Friday, January 24, 2020

Memories of a Trans-Atlantic Race

This week I was sent a photo that brought back good memories, 24-year old memories of our first Cape to Rio Race on "Black Cat", in 1996. It was sent to me by Gavin Muller, who was the youngest in our 5-man crew. He took it on the last night of our race, as we were sailing between our Brazilian landfall of Cabo Frio and the finish line off Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro.
From left, Adrian Pearson, Brian Cole, Dudley Dix and Sean Collins. Sadly, two are no longer with us, the others are scattered around the world.
The Cape to Rio Race is 3500 miles of tradewind ocean racing, starting in Cape Town and finishing in Rio de Janeiro. A race like this breeds friendships that last a lifetime. Most of us were good friends before the race and the three weeks in close quarters in the middle of nowhere, in company of seabirds and the occasional fish or whale, cemented those friendships forever. Gavin was the odd-man-out at the start of the race, being much younger than the rest of us, but he too became a friend for life.
Gavin Muller repairing our light spinnaker.
Adrian Pearson (RIP) was my partner in "Black Cat". Brian Cole introduced us while I was building our boat for the race, bringing him in as crew. Later he joined me to co-finance the project.

Brian Cole (RIP) was the oldest in our crew, at 60. He was a director of North Sails Cape Town and a regular on the crew of my previous boat, "Concept Won". He joined us on this race as navigator for his first and only ocean-crossing voyage. His wife, Marion, was co-skipper with Judy Provoyeur of the all-lady crew of the Schumacher 41 "Kelly Girl", our closest handicap competition in the race. On handicap, they had to reach Rio more than 20 minutes ahead of "Black Cat" to beat us.

Sean Collins was a client many years ago for a rig redesign on his cruiser. He became a friend, sailing with me for many, many miles on "Concept Won". We raced together uncountable times in fully-crewed and double-handed races around the buoys and around the coasts of the Cape of Good Hope, quite justly also named "Cape of Storms". We had much experience sailing in mild weather and in those storms.

Gavin Muller, at 21, was not long out of college. His math teacher, an acquaintance and also a boat owner at Royal Cape Yacht Club, had asked me if I had a crew slot available for Gavin, who had previously sailed a Cape to Rio Race with him while still a school boy. Another friend of mine had to withdraw from the crew and Gavin slid into his spot.
Another of Gavin's photos. This one shows me in the bosun's chair working on the headstay foil, damaged by the spinnaker pole. The big cat watches over me.
"Black Cat" is the prototype of my Didi 38 radius chine plywood design. I designed her primarily for this race, starting to formulate the concept while racing to Rio in 1993 as navigator and sailing master on the Shearwater 39 "Ukelele Lady". I built her in my garden in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town. The build took 2 years with help from my wife Dehlia, Sean Collins and another friend, Nigel Watkins, who didn't join us for the race.

Part-way through that race, with the nearest land (the Brazilian island of Trinidade) about 500 miles away, we had a close call with a boat of about 40ft that was sailing unlit on a moonless night. I was in my berth under the cockpit, dozing with my brain on alert as usual. Brian and Adrian were in the cockpit and I heard a discussion start, trying to identify something ahead of us in the dark. We were under spinnaker, averaging about 10 knots, so closing pretty fast. I joined them in the cockpit to see that we were on course to T-bone this wooden boat. Two wooden boats colliding in mid-ocean would not have been pretty. The skipper of the other boat suddenly appeared on deck, shining a flashlight on his mainsail. Within another 15 seconds we would have been past him and would have made much noise to advise him that he had missed out on the action of unidentified ships passing in the night. I suspect that he still holds those images in his head of our big cat spinnaker bearing down on him fast.

We figured from his course and position that he was possibly en-route from Cape Horn to Europe. Next morning on the daily fleet report I told of our near-miss. The story appeared in the Cape Town newspaper next day, although not entirely accurately reported. We were also the subject of the daily cartoon, the original of which now hangs proudly on my wall at home.
The cartoon drawn by Grogan for the Cape Argus newspaper.
We had not seen our competition "Kelly Girl" since the start but they were always close behind in the handicap race. We hadn't seen another boat for many days although the position reports showed that there were always others somewhere over the horizon. Trinidade was a mark of the course and, as we approached the island toward sunset one day, we saw "Kelly Girl" behind us on the horizon. After that we saw each other at least once a day.

A few days after rounding Trinidade we were sailing in 5000m of inky blue water that suddenly turned brown and murkey. We hadn't seen a seabird for a few days and had hooked nothing on our fishing lure, trailed for many days. At the same time the sky was full of birds and our lure hooked a long-fin tuna. Within 5 minutes we had three of them aboard before deciding to keep the lure aboard rather than have nature think us greedy. The truth is that, with one fish for dinner that night and the other two in the freezer, we could not cope with any more. Within an hour we were back into inky blue water and 5000m of water, having completed our crossing of the 60m depth of the Almirante Saldanha Sea Mount. In another million years or so maybe this will be another island in the Atlantic.

Meanwhile our race-within-a-race carried on with us sometimes ahead and other times "Kelly Girl" appearing out of a thunder storm ahead of us. Cabo Frio was our first landfall in mainland Brazil and we rounded that promontory abeam of each other and 100 yards apart. We finished about 3am that night, about an hour ahead of "Kelly Girl", with the 20 minute handicap advantage in hand as well. Another 4 years on, in the 2000 Cape to Rio Race that same boat was skippered by circumnavigator Anthony Steward, who finished about 20 minutes ahead of us. These two boats are very closely matched for ocean racing.
Relaxing in the Bay of Islands after the race.
Since that 2000 Rio Race "Black Cat" has crossed this ocean twice more, to total six Atlantic crossings. She has also raced the 1700 mile Governor's Cup Race from Cape Town to St Helena Island twice, including line- and handicap-honours in the 2014/15 race.

It is now 24 years that "Black Cat" has been sailing. She has nearly 100 sisters on the water or in build. She has also spawned another 16 performance designs in sizes from 15 to 55ft for a wide range of concepts. These range from monohull dinghies to trailer-sailers and large catamarans, even fast little gaffers. More than 500 boats are on the water or being built to this range of designs. Most are amateur projects, with builders producing impressive quality.
Didi 29 Retro, a gaffer with a great turn of speed.
DH550, a very comfortable and eye-catching cruising cat.
Both of the boats above, as different as they may appear, are derivatives of the Didi 38 design. To see our other plywood designs go to Or to see our full range of designs of all types and materials, go to our main website or our mobile website.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Dix 38 Pilot "Spailpin" Antarctic Voyage

The yacht "Spailpin" is a steel Dix 38 Pilot, owned and skippered by Barry Kennedy. She is currently in the Antarctic, on her second voyage to that wild and very remote part of our world.

She was built in South Africa by Luke Fisher as his family cruiser, named "Bryana". He competed in the 1700 mile Governors Cup Race from South Africa to St Helena Island in 2012, with his wife and two teenage children as crew. Barry Kennedy bought her from Luke, renamed her "Spailpin" and made upgrades to ready her for more vigorous sailing adventures than she had done with Luke and family.
As "Bryana, when Luke Fisher owned her.
Wikipedia defiles a spailpin as a wandering landless labourer, an itinerant or seasonal farm worker in Ireland. Others also offer a rascal or layabout as alternatives. Seeing where she is now and how hard she and Barry have worked to be there, I don't think that the "layabout" handle will fit. That said, she did hang out for most of 2019 in the Falkland Islands between her two voyages.
"Spailpin" hanging out in the Falkland Islands this year.
Prior to her Antarctic voyage a year ago, Barry and "Spailpin" cruised the fjords of Patagonia. These photos are from that voyaging to some of the most incredible scenery in the world.

Look carefully and you will see "Spailpin" in the middle of that sea of ice.

Moored to ice.
Serene but very cold near to the bottom of the world.
Two weeks ago Barry and I exchanged emails when "Spailpin" was in port in Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world. Barry was preparing and stocking her for her voyage back to Antarctica while waiting for two crew to join him. Since then they have reached Antactica and are anchored in the sheltered waters of Enterprise Island.
Wind patterns over the Southern Ocean on Christmas Day 2019, showing the track of "Spailpin" from Ushuaia, at the top, to her location at the red dot, at Enterprise Island.
Their crossing last year was very rough. This year they had much calmer weather, with only a few hours of gales. When passing Cape Horn it was calm enough for them to anchor and go ashore to visit the lighthouse and memorial. You can follow the travels of "Spailpin" at

See more about the Dix 38 Pilot and our other designs on our main website or our mobile website.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Electrics on 27ft Sportfisherman "Dedication"

In my last post we had finished pulling cables and hoses through the ducts to their connection points. Most of the cables ended inside the console, coming up from the ducts under the deck. Also into this area came two hydraulic hoses for steering.
A mess of wires and hydraulic hoses, waiting to be connected.
One side wall inside the console is given over to battery switches, breakers and busbars. These were pre-mounted onto a Starboard panel, then the panel was mounted into the console for wiring.
Battery switches, breakers, busbars etc being laid out on the Starboard panel before mounting in the console.
`The main switch panel is mounted under a hinged cover on the outside of the console alongside the helm. This panel was pre-wired with the positive cables, ready for connecting to the power busbar and clearly labelled.
Switch panel pre-wired and ready for mounting in the console.
With those panels in place, Kevin has been closeted inside the console making all of the connections. All connections are soldered then sealed with heat shrink tubing. All wires are clearly labeled with their purposes to help with later maintenance and fault-tracing.
Wiring in progress. The hole in the side of the console at bottom left below the panel connects to the mounting of the starboard forward leg of the tower. Controls for the crows nest helm will run up this leg and through the hardtop.
Switch panel to the right of the helm, protected by the hinged cover. The ignition switch will be in the open space just to the left of the switch panel. Engine throttle and gearshift will be to the right of the helm.
Making some of the hose connections to the tanks, seacocks and pumps can be challenging. Some of them are awkward to reach and to manipulate the hose, clamp and screwdriver one-handed. Long slim arms and supple hands are a big benefit.
This compartment contains the black water holding tank on the left and the fresh water tank on the right. The black fitting against the other side of the compartment is the Y-valve to control output from the holding tank to either the pump-out or the seacock. Inside this compartment there are five 32mm hose connections, two of 1" and two of 3/4". The order of connecting must be planned because some of the hoses block access to other fittings if done first. 
This design is not yet on our website. Visit our main website or our mobile website to see our other designs.