Thursday 10 March 2016


It’s been a while.  So I thought that I would start out with a slight wander or meander around the question of why it is I have been neglecting my blog.  The short answer of coarse is that like everyone in this strangely over hyped world of consumerization, I kind of lost the plot.   It was never my real intent to bring attention to the everyday ablutions or rantings of free flowing streams of self-indulgent consciousness.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  I just seemed to drift as it were in the ether, oblivious to the noise of popular discontent.   


So what’s new?  Well lots really I have been diligent in the pursuit of my ambitions busy preparing the boat for my double transatlantic.   At the end of last season I found that the boats steering was stuck in reverse which would be acceptable for any regular conscientious objector but problematic for me.  First of all an Albin Vega is quite contrary when placed in reverse due to the placement of the prop which is aft of the rudder.  This would explain the few dozen or so turns I made around the mooring field in reverse trying to recover my buoy.  The people on the shore must have had assumed that I had finally lost all sense and wit while expressing myself with what appeared to be some nautical form of modern  interpretive dance or bazar ritual. 


It is a combi variable pitch prop which when angled one way directs the force into forward motion or as in my case when angled the other had me looking like an agitated imbecile.  Consequently, I pulled the boat on shore and had a look at the dam thing.   I discovered that although mechanical in nature the worn mechanisms of the unit rendered it to the pile beside the work shed marked scrap and that was the end of that.  I pulled the old MD7A which even after almost 50 years of service would still start first time after a long cold Canadian winter.  I have replaced the old Volvo with a brand new Bata 14 with upgraded transmission and coupling.  I also installed two 40 gallon fuel tanks providing me with a cruising range of 1800 nautical miles which is excessive for a 27 foot sailboat. 


I have been sailing a bit as the Navy flew me out to Victoria Island to be certified by the International Sailing and Power Association.   I was ranked at the Yachtmaster Off shore level which was a good confirmation and validation that my efforts in trying to get some certification of competency are starting to pay off.  I will be back out to instruct a bunch of young well educated and privileged few this summer.  Which means sailing throughout the Pacific Gulf Islands as skipper of the STV Goldcrest for a month or so.   That’s it without capturing all the specifically disturbing details.  I will try to do better but not at the price of actually doing something.

Wednesday 2 April 2014



Genesis no not the pop group with Phil Collins but the start of things type.  The sort of let there be light type of the biblical sense.   Every project needs a beginning, a point of departure and every beginning needs inspiration.  I remember as a kid floating stuff like rubber tires, bloody great logs hazards to shipping Styrofoam, flotsam, and jetsam and such.   Riding on them like Captain Ahab on Moby Dick’s great white back.  Indicators confirmed suspicions of the primordial beginnings of sailing.    

I started off poor from a broken family in a small mining village in Scotland so there was no transatlantic circumnavigation in daddy’s yacht.  No gin and tonic at the Yacht club.  I grew up in an orphanage and clearly remember getting into some serious trouble when George Stewart and I found some truck inner tubes and decided to run this uncharted river in the hinterland of Ayrshire.  It was two days before the police found us.   We were adrift like Huckleberry Fin, absolutely free, well at least until we were caught.  I have looked deeply into my miscreant youth to find the moment of the spark the ember that would develop into a full blown obsession but it is veiled and hard to see like a penny dropped into a wishing well that tumbles ever deeper into darkness there are flashes, reflections, but nothing tangible just a vague sense of the void. 

Navigation started quite early on there were the embryonic sorties on to Dartmoor when I was twelve.  I had signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and we had to slog from hill to hill.  Try finding a twelve year old today that could or would want to do that.  Dartmoor famous for Arthur Conan Doles “Hounds of the Baskervilles”, failed prison escapes, and dead Royal Marines.  Our first night on the moors and the rain was torrential It was then I decided to start the fire with the map.    A very nice example of improvisation as we huddled hypothermic.  Which doesn’t seem like your most catastrophic navigational failure until you realize that you might need it to traverse the rest of the moors the very next morning.  Regardless of how sophisticated my sense of direction is today on that morning on that hill I discovered the ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Name

I had significant difficulty coming up with a name for the Vega (formally known as Albion).  Until that is I thought about it.  I liked Beowulf but there is a Vega with the name already.  I also liked Sea wolf which as it turns out is a class of sailboats. Fenrir seems like a very obvious fit for me.  From Viking mythology (The Edda)

Fenrir is a gigantic and terrible monster in the shape of a wolf. He is the eldest child of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. The gods learned of a prophecy which stated that the wolf and his family would one day be responsible for the destruction of the world. They caught the wolf and locked him in a cage. Only the god of war, Tyr, dared to feed and take care of the wolf.

When he was still a pup they had nothing to fear, but when the gods saw one day how he had grown, they decided to render him harmless. However, none of the gods had enough courage to face the gigantic wolf. Instead, they tried to trick him. They said the wolf was weak and could never break free when he was chained. Fenrir accepted the challenge and let the gods chain him. Unfortunately, he was so immensely strong that he managed to break the strongest fetters as if they were cobwebs.

After that, the gods saw only one alternative left: a magic chain. They ordered the dwarves to make something so strong that it could hold the wolf. The result was a soft, thin ribbon: Gleipnir. It was incredibly strong, despite what its size and appearance might suggest. The ribbon was fashioned of six strange elements: the footstep of a cat; the roots of a mountain; a woman's beard; the breath of fishes; the sinews of a bear; and a bird's spittle.

The gods tried to trick the wolf again, only this time Fenrir was less eager to show his strength. He saw how thin the chain was, and said that was no pride in breaking such a weak chain. Eventually, though, he agreed, thinking that otherwise his strength and courage would be doubted. Suspecting treachery however, he in turn asked the gods for a token of good will: one of them had to put a hand between his jaws. The gods were not overly eager to do this, knowing what they could expect. Finally, only Tyr agreed, and the gods chained the wolf with Gleipnir. No matter how hard Fenrir struggled, he could not break free from this thin ribbon. In revenge, he bit off Tyr's hand.

Being very pleased with themselves, the gods carried Fenrir off and chained him to a rock (called Gioll) a mile down into the earth. They put a sword between his jaws to prevent him from biting. On the day of Ragnarok, Fenrir will break his chains and join the giants in their battle against the gods. He will seek out Odin and devour him. 

I like the name and the story and it symbolizes the struggle and constraints that ordinary people face while breaking the strongest fetters of class and education.   The Gods liked him when he was weak and feared him as he grew.  Anyway that's the name I don’t know how well it rings out in a Pan Pan or Mayday but it sounds strong and oceanicly significant.  Sincerely John

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Sailing STV Tuna to Marblehead and back "There and back again"

Those who have arrived at any very eminent degree of excellence in the practice of an art or profession have commonly been actuated by a species of enthusiasm in their pursuit of it. They have kept one object in view amidst all the vicissitudes of time and torture”. Enthusiasm would seem to be an essential element of any challenge.
Never has this truth been more valid than this year’s Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race. The Navy’s sail training Vessel Tuna provided the platform and therefore the opportunity for a selected crew to sail to Marblehead (Boston) and back to Halifax. Like any great endeavour, a large amount of preparation and attention to detail was required to have the vessel ready for the sail. This included a surprise in the form of a complete engine flush. Two days prior to her departure, the engine coolant bearing failed allowing sea water into the engine block which could have been a serious catastrophe if discovered at sea. However, Paul Tonen and his crew of mechanics from FMFCS quickly rushed in and worked relentlessly to restore the engine in a efficient manner. Paul ensured that we were ready to go and on time. A complete ISAF safety inspection was conducted to guarantee that the vessel was compliant with the Ocean race safety standards. The boat was stored with food, fuel and water and a selection of sails was packed for the delivery phase with the remaining race sails scheduled to be transported during the road move. All onboard electronics were flashed up and run to insure they operated and an Iridium Satellite phone was acquired to provide a communication link with METOC for weather updates.
The acquisition of crew seemed to be problematic this year until eight volunteers stepped forward from HMCS HALIFAX to participate in the delivery of the boat and to crew in the race. Most of these individuals had never sailed before, let alone contemplated the adventure of sailing 800 nautical miles in an offshore race. The crew were as diverse as the conditions experienced at sea with each contributing to the Tuna’s mission with selfless dedication. Two days of intense sail training were conducted in some very arduous conditions. The crew practiced steering, sail changes, reefing and man overboard drills. Henry Raffel who would skipper the race, had a chance to work directly with the crew. Eric Hill our ISAF Sea Survival instructor, volunteered to assist in crew training providing individual coaching on intelligent seamanship. Great attention to detail and team work were encouraged and practiced. The whole mission was in jeopardy when a 1st mate could not be identified. Fortunately Max Shaw stepped up and volunteered. He arrived just in the nick of time after traveling 18 hours on a packed bus through Mexico with his children and pregnant wife. He was able to eventually get on an airplane to Halifax and showed up as we were due to leave. Max exemplifies the Tuna ethos with dedication and unwavering commitment to the success of the mission.
The delivery commenced with our departure on Canada day. It was a rough passage to Shelburne with high seas, wind on the nose and torrential rain. We were forced to motor for 20 hours, arriving in Shelburne the next morning. Suffice it to say, the crew suffered through the ordeal and cheerfully enjoyed their brief respite ashore while we fueled and concerned ourselves with tide and current calculations for the crossing of the Gulf of Main. After a quick lunch we set off to sea in the direction of Brazil Rock. This would be our last piece of Canadian terra firma. It also was a location of great concern due to the current and tide rips present. With seas abated and the full advantage of taking a lift from the currents, we relentlessly headed in the general direction of Marblehead. The next morning we found some favourable wind and we could enjoy the simplicity of sailing. We were able to sail for the majority of our transit and were consequently rewarded with a fireworks display on the evening of the 4th. While still some 20 miles out we were able to see the fireworks displayed in celebration of US independence. That evening around 0200hrs we sailed into land which was ludicrously peppered with lobster pots using the Salem Navigation range. We finally picked up the Marblehead entrance buoys. As we made our way through the mooring field, the engine decided to die three times as a last test to our nerves and helmsmanship. The anchor was readied but never used and we came safely alongside tying up on the Boston Yacht Club’s jetty to await customs and direction to our mooring.
The crew change out went smoothly with the arrival of the road party. Gear was cross loaded from the boat to the van. All vital information such as the engine’s problems, and the loss of a radar reflector, as well as the intermittent cutting out of the radar were passed on to the race skipper. The delivery crew then chose to stay in a hotel on their own dime for two days to recover from their sleep deprivation in preparation for the road move home. Race crew training commenced with flying the spinnaker. Henry took command of the race and mentored and drilled our two watch keepers who were getting ready to challenge their skipper certification. Ultimately, on Sunday around 1410hrs the gun went off and we were racing home to Halifax. We had an outstanding start with spinnaker flying and rounded the first marks with an imposing lead. As time went on and we began to beat to windward we started to lose some ground. The alternator bracket broke which denied us the ability to charge our batteries. This ultimately would take away all our main electronics and navigational equipment. Fortunately, we were able to jury rig it with nuts bolts and vice grips enough to get us home to Halifax. Eventually, we arrived in the vicinity of Brazil Rock again and fortuitously at the optimal moment of tide and current flow. We were in thick fog, without a radar or reflector, in the middle of a race fleet and several fishing vessels coming close to land, when we lost the wind. After a quick Chinese Parliament it was decided it would be in our best interest to retire from the race. Rather than bob around adrift and at best in a precarious position we started the engine and safely headed for home.
 The entrance to Halifax was made tricky by the thick fog and several war ships and commercial vessels entering and leaving. We navigated well to the west of the shipping lanes using the AIS which proved to be absolutely essential. We were cleared by customs and headed directly to Shearwater Yacht club. The road party mustered and conducted most of the de storing and cleaning the boat, allowing the now tired race crew the chance to secure.
Overall, this year’s Marblehead to Halifax Ocean race was indeed a challenge, and perhaps not in the way we perceived it might be. The Tuna program provided a variety of individuals with a natural state of dissonance requiring adaptive coping. Our shared problems filled us with confidence, taught us tenacity, and perseverance. There was a certain amount of improvisation and a definite need to overcome adversity. We were ultimately successful as a team in being able to operate safely in diminished conditions far from normal support. Equipment problems have been identified and consequently rectified. STV Tuna will be ready for her next mission. After setting precedence as the first all ship’s company crew HMCS HALIFAX is ready to pass the baton to our fellow sailors and we strongly encourage other ships in the fleet to participate in the Tuna Sailing program

Friday 5 October 2012

“The Hero With a Thousand Faces,”


The call to sailing for me is an instinctual one.  It is a physical thing more than an intellectual one.  It is Bushidō a movement without thought.   A passionate inquiry of truth.   A sacred place where I find myself where I experience being alive.  I am deeply happy when I sail.  I feel alive and in rapture.   It defines my humanity.  It is where I find my adventure where the certitude of mediocrity and the allusions of our everyday normal self are destroyed.  Heroism is simply a matter of integrity.   It is what we do and how we act out of sight of land "in the wild places when no one is watching".   If  perhaps "The call to adventure, it seems, has an affinity for people with empty pockets". Then we should all take vows of poverty.  The rich still don't own the endlessness of void and thought.  It takes courage to project a path across a such a hostile environment but the alternative is not a life.  Sailing is the last great freedom it's what I do.

Monday 1 October 2012

Stability More or Less

The suggestion of  changing from iron to lead ballast on an Albin Vega 27


If we went to the trouble of changing the existing ballast to lead on an Albin Vega 27.   The centre of gravity (CG) of the total ballast could be lowered about 9 cm (3 1/2").  This could be useful for those seeking head room or storage.

The centre of gravity of the whole boat in cruising trim 2800 kg or 6175 lbs is lowered about 25 mm (1").   

Is that significant?  Well it would be a lot of work.  I changed the ballast on my previous sailboat a Halman 20 from steel punchings to lead and although it made the boat stiffer  her performance suffered slightly.

What does this mean in terms of increased stability when sailing.  In the drawing taken from the original owners manual at the amidships section of VEGA is shown the specs for a heeled angle of  20°.

The length of the righting arm is 32cm (121/2") and the righting moment is consequently  896 kg (6500 ft. lbs).

With the new lower centre of gravity (lead)  The righting arm would be increased by 9 mm 3/8" that is it.

Heeling at 30° the increase would be 12,5 mm (1/2") and the righting moment to 921 kg

This is an increase of 25 kg (180 ft. lbs) or 2.8%.


Important to note the manual states that the same increase in righting moment can be achieved by increasing the weight of the boat by 75 kg (165 lbs) or by moving one person weighing 80 kg (176 lbs) a distance of 31cm (1 ft.) to windward.   Allowing a light boat for the bay sailor interested in winning races and providing reserve ballast to be used by the long-distance cruiser or family sailor.


What I get from this is that the current design is an optimal one.  If you are the dude who likes to race around the bay the Vega is a light displacement sailboat and perfect.  For a cruiser ( for example) diesel fuel weighs approximately 7.2 pounds per gallon.  giving you room for an extra 23 Gallons which consequently increases your engines range by about a full day of motoring.  ( you could have a little more rum).   Food comes in at  5 to 6lbs per person per day.   Suffice it to say, this is  a beneficial thing.

Sunday 30 September 2012

Skipper and Mate

It was a good season for Maggie who was made to suffer endless drills and continuous training in adverse conditions.