Having spent the last seven years on an older (1986) sailboat, which has required us to replace pretty much every moving part on board (some of them twice), I’ve been feeling pretty darned smug about our new boat, s/v Cheeky Monkey. I mean, she is three weeks old. Three weeks! I have underwear older than this boat. Wait, what am I saying? Everything I have is older than this boat.
Which means, surely, we get to start this round-the-world journey with a 100% fully working, totally functioning boat, right?
When we first started cruising south from New York to the Caribbean in 2012, someone wisely told me if we could get 80% of our boat in working order, then we were good to go; the stats didn’t get any better than that. This turned out to be true, as we often found ourselves leaving ports with just 60% of the boat working, granted that 60% included the engine and the bilge pumps. But if we were trying to get 100% of the boat working before we left the dock, then we could forget about ever leaving the dock.
Little did I know this rule applies to new boats, as well.
You’re probably thinking that’s crazy. Surely, Fountaine-Pajot would not hand over a brand new boat from the factory that wasn’t 100% perfect, right?
Unfortunately, buying a new boat isn’t quite like buying a new car. It’s a lot more complicated. There is stuff the factory is responsible for and there’s stuff the sales agent is responsible for. And sometimes messages get lost in the quadrangle between the customer, the factory, the agent and the people who are hired to do the post-factory work.
If this were a new car then, yes, it would be absolutely insane to pick up your brand new Mercedes Benz and be told, as the dealer hands you the keys, “She’s all yours! Oh, but there’s a few things I should mention…the driver’s side door handle fell off when we installed the door. We don’t have any more in stock at the moment, but when the factory gets back from vacation in a month, we’ll ship a new one out to you, no problem. Also, the speedometer was working yesterday, but now it’s not. Not sure why. But hey, check out the custom lighting! Pretty snazzy, huh?”
Then you stick your head through the window of your brand new Mercedes to look around and, as you are breathing in the pungent new car smell, you see a big blank space on the dashboard where you know there should be buttons. “But where is the stereo?” You ask, confused.
“Stereo?” The dealer says, putting on his glasses and opening up a folder. He scans your order from top to bottom. “Are you sure you ordered a stereo? I don’t see anything in the paperwork about a stereo.”
“What do you mean?” You say in a high-pitched voice. “I didn’t just get the V8 engine, the expensive leather upholstery, the custom lighting package and NOT get the stereo! Who buys a car without a stereo?!”
“Sorry, but the factory didn’t get that information,” the dealer says. “But, don’t worry. It looks like we didn’t charge you for it, so you can get that installed yourself. No problem.”
You sigh heavily as you climb through the passenger-side door and into the driver’s seat of your brand new Mercedes, all the while admiring the blue lighting and soft leather as you start the engine to drive home in silence…because you have no stereo.
That would be crazy, yes.
But boats are a totally different beast. Your stereo order could get lost (or, in our case, the freezer order), some of the instruments might not work, and it wouldn’t diminish the ecstasy you experience when you step into the cockpit of your shiny new boat for the first time, knowing this is your home for an epic round-the-world adventure.
What I’m saying is, yes, the mistakes have been a little irritating, but so much of this Helia 44 has turned out so wonderfully (including Ryan’s crazy blue lighting), that it seems like a relatively small inconvenience to deal with the few repairs and installations we’ll have to do later on down the line.
Also, we could hang around La Rochelle for another three weeks, waiting for the boatyard workers to return from their month-long vacation so we can get everything in working order before we head south. But we’re way too impatient for that. There is a weather window opening up in few days’ time that will allow us to get across the Bay of Biscay in one calm, downwind shot, and we’re planning to take it. After all, this boat is more than 80% ready.
So, let’s talk about what’s broken, what’s mysteriously not working and what’s not yet installed on s/v Cheeky Monkey and how these items stack up on our list of priorities for our journey south.
Freezer status: Missing
Priority rating: Low to medium
Annoyance rating: Medium
This is like the missing stereo in the fictitious Mercedes Benz. When we found out our order for a freezer was never placed with the factory, we were like, “But who buys a brand-new cruising boat and doesn’t get the freezer?!”
We’ve kitted out this boat for a round-the-world trip with 900 watts of solar panels, a watermaker, air conditioners, washer/drier, ice-maker, blue underwater lighting and a generator large enough to power all of the above, so it seems inconceivable that, when running through our list of orders, someone thought, “So they want underwater lighting and a washer/drier, but they don’t want the freezer. Sure, that makes sense.”
The good news is we have an enormous fridge on board, so the lack of a freezer is not going to prevent us from leaving the docks of La Rochelle. It’s just that we would like to get our freezer installed some time before we cross the Atlantic, as we know what it’s like to sail through the Doldrums. It’s hot, it’s slow and the food gets worse the longer you’re out there. But having a freezer to store fresh meat and other goodies in it can change that considerably.
Now we just have to figure out where and when we’ll get it installed. Which is why the annoyance rating is “medium”.
Water speed / depth transducer status: Stopped working
Priority rating: Medium
Annoyance rating: Low
When we took Cheeky Monkey out for her sea trial, we noticed we were no longer getting a reading on the water speed. This didn’t seem like a big deal because the GPS was working and so we could go by our speed over ground.
But then we noticed the figures for true wind speed and apparent wind speed were exactly the same, which was definitely not right. Something was off, and we think the problem is our apparent wind speed is connected to our water speed, not our GPS speed, and this is what is throwing off the apparent wind figures, rendering them useless.
We don’t know why the water speed gauge stopped working suddenly — it could be algae growth on the hull, which we’ll have to get in the water to have a look at. But this is probably easy enough to fix before we leave France, and even if it doesn’t get fixed, it won’t keep us here.
Ice maker: Broken
Priority status: Low (unless you’re Ryan, who puts this high on his list)
Annoyance rating: High
Once upon a time, there was an Englishman named Ryan who dreamed of making frozen cocktails at anchor with his very own supply of ice. And his face lit up like the underside of an Essex boy’s car when he found out that Fountaine-Pajot offered a post-factory option for an ice-maker in the cockpit.
Every morning, when the workmen appeared on Cheeky Monkey, Ryan would ask, “Has the ice-maker arrived?” And every day, the workmen would say, “Not yet.”
Until, finally, one day, the ice-maker arrived. And the workmen smiled broadly as they told Ryan, “It’s here!”
Ryan clapped and laughed and spent the whole day hanging around the cockpit so that when the ice-maker was finally installed, he could be the first person to turn it on and try it out.
Except when Ryan turned on the ice-maker for the first time, nothing happened. So he sat and stared at it for hours, hoping maybe it just needed some time to warm up (or cool down). But no matter how many times Ryan turned the ice-maker off and on again, it never produced any ice. So, after the workmen finally gave up and left for the day, Ryan just stared at his ice-maker like a little boy who had been given a toy car with no wheels.
When the workmen arrived the next morning, the glum look on Ryan’s face told them the ice-maker still wasn’t working. So they took the ice-maker apart and examined all the inner components carefully. Which is how they discovered the factory had delivered a broken machine — it had a small, but crucial plastic part inside that someone had snapped off and tried to glue back on. But, worse, there was no spare ice-maker to replace the broken ice-maker with.
Try being the guy who tells the little boy his favorite toy car will never work. That’s what it was like for the guy who had to tell Ryan his machine would never make ice. Instead, they’d have to order us a new ice-maker in a month or two when the manufacturer opened for business again.
The End. For now. (Ryan does not give up so easily.)
Garmin Autopilot: Not working
Priority rating: Extremely high
Annoyance rating: Extremely high
Talk about saving the worst for last: If there’s anything I’ve learned from our consistently broken nemesis of a Raymarine autopilot on Hideaway, it’s that sailing long distances with only two crew and no autopilot is about as fun as watching Ryan stare down a broken ice-maker for four hours.
I can deal with a broken autopilot when it happens in the moment and when I have no choice but to keep hand-steering towards the next port. But I’m not leaving port knowing our autopilot isn’t working.
So this problem? It needs to get fixed. And we’ve got two, maybe three days to make that happen if we want to catch this weather window out of here.
We’ve got favorable winds coming up this week, which should last for 5-6 days, giving us enough time to comfortably cover the 300 nm or so we’d like to cover before we reach Cape Finisterre.
Sure, the last time I sailed off the coast of Finisterre, I didn’t have an autopilot and I was surfing downwind with the spinnaker up at speeds of 25 to 30 knots on Henri Lloyd during the Clipper Race, in some of the wildest weather I’d ever seen in my life.
But that was on a 70-foot racing yacht with 22 crew on board.
Ryan and I are a crew of two in the kind of boat I’m not looking to push the limits on. I will not be surfing down waves at 30 knots and I sure as hell will not be sailing for three days with no autopilot, if it can be helped.
Tomorrow we will find out the verdict: will our autopilot get us to Spain? Or will we continue to stare at our broken ice-maker for another week in La Rochelle? Stay tuned.