24th June 2019 – Yachtmasters, at last

Well, this chapter could be titled “How I nearly failed my Yachtmaster Exam” – but instead we’ll settle for “We passed!!”

It’s been a very hectic few months – we completed our Sea Survival course in May – it was really excellent and I can’t recommend it enough. No one wants the first time you see a life raft to be when you really need to use it, so the course was a brilliant addition to our preparations. I hope I never need to see the inside of a life raft again, but if the worst should happen, we’re definitely as well prepared as we can be. Huge thanks again to Kenny and the team in the INSS – a really valuable and worthwhile course. 

The big (for us) news for this post is that we both managed to (just about) pass our Yachtmaster practical exam – and I can confirm that it was as challenging as everyone ever said it would be. The exam itself was a two day affair, starting from Dun Laoghaire on a Friday night, and finishing some 24 hours later on Saturday evening. After a slightly last minute panic when our third candidate pulled out of the exam at the 11th hour, Kenny and the INSS team managed to secure us a new crew member and we all met on the boat on Friday afternoon. Our examiner was flying in from the UK, and due to a slightly delayed flight, we had an hour or two to kill – during which I slowly wound myself up into a mild state of panic. When he arrived, he asked us to do the safety briefing – I offered to do downstairs, and Marty would take the deck. For some reason, everything I’d ever learned seemed to evaporate out of my head, and while I managed to calmly talk my way through most of it, when I got to talk about the flares, I fumbled over everything – not the start I’d been hoping for. 

Shortly after that, we headed out to do some sailing – thank goodness! I took us off the dock in text book style and without incident (and earned myself a little compliment from the examiner, which was badly needed after “Flare gate”. I did a few manouvers bringing the boat alongside the pontoon, and then we went out into the bay and did some sailing – all went well. A few man overboard drills, and a few windward leeward laps, and things felt a bit more relaxed. We went back to Dun L, where Marty brought us alongside (incident free), and we had some food, and talked through my passage plan. I’d elected to plan a passage from Dun L to Kilmore Quay – which in hindsight probably made life harder than it needed to be! However, this was where the hard work and extra effort paid off, and I think I scored a few brownie points for a detailed and comprehensive passage plan – fortunate really, as I would need those later on! More on that later.  While I was doing this, Marty was planning our passage to Malahide, in the dark on a falling tide.

Later that evening, we headed out again after sunset to start our trip. I was at the helm for most of the trip, which passed uneventfully for the most part – we sailed along nicely, Marty handled the navigation and I had a good chat with Examiner Richard, who quizzed us on a few lights, and navigational questions. However – just when you think it’s all going well….Richard asked me to explain what I would do if the steering cables broke. Usually a quick explanation and showing the emergency steering would suffice, but not tonight – so I duly put the emergency steering equipment in place, and continued towards Malahide using our rather heavy emergency tiller for a while. 

We eventually were allowed to go back to wheel steering (much better) but our next challenge came not from the examiner, but by a sticky genoa that refused to furl. So here we were, careering towards Malahide in the dark, on a falling tide, with a stuck jib. Examiner delighted – how would we manage this little gem?! Luckily, everyone kept it together, and set up a solution that would suffice to get us safely into Malahide. Marty had tense few minutes where the depth sounder read 0.0m fairly consistently, but we made it in without nudging the bottom, and I managed to get us tied up to the dock cleanly. By this stage it was about 2am, and we were all ready for bed.

6am rolled round fairly quickly, and after a quick shower to wake up, I set about my own calculations and passage plan to get us back to Dun L. I’d done a few notes in advance, so largely this involved plotting a course, inputting the various waypoints onto the GPS, double and triple checking my calculations for the timing of getting out of Malahide with enough depth, etc. I then had to re-do it all when examiner Richard woke up and asked if we could go to Howth before heading home – a bit more quick maths and some adjustments to my plan and we were all set. The only problem being – we couldn’t get out for another 6 hours! 

And here’s where the not so good bits came. Examiner Richard asked some very tough questions on Radar – especially tough because I think we may have had the “lite” version of that module, and didn’t answer the questions particularly well. Next up was ColRegs – excellent! All that study was going to pay off here – or not so much. Due to what I can only assume was exam nerves, all of the sound signals I’d learnt evaporated from my memory like the morning fog. Not a good start to the day. Following this, now well and truly flustered, examiner Richard asked a few questions on the engine – I manage to breeze through my standard checks (Water, Oil, Belts, Bilges, Electrics, Exhaust), but absolutely froze when questions about the water system in the engine came flying my way. Now absolutely certain I had failed, I took myself for a quick walk up the marina, resisted the urge to fling myself into the incoming tide, then went back to the boat to try and solve the mystery of the non-furling headsail. 

A quick shimmy up the rig for Marty revealed that the furling gear at the top was well and truly broken – and it looked like there was some damage to the forestay itself – no more sailing today.

For a bit of entertainment, examiner Richard asked us to put up the storm sails – storm jib, and the storm tri-sail. Relieved to have a bit of practical activity to do while we waited for the tide to rise, we pottered about setting these up, brought them down, answered a few more questions, and packed them all away. We took a quick walk up to grab a pain au chocolat and commiserate our certain fail, and before long it was time to “suit up” and head back out for the trip home. 

I had taken a slightly cautious approach to my passage plan home, which meant we had a more relaxed exit then entry, and with Marty at the helm, I got us safely out of the channel, past the safe water mark, and gave Marty a course to steer to get us to Howth. The passage passed reasonably quickly, the sun was shining, and I was able to plot our route back without any difficulty. As we approached Howth, I took the wheel again, navigated my way through all the harbour traffic into Howth harbour, picked up a mooring for the fun of it, and then did a quick spin to head back out – directly into the Saturday afternoon racing. Fortunately for me, this provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate that despite my earlier performance, I did in fact know the rules of the road and managed to not crash into any one, and brought us around Howth Head and set a course directly back to Dun L. 

Once safely back in the harbour, boat all packed up, examiner Richard sat us down for the chat I’d been dreading – and to my (great and huge) surprise he said he was recommending us both for a pass. He was very honest, and said that we had come within seconds of failing over the sound signals – but had managed to redeem ourselves elsewhere – but we really need to spend a bit more time on this!

After the debrief and the thank -yous etc, a quick pit stop at home to shower and change – we went straight to the sailing club, where I promptly demolished 4 (large) G&Ts, a large pizza and went to bed for 12 hours.

Until next time….

R&M xx

Tuesday 14th May – Our first passage on ÉALÚ

Well, it’s been a long time between updates, and so much happened in the meantime! I’ve done a quick summary of each key event during those few weeks….

We did our first “proper” passage on the boat over the Easter weekend – we’d planned for a few weeks to head over to the Isle of Man, however unfavourable tides and a declining forecast saw us shift our plans, and we made the 80 mile passage from Greystones down to Kilmore Quay, in Co. Wexford. We left at 6am on the Saturday morning, and spent a lovely day sailing and motoring down the coast. The sun shone all day, but the wind was light, and we needed the engine to help us make a couple of important tidal gates. We arrived on Saturday evening, and after a quick walk around the village, used the oven onboard for the first time to cook our first proper meal aboard – lasagne! 

First cruiser lesson learnt that night – don’t sleep onboard with all the doors and windows closed…. I woke in the night to something dripping on my face, and soaked bedding….. The condensation was out of control! After a quick mop up, and opening the cabin door and a hatch, it was back to bed, followed a short while later by breakfast onboard. 

The next day, the O’Leary clan descended on us, Marty’s Dad Brian, brother Damien and his family were all enjoying Easter in Courtown just up the coast, so they popped down for the day. After a full tour of the boat, and a picnic in the cockpit, we headed off for a walk and an ice cream. Later that evening once the family had retreated, we got fish and chips from Saltees (highly recommended) and by chance met some friends from Dublin in the local pub for a few drinks. We cast off again early on Monday morning, and the strong southerly  that had been promised to blow us quickly back to Greystones never materialised, and we motor sailed into a light northerly all the way back home – doh. 

The boat work continued on, and many of the larger projects at this stage were either completed, or well under way. The autopilot was fitted and fully operational, and we had installed the bars to fit our solar panels. Perhaps most significantly – she was officially renamed! We finally got the new stickers on the stern (2nd time lucky…!)

Over the May Bank Holiday, we had another family outting, with brother number 2 Ross and his family, Damien’s youngest Ethan (who is thoroughly taken with the whole idea of  boat life), and our friend Simon and his daughter. This trip had a special significance for Simon, who was taking his daughter sailing for the first time. We bimbled around for a couple of hours until the children (and Ross) got bored, and then headed back to Greystones for a picnic, where we were joined by Simon’s wife Caroline and their youngest for lunch. 

Once everyone had departed, we had to strip the rig, and get everything ready for the mast to be lifted out. Marty then went down early the next morning with our buddy Shane from North Sails, to crane out the rig, and get all the measurements for the new standing rigging. Once all the stays were measured and removed, the new halyards were run, and once the new wiring arrived, this was all put onto the rig and craned back in to the boat. 

Also during this time, we had now told work that we’re going on the trip, and was probably the most significant shift (so far) for me in terms of the mindset and stress levels in preparing for the trip. My employers in Publicis couldn’t have been more supportive, understanding and encouraging – they really were thrilled for me, and asked me to keep in touch and give them an update before we come home. Having the weight off my mind of keeping the trip to ourselves, and worrying about how work would handle the news has been a huge relief, and it now felt very real – and I could really start to get excited about going away. Having a finish date confirmed also helped to focus the mind on how much we still needed to do before we set off!

The next project was find someone to rent out the house. We did our first run over to Marty’s ever patient parents Brian and Dolores, who had kindly cleared space in their attic for our boxes of stuff. So the house was slowly emptying, and the clear out continued daily.

So it was a busy couple of months, next up was our Sea Survival course, which we’re looking forward to….

Until next time….

R&M xx

Sunday 10th February 19 – Boat Owners and Exams

Well, there had been plenty going on since our last entry – all of the paperwork for the boat was finalised, and we could now officially call ourselves boat owners! This would usually call for some sort of celebration, but unfortunately, at this point, I had been laid up in bed for a full week with the worst flu I’ve ever had, so any major celebrations were put on hold until I was over the worst of it.

We were then just waiting on the registration of the boat to be completed – this seemed to be a very long and drawn out process, which I had started to run out of patience with at this point!

We’d also begun our series of exams with the INSS in Dun Laoghaire. First up was our VHF radio course. This was run over four evenings, with three evenings to learn the material, and a final assessment on the 4th Day. We took on this course for two main reasons – firstly, we both needed to complete the course to obtain a radio operators license – this is a legal requirement, which means we both have the authority to use a ships radio. Secondly – we knew it was going to be very important that both of us were confident on how and when to use the radio on the boat, especially if we ever need to make distress calls from the boat. We also want to make sure we don’t offend any fellow cruisers with poor radio etiquette! Fortunately, we both passed, and spent a couple of weeks waiting for our licences to arrive in the post – eagerly anticipating our results so we could see who did better!! 

Throughout February, every Thursday evening and all day Saturday each weekend was spent with the INSS learning our Shorebased yachtmaster theory – our theory exam was rapidly approaching on 23rd Feb, and to be honest, I’d started wondering how on earth I was going to remember everything! This theory course is being treated as our preparation for our Yachtmaster Exam – a practical exam which takes place over a weekend on the boat. We would need to know everything included on the shore based syllabus for our Yachtmaster Exam, in addition to a large volume of practical boat handling skills. This is probably the part of our preparations I was most concerned about getting right – Marty has been doing all of the practical sort of thing for years – he’s been skipper for many offshore races, so much of this is second nature to him. While I’ve spent my entire life on and around boats, I’d rarely needed to act in capacity of skipper myself. So on the one hand, it was probably more valuable that I do this exam and get comfortable with how to do all of these things by myself – however, the chances of me not passing this exam seemed very high. Marty kept telling me (and I know he is right) that the exam is not the important thing – the most important thing is that I learn and know how to do everything myself. However – logic aside – the idea of failing made me feel very anxious, and was a source of added pressure for me.

The course itself was hugely valuable, and we covered topics like navigation, plotting courses, passage planning, lights and sound signals, position fixing, safety at sea, meteorology, and whole wealth of other topics. Much of this is information and knowledge that we use every time we go sailing, but it was eye opening to see it all formalised, and to see all the additional things that we (and others!) should be doing, but aren’t. I’d highly recommend this course to anyone, no matter what sort of sailing you plan to do. 

We’d also been learning all about our new sewing machine, and had completed a few sewing projects over the recent weeks. We started simple, and fixed a few tears in our fender skirt, and added in some re-enforcement to our lazyjacks, and fixed a few small tears. We then got very creative, and made ourselves a windscoop for our forward hatch, using the head of one of our old SB20 kites. We’d blown this spinnaker up a few months earlier, and even the sail makers didn’t think they could put it back together. For once, holding on to our old bits and pieces paid off, and we were able to give the old kite a new lease of life! We even sewed in some sleeves for a drawstring cord to tie around the hatch – then Marty really started showing off and made a little bag for it to live in. Overall, it seems to have been a great success – the real test will be to see if it actually works on the boat! 

We then tackled one of the larger tasks on our sewing “to do” list. The windows in the sprayhood were very tired, and needed replacing. We ordered some of the window material online, and set about replacing these ourselves. We traced out the window outline, leaving a good margin around the edges, and used this template to cut out the new windows. Using double sided tape, we overlaid the new windows over the existing ones. We left the existing windows in, with the intention of cutting them out once the new windows were in place – this meant that the fabric would all hold it’s shape and would make the whole task much more straightforward. Unfortunately, our sewing machine wasn’t quite up to the task – there was simply too much fabric to pass through our machine, so we had to ask a friend with an industrial size machine to run the stitching around for us. This was a bit annoying – we’d hoped to claim responsibility for the entire project, however at 10pm that Thursday evening, I was secretly relieved that we’d done as much as we could for the night.

In the meantime, the house jobs list continued to grow (Marty finally fixed the handle on the living room door!) and the clear out is an ongoing daily task at this stage. Planning and preparing for the trip had become constant feature, and we were now at the stage where every day has something boat or trip related that needs doing. We’ve also never ordered so much stuff – daily deliveries of various boat bits – hinges for the toilet seat, courtesy flags for each country we plan to visit, a hot knife and gooseneck fittings all featured during this week. While it is exciting and mostly fun, it started to feel a bit all consuming, and it could be a challenge to fit everything in with work, and the various courses etc. We were also really starting to feel the strain of having to save enough money each month – we had reached the point of tallying up our food shopping as we went around the supermarket to make sure we stuck to the weekly food budget! Although we had absolutely no doubt that it will be worth it in the end.

Until next time….

R&M xx

Thursday 3rd January 2019 – Jobs lists

A chilly day antifouling Éalú.

It’s been a busy few weeks! This post was written from the office on my second work day of 2019, after a very busy Christmas season. 

In our last post, I wrote about having the survey done, and we subsequently received the full detailed report. The report didn’t bring up any surprises, but as all good reports should, it did provide us with a list of things that will need attention before we depart. Fortunately, none of these are hugely concerning, and most can be fixed and / or upgraded ourselves. Our list of “watch outs” includes:

  • New cutlass bearing on the prop shaft
  • New prop (we want to switch to a folding, 3 blade prop – this will mean faster cruising when at motor, and when sailing)
  • New gooseneck fittings
  • A good few electrical items – nav lights, some cabin lights and deck lights not working
  • Fitting of an autopilot
  • New Gas tubes
  • Cleaning keelbolts

The other thing we plan to do is replace all the standing and running rigging. The survey didn’t specifically call out that this would be needed, but for our own peace of mind, we’re planning to replace this before we go, and eliminate (some of!) the worry about something failing mid-atlantic!
So, our jobs list seemed to be increasing daily, but we felt very fortunate that we hadn’t yet come across any major issues that would delay our intended departure, or have any huge cost implications to our very limited budget.

The boat was lifted out into the boatyard over Christmas, which gave us the perfect opportunity to do a few jobs below the water line. Marty, with the help of our friend Davy, removed the prop shaft and replaced the cutlass bearing, and we also anti-fouled the hull for the year ahead. This is a particularly grim project, which involves scraping off old paint and any muck / growth from the bottom of the boat, and then re-painting the bottom with a very thick, tar like paint, designed to stop growth on the hull while the boat is in the water. It usually requires two coats, a lot of patience, and from my experience this time, a hat – antifoul paint does not wash out of hair easily! With that mucky task completed, we were just waiting for one new part to arrive, which Marty would fit, and the boat would be lifted back into the water on the 7th January. 

In the meantime, there were a few other things we needed to get in order, aside from the ever expanding list of boat jobs. One of the key things we needed to do, and that would be essential to us being able to actually make the trip a reality was renting out our lovely little house in Greystones. We planned to find some nice tenants willing to take the house on a one year lease, and that meant that we had a (long) list of jobs to do on the house, to get it ready to let. This included things like painting, clearing out all of our accumulated belongings and finding storage for them, and tidying up the garden. With the list of jobs getting larger every day, we were now trying to assign time for each job, and work things through one at a time – in hindsight, this was easier said than done!

So in summary, I think it would be fair to say that at this point, we entered into the less fun phase of the planning – saving as much money as we could meant we’d really cut back on all things we’d consider treats (meals out, drinks with friends, clothes, shoes, holidays etc) and we were selling as much stuff as we could. We spent a lot of time clearing out and de-cluttering every room in the house, and being ruthless with what we kept.

But on the plus side, at this point the dream was starting to feel very real, and we were putting more concrete plans in place. My christmas presents this year largely involved books for cooking on board, and I’m very excited about the prospect of working out a new way to live in our floating home. 

We had a busy few months ahead of us, with our full time jobs, some fun sailing planned in Miami in January and March on the Melges 24, our list of boat and house jobs, and in addition to that, we were also booked in to do three courses over the next few months, including our VHF radio course at the end of January, our Yacht Master course throughout February (every Thursday night and every Saturday) and our sea survival course in March – detailed posts on each of these to follow.

Until next time….

R&M xx

Buying a boat!!

I’m not sure where the idea of our sailing adventure started. It’s always been something we’ve talked about over the years, initially as some abstract idea in the distant future, but gradually forming itself into a real and tangible plan, with spreadsheets and budgets and paperwork and route plans. 

There have been many steps in the journey which precede this point, but today I decided that I wanted to document our journey, so that hopefully, we can look back in years to come on what we did. 

Today was also a key date in the process – survey day. After doing a lot ( I mean really, a lot) of research on what types of boat we might want for our great adventure, it was actually by pure chance that a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35 came across our path. I should add at this juncture that very fortunately for us, Marty’s brother is a yacht broker here in Dublin, which opened up additional avenues to the traditional yacht search. Having viewed the boat a couple of times, we’d already made a provisional offer on the boat, which the owner had accepted. The offer was subject to a satisfactory survey, which brings me back to today’s key milestone.

It was a very cold and blustery day in Dun Laoghaire, and we met the surveyor at midday at the boat yard, where the boat had been hauled out on to the hard and was resting in the slings. Again, very fortunately for us, we had a sailing friend who was a qualified (and very experienced) marine surveyor, so the process, although very thorough, was very informal – if a bit chilly! The survey is carried out to determine whether there are any issues with the boat, including the structural soundness of the hull, keel and rudder, osmosis etc – generally, anything fundamentally wrong with the boat. The preliminary findings were very positive on the whole – we’ll wait for the full report, but so far, so good. We did find that there was water in the rudder, but apparently this is very normal, and in most cases can be resolved by drilling holes in the bottom, and letting the water drain out for a couple of weeks. We’ll have a better idea once the full report comes back but in general, we didn’t find anything overly concerning. 

Now that the survey is completed, we have to wait a few days for the full report, at which point it will be decision time!

Welcome to our Blog!

Hi there, and welcome to the Sailing Éalú blog! Since we decided to take the leap and head off on our little boat, we’ve had so much interest from family, friends and colleagues about our plans and what we’re up to, that we decided to keep a blog of our travels. Here you’ll be able to keep up with where we’ve been, our exploits along the way, and no doubt the challenges we’ve faced as we make our way South to the Canary Islands, and towards the sunny Caribbean.

This blog actually started several months ago, as my own personal ramblings about the journey we’ve been on – starting from deciding to take the leap, searching for and buying a boat, trip planning, logistics, exams and qualifications we’ve undertaken, and the trials and tribulations of planning a trip like this around our current “real life” jobs.

We hope you enjoy following our adventure!

Rachel & Marty xx