s/v ASCENSION ABOUT THE BOAT
Ascension is a
1985 First 375 Beneteau.
Ascension started life in 1985 in France, built to the French governments offshore standards (a prerequisite in France) similar to a Lloyds rating. She is a stock Beneteau 375 and does not have any modifications structurally.
We bought Ascension in Sidney, Canada
Roomy cockpit with oversized wheel. Large lazarette on starboard, smaller lazarette on port, locker with liferaft under helms seat.
Rear Starboard head with shower, Nav table on starboard, Galley with 2 burner stove, oven, double sink, fridge on portside.
Salon with fold-down table on portside. V-Berth forward (where we sleep), double berth aft (storage).
Being a racing designed boat, storage space is limited. Under the settee are water and fuel so we converted a hanging locker to a pantry and use the aft cabin for excess items that don't fit anywhere else.
We added cabinetry built into the salon and V-berth to provide additional storage space and better stowage.
Equipment On Board
The following information is related to systems on the boat (either factory or add on) for the cruise. In an effort to give you an evaluation of the equipment and suppliers or manufacturer, keep in mind that this information is based on our opinion and the limitations or advantages are of a personal nature after a couple of years of daily use cruising in the tropics.
Starting at the bow of the boat and working our way back on deck:
We carry a 45 pound Delta on the bow locked into a custom made bow roller that works perfectly We stow 350 feet of 5/16 chain, plus two 50 ft. snubbers made from ĺ ď triple strand. We also carry a 35 Pound Delta, and a 20 pound Danforth along with 150 feet of 1/2" nylon road. If you sail the South Pacific we definitely feel you need to have 300 ft of chain. As anchorages are often deep or have poor holding
We carry a Delta Drogue as well as a Parachute Sea Anchor with 400 ft of 7/8íĒ multi braid. So far we have not had occasion to use the drogue or sea anchor and I personally am working very hard to keep it that way.
Lofrans Kobra Windlass
The Kobra has worked well for us while in Canada and cruising Mexico (our first couple of years of owning this boat) However, in Mexico we thought we detected a different sound to it before leaving for our jump to the Marquesas. In hindsight we should have investigated further because when we got to The Marquesas and ready to make landfall after 3000 miles of open ocean, it would not work. The anchorages in this area are deep (60 ft +) so this was most inconvenient. And I can tell you that as someone in the 50 age group with a bad back - pulling up a 45 pound delta and 60 ft of chain off the bottom is very very difficult. The fault was that an O ring on the motor between the electric motor and the actual windlass had leaked and salt water had migrated into the electric motor. This process had been ongoing for a long time and it was actually the corrosion and not the water itself that caused the motor to fail. We were able to secure a new motor with the help of Ginnyís brother Bruce in Vancouver and once it was installed, we where on our way again.
Other than that, I have to say I love our Kobra. Not only will it bring the anchor up quickly, but it will usually even brake the anchor out of the bottom most of the time. I would certainly recommend the same windlass to anyone on a similar sized boat.
While cruising, your windlass is an invaluable piece of equipment as you rely on it not only for convenience but the safety perspective is ultimately important. The problem with most windlasses is that they are normally mounted on the foredeck and take the brunt of a lot of water on passages. Therefore a regular inspection of the seals is a good idea
Rigging and Sails
The rigging on the boat is also stock from factory except that the forestay and some standing rigging was replaced and some new winches were installed on the mast itself. The forestay has Goiot furling (French) also original on the boat and has worked fairly well for the duration. However the angle of the halyard is a little close to the top of the furling and once in a while if the halyard tension is not tight enough we can get a wrap at the top. Not a big deal as long as you are aware that something is hung up and donít just put the furling line on a winch and start grinding it in. On a boat the size of Ascension, you should be able to handle the furling by hand and if you canít you need to go look at whatís wrong. We can sail reefed with our furling system and it seems to work very well.
Ascension also carries a removable inner forestay with a storm staysail hanked on. We have had occasion to use this sail a lot. When the wind starts blowing in the 40+ knot range, it is enough sail to steady the boat and keep reasonable speed for stability. Thatís the interesting thing about Ascension - she enjoys going faster than slower . If we are on a lumpy passage and we slow down too much, it is extremely uncomfortable. However if we can keep our speed up to about 7 knots, it is much more comfortable and stable.
One of the advantages that we have found with this sail is that when sailing with the wind on our beam or slightly forward or aft of the beam, the staysail is very useful for maintaining sail area while lowering the center of pressure on the boat. We can roll in some genoa and reef the main and by setting the staysail we donít give up much sail area but the boat stands up (rather than healing and rolling). As a result we get a much better ride and go faster on a much more level platform. Speed without heel is a great combination for stability and comfort.
To counter the forces that the staysail generates on the mast, we also deploy running backstays which consist of wire rigging (stays) and a Garhauer block arrangement with technora high modulus line to tighten them. This system works well but the running backs (as on most boats) are a pain to have to move all the time if sailing off the wind. But after breaking a forestay in the Marquesas, we can say that we would never go offshore without an inner forestay (attached) and running back stays . Had we not had them we surely would have lost the mast!
The mast is an standard Isomat section, deck stepped, that has been on the boat since new. The spinnaker pole is rather large and the spinnaker pole car fits on a slide that is an integral part of the mast extrusion. This system has performed flawlessly on the boat and we think itís very strong. The mast has two Harken winches, one #32 and one # 16. The larger one is for hoisting halyards and the smaller for reefing lines on the mainsail.
Ascension has a standard slab reefing setup at the mast. We go to the mast to reef and hoist the mainsail. Sometimes at night with a lot of wind and big seas running, it can be a little spooky leaving the cockpit but the system of having the winches and everything on the mast makes reefing very quick and simple. We can reef in under a minute on any point of sail and have no issues with friction or tangles etc.
The boom is fit with retractable lazyjacks and when dousing the mainsail these contain our fully battened sail on the boom very well. Being retractable is great so when sailing we donít have to contend with any chafe issues from the lazyjacks on the mainsail.
The boomvang is a great asset as it enables us to control the mainsail shape on any point of sail. Having done some racing, this is not only an important feature but it also allows for easier reefing without having to contend with a topping lift to hold the boom up. The old topping lift makes a great spare halyard. Garhauer makes a very good boomvang and we highly recommend it. It is simple, inexpensive (as far as vangs are concerned ) and works great.
As far as boom gybe preventers are concerned there are several kinds on the market . Our solution for a gybe preventer was a block attached to the aluminium extruded toerail on each side forward of the mast. A line simply runs from mid-boom to a block forward, then back to a secondary winch in the cockpit, a line on each side. It is simple, easy to control system. The line is made light enough that if the boom ever hit the water (while broaching) the preventer line would most likely break first and not the boom.
Mainsheet and Traveller
The mainsheet is located at end of boom fashion and attached to a traveller mounted at the bridgedeck directly aft of the companion way (in the cockpit). The mainsheet itself has a double purchase setup, one for general trimming and one for fine tuning. Although Ascension is a masthead rigged, she has a fairly small J measurement and a large mainsail (more like a fractional rig). We assume that this sail plan design was to assist in the upwind capabilities in the boat, and it has proven effective. However, this is wonderful from a racing or sailing perspective, but annoying from a cruising perspective. With the mainsheet always in the cockpit either blocking the companionway opening or part of the cockpit where we like to sit on watch. Another issue is the danger with getting caught by the mainsheet in an accidental gybe. We are aware of that so keep a close eye on it and so far that hasnít happened. At anchor we get it out of the way by unclipping it and moving it near the rail.
Thoughts....I think that from a purely cruising perspective it would be better to have the traveller mounted on the coach-roof rather than in the cockpit. But, I personally am not prepared to give up the performance and strength advantages of the the design we have. Ginny doesnít agree with me on this one at all and she would rather have it on the coachroof.
Now we come to what I feel is the most important accessory on the boat. The self steering or windvane. Ascension has a Canadian built Capehorn self-steering unit and anyone choosing to embark on an ocean passage without a self steering unit should get their head examined. In the event of a complete electronic failure this unit will steer all on its own without any electrical input whatsoever. It is purely mechanical, simple and effective. We have an Autohelm 6000 on Ascension but it is a huge power hog. It is a large linear drive unit and although it steers the boat well, it is expensive. As well as burning up a lot of amp hours, I am constantly maintaining the electronics.
Recommendation.... Our Capehorn steered Ascension magnificently all the way down the west coast of the USA , Mexico and across the entire South Pacific to New Zealand, back to Fiji, on to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia. We love it!
We have used it in light air and in winds in excess of 40 + knots! Our Capehorn would, without a doubt, be the last thing we would ever want to be without. iItís like having extra crew to sail the boat and it never gets tired, needs a break or complains.
I can say - if you want a truly dependable system that works properly buy a Capehorn. The manufacturer guarantees it for one circumnavigation and we can attest to the fact that the service provided is absolutely outstanding. Other cruising friend that have bought the Capehorn on our recommendation have been equally as satisfied. One of the few true values in manufacturing and support in the marine Industry today that delivers as good as, or better than their word.
We have two radios aboard Ascension One VHF an Icom IC-402 with a command microphone and an old Icom 735 Ham unit.
The VHF unit we installed new in Mexico as we had a fairly old radio that came with the boat , and although it still worked, it was a European ship's radio and had limited frequency capabilities. The VHF from Icom works well and has DSC capabilities. It can automatically send out a distress signal with programmed information. As well, it can be connected to a GPS to give position. The command mike gives us the availability for someone in the cockpit to hear and talk on the radio while the person below off watch (sleeping) doesnít awaken from the radio noise. So far it has worked well and we like it.
Our Ham radio is a very important asset to the boat. It allows us to do email to and from the boat. It has kept us in touch with The Pacific Sea Farers Net who tracked our position and information daily for safety at sea. And we get weather faxes and stay in touch with friends on other boats at great distances. We find out about anchorages and check-in procedures in places we are going to while still thousands of miles away!
From a safety, communications and information standpoint, anyone wanting to go cruising should take the time to get their ham license and invest in a Ham SSB combination radio. The unit that we have is actually a very old radio and not really designed as a portable but it is bullet-proof and there are a lot of boats using the same model as us with great reliability.
The picture shows the radio with our SCS Pactor II-e email modem below.
Ascension has 2 GPS receivers on board. One is an older Garmin 120XL which is interfaced with our Yeoman Chart Plotter and Radar and the other is a Handheld Garmin 76 which is interfaced to our electronic charting programs. Both of these units work great and we have had no issues or problems. By having the two interfaced separately it gives us very good redundancy as well as the ability to cross check positions and differences on charts. We think that Garmin makes very good equipment.
Yeoman Chart Plotter
We have a Yeoman chart plotter that accepts charts of any scale and is very easy to use. We have found it to be a great navigational tool and sometimes much more accurate than the electronic charts, not to mention that it runs on a lot less power than keeping a laptop computer booted and running navigation programs. We have had no maintenance or functional problems with this unit .
We have a Raytheon electronics (now Raymarine) Pathfinder SL70 Series Radar unit. This unit is a 24 mile range unit and it is interfaced to our 120XL GPS and Yeoman chart plotter.
It is an interesting combination because it gives us the ability to see and do many functions from the helm as well as below. We can watch our track on radar as well as on a GPS repeater screen and plot targets on the Yeoman based on the visual from the radar or look at GPS waypoints on the radar and compare positions to know real life landmarks. We think it is a very useful tool and would not want to be without it. It is also great for tracking ships at night or in poor visibility.For safety alone we would recommend radar on any boat.
The display unit is mounted directly in front of the helm so we can safely steer and see the radar or GPS track at the same time and the array is mounted on an aluminium post approx 10 ft above deck level or 15 feet above sea level on the port stern of the boat. This avoids getting a blind spot from mounting on the mast. The placement of the display is such that it can be turned around to face the companion way while on watch during passages.
We have two Siemens Solar Panels, which are 75 watts, each on the trestle between the radar post and the wind generator These panels (given a reasonable day) will basically run the refrigerator without needing to start the diesel engine for charging. We have been able to leave the boat for several days with the refrigerator running and return to enjoy a cold beer and safe food. They really donít require any maintenance and the only thing necessary is to keep them clean. They are mounted fairly high on the boat to avoid shadows from sails etc. Reliability has been excellent. When the sun shines directly on them they will produce about 8 amps, however the sun is only direct for part of the day so we donít average that much.
We installed an Airex 400 watt Wind Generator on the stern to supplement our power requirements. We are absolute power hogs running 2 laptops, or watching DVDís, or using the reading lights while running a refrigerator and a separate deepfreeze. We really donít conserve power very well. So we decided to add the Airex. If we are in an anchorage where we get 12 to 15 knots of breeze steadily (Tuamotos ,Suwarow, Yandua etc) the wind generator along with the solar power will virtually run the boat. While we have been in windy anchorages we have watched this unit put out 30 amps in gusts and produce a steady 20 amps for extended amounts of time. The downside is that in gusty conditions it does make some noise but we have gotten used to that. You can turn this unit on and off and that stops the blades from turning and keeps the neighbours happy too. We once had a booby bird fly into the blades while they were turning in 20 knots of breeze. The booby bird did survive although it took him several stunned hours on deck to recuperate. The collision resulted in our wind generator being a little noisier than it used to be and there is a slight vibration that it never used to have. Otherwise the unit has been maintenance free.
110 Volt power supply
Installed in Ascension's aft cabin is a Trace Inverter Charger which does a great job of converting our 12 volt power supply coming from our 4 Trojan 105 batteries (420 amp hrs) to a true 110 volt supply. As a result we are able to run our computers, vacuum cleaner, electric tools, and any 110 volt electrical devices. It has functioned perfectly . It also is a shore power battery charger used to condition and keep our house bank up to snuff. It has a built-in smart regulator and can be used to equalize our batteries. The unit is wired into our 110 volt cabin wiring system so that we can plug a device into the wall receptacle in different areas in the boat.