24 October 2011

10 Questions for Brillig

brilligrna Rika and Andrew have been cruising for more than a decade aboard Brillig, a 31ft “Trewis” (means nice and cosy} steel yacht built in Holland 1960. She has sailed 53,000 miles with me and will soon be ready to go again on completion of the present major refit. Andrew is an artist.

What are some of my favourite pieces of gear and why?
Andrew:  The ARIES VANE GEAR. This piece of gear is by far the most influential in our cruising life. Alice as she is fondly known has now crossed the Atlantic eight times with only the plywood vanes breaking. Each long passage the steering lines have been replaced, consequently none have broken. Alice has just had a rebuild after 53,000 miles involving replacement of the bushes, sheaves and blocks. She has performed faultlessly in extreme conditions, and can be made to steer off the apparent wind when powering out of high pressure on ocean passages at least long enough to make a cup of tea. All she asks for is regular twice daily oil and a chunk of grease on the bevel gears every few days. We only occasionally need to steer when under power or entering port, for the rest of the time this water powered wind sensitive miracle of engineering unfailingly guides us to our next anchorage. We don’t have an electric auto pilot.

My SEXTANT allows freedom to sail where you will. The GPS is on all the time we are sailing and certainly has a home aboard, however it could shut down for any number of reasons. The sextant allows us to be independent and self-contained, conditions that lie at the very core of ocean cruising. Long passages can be boring, traditional navigation is an enjoyable occupation giving an enormous sense of satisfaction even when competing with a GPS.

trillig Grundig yacht boy radio receiver. This small radio receiver can pick up the all-important SSB weather information, accurate time signals and provide endless entertainment. When cruising the Atlantic it is very interesting to listen to weather routing for yachts, there are so many of us out there we can invariably listen in to a daily report from another yacht in our region.

Two 100m warps. One is nylon for stretch the other polyester. I love these two pieces of rope because they have got us out of trouble so many times. The 19mm nylon used to extend the anchoring depth when needed. Berthing in small fishing ports has often needed anchors and warps to feel secure when the weather deteriorates. Unexpected grounding allows me to place a kedge anchor well into deep water. Joined together they make a big enough bight to stream astern when running before the wind in heavy following seas. 200m is enough to induce a break far enough astern to avoid being pooped, most of the time!

  1. Taylor’s paraffin (gimbaling) cooker – Always safe to put a cup of tea at sea. Without this, I couldn’t survive life on board; I managed to stay on board for 13 years because I got interested in cooking.
  2. Wind vane –Let us rest and sleep when sailing. We call that “Alice”, she manages to steer Brillig as long as there is wind, very reliable gear. Andrew often oils Alice, keeping her smooth.
  3. 35lb genuine CQR anchor – Always holding us, the insurance. We survived a minor flood, gales, storms.

What pieces of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Andrew:  The sheet winches. Brillig no longer has a cockpit well. The present simple winches are not big enough and do not self-tail; this makes it difficult for me to sheet in the headsail and virtually impossible for my 90lb wife.

Rika:  Aluminium oars– Totally crap! In Spain, in August 2010, our newer Avon dinghy (we had 2 the same) with outboard bracket, varnished oars were stolen and I bought cheaper aluminium ones next day. They slip, rotate and even lose plastic paddle parts when I want to row against the currant with carrying 40 litres of water!

Head sail sheets – We bought good quality sheets in America but it can’t go through on the metric English block very well!
Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
Andrew:  The Azores. These Portuguese islands are so yacht friendly, beautiful and fascinating to cruise I could easily spend another year or six there. The major ports are full of ocean sailors while the smaller harbours are a fascinating insight into the Azorean way of life. These coastal villages are where you may need some long ropes and some short lengths of chain to prevent chafe when berthing.

Rika:  The Azores – If I didn’t have to worry about the Visa, we could have stayed longer and could have avoided the Knock-down. Those islands are so beautiful and its’ mild climate makes our life on board easier. All people we have met are sailors, many characters, very interesting to exchange the stories. There are plenty of concerts to attend, food is fantastic and lovely Azorian Portuguese people I love.

Andrew:  On two occasions Brillig has been knocked down on trans-Atlantic voyages. At 31’ she is a small boat and does not have wind instruments. I decide when to reef based on how the boat is handling usually when the lee toe rail is going under. The effect of increasing wind and sea is very difficult to judge especially when running down wind, one moment you are making good time the next your over. The first occasion at around 40 degrees North on the way to the Acores from the Caribbean a good summer gale struck, I kept going since it blew from the west a big wave broached us. A fair amount of water got in but no serious damage.

The second time was due to gear failure, namely the slides on our mainsail. Hove to south of the Azores in gale force conditions all was well until the top slide on the deep reefed mainsail popped with seven more going in short order. That failure sparked of a chain of events ultimately leading to a knockdown in heavy breaking seas.

Both events were bad, I felt the taste of fear, but survived and felt more confident in dealing with severe conditions. The good side of these experiences is when things begin to ease off. Fear has passed; the sea is in a grand mood offering some of the best sailing I know.

  1. Knock-down. The article was published in Yachting Monthly November 2007. Two pressure systems (just 200 NM south of Faial, the Azores) made gale and big sea conditions more than we expected. UV damaged main sail slides popped to flap the main sail was the start, Brillig couldn’t face to the weather well and one wave rolled us from quarter port stern in the midnight, Andrew flew to the deck head and landed on my bunk. There were 10 items damaged or lost. The most serious one was drinking water. It was scarier when we realized what happened to us. 
  2. The passage from Georgetown, South Carolina, USA to Tortola the British Virgin Islands, we were against the Trade wind for 2 weeks. Brillig was constantly dropped to the lower side of the waves but never stop going. We both lost weight because those impacts and motions; hitting the green water made the saucepan on the cooker jump. 
  3. The last trip from Galicia to Falmouth, we had force 9 in the middle of the Biscay. We hove-to for 26 hours as Brillig didn’t slow down even Andrew changed the sail 3 times that day. However, Brillig managed to maintain her position just southerly wind area to keep going north to Falmouth. 

Andrew:  A lot, the worst mistake was to convince myself the land I could see was the Tiede a huge Volcano on Tenerife the Canary Islands often visible for 40 miles according to my pilot. Navigating with a sextant from Lisbon this was the longest ocean passage to date. The volcano was the object of my greatest desire. With very little wind I fired up the old Sabb and chugged towards our destination. The day wore on and more features appeared, more or less as described. Delighted to have found land I kept going confident everything was correct. When 3miles offshore breakers were spotted ahead. That was when the panic hit, this should be a clear passage along the coast to Santa Cruz no reefs were shown on my chart, in fact neither was the island seen for the past few hours. Tiredness and the overwhelming desire to get in I had made the information fit. There was a volcano and it seemed big to me. One moment confident of our position the next lost. Offshore I could see the people driving along the coast road and fishermen out working. Arriving 20 miles to the east of my position could be described as not too bad after a week at sea, Gran Canary turned out to be a great place. Exhaustion and accepting often small discrepancies in information available is how this happened. From then on I have been very careful when making landfall after a long passage, especially getting a good sleep before the last night. Even now we have GPS.

Not stowing the boat carefully enough, the first bit of rough weather demonstrates if it can move it will! Stuff banging and rattling is almost impossible to sort out at sea. It can add to the misery felt in bad weather trying to deal with this in an already difficult situation. Anything that helps the crew to keep rested and able should be done, time well spent.

  1. When we were in Portugal before sailing to the Canaries, I was too shy to express myself; I didn’t like to socialize. I luck lots of confidence, I wasn’t comfortable enough to my English, I wasn’t comfortable to boat life; I simply didn’t know where to start.
  2. Waiting forever; I have learned if I didn’t push myself, nothing would happen or come to me. When I couldn’t row the dinghy, I always had to ask Andrew to take me ashore, I didn’t have my freedom. I had to learn handling the dinghy, tying and keeping her safe until I came back; rowing, correct knots, movement of the wind and the tide; then I could go out whenever I wanted. These activities were nothing to Andrew but enormous effort for me at that time.
  3. Change my mind to be more philosophical; boat is always moving even when anchored so that everything I do should be slower than usual otherwise one thing or mistake brings problems and it could make a snow-ball effect.
  4. Organizing the cabin - Andrew always tells me to tidy up otherwise our cabin looks smaller and we can’t find the thing we need that moment.
  5. Without any experience or knowledge, I had to believe what Andrew said about everything, but what he said and what I felt or thought were very different. He said that crossing the Atlantic would be very nice but what I felt was uncomfortable all the time. Years later, getting used to uncomfortableness and controlling seasickness I understood what he meant. Beginners never feel the same as those who went sea many times.

Rika:  Not only at sea, even at anchor we have to manage with what we have got because of living in the nature. Not enough water, not enough fuel, not enough food but if the weather was so bad we can’t get what we need. Always checking the weather and prepare for it. Whatever the situation would be, there seems usually a solution.

trilligartist Boating, cruising is expensive for yachties. As we don’t get jobs in other countries, keeping cruising fund for unknown time schedule is impossible. Priority goes to keep the boat float and safe so we naturally save the money for food but there is limit to do this. We are lucky to have skills, Andrew paints watercolour and I play piano classical music to make exhibitions wherever we are and if these events brought us some money we could keep going for another while. I have learned how to eat with very little money. I have a book about my cruising life experience, mainly about food and cooking.

Andrew:  Changing from a life driven by the clock and schedules directed by work/family to one where the weather and seasons dictate your movements. To be comfortable with this does not come quickly, perhaps years. Once there I discovered a wonderful sense of natural order within myself and chosen lifestyle, harmony often missing in the hum drum shore life of today. Sailing for me is all about natures forces; time is determined by the passing seasons.

Rika:  Yes, we do just go and arrive at a new place after researching the information from cruising and navigation books then will find out how the place would be. Our cruise started, visiting where Andrew had been before. But after some years, wondering where to go next, other sailors bring us idea to visit somewhere they have been or they have heard of, to enjoy the view, culture and climate of the place.

Andrew:  Getting as much information as possible from other cruisers and pilot books is always best. Mistakes can be very stressful.

Arriving in Brazil my wife did not have the correct visa. We were told to leave within three days. Having just completed 30 days at sea with many problems, mainly the mast delaminating this was a very bad situation with the nearest port outside of Salvador Brazil around 1000 miles whichever way you went. The solution was a three day bus trip to Fos da Iguacu where Argentina, and Paraguay touch Brazil. Having the right information leads to a happy cruising couple arriving and finding out is best avoided.

  1. To be professional foreigners; do not argue with local peoples’ traditions, not force our traditions, to learn their culture, custom, language and habit and their food, we somehow get along with natives.
  2. For safety, we stow sterilized liquid (baby bottle cleaner) when we are not sure about the quality of the water.
  3. It is important not to be fussy eaters and to try local recipes. It brings you problems and unhappiness if you can eat only particular food.
  4. Open mind to visitors; all sailors have different points of view, different way of speech and different ways to solve the same problems. Respect each other not to criticize straight away, especially how they look like.
Andrew:  Having a strong eyelet fitted around the mainsails centre of effort.
When sailing in light conditions with any kind of swell the boom is always on a vang, this will stop you getting brained but it does not stop the main collapsing causing loss of power and a slow passage getting slower. One of the running poles is rigged in the mainsails lee and a very thick piece of bungee cord and rope joined are tied to the C.E. eyelet and hauled outboard on the pole. This has the effect of holding the sails shape when rolling and has proved very effective.

Rika:  A reluctant partner was made by a wimpish captain, saying that you must learn sailing, what would you do if I were over-board? Sailing is entirely for men’s business, women I have met during my 13 years of cruise, never thought they were going to live and cruise on a yacht with their partners. The captain shouldn’t hustle their non-experience partner to become the Ellen McArthur within weeks of preparing time. Blame yourself, Captain! Also the partner should acknowledge that there is only 1 captain necessary in one boat. Andrew is the captain and he says I am the Admirable.

A good way to start learning sailing is to have very boring sailing experience; a sunny day with not much wind on a calm conditions; which gives everybody confidence on board. Living on a boat for a while makes person familiar to the facilities on a yacht. Gently and slowly start combining the life on the land and boat; the difference is huge and sailors don’t understand how the beginners feel about. Don’t read or give too much scary stories of sailing before you start your cruise.

I didn’t have time or choice to say no to Andrew when he decided to leave England. My choice was to stay with my mother-in-law until Andrew arrived at Madeira and flew to catch him up or to go with him like a passenger as he could do everything. As both seemed to hell to me I decided to go, it seemed better to try a new hell experience. I believe I was right.

Once I learned and saw Andrew’s ability to be a captain and Brillig’s integrity – trusting Andrew and Brillig after 3,000 NM, my seasickness decreased and liking travelling on a yacht grew. However, I am THE reluctant partner; I went, so anybody could. Though I am willing to take Brillig to Japan; rather hoping her taking me home. Do not compare yourself with other capable people, do what you can and be happy.

Andrew:  To leave the security of an ordered shore life when you are happy with it will lead to unbearable tensions aboard a cruising yacht. The compact living environment amplifies tension. If as a cruising couple planning to go you feel that persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness common in our society you may well discover things within yourself that bring harmony to your life by living closer to nature, as my wife and I have.

Andrew:  How long can you expect to sustain yourself aboard without any support from ashore? A week, a month, six months or more?

RikaWhat you have learned from sailing/living on a small yacht with your partner?
Sailing always shows me my weakness; life on a sailing yacht, life travelling through water by a yacht is independent, solitary, slow, tough, adventurous and dangerous. Wherever we arrived safely, it is a great achievement. I have met more than 10 people having lost their boat –a home, it can happen anytime to us. Careful preparation, loads of information and knowledge, books will help but to manage and solve problems at sea, needing mind strength to stay calm and choose a right decision in flash. Successful sailing is to choose a right vessel, this is the start.

Living and cruising on a small yacht with a partner for years makes the relationship stronger and tighter. Because we live on such a small space, we can’t avoid seeing each other, can’t keep even a small secret, we know everything and have to be honest.