Impressions so far. Grey Wanderer and the equipment we chose for her.

WARNING…Contains technical detail which may be of limited interest to non-sailors !

After the first 2 month’s of continuous use the boat has really exceeded our expectations in most areas. The general quality of Alubat’s construction is good, and the boat has an overall feeling of being well built. The quality of the standard equipment is high, Alubat have not skimped on the use of premium brands (like Lewmar deck gear), and she feels well up to the job. She has lots of stowage space which bodes well for our future plans. There are a few niggles to be sorted out, which is only to be expect a new boat, but all things considered we are very pleased with her.

Under sail:

The boat is closer-winded than we expected, and although no racer when we had the right conditions we got some fast passage times. Already we are aware that we need to improve the light wind sailing performance, as this is one area that will help us to reduce fuel costs by keeping up our sailing speed rather than resorting to the engine when the wind drops. We are currently looking at a furling Gennika as possibly the most versatile light wind solution. We want to avoid carrying too many additional sails, and this looks like a good compromise for improving up and down-wind performance with one sail.

Under power:

As you would expect with a fairly high sided hull with a narrow keel profile, you need a lot of turning room to get her bows through the wind in anything other than fairly calm conditions, and strong cross-winds are a bit challenging. I don’t think she is worse than a lot of other boats in this respect, but we’ve already learned to plan carefully in tight harbours to avoid situations where this could be a problem. She compensates to some extent though by being very handy in reverse. The 4 blade Darglow Featherstream prop really grips with very little prop-walk in astern, and with it’s feathering action we know it isn’t slowing us down under sail. Top piece of kit.  The Nanni 38hp diesel provides plenty of power, and we can easily cruise at 6kts. I have worked out the fuel consumption to be around 2.4 litres/hr at cruising speed. The Nanni is a marinised Kubota unit, as used worldwide for industrial applications. Changing filters/ oil etc has so far been straightforward with good access. The only slight issue being an oil drip from the raw water pump which we are hoping to resolve shortly under warrantee.

Domestic equipment:

The cooker, battery charger, cabin lighting etc. is all good quality and works well. The LED cabin lights seem just as bright as the halogen bulbs fitted to our last boat, except now the power consumption is minimal. A great step forward. The fridge is worth a special mention. On our previous boat the fridge used so much power that it was really only viable for short spells on battery between marinas where the boat could be plugged in. But the Isotherm unit we have on GW will go a couple of days without draining the service batteries. It has a feature that senses the battery voltage, so when you are motoring or plugged-in to shore-side power it goes into freeze mode and freezes the hold-over plate, it then runs in economy mode while the batteries are not being charged. We had some very hot weather in South Brittany and it worked very well, even when we were out on mooring buoys for a night or two with no shore power. The most significant missing item from our domestic inventory was a sun-awning. At times it was very uncomfortable without one, and it’s high on the list of things to make/buy this winter.

The only issue on the domestic aspect of the boat was the holding tank arrangement for the loo, which Alubat have engineered to be in “pass-through” mode even when you are at sea and not using the tank. It backed-up once while we were away with the inevitable unpleasantness…..  We are going to have to do something about improving this system before we sail much further. Most boats have a diverter valve system which allows you to select tank or pump-out, this is a lot less prone to blockage. I’ve been on charter boats plumbed up like ours, and although it seems like a simple system with no potential for “operator error”, ultimately it’s more likely to give trouble.  It also didn’t escape me that this is a cheaper solution to implement…..  It’s high on the list!

Electronics:

We went for all Raymarine equipment based on positive experience with previous boats. The electronic navigation technology has come on to a whole new level since our last boat. Although we still use paper charts as a back-up, the clarity and ease of use of the Navionics software and the Raymarine e95 plotter was a revelation. Having it in the cockpit took a lot of stress out of complex pilotage. We are wary of over reliance and still stuck to the old transits etc. as our primary pilotage aid when entering rock-strewn Brittany harbours, but the plotter display gives reassuring confirmation.   The other item worth mentioning is the autopilot. On previous boats these had never really been more than a device to take the boredom out of steering under power in a flat calm, the APs not being powerful enough to steer the boat under sail in much of a blow. This time we went for a man-sized hydraulic pump and ram powered by Raymarine’s Evolution AP system. It really handles the boat well on all points of sail, and being permanently connected up it’s just one button to push to engage the AP. We soon found ourselves using it most of the time! There is obviously a battery capacity limit to using an electric AP, but for the sort of passages we are planning in the foreseeable future this will not be an issue. A great piece of kit and well worth having.  We also fitted AIS for the first time, and it has already won us over as a great piece of safety equipment. An unexpected spin-off benefit was enabling friends and family to track our progress. It was strange to get an email from my Dad saying “Hi, I see you have arrived in harbour x”. You can keep on adding electronic gizmos to boats, we’ll try and resist the temptation, but Navtex and possibly Radar will be added this winter.

We had one problem with our new Raymarine kit, an intermittent wind instrument display. This is being resolved currently by our local UK Raymarine agent who was very helpful and responsive, despite not having installed/ sold the equipment originally. Having made such a big investment in Raymarine the ease of invoking the warrantee was reassuring.

The biggest disappointment on the tech-side was my trusty hand-held Garmin 62s which I have owned for a few years. It was on-board as a back-up GPS and also as a means of monitoring barometric pressure, having not yet fitted a conventional barometer on the boat. Unfortunately it died during our last week on board and all attempts to revive it have failed. I’ll try a Garmin repair, but it may be un-economical. Annoying, as I love this little device, it’s so intuitive to use and so accurate.

Ground tackle:
We want to equip this boat for extended living independently from the shore, so a good anchor is essential. Our all time favourite anchor was the Bruce which we spent many nights hanging off on our trip to the Med. But as these are no longer available we researched the “new generation” anchors and invested in a Manson Supreme as our main bower. (Still have a old smaller Bruce as a Kedge kindly gifted by our friends Les and Sheila). There is a big price differential between branded anchors with patented designs and generic copies, but we’ve had bad experiences with copy CQRs which we could never seem to set, so we were happy to pay the premium for a reliable anchor. After all, it’s your ultimate safety device on-board. I’ve got to say that so far the Manson lives up to the hype. I suspect our anchoring technique is a little rusty, but even so it has set first time on the occasions we’ve used it and given us a good night’s sleep. We’ve yet to try it in more than about 20kts of wind, but on the occasions we used it so far it didn’t budge an inch.

Other equipment which has really surprised/ delighted us:

I had never owned a proper pair of boat binoculars. Over the years I’ve had a couple of old hand-me-down pairs which probably originated from Boots or similar. Then Jane gave me a pair of Binolyt 750s for Christmas this year. (If they are good enough for the RNLI they are good enough for me!) They have a built-in compass which makes taking bearings on distant objects a breeze, and they are so much clearer than my previous old pairs. For the first time I was able to pick out the transits for L’aberwrach straight away as we approached. Same at Treguier, both being notoriously difficult to spot. I went on to repeat this feat in a few other places too. Once I realised how good they were I was using them all the time.  These are definitely a great navigational asset, and compensate for my eyes not being quite as sharp as they used to be when searching for distant buoys etc. Top kit!

Mastaclimba. We purchased one of these at the boatshow last year. It was a complete impulse buy. The salesman talked me into trying one on a short demo mast that was rigged on their stand, and I was so taken with it that I ordered one on the spot. It then took ages to arrive as they were inundated with orders, but what a great device! I just used it for the first time to go up to the masthead and fit a windex. In the old way of doing things Jane would have winched me up the mast inch-by-inch. It would have taken 15 minutes and been very hard work for her. (We do share mast ascending duties, but if there is any “engineering” to do up there it’s usually me who goes up). With this nifty device I was able to climb the mast myself in about 2 minutes with Jane just taking up the slack in the halyard on my Bosun’s chair every time I “stood up” on the mastaclimba. (A bit like someone belaying a rock climber). It’s made by a small company who have seen a gap in the market and developed something that really works. It’s absolutely ideal for couples where winching power is at a premium. Recommended! See their website at http://www.mastaclimba.com for a better explanation of how it works.

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