Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cape to Rio 2014 - "Black Cat" Preparations

Start day for Cape to Rio 2014 draws near, now only 4 days away. Preparation of our radius chine plywood Didi 38 "Black Cat" continues. Most of the big jobs have been completed but somehow the list of smaller ones never ends.

Earlier this week we were able to go sailing for a few hours to try some of the new sails, all made by the North Sails Cape Town loft. The mainsail and jib are both carbon and are a real treat to use. They set beautifully to the designed shape and are very stable. There was a bit of swell running and I found the sails to be easier to helm to than the previous laminated Dacron sails, with the sail shape not changing from surging in the swell as happens with a softer sail.
North carbon jib. Sexy see-through clothing.
Photographic conditions were not great, so these are not the best of photos. They show the new carbon mainsail and jib. For purposes of optimising our IRC rating for the race, sail area has been reduced in the headsails, with our big (and very old) Genoas with large overlap gone for good, replaced by a jib that hardly overlaps the mast, does not foul the spreaders or shrouds and is very quick to tack. It also sheets very close and allows "Black Cat" to now sail very close to the wind. This will be a great sail any time that we have to go to windward.
North carbon mainsail
The reduction in headsail area is somewhat compensated by the larger roach of the new mainsail. The larger roach and stiffer fabric means that there is a lot more conflict between backstay and mainsail, so she now has a flicker on the backstay, which you can see on the photos, to lift the top of the backstay away from the sail to allow it to pass through.

The new Code zero has massive area and showed itself to be surprisingly close-winded also, able to sheet to a very close reach, almost a beat. With large shoulders, it is also very stable and much easier to steer to than a conventional spinnaker. This sail rates as an asymmetrical spinnaker rather than a Genoa, allowing us to sail to windward with a spinnaker in light to moderate breezes.

I have written previously about some of our crew for this race. Without bio info from the other two, here is as much info as I can give for them from my own knowledge.

Dave Immelman is the normal skipper of "Black Cat" and has graciously moved into the navigator slot to allow me to come in as skipper. Dave is very experienced in competitive sailing, having crewed in the South African "Shosholoza" America's Cup Team, a Volvo Ocean Race campaign and extensive racing in South Africa, UK and the Med. Dave is very tough as well, having rowed 3000 miles single-handed across the North Atlantic Ocean. It was intended to be a double-handed voyage but his partner took ill and was taken off the boat very soon after the start and Dave decided to continue by himself.  We will have many interesting stories to swap on this next voyage. Dave is married to Susan, an award-winning seafood chef. They have a daughter of 5 and another arriving while we are mid-Atlantic.
Dave Immelman at the time of his rowing voyage.
Adrian Pearson is the owner of "Black Cat". He was my partner in her from during construction through to 2000, when he took over full ownership. Adrian loves to sail on her but does not often skipper her, preferring to hand over that job to someone with more experience. Not that Adrian lacks ocean experience, he was in my crew for the 1996 and 2000 Cape to Rio Races, crewed on her for the return from Rio in 2000 and did many coastal regattas and races with me around the Cape of Good Hope. Adrian is a retailer in Johannesburg, co-owner of a large grocery store.  He is currently unattached and has two sons and a daughter.

Don't forget that you will be able to track our progress across the Atlantic. Go to the official race website Cape to Rio 2014 and click on the tracking link at upper right of the screen.

I should be able to make one more post before we sail away. I hope to make an occasional post while on the water but can't guarantee that it will happen. Our Internet connection will be via costly satellite phones so has to be used sparingly. We will have a separate boat blog for the race and I will post the address of that blog in my next post here.

Read about our designs at http://dixdesign.com/.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Long Distance in a Bigger Boat

My last post was about people going long distance in small boats and most of my readers know that I am soon to go long distance in a slightly bigger boat. This will be on the Didi 38 "Black Cat".

She is well on the way to being ready, with smaller items like installation of new electronics going on and the major still outstanding items being to tune the rig and test the new sails (which have still to be delivered). She is looking awesome, after a full repaint and new graphics. This 18-year old lady is looking young again.

"Black Cat" with her new paint & graphics.
Preparation of "Black Cat" for her next adventure has been a lengthy process but a worthwhile one. It was unfortunately extended by 2 weeks due to damage sustained at Royal Cape Yacht Club during a gale just after she was relaunched when the repaint had been completed. Cape Town is well known for furious winds and this one apparently gusted to 75 knots in the yacht basin. Some mooring chains holding the marinas broke and "Black Cat" was in the unfortunate position of serving as the meat in a steel sandwich, not good for a plywood boat.

My navigator for this race is Dave Immelman, nicknamed Wavy. Dave has been in charge of the preparations and has done a great job of it. That includes getting the extra work done that resulted from poor "Black Cat" getting squeezed tighter than any lady in a corset. She has been freed, repaired, repainted (again), given the OK by the doctor (scrutineer) and is raring to go.
New Cat logo on port side. Starboard has the butt end.
 This is a boys' adventure on which we are embarking. As in 1996 and 2000, "Black Cat" will be the only lady enjoying it with us. That said, we would not be doing it without the support of the other ladies in the lives of all of the crew, namely wives, mothers, daughters and others. They tolerate our passion for boats, adventures and ocean crossings. Maybe some of them look forward to our departure to get us out of their hair, I don't know. I do know that they will be happy to see us again when we return and we will be equally happy to be greeted by them when our adventure is over. We will return home with another big drawer full of images in our memory banks, memories that cannot be equalled by any travel documentary or computer game, no-matter how good the filming or graphics may be.

For those who have never experienced this, it is a big one to add to your bucket list. Having done it 3 times before, I can say that it will take a big bucket if it is to hold other items that are bigger than this one. But you have to have a strong sense of adventure and not be easily scared. If you don't have those qualities you will be petrified at times, incapacitated by sheer terror while your shipmates are enjoying a great roller coaster ride that goes on for 2-4 weeks (depending on the speed of your chosen boat), with no chance of getting off the ride.

We have sailed this boat very hard in the past and the new go-fast goodies on her will help us to do so again. We sail her safely but we do so sometimes at very high speed, with lots of spray flying by and mixed in with flying fish, squid, albatross  and even the occasional sword fish. "The Cat" enjoys it and allows us to enjoy it with her.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Long Distance in Small Boats

For as long as man has been on this gorgeous blue planet of ours he has sought to find adventure wherever he can. There have always been those who simply have to see what is over that next hill. When we all know what is over that next hill then the adventure becomes going over that next hill in some way that has never been done before. It has probably not been done that way before because it is just too big a challenge for most people to consider trying.

That insurmountable challenge is the best of reasons for some people to try it anyway, to prove that it actually can be done and to prove themselves to themselves. In the process of succeeding they also prove themselves to the rest of mankind. Some of mankind thinks it exceedingly silly to do these things and will be eternally critical of those who try. They have no adventurous spirit themselves and would never attempt anything that they consider the least bit risky or dangerous. Some of them become bureaucrats to control others or they encourage bureaucrats to stop the adventurers from being adventurous, a misguided attempt to protect them from themselves.

I have written here before about one such adventurous person, Anthony Steward. He is the only person to have sailed around the world in an open boat. I am fortunate that Anthony selected my TLC 19 hull as the basis for his open boat voyage. Everyone thought that he was crazy in his quest but he was permitted to do it. That is how it should be.

Now I am working on a design for another person who has the aim of circumnavigating the globe in a different way from how everyone else has done it before. His name is Davey du Plessis and he plans to peddle his way around the world. My job is to provide to him the boat that I believe will give him his best chance for success. At the same time, it has to be economical to construct because he is on a tight budget for the voyage.

The result is a multi-chine plywood craft of approximately 23ft length overall. The hull is of fairly classic form that will also make an excellent pulling boat. It has a fine bow at waterline for wave penetration and a fine stern for low drag at the low speeds that can be expected under long term human power.
Hull of the Ocean Peddle Boat for Davey du Plessis.
The superstructure is also multi-chine plywood, so that it can be quickly and easily built using stitch-&-glue building methods. It is a closed boat for maximum protection from the elements but with the ability to open up large surfaces of the central cockpit area to allow air to flow through when needed. This also increases the safety tremendously in rough conditions, making her essentially self-righting if all of the gear is properly stowed and secured.
Basic 3D model of hull and deck.
The model above is very basic, it doesn't show the details of the deck, like windows, opening panels, hatches, solar panels etc, which are detailed into the building drawings.

The whole concept is conceived to make a seaworthy boat. It is not designed for speed, it is designed for cruising slowly under human power, aided where possible by wind, wave and current.

What about the crazy man who will live long term inside this eggshell? Maybe Davey is not as crazy as you think or maybe he is more crazy than you think, I doubt that he knows for sure. He is no doubt less crazy than Anthony Steward because Davey has chosen to have a boat that will give him shelter for his long voyage. Does Davey du Plessis have the legs for this voyage? You can bet that he does, he has ridden a bicycle the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. Davey is an adventurer and I applaud him for it.

Davey's boat will be built in Knysna on the South African South Coast. The builder is his uncle, Tertius du Plessis, who has previously built one of my designs, a Didi 34.  I doubt that I will even get to see Davey's boat because his route is unlikely to pass anywhere near to me in USA.

I will add this boat to my website when the design is complete. I will no doubt offer it as an open pulling boat but it is possible that there are others who would also like to build it as a trans-ocean rowboat or peddleboat.

To see our full range of designs, please visit http://dixdesign.com/.

Update on Didi Sport 15 and Didi 950

I have recently added two new radius chine plywood designs to our range and wrote about them on this blog. Here are updates on both boats.

Yesterday I visited the prototype of the Didi Sport 15 (DS15) that is being built by Hunter Gall in Virginia Beach. I hadn't seen it in the flesh for a few weeks and wanted to see how the deck is looking as it comes together. Hunter is doing a really nice job of his project, working slowly but meticulously.

His boat, "Scallywag", is looking very pretty. He stained the hull surfaces blue and the deck surfaces red before doing the epoxy coatings and these colours will be highlighted by areas of clear-finished timber. It all entailed a tremendous amount of extra work to get it right than if he had painted it in the normal way. The final result is very attractive and she will be an eye-catcher when complete. Hunter can be pleased with the overall results.

The deck configuration that I designed is unusual, with a raised mast deck and wave-breaker above a flat foredeck and the open self-draining cockpit. It gives a decidedly retro image to the deck, over the thoroughly modern hull. It reminds me somewhat of the Lightweight Australian Sharpies that my Dad sailed in South Africa when I was a child. That makes it  somehow fitting that Hunter Gall is Australian, I am South African and we have ended up working together on this project in USA.

Hunter Gall's DS15 project nearing completion
Other news on the DS15 is that work will start in the next few weeks on moulds to build a composite version in Europe. I will release more information about it after I return from the Cape to Rio Race, by which time the builder may be ready to start receiving enquiries.

The other boat was the Didi 950, for which the prototype kit has been cut and will be delivered to the builder in the next week or two. It appears that this is going to be a popular design because we have sold plan packages for another three boats since announcing the design.
Didi 950, bigger sister to the DS15
 One of those boats will result in a variation on the design, with a lifting keel. A lifting keel was part of the original concept for the builder of the prototype but he decided in the end on the simplicity of a fixed keel. The lifting keel proved to be a very viable option, using the same basic keel support arrangement as the fixed keel with no structural redesign. The major difference will be moving the motor aft to a position under the companionway, driving a saildrive rather than a shaft. This is to make room for the lifting keel to rise through the galley central locker unit.

The prototype of this design is to be built in Ohio, USA. The others that have been ordered will be built in Australia, Latvia and Greece. There is interest from other countries as well.

To see our full range of designs, please visit http://dixdesign.com/.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Migrating South with The Geese

There will be some disruptions in our normal service over the next few weeks. We will be away from the office while we fly with the very sensible migrating geese from the cold northern hemisphere into the summery south. I will be skippering the Didi 38  "Black Cat" in the 2014 Cape to Rio Race, which starts from Cape Town, South Africa, on 4th January. Dehlia will be in Cape Town also, to wave goodbye and to have a well-deserved holiday.

That means that the entire staff will be away from the office for a few weeks.  We will do what we can to minimise disruptions for our supporters.

Printed Orders
We can supply printed orders that are placed up to 11th December. Any printed orders received on 12th December or later will be supplied after Dehlia returns on 15th January.

Email Orders
Email orders will be supplied throughout the break. The process may slow down a bit but you will receive your order by email within a day or two. Items that can be supplied by email are study packs for most of the larger designs and plans for the Dixi Dinghy, Argie 10 and Argie 15.

If you will be in the wintery north, think of us in the sunny south. You can follow the progress of "Black Cat" and the other boats in the fleet across 3250 nautical miles of open ocean. There will be electronic trackers onboard all of the boats that will allow you to keep updated at  2014 Cape to Rio Race.

I will be back sometime during the first week of February.