Sabi, Standfast 50; Brest, France – Hellevoetsluis, Netherlands September 2022
A really great sail on a very nice boat; learning a couple of things about multiple fuel tanks and thunderstorms
Friday, September 2nd
Together with Barbara and Olaf, my crew for this trip, we left The Hague on Friday 2 September at 12:30 pm by train to Brest. We had to change trains a few times, in Rotterdam, Brussels and Paris, but all in all more comfortable than the plane.
It was a bit exciting because earlier that week there were strikes and practically no train was running but, it went well. The first part of the journey went smoothly on time. The transfer in Paris was different though. We had to get from one station, Gare du Nord to another, Gare Montparnasse. We had an hour to do so. A taxi would take longer than the metro, so we had decided to go by the latter. If you know exactly where to go, which metro to take and how to get from the metro station to the train station, it might be just doable. We had to find our way a bit so when we finally got there we missed the connection by just 1 minute. We saw the train leaving just in front of our noses. Well anyway, the next train was scheduled an hour later. I rebooked our tickets and we were fine.
Once we arrived in Brest, we took a taxi to the (old) marina. Fortunately, the taxi driver was very familiar with the marina and also knew where the visitors’ pontoon was. We had found Sabi in no time. By now it was quarter to 10. Fortunately, Olaf had brought along toast, cheese, all kinds of nuts wine and whatnot for the road and we didn’t have to look for a restaurant first.
The first impression of Sabi was stunning. She is a beautiful ship, perfectly maintained, super organized and very well equipped. This promised to be a very nice trip.
After putting our things away, we went to sleep. We wanted to get up on time the next morning and leave at high tide. The only thing left to do for us was getting bread. Tom and Kiki, the owners had been on the boat the week before and had already brought all the other provisions on board, Super!
Saturday, September 3rd
After checking all the gear with daylight, everything turned out to be up and running. The only thing missing was a locking pin in the shackle of the mainsail halyard. No worries, Tom had several nicely organized boxes with a wide variety of parts on board. So that was fixed in no time. The bakery was around the corner so that too was quickly arranged and at 10:30 we slipped the lines.
The first part was directly against the wind so we had to motor for a bit. By the way, I don’t mind motoring on the first part, it gives me an idea of how the engine runs.
When we got to open water, we set the sails and clausehauled we pointed to Quessant. Initially we thought to bear away before Quessant and steer for Guernsey but once there, we decided to sail around Quessant.
Sabi has a very nice new Raymarine plotter at the helm, but the detailed chart we still had on the screen when we left was now gone for some reason. We now only had the basic chart and that gives little or no information about all the islands and rocky grit between the mainland and Quessant. Moreover, the tide was still falling. In the narrow channel just before Quessant, that gives quite a strong current. Against the southwest wind of 20 kt, this results in pretty freaky waves. No problem to cross but by no means a channel you want to sail into under these conditions without a detailed chart.
Fortunately, we had Olaf’s phone with Navionics on it. That was very helpful though not enough for this channel.
After passing Quessant, we could steer directly to Guernsey. Ona nice 20kts beam reach we were flying! Guernsey is some 150Nm from Quessant. Averaging 9kts SOG, we got there 24 hours after we left Brest.
Sunday, September 4th
The wind was forecasted to remain southerly until sometime in the afternoon. After that, the wind would back to east and later northeast. Monday evening, the wind would then first veer east again before backing to eventually southwest sometime around Tuesday morning. In short, they had no clue. We’d just have to wait and sea and decide along the way.
The plan was to hold our north-easterly course for as long as possible until the wind would back and then steer onto the south coast of England. As forecasted that’s what happened later in the afternoon. The wind backed to the northeast and we steered north pointing close to 35°. Around 23:00 hr. we reached the English coast about 40Nm east of Wight.
All the way north, we saw lightning over France and behind us. It was not just one thunderstorm, it was a whole system of storms. We were expected to outrun it, for the most part at least, given the wind direction, but …. that was not the case, we were slowly but surely being overtaken.
When we reached the English coast, the wind – again according to the forecast – had dropped to 5-7kts and turned east. Just too little to sail comfortably and hold a good course. So we rolled up the genoa and started the engine.
To my surprise, after we turned east, the thunderstorms continued to follow us. I know that thunderstorms often seem to move against the wind. Seemingly because the headwind you then experience is actually caused by the storm system itself, which sucks all the air in. In our case, however, the easterly wind we had was entirely in line with the forecast.
So the system was actually moving ‘against’ the wind. Driven by the upper winds that belonged to a large low southwest and west of England, while the easterly wind we had was part of a small high over the North Sea. The winds from a high actually flow from the top down and spread (diverge) across the Earth’s surface, while the winds from a low go the other way, rising from the surface and converging aloft. So you can have a significant difference in wind direction at sea level and (half) a mile higher at some given time.
Anyway, when the wind suddenly started picking up considerably, we knew what time it was. Just before we had set the mainsail, the squall hit us. 35-40 kt winds and a downpour with 3 cm hailstones. Fortunately, it was over within half an hour and we were down to 5kts of wind and a clear sky. However, the wind during the squall had been a bit too much for the autopilot. While we were busy taking down the mainsail, we also discovered that the chain’s weakest link had broken.
Monday, September 5th
Meanwhile, we were near Dover when suddenly the engine stalled. What turned out to be: tank empty. Tank no 2 that is.
Sabi has two fuel tanks, a bigger one above the keel and a smaller one below in the stern. We sailed on the smaller one which had enough diesel to motor the whole trip when we left.
We did motor for a good part of the night and also the stretch to get out of Brest but we could never have used that much that it could now be empty.
After consulting with Tom, we found out what had happened. He sent me this foto of the diesel status when he left the boat. While tank 2 was now empty, tank 1, according to the gauge, appeared to be fuller now than when we left. The return line from the engine was running to tank 1 and not back to tank 2.
A fuel pump always operates at full power to provide enough fuel for when you would want or need to go full throttle. Any fuel you don’t burn when not going full throttle runs back into the tank via the return line. The other tank in our case. I normally never really run the engine over 18000 rpm. So what happened was that we had pumped much of the fuel from tank 2 over to tank 1 while motoring at an easy paste. Normally Tom for that reason keeps an extra eye on the gauges and switch on the dedicated pump to fill tank 2 from tank 1 when needed.
The wind was still northeast and had not backed any further. We decided to cross the Channel there and steered towards Calais. That was a real nice angle, closehauled and perpendicular to the TSS. It wasn’t very busy in the shipping lanes either. Once we’d crossed the Channel, the wind had indeed backed a bit but was still only 5kts. Until the evening, we motor-sailed most of the time. Then it started to thunder again and this time we lowered the main before the wind picked up. It continued to thunder all night. Most of it passed us by except for an occasional downpour with some serious gusts.
Anyway, the problem was quickly solved, flipped the valve to tank 1, bleed the engine bleed and on we went.
The wind was still northeast and had not backed any further. We decided to cross the Channel there and steered towards Calais. That was a real nice angle, clausehauled and perpendicular to the TSS. It wasn’t very busy in the shipping lanes either.
Once we’d crossed the Channel, the wind had indeed backed a bit but was still only 5kts. Until the evening, we motor-sailed most of the time. Then it started to thunder again and this time we lowered the main before the wind picked up. It continued to thunder all night. Most of it passed us by except for an occasional downpour with some serious gusts.
Tuesday, September 6th
In the morning, the weather cleared and it became a very nice day. Meanwhile, the wind had turned west and also picked up a bit to 15kts. Enough to set all sails and get some nice speed again.
Around noon, we reached the first buoy of the Slijkgat. There we took down the sails. Although the Slijkgat is now well dredged, it is not wider. It’s easier manouvering with the engine than sails. You just don’t want to run aground there.
The stretch of Slijkgat, Goereese lock and Haringvliet took another hour or two and around 14:30 we were moored in Hellevoetsluis marina. Tom, meanwhile, had also arrived. Very happy that we and Sabi had arrived safe and sound again. He had followed us the whole trip via my Garmin, until he had had enough of seeing us where he had wanted to be. Anyway after debriefing and catching up, Tom dropped us off in Ridderkerk. There we could easily take the metro to Rotterdam and from there continue by train back home. By the way, the failure of the autopilot was no surprise to Tom. Another nice job for the winter.
All in all, it was a very nice trip. Barring the thunderstorms at night, we had perfect sailing and during the day we also had very nice weather. Not surprisingly, both Barbara and Olaf were sorry we already arrived. As far as they were concerned, we would have made another round and of course I would have stayed on board too