Ok Ok…. its a bit of a dramatic title but that’s what Sailing Today called it! This article goes along with the video I made of a 700nm solo passage from the Canary Islands to the Azores, when I was caught in 50kt winds, tore my mail sail, the engine broke down and deployed the drogue.
After lockdown had ended in July 2020, I rushed back to the boat which had been moored up in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria for over 8 months. Apart from being covered in sand, Shadowfax was fine!
I then planned to sailed singlehanded to the Azores, where I’d rendezvous with Emmie for the passage back to the UK. The passage to the Azores was my longest and first offshore singlehanded passage. However I got a little bit more than I bargained for when sailed through Madeira’s acceleration zone where I encountered sustained 45kt winds and gusts well above.
I ripped the mainsail trying to reef and then the engine packed up. I felt I had no option but to deploy my Jordan Series Drogue given my in ability to heave-to and the frequency of break waves as night fell. Here is a short film of the passage!
Below is a more concise version of the film above with additional technical info about the deployment bag, bridles, chafe risk and the chain places.
Below are two sizes of chain plate. One using 6 bolts and another using 8. We don’t know exactly at what point you’d want to use the larger version but for a 17t boat like Shadowfax we went with 8.
Click the image to enlarge and then save to your computer.
Above: Fitting the chain plates on the hull!
Above: Reinforcing the hull where the chain-plates are attached. Temperature and humidity controlled when using epoxy!
Above: Here are our 8 bolt chainplates attached. Not the overhang is quite large due to our davits and Hydrovane. If you can, less overhand is better.
Above: Note the large plastic pipe I have over the first part of the bridle to eliminate any chance of chafe should the boat veer off to one side significantly. In my experience this didn’t happen but its good to know the protection is there.
Above: I specifically wanted Hard Eyes on the bridles as I felt standard open versions were a chafe risk. Note also the Crosby G2140 Shackles with a SWL of 7T and a breaking strength of around 25T. That is more than sufficient according to Don Jordan’s specifications which say each bridle should be capable of taking 50% of the boats displacement. Our boat is 17T.
Above: Here is the Drogue stowed in position ready to be used. It is lashed forward of the steering pedestal and then the bridles are already attached and zip ties keep them out of the way. It took me only a couple of minutes to move it around aft of the wheel and in place where I could throw the chain overboard and let it deploy automatically.
2019 saw us ditch the petrol outboard engine and move to electric! This a fairly big move given that we use the outboard every day to get to shore, go fishing, diving and general adventures. Here is what we think!
We like to use our dingy a lot. We often go on little adventures up creeks or along the coast just to see what is about. Sometimes overnight with camping gear. As such the outboard is important! But they’re heavy, dirty and certainly not green. We figured our outboard actually uses more fuel per mile pushing along our dingy than our main inboard engine does on Shadowfax… which is 17 tonnes!
Here are the benefits which attracted us:
- No starting issues
- Zero maintenance
- Lighter weight
- No hazardous fuel to store
However, here were the possible concerns we had:
- Wouldn’t be powerful enough
- Battery wouldn’t last long / have to recharge too often
- Could we charge from our batteries
- Quality / weather resistance
- Attractive to thieves
Ian from Nestaway Boats, the main independent supplier of electric outboards in the UK, gave use some pretty good advice in terms of our four concerns above. The thing is you can tell if someone is trying to sell to you and it was clear the advice was solid and impartial. Anyway on the back of that we choose a Torqeedo 1103 mostly because it is German built and sometimes you can tell a lot about a product but the quality of the plastic. It just seemed higher grade than the ePropulsion alternative.
Anyway lets cut to the chase! We carted it out to the boat which was in the Canary Islands at the time. We decided to go via cargo ship to cut down our carbon footprint so it wasn’t too much drama to get it there. Taking it via plane would have been very difficult due to the very large lithium battery. After 8 weeks using it in the Canary Islands here is what we think!
All the benefits I listed above are absolutely bang on. Starting it is just ridiculous. You press an “ON” button and then twist the throttle, in the same way you would for a normal outboard, and you’re off! Amazingly, to go in reverse you just twist the other way. Gone are the days of needing clean fuel, just the right amount of choke and so on….
Quiet is an understatement. It glides along with a very slight hum. It makes tootling along at just 1-2 knots a lovely experience. For fishing and bird watching, it is a master stroke!
Maintenance is zero. Literally zero. No oil changes. No carb cleaning. Just works. We have taken to fresh water rinsing it after each use but perhaps that will ware off.
Weight wise it was only about 2kg less than out petrol outboard. However… and it is a big “however”… The battery disconnects very easily. So if we want to haul the dingy ashore, or lift it up on the davits, we can just disconnect the battery. This leaves only the prop shaft attached which weigh around 8KG. This also means we don’t need an engine hoist to get it back aboard. This is a big deal!
Not having to store petrol on board is a boon. Petrol is a bloody liability. It goes off, its very flammable and it stinks. We don’t want to store more than we need to which means we need to remember to fill up every now and again. Bye bye petrol!
Lastly and most importantly, it’s green. We’re not burning a fossil fuel, we’re not using up oil and we’re not accidentally spilling petrol in the water whilst trying to refill on the go!
Power was a concern for us. Would it have enough torque to push us along with 4 people in the dingy, against a head wind and some chop! The answer is yes, absolutely. Torqeedo says it is rated for “tenders, dinghies and day sailors up to 1.5 tons”. They also say it is equivalent to a 3hp petrol outboard. I think it is a difficult comparison as a 3hp outboard would struggle on a 1.5ton trailer sailor, lets face it! The Torqeedo basically has more torque than the equivalent petrol outboard but less rotational speed. So it’s not going to get on the plane but it does have the power.
The other concern was battery longevity. Would we be looking at recharging every couple of days? Apparently not. We agreed that it would be best to keep it fully charged where possible but initially we thought it would be a good test to see how long we could go before it really did need charging. 2 weeks later we’re still on 15% charge! Ok we didn’t do big trips but we did use it daily to go ashore, fishing or diving. Either way, we’d have been happy with 5 days between charges!
The outboard comes with a mains charger but what good is “going green” if you’re just burning energy from the mains, which is likely to be generated using some degree of fossil fuels. We wanted to charge from our batteries which are topped up by solar. Torqeedo have a 12v charging cable which appears to be just a cigarette lighter with a 2.5mm jack on the end. They charge a handsome £35 for this!!! I only found out after I ordered it so I was kicking myself. However…. it is very well made and does have screw-in waterproof connector. I’m now eating my words and glad I got it, even if it was £35.
Quality is yet to be seen so we cant really comment but it appears well built and the manufacturer has a good reputation. Also… “ze Germans” built it. Enough said.
Lastly, we knew it could be attractive to thieves. However, the detachable battery is a big deal in this regard. On a couple of occasions we disconnected the battery when we left the dingy for a day to going walking ashore. We then just hid it in a bush. No one is going to steel an outboard where the most valuable bit is missing, and likewise, no one could motor away the dingy without any power.
We do however have a water proof security cable that loops through the battery handle for added piece of mind when leaving it in a town harbour.
All in all we’re really glad we made the investment. With luck it’ll still be ticking along in 10 years, by which time we’d have saved about £250 in petrol and prevented a good deal of carbon entering the atmosphere.
The Canary Islands have been so much more than we expected. From the dramatic volcanic landscape, to huge imposing gorges, to the crystal clear waters… here is an article we wrote for Sailing Today explaining why it captured us for over a year.
Having been back on dry land for a couple of weeks and we have been reminiscing about the latest stage of the trip Western Canaries and probably the wilder Western islands compared to the East, though the landscape is dramatic there too. What looks like small dots on the map amid a huge ocean encompass their own countries or even mini continent of desert, volcano, pine and lush rainforest, often surrounded by flower meadows. This is El Hierro!
Of course a bike is a great way to travel, particularly where there is such diversity of landscape but the small islands have a surprisingly high altitude, rising steeply out of the sky.
A mixture of persuasion and foreign ignorance helped to find our Two bikes on the bus which strictly only allowed ONE! This did make the whole difference or I (or one of us!) would only be remembering a hot sweaty slog up for three days as oppose to abit of up and some then some of the spins of our lives going down through every topography that you can imagine.
At the end of the day we would be camping somewhere. The fun of camping is that you could end up anywhere, I mean really anywhere and that first night was spent on straw in a goat cave surrounded by little candles whose light
glistened off the contoured wall. I practised how I was going to explain and excuse why we were sheltered in the goat herders cave if he was to appear! A coat rested on a stick suggesting it might be inhabited. However, much more surprisingly given it was in the middle of nowhere is when the next day a cleaner appeared and started bustling around with flowers, taking no notice of us and then opening up a shrine with a huge gold framed picture of Mary in the cave next to ours.
As we left with our bikes, around the corner a huge celebration for the church had just started with most of the people on the island arriving who would no doubt have been visiting the caves too so it was lucky we cleared out in good time.
The rest of the day was spent wizzing down passed mini volcanos of all colours, gnarled trees blown over by the strong winds and then twisted around and then salt flats . An abandoned house turned art gallery of bizarre ‘objet trouvez’. Then signs to watch out for rocks slides likely from above the road pitted with where debris had fallen, suddenly our tired legs took as to 30mph without problem.
With the intention to stop for a spot of lunch we came across an area of historic healing waters, lunch inadvertently turned into a longer stay after a little overindulgence. However, during this we were lucky enough to discover one of the islands beautiful ‘charcos’ this is a swimming hole in the sea which is been tastefully installed often using the natural rock and wood to create platforms and steps into the sea. We were only just in time to enjoy it with waves starting to crash in giving an interesting frissant to the swim!
In the next two days a successful circumnavigation of the island was completed by pedal power. Are few more pics!
We’ve done a fair bit of diving directly from the boat in the Canary Islands but La Gomera is particularly good for it due to the various sheltered anchorages which aren’t frequented by other boats or jet skis.
Alegranza is inhabited by only one family and otherwise off limits to tourists. There is however one place you can go since you’re technically not stepping foot on the island nor disturbing the rare birds that call it home! The Hidden Lagoon really is hidden. It’s an old lava tube than ran into the sea from the Island’s single imposing volcano. The roof has collapsed leaving a sun lit lagoon, only reachable by boat or a lengthy swim.
I am by no means a poet or writer so god knows how I came about to do this but somehow I did. We were sitting in bed one morning at anchor and as the sun rose the light danced around the bed sheets. I felt that it was too easy to become used to this amazing thing that only a sailor can appreciate. So I started filming a few clips and then decided to add some words to it.
Since Noway we have sailed down Brittany, crossed to Northern Spain and then Galicia. This piece in Sailing Day, March 2019, gives you a little snapshot!
The interior of Gran Canaria could easily be forgotten when you focus on the tourist developments at the coast. However, a wild and beautiful interior awaits those wishing to get off the road and venture into the volcanic hills! Here is a short trip over a few days via motorcycle…
Brittany was a fantastic mix of secluded anchorages, foraged food, good sailing and scenic cycle trips. Here is a quick mix up of our favourite video clips all in 2 and a half minutes!