Archive for Contessa 32

01 Apr 2012

Final Voyage

1 Comment Contessa 32, Sailing



One dream, one ripped sail, three near collisions, one faulty engine, zero dry clothes, prevailing winds and sea, ten days, the final chapter.

Why did it end … I went back to London to undertake a contract position which led to a job, there was however one remaining hurdle, getting my boat back to Europe.

I had a week to get my boat back and start my new role, so left with haste to La Gomera where Maria (my boat) was parked with a lovely German traveler living on board. He suffered from hayfever and diabetes so I was sure to greet him with flowers and chocolate to thank him (he was boat sitting). He was rather annoyed given the 2 day notice that I would be sailing his home away, his parents were coming to visit him and were planning on staying onboard.

In his fashion he met me from the ferry with a flute, bohohemian raphsody will never sound the same. Maria was floating and it took little time getting her ready to sail to colder climates.

Trip home

All the sailors seeing my frantic frenzy of prepping to head back couldn’t believe I was daft enough to sail against the Canary current and prevailing winds which were at their strongest. I clawed north on the NNE’s waiting for the winds to shift north, then it was time to fly havoc literally…!

Food and rum onboard I left turning straight into the acceleration zone between the islands, 50 knot winds were a great start to my journey home and it took me the best part of a day fully reefed to travel a mere 20 miles.

As the sun set I sailed NNW, the wind throughout the journey was coming directly from the destination I was heading NNE. I was sailing 30 degrees to the wind throughout and heeled a good 40 degress. As I was racing to get back home and start my job I was pushing as hard as one could, a mistake I was soon to pay the price for.

DSCF2684.JPG After 48 hours I finally lost sight of land, I slept  solidly during the day, it took me those two days to get adjusted to being back at sea. The first day in the acceleration zone despite my initial euphoria at being back at sea was very hard going and progress non existent, I was looking at the bucket wondering if my constitution would hold…. bucket has never won!

I met my first tanker of many, on the second night, what could have been my last night. I should mention that my preparation at this point had not been as thorough as it should have,the starboard light was not working which I was to discover at my peril after three near collisions…. It was an HMS supply ship heading to the Carrib, rolled up in bed I heard the AIS sound, this is an alarm that tells me if boat over 300 tonnes is within 15 miles … you don’t ignore that alarm, a noise that still haunts me in my nightmares. I donned my damp waterproofs, grabbed my flares and binoculars, turned on the engine and headed out into the cockpit that was being belted by the crashing waves. I never wore shoes, unless out for prolonged periods… nothing grips like a toe. I saw a long strip of lights that changed to a narrow strip, the worst possible imaginable situation, it was heading straight for me. I ran downstairs looked at the AIS radar, turned on all my running lights (which illumated my sails), ran back up and wondered what was going on. The strip of light became an advancing mountain, the bow wave an unmistakable sign of it’s unstoppable determined approach. I pulled the tiller tacking while throwing the throttle into full power, sails aback I headed straight for the unforgiving hulk. It couldn’t have been more menacing  if it was green, wearing a thong and had a face like Jai McDowal.

DSCF2731.JPG The siren on the vessel was going off, there were people crowding the rail and I passed within 50 meters down the lee side. I sat there in a state of shock, before I reset my windvane, ran downstairs, turned on my radio (which I should always have had on, fishermen were annoying me), and in a voice very unbecoming my current emotions hailed the vessel. Very cordially they answered saying they changed course to pass to what they thought was by starboard as they were under the impression that I was running with the wind, only my stern light was visible to them. It wasn’t until they saw my sails that they realised what was happening and sounded the collision alarm. I couldn’t reply, and remember staring at the radio for what felt like hours, shaking.

DSCF2714.JPG Over the rest of journey I had one tanker turn off all of it’s lights in protest, another created day light with a source that could only have hailed from Boris Johnson’s backside. I was on edge, nights became my days. Why did I only have these encounters at night ………

My savior was a sat  phone which I used every day to keep my parents informed of my location, their help was invaluable. They were able to overlay my location with grib files and tell me what the wind would do in the next 24 hours, allowing me to chose the best tack.

I called up the company where I was supposed to start in 4 days to explain that I wouldn’t be able to make it, the lady didn’t believe me when I said I was in the middle of the Atlantic. Best excuse, and when I did start everyone thought it was a prank.

The sailing conditions for eight days were frantic to say the least, I was ploughing into 2 to 4 meter waves continuesly, sleeping against the side of the hull which was horizontal. I loved it, was cosey the motion repetitive, the undulating motion like a mother rocking you to sleep. It wasn’t all warm and peachy, frequently the water would simply dissapear from under the hull, the boat would crest a steep wave and then like the elixir of life remove the chalice leaving three tonnes to plumage to the water leaving me hovering over the bed and jarring my teeth as we landed.

DSCF2704.JPG I spent 2 days without wind and decided to motor, realising that I had a crack in my fuel filter I spent 6 hours replacing it and bleeding the engine. I felt a little low at this point, at which karma played it’s card and dolphins came to cheer me up.

As I tacked of the west coast of Portugal I entered the shipping lanes, at this point nothing was dry onboard, the temperature had dropped remarkably and the only way I could keep warm was by sleeping naked (dry), my most precious possession was my sleeping bag. This was the roughest part with the sea in turmoil from what I can only imagine was the med and Straight of Gibraltar.

I had 35 knots of apparent wind, way too much canvas and paid the price. When sleeping you are fully aware of your surroundings, I would wake up if the wind shifted and changed. That said I did sleep through a 180 shift of the wind losing 6 hours of distance. On my last 100 miles while sleeping the boat fell into a trough, as we fell I woke and heard a loud crack followed by a rip and the boat righted, a blown out sail. Donning my soaking waterproofs, by this point I was naked all the time, clothing always absorbing moisture.

Riding a bucking horse and clipped in I went to the mast, feet numb with cold knocked flat by waves I put in my third reef. I stayed there marveling at life. How the hell, why the hell is someone doing this, a cork on the ocean, white horses charging at you unforgiving and relentless, wind and sea determined to undermine and here you are obnoxiously rebelling against the forces of nature. I went downstairs shivering opened the rum and saluted the forces of nature … not yet!


I crossed the busiest shipping lane, shared a salute with a Chinese engineer, these lanes are so congested you have a vessel every 500 meters, then there is me trying to cross them doing 2 knots into the waves. Took me a day to cross the lanes, no sleep, outside with my flares wishing they would all sink, at least they pay attention in the lanes, on the open sea they sleep. On the radio every 10 minutes “To all vessels yacht passing with no starboard light at coordinates XXXX, course North” with a silent prayer …. “move”!

The last 20 miles were the hardest, I didn’t have the patience to tack, 20 miles you can smell land, I was wet cold and tired. It was the longest part of my journey, I turned on the motor and at full power was doing 1knot straight up the waves. How long can these waves carry on for, they are coming from land, how can they have so much reach. The waves abated, the wind dropped, I recognised land marks, finally I arrived into port with no wind flat seas. Did I imagine the rest?

DSCF2716.JPG Parents met me with the opening remark “you realise your starboard light isn’t working!”





Maria is now for sale, never will you meet someone more faithful and reliable.

I made mistakes during my trip, most notably, not using the radio to communicate my intentions which stemmed from never trusting those on watch. The experience with the near collision I have gone over frequently and even though I believe they should have maintained their course, they made the right call (one I would have made)… they went upwind of me … they assumed seeing a stern light that I would be heading in a direction away from the wind. Never leave port without checking your running lights!


Trip home

30 Aug 2011

La Gomera – I found Heaven

1 Comment Canaries, Contessa 32

P1000927.JPG I would rate this place as AAA, and yes the A stands for awesome! I arrived in San Sabastian in La Gomera in winds between 40 and 50 knots, my windex clearly felt it I would be releaved not knowing wind speed over 48 knots. At those speeds water being whisked off waves feels like rubber bullets, but I was in my element, the boat simply smiled and bore through the waves begging for more of a challenge sailing 40 degrees into the wind with a hankerchief of my genoa presented to the wind and three reefs in my main. It was impossible to take photo’s, the boat was submersed most of the time. The cockpit was a swimming pool as the cockpit drains fought to remove the water quicker than it entered. I met a plastic tub coming the opposite direction, we passed within 20m of each other, they were clearly not enjoying the conditions as I stood on the stern hollering in delight their response evident by the white knuckles and green faces. My windave worked like a champ, more on this later but I am in love with it especially when it allowed me to sail downwind in 7 knots!!
This was sailing at it’s best and I could have gone on comfortably for days, except for the problem with leaking windows, the engine was useless in these conditions, I couldn’t make more than 1knt with the engine flat out.

So I arrived in San Sabastian, the moment I arrived I knew I found something special, it’s impressive, people here are super friendly, the Marina is almost as cheap as Las palmas 7eu a night and the facilities are the best I have experienced. Food here is real Canaries / Spanish grub and super cheap, rivaling Arracife in Lanzerote. Everyday I have a pint mixed Zumo (smoothy) made from the abundance of exotic fruit for 2eu, Mango’s are only 1eu a kilo. Hamburgers here are 2eu and devilishly delicious everything being home made and filled with plenty of salad.
There are no tourists, except for the day trippers who obediently roll off and on the ferries, the smarter ones driving cars so they can visit La Cedra – the home of Jurrasic park.

10 Feb 2011

Cooking on a yacht

14 Comments Contessa 32, Living

For special occasions the cobb cooker is the chief amongst the hot headed Indians …  it runs on charcoal bricks and puts my oven to shame! The food this thing produces has awed all those who have tasted it and it’s so damned efficient.

On the left it’s opened up for Christmas dinner, with roast potatoes in the bottom next to the coal. It makes the best juiciest ribs I have ever tasted, simply can’t begin to describe how in love I am with this simple contraption. I can use it on the deck of my boat and it doesn’t get hot on the outside which prevents the nasty incineration of my beloved Maria… plus there is no grease!

I have also taken supply of about £300 of food, quite alot of it from a company that deals in selling produce which is ‘defective’ such as incorrectly labelled or even in some cases past it’s sell by date.

Also cooked roasts, cakes and bread. Not a big fan of using the oven and the pressure cooker is a fantastic invention, food tastes great and takes a fraction of the time to cook.

Thought Ben might appreciate these pictures … nom nom

08 Feb 2011

Yarrrgh … we be grounded!!

14 Comments Contessa 32, Sailing

Good times

I took  George and James sailing, two kickass brothers who I had beaten at tennis … mhmm … well I won the tournament. Had 9 knots of wind and made steady progress away from the coast. About two miles from the coast the wind dropped and we made slow progress back eventually turning on the engine.

The tide was an hour after high slack tide 1800, with high tide being 3m I thought I would be safe risking it through the Alvor sand banks… how wrong I was. I headed directly for the green bouy, which you keep on your starboard side. I knew the water was deeper approaching it on the port side, even so we didn’t get far past the entrance before the sand kissed the keel. As the keel drove itself deeper into the sand bank I turned hard to port and tried to drive out of the bank with no success.

I rowed out, after getting the chain wrapped around my outboard, dropped the ketch anchor and started to winch her into deeper water … little did I know we were actually going into shallower water. By the time I had sounded the water around us for the deepest area the water had left Maria firmly lodged in the sand.

Angle is getting steeper.

As the water retreated and the sand drew us deeper into it’s grasp I was worried what would happen having heard stories of water lapping over the cockpit coaming and filling the boat up … I was damned if I was going to lose my boat!! The tide was moving at a steady 3 knots we had 2 hours (2000) till low water and already we were over at 45 degrees.

We had to make a quick decision … we needed beer. High tide would be at 0300, I had no heating, it was going to be a long wait and once the sun goes down the temperature drops to 4C. A local fishing boat took James onboard to complete his quest of acquiring some food and beverages.

By 2000 the water had dropped to it’s lowest and I could walk around ankle deep, I had tried to use the spinnaker pole to keep the hull out of the water … which was a stupid idea. 4.5tonnes versus an aluminium pole is not a fair competition. At 1900 the traveller broke of the rail and we went down to list at a good 70 degree angle.

At this point we are moving pretty much sideways along the boat. We directed James over the phone to Tom who had invited me over to his boat for dinner … I had a good excuse – I was beached 1 mile away. To much amusement and jeering my dinner was kept warm in the oven till I was due back on the high tide at 0300, a bottle of whiskey would be waiting … not to mention the level of mocking only a Scottish man can lay down!

Didn't have the heart to tell George his calls for help would be futile.

Simon another fellow sailor offered to motor James with essential supplies out to us. When they arrived I was walking around the boat and picked up the kedge anchor, 30 meters from the boat, and placed it on our starboard side which was standing high out of the water and would provide the quickest route home once we floated.

Beer, wine lots of episodes of Archer (best TV comedy show – ever) and the incoming tide started to relinquish the sands’ reluctant grasp on Maria returning us from a humorous right angle to a more steady horizontal that took some adjusting to. The boat behaved like the queen of the sea that she is, fully loaded with 350kg of water full to the brim with fuel, jerry cans and food she never let the sea dominate her above the genoa traveller.

Gracefully she stood tall again and scowled me for my doubt in her ability to deal with my inability to navigate through a small 2m trench that could possible have gotten me through on the lowering tide. Humbled I smiled while

All hail hail the heroes Simon and James ... the deliverers of good tidings

shivering at the cold. The warm water and cold air produced ghosts which whisked over the water greeting the bow as she carved her way very slowly through the surreal landscape. As we got to our mooring a shout from Tom on a Rasmus 35 invited us over for a bottle of whiskey at 0200.

Would I risk it again …. yes, did I enjoy it … when I knew I wasn’t going to sink .. yes … it was a great experience and I enjoyed the company.

Gets confusing eating at such an acute angle.

27 Dec 2010

The high seas, the taste of what’s to come!

5 Comments Contessa 32

Well I have been on the water now for two weeks and hit the seas on every opportunity. The marina is full 200+ yachts when we said we were heading out past the break waters they looked at us like crazy idiots. You could hear the sea roaring 2 miles from the coast, the break water and beacons were invisible amidst the breaking waves … game on!

Mike who came to aid me on its first voyage into the deep after its refit was in full wet weather gear, I was still dashing about making sure everything was secure. As we tacked into the breakwaters the first wave to hit us swamped the cockpit drenching me, a quick change into full wet weather gear and we were in the midst of the chaos. The swell was 4 to 6 meters high and it was a confused sea – the waves were coming from all directions, I have never been seasick and hope never to be but I was green and swallowing both my bile and infront of Mike most definitely my pride.

We were fully reefed, this was sailing at its best, drenched and howling as the bow beat into the swell. I couldn’t go below, the motion was sickening .. I am going to have to swallow my pride and buy seasick pills, we were turning on all three axis not pleasant … even the fishermen did not go out in these seas.

A six hour trip lots of squalls amazing sailing, the contessa proved her sea worthiness yet again, she didn’t slam into the valleys of the waves as most yachts that sacrifice beam (width) for increased living space do, her tulip shaped hull penetrated them and obediently lifted her chin above the water before the crest. This was like no roller coaster I had been on and we were in control.

It was so rough we couldn’t turn (tack) unless timing it with the waves, and a contessa can normally turn on a dime. The contessa is a wet yacht and the bilge pump was running over time as water got in via crevices I have yet to discover, most notably however is the gas locker which was terribly designed to allow gas to escape via the transom but also allows water to coming rushing into the locker when on the port tack where the drain exits.

Since then we have been out a few times, the seas have been a lot more timid the wind still gale force with the sleet coming in at 90 degrees and again I am so glad to be out in the contessa, no production boat can deal with those conditions so comfortably. No slapping of hulls just very obediently closed hauled and nicely keeled over … no sea sickness. She sails like a dream!!

I would give any of my 10 fingers for a self tailing winch since hauling the genoa in is asking for any one of them, if you can’t haul in tight before passing the apex of the window it’s a tough winch.

Happy to be alive, happy to have tasted the salty tang of life and confident I can deal with it again. “You would be very unlucky to encounter these seas again” said Mike the skipper … I loved them and as long as my tiller pilot doesn’t pack up on me I would welcome them. Without a wind vane or tiller pilot I would be in despair.

I have yet to learn how to tack with the tiller pilot in those conditions, the only way I can do it is with the tiller between my knees and my hands ripping at the sheets and winch – what I would do for self tailing.

02 Dec 2010

Maintenance is expensive!! – crevice corrosion in the rudder stock ££££

17 Comments Contessa 32

On the trip from Lisbon we identified a vibration in the prop at high RPM this was due to the bearing in the stern tube having about a mm of play. There was also a lot of grease at the point where the shaft enters the back of the engine room via the stern gland or as I like to call it the stuffing box, I was worried that the grease was not going down the shaft and leaking out of the stuffing box instead.

One simple fix ended up very costly. Quite frankly what happened made me feel very nauseous …

Stern gear

Stern gear

We dropped the rudder to get to the prop. The rudder stock had crevice corrosion which occurs due to lack of oxygen in that area. No problem they would split the rudder in half and make a new frame ….

Wet Rudder

Wet Rudder

They cut a panel out of the rudder and vinegar came poring out, acetic acid is the product of osmosis, it was sodden. It’s normal for rudders to get wet, but this was sodden / rotten and since it was 30 years old I thought it best to get the real thing from Jeremy Rodgers yard in the UK. I didn’t want anymore problems ……

So the rudder arrived, but it was too short, the pin in the rudder did not go into the heel plate. I called the JR boat yard and said I would manufacture a bearing, they said they do this on the new builds and apparantly that is where all the weight should be taken, the rudders weight should be on the skeg?!

Rudder HP on pin

Heel Plate on rudder pin

This is the heel plate that sits at the bottom of the boat / skeg and holds the rudder up, now on my last rudder all of the weight was taken on the bronze bearing in the cockpit.

To me, the picture on the left is not a surface you would want the weight of the rudder on, especially since by default that nylon bush wouldn’t be there. Nylon rubbing on a GRP painted surface – no thanks.

Rudder bronze bearing

Rudder bronze bearing

Now this is a surface I would happily have the weight of the rudder on, with this rudder the two surfaces don’t touch.

Not happy mounting the rudder until I find out what’s going on, every tom dick and pedro has their own opinion.

If I hadn’t dropped the rudder I would never have seen this and I might have been fine for a year or two, but by that same token it could have broken in 6 meter seas. Doesn’t make the costs any easier to bear.

25 Oct 2010

On the Hard

4 Comments Contessa 32

It’s been one week and I have pushed her to the edge and broken everything I could, she has shown me her human weaknesses and made me giggle in delight as she defied the wrath of Poseidon. Now it’s my turn to look after her and set her right for crossing the Atlantic. I have professional riggers, sail makers, electrician, painters and surveyors available to help me make the right choices.

As I am a cheap skate, every penny I spend now means less time on the water, as such I went for the cheaper option of getting the Contessa out of the water. You can either get a cradle to lift you out or a tractor —– NEVER use a tractor!

We ended up grinding the keel on the slipway, they couldn’t give a hoot, I silently wept.

Now it’s action time ..

Dave is heading to the Canaries on the 16th of November in his 26 footer, so this is my deadline to get the boat ready. I have so much to do in so little time, it’s like being at work again except it’s my money and the reward is far greater – strange that.


  1. Tidy up the rigging, replace the forestay, create an inner forestay (furling genoa isn’t going to get me back East across the Atlantic) for hanked on storm jib.
  2. Water proof the boat, 2 leaking windows
  3. Fix the vibration in the prop shaft – replace the bushes
  4. New liferaft bracket.
  5. Overhaul the electrics
  6. Oh .. learn to sail.

I will take photos as I do the jobs, hopefully it will help others with similar boats.

I am doing this all on a tight budget! My aim to to make those big spender choke on their GnT’s.

Unknown Territory