When Nelson took over the Victory, she was already well over 30 years old. He asked the Admiralty for a refit.
The bill came to more than the ship cost to build.
Well, Samsara is going to be 50 years old this summer, and I got her five years ago as cheaply as you can buy any old fibreglass boat these days.
Also, last year’s circuit of the Canaries, the Gambia, Cape Verdes, Grenada, up to the BVIs and back to Falmouth was essentially a trial run to see what I really needed before I headed off for the long term.
That’s right. I shall be departing in September, and the boat, at least, will not be coming back for ten years or more. So, I needed to get her right. I needed a Big Refit.
I returned to Conwy in North Wales. That was where I got her, and Barry Lovell and his crew at TLC Boat Repair had done a grand job then. I gave Barry the new list. He blinked a bit.
I’m not going to catalogue it all in this post. That would make it much too long. So let’s take it a bit at a time – and start with the best bit: The sails.
As regular followers of this blog will know, I have not had a good relationship with Samsara’s sails over the past few years. She came with three headsails and two mainsails (not to mention working and storm jibs). Suffolk sails made me a trysail – and thank heavens they did: it was all that got me back after the mainsail disintegrated 150 miles off the Azores.
Then there was the headsail, which sailmakers kept telling me had “plenty of life left in it” – but still kept gathering patches. In the end, it gave up off the north coast of Anglesey. There didn’t seem to be much point in trying to rescue it – the working jib took me the rest of the way.
I didn’t care. I’d been to the Boat Show. I’d spent an hour on the Crusader stand with Paul Lees. I had become somewhat over-enthusiastic.
By the time I hauled out the credit card and paid an enormous deposit, I had ordered a new headsail and main in Vectran and something called a “Super Zero”, which is a massive sail made out of some sort of space-age laminate to be set on its own furler from a miniature removable bowsprit.
Interestingly, this would not be poking out a metre in front of the rest of the boat – that’s for gennakers and the like. This just needed a point to take the tack which kept it away from the regular headsail furler.
I have to say it’s amazing – and I can sail closer to the wind than I can with the new Vectran headsail.
That’s pretty good in itself – much smaller than you would expect (it stops a metre short of the masthead , high-cut so I can see under it and the clew is only just aft of the mast. This means it still sets well when rolled in a blow – but it did leave me under-canvassed in light airs (hence the Super Zero).
Apparently Vectran sails will go on setting well because they don’t stretch. All that can happen is that the stitching wears out – apparently, you have to line up the holes to sew it back together because it’s so tough you can’t push a needle through it.
I hadn’t realised quite how tough until I tried to furl it – it’s like handling sheet metal. Nor had I opted for full-length battens because I’d always been quite happy with Samsara’s short ones. Also, I have bitter memories of the tiny nuts falling out of Largo’s long ones in the middle of a Biscay gale.
The new sail, however, brings difficulties of its own. To begin with, it took me a full ten minutes to furl the thing (I believe I’m getting better at this). Also, I notice that Kirsten Neuschafer on Minnehaha chose short battens. Apparently, the long ones can jam if you try and reef with any wind in the sail. Anyway, if short battens are good enough for the Golden Globe winner…
Meanwhile, you can’t have a new mainsail without a new sail cover – and it would never do to have a tatty old sprayhood…
Next, the rig…