SCATTERLINGS of Africa - The Voyage!
59 days & 8000 miles - Delivery Voyage of New Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40
La Rochelle, France to Cape Town South Africa
The saga of Scatterlings of Africa started in late 1999 when retired a few years earlier than expected following a take-over of the bank where I worked. At that stage we were living in Johannesburg but planning to retire a few years on in the Cape.
The Cape of Good Hope is one of the most beautiful parts of the world with its ocean, mountains, and inland plains. We also have a cosmopolitan mix of South Africans and many visitors and residents from foreign lands who are discovering the beauty that so many of us in this Rainbow Nation struggling to develop a bright future for its peoples, take for granted. We owned a boat here previously but sadly sold her when we were transferred to the Channel Islands in the early 90's. Now with early retirement the time was right to get back into sailing as we were finally moving to live at the coast in the picturesque village of Hout Bay between Cape Town and Cape Point.
The research for the boat started some years ahead of this though as, on a number of visits abroad, I had scoured the boat shows and dealers and followed reports in the sailing magazines. I wanted a boat that we could sail shorthanded as for much of the time it will be my wife Janet and I sailing. We have over the years chartered in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and will probably take the boat back to the Caribbean for a season or two in due course. In the short-term though we needed a comfortable boat for day sailing and coastal trips as we have a number of good destinations within two or three days sailing as well as some overnight targets. Further afield there is the possibility of the Indian Ocean Islands and Mozambique. Madagascar is also slowly becoming a more popular destination for cruisers from here and abroad.
With this in mind I looked with particular interest at the production boats available in the 36 to 40 foot range in an acceptable price range and with the strength and sea-keeping qualities needed for a sailing boat in the Cape, where we can experience successive south easterly and north westerly gales that come up very quickly at some times of the year. We also have a fairly high percentage of winds in the mid to upper twenty knot range and large swells as the "cape rollers" make their way up from the South Atlantic.
Having confirmed the views I had gathered that the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40 was a very good value for money boat and furthermore was robust in construction and very seaworthy I commenced the Scatterlings project. I arranged the purchase of the vessel through Chris Bonnet of Sunsail in Durban, South Africa who was a friend of many years who I had met through taking courses at his sailing academy.
The boat was delivered from the Jeanneau factory at Les Herbiers to La Rochelle on France's Brittanny coast, where, with the expert assistance of Christian Marbach of Chantiers Naval des Minimes, she was commissioned and launched. Delivery took place at the end of September 2000 and after commissioning, sorting out the fitting of a Pur 40E watermaker and our SSB radio we took aboard the extensive stores and supplies we had catalogued and purchased and set sail from La Rochelle on the 17th October 2000.
Because of the weather picture at the time we had little opportunity to sail the boat in La Rochelle and in any case there was important work being carried out to ready her for sea. We did manage a short sail in light winds and checked out everything except the watermaker. The boat had a dry bilge and everything seemed to check out so I decided that we would shake down on the way from La Rochelle to Cape Finisterre. That would see us clear of Biscay although still subject to the westerly gales that can roll in from the North Atlantic. Our weather window as given by the Meteo in La Rochelle was spot on and three days after we set sail Britain was hit with huge gales. This bad weather obviously extended down into Biscay as well and we were subjected to a gale of 35 to 40 knots on the third night out and then enjoyed a fine run on down to the Canary Islands where Las Palmas was our first landfall.
Good planning and preparedness makes such a decision workable and we of course had a fall back strategy, in need, to return to La Rochelle if we experienced any major problems with essential systems in the first few days. Otherwise we could in need put into a Spanish or Portuguese port as we made our way southwards after rounding the corner out of Biscay. We included the appropriate pilots and charts in our planning for this.
It is however a testament to the quality of the build and fitting out by Jeanneau that we experienced no problems with the vessel and despite some initial nervousness at the time of departure I quickly realised that the vessel was indeed very seaworthy and well designed and constructed.
When I set about pulling together a crew I was fortunate to contact Chris Shaw, a friend who I had sailed with from Cape Town to Durban in my previous boat. Chris has a wealth of sailing experience as well as being an excellent navigator and Ocean Yachtmaster and Instructor. He agreed to join the voyage as my number two on board and I sourced the other two crew members I wanted through Sunsail Durban where they had recently completed Coastal Yacht Skippers courses and were looking for mileage and experience. Clive Crooks was to turn out to be an excellent on board chef as well as a competent crew. The fourth crew member was Neil Butt who was taking a break from the security industry on the diamond mines in Angola and is now a very good helmsman and watchkeeper. As things turned out I could not have wished for a better crew for the voyage.
I rapidly agreed the terms of the voyage and approximate timings with the crew and the latter were confirmed by Chris' independent passage planning exercise. We were on a critical path to get away from La Rochelle by mid October at the latest for weather window reasons and to try to get home to South Africa for Christmas. Clive undertook to start the planning for victualling and Neil took up the bosun's responsibilities for ships stores other than our food and water. Chris ensured that we had all the charts and publications we would need and I worried about all of the above as well as the boat delivery date, final configuration and how she would turn out to be despite the positive reports that I had.
Essentially Chris Shaw and I double checked everything to ensure that we would not be left wanting and overall I think we succeeded in putting together well planned and extensive listings of all our requirements. We also prepared checklists, so that we could execute the acquisition and stowing of everything needed for the take over of the boat and for the voyage.
And so we re-located temporarily to La Rochelle in late September. Situate about halfway down the Bay of Biscay the former fishing village and port now boasts a modern marina and sailing centre that has some 3800 permanently moored keel boats on walk on pontoons. The marina is well served by a number of shipyards and chandler's encouraged by the French Governments positive attitude to the development of sailing as an industry that creates massive employment.
"Scatterlings of Africa" was delivered as planned on the 27th September. Instrumentation is all Raytheon as standard and fitted by Jeanneau at the factory. Our configuration included the R420C Chartplotter and GPS, the ST60 Wind Speed and Direction and ST 60 Tridata. Because of the two wheel cockpit configuration there are two steering compasses and the Tridata and Wind Instrument have repeaters at the port steering station. Engine controls are at the starboard console as well as the ST6000+ Autohelm autopilot.
The rig is a standard aluminium anodised classic mast from Z-Spars France, with Profurl roller furling on the forestay. It is a standard masthead sloop rig so is easy to control. The mainsail has two Jiffy reefs with the number three reef being the standard cringle that hooks onto a rams horn fitting on the boom. The boom is supported by a vang and spinnaker pole stowage is on the mast. The boat was delivered with a Lofrans windlass and Harken self tailing winches.
A nice touch to the design is the folding cockpit table and the adjustable seat at the centre rear of the cockpit giving easy access to the large stern platform with pressurised hot & cold hand shower. The large spray hood with full width stainless grab-handle affords great protection from the elements and it is a tribute to the manufacturer that after 8000 miles and five full gales en route, it still looks like new. We are also fortunate to have a bimini fitted. This is not often seen on South African boats and I wonder why as the shade afforded in hot conditions is exceptional and we enjoyed our cockpit "air conditioner" when we were sailing down through the tropics.
The only downside with the delivered specification was that the engine powered deep freeze I had ordered had not been fitted and we were left with only the Frigoboat refrigerator as standard. This obviously meant we had to rely much more on canned meats in our provisioning plans.
The lockers on deck i.e. anchor, two cockpit lockers, the gas locker and the lazarette, below the port helmsmans seat, are all large. We adequately stored not only our liferaft and other safety equipment but also all of our mooring warps, towing warps, main anchor and chain, and kedge anchor and chain in these lockers.
Below there is an abundance of space. The underseat lockers swallowed the stores and equipment of which there was an abundance taking into consideration our need to be self sufficient, particularly once we left Las Palmas for Cape Town which we were hoping to do directly without any further intermediate stops. The inflatable and spare sails were stowed in the forward sail bins under the forepeak berth.
We also fitted a PUR 40E watermaker in a forward sail bin, not an ideal location in retrospect but it seemed like the best alternative at the time. This was to prove invaluable on the voyage as we were able to enjoy plenty of fresh water en route and as we got nearer to home could be more profligate in its use. To ensure that we would have adequate water we kept the tanks topped up with the watermaker. It draws little current (3 to 4 amps) and produced enough water to top up the tanks after two or three hours running most days although on occasion we ran it for longer when the tanks had had heavier use. We had fitted a seawater pump at the galley so that the initial washing up was seawater followed by a rinse in fresh water and this without question dropped water consumption dramatically.
Our battery bank comprised two 96amp/hour batteries for the house circuit with a separate battery dedicated for engine starting. This was supplemented by power generated by an Ampair towed generator. This generated a constant 2.5 to 5 amps and saved us an inordinate amount of fuel by reducing the time we needed to run the engine purely for power generation purposes. The towed impeller survived a shark bite and I would think that is one shark that got a really good flossing with the impeller blades turning in his mouth!
We were fortunate to have a gentle day on leaving La Rochelle to get everything settled down and get more used to the boat and its systems. By the next morning there was a reasonable breeze blowing with a short chop that proved very uncomfortable and caused some sea sickness amongst the crew. Fortunately this was quickly over and thereafter there was little if any discomfort exhibited by anyone. The following night we experienced our first gale with the wind blowing 35 knots and gusting 40. The boat stood up to this well and we were all encouraged by her solid feel and good response to the helm. A good confidence builder before crossing the shipping lanes and rounding Finisterre.
Then a good run down to the SE trades and Las Palmas. A fairly uneventful trip with a total time of 11 days and an average speed of 5 knots.
Arriving at Las Palmas we had the ARC (Atlantic Race for Cruisers) to contend with as the boats were gathering there for the start. We persuaded the port administration to allow us to moor for 3 days so that we could top up our stores and carry out essential maintenance & repairs. The only real problem we had experienced was some damage to the main sail in the gale and other than this all systems were operating properly. We also completed an oil change to the Yanmar diesel, engine.
For the second leg of the voyage we set sail from Las Palmas towards Cape Town on the 31st October 2000. We had re-stocked to victual the boat for the full voyage home. This included the stowing of 10 x 20 litre fuel containers in the lockers as well as sufficient extra gas bottles in the anchor well as this was self draining outside the boat for safety purposes. We had planned for a six week passage and taken on stores for about 8 weeks for this long leg.
We enjoyed fair winds and got the boat going at better speed as we got to know her. By day seven we were passing through the Cape Verde Islands although the only glimpse we had of land was Sal when the runway lights were lit up in the early hours of the morning for an aircraft movement. Once clear of the Cape Verdes we altered our heading a little more to the west to take advantage of the wind until we ran into the doldrums. We were fairly fortunate to get through the doldrums quite quickly although in this period we experienced a number of very heavy squalls. We motored through as necessary and after a day and a half we picked up wind again and continued southwest. The rain squalls provided welcome fresh water showers and on the quiet windless day we swam overboard and enjoyed a good scrub as well.
We passed within sight of the Penedos de Sao Pedro & Sao Paulo and headed on south to cross the equator at 29 degrees 40 minutes west in the early hours of 15th November. We had by now had a number of good daily runs in the 150 to 160 nms range with speed of 6 to 7 knots with favourable winds despite the heavily laden boat. Our next sight of land was Ile Martin Vaz which we also left to starboard as we headed south down the coast of South America following a course south between 29 and 28 degrees west At the closest point we were about three hundred miles off the coast of Brazil.
While we passed through the tropics we started rigging the bimini for shade during the daylight hours and what a difference on those steamy days to sit under the "air conditioner". We also trolled a lure behind the boat and caught a number of fish including a dorado, wahoo and yellowfin. The fresh fish made a welcome addition to the menu.
As we dropped south below 30 degrees towards 37 degrees and started to make eastings we experienced some bone chilling cold southerly winds and endured a number of gales as depressions passed to the south of us with one gale in the 40 to 50 knot range. Again the boat proved herself to be very seaworthy. In the worst of the gales we were down to a small triangle on the roller furler with the main tied down on the boom. We kept steerage way and positive control and drove her over and down the worst swells without getting pooped and with no feeling of being overwhelmed by the weather as we ran with the gale on our starboard quarter.
Whilst it can be controversial, I believe that in a lighter displacement boat such as the Jeanneau, it is generally better to keep the boat sailing and driving on positively. I do not favour the option of lying ahull or heaving to although this may be more acceptable in a traditional heavier displacement boat.
We left Tristan da Cunha to our south by about 20 miles and continued east in light winds as the South Atlantic high pressure system had moved down to 40 degrees south. Fortunately we had the genneker and this gave us a fair light wind capability interspersed with low rev motor sailing to conserve our by now fairly scarce fuel.
Coming west across the South Atlantic I had expected to pick up the westerly winds that usually prevail at 36/37 degrees South. However with the southward movement of the high we experienced very light winds and almost calms on some days interspersed with gales one of which blew 45knots gusting over 50knots as we made our way towards Cape Town. We had planned to stay south and come north to make landfall at Cape Point and then sail up the coast to Hout Bay but with the prevailing wind we were carried north earlier than planned. We finally approached our landfall from the north west motor-sailing in very calm conditions seeing the mountainous bulk of Constantiaberg and the Sentinel at the entrance to Hout Bay through the haze of a typical hot Cape summers day.
We finally made landfall at Hout Bay on the evening of 17th December 2000 and tied up on our mooring there at 2130 hrs to a tumultuous welcome from family and friends. What a tremendous end to the voyage.
For me an epic trip and I am thankful that Scatterlings carried us home safely. We suffered no injuries to crew other than a little sunburn and no serious damage to the boat. We managed to break a few fittings needlessly through over enthusiasm or carelessness as the crew got to know the boat and how to sail her but these were irritations and nothing that endangered the safety or seaworthiness of the boat.
The Raytheon Autohelm ST60 instruments, 420C chartplotter and ST6000+ Autopilot worked well for the entire journey. The ST6000+ Autopilot was incredible and drove the boat for at least 6000 of the total 8000 miles with no problems.
Our Icom SSB radio enabled us to maintain contact almost daily with our families and friends back in South Africa as we were able to file our daily position with Cape Town Radio from the second day in Biscay onwards and place radio telephone calls to my wife who was acting as an e-mail communication centre to our families and friends around the globe. It was a great comfort to know that Cape Town Radio was there and that we could place a call home from the mid-Atlantic. They do a great job in maintaining communications and their friendly voices and helpful approach was always welcome as we made our way South.
The boat is bone dry in the bilge. The only water that found its way there was brought down the companionway in rainy conditions on our wet weather gear. We seldom therefore heard the bilge pump cut in and then very briefly as there was so little to pump.
Our only real major problem was a very light mainsail that necessitated repairs after three days and the first gale. The headboard and clew slides required to be continually re-attached as the webbing chafed through. The luff of the sail had torn around a number the cringles for the slides. The mainsail continued to plague us with repairs and I think by now I must be rated expert with a sailmaker's palm and needle although the stitching leaves something to be desired.
We also discovered that the forward sail bin was taking in some water and this proved easily repaired as it required only an application of silicone to the foreward port fairlead to seal this off. Other than this the boat is extremely seaworthy, handles well and is certainly strongly built. A few minor irritations exist in the form of inadequate catches on the cockpit lockers that bend easily and the wood trim on the lockers below not being stuck on properly and falling off. Correctly applied adhesive sorted out this problem.
After a total time of 59 days at sea we had covered 7973 nautical miles with an average speed of 5.7 kts. The boat has stood up extremely well and does not look as though she has just completed what amounts to a double ocean crossing. I have completed the minor repairs required, had the engine serviced and the rigging retuned and am enjoying sailing her in Cape waters. The fact that this journey was successfully completed without major problems speaks volumes for the quality of the Jeanneau production facilities and the design of Daniel Andrieu.
Would I buy the same boat again?
She sails like a gem and I have no fears as to her seaworthiness after the trial we have put her through