Sophie is One Knot Faster With Her New Sails

Greetings from our anchorage at Isla Graciosa in the Canary Islands!

We have sailed 1,000 miles since our last update from Ibiza, with stops along the Spanish coast, Gibraltar, and Madeira on our way here. Sophie and her crew are very excited to be doing ocean passages again, and we think we will be ready for our big Atlantic crossing next month.

Here is what’s going on with Sophie as we continue to get ready.

New Sails!

While we were in Gibraltar, we upgraded Sophie’s mainsail and genoa. We think the new sails have added a knot of boat speed to Sophie, which is a big big deal for us.

Our old main and genoa came with the boat when we bought her almost 10 years ago. They’ve served us well during this time, propelling us 3/4 of the way around the globe without any major tears.

But over the years, these two babies became tired, baggy, and a little threadbare. Jenna and I were worried we would suffer a major blowout during our Atlantic crossing in January, so we decided earlier this year to replace them. After 10 years of service, these two sails had given us all they could give.

Taking them off one last time was a family affair. Sophie’s sails are big suckers. The main alone is almost 1,000 square feet.

For our new sails, we worked with Phil Auger from Zoom Sails in Malaysia. We met Phil when we were in Langkawi a couple of years ago, and we are extremely happy with his work. He designed a new square-topped mainsail for us as a replacement for our big roach original main, and he did so in a way that enabled us to use our existing battcars and 5 of our 6 original battens.

The new main weighed 80 kilos and arrived in a box bigger than Hazel!

Phil used the same approach Lagoon uses for the top of the square-topped mainsails, with a length of Dyneema rope running through two ring bolts on the top battcar. This enables the sail to lie flat while in the bag and snug to the mast when raised, regardless of the reef. The result is a great shape with more power.

The new main has three reef points, just like the old one. We replaced the reef blocks and reef lines, and on our 270 mile run from Madeira to the Canaries we reefed multiple times with ease. There is much less friction than before.

The new genoa is the same basic size and shape as the original one. We opted to forgo the window this time because the old one kept tearing. We also went with a blue Sunbrella UV strip that matches the blue of the mainsail bag and bimini.

All in all we are very happy with this work. Both sails are made from high UV resistant dacron. They feel stiffer and stronger. Phil was able to do all of the design work remotely, and he was very responsive throughout the entire process. We are happy customers.

So why do we think we are a knot faster? It’s mostly a gut feeling based on multiple moments on our Madeira-Canaries run this week. When we departed the Quinto Do Lorde Marina 3 days ago, we were immediately hit with 25-30 knot winds directly on the beam along with steep 2 meter seas. With 2 reefs in the main and 1/3 of the jib rolled in, we sailed at 9-10 knots. Later on that day with 15 knots of apparent wind on the beam with 1 reef in the main and a full jib, we sailed at 8 knots. A day later with 10 knots apparent wind @ 70° with full main and jib, we sailed at 7 knots. This all felt faster to me and Jenna and reminded us of how Sophie sailed when we first bought her. The sagginess of Sophie’s old sails clearly affected her performance. 

Sophie’s sailplan is based on a very large mainsail and a smallish foretriangle for the genoa. Newer Lagoons use a more balanced design where the mast is located farther aft, reducing the relative size of the main compared to the foresails. I think the square-topped main adds more power to Sophie, especially when reefed. Since Jenna and I reef much more frequently than we did when we bought the boat, this added power actually translates to more speed with greater stability and safety in winds greater than 15 knots because that is when we start reefing.

Like I said, we are very happy with these sails

Newish Spinnaker


In addition to our new main and genoa, we also bought a second-hand, barely-used Parasailor spinnaker from some friends earlier this year. This sail is sized for a Lagoon 450, so it is small for Sophie. That’s perfect for us. For the last 5 years, Jenna and I have been looking for a solution for straight downwind sailing in 15-30 knot winds. Our existing spinnaker is too big for winds at this speed, and our other three sails are suboptimal for wind at this angle. The Parasailor has a foil cut into the middle of the sail, giving it lift in lighter air and resilience during heavy gusts (because the wind blows through the hole in the middle of the sail.) Friends who own Parasailors love them, so we decided to buy one. The price was right, and the previous owner even threw in some extra sheets and blocks as part of the deal. 🤣

Our exit from Gibraltar provided us with the perfect opportunity to test the new chute, and again Jenna and I were very happy with the results. The wind blew 20-30 knots in the Strait as Sophie sailed dead downwind into the Atlantic at 8-9 knots. With our big chute, these winds would give us white knuckles and heart palpitations while we constantly worry about when we should take it down. The new chute felt stable and controlled in this situation. It didn’t jerk around in gusts, and the foil provided lift to Sophie’s bows, giving us a bit of a surfing feel. 

The wind died down  after the first 50 miles, and we decided to leave the new spinnaker up overnight. This is the first time we’ve done this without additional crew on board. This sail is a great new option for us and will hopefully cut a day or two off our Atlantic crossing time next month.

Other Preparations in Gibraltar

By the time we reached Gibraltar, it had been 18 months since Sophie had sailed in the open ocean. Jenna and I wanted to make sure that the boat was once-again passage-ready, so we went through our usual series of pre-crossing checks.

For starters, we had local riggers Sean and James inspect our mast and rigging. They believed that our rig was tuned too tightly, resulting in some extra bend in the mast. They also discovered that some of the bolts that hold the mast to its supporting compression post in the cabin had come loose. Yikes!


There were no signs of cracks, water leaks, or structural damage in the area. We also contacted Lagoon, and they did not indicate it was a problem. So we tightened the bolts and re-tuned the rig with less mast bend.

Sean and James also discovered that one of our diamond stays – the steel cables that hold the mast in column – was showing signs of deterioration so they replaced it. They also machined some new bearings for the gooseneck on the boom. It now wiggles a lot less.

We replaced all of our running rigging – the ropes that we use as sheets, halyards, reef lines, guys, and traveller controls. We had some of these custom-made in England.

Finally – and one could argue most importantly – we had our liferaft inspected and recertified. It still looks brand new. Hope we never use it!

While we were in Gibraltar, we were able to carve out the time to for a 2-day visit to Cordoba and Seville. Other than that, we worked 10 hour-days getting Sophie ready for the Atlantic. Just getting the new sails off and on took 3 days! We were so busy we didn’t even have time to climb The Rock, tour the tunnels, or see the monkeys. That’s really sad, so we will have to come back.

Thunk Thunk Thunk in Madeira

We enjoyed an uneventful 600 mile/4 day run in the Atlantic Ocean from Gibraltar to Madeira. Other than the downwind sleigh ride in the Strait of Gibraltar, the highlight of this passage was a “double takedown” of two mahi mahi at the same time.

It was a funny catch. Leo was at the wheel when a fish hit our lighter pole. He stopped the boat, yelled FISH FISH FISH, and started reeling her in. I was below taking a nap and  came up to reel in the line on our other pole. We do this so the lines don’t become tangled. I soon realized that I had a fish on my line as well. Leo’s fish was 4 pounds, and mine weighed 22 pounds. Ha!

They both tasted delicious. Leo is certainly getting big, isn’t he?

We chose Madeira because my daughter Sara and her wife Julie had planned a big reunion there for November. Julie’s father grew up in Madeira, and we had 8 people from the US fly in to join 20 cousins, aunts, and uncles who live in Madeira for two weeks of family meals and celebrations. We had an absolutely wonderful visit which we will hope to cover in another blog post.

So why the thunk thunk thunk?

Well, as part of the two week reunion we invited 25 souls to come join us for an outing on Sophie. It was a calm and sunny day, and we thought we’d go out for a bit of a sail, throw a couple of lines in the water, and maybe catch us some fish.

So once we had everyone on board, I fired up the engines and heard a loud, crumbly Thunk Thunk Thunk noise from the starboard side. It didn’t sound right at all, so I killed the engines and went outside to see if a neighbour on a powerboat had started his loud, poorly-tuned diesel at the exact moment as I did. Nope. So I tried one more time and heard the exact same noise. I quickly killed the engine, went to examine it and found it was askew by 5 degrees. I knew immediately that it had jumped it’s mounts, the steel and rubber “feet” that connect a diesel engine to the hull of a boat.

Brand new engine mounts look like this.

Sophie’s starboard engine mounts on the afternoon of the party looked like this.

Believe it or not, it was a relatively easy repair. Jenna was heading to the States for a few days to attend her sister Julie’s baby shower, and we made sure she returned with four new engine mounts. The local Yanmar dealer sent a couple of guys over – one of them was a big fella – and they simply used a lever to lift the engine up a few inches to get enough space to swap out the mounts. There was no damage to the sail drives or hulls.

All four of the old mounts looked like this.

Needless to say, we were ridiculously lucky that this happened to us while on a dock. The mounts had slowly rusted during the last 10 years, and at our dock in Madeira there was a strong, sharp sideways surge that, over the course of a week, slowly nudged that engine off it’s mount. The mounts on the port engine were also completely shot, but that engine hadn’t moved. If this failure had occurred at sea in rough weather, we could have experienced some significant damage.

The good news is that our afternoon outing on Sophie was still a complete success! I took everyone out for dinghy rides; people enjoyed the marina’s salt water swimming pool; and we even had a bit of a dance party.

We had a wonderful visit to Madeira and made some lifelong friends. Jenna, Leo, Hazel, and I cannot begin to adequately express our gratitude for the wonderful hospitality this big beautiful family showed us. We’ll be back. Many, many times.

Now we are on the northeast corner of the Canaries anchored by a beach in a marine reserve. There are ten other boats here, and I assume they will all be crossing the Atlantic in the next 6 weeks.

We also met here the rarest of rare commodities on our extended adventure: an American family with kids out cruising on a catamaran. The boat’ s name is Ventus, the family is from the Midwest, and we all look forward to playing with them for the next few months. We even threw an impromptu dinner party last night with them and a French family boat. It was great to see packs of kids running around Sophie again.

So  that’s about all for now. We definitely feel like we are back in Adventure Cruise mode, and we definitely still feel lucky.

ps … here is a gratuitous photo of a pilot whale playing on our bow.

#sickeningvacationphotos

#winning

Putting the “Cat” in “Licata”

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To celebrate the new year, I thought I would post a little photo essay about the 23 catamarans moored here at the marina in Licata, Sicily. This is boat porn at its finest. Enjoy!

Let’s start with this Aventura 33. I love the design of this boat, with an inverse curve to its sheerline and a big open cockpit with twin tillers. It seems to pack a lot of space into 33  feet and would make a great weekender back in Puget Sound. This model uses a hybrid diesel electric system for propulsion, and I don’t really know if it actually works. But the boat looks great.

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Another boat with a similar approach to sheerline is this Dean 44, designed and built in South Africa. This boat is owned by a New Zealand family who allegedly have multiple girls Hazel’s age and will return to Licata in late January. Hazel doesn’t know this, and please don’t tell her!

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I couldn’t find much online about this Nomad 1350, but I do know that early catamaran designers were quite concerned about their boats accelerating quickly down waves, burying their bows underwater, and then capsizing by flipping forward. The owner of this boat addressed this concern by installing a large air foil on the stern in order to keep the bows up at high speeds. Please also note the hydraulic passarelle on the port transom. I assume this can also function as a crane for loading crates of wine from quay.

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Another unique cat is this M&M (Mono & Multihull, not Morelli and Melvin) built in Drachten, the Netherlands. It has well over 4 feet of bridge deck clearance, which is more than I’ve seen on Gunboats and Atlantics. She also has a single daggerboard on her port side. She looks very light and wicked fast.

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Here is a newish Outremer 45, another fast cruising cat with dagger boards. I always pronounced these as “out-REAM-ers” until Pete McGonagle at Swiftsure Yachts in Seattle helped me see the light. The correct pronunciation is “oot-reh-MARE.” I love these boats, especially the bigger ones, but I am not a fan of the aft cockpit covering on this one. It has a fiberglass roof directly under the boom, and then a canvas bimini on either side. If you look closely, you can see someone has propped a boathook under the starboard canvas bimini to keep it from sagging. But I am nitpicking here, it is a beautiful boat. Note the tiller post behind the starboard driving seat. Very cool. I would love to steer a big cat at high speeds using a tiller. In the Pacific, Jenna and I met a guy on a fast French cat. I think his name was Martin, and I think the boat was Wild Thing. He asked me I’ve ever regretted ordering a steering wheel for Sophie, because we always use autopilot at sea and the engine controls in the harbor. He had tiller steering and was thinking of getting rid of his steering  wheel.

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Rounding out our review of the unique cats here in Licata is this Broadblue owned by our friends, the Casleys. They love the boat: it’s a seaworthy, fast cruiser that serves as a great home for five. It also has the biggest galley I’ve ever seen on a cruising sailboat. You could  film cooking seminars in that thing. I also like how their dinghy has a center console seat like a jet ski. I wanted one of those for our new dinghy…

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Now let’s switch to the big mass production catamaran builders, starting with Fontaine Pajot. This 48 foot Salina is Sophie’s neighbor and has a fiberglass cover over the dinghy between the two transoms. It appears to be integrated with the dinghy davits. I’ve never seen a cover like this before and want to discuss it with the owner when he returns from France next year. It’s a clean and beautiful boat.

The remaining Fontaine Pajots here are all older and include a Tobago (35′), an Athena (38′), a Lavezzi (40′), and a Belize (43′). My brother David and family have a Fontaine Pajot in Baltimore. I think it is a Belize but I’m not certain.

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The other big production catamaran builder is Lagoon, and there are 11 Lagoons (!) wintering here in Licata. The biggest Lagoon in town is this 52, the model that replaced the Lagoon 500. It features the “new” Lagoon design with higher topsides and a proportionally smaller mainsail. Note the track for the self-tacking jib right in front of the mast. I was told by a Lagoon dealer in Thailand that the 52 is faster than the 500. I love the look of this boat and will try to figure out a way to take one out for a spin.

There are two Lagoon 500s in Licata, including our beloved Sophie. The one on the right is a 3 cabin version with the captain’s cabin occupying the entire starboard hull. This boat is for sale, but I think I like our boat more. But it would be fun to set up a bowling alley in that starboard stateroom. Or perhaps a game of Mölkky, the Finnish lawn game we play after our Sunday barbecues at the marina. (Here is a link to Martha Stewart explaining how to play Mölkky.) So much space.

Next up in Lagoon land is this 450 on the left and the 440 on the right. The 440 is called Takamaka and is owned by our Lithuanian friends Deimante and Saulius. They are young and full of life and host an excellent New Year’s Eve party, as Jenna and Rebekah can attest.

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Lagoons tend to be happy boats.

Our marina has one Lagoon 421 and two 400s, including “No Plans Just Options” which is home to the Eilbecks, a family from Australia. Lagoon packs a lot of space into a 40 foot waterline, and No Plans is a very nice boat. Now you Eilbecks need to come back from Oz! You’re missing a lot of fun here.

Rounding out our fleet of Lagoons are three 380s. The Lagoon 380 is the most successful cruising catamaran ever, with over 700 hulls shipped during its production lifetime. There are even 60 of them listed in Yachtworld right now. You see these boats everywhere.

So that wraps up my little photo essay of the catamaran fleet wintering here in Licata. From my perspective, nothing beats a cat in terms of living space, cruising comfort, and fast passage speed. But some of you still love your monohulls, so I’ve thrown in a couple of photos in the spirit of balance and equity. If you are a “mi piace grandi mozziconi e non posso mentire“kind of person, then check out the backside of this Hanse 575. It’s enormous. Merry Christmas, Kenny Wickman!

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Oh. mio. Dio.

But if catamarans were never invented, and I needed to pick the best boat for circumnavigating in terms of living space, cruising comfort, and fast passage speed, then this Amel 64 would do the trick.

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I can think of $2.2 million reasons why I love this boat, including the ketch rig, sheltered-yet-large cockpit, aft deck dance floor, and the incredibly functional interior. It’s a beautiful boat.

But I am a cat man, and Jenna and I are very happy with our little Sophie. Licata is a wonderful place to spend the winter. We are very lucky. Happy New Year, everybody!