Forty Years later,
In the summer of 1973, I purchased a small boat, an Alberg 30, hull 399, built in 1967 or 68 in Whitby, on Lake Ontario. I named it Jean-du-Sud, after a song that Gilles Vigneault, a folk signer from Québec, wrote in homage to his father, a fisherman who, “alone on his sailboat, smuggled horizons of far away paradises”. I did not add the miles this boat sailed, only traced them on a chart, which shows that by boat did not linger in a harbor.
Since I like to tinker, I tried from the start to improve the way my boat was rigged and handled. Here are the changes I made in the forty years I sailed my boat.
I had decided to spend the following winter in the West Indies and since I do not like being pinned at the tiller, I added a self-steering gear. I had already built one for my previous boat, a 24’ sloop, with which I had made my first single-handed passage between Percé and the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and had acquired some experience on this matter. Jean-du-Sud was steered by a wheel, so I fabricated an auxiliary rudder driven by a vane on a horizontal axis. This gear steered through many passages between the East Coast, the West Indies and across the Atlantic to Europe, but even though it held a good enough course, I saw many improvements I could make and a few years later, when I decided to undertake a single-handed voyage around the world through the Southern Ocean, I designed a third gear which I tested during this voyage. In 28000 miles I never had to steer, so I considered I could offer it to fellow sailors, under the name of CapeHorn. This has now become my main source of income.
The original mast of the Alberg 30 was not designed for standing through a capsize, a very likely accident for such a small boat playing in the Roaring Forties. So I decided to equip my boat with a heavier mast, supported with double spreaders and oversize rig. I honestly believed that this new mast would stand through a capsize, but I made two mistakes: the original mast was stepped on deck, but in order to allow passage to the fore cabin, it was supported under the deck by a horizontal beam joining the two bulkheads. I overlooked the fact that a much stronger mast would exert a much heavier pressure on its step. After a first knockdown in the Tasman Sea, this horizontal beam de-laminated and the deck was pushed down a full centimetre, causing shrouds to become slack. I had to stop in New Zealand to reinforce this beam with a massive piece of wood, doubled with a vertical post that I would put in place when there was danger of a knock-down.
The original shrouds were ¼” (6,4 mm) and I replaced them with 7 mm cable. The lower shroud chainplates were fastened to their gussets inside the hull with 3 quarter inch bolts each and I had judged that resistance to shear of those three bolts equalled the breaking strength of a 7 mm cable. This was a costly mistake, as when I was capsized in the Pacific, the six bolts fastening the two chainplates on one side sheared and the mast broke at the first spreaders. This was my second mistake.
I found at an excellent price a mast extrusion stronger than the original and the yard where I prepared Jean-du-Sud built small aluminum boats, so I could use metal scraps to fabricate the mast step, spreader and mast head fittings, reminding the welder that if they went underwater, I would have a thought for him.
I had built the mast head fitting in view of rigging two parallel head stays. While I used a single stay for the circumnavigation, I later acquired a jib furler and I experimented installing the furler on one side, and a second stay next to it on which I could hoist a smaller genoa or a larger reacher. This worked so well that it became permanent and I recommend it to everyone sailing offshore. The main drawback of parallel stays is that neither can be kept tight enough so I loosen the turnbuckle of the second stay and tighten it when it is used. Both genoas can be used on the furler. Instead of a bolt rope going inside the groove, I use round slides on both jibs and instead of jib hanks on the other, I use nylon tie-wraps, so if the season or planned passage is going to be windy, I will install the smaller genoa on the furler and the other one on the stay. When I replaced the roachless mainsail I had used for the circumnavigation with a full-batten sail, the sail cover became too small, so I ordered a new one and recycled the old one so that it covers the second genoa which is kept furled on the top lifeline. If I want to hoist an other sail on this stay, it is easy to hank it over the furled sail.
I still have the removable forestay, on which I can hoist a small jib made of heavy material with reef points which I use as a storm jib. I use runners to tighten the forestay when it carries a sail. Rigged like this, my boat keeps the advantages of the genoa furler while leaving all other options possible. A nylon reacher and symmetrical spinnaker (with sock) complete the sail inventory.
When my boat was built, roller reefing booms were in fashion. A crank and a gear at the gooseneck turned the boom to roll the sail around it. I never understood why this fashion endured more than ten years, as this method was inefficient: as the sail was rolled, it became baggier to the point that it no longer went to windward, unless, to flatten it, one inserted towels or sail bags along the boom as the sail was rolled. When it was unrolled, one had to be careful to grab whatever had been inserted to avoid seeing them fly to leeward. Before I left for my first ocean passage, I had reef points sown in the sail at the level of the second reef, so that if a single reef was needed, I could roll the sail, but to reduce it further, I could reef it in the usual method: if more sail reduction was needed, I could roll over this reef. But I soon saw that this solution was inadequate at best; I condemned the roller reefing boom for good and had a first reef sown half way up and a third one above it.
The traditional method of reefing is to fasten a fiddle block on the side of the boom below the clew cringle and rig a line from this fiddle up through the cringle, and back down to the fiddle and forward to a winch or a block. But this technique has a serious fault: you have to come up wind to reef, otherwise the sail flies to leeward and the reef line no longer works in the axis of the sheave, so it becomes very hard to tighten. Before I left for the circumnavigation, I had rigged the main halyard and reef lines so that I could take two reefs from the cockpit. But the sea was often too rough to head to windward for reefing and I often cursed as I struggled to bring the reef cringle down to the boom. I eventually fastened to the end of the boom before turning forward. This way, even if the sail bags to leeward, the swivel on the block allows it to orient in the direction of pull, making it much easier to tighten the reef line, even by hand, without a winch.
Some riggers suggested single line reefing, but I found it much easier to use two lines, a smaller one for the tack and a heavier one for the clew, both on the same cleat. To make reefing even easier, I lower the sail more than needed and re-hoist it once reefed. Naturally, when I built the new mast, I made sure the track on the mast allowed the slides to come all the way down to the goose-neck and had a jack-line rigged to give slack to the slides when the luff is no longer under tension, in order to avoid having to remove slides from the track. Two blocks with swivel allow taking two reefs from the cockpit. I cut a slot into the boom to lead lines forward inside the boom and rigged two sheaves before the goose neck to bring the lines down to the deck. If I need to take a third reef, I lower the sail almost all the way down and re-hoist once reefed.
Dodger and weather cloths
Mindful of my comfort, I wanted a dodger that could resist a knock-down. Instead of being supported with stainless steel tubes, my dodger is held with a 2 inch fire hose blown with air, into which I inserted a bicycle inner tube. Once blown up, this hose becomes rigid, but if hit with a sea, it will bend, but immediately come back to shape. The tubes are plugged at both ends with a PVC round piece with three hose clips to tighten them over it. A tire valve screwed in place allows to blow them up, which I need to do only once or twice a season and after more than 30 years, it is still air tight.
I installed weather cloths in the lifelines and stern pulpit. They considerably improve comfort in the cockpit. Instead of the top lifeline, I lashed them to the middle lifeline, which allows keeping only the bottom part, and improve appearance on this boat with a low freeboard. When needed, I unroll the top part or roll both parts on themselves and effectively remove them. They are held on the bottom with bungee cords, which avoids tearing them when scooping a sea. This investment in canvas improves comfort in the cockpit quite a bit more than more expensive items.
Trailer and outboard motor
Since I wanted to do this voyage non-stop, I had to get rid of any useless weight and the engine was the first item to go overboard. After I got back, I was forced to sail without an engine during about ten years, with the help of a long oar which was not used so much for propulsion, but was very useful to pivot the boat and ensure it would take the wind on the offshore tack when I picked up the anchor. It was also used to keep the boat moving after I had dropped sail, to reach a dock. But in calm, if I had to make port, I used my old Seagull engine on the Zodiac lashed on the quarter, which pushed the boat at three knots.
Sailing without an engine, I realized that I did not go as far in a given period of time, but I had as much pleasure. Yet, after many years sailing between Gaspé and Ottawa, I had seen all the destinations I could reach without an engine and I considered re-powering my boat. But I like questioning admitted ideas and did not believe an engine inside the boat would be the best solution. Bob Townsend, a member of the Alberg 30 Association, had told me that he had a trailer made for his boat and had hauled it to Newport RI to enter the Bermuda One-Two race. This got me thinking: the best solution could be to put the real engine in front, in a truck, with the boat behind, on a trailer. This would allow me move my boat at 40 knots on the road, as opposed to six on water with an inboard engine, and would allow access to many more bodies of water.
But this would not solve the problem of entering harbours and moving in calm weather. In this, I was inspired by an other friend who had replaced the original Atomic Four of his Grampian 29 with a 9.9 hp outboard engine which moved it at the same speed. But I did not want a conventional outboard bracket bolted to the transom, which is used by my self-steering gear. I could have adopted the solution used on my previous boat, with the engine in a well in the lazarette. But after considering this option seriously, I did not retain it for two reasons: first, the lazarette is one of the four watertight bulkheads which could prevent my boat from sinking in the event of a serious leak and I did not want to lose this insurance. Second, the drag of the foot and propeller while sailing is not negligible; to avoid it, I would need to pull the engine out each time I sailed, which would be possible for an ocean passage, but for coastal cruising, the engine is used too often.
After some experimentation, with the tools and materials used for producing the CapeHorn gears, I was able to fabricate a mount located on the port quarter, which pivots at deck level and allows a 9.9 hp long shaft motor to move up and down. In its up position, the engine blends with the weather cloth and looks like any honest outboard motor used by a dinghy. In its down position, it pushes my boat at 6 knots in a calm and even against a moderate breeze. Only drawback, when there is a sea running, the prop sometimes comes out of the water, which forces to reduce speed to prevent the motor from racing. I have used this solution for about 15 years now and have no intention of going back to an inboard engine.
This crank-shaped mount pivots around a foot-long tube over the rail, bolted through the deck. The engine is clamped on a plate that pivots over the other end of the crank and to which is welded a 2.5” diagonal tube which absorbs the thrust of the engine and keeps it vertical. When the motor moves up or down, the front end of this tube slides along an other horizontal tube fastened over the rail, its front end fastened to a stanchion and its aft end bolted through the deck. A four part tackle with jamming cleats allows to pull the engine up with a minimum of effort.
Materializing a trailer and a vehicle to tow it took a little while longer: I had to wait until sales of the CapeHorn, put on the market a few years earlier, had increased enough to generate the cost. I found a used three-axle trailer, which I modified so that it could hold my boat. The added weight of boat and trailer is about 5 tons and even though this is above the theoretical weight that this vehicle could haul, I acquired a GMC Suburban equipped with the towing package. The added cost of the trailer, Suburban and outboard motor was probably not more than the cost of a new diesel inboard engine and its installation. I am now at my second Suburban, the first one having died of boredom and mostly rust during the eight years Jean-du-Sud spent in Europe.
Even though the beam of the Alberg 30 is three inches over the allowed limit of 8’ 6”, I never had any problem on this respect, the trailer itself being only 8’ wide, so the extra 3 inches at deck level do not show.
Mast Stepping System
The axles and brakes of the trailer are not watertight, so to load or unload the boat, I use a travel lift. However, I can save on the cost of stepping and unstepping the mast, which is often as expensive. I had discovered this technique in an American magazine many years ago, used in Holland, a country of many bridges. It makes it possible to step the mast using only the spinnaker pole, and a few other arrangements, such as a hinged mast step, a hinge in the cap shrouds precisely in the same axis and a strap at the base of the mast where one end of the pole is clamped.
On the deck, the mast rests on two roller-topped supports, one behind the mast step, the other at the stern pulpit. Those rollers allow moving the mast aft until the base of the mast is above the step and the axis inserted into the hinge. The pole, placed vertically above the base of the mast, is held aft with a foresail halyard and laterally with two cables acting as shrouds, led to the hinge in the cap shrouds.
To bring the mast to the vertical, all I need to do is pull on the pole with a tackle led to the bow. I use the four-part tackle of the mainsheet, led aft to a winch. The combined power of the tackle and winch males it possible to pull the mast up without too great an effort. Since I added an electric windlass, a few years ago, it became even easier. I have used this system dozens of times for stepping or unstepping the mast, each time I want to haul the boat.
Electricity and electronics
Some years ago, solar panels were the most expensive method to produce electricity, but fortunately, their cost has dropped dramatically. With two solar panels, one over the stern, the other on the cabin top, Jean-du-Sud is totally self-sufficient, even though I have an electric fridge and the computer is used daily for navigation and communication. For added measure, I have a windmill and still have the hydro-alternator, with a rotating propeller towed astern, which I had used during the circumnavigation and still use on offshore passages, to allow using radar on watchman mode. This radar was my 60th birthday present, after first a season spent in Maine. For my 70th birthday, I offered myself an electric anchor windlass, which I appreciate a lot. I recently rigged a mast head WIFI antenna, which allows connection to an unsecured network in most harbours.
While I sailed without an engine, I discovered that it was much easier to set two lighter anchors than a heavy one. Now that I have an electric windlass, the problem no longer applies, but I still have two anchors permanently at the bow, a Delta with 50 ft of 5/16” chain and 200 ft of 5/8” nylon, and a Fortress with 12’ of ¼” chain and 200’ of ½” nylon. As soon as there is any wind, I set both anchors.
I also took the habit of buoying my anchors. The buoy and its line is permanently fastened to crown of the anchor; its length is just a little shorter than the distance between the bow and the propeller aft, in order to avoid fouling the prop if I have to put the engine in gear as soon as the anchor is at the bow, before having pulled the line aboard. In any event, I rarely anchor in more than 25 ft of water.
The buoy not only shows the position of my anchors, it also allows, if the wind has shifted and I need to reset one of the anchors, to bring it to the new position by hauling on its trip line without having to pull it up. Even in a moderate breeze, I can move my boat by pulling on the trip line from the dinghy, powered by its small 3.3 hp motor.
During the last few years, I discovered the ideal dinghy for my boat. The first one was inflatable, a Zodiac on which the bow could be deflated and folded over, which made it possible to carry it on the cabin top, between mast and dodger. It had a CO2 cylinder which allowed it to double as a life raft. It served me well during a quarter of a century, but it eventually passed away. To replace it, I asked a friend to build a rigid dinghy on the plan of the Canadian Sabot, using the stitch and glue technique. This dinghy was almost perfect, towed easily and was easily rowed or sculled, it could even be sailed with an Optimist rig. It could be stowed on the fore deck, but left no space, which made handling foresails difficult. In 2001, before I sailed across the Atlantic, I stopped at the Magdalen Islands and traded it for an Avon inflatable, with a CO2 cylinder. After I got back, I asked my friend to make an other one, for me, but to move the centerboard trunk two inches forward, in order to cut it in two and stow it on the fore deck with the bottom half over the bow, while leaving enough space to handle foresails or anchors.
The transom of my boat is too narrow to use davits, but under power or in a moderate sea, I use a stanchion to hoist it so that it lays flat against the quarter, above water. A dinghy often needs to be carried over land and this year, I had the idea of installing a wheel in the centerboard trunk, which makes it possible to roll it without any effort like a wheelbarrow, oars being used as handles.
This dinghy is doubled by two folding bicycles which both fit in the same cockpit locker. Those bikes are an essential part of the equipment of Jean-du-Sud and considerably augment the pleasure of cruising, while making getting supplies quite a bit easier.
Nowadays, a 30 foot boat is considered small, but when I purchased it, 40 years ago, was a big boat. Forty years later, I remain convinced that my Alberg 30 is the perfect boat: powerful and seaworthy enough to sail in the Southern Ocean and sail around Cape Horn, but small enough to be hauled over land to whatever body of water I want to sail. Regardless of its size, a boat is always too small anyway.
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