17 July 2017

10 Questions for Impi

Brent Grimbeek and Ana Hill began cruising in 2011 aboard SV Impi, a Lagoon 440.

They have cruised Cape Town to Brazil, Tobago, Grenada, Lesser Antilles, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and on to Australia

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog, through their videos, or their Facebook page.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

A lot of people we speak to have experience of sailing in the proximity of the coast and are fearful of sailing out of the sight of land. In fact, ocean sailing is way easier and safer than coastal sailing.

A lot of potential cruisers think that all they need is the money to buy a boat and that afterwards you just need money for food and diesel.  Few wannabe cruisers realize the costs of maintenance on a boat and/or have the skills to do good maintenance themselves.

This can result in boats gradually going down hill, becoming unsafe and unseaworthy.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?  

That you are free as the wind!  Unfortunately, the way the world is nowadays we are dependent on banks as one is not allowed to carry cash in excess of 10000 of the currency of the country you enter into without doing a declaration thereof.

In many countries although not in Australia and New Zealand, having a bank account is dependent on having a proof of residential address.  This can become complex once one leaves the home country and maybe lets or sells one’s house.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is ... that charts in many territories are inaccurate.  This requires us to use satellite photography as to avoid reefs and coral.

We were fortunate to learn this technique in French Polynesia from some fellow cruisers.  It enabled us to navigate through the Tuamotu Islands without any hiccups as we could clearly mark and identify coral heads.  Similarly charts are very inaccurate in Fiji and sailing from Vanua Levu to the Lau group overnight we were confident that we would not hit a reef as we planned our course very carefully using satellite photos.

Whilst at anchor in the darkest night we can be confident that when the wind changes we are not going to hit any rocks as our boat position can be easily monitored on the satellite photos.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?

Buy a safe boat that is reasonably fast on the ocean and comfortable at anchor. Equip your boat in your home country and not once you are underway.  For us South Africa was a good country to do this with skilled technicians and affordable prices.

So why do we love our Lagoon?  Well it is a very safe boat, the underside ‘nacelle’ – a large bullnose protruding between the hulls toward the trampoline area tapers, as what I can only describe as a ‘third suspended hull’ – do not think Lagoon build this in as a beautiful looking feature, for it certainly is not – it is undersold and holds a phenomenal ‘secret’ to safety at sea. Let me explain.

We were sailing around the southern tip of South Africa when a storm descended upon us. The waves were breaking to the extent that the surface became filled with foam and soon we were dropping down these colossal monsters doing 17 knots bare poles. Every other catamaran there had to head out to sea, since dropping down these waves would see the bows dig into the back of the wave ahead and they feared pitch poling. Impi was the only boat to successfully round the Cape that day for shelter in the anchorage – why?

We soon learned the magic trick of Lagoon. As the bows descended into the wave ahead, that ‘bull nose’ of the nacelle would make contact with the water surface driving the bows upward, time and time again. The suspended hull effect would assist with keeping the boat steering straight down the wave, where catamaran skippers fear the boat broad siding down a wave face. This feature alone ticked a huge box for us, a major point of safety that was going to prove to be invaluable in some pretty ferocious storms we would encounter crossing many oceans of the world.

In the catamaran sailing community, we often hear sailors measuring the success of a boat by the height of bridge deck clearance – ‘the higher the better’, they would say. This is the clearance or height from the surface of the water to the underside of the boat between the hulls. Now whilst a certain amount of height helps in lighter weather conditions, many sailors do not realize that in heavier sea state conditions, too much height has a negative effect in that the wave energy under the boat gathers more momentum before hitting the underside of the bridge deck. Too little clearance is also not good as the boat can feel unstable, but in our opinion, Lagoon have cleverly found the sweet spot between.

Another incredible attribute to the Lagoon 440 is how the boat sails on different points of sail. The Lagoon 440 surprises so many fellow sailors and especially mono-hull sailors, who do not want to believe a catamaran can sail past them to their windward side, on a close ‘point of sail’. Yes, thanks to the two shorter spreaders on the mast, the Lagoon 440 sails very well upwind since the leech of the genoa can be hauled in closer before being obstructed by the spreader tips. This feature, together with the genoa car tracks, that are positioned closer to midship than many other models of catamarans makes the Lagoon 440 a terrific boat for sailing close hauled. In fact, the Lagoon sails well on all points of sail when using a variety of sails along with a barber hauler configuration for wind astern of the beam.

We can store an asymmetric sail, spinnaker, storm sail and extra genoa with ease and all concealed below the deck in lockers and not stored inside the living area of the boat.

When it comes to speed, of course the Lagoon is not a racing boat as ours is loaded with all sorts of home comforts, but it moves on average 150 to 240 nautical miles per 24 hours depending on the winds, currents and the sails rigged. For example, our previous passage from New Caledonia to Australia was an easy 4 day passage.

The Lagoon 440 leaves the factory at around 12.5 tons, but loaded weighs 16 to 17 tons depending on water and diesel on board.

Of course speed is great while sailing, however, for us arrivals and the time spent at our destination are more important. We arrive with our boat clean, all salt washed with fresh water from our 900-liter water tank and 12V water maker that produces around 60 liters per hour for the 20amps that drive it.
The solar input via our 5 Kyocera 135w each panels (675w total) sees us topping up the batteries, up to 50 Amps, and plenty enough to run the Spectra Newport MKII.

Arrival also sees us with all washing clean, dried and ironed with our normal household ‘6kg washer dryer’ fitted into an outside cabinet, next to a sink and cockpit fridge.

Inside the boat, our fridge may be nearing empty but the freezer will often be loaded with fish caught en route.  Thanks to the outside basin, those can be cleaned and filleted outside, a very clever and well thought through feature by the Lagoon designers who make Impi as close to a home on the ocean as one can get.

As soon as we are cleared, we are ready to explore the delights of islands unlike some of our co-cruisers who are hunting around for laundries, water, and electricity and stay stuck in marinas for days, sometimes weeks on end.  Usually a one-day turn around is all Impi needs before heading out to those ‘paradise like anchorages’.  With 80 meters of 13 mm chain, 20 meter of rope and a 33 kg Rocna anchor, a Delta stern anchor with 20 meters of chain, we can anchor just about anywhere, and the Lagoon carries the weight with ease.

Our Lagoon 440 has enough space for all our dive gear, dive compressor, the heavy dinghy with its 30 HP engine which the davits carry comfortably, makes it a breeze to immediately be exploring those delightful underwater corals.

Of course it all comes down to preference and what one wants to get out of a boat – for us it is more about a home which has the ability to carry all the home comforts safely and at fair speed from one destination to the next.

We live for extended times on anchor and our air conditioning, heating and refrigeration facilities ensure that we make plenty of friends!  It is not unusual to hear:  “Let’s all meet on Impi, because they have space to seat 10 round the table, enough plates and cutlery, air conditioning and a lot of space to store cold beers!”

Lagoons are sturdy boats developed not just for a charter market, they are usually baptized in rough seas - they need to cross the Bay of Biscay on their maiden run and that sea can get seriously upset with tremendous wave action as it is very shallow.

Our patio is similar to that of a mono hull turned side ways, protecting us from large waves from the stern.  In extreme weather conditions, catamarans should not as a rule, be pointed toward the weather as one would in a mono-hull.  Well, for the odd wave that may escape and descend on the boat, we do love the high back of the Lagoon 440, which provides some protection from a wave otherwise finding the aft door into the saloon.

The bridge, a feature seldom found on any other brand for a 45 foot catamaran, gives excellent visibility when cruising through reef-infested waters and is always the place our guests spend most of their time when cruising the islands.  In bad weather it is comforting to be up there as one can feel the wind and the ocean away from the noise below and inside. It brings a new perspective and certain control in what otherwise one perceives to be life-threatening conditions. It is also the area where with wind from astern, we would sleep during crossings wearing our life jacket and harness, mostly because the motion is less aggressive up there.

Another feature we loved about the Lagoon when shopping for catamarans, is the strength and thickness of the ‘fiberglass ‘ – the coach roof is solid and sturdy. It feels safe and offers living room upstairs, something much needed when sailing for years on end.

We do believe the Lagoon 440 is a terrific deep ocean sailing catamaran - we have never regretted our choice of boat to circumnavigate, the boat keeps amazing us.

How did you gain offshore experience prior to leaving?  

We studied for our captain’s license in South Africa with a private tutor who accompanied us on our first long ocean crossing from Cape Town to Brazil.  We have sailed just the two of us ever since.  Our tutor taught us a lot about sail rigging and trimming.  We did our first crossing using 2 genoas most of the time or an asymmetric sail.  Our top speed was 21 knots.  That was a bit too scary! We took 21 days to sail from Cape Town to Fortaleza. You can read about our first sailing experience on Amazon kindle – Atlantic Crossing in 21 days.

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

Difficult question as there have been many, so maybe I must go back to the first one, which was in Northern Brazil.

We went into uncharted territory there! With only a vague description from a Brazilian sailor, we headed for Lencois Maranhenses, a national park.  It was described to us as a desert with freshwater lakes.

To get there we cruised for several hours up a muddy river with a 6-meter tidal range. We both started doubting the intelligence of doing this, as there were no other yachts around, just a lot of local fishing craft.  We had been warned that not all of these people were friendly!

We anchored out in the river at night and the next morning took the dinghy further up river where we were told by our friend to anchor.  It was a place we could only reach at high tide, taking care to avoid sandbanks.

A local fisherman drew a map of the course to take to enter and as the tide went up we took Impi into a real paradise with hundreds of red ibis, flamingoes and other birds. We were astounded by fish with 4 eyes, we had never seen before and the most awesome white sand dunes and fresh lakes where cattle would come and drink.  Beautiful jangadas, the local fishing boats, with blue sails would go up and down the river bringing in the daily catch.  The people would take pictures of us, as it was so rare to see a yacht there!  They were very friendly and didn’t even speak Portuguese but an indigenous language.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?

You cannot go on a charter vacation on a boat for a few weeks and say you have ‘cruised’.  I think that depending on the level of stress in your life prior to cruising it can take several years to actually shed that stress and get into a cruising lifestyle.  To find that connection with wind, weather and ocean, to open your heart to the beauty of your surroundings is something that some people never achieve.    In our modern lives our spirits get shredded and torn into multiple directions.  Cruising for us enables us to get whole again and to have that peace inside with makes us strong enough to deal with adversity and patient enough to wait for any weather window.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

We would upgrade our solar panels to SunPower solar panels.  At this point in time these panels have the highest energy output up to 327 W.  They carry a long power and product warranty and we believe that together with our lithium batteries, which we installed earlier this year, these would significantly reduce our need for the use of a generator.

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source?   
We have felt in danger a few times and we have learnt from it.  One area, which is neglected in a lot of sailing courses, is teaching students how to read the weather on our planet.  We have learnt as we went along and sometimes because we got ourselves into bad situations.

One of these times was sailing from Ua Pau in the Marqueses Islands to the Tuamotu.  The weather looked good according to the GRIBS and the forecast from Meteo France, so we left together with Tempest, an Amel mono-hull, skippered by our friends Bob and Annette Pace, medical professionals from the US.

As we went into the night the benign winds picked up to over 60 knots and the previously calm seas were whipped up into 5-7 meter waves crashing on Impi’s side.  I prepared grab bags, food, meds ready in the cock pit should we need to abandon ship. We kept out a small jib and encouraged Tempest to do the same and sailed all night through vicious waves making speeds around 12 -15 knots on a small jib!.  As the day broke, we saw a Japanese ship on the AIS and contacted them. They told us not to turn back as the storm was worse behind us then in front of us.  They were such great guys, giving us a weather forecast all the way to Fakarava, which proved to be accurate.

One of the reasons we learnt, why we had not read the weather accurately was because we didn’t look at the 500HP layer, we had just looked at the surface weather. What can happen is that the top layer breaks through to the surface given the right conditions.  You then can end up with a rapidly deepening low and cyclone strength winds.  We have learnt to always look at the top layer structure now as to avoid putting ourselves in that position again.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

We volunteer for an animal welfare charity Bien Naitre Animal in New Caledonia and encourage cruisers, friends and followers to become members of this charity as to set up a mobile veterinary clinic in the outer islands of New Caledonia, a service which currently does not exist.  We are grateful to the Down Under Rally Go East for their contribution to the fund. Watch our video on Moose, the abandoned island dog.