn’t matter what the actual force is, what we want to understand is the balance relationship between the main and jib as a percentage of the mainsail force. So I’ll just use 100 for the force at CE-main and then solve for the force at CE-jib. This gives the following:
forceCEjib = (forceCEmain x D1) / D2
forceCEjib = (100 x 2383) / 3365
forceCEjib = 71
Balance ratio = 1 This rig is perfectly balanced
Everything is good here. Both sails are balanced around the CLR. The boat will maintain course, driving well with no helm pressure. (In reality the forceCEjib would be a bit less than this, and there would be a small amount of pressure imbalance turning the bow towards the wind (weather helm). This would be overcome with a degree or two of rudder, but that’s not important for this discussion).
Now, let’s see what happens when the wind builds and we reef the sails. We’re going to take two reefs in the main which will reduce it from 68 m2 to 41 m2 (about 40%) and we’re going to furl up our jib 40% as well. This is shown in the next diagram.
This configuration shifts both the CE locations forward, but it’s not until we do the math that we realize the magnitude of what’s really happened.
We can find the new balance ratio as a percentage of mainsail power by comparing the magnitude of each side of our balance equation. We will reduce both the main and jib force acting at the CE by 40% (by taking two reefs) and use the new distances measured on the drawing. Here’s what we get.
forceCEmain X 60% x 1768 = 60 x 1768 = 106,080
forceCEjib x 60% x 4960 = 42.6 x 4960 = 211,296
Balance ratio = 1.99 The jib is exerting double the mainsail force sideways
This dramatically changes our ratio of forces, and now the jib is generating twice the force of the main. The bow of this boat is being pushed hard to leeward and the rudders may not have enough surface area to compensate. The only solution is to keep furling the jib until the rudders can exert enough pressure to maintain course. Unfortunately we have to furl a lot because as we furl, the CE-jib keeps moving forward. With the further reduced jib we lose a lot of our power, the boat starts to slow and can no longer drive as well through the waves created in these conditions, this slows the boat down ever further. The dagger-boards lose lift as the speed reduces and the boat gets pushed to leeward making it even harder to maintain course. This leaves the helmsman with two choices. Change course or start the engines. On most catamarans at this point, the sails get stowed and the engines take over.
So What’s the Solution?
This problem is very solvable, but it requires a different upwind headsail setup. What we need to be able to do, is move the headsail CE backwards towards the CLR of the boat as we reef the sails. Our staysail will do this for us because it’s rigged on an inner stay, much closer to the mast than the roller furling jib or Genoa. The following diagrams show our sailplan configuration on Puffin, incorporating a staysail at different reefing points.
This is why a staysail is such an important safety feature on a catamaran and why we are adding it on Puffin. I mentioned in the performance post that we anticipate sailing a considerable amount of time with reefed sails, so having a staysail is even more important because we will so often be in a sail configuration where the staysail is the ideal headsail for the conditions.
Sail Handling Systems
Now we know what our sail configuration is going to be, the next step is to look at how we will raise, lower, reef and trim the sails to suit the different conditions.
The standard 4X sail handling design is very good, but there were a few changes that I wanted to make to make it a bit easier for single-handed sailing.
Fixed Carbon Mast
The biggest change to the base 4X design was my choice of a fixed, carbon fiber mast instead of the standard rotating mast. We give up some performance, but we gain the following benefits:
- Rope clutch for main halyard moves from the side of the mast to the salon roof in front of the helm station. A rotating mast needs to be free to rotate, so the halyard has to be blocked on the side of the mast. This means going forward every time the sail is raised or lowered and adds steps to reefing operations. The fixed mast lets us move the halyard blocker to the helm station.
- Rope clutches for reefing lines move from end of boom to the salon roof in front of the helm station. Same as above, the rotating mast requires crew to go to the mast end of the boom to release and secure the reefing line blockers. This is not needed with the fixed mast as these relocate to the helm.
- Removed mast angle control lines and blockers – The rigging for controlling the mast angle is not needed. This saves weight and cleans up the salon roof and helm station a bit.
- Simplified instruments – The mast angle sensor is not needed, which eliminates a potential point of failure and maintenance. Also, we can locate the radar dome on the mast spreader and not have to worry about the unreliable software compensation for mast angle when displaying radar plots.
- Redundant navigation lights – A fixed mast allows us to add a tri-color nav light at the mast head, in addition to the standard set of deck level lights. This is an extra level of safety and protects us if (when) we have a nav light go out.
Mainsail Reef Hook
This hopefully solves a problem I have struggled with on both my previous boats. When reefed, the line that secures the mainsail clew to the boom is under constant tension. It is the source of loud creaking noises, and the contact with the low friction ring at the clew causes a lot of chafe. We sail with reefs in a lot, so I really wanted to solve this issue. I discussed it with Matthieu, and it turns out Outremer are now offering an option on their boats that addresses this problem.
The Facnor Reef Lock captures the clew reef shackle and takes the load off the reefing line. No more chafe, and no more creaking! We are adding this to Puffin on our 1st reef point, which is the one we use the most and also places the most load on the reefing lines.
Remote Control Furling
The final sail handling modification was the addition of electric winches and remote control buttons so that the headsail can be furled on all points of sail single-handed. We converted the port cockpit winch to electric for ease of headsail furling. We made one of the port helm position winches electric to make it easy to raise the mainsail and spinnaker halyards and to lift someone up the mast. And we made the winch on the starboard side salon roof electric to make it easy for Robin to trim the Genoa if (when) I get injured.
The port cockpit winch handles the furling line for the Genoa. I want to be able to furl single-handed on starboard tack so I added an extra high speed winch button behind my feet at the helm station. To furl I put the furling line on the cockpit winch, go to the helm station and put the Genoa sheet on the winch, then ease the sheet as I push the furling winch button with my foot.
We added another remote control button for the port cockpit winch at the starboard side Genoa sheet winch position. This allows me to furl the Genoa single-handed when on port tack. To furl I put the furling line on the cockpit winch, go to the winch at the starboard side of the salon roof and put the Genoa sheet on the winch, then ease the sheet as I push the cockpit winch button with my foot.
What about downwind?
Downwind sails were pretty easy. I used the heck out of our Code-D Gennaker on Wildling, so I’m going to get another one for Puffin. It’s just so easy to hoist, stow and furl compared to a spinnaker, and what it lacks in performance it more than makes up for in ease of use and low stress sailing. The only modification I made to standard is that I am using a Karver KF8 furler for the Code-D. These things are bullet proof and very low friction, so they make it easy for either Robin or I to furl our Gennaker in windy conditions.
I’m also adding a (highly controversial) symmetric spinnaker. Most performance cruisers hate these things, but I like them. Ours is small with a heavyweight fabric (for a spi) and I use it when we’ve got moderate wind but large waves. In these conditions, it can be very uncomfortable sailing on a reach and I find I can keep everyone on board healthier and happier by dropping the main, setting the symmetric and going dead downwind. We’ll never set any speed records with this sail, but in some cases the relief it provides in nasty conditions is worth its weight in gold.
The build is progressing well at Outremer. Last week they bonded the deck section to the hulls and continued the interior fitout. The deck bonding process is an example of the value of things you don’t see at a boat show. Most manufacturers use an adhesive to glue the deck and hull sections together. This provides a watertight seal and a strong joint, but it can vary in quality depending on the process and workmanship of the factory. Outremer does this too, and then they go along the entire join from the inside and layup an additional layer of fiberglass mat and resin to provide an extra bonding layer. This makes the joint much stronger and ensures there are no weak points anywhere along the join. When pounding into big waves and gale force winds, it’s reassuring to know our boat is built to take it!
On the transport front, Robin and I went to the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show last weekend and were able to catch up with the Australian team at Sevenstar yacht transport, the company we are using to ship Puffin from Palma to Brisbane. It’s been a bit difficult trying to understand all the details of the shipping process: where the boat has to be and when, how it gets loaded and secured, how to protect it during the voyage and how to deal with the paperwork and customs on each end. It was good to talk to the team in person and they reassured me that this is pretty routine for them and not as scary as it appears. I was able to get most of my questions answered, so now we are working through the preparation details for our September shipping date.
A few things I have learned so far:
- Sevenstar recommends against any kind of vinyl wrap or plastic protection on the exterior gelcoat surfaces. Their experience with voyages of this length show that the wrapping will not last the voyage and will often damage the gelcoat surface as it comes loose and is buffeted by strong winds
- Sevenstar use their own ships with engine exhaust stacks at the stern, so the black residue that gets deposited on the decks of transported yachts during general deck cargo transport is not an issue
- They can’t give an actual shipping date until 3 to 4 weeks before departure. This makes it difficult to arrange transport to the loading site as we don’t know when we have to be there
- The actual destination port in Australia isn’t fixed ahead of time. Might be Brisbane, or maybe Newcastle. I guess getting it to Australia is the important part, so no point quibbling over where in Australia it’s going to arrive!
Here are some photos of progress during the past week.
I stopped in at the Outremer factory last week on my way back home to Brisbane, and got to see Puffin for the first time. Things are looking really good, and they are right on schedule. The deck went on at the end of last week. Here are some photos of the deck section being lifted into place.
I was also given an update and demo of Outremer’s new customer support ticketing system that they are getting ready to roll out. The new system will help Outremer be able to track customer requests more effectively, respond more quickly, and give customers more visibility into the status of in-progress support cases. They are doing a nice job of implementing the new system and all the internal process changes required to incorporate it into their business. As readers of my blog know, the level of after sales support provided by boat manufacturers is one of my key criteria when purchasing a boat, and one of the reasons I am purchasing my 2nd Outremer