• James Kenning

Refitting: 'stop prepping' and 'go cruising'!

It is a common held thought amongst cruisers that there is no perfect boat; the vessel you eventually put to sea on will undoubtedly be a bastard child born of compromise between speed, comfort, space, sea-kindness, affordability, and many other practical or aesthetic factors. Inevitably hard choices must be made, and trade-offs accepted, if we are ever to cast off lines and go adventuring in a floating home of our own.

This month we begin the last of the major planned upgrades to Arkyla to ready her for extended cruising. I wince a little as I say ‘planned’, as most of these additions to her shiny hull certainly weren’t in our minds when bartering the price of our dream yacht at the back-end of 2018. But a year of shake-down sailing in the Solent has exposed weaknesses, limitations, and some simple wants that really need to be fixed if the old girl is to meet our cruising aspirations. We are fortunate in that the baseline Regina 43 is built for blue-water; extensive tankage for water and diesel, a sail plan easily handled by a short-handed crew, and a design that suits ploughing through heavy seas as well as comfortable living on arrival at a point of destination. But a baseline is, well, a baseline… fine for the showroom and quick hops between local marinas, but somewhat lacking in function and comfort if intent is to venture beyond sight of land or lie at anchor for extended periods. And so began our process to determine the extent of upgrades needed on our ‘adventure tub’. Decision making has been based against a jamboree bag of affordability, aesthetics, and an honest appraisal of requirement – want to, should do, must do. Looking objectively, many of the fit-out decisions, particularly those that are wear-and-tear or safety-related, should have been binary; they are needed or they are not. But even some of these ‘no-brainers’ have resulted in some deep soul-searching to justify the eventual extent of the equipment replaced.

First let’s discuss the woven engines; when we bought Arkyla, both vendor and broker convinced us there were still several seasons left in the sails; indeed, all seemed good during the test sail and subsequent delivery trip from Newton Ferrers to her new home in Lymington. However, during our early spring outings in the new season it soon became apparent that all was not well with the full vertically-battened furling mainsail; it jammed. Not occasionally, but all the time. The issue it turns out was due to 10-years of stretch to such an extent that there was a full 10 inch lateral differential between the top and bottom points of the first 15-metre long batten; it turns out that no amount of tweaking (and cursing) was ever going to get it to enter parallel into the mast slot. Maybe we should have done more homework before purchase, as all the online wisdom (once you look for it) suggests that 10 years really is the upper limit for the working life of a furling main – a lesson learned! Despite having the sail recut, it was evident the problem would persist so we commissioned a new sail from the loft of Peter Saunders; we chose to sacrifice some roach and replace the full-length battens with partial and staggered units to mitigate the anxiety of potential mid-maelstrom jams in the mid-ocean! And here we come to the crux of this story… when is it appropriate to ‘stop improving’. We could have moved on, but so impressed were we with our new mainsail, we took a closer look at the genoa. The sail was significantly patched and the leach flapped despite all efforts to tame it; once identified, the flicker and hum of the ageing cloth could not be unseen or unheard… let’s change it! But hey we thought, why not be clever here and future-proof ourselves for down-wind passage-making and double up to a SIMBO rig on the front forestay. And, whilst we’re at it, we might as well replace the self-tacking jib on the inner Solent stay so all sails will match and set in perfect harmony. End result – a magnificent new suite of sails to cover all wind and passage eventualities, but a large and unplanned dent in our budget.

But there is a further price to pay... the addition of the second genoa has of course resulted in an associated increase in running rigging requirements for new sheets to control the doubled-up cloth when either set atop each other when reaching, or poled-out apart wing-on-wing down-wind. Then, whilst placing the order for these new sheets, the spending devil sat on my shoulder nagging me to consider the other rope-based elements of our beloved Arkyla. Before I new it I had added a new 12mm mainsheet to replace the old 14mm thread that introduced too much friction in the deck guides, and a bespoke anchor snubber from Jimmy Green Marine. But not just any old snubber; no, this had to have anti-chafe protection, a chain attachment, shock absorption, and line-end splicing! The question it beggars is at what stage does sensible practicality turn into designer flamboyance?

Next up… electronics. It was always in my mind that the original Raymarine E80 chart plotters, at both helm and nav desk, would need replacing in the not-too-distant future; aside from the power-saving advantages associated to modern displays, the advances in functionality of modern units made me think that we should consider changing-up the plotters when we had finances available. I’ve blogged earlier how the decision to replace the units was made on the back of the helm display randomly flickering to blackness on our delivery trip on our timely transit through the Hurst narrows into the western Solent; what I haven’t previously described though is the self-restraint needed to limit the extent of the upgrade. The price difference between the 9 and 12 inch versions of the Axiom line of plotters is staggering and certainly not in proportion to the extra pixels in the larger screen; we compromised (indicating I have at least a modicum of financial moral fibre about me) with a 12 in the cockpit and a 9 in the saloon. Replacing the existing radar with a new target-tracking doppler unit was mandated, as the old kit would not integrate with the new Axioms, so another cheque was signed. But what about the other temptations from Raymarine designed to part me from my cash? So far I have remained strong and Sonar, FLIR, and augmented reality all remain hidden in the ‘nice to have’ drawer. We did however cave to replace the old Blaupunkt car radio with a modern Fusion entertainment set ; kudos to us though as, even though the wife demanded the digital tuning option (and associated expense of aerial and cabling), we managed to limit ourselves to a relatively basic unit and further saved money by jumping on the offer to have an ex display model installed.

World Cruising Club conditions of entry to the ARC Portugal rally this summer have forced further expense upon us. Most difficult has been meeting the requirement for a dedicated VHF speaker in the cockpit as Raymarine no longer produce the dedicated active speaker for our legacy Ray240 set-up. Sourcing a second-hand unit has been akin to foraging for the mythical rocking horse deposits and, until I was lucky enough to snatch one up from eBay (after 8 months of stringent monitoring), I was fearful that a full upgrade to a new integrated radio system would be order of the day. Mandated safety systems have forced further expense that I may (probably foolishly) otherwise only considered ‘nice-to-have’. 3-clip harnesses to replace our set of expandable 2-clip versions; personal AIS MoB units for each life-jacket, an additional Jonbouy, EPIRB, and additional grab-bag contents to bring the ISO 9650-1 life-raft contents to >24hour spec are all needed. Whilst none of these items are bank account killers by themselves, added together they have certainly dented our monthly gin allowance for the foreseeable future!

Don’t be fooled that all the expense has been at the hands of this typical male techno-geek captain; the wife has had her part to play in the extension of our spreadsheet of financial doom to several pages! Let’s start with the made-to-measure cockpit cushions to replace the perfectly acceptable single-butt foam pads liberated from Wimbledon and Twickenham by Arkyla’s previous owner! Now add the cost of fitted carpets to replace the original biological hazards covering the sole. At least we resisted re-upholstering (consider how many seats there are in a raised saloon, snug saloon, nav seat, and master cabin loungers to recover) and accepted that we can live with the slightly dated look of the existing seats after a dry cleaning. Other internal upgrades have been done to swap out the seemingly infinite number of halogen spots for LED bulbs, and I am half-way through replacing the equally impressive number of cupboard push-locks for ones that won’t launch lethal missiles into the saloon and galley as soon as the yacht heels! These things sure add up, but then what price can you put on not having to constantly retrieve cutlery from the bilge after each outing?

All the above is a rather long-winded pre-amble to the dilemma we now face with the current project to upgrade our renewable power. Our existing energy generating capacity is (engine apart) limited to a 100W solar panel that snap-fixes to the Bimini; not ideal in terms of power output, safety if we need to de-rig the Bimini underway in a blow, or security if we were to leave the boat unattended for any length of time. We had hoped that our instruction to the installation engineer to quote against 200W of solar, an appropriately-sized wind generator, and gantry to mount it all on would be simple enough. And so it was until all the possible options to ‘tweak’ the design were put to us in such a way that the little devil on my shoulder reappeared and had me re-evaluating my early retirement plans this summer; What about davits on the gantry? How about a remote-controlled LED to illuminate the stern? Maybe one more panel to increase capacity? Not to be outdone, I myself then added to the list and asked for quotes to pre-install wiring looms for future satellite communications, an upgraded battery monitoring system, a dedicated bow-thruster battery, and pod for the helm plotter. A win on the lottery would no doubt make many of these dilemmas go away, but not all. More gadgets invariably result in more time in refit, higher risk of things going wrong, and greater effort to maintain; all of which will ultimately impact on the key reason we bought the boat in the first place… to go sailing. The flip side would be to forego boat ownership entirely and settle for holidays afloat by charter; any external analysis of yachting would deduce this as the only financially reasonable option for anyone of sound mind. But us cruisers are a strange bunch; we accept the money vortex to enable us to voyage in comfort and with individuality – but at what stage do we accept that our boat is sufficiently equipped and finally ready to slip for the horizon?

I have recently become an avid follower of many YouTube cruising couples; several of these appear to have realised their world cruising dreams on minimal budgets. Admittedly, they seem far more confident than I in their ability to tackle boat projects to mitigate boatyard and engineer costs. But maybe more significant is the point at which they have reached the threshold to ‘stop fixing and go sailing’. We are now working to a deadline of crossing Biscay in 4 months’ time. Once we have left for the Med and beyond, I imagine the focus will most definitely shift from ‘upgrade’ to ‘maintain’, and I hope for a degree of mental (and financial) freedom to come with that. Do let me know your thoughts on where that happy medium lies between confidence and comfort in your boat, and the point at which you are content to slip lines and head to the open ocean…

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