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¬į 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. ūü§£

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

Penang. Who Knew?

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Once again, we have stumbled into a place where we were planning to stay for two days and it now looks like we will stay for up to two weeks. Penang is full of surprises for us.

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When we departed the United States in 2013, we painstakingly researched every harbor on every island that lay in our path across the Pacific. Two years later, we are in more of a “wing it” mode, where we aren’t¬†as knowledgeable about the different places we visit before we get there. That’s clearly not the case when it comes to navigation; we still try to have as much information as possible about every rock, reef, and anchorage in our path. But from a cultural perspective, we are learning more as we travel.

Our plan after Singapore was to travel 450 miles up the west coast of the Malay peninsula to Langkawi, an island just below the Thai border. Langkawi is a cruising destination with a marine service industry, plenty of anchorages, and duty-free booze. Our initial plan was to hang out there for a month and then continue on to Phuket, Thailand. To us the Malaysian coast was going to be a highway to Langkawi with overnight rest stops every 80 miles or so at places like Behar, Port Dickson, Klang, Pangkor, and Penang.

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Penang has turned out to be a surprise for us. We love it here. It has the sophistication (meaning money) and food culture of Singapore, but on a much smaller scale and at half the cost. It has great culture and swimmable beaches. It has a modern, inexpensive marina where we have met other cruisers, including a boat with kids! Sophie played host to an impromptu hide-and-go-seek party with six kids tromping around the trampolines while the parents watched from the relative safety of an Irish bar on a terrace above.

Leo and Hazel are very happy here.

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Our current home is the Straits Quay Marina, a mixed-use development on the northeast corner of Penang. We are about four miles north of the main city of Georgetown. The marina has 20 boats in it, and half of them are catamarans. There is a bit of a silting problem here, and even Sophie can only enter and exit the marina at high tide despite our 4′ 7″ draft.

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Before we got here, we knew Penang had a rich cultural heritage. We were expecting some old colonial buildings and some fishing villages. Instead we found an island with three times the number of skyscrapers compared to Seattle. That surprised us. Our marina is located on the right side of the photo above.

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Most of the skyscrapers here are condominiums, and one of our cabdrivers said that 70% of the units are empty, held by foreigners for investment purposes. He was very proud of the fact that Jackie Chan owns three condominiums in Penang. I’ve also read that “young retirees” from Hong Kong and Shanghai move here to educate their children, because Malaysia’s private schools are excellent and relatively inexpensive. The marina’s other cruising boat with kids has been here for a year, and their two boys are attending a local private school.IMG_0919

In addition to having lots of skyscrapers, Penang is home to one of the best life raft servicing facilities in Southeast Asia. It took me a while, but I was finally able to wrestle our life raft out of Sophie’s transom cradle and into the dinghy, and then from the dinghy onto the dock.

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Once the life raft was removed, I had the opportunity to give Sophie’s entire transom area a thorough cleaning. This included removal of the two empty beer cans that somehow found their way to a spot behind the life raft.

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It can be a little nerve wracking for a cruiser to hand over their life raft to a stranger for servicing. Your life raft is arguably the most important piece of equipment on your boat. But as soon as I walked into the life raft servicing center at Ocean Success here in Penang, I was relieved. Their shop was spotless, their tools were well-organized (always a good sign), and the two guys there seemed to know what they were doing.

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I was there while Ibrahim and Zabbir unpacked and inflated our life raft. They both gave it a thumbs up. I then left it in their capable hands as they tested it for leaks over the next couple of hours. They also tested the gas tank. They used their phone on the next day to video themselves repacking the raft, including their attaching the painter to the gas bottle pin. The entire bill for the inspection and service was US$238, which is about a quarter of what a similar service would cost in the US.

Have I mentioned lately about how much we love Penang?

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After two days of chores and Sophie School at the marina, we finally hopped into a cab and began exploring Penang and its culture. Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a source of pride for the locals. Downtown Georgetown is a warren of little streets filled with Chinese, Indian, Tamil, and Malay shops and restaurants. Along the waterfront are six Clan Jettys, a series of houses and shops extending out into the strait. Each one is organized around a single Chinese family, and some date back over a hundred years.

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Farther up the shore we visited Fort Cornwallis, an installation the British built in order to defend their local investments from raiding Thai pirates. While we were doing the tour, I asked Leo if he could name the famous figure from the US Revolutionary War that Fort Cornwallis was named after. It took him a few seconds, but he finally came up with the correct answer.

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By doing so, Leo freed himself from history jail.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and involved a siting of sea otters on the sea wall, lunch at a hawker center, visits to two luxury malls, and a siting of the oldest MacDonald in the world (based on the date of the building.)

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A few days later, we got up early and headed over to the Thai consulate to apply for visas.

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We then bought tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus to explore the northern part of Penang. These double decker buses have an outdoor flybridge that make them a great platform for taking pictures.

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Our first destination was Monkey Beach. We hadn’t been to a decent beach or seen a decent monkey for over a month, so we were due. It was a lovely day for a beach excursion. This whole northeast-monsoon-rainy season remains a myth for us, at least for now.

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To get to Monkey Beach we had to hire a boat. While waiting for¬†the boat we spotted a five foot long monitor lizard hanging out on the dock. He didn’t seem to bother a rooster that was in the vicinity, but I am still not quite used to seeing small dinosaurs lazing about.

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It does make me happy that after 12+ years of marriage, Jenna still enjoys herself a good boat ride.

Once we arrived at the beach, Jenna and the kiddies went off to check out some rope swings, while I stayed back to look for monkeys. I soon found a pack of them raiding a garbage can. One of them was a big male. He looked up at me, bared his fangs, and charged.

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I didn’t¬†a have a stick on me, and he kept charging. When he was 5 feet away I kicked sand at him. He stopped and said to himself “My charging teeth kung fu is no match for¬†his sand kick kung fu! I must find his weakness and pursue another plan.” He quickly scampered away.

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The beach was rich with monkey sign. I should have kept my guard up, but I didn’t.

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We continued up Monkey Beach to a shack that sold beer and grilled fish. There were monkeys here as well, but these monkeys were different. They were all mommies with tiny babies clinging to them. They were so cute! Hazel climbed up a tree so she could be like a monkey, Jenna went to take pictures, and Leo and I sat and relaxed in the shade.

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I went to check on how lunch was progressing. Didn’t it look delicious? While I was at the grill, a monkey sprinted from the trees, grabbed my beer (which I had inadvertently left on the table right next to Leo), raced back into the trees, and chugged it. I never saw a thing. I just heard Leo sputterlaughing, saying “Dad, Dad, Dad, a monkey just ran over here and stole your beer! Seriously!”

Oh well, beaten again. By a monkey. I have no power against their baby-beer-fish kung fu trickery.

The day was too nice me to remain sad for long, however, so we took the boat back to the dock, hopped on the bus, and returned to Penang.

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Our next destination was the¬†Kek¬†Lok Si temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It was a sprawling complex of pagodas and shrines situated on a hillside overlooking Penang. Jenna takes much better photographs than I do, so I’ll leave it to her to share with you the sense of beauty and peace we encountered there.

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I’ll simply say¬†it provided a wonderful vista of the city, and we¬†got to ride a cool articulated railway to reach the summit.

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We hurried back to the Hop On Hop Off bus stop and caught the last bus of the day to get back to Sophie. The service was shutting down early due to the start of Ramadahn.

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Fortunately for us, we got stuck in evening rush hour traffic. The city was bathed in golden light, and the bus flybridge was a great photography platform. Jenna was in her happy place.

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Leo was happy to be reading. Can anyone guess what his favorite Microsoft program is these days?

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Hazel was simply happy.

Me? The monkey beer theft incident makes for a funny story. But having the opportunity to spend time in a peaceful, culturally rich city with loved ones is way better.

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Given the horrible news coming out of the United States today, I want to emphasize the peaceful part. Here’s the sign posted outside of the central police station here.

We’ve been in Penang¬†for a week and haven’t seen a gun. We have seen some police on motorcycles writing speeding tickets. We see security guards outside of hotels, banks and malls, but they are armed with billy clubs and wear cool-looking berets and are uniformly polite and helpful. Throughout the city we see mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and various flavors¬†of Christian churches side-by-side on the same block. Chinese and Halal stalls stand next to each other¬†in the hawker centers. Our Italian restaurant had a Ramadahn special last night, where everyone got a complimentary bowl of chicken mushroom soup along with some cinnamon date spread at sundown.

Our brief glimpse of Penang so far reinforces for me and for Jenna and the kids that people from different cultures and religions can live together in harmony without sacrificing the things that make them unique. Who knew?

Now if we could only do something about the darn monkeys.