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Thread: First 2 passages on our Outremer 55L - mistakes made and lessons learned, plus a lost life raft

  1. #1

    Default First 2 passages on our Outremer 55L - mistakes made and lessons learned, plus a lost life raft

    In June we sailed our 2003 Outremer 55L from New Zealand to Fiji, encountering moderate conditions of 25-30 knots from the SE and a nasty cross swell from the NE. This was our first offshore passage on our boat so despite several months of coastal sailing on the boat and decades of experience on other boats, we learnt a few valuable lessons specifically for this boat. 1) The reefing guide is a guide and not a directive, so donít necessarily wait for the numbers before reefing. Unlike many other cruising boats, the Outremer accelerates rapidly and doesnít need a lot of sail area to continue sailing at speed, so less sail area does not necessarily mean less speed. 2) Slowing down for comfort and safety is very important - of course the boat sails beautifully and fast, but in rougher seas the discomfort of speed is not worth it. 3) Always support the bow sprit with a halyard or two in case of chafe, and only a weak link to the seagull striker for when there is no halyard.

    Our boat has the traditional triangular bow sprit and does not stay up without support. The manual and previous owner both say to keep a halyard on it. Of course, while changing from no gennaker to gennaker and the reverse the halyard has to be removed from the bow sprit so a support for the sprit has to be provided - in our case it was an 8mm double braid line tied from the top of the seagull striker to a shackle near the end of the sprit. As well, on our boat the base of the furler has a snap shackle, which is attached to a shackle on the end of the bow sprit.

    With the original setup, it was necessary to go out onto the bow sprit or to lay along the bow sprit to attach the furler to the end of the sprit and to remove the furler from the end of the sprit, as well as to connect or disconnect a halyard. This of course means going in front of the front beam and in any sort of seas is not a particularly safe nor fun thing to do. Our reefing guide shows that the gennaker can be used up to 15 knots and that the furled gennaker should be stowed above 25 knots.

    During our passage from NZ to Fiji in June, the first two days were relatively light and we used the gennaker quite a lot. We often placed the tack on the windward bow when going deeper (130-170 AWA), as well as flying it from the sprit when reaching. After the second day, the wind started getting progressively stronger and by the afternoon of the third day we had 25-30 knots true wind speed from 115 degrees true wind angle and 20-25 knots apparent wind speed. We were down to full jib and double reefed main. I had already lowered the furled gennaker to the trampoline and lashed it in place earlier. However, given the sea conditions (3-4 m swells with a 2 m cross swell) I did not feel comfortable to crawl out to the end of the bow sprit to attach a halyard to it. [this was my big mistake - should have sucked it up and just done it] The sprit was supported by the line to the seagull striker, so I just left it like that.

    Well, later that afternoon we buried both bows and the bow sprit as well in a particularly large cross swell. When I looked forward a few minutes later I noticed the bow sprit drooping about 20 cm at the tip lower than its normal position. This just made it more likely to get buried again, so now I prepared to take the spinnaker halyard forward. I did furl the jib 50% to slow the boat down (we were averaging 11-12 knots with surfs to 16-18) and went forward with the halyard. As the jack line to the front beam did not provide enough slack for me to reach the end of the bow sprit, my harness tether was attached to the martingale stay. I was kneeling on the front beam and just about to crawl onto the bow sprit so I could attach the halyard when we buried in another wave. My pfd auto-inflated (so there must have been a lot of water over the beam) and I could just watch as the bow sprit was pushed right down and snapped off both tangs that were bolted to the front beam (the fittings on the front beam and the bolts that went through the bow sprit tangs remained in place). The bow sprit was only attached to the boat by the two whisker stays and the furled gennaker, which was still attached to the end of the bow sprit.

    At the same time that the bow sprit was torn away, it also pulled the seagull striker forward and snapped both of its legs off right at their attachment to the front beam. The seagull striker was hanging from the bow sprit, held in place only by the former bow sprit support line, which is what pulled the seagull striker forward when the bow sprit was pushed down. And the front beam was bouncing up and down with the pressure from the forestay.

    You can imagine my shock as Iím now kneeling on a front beam, with absolutely nothing in front of me and a bare front beam under me, with the sea rushing past just under me and the martingale stay to which Iím tethered now lying loose under the front beam. I was just imagining how I would have been dragging in the water somewhere under the bridge deck if I had put my weight onto the bow sprit only a few seconds earlier!

    I got back to the cockpit and fully furled the jib. Then with the rest of the crew we fully dropped the main. Even with no sails we still were making 6 knots and the autopilot could steer. Then we put the spinnaker halyard on one bow and the gennaker halyard on the other bow and pulled both up very tight. That took most of the tension out of the forestay and we later found that we could run about 10% jib without the beam pumping. We made it the remaining 700 miles to Fiji without mishap, though I was continually on edge regarding the front beam and keeping the rig up.

    We got all this fixed in Fiji just recently before our passage back to NZ, with new, stronger tangs for the bow sprit and new double-walled tubes for the seagull striker.

    The solution for the inaccessibility of the end of the bow sprit is to put in a tack line. Doh! So Iíve got a 12 mm covered Spectra line tied off to the end of the bow sprit, through the shackle under the furler, through a low friction ring also attached to the end of the bow sprit, then back to the front beam (for now, Iím just tying it off on the beam; eventually Iíll put in a cleat or jammer). Iíve used a 4mm polyester line as the support for the bow sprit, with the idea that if the bow sprit takes a dive without a halyard that the line will snap well before the tubes of the seagull striker bend and snap.

    As it turned out on the return passage in October, while I was swapping the lowered furled gennaker for a halyard and only the support line, which was attached to the seagull striker, was holding it up, we buried the bow sprit and it got pulled right down and was hanging vertically down. The line holding it up snapped and didn't pull the seagull striker forward. So the weaker line works! And the bow sprit ends are stronger and it didn't rip away from the front beam as before. Since the tack line was still on the bow sprit I just pulled the bow sprit back up by hauling on the two parts of the tack line, attached the halyard to the tack line, then pulled the halyard out to the end of the bow sprit and made it fast.

    A suggestion from another O55 owner is to attach the spinnaker halyard to the inner shackle and keep it there always, even with the gennaker deployed. Apparently the spin halyard doesn't interfere or get sucked into the gennaker when it furls, and it ensures that even when the gennaker is lowered the bow sprit is still supported by a halyard. Definitely I'm going to do this.

    During our return passage from Fiji to NZ we had 3 days of 30 knots E, which meant close reaching with 2 reefs and 50% jib at 9-12 knots. Moderate 5m swells from the wind direction but a smoother ride than the passage up as there was no cross swell. As you can imagine, we had a lot of breaking waves over the bows, occasionally with waves washing over the cabin top, and many high pressure wave impacts on the inside front hulls, especially to leeward (we were on port tack, and the life raft was on the starboard side). Our 55L stores the life raft in a cut out from the front starboard trampoline, against the inside of the hull just in front of the main beam.

    We lost the life raft some time during the fourth night. At some point one of the stainless steel bails on the stainless steel tube broke at its weld, which released one of the straps that hold the fibreglass tray that the life raft sits on. This tray broke and this was enough to provide slack to all the straps that hold the life raft and the life raft washed away. As it fell out of the life raft cage it broke part of the plastic fairing in front of the escape hatch on that side. The painter broke and I assume that the force was enough to inflate the life raft, now floating empty in the South Pacific 400 miles north of New Zealand. I called the NZ rescue centre to report the loss of the life raft.

    The forward location for the life raft is not a good one for ocean going boats. In our case we are considering whether to replace the life raft (since our catamaran cannot sink, only fire is a reason to abandon the boat regardless of right side up or upside down, and we have a dinghy on the davits available in that case), but if we do, we will place it in a cockpit locker and provide an access hatch from underneath to that locker. We are removing the remaining life raft cage and trampoline cut out as we're replacing the trampolines anyway.

    I hope this helps other Outremer owners, especially of the first generation, though I note the new Outremers also store the life raft at the front trampoline.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Default Re: First 2 passages on our Outremer 55L - mistakes made and lessons learned, plus a lost life raft

    Thanks for the great write up. Frightening how much damage plowing into waves can do.
    We once had the front cross beam on our Wharram break in similar conditions but I am
    sure we were going much slower than you

  3. #3

    Default Re: First 2 passages on our Outremer 55L - mistakes made and lessons learned, plus a lost life raft

    thanks for the write up

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Too far north to be comfortable.

    Default Re: First 2 passages on our Outremer 55L - mistakes made and lessons learned, plus a lost life raft

    Educational thread. Thank you for sharing.


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