May 27 – Annapolis refit – New sails, new furlers, new Sparrow! 2,000 mile qualifier is imminent

May 27, 2023

Hard to believe it’s already been a month since I arrived back into Annapolis. Like other places that i’ve allowed myself to get comfortable in, I wish I could stay here longer and just chip away at boat projects and enjoy the stellar local sailing scene. But I can’t; the show must go in if I am to reach the starting line in Spain with adequate time. Time, that one finite resource that can not be created. New ropes and blocks and electronics can be bought for the boat. More money can be raised, new sails can be built. But more time can not be created. October 28 will come and go whether i’m ready or not, and so I must be ready.

On that note, I am about to go do my 2,000 mile qualifier. My plan is to day sail down to Solomons Island, Maryland; the same spot where I spent two days when arriving back to Maryland more than a month ago. It’s a quiet little place there, and plenty deep to get me on to a dock. There’s not much to do there but work on the boat, and that’s my plan. I’ll probably take everything off the boat, inspect the boat piece by piece, wash it and clean it, and re-load everything and pack it carefully, and take notes of where every little spare nut and bolt is. There’s a well stocked West Marine within walking distance. I might be there one day, or maybe five, but when the boat and skipper are ready, and the weather looks right, i’ll be gone. My route will take me from inside the Chesapeake Bay, out and around Bermuda, and back to the east coast somehwere around Cape Hatteras before sailing North to Portland, Maine and a haulout at Maine Yacht Center.

When I go on my qualifier, the boat will be radically different than last time that I sailed Sparrow offshore. First and foremost, I have a new inventory of sails from Elvstrøm Sails, Challenge Sailcloth and Chesapeake Sailmakers. The other big variables are that i’ve got a new fiber forestay that is a fixed length stay on a Facnor structural furler, and there is now a ProFurl Code Zero furler to use with the two new Code Zeros. We are still running our old spinnakers in ATN snuffers, as the two new spinnakers are still being built and I won’t have them for a while. But that’s okay, I have serviceable old ones and the new kites could go on just before the race and be fine.

The new sails are really, really nice! Like anything in life, it’s a learning curve, but we are very happy with how they came out. Due to a small miscommuication, the new main was built a bit long on the leech, and so we got it back into the loft and the clew was raised a bit, removing some of the foot. Now it looks perfect. Also, the jib was originally designed for a more traditional furler set-up, and so Bill wanted to change how the tack was set up, since we lash it to the forestay on the structural furler. The build quality and workmanship from Elvstrøm looks outstanding! We asked Elvstrøm to make the sails bulletproof, and I even recall saying ‘I don’t care how light they are’. Well, they took that to heart, and while the sails certainly look to be very strongly built, they are noticeably heavier.

As is often the case with Sparrow, I couldn’t find a good dock in the local area that had enough depth to hold me, so I ended up doing the forestay swap on the mooring ball on a mostly calm morning with my buddy John. I went off jack and pulled the rig forward using halyards, and then un-pinned the forestay at the bottom. I then hauled myself aloft in my ATN Top Climber and then connected a halyard to the old forestay and then un-pinned it at the top. Once down at deck level, John and I controllably lowered the forestay, and with it being fairly rigid due to the foil on it, John had to hold the furler end and float about 25 feet in front of Sparrow holding the furler in his dinghy. Once the stay was horizontal, we were able to get it onto the boat. It all went shockingly smoothly, surely to the disappointment of casual viewers in the mooring field who thought they might witness some more excitement. We then hoisted the new stay (significantly lighter) aloft and pinned it at the top, pulled the rig forward as much as we could, and then managed to pin it down below. We initially thought that the new fixed stay was 3.5 inches too long, but it seems to have stretched out by exactly 3.5 inches and be spot on. One of the more challenging parts of the whole thing was working out a good halyard solution. Most furlers like this invovled hoisting the sail and then lashing it aloft and removing the halyard so that it’s permanentnly stuck aloft, and then you just furl it. That is not legal for my race, so I rigged a halyard to the sail that goes up and over the lashing eye in the forestay, and then back down. It’s a very unique and custom set up but seems to work okay and it will be race legal.

I’m definitely still dialilng a lot of things in, including the Code Zero furler setup, but last night we hoisted and unfurled the fractional zero for the first time. Winds were very light, but the sail looks awesome! And the new ProFurl NEX 6.5 Flying Sail furler seems to work very well thus far, though I really need to rig a better, stronger, smaller and shorter furling line to it. And I also need to rig up an idler set up to keep tension on it, as well as add little fairleads to my stanchions to keep the lines neat. It’s very much a temporary furling line set up right now. I also added a 2:1 tack line to the boat and it’s an old main sheet that is too fat and there’s a lot of friction and the set up is not optimized. But it works and allows us to test sails. I will probably try to go on my qualifier with the current tack line and some other bits, and then try to request more sponsored line from New England Ropes. I’m also about to request a lot more deck hardware and blocks from Ronstan. But this stuff will not go on until Maine or even later.

In Maine, we plan to haul the boat out, prep the bottom and have it painted. We also plan to prep and fair the hull before having a gloss grey vinyl wrap applied, thanks to the generosity of a very kind catamaran yacht broker in Annapolis. I also plan to purchase and install a new plastic fuel tank, and we plan to have the rig pulled out and thoroughly gone through by some professionals, and then address whatever we have the time and money to address while in Maine. I will also be upgrading the NKE autopilot from a GyroPilot 2 to a GyroPilot 3, with the 2 remaining in place as a back up autopilot brain. When I do this i’ll also be upgrading the compass and rudder reference sensor to newer ones that can be used with the 2 or vice versa, once the right cable adapter is supplied. On that note, I took our spare (new) autopilot ram and installed it two days ago and bled it. It appears to be working well, but I need to do a lot of autopilot calibration now. The old drive will be refurbished and servied and carried as a spare.

In a couple of hours we will sailing to Baltimore for the weekend to take out youth and junior sailors with the Downtown Sailing Center tomorrow, and then come back on Monday. We made this plan several weeks ago, and it seems surreal that the day is already here, but such is life right now. Deadlines, dates and a clock that constantly ticks. But i’m really happy to take the boat to Baltimore and share this cool platform with a nice group of kids that may find inspiration and encouragement in what i’m doing.

Busy days here in Maryland, i’ll probably update the blog from Solomons Island with a post about just the qualifier, with links to the tracker and other ways to follow the campaign.