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SUPERSTAR The Family Goes To Sea

SUPERSTAR The Family Goes To Sea

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SUPERSTAR The Family Goes To Sea

307 página
4 horas
Jan 1, 2013


A story about a family that decided to sell up and seek their fortune at sea. Yachting on a modest income
Jan 1, 2013

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SUPERSTAR The Family Goes To Sea - Eric V Mold



The Family Goes to Sea

Eric V. Mold

Copyright © 2012 by Eric V. Mold. All rights reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission from the author.

ISBN (eBook Edition): 978-1-937572-64-8

ISBN (Print Edition): 185200 066 X

Cover Photograph © Beken of Cowes

eBook designed by MC Writing


The Family Goes to Sea


Eric V. Mold

Welcome aboard Superstar!


Without the support and encouragement of my wife and family this adventure would not have been possible, and this book could never have been written. The realization of my ambition has been somewhat vindicated because we all agree that our Superstar years where among the best years of our lives.

It would not have been possible to have sailed away and left all of our personal and business affairs behind, without the dedicated help and support of Leo Herrmann.It is impossible for us to thank him adequately.

The names used are those of people we met and friends we made. Regrettably, I have not been able to mention everyone that was kind enough to sign our visitor’s book. I have changed a few names in cases where revelation of the true identity might cause embarrassment.

Finally, I would like to thank Bob Mueller of the yacht H.M.S. DRU, for his assistance reading my first notes and Melenie Cately for having the first cut at editing it. And as usual my wife for her help and forbearance throughout.


Cast Off! For Adventure

Midnight, 16 August, the slack tide before the ebb begins on the River Hamble. We ran through our check lists and started the engines. In minutes, we had slipped our lines from the jetty at Mercury Marina and were on our way, bound for Gibraltar, 1200 miles away.

Our experience at night sailing was practically nil; only a few minutes when we were returning SUPERSTAR to the yard, after carrying out trials required by Solaris Marine, her builders and the Lloyds Surveyor that had overseen her construction.

I had memorized the first few compass courses, enough to take us through the obstacles of the River Hamble and out into Southampton Water. I did not want to leave the wheel to look at the charts until we were clear of immediate hazards. The anxiety of the moment gave me a biological urge, that I could not leave the bridge to satisfy!

I had studied the first few miles of the route so as to have a good mental picture of where we were supposed to go.

However, I soon realized that my mental picture did not include such an overwhelming and confusing array of lights.

Lights ashore, flashing lights on navigational buoys and the lights of other vessels, all twinkling away in the inky blackness.

The comfort and safety of an armchair in front of the fire in our old home in Canada, was looking more attractive by the second!

At 0045 hrs, we were off the Coronation Buoy and making our turn into Southampton Water. That big conglomeration of lights on our nose must be the town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight; a good point to head for, to avoid Brambles Bank which lay to our port.

That was my first mistake. The conglomeration of lights exploded in size and with just seconds to spare I realized they were the lights of a large ship, traveling at speed on a head on collision course! If she was doing 30 kts and we were doing 10 kts, we were closing at 47 mph.

I whipped the wheel to port and opened up the starboard engine, to seek the refuge of the shallow water covering Brambles Bank. At the same instant, the big ship’s bow wave lifted our stern to a point where we seemed to be at a bow down angle of about 45 degrees.

In the next instant a search light from the ship’s bridge way above, picked us up, and a loud hailer bawled What’s the name of that yacht.

We lurched forward on the massive bow wave, our stern dropping into the trough which followed, as I wrestled with the wheel. The sounds and smell of the big ship behind me told me just how close she was.

Suddenly all was quiet again. I looked over my left shoulder to see the huge vessel, which we later found out was the QE II, drawing away.

The wobbly knees and hyperventilation started. Wow! that had been close! Is it always like this? I thought.

Slowly the collywobbles disappeared, my breathing returned to normal and SUPERSTAR was re-established on course down to the Needles Channel. A healthy respect being paid to all lights and careful avoidance being given to everything that moved.

Obviously, I had done insufficient study on the recognition of lights and shapes. I had been completely flummoxed by the lights on The Queen, now I was confused by the greens and reds over whites, as we passed dozens of fishing vessels on our way to the Needles.

By 0300 hrs, we were wallowing and slopping around in the ground swells and overfalls that abound about Hearst Channel and The Needles Point. The strobe lights, on the channel markers, created an eerie spectra as their unsynchronized flashes were reflected from the low, damp overcast sky.

By 0400 hrs we had cleared the troubled waters and set course for Ushant, the island that marks the entrance to the Bay of Biscay 190nm away.

What wind there was, came from the southwest, right on our nose, so we proceeded under power.

Dawn came up slowly that dull drizzly day. Eventually it was light enough to make out the vague outline of the English coast, away to starboard. We motored on over a glassy calm sea.

SUPERSTAR cruised at about 6 kts, the autopilot keeping her on a steady course despite being on one engine. We operated on alternate engines to save fuel.

For the voyage to Gibraltar we decided to use a base speed of 5 kts. That is to say, we would never let the speed drop below 5 kts. If it did, we would start an engine to maintain that speed. Running an engine also charged the batteries and provided our hot water.

After the English coast disappeared in the murk, we saw no other navigational features on that gloomy, hazy morning.

We hoisted our sails several times but the breeze was fitful and light and we usually wound up with them banging and crashing around with the swell. By midday we figured that we were passing close to the Channel Islands but were reluctant to close the land on account of the poor visibility.

Navigation was dead reckoning with occasional attempts to take D/F fixes. But we were not getting much useful information from the radio bearings we took.

At 1330 hrs we obtained a Consul fix that put us at Lat. N4953 Long. W00219 approximately 10 miles north of Alderny. We confirmed this an hour later by a visual fix, which placed us about the same distance north of Casquets.

The currents and tides are fierce in that area; so it is not prudent to get too close to the land without knowing exactly where it is.

Calculations indicated, that in spite of fickle winds, the combination of motor sailing and current was giving us about 7.5 kts over the ground.

Later, the visibility started to improve and we got some good visual bearings. At 1800 hrs, Les Hanois light was bearing 213(M).

At 1900 hrs we took another bearing on the same light, advanced our first bearing an hour along our course line and fixed ourselves 10 nm. northwest of Guernsey.

Our first full night at sea, passed very quickly. There was virtually no wind, the sea was calm with a slight swell. With the auto pilot at the helm, we spent a peaceful night. Jeromy and Amery stood watch having plenty of fun dodging fishing boats all night long.

At 0500 hrs the lume of Ile de Batz Lt. was on a bearing of 190(M). At 0800 hrs land was sighted on the port beam.

As the day wore on, we closed and paralleled the coast of France. At 1500 hrs the outline of Ushant loomed out of the haze. I was pleased to see that my calculations for tides, currents, and the wind, what little there was of it, had been reasonably correct.

Approaching Ushant, visibility continued to improve. In fact, we saw a yacht taking the inside passage between the island and the Brittany coast. I was tempted to follow but all the information that I had studied warned that this was a route for people with local knowledge only, so I dismissed the idea and resolved to round the island as originally planned.

Our second full night at sea was to be spent in the Bay of Biscay, but the weather was set fair so we were not worried by the prospect.

There was a solid anti cyclone firmly entrenched over the Azores and conditions did not seem likely to change for the next 12-24 hours.

We started rounding Ushant at about 1900 hrs on the 18th., passing about 2 miles off the coast. The sea was glassy calm, the sun was low in the western sky and the visibility was a good ten miles.

We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves and beginning to joke about our close encounter with the QE II earlier.

Vera had prepared a lovely meal, the dining table having been set, with Royal Doulton, crystal, silver and flowers to boot. I was beginning to think that yachting was a piece of cake. We went below to take our places at the dining table, leaving SUPERSTAR on autopilot holding a course that ensured a good offing. There was no other shipping to be seen so we felt no need for anyone to stay on watch while we ate.

The soup had just been served when suddenly Crash! Bang!

Crash! Clatter! Tinkle! Tinkle! the boat lurched, pitched and rolled but there was nothing to indicate an impact.

Dishes flew all over the place, glasses and plates smashed and there was thick soup everywhere. We dashed for the companionway to the deck. But before we had a chance to get outside, everything was tranquil once again.

On deck there was nothing to be seen, no ships, no land, no whales. Finally we saw disappearing astern, was what seemed to be a maelstrom of overfalls and turbulence on the water’s surface, which had been the cause of our bumpy ride.

We were pretty shaken up, almost afraid to face the carnage below. We had been through areas of overfalls and turbulence before but SUPERSTAR seemed to take them in her stride. We had begun to think that overfalls and turbulence did not really affect a big catamaran like ours. We learned otherwise that day. Below, our lovely new boat was a mess; it looked awful.

Leaving someone on watch, we set to, cleaning it up and salvaging what was left of dinner. In spite of it all, as darkness fell the saloon looked in pretty good shape and things were more or less back to normal.

At 2115 hrs we set course for Cape Finisterre on the northwest tip of Spain, some 390 nautical miles away.

Our trip across the Bay was without incident and quite a pleasant experience. It was a long, peaceful, sail, new situations appearing at comfortable intervals, so that we could cope with them at our leisure. The wind increased, we picked up a nice northeasterly and were able to shut down the engines for the first time since leaving the River Hamble.

We received BBC weather forecasts on 200 kcs. With each bulletin, we were relieved to learn that the large anti-cyclone over the Azores was remaining stationary. This meant that the northeasterly circulation, exactly what we needed, would continue. It was to remain, as it transpired, all the way to Gibraltar.

Our course to Finisterre and the northeast wind meant that we would be on a dead run along one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Navigation was still mainly dead reckoning as the D/F bearings obtained on our Brookes & Gatehouse equipment were watery at best. Fortunately, accuracy at this stage was not essential as we had plenty of sea room and it would be at least 36 hours before the north coast of Spain became a potential hazard.

As we sailed into the night, another aid to navigation became apparent. Being in a busy shipping lane, many ships of all kinds paralleled our course. There was traffic from the Mediterranean or West African ports bound for the English Channel and more going the other way. What a good direction indicator this turned out to be. There was hardly a moment when lights of at least one ship were not visible.

As the usefulness of this new nav aid became obvious we developed our tactics to use it. Scared as we were of coming close to other ships, especially in the dark, we altered course 30 degrees to port and maintained that heading for 3 hours. Soon, the line of ships dipped below our starboard horizon. At the end of 3 hours we altered course to starboard 60 degrees and sure enough, eventually the lights of the South and North bound vessels could be seen again.

We continued to bracket the steamer track like this all the way across Biscay, checking our progress with Consul fixes from the station at Ploneis. The station at Lugo in Northwest Spain was not working properly.

During the night we were treated to a nice northeasterly at about force 4-5. With working jib, main and mizzen, we were able to maintain 7 – 8 kts. As I look back over the log I see entries Surfing frequently at 9-11 knots, occasionally doing 14-15. This is very exciting! Hourly distances run on the log, were never less that six and occasionally more than nine, nautical miles. As the evening continued, the wind freshened to about force 7. The seas increased accordingly, occasionally rearing up at our stern to 5 meters or more. SUPERSTAR surged down the front of each wave in a massive cascade of bubbling foam, the log meter swinging around to 14-15 knots, for several seconds as the waves swept under her.

As latitude 46N gave way to 45N and that eventually to 44N, we started to see more and more of the sun. At about 45N the first swim suit appeared on deck. Oh! how lovely it was to feel the warm, soothing rays of sunshine, after the cold, wet, miserable weather that we had experienced that summer in Great Britain, while SUPERSTAR was being built.

It was about this time that we had our first encounter with dolphins. Someone on the fore deck saw them first and shouted with glee, Quick, quick, look at the fish! What a magnificent sight. They weaved back and forth across our bows in an impeccable formation. However, they did not stay with us for long. By now the wind had dropped and we were not going fast enough for them to find us interesting.

I don’t know how long you have to sail small boats to be able to sleep soundly whilst on passage. Even today, after many years of sailing experience, I still do not sleep like a rock as I do ashore. As I lay in bed that night I found it impossible to sleep, in spite of the fact that I’d been on the go for almost 24 hours, since we left the Hamble.

SUPERSTAR had one fault it was the noise and vibration made by her propellers when she was sailing at anything more than 6 or 7 knots. There are many remedies for this source of irritation such as propeller brakes, feathering and variable pitch propellers, etc., but we did not know much about them in those days. When she was sailing fast, the propellers would literally scream, as they spun far faster than they did at maximum RPM under power. We had slept aboard before, but that was on moorings or in marinas so we had never experienced this annoyance previously.

Another reason sleeping on passage is difficult is that the sea always seems rougher at night. When it’s dark, we are denied the visual cues, which in the daylight, allow us to posture and brace ourselves against the rolling and lurching of the ship. Vera seemed to have no problem sleeping. But frankly I was glad when it was time to get up and start my watch.

I put on the coffee pot and it was perking while I washed and dressed. Amery, our youngest son (we have two who you will be introduced to later) had fallen asleep on the settee in the saloon. I did not disturb him. I took Jeromy, our oldest son, a cup of coffee when I went up to relieve him at the wheel. The very faintest traces of dawn were becoming visible as I stepped out on to the bridge deck.

Jeromy, looking tired and miserable, was sitting on the helmsman’s seat reading a novel with the aid of a flashlight, occasionally glancing around the horizon for other ships. He helped me trim the sails as we altered course 60 degrees to port and then he turned in.

When the dawn came up, it was, as usual, gray and miserable. The wind out of the North, about force 4-5, the seas were 2-3 meters. We were heading southwest on a broad reach at 7-8 knots with occasional 9-10 knots as we surfed down the larger waves.

The ship was on auto pilot which did a good job of keeping her on course. Auto pilots promote you from a slave at the wheel to supervisor of the ship. If you are relieved of paying constant attention to the helm and compass, you have more time to do other things like keeping a better lookout, paying more attention to navigation and checking the sails and mechanical systems. Additionally, auto pilots are capable of keeping a more accurate heading than most helmsmen.

When fitting out a ship, especially on a limited budget, as most of us are; after the compass, an auto pilot of some kind would be the first piece of navigational equipment I would choose.

Dead reckoning, properly done, can be surprisingly accurate especially, for ocean navigation. A good auto pilot assures the precise steering necessary to maintain the exact headings required for good DR navigation.

The ship was sailing herself and there was nothing to be seen except the sea around us so I went below to get the weather forecast. The BBC shipping forecast came in loud and clear. After it ended I continued to rummage around the radio dial from station to station and eventually landed on one that was giving out some very somber news.

Apparently, a container ship had gone down somewhere and there were reportedly, 70 to 80 containers afloat; barely awash, the announcer proclaimed. However, I missed in what part of the ocean this event happened. I hoped it was not ours. At any rate I was reassured by our tactics of keeping east of the traffic lane. It was a frightening thought, wallowing around in a patch of ocean with a few dozen, twenty ton containers; especially at night. The corner of such an object, through the side of a normal yacht, would be catastrophic. I took solace from the fact that SUPERSTAR was intrinsically buoyant.

Being a multihull, she did not need ballast to maintain stability. Her keels were full of Styrofoam, not lead. This was one of the features that attracted me to this type of boat in the first place.

By now, dawn was well established and it was time to wake Vera. For as long as I can remember, I have awakened her with a glass of orange juice, a cup of tea and a few cookies. SUPERSTAR was taking care of herself quite nicely and there was no other shipping to be seen. There was no reason why I should interrupt Vera’s wake-up routine so I went below and put the kettle on.

By 0900 hrs everyone was up and dressed and breakfast was being served. Except for one short period, which I will tell you about later, we always ate extremely well on our boat. Being a comparatively large multihull, she was very stable and sailed almost upright. This made the cook’s job a lot easier and safer. It also meant that most meals could be eaten at the dining table, rather than on one’s knee in the cockpit, as is the case on less stable vessels.

Breakfast was lavish as we had just fully provisioned the boat. Every locker, drawer, cupboard and even the spaces under the beds, was stuffed with food. The bill of fare for breakfast normally included fruit or juice, cereal, and usually eggs, bacon or occasionally sausages, as well as toast, tea, coffee, etc.

While sorting through the deep freeze looking for the bacon and sausages, Vera discovered a most disturbing problem; the deep freeze was not freezing properly. The unit which was about 9.5 cu ft was situated under the chart table, required 220 volts and when at sea was powered by a 3 Kw Honda generator.

As part of our provisioning we had completely filled the deep freeze with all types of the most succulent cuts of meat, purchased from a family friend that owned a butcher shop. Lovely roasts, chops, steaks, stewing beef, a few fowl, ground beef, pork pies, pounds and pounds of butter, cheese and margarine,etc. including the bacon and sausages. Our mistake was not having it quick frozen by the butcher. He had offered to do it but for some reason we declined. The deep freeze would have kept pre-frozen contents down, but it was not capable of freezing them.

Our meat was going bad and there was nothing we could do to save it, except eat it. That is exactly what we did.

Vera devised a plan by which we would eat that which was likely to spoil quickest first, and that which would remain edible longest, last. She set about cooking everything and then putting it back into the freezer chest, intending to just re-heat it as required.

In the middle of this big cooking program, fate struck us another blow. We ran out of cooking gas. It was my fault. I had seen cylinders of it on the dock when we were filling our fuel and water tanks before leaving. The thought of buying a second cylinder did not occur to me.

We were now faced with either loosing most of our meat or putting into a port were we could buy cooking gas. We opted for the latter and decided to head for La Coruna in Northwest Spain.

At 0900 hrs on 21 August, we obtained a good radio fix which put us at Lat. N4355 Long. W00831, about 35 miles north of our new objective.

Another interesting thing happened crossing the Bay of Biscay. In spite of us all having had a dental check-up in the last few days before we left the U.K., Vera lost a filling from one of her teeth. Fortunately however, when I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, it occurred to me that dental problems could arise while we were on passage. It would be a good idea to take some oil of cloves and zinc oxide with us in case of an emergency. The dentist was very interested in what we were doing and obliged by giving me two tiny phials of the stuff. Vera’s filling was my first chance to try it. I mixed the compound into what seemed to be the right consistency. Vera lay on the dining table.

With her mouth as wide open as possible, I dried out the offending cavity with a Q-tip and shoved the filling in. It seemed to go in fine. Later, when we told the navy dentist in the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club bar, he invited her to drop in to his office so he could put a permanent filling in its place. He was impressed with my handiwork and said it would have lasted a long time.

On several occasions since, I have tried to repeat the procedure on other sailors, including myself, but have never been able to

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