Preparing Ngahue IV for our ARCs

Note: This page was originally written with our (first) 2017 ARC Atlantic crossing in mind. We've since decided to interrupt our circumnavigation, return to Europe to sort ourselves out, and to set off again in 2019 crossing the Atlantic with the ARC Plus, and to pursue our circumnavigation as part of the 2020 World ARC group. As some matters have evolved with time, you'll find additions in the text below which are more focussed on our second ARC experience and preparation...

Why Join the ARC? World Cruising Club

As indicated elsewhere, there's an active Hallberg-Rassy discussion group on Yahoo (see Links page for further information), where several contributors have openly wondered why one should pay a fair sum of money to join the ARC for the simple privilege of crossing the Atlantic in a group. In addition to the ARC, there are several other organisations which also organise Atlantic crossings. Furthermore, lots of people do it on their own! So why bother? When Laura and I planned our circumnavigation, we were acutely aware of the fact that although between the two of us we had sailed around the world at least twice (expressed in sea-miles sailed, that is) neither of us had ever crossed an ocean. Now in my case that was not quite true, having travelled extensively as a kid and gone round the world twice in the Motor-Vessels Mataroa, Fairsea, Willem Ruys and the ill-fated Achille Lauro (which was in fact the Willem Ruys refitted by the Italian company Lauro Lines, which lost both its vessels that it had acquired from Holland through engine room fires!). But these were big passenger ships; not a small sailing boat!
Joining the ARC offers - our view - the comfort to cross the Atlantic with an organisation to help us and with the protection inherent in a herd (i.e. the other ±250 boats) that will be going across at more or less the same time as us. Each year there are a couple of examples where stricken boats have been assisted by the herd (or other bigger boats nearby). So, in short, we are joining the ARC to give us that extra confidence boost: that "Yes, we can", but let's just be careful in the beginning and learn from and with the others. After all, if you are but a small fox amongst a pack of trained hounds, yah gotta be smart and join the crowd... As will be clear from our circumnavigation pages, we have with time become "ARC-junkies", having returned to Europe with the ARC Europe, returned to our circumnavigation with the ARC Plus, and then set off (again) on a circumnavigation with the ARC World!

An essential part of preparing for the ARC is to ensure that you have all the things on board that the ARC organisation requires of participating boats. That's an excellent starting point. And having prepared an HR37, and modernised an HR43 for blue-water sailing (see elsewhere on this site), Laura and I have a pretty good idea of what is needed to bring Ngahue IV up to standard for our kind of ocean sailing. It's encouraging and comforting to see that the ARC safety checklist mirrors our own list of essentials. And that our list is even longer! Our initial insurers, Admiral Insurance (who work closely with the ARC & World ARC; with all that Brexit nonsense in the U.K., we decided that we needed to switch to Pantaenius) have also expressed their pleasure with our organised way of setting about our preparations. So we appear to be on the right track.

Perhaps at this stage a hushed word of respect should be said about our insurers. Insurers should be treated with respect and deference. They are after all the people who have decided to accept the risk to insure you, and will help you when things have gone proverbially "pear-shaped" and you have suffered a loss, or caused an accident with damage! At one of the ARC workshops in the UK, we met Robert Holbrook of Admiral Insurance of Salisbury. Admiral Insurance is an official partner of the World Cruising Club, the organisation behind all the ARCs… We were impressed by the presentation that he gave and felt very much at ease and in good hands with him afterwards, discussing the first thoughts of our future circumnavigation project and getting lots of highly useful feedback from him. We followed up this conversation with an extensive exchange of e-mails, where he passed us on to his colleague Dave Andrews and we have been happy customers for Ngahue IV with Admiral Insurance since.
Matters are clearly explained to you, and although our insurance premium increases quite significantly as we venture further from our European home waters, Admiral Insurance explains why this is and what the problems are that they have to extend cover to you when you cross the Atlantic, or when you transit the Panama Canal. They have built up a lot of experience with insuring boats going around the world, and thus have their own portfolio of expertise which they are very happy to share with you and advise on matters. Sailing friends have mentioned other insurance companies, who undoubtedly have a similar level of service for their customers. We found our "bonheur" (French for happiness) with Admiral Insurance and are happy to recommend them to anyone who asks us about boat insurance.

In March 2019, however, because of the uncertainty created by the UK government around the UK in the EU after Brexit, we felt we needed to change our insurers for a company that was EU-based & located. At BOOT Düsseldorf we had an interesting chat with a most helpful representative of Pantaenius, inter alea another partner of the World Cruising Club. The terms for the renewal of our 2019/20 insurance policy with Admiral were also darkly clouded with uncertainty - reflecting the political situation in the United Kingdom surrounding their exit of the European Union. If there is one thing you cannot have in an insurer-insured relationship, it is uncertainty and absence of trust of the customer about what will happen in the case of a problem. Contemplating the alternatives, we decided that Pantaenius was the way to go. We remembered the excellent exploratory discussion with them at the Düsseldorf BOOT exhibition in January 2019. There's certainly a good reason for them being the biggest player in yacht insurance in Europe, so we enquired how they would feel about insuring us, as we were not pressed to leave Admiral Insurance. But at the same time, we wanted to embark on a positively based new relationship with Pantaenius if they were going to become our insurers. After an informative exchange of e-mails, we felt confident that Pantaenius would offer us the certainty and consumer protection that we required. And as the political situation around Brexit in the UK deteriorated and further undermined our confidence in this once so reliable country, we decided - with regret - to leave Admiral. Given the good reviews that many fellow sailors offered us on Pantaenius, including our friends from Hallberg-Rassy, we are now happy to have made the change and feel that it has been a good choice for our second ARC (Plus) and our 2020 World ARC.

Returning to our first ARC, the pressure from late 2016 onwards was mounting to be ready on time - it could spell trouble if we didn't get everything done. It was very unfortunate that the sale of our previous boat, the HR43, hadn't at all gone as planned. After nearly one year of messing around between a first and a second sale (accompanied by significant costs), we were well and truly behind on schedule (by about 8 months!) because we couldn't start preparing the new HR53 boat in early 2016. The winter 2016/17 turned out to be a race against time to get everything fitted; and in 2017 we had too little time to test things properly. We remained confident that in the end all would be ready on time - and it was. Only one en route did we discover certain weaknesses that needed resolving - to do that we temporarily returned to Europe to get everything sorted out for a better re-start.

Ensuring that we don't starve on board:

"Food, foooooooood" is the favorite call from Woody Woodpecker. For us too, maintaining a steady food supply will become a priority for us to safely negotiate the world's oceans. Yes, our HR53 is very big for just the two of us. Part of what we are doing, is to look carefully after the food that we have on board. Quantity is certainly important, but maintaining the quality of what we have on board is equally vital. Over our previous two summer cruises, we've been experimenting with what plants will grow on board, what bread we can best bake on board and with what source of energy to use (bake in the oven -> gas; or use the bread machine -> electricity)...

We made surprising discoveries! For instance, we found certain long-life prepared (fresh) food packs at Aldi in Germany one day when exchanging our gas bottles at the nearby OBI. These will certainly add some colour to our daily diet at sea. Storage and organisation are all-important, so that we know where everything is (suddenly an HR53 takes on mega-yacht dimensions when you don't know where things have been stored!). In fact, a lot of time during our 2018/19 work was to make copious lists of things and maps of where to find what...

The previous owner of our boat had completely changed the set-up of the fridge and freezer on board as originally installed by Hallberg-Rassy in 1995. He had glued or pasted 5cm thick sheets of polystyrene to the sides and bottom of each and then glued thin sheets of perspex over these polystyrene parts to better insulate the fridge and freezer from the inside. He had also replaced the original evaporators and fitted new air-cooled compressors which were lurking somewhere deep down in the bilges. The result was a much reduced-in-size freezer (and fridge). But furthermore, the freezer no longer froze (achieving a maximum lowest temperature of about -3°C by our measurements, due mainly to an inadequate Webasto ASU holding plate being fitted - it just didn't give the cold "oomph" needed) yet the fridge where it should be a working temperature of 6-8°C often freezes quite seriously! Consequently it was impossible to keep frozen food on board in the freezer; and all food placed in the fridge is soon frozen to smithereens! Furthermore, over the years, water and dirt had seeped under the previous owner's insulation and accumulated in little lakes of rotting fluids at the bottom of the freezer & fridge. This was disgusting and most probably represented a health risk(especially in tropical climates where the brown bacterial water we found under the insulation would have become festering puddles of death for our intestines! We needed to remove the extra insulation in order to return to a basic level of food security and to gain space. And we needed to return to the kind of evaporators and compressors that Hallberg-Rassy had originally installed to get a properly working freezer again, as well as a less-enthusiastic fridge! After much thought, we opted for a directly seawater-cooled Danfoss BD-80 compressor which supplies a very long evaporator plate supplied by Webasto (in their so-called Compact Indel Magnum (Isotherm) series - ours is model 2607) that we have bent around three (and a bit) of the straight sides of the freezer cabinet. That was quite a challenge, and we tried not to bend the plate too much - we now have additional triangles of space in the corners - convenient for hanging things against the evaporator plate... It seems to work very well, although it did require some serious re-positioning of the compressor unit and water in- and outlets. The compressor is now located in what could otherwise have been a navigation cabinet just above the freezer box. It uses the original 1995 Frigoboat water inlet; the outlet is connected to the deck drainage system, so you can hear the freezer working on deck as the cooling water happily gurgles back into the sea.

The four pictures shown here - before, during and after our work on the freezer - illustrate the point I'm trying to make. Before (left: just enough space for a couple of bottles at the bottom of the fridge and that's it - middle: the yucky and really smelly brown water at the bottom; a health hazard waiting to happen - right: freezer ready for painting and installing the new evaporator). And finally, with the evaporator/cooling plate bent as acutely as we dared and nicely attached to the sides of the repainted freezer box. There's now much more space for food. It was a slow and nasty work - fortunately we had all 2016/17 winter to complete this and many other jobs!

A tip picked up via the HR Yahoo discussion forum has been to lay a thin sheet of plastic over the freezer hatch to stop condensation and to contribute towards some of the cold escaping around the freezer lid. IKEA sells useful sheets of plastic to protect your desk. The lid is actually quite thin for a freezer lid, compared to the thick lid that we have on the fridge in the galley - a strange approach by Hallberg-Rassy, as the freezer needs much more insulation than the fridge.

Water & fuel resources on board:

HR 53s have been designed for serious offshore sailing & long-distance cruising. Ngahue IV holds of course a Category A - Ocean rating. The boat has the standard diesel fuel capacity of 850 litres and water tankage for 1020 litres. As our boat was essentially a Baltic Sea-based vessel, the first owner, Herr Friedrichsen, never installed the extra 200 ltr fuel tank that a number of blue-water HR53s have. Despite earlier good intentions, we never got round to installing an extra tank. Experience out on our first Atlantic run showed that the standard quantity of diesel gets you a long way, and we have just resorted to a single 20ltr jerry-can to bring our fuel capacity nearer to ±900 litres.
We're not too happy with the fact that Hallberg-Rassy put all the water available on an HR53 in a single tank. Our HR37 & HR43 actually had several tanks holding smaller quantities of water. We will need to be particularly careful with contamination of our single water tank. Then again, we have added two water filters to keep provide us with high quality fresh water. We have also installed a robust AC powered Aquatec, German watermaker (AC150, the Modular model - pictured here the control panel that has been built into the centre-line cupboard of the aft cabin. See picture. As explained on the technical page about Ngahue IV, you can see the absolute absence of all electronics in this unit. To be on the safe side, we certainly fill up a lot of the under-floor storage areas with bottles and containers of water in case our main tank does become polluted. We noticed with great pleasure for instance that 8-litre containers of fresh spring water could be purchased in Lanzarote for instance for less than a euro!!!

Safety & Training:

The people at World Cruising Club, organisers of the ARC, are very keen that participating boats & crews should, in the run-up to the ARC, follow some basic training. We fully agree with this approach. In Belgium, we followed courses for Safety at Sea (hands-on with our HR43 out at sea - anno summer 2017, a picture of this is still on the VVW Nieuwpoort's website); training with life-rafts (great fun splashing around our local swimming pool testing a variety of rafts & floats); and fire-fighting and first aid. We have also attended a number of "leavers" seminars - psychological & mental training for a long trip at sea is as important as learning all the theory and practising it during courses.

We also followed the full set of STCW First Aid and Medical Care/Competence courses with Ondeck Maritime Training in Southampton. In my case, this was 'again', having done the full set of courses to be the designated medical officer on board at the Warsash Nautical College. But the 5-year validity of those courses was to expire shortly after we finished the ARC. So it was best to redo the whole series of courses altogether. Laura and I joined Leon Schulz (and were accompanied on this venture by Anita, of Anita & Kurt Courtier - who at the time operated a HR342 called I Dolci from Nieuwpoort) to remain certified. Since the course, Kurt and Anita have acquired an HR 43 again called i Dolci which they use for sail-training and chartering purposes as Skyline Sailing. They have received Leon's full seal of approval! For more information on Leon Schulz and Regina Laska, see 'Herself' on the skippers' page...

Whilst at OMT, we were introduced to MSOS, also on Saxon Wharf in Southampton. This is the company that prepares medical kits for racing yachts participating in round the world races. When we were there, a set of kits, which are all packed in yellow so-called peli-cases (pictured here), had been returned from the boats that had been around. It gave us a good chance to see what the cases looked like and what they contained. MSOS have a good grip on what sailing yachts need, and have come up with a long distance ocean medical kit for us. The kit is made up for 10 persons; so the quantities made available should keep us happy on longer trips. The peli-cases come complete with a very well written medical manual written by Dr Spike Briggs. We also opted for 24/7 phone-in service offered by MSOS to get radio medical assistance from a doctor even when you are in the middle of an ocean.

For good measure, we have re-done our Yachtmaster Ocean theory course again - it's worrying to see how quickly you forget things if you do not apply them regularly. At least the advantage of an Atlantic crossing is that there should be enough time to prepare star sights and sun-run-sun sights with a usable horizon around! Finally an opportunity to utilise our 3 (yes, three!!!) sextants on a regular basis.

Having changed boat recently, we were closely monitoring all the modifications on board with greater than normal interest. As we were also doing a lot of work ourselves, we now know how things were/are put together and understand better what we would have to do to repair anything should it go wrong. Some of our installations may look a little quaint and amateurish when reviewed by a professional. But we know what was done and how it was done - this should be of real help when we come to repairing items in case of unexpected problems.

Weather at Sea:

As we moved from coastal and offshore sailing around the British Isles, with its reassuring Shipping Forecast, to outright ocean sailing, the next worry that we had to contend with was: what will the weather, and notably the wind, be like? If money were no limitation, you would fit a hi-speed internet link on your boat and take out a subscription with one of the top weather and routing services available for professional seafarers, like the SPOS product of the Meteogroup, which was used extensively by Arne Martensson on his HR62, the Yaghan, for his Antarctica trip (see his book "Back at the Helm"). Our needs are, fortunately, less far-reaching and critical than Yaghan. Our Iridium Pilot allows for respectable download speeds (approx 128kB per second) of files up to 50-75Kb: the size of a very good and detailed so-called GRIB-file.

We signed up with Squid, a Belgo-French organisation, which allows us to select amongst the various weather models and sailing areas they work with and then to download the relevant Grib-files for use: either our on-board PC computer(s), or for display on our i-Phone/i-Pad (through their Squid application). Squid is very involved in the French ocean racing scene, and became the official weather provider for the Volvo Ocean race. So we know they have got a good stranglehold on the weather when it comes to small boat sailing. We were really happy that Squid took up our suggestion in 2018 and held a couple of training seminars on how to get the best out of their tool. We are now a lot better at using it!

As this was completely new to us, we started practising at home and then on board (beginning as far back as our previous HR43, which had a simple Iridium phone, which downloaded data at a mind-boggling 2,5 to 4 Kb per second). Life with an Iridium Pilot set (128kB/s) has made downloading files a lot easier, faster and more comforting as each step of the various processes y ou carry out is detailed on screen: dial-up; connection to your server; data sent; data received; and connection shut-down when all has been done. It's now a daily routine on board to download a new 4-5 day Grib file every morning and to see how the wind and weather patterns evolve. Furthermore, whilst on the ARC, the organisers send participating boats a daily weather bulletin as well.

As we sailed down to the Canary Islands in August 2017, there was a moment of anxiety as we started moving out of the UK Shipping Forecast areas (Biscay and Fitzroy - we never managed to pick up any Trafalgar information), and the Navtex messages from La Coruna and the Portuguese authorities began petering out too. When our main autopilot packed up just south of Portugal and we were weighing up to continue our trip, or to turn back to the Portuguese mainland, I contacted a nearby tanker to ask them for their weather forecast, thinking that perhaps they had better information at their disposal than we did. At the time, the Grib data we were getting was indicating wind-speeds of at least one Beaufort less than what we were experiencing in reality. It was quite comforting to see that both the tanker and we had quite similar information to work with; and that our appreciation of the current weather and outlook was the same. Squid told us afterwards that apparently many weather models deliberately under-predict wind speeds at sea by about 1 Beaufort strength...

In 2019, as part of our preparation for our second departure, we attended a special course of weather on the ocean wave for blue-water sailors. To our great satisfaction, we actually learned very little, which showed that we are already quite advanced on the weather knowledge curve - at least as advanced as a simple all-round sailor will be...

Safety at Sea - dealing with very heavy weather:

Lin and Larry Pardey have written several books on safety and comfort at sea. The one that caught our eye was their handbook on Storm Tactics. One of those things that you'd rather not go through, but have to be prepared for, is preparing a small boat for a storm (or worse) at sea. A plethora of books and information sources on this subject exist. And often, the more you read, the more confused you get. We decided that we would join the Pardey fan club, or school of thought, and have prepared Ngahue IV along those lines. Undoubtedly Ngahue IV is a smidgen larger than Seraffyn, the Pardey's boat. Our hull and keel configuration is quite different, being a simple fin-keeled boat. But with careful handling we expect her to behave as a decent ocean-going, modern sailboat would. And because of her bigger size, the bits and pieces we have bought are just a bit bigger than the ones pictured in the Pardey's handbook. Elvstrom has provided us with a bright orange heavy trysail which will fit the mast on its own track. The outhaul is taken to a turning block either side aft of the boat and will allow us to heave the boat too at about 50° to wind.

Ocean Safety from Southampton (we walked by this company at least twice a day during the 9 days we did our medical training with OMT in February 2017) has provided us with their Southern 24 model para anchor, which is streamed from the bow, with a pennant line to midships. The para anchor is set up to be one wave-crest removed from the boat (up to 100m away), so that you lie quietly, hove too, in the "slick" created by your boat and para anchor. The total weight of the parachute and the weighted line comes to ±55kg!

I won't say that we're looking forward to trying this out real-time with 50+knots wind raging around the boat. And finding a quiet spot to try out the equipment near our home port before we head off will be a challenge too… With our special thanks to Karen Zammit of Ocean Safety Ltd in Southampton (Saxon Wharf) for sorting out our Para Anchor order for us!

Safety at Sea - liferafts & lifejackets:

Safety at sea is an essential feature that the ARC organisers take very seriously; life rafts particularly are subject to very specific requirements! Of course we too took a keen interest in the safety equipment that we wanted to take on board. After a lot of looking round, talking to people and checking websites, we decided to target an above average life raft for our ARC and circumnavigation. Our choice fell on a 6 person Viking RescYou Pro life raft in canister with a Hammar hydrostatic/self-releasing mechanism which automatically releases the raft when our boat sinks. The cradle with self-releasing mechanism is installed just forward of the hard top. Viking describes its RescYou Pro series as ideal for extreme cruising, where comfort and safety go hand in hand. Hailed as the market's best, they rapidly self-right and are easy to enter. This suits us just fine, because when we did one of our safety trainings in the local swimming pool, we really struggled to get into the two different rafts and the float that were being demonstrated. Of course we hope that we shall never have to try this out. The raft has its own full >24h ocean survival kit plus an additional, dedicated grab-bag, which our suppliers offered as part of the deal.

In addition, we also have our own McMurdo XL grab-bag - and as a back-up to all this, a second life raft - a Transocean valise from Plastimo that we kept from our previous boat, Ngahue III. It's been fully serviced and complies with all the ARC regulations. However, it is stowed in one of the aft deck lockers, and is, therefore, not deployable within the 15 seconds that the ARC organisers prescribe.

Lifejackets too come under close scrutiny from the ARC organisers. Whilst following our medical courses in Southampton, we decided to invest in a couple of Spinlock Deckvest 5D Pro Sensor lifejackets, that come with lights, integrated harness, crotch straps and sprayhood. The manufacturer assures customers that this very recent and ergonomic design is comfortable to wear. Force 4 Chandlery, where we bought our lifejackets, was a little surprised that we insisted on having the 275 Newton (60ml CO2 canisters) version rather than the more standard 170 Newton issue. Again, just hoping we will never have to spend hours hanging around in a big sea with these lifejackets… but in such an emergency, having a little extra buoyancy is probably a good thing.

Finally we had an Oceansignal Rescue-Me MOB1 unit installed in our two main lifejackets. These are AIS and GMDSS transmitters, that will show us up on the ship's Furuno TZT plotter screens, should we fall overboard. Overkill? Certainly not in our minds, when there are just two persons on board and anything could happen. On a run, taking down the sails and returning to the place where the other person went overboard would make finding that person without these beacons a major challenge.

When sailing with just two people on board, the key to safety is to stay on board and not fall in the sea. Nevertheless, we have installed all the required material to throw in the water after the MOB! Mind you, if one of us does go over board, the remaining person at the helm will be spending a lot of time throwing all this gear into the water... So the aim is to stay on board in the first place.

Hopefully all this will suffice to be adequately prepared to affront the ARC and our ensuing circumnavigation...

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