A favorable weather window for our trial run to Seymour Narrows finally materialized Friday morning, May 12. With over a year of preparation behind us, we would soon find out if Nice Pear was remotely ready for the R2AK challenge. The forecast was for southeast winds, ranging from 5-18 knots, at various points along the course.
Not surprisingly, we cast off from Oak Bay Marina and motored out into a dying northeast breeze, and an ebb current gradually pushing us toward Juan da Fuca Strait, instead of Haro Strait. We tried sailing for a bit, then went to the trusty Honda 2 hp outboard. About an hour into the voyage, we were able to start sailing, under full main and screacher.
Early on in the Pear Shaped program, we’d debated the wisdom of installing a tiller pilot. Of primary concern was the added weight of a battery and solar charging system. But being doublehanded, we recognized the potential value of having that extra “arm” available, to free the on-watch crew to move about the boat under appropriate conditions. In practice, the Simrad TP-10 immediately proved it’s worth, steering the boat under power while the Canadian and I poured over the wind apps and electronic charts, trying to figure out where we should be going, in light of the less-than-cooperative conditions. For those not following our Facebook posts, the tiller pilot is connected to a 12 volt, 10 amp hour lithium ion battery, from SolaCity. The battery is, in turn, connected to an Aleko 40 watt flexible solar panel, via a Mohoo PWM solar controller, with a 30 amp in-line fuse between the battery and wiring bus bar, to protect the entire set-up. The Aleko panel sits on the foredeck, just ahead of the rope clutches, with the MC4 cabling running through a watertight fitting to the cabin below.
The Simrad TP-10 draws only 0.5 amp hours, under normal usage, and under the limited duty it saw, during the trip, we found the Aleko panel was more than keeping up with the power consumption. One additional note: along with being inexpensive, the Mohoo charge controller features two USB charging ports, that will draw from either the solar panel or the battery. We mounted it just above one of our storage bags, in the cabin, enabling us to charge tablets and mobile phones, while the Goal Zero Venture 30 storage packs charged off the two Nomad 20 watt solar panels on the trampolines. We use the Venture 30s to quick-charge the three Samsung 10.1″ tablets running our Navionics+, SailGrib and wind forecasting apps, at night.
The forecast consensus was for southeasterlies, but the breeze in Haro Strait had a significant east / northeast component – shy enough to keep the UK Sails A2 in the bag, but aft enough to fly the Smyth screacher. Our initial plan, for the trip, was to head to Active Pass or Porlier Pass, basing our decision where to exit into Georgia Strait on the state of the tidal currents. But passing Stuart Island, the breeze began to pick up and it looked very much like we’d soon be beating up inside North Pender, in increasingly squally conditions. The emerging scenario suggested this could well be one of those extremely rare occasions when opting to exit south of Saturna Island might actually be a prudent call. The dark and ominous rain showers, descending from the west, made the decision easier, as we cracked off onto a beam reach, the screacher driving us along at 10-11 knots.
Transiting past Saturna, we had our only white knuckle moment of the trip. The wind was up and down, in the 12-16 knot range, with flat water, and the Pear was in her element. But every few minutes gusts in the 18-22 knot range came rifling down the channel, pushing the apparent wind into the low 30’s. The screacher was not the right sail at those precise instants, and the Canadian made his annoyance known by declaring, in his typically understated manner: “We are in the death zone.” Of course, this was not the optimal time to discover that the mainsheet cleat angle was sub-optimal for quick release. Nor was it convenient to learn, as the leeward hull buried itself up to the crossbeam, that the “sheet” to be blown was attached to the screacher, not the main. This brief misunderstanding resulted in a quick peel to the AP jib, without much loss of forward progress.
The promised southeasterlies gradually appeared, to our great relief, as we rounded Saturna Island and pointed our bows towards Tsawwassen. Now the UK Sails A2 spinnaker could make its appearance, pulling us nicely up the Georgia Strait. With the Pear making a comfortable 8-11 knots, we were able to gauge the effectiveness of our t-foil rudder enhancement, designed and implemented by Brandon Davis, at Turn Point Design.
The purpose of the t-foil rudder, on the Multi 23, is to dampen pitching, at speeds of 9 knots and greater, and to reduce the tendency of the bows to dive in waves. This, in turn, should result in better overall performance averages, offsetting any additional drag. And, yes, adding C-foils was discussed, but ultimately vetoed by Team Pear Shaped accountants. When we initially sailed with the t-foil rudder, we encountered unexpected weather helm and a decrease in upwind speed, for the conditions. After fiddling with sail trim and mast rake, a quick glance over the transom revealed that our fool-proof rudder lock had, once again, malfunctioned, allowing the rudder to shift to a non-vertical position. A quick trip to Blackline Marine, for a date with a drill press, finally laid this recurring issue to rest – with a stainless steel bolt through the rudder and rudder cassette (removable, if necessary, for portaging).
Meanwhile, in Georgia Strait, steering was fingertip light, without the slightest hint of weather helm. The boat didn’t seem to be pitching but the waves were not very large and the boat was moving fast through the water. In short, it wasn’t possible to determine whether the winglets were having an effect, so we’ll have to wait for more suitable conditions to make that determination. They certainly didn’t seem to negatively impact boat performance, however.
As we made our way north, we gybed off Vancouver and steered a course between Lasqueti and Hornsby Islands, still under the A2 spinnaker. The weather had been delightful, once we were in Georgia Strait, but as the sun went down the temperature gradually diminished, sending us to gear bags for additional layers. Up to this point, we hadn’t resolved sleeping arrangements. The Canadian fabricated a carbon bunk in the cabin, but sail and gear stowage rendered accessibility difficult. The cockpit floor – in the absence of the pedal drive system – was accommodating, as were the trampolines. Throughout the evening and ensuing morning, we would try all three options, learning the relative pros and cons of each. One key lesson, however, is that trying to sleep without recourse to the bivy-encased sleeping bag was a losing proposition, particularly as the temperature dipped to 6C / 43F, with the associated windchill. The Canadian and I both tried doing so, in the cabin, atop the screacher, separated from the icy cold waters by millimeters of fiberglass, and suffered accordingly. I gave the cockpit a try, in my Typhoon PS-300 Extreme drysuit, and ended up chilled to the bone. Ultimately, the bivy-sleeping bag combo, on the trampoline, proved to be the winning combination, though we expect that pairing to work well in any onboard location. Another benefit of the bivy bag, in its camouflage configuration, is it renders the sleeper invisible to the untrained eye.
Despite the miscues with sleeping arrangements, we survived the night thanks to a steady stream of hot tea, freeze dried food, and noodle bowls, courtesy of the JetBoil cooker, mounted in the Canadian’s custom carbon galley (not a factory option on the M23). The jury is out on the freeze dried food, but the noodle and oatmeal bowls were quite delicious.
We were able to carry the spinnaker through the night, as the breeze ranged from 12 knots down to zero, on occasion. At one point, in the pre-dawn hours, we executed two 360 degree turns, tacking through one shift, with spinnaker up, then gybing through a second, a few minutes later. Finally the breeze settled down and propelled us past Courtenay and within sight of Campbell River, as the sun came up. With ten miles to go, and the Canadian snoozing in the bivy bag on the trampoline (see picture at the top), the wind died completely. It seemed an excellent opportunity to test our auxiliary SUP paddle propulsion system, so I extracted one of the two paddles, switched on the tiller pilot, and proceeded to paddle towards what turned out to be a permanently retreating wind line. Fifteen minutes later, I summoned the spirit of Honda, and soon had us motoring to Campbell River at 5 knots, waking the Canadian in the process.
A brief stop at Discovery Harbour Marina, to allow for the current to change, and we headed north towards Seymour Narrows, our final destination for this practice run. The wind showed no sign of appearing, so we had to motor the final 90 minutes, arriving in the Narrows just as the tide turned to flood, dramatically diminishing our forward progress. We managed to get close to Brown’s Bay before bowing to the superior force of nature, and turning back to Campbell River, where we moored the boat.
Tomorrow, we head back to Campbell River to fetch the boat home on the newly refurbished trailer (courtesy of Custom Hitch and RV). This will give us the chance to demount the boat, check all the attachment points, complete some final modifications and upgrades, and prepare the boat for the main event, on June 8, 2017.
Summary of lessons learned:
- All in all, the systems we installed work quite well, though there is a lot of string in the cockpit and additional line bags may be in order.
- Despite our best intentions, we did not do a good job of hydrating or ingesting warm food and beverages early on in the trip, resulting in both of us getting colder than we should have.
- Navigating with the tablets and mobile devices worked very well, and the charging systems performed as we hoped they would. Navionics + is really easy to use, even when accessing a tablet or phone through an Armor-X waterproof case.
- The Navisafe battery-powered navigation lights proved rather disappointing. While they’re plenty bright, and easy to operate, they rely on magnetic mounts that are not sufficiently strong – on two occasions, the spinnaker dislodged the starboard light, the second time depositing it in the water and leading to an impromptu MOB exercise to retrieve it, under sail. Finally, while deploying the outboard, we inadvertently lost the stern light overboard and couldn’t retrieve it. We plan to install tethers on all three lights, and construct lens hoods to reduce the amount of glare coming aft, which negatively impacted night vision.
- The Simrad TP-10 worked well, though we only used it while motoring and, briefly, with the A2 flying in light breeze. It needs to be adjusted to reduce responsiveness, as it’s a bit “busy” in default configuration. Great to have available, when needed, but no substitute for manual helming. The pilot only draws 0.06 amp hours in stand-by mode, so leaving it on and ready for action is not a problem.
Stay tuned for a final evaluation of preparatory efforts, including the pedal drive installation. We’ll also have a lot to say about the many people who have helped us, and without whose assistance we’d be watching the R2AK on telly.