Mr Bean!

Now the great thing about buying a new boat is that you get to choose the bells and whistles and the bits and pieces according to your preference and purse.  All sorts of options are available to satisfy the needs of the discerning modern sailor.  For me I tended to lean towards the technological side and to that end I specified the best option for navigation that Hanse had on offer – the Navigation Plus package.  This consisted of a fully integrated B and G Zeus2 system with built in charts, wind and sail options and high specification autopilot, all repeated at both helming positions on deck.  I also have Category B AIS which enables us to see and be seen by shipping at distances of 20 – 30 miles – very useful for the waters on which we would be sailing.  So the very best of kit …. except that it did not work!

Well to be more precise the autopilot did not work.  When we asked it to navigate to a waypoint, it turned the boat through 180 degrees and tried to go back to where we had come!  When we set it to go to a waypoint it would fishtail violently before, if we were lucky, settling on a course.  Even then, in what was apparently a random process it would suddenly swing to starboard and the bleep alarm would sound.  We then had to switch to standby mode and re-set the system.  We tried to recalibrate it and that worked for a few hours but then the bleep bleep bleep alarm returned and we were back to manual helming.

Eventually we just had to live with the erratic, temperamental, idiosyncratic beast within the system.    I christened him “Mr Bean” for reasons which I hope will be obvious.

Trying to get it fixed proved beyond us and summoning help from Xavier, the boat agent, B and G or anybody for that matter while out in the middle of the Adriatic was challenging.  Mr Bean had won for the time being and we just had to get on with it.  The bleep bleep bleep became the all-pervading sound of the whole passage.  I just wanted you to make Mr Bean’s acquaintance.

Sibenik, 1st November 2015

Sibenik is a beautiful little town near to Split which lies at the end of an amazing canal entrance which then opens out into a wide bay. It has an ancient cathedral with a distinctive barrel dome, which was under repair, an attractive waterfront and a very well appointed marina, Mandelina, with some seriously large superyachts.

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Mandalena Marina, Sibenik

We arrived in Sibenik at 1630 with the light rapidly fading. Unfortunately, when we got there it was shut! 1st November is the day when the people of Sibenik mark the “day of the dead” by taking the day off. I was rapidly losing the will to live myself as Alan and I set off to look for the port authority police to get the crew list and permission to sail in Croatian waters, “the Vignette”. The policeman had kindly explained to us where the port authority office was located. 45 minutes later and a few millimetres of shoe leather less we returned to the policeman to explain that we could not find the office and, furthermore, no one in the town seemed to know where it was. By the way we had still not clapped eyes on “the woman” and I was beginning to suspect subterfuge on the part of the policeman. Eventually he relented and put us in the back of his car and drove us to the office. We had in fact passed this office before but had assumed that, in common with everything else in Sibenik, it was shut. There was certainly no light on and the door did not budge when we tried it.

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Sibenik

The formalities were soon sorted and Alan and I returned to the policeman with the crew list so that he could stamp it and the customs office next door could look at it – or at least that is all that they seemed to do. What was becoming clear was that this entry /exit malarkey was a bit of a job creation programme. Remember we had not actually left the EU, but Croatia was not yet a signatory to the Schengen Agreement and, as the policeman kept telling me, “that is a problem”.

Still no sign of the woman!

We took the opportunity in Sibenik to have the Volvo Penta Deisel engine serviced. This should be done after 50 hours of running and although we had not yet reached that mark our next stop would be Corfu, some two days sailing away, by which time we would be well beyond the 50 hours. The Penta people in the marina were excellent and had us sorted in no time.

You get the feeling that Sibenik is a “coming place”.  Clearly there is a great deal of investment in the marina and its surrounding resort area, and inland there are various sites of interest.  It is really only a stone’s throw from Split so it is well situated.

I paid the fine the following morning and after a very acceptable lunch in the deserted but very impressive D-Resort Hotel in the Mandalena Marina we gave a fond farewell to the lovely town of Sibenik, vowing to return some day, when it was open, and, hopefully, meet “the woman”.

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View of Sibenik from the D-Resort Hotel.  The Police Authority docking pier is to the left of centre with the six black bollards.

I completed the exit formalities with the Croatian Police Authorities who informed me that as we were exiting Croatia we had to move into international waters (12 miles off-shore) as soon as practical.

Although we were all taking turns at helming, the task of getting us in and out of berths was left to Alan as he was the most accomplished in such matters. The exit from Sibenik was my first go at exiting and all went well until I got a little too close to a green lateral marking the exit to the bay and we touched the bottom.   It sounded like I had ripped the keel off and I feared the worst. Without hesitation Alan donned mask and snorkel and dived below the hull to inspect the damage. It turned out to be superficial and there was no leakage internally from the keel bolts inside. So, at 1550 on 2nd November and with a wary eye on the keel bolts, we set off for Corfu.

Bloody owners! Who would have them?

Murder in Murter!

Murter is a pretty little marina port just north of Split. It has many great facilities for sailors, some very kind people but, unfortunately, it is not an entry port for Croatia. The significance of this will become clear shortly. In the meantime, our priority was to find what had caused the water tank to empty and to dry out the bilges. It was late afternoon when we arrived. We did the best we could but other priorities emerged – food and beer! Our host in Murter was Gary Conway. An old colleague of Alan’s he was very helpful in describing to us the intricacies of entering Croatia in a boat. The rule is that you call into the nearest entry port once you have crossed into national waters. We had actually passed by four entry ports before finally calling into Murter which, as I mentioned earlier, is not an entry port. Now you might think why would the skipper get such a basic thing wrong and I would have to accept a good deal of the responsibility for this error, but I believe that the people in Portoroz should have made this clear before we left. The entry and exit procedures for each country are all slightly different. I’ll try to explain later.

We discussed our options with Gary and the general consensus was that we should just exit again without bothering the port authorities and hope for the best. None of us was particularly keen on this course but as it happens the decision was taken out of our hands. Early the next morning a policeman and his colleague turned up at the boat and it became clear that we had committed a serious offense in the eyes of the Croatian authorities which could only be corrected through the exchange of substantial amounts of money in the form of a fine.

In order to pay this fine we had to take the boat to the policeman’s office in Sibenik, about ten miles south, where he informed us we would not only meet up again with him and his colleague but, rather mysteriously, also with a woman! The policeman was very apologetic about all of this and had obviously deduced that the prospect of seeing a woman after some two days at sea in the grip of the troublesome Bora would soften the blow on we four weary sailors. As you can imagine the prospect of seeing this woman swung it for us, especially John.

In the meantime, John had discovered the source of the leak. The pipe connection on the deck shower unit was faulty and the pipe had detached, opening up the flow and causing the water pump to engage until all the water had exited the tank (thank you Hanse). Temporary repairs were made then it was off to Sibenik.

We encountered a regatta as we exited Murter.

Baptism of Fire – Portoroz to Murter, Croatia

In all my preparations for this passage I had been warned about the infamous Bora, which blows unpredictably in the Northern Adriatic and can obtain hurricane force dimensions. Like all such tales you tend to take them with a pinch of salt, but I would advise you not to do so in the case of the Bora. We did not experience hurricane winds but 32 knots and 3 to 4 metre waves were quite sufficient for me, and this was only the first night!

I was immediately thankful that I had engaged the services of Alan O’Boyle and was fortunate that John Campbell was also along. Their calmness and controlled skill throughout the all-night fight with the Bora was something to observe. I say observe because Jon and I did nothing but hang on and, before any of the others gets an oar in, I also christened the plumbing system of the boat and can confirm that the sink can cope with the entire contents of my stomach without any problem! Once I got that out of the way I was fine.

In fact Lothian Sky came through this baptism of fire with great credit and it became clear to me that this boat was well capable of getting us to Cyprus. The only problem we experienced with the boat was that, at some stage during the night, the entire contents of the fresh water tank (120 L) emptied into the bilges. Luckily we had loaded plenty bottles of drinking water but with our first stop in Murter in Croatia still some 10 hours away, washing became strictly rationed. By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with a sailing boat water used for other bodily purposes is drawn straight from the sea – so no problem in the bodily functions department.

Leaving Piran, a beautiful little town just south of Portoroz and our last exit point from Slovenia.

The calm before the storm. For reasons that you might be able to imagine, we do not have pictures of the storm so you will just have to take my word for it!

The day dawned on blue skies and relatively calm seas.  Alan and John went off to have a well earned sleep (Alan had completed a marathon stint of 10 hours at the helm in fierce sea conditions) and we proceeded on towards Murter.  The bilges were full despite our efforts to empty them using the bilge pumps, hand-bailing etc. At this stage we did not know the source of the problem but took limited comfort from the fact that at least the water did not taste salty. Our big fear was that the tank had somehow sprung a leak, which would have been a serious problem and could well have brought the expedition to a premature halt. Roll on Murter and running repairs.

The Crew

The boat adviser, general director of operations and all round sailing guru is Alan O’Boyle.

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Alan O’Boyle

With his many years of experience, particularly in the waters of the Adriatic and Greek Islands Alan is a terrific asset and critical to the successful completion of the passage.

Here he is in one of his favourite positions – I think the expression is “legs akimbo”!

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John Campbell (spelt with a “P”) is also a very experienced sailor as well as connoisseur of all things of sophistication and alcoholic content!

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John Campbell

To John we owe a great debt for the provision of copious amounts of Hariboo’s just at the time they were needed – usually at 0200 hrs.

Jon Over is my brother-in-law and the senior member of the crew.

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Jon Over

His friends back in Northampton have asked me in particular to keep him out of trouble and away from any unsettling influences. Not sure what that means but no doubt there will be cause to reflect on this later.

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Finally me, Ian Young, the owner and technically the skipper, but clearly while sailing we all defer to Alan on all matters related to the boat and decisions regarding navigation and passage planning. My job was to deal with the various authorities and formalities of getting us in and out of countries and ports. More of that later.

The plan is for two further members to join us later in the passage.  I’ll give you the details at the time.

Where did the blog go?

OK, so you are probably asking yourselves, what ever happened to his blog?  Well the reality was that the blog needed to be on line in order for me to upload postings and getting internet access on the passage for my laptop was very problematical.  I could get it for my iPhone but posting to the blog from my iPhone proved to be beyond my capabilities.  So what will follow is not a contemperaneous account of the passage but it does reflect my thoughts and jotting as we progressed, so next best thing.  I will publish a posting every day from now.  Hope you enjoy!

WELCOME!

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Ruth and me

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you my experiences of the maiden voyage of my brand new sailing yacht, “Lothian Sky”. That’s me (right) with my younger daughter Ruth who will crew for a good part of the passage. There are five other crew members, but more of them later.

Below you can see our whole family (left to right) me, Joan, Ruth and Jen and Jen’s husband Garry. Joan and Jen are not keen on sailing but we will work on them.  We have photos of Joan on the helm but I don’t have permission to publish!

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THE FAMILY

“LOTHIAN SKY”

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Generic Photo Hanse 455

She is a Hanse 455, one of the new models from Hanse in 2014.  45ft with a sloop rig, self-tacking jib, a bright blue ginnaker and as many bells and whistles on as I could afford! As we go through the passage I will explain more about her. The photo is the Hanse generic as she is still being built as I write. I will add a proper picture once I get to Portoroz.

So “Lothian Sky”, what is that about?  Well Lothian is that area of Scotland famed in ancient story which embraces the capital city of Edinburgh and where I was born.  Gorebridge is an unremarkable place I would suppose but it is the happy place where I grew up.  Situated on a rising shoulder of land to the south of Edinburgh it looks out to the North-West to the Pentland Hills, to the South the border hills and to the North a sky that stretches high across the Esk Valley to Arthur’s Seat, the Forth Estuary and the hills of Fife beyond – Lothian Sky.  There is also a reference to it in the song from the Proclaimers, “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues”, which is where I got the idea.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE

From Portoroz in Slovenia, through the Adriatic, the Greek islands and then finally to Cyprus, a distance of over 1200 nautical miles.  Those interested in more detail can have a look here .There are many waypoints on the route map but essentially the passage will be in six parts:

  • Portoroz to Murter in Croatia to service the engine and other repairs as necessary
  • Murter to Dubrovnik for R&R
  • Dubrovnik to Kefalonia to pick up Ruth
  • Kefalonia through Corinth Canal to Athens to pick up Alistair
  • Athens to Rhodes
  • Rhodes to Limassol

Lots to do to prepare.

  • organise essential safety equipment, e.g life-raft, flares etc. – its amazing how much the boat builder does not include in the price! But there is a great chandler in Portoroz (“Skipper”) and Marijo has been brilliant in providing cost-effective solutions to my various problems.
  • coordinate the gathering of the crew (more of that later)
  • transport the boat by road, rig it and copper coat the hull (much appreciation to Xavier Bouin from Tan in Dubai for getting that sorted)
  • register the boat, license the radio, obtain an EPIRB
  • documents for the crew, photos, passports etc
  • courtesy flags
  • launching and naming ceremony
  • and on and on and on ……

The plan is to leave Portoroz around 28/29 October and I expect the passage to take about two weeks. Ruth will join us at Kefalonia on 7th November and Alistair Cameron will join us in Athens. That means we will have a crew of six for the long stretch from Rhodes to Limassol (two days non-stop). Details of the crew will be posted later.