Backtracking – Our first visit to the Düsseldorf boat show (Boot 2012)
The Düsseldorf boat show, the largest in the world, is Disneyworld for anyone interested in boats and watersports. Seventeen enormous halls comprise all aspects of water sport including sail and motor yachts, dingies and ribs, canoes and kayaks as well as diving, surfing, fishing and destinations. You need a minimum of two days just to see half of it.
As you can see, the Düsseldorf Boat and Watersports Show is the size of many football fields (compare with the Düsseldorf Football stadium at the upper left).
We went to the show specifically to check out our current (back then) short list of boats. Number one on the list was the Hallberg-Rassy 54 or 48. The 54 was being shown, but not the 48, so we showed up bright and early Monday morning to tour the boat and speak with someone from the yard.
We wanted to get a feel for the boat and ask ourselves “could we live on this boat on a permanent basis, also with 2-4 guests onboard?” My previous boats were both much smaller — the first, 26 feet and the second, 36 feet. A 36-foot boat is reasonably roomy for a couple and occasionally another 2 people for a weekend, but not much more. I remember feeling really cramped and missing some private space in the boat when we were 4 onboard. It had only a forward cabin, the two saloon sofas as berths and a quarter berth.
We really liked the H-R 54 and it became our confirmed “top of the shortlist”. It fulfilled all of the requirements mentioned in the previous post. We were also interested in the Regina af Vindö 49 and the Nordship (which would have been a custom build for a boat of 48-55 ft), but they were not present at the show.
Here’s a short video of the 2 sailboat halls:
The Inspiration has become the Intention
In January of 2012, we had no boat — just the absolute certainly that in 5 years we would have one. In my mind, however, we already had the boat. I had absolutely no doubt that this was going to happen. So we started buying things for the boat and for us, her future skippers.
We bought quite a few things in Düsseldorf, taking advantage of special boat show prices. Somethings go for as much as 50% off, because it was the last model from last year and they want to make room for the new stuff.
I knew what I had, wanted and missed in my former boat, so I started from there. I also knew from past experience that you always need to ask yourself (several times) “do we really need this/will this really contribute to our life onboard?” You always need more storage than you have.
We first needed a “sailing wardrobe”. The last time we had sailed was back in 1999. We thought we’d finished the book on sailing and gave all of our sailing gear away to other people, thinking we would never need it again. We had to stock up again from nothing.
We would be needing some gear to get us through those 1,000 nautical miles to get qualified for our Swiss ocean sailing permits. We knew we’d being doing most of them in northern Europe, where the water temperature rarely gets above 16°C, so we needed a serious foul weather wardrobe.
Sailing gear for the higher latitudes
We knew that we’d be sailing in colder temperatures, starting with Brittany and Normandy in the north of France in April, 2012. Knowing that air temperatures would range from 2-15° C, and sea temps around 6 °C, we started with this list:
- Gore-tex foul-weather gear from Henri Lloyd (Ocean Explorer line)
- Gore-tex leather boots (mine: Dubarry, Jacques’: Aigle). It’s difficult to find good gore-tex sailing boots when you wear a women’s size 36 (6 in US) and Dubarry are one of the few who provide small sizes for women (from a size 35 (5 in US).
- Winter-weight first and second layers and merino socks (we started with synthetics and then went completely over to merino from Smart Wool, Icebreaker and Rewoolution).
- Waterproof winter sailing gloves
- Merino wool ski caps and neck tubes
- Polarfill jackets for night sailing (when it’s really cold)
- Spinlock 5D life vests (270N)
- Gill rescue knife
Getting started: our first cruise in 13 years – sailing Normandy, Brittany and the Channel Islands
Diélette, France is not the most romantic harbour town you’ve ever seen, but we were excited. This was our first sailing trip since 1999 — 13 years! We had taken the TGV to Paris and then switched to the regional railway north to Cherbourg. A short taxi ride later, we were in Diélette, on the coast of Normandy.
Again, this is not the picturesque little french harbour town in which you’d want to spend your honeymoon. Or even a weekend. It is, however, a great starting point if you want to explore the charming Channel Islands, as it’s located on the peninsula of Cotentin, east of Saint-Malo.
The Swiss Cruising Club chartered a Salona 37 for us in Diélette, France
Three boats were charted by the Swiss Cruising Club in Geneva and we were assigned to a 37- foot Salona. Our goal: to get in 300 nautical miles and gain experience with tidal calculations and navigating with strong currents. The Salona was a bit crowded for six adults as it had only two cabins and one heads. In addition, the two-burner stove had only one burner that worked, and the VHF radio died on the second day of the cruise. We had an engineer, a brilliant handyman, and a physicist on board, but neither could get the second gas burner nor the VHF to rise from the dead. Be very careful when choosing a charter company from France!
We were there during high water springs, 10 days after the spring equinox. giving us enormous tidal ranges during the week, the highest being 15 meters! In St.Helier, Jersey, the walk at low tide up the gangway from the pontoon was like walking up a mountain in the Alps. Needless to say, we had lots of practice calculating currents and tidal windows throughout the week as we visited the various channel islands (Sark, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney) as well as Saint Malo and Saint-Quay-Portrieux.
On a mooring buoy outside the island of Sark, Channel Islands.
A view of the automobile-free island of Sark in the Channel Islands.
St. Helier in Jersey was our favourite stop. The facilities and showers at the guest marina were spotlessly clean and seemed to be recently renovated. The fee was included in the mooring price, so you can have as long a shower as you want. We didn’t use the laundry facilities so we can’t comment on them. Wifi is also included in the price, but not electricity.
The town of St. Helier is early 1960’s charming. The entire look and feel of the place makes you think of a vintage British film. Jacques and I explored the town and found some great things to take back home and to share with the others: delicious chocolate made on Sark, fantastic scones and pasties still warm from the oven. We also found some clothes, shoes, and gear as the prices seem to be a less expensive than those in the UK or France. We enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at the Royal Yacht Hotel on the seafront (restaurant Zephyr). It has a lovely sun terrace but for us it was a bit too cold to dine outside.
View of the guest marina in St. Helier, Jersey, the Channel Islands
In a nutshell, here’s what you’ll find at the St. Helier guest marina:
- Toilets, showers, laundry
- Water, electricity, WiFi
- Rubbish recycling bins, a pump-out station and a fuel dock
- Access to cafés, restaurants, bars and shopping as the marina is in the centre of town.
- 24-hour security
- Rates: for the 11-meter boat that we chartered: £30.00; for 17-meter Freja it would cost £63.00.
The tiny island of Alderney was a favourite of the crew as well. If St. Helier is 1960’s charming, then Alderney is 1950’s charming.
Cobblestone streets on the island of Alderney
There is no marina in Braye Harbour — you need to catch a yellow mooring buoy in the well-protected harbour. You can also anchor in the middle of the harbour – the bottom is generally sand, through there may be some rocky or weedy areas.
Visitors’ moorings in Braye Harbour, Alderney, the Channel Islands
To get to the shore, you can call the “RIB taxi service” or use your own dinghy. As the dingy on our charter boat was a bit deflated, we chose the taxi. We went to the harbour office to clear customs and have a hot shower. The facilities are clean and modern, though rather limited (only two showers on the ladies side). The showers are closed during the winter though, so we were lucky that April is considered “summer” on Alderney.
We walked up the hill to the town of St. Anne, in search of an authentic Alderney pub. And we found it in the Diver’s Inn, where we enjoyed a round of cider and beer. The atmosphere is “local vintage pub” complete with dartboard and scores table on a chalkboard. Early Motown hits played in the background.
Braye Harbour facts:
- Harbour office/customs clearance: VHF 16, 74 and 67
- Mooring buoys (yellow ones are guest buoys) — £15.00 per day
- Water taxi service (Mainbrayce Taxi VHF Ch.37 | 01481 822772) – takes only pounds sterling in cash
- Toilets, showers, laundry facilities
- Water, fuel and gas is available at Mainbrayce Chandlers (01481 822772)
Dawn in Braye Harbour, Alderney, Channel Islands
Saint-Quay-Portrieux is a fishing village and touristic coastal town on the Côte d’Amor in Brittany. It’s a handy marina because it’s not restricted by tidal levels so you can come and go when you please. Deep sea marinas like this are rare on the Brittany and Normandy coast.
It’s also one of the few marinas that have a pump-out service for your black water tanks and is a certified “Blue Flag” marina (eco-label awarded to marinas based on compliance with 24 criteria on marina management).
The Côte d’Amor is famous for its rocky coastline interspersed with sandy beaches and boasts some of the finest landscapes in France. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to sight-see but we did manage to come away with some delicious souvenirs of Brittany – several tins of Sablé Breton (Brittany shortbread biscuits)!
- Toilets, showers, laundry facilities. The showers work using tokens that supposedly last 5 minutes each, but they don’t! Put in twice as many tokens as you think you need as my experience was that they last only one minute each! It’s not pleasant to have the shower stop when you haven’t even rinsed the shampoo out from your hair.
- Marina office is open 24 hours a day. (VHF 09)
- 100 visitor berths
- Water, electricity, WiFi
- Trolleys for provisioning
- Self-service fuelling pontoon (VHF 09 if you want service)
- 24-hour security patrol
- Bicycle rentals
- Everything you need in terms of chandlers, marine electronics shops, engineers, shipyards.
The Inspiration becomes the Intention
Back in August of 2011, our plan was to buy a Najad or one of the other so-called “Orust boats” (built by yards on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden). Hallberg-Rassy, Malö, and Regina af Vindö were all on our short list. I knew these boats after my years as a sailboat owner in Stockholm, and they were known for being robust, classic, high-quality blue-water yachts.
The Orust Boat Show. Called “Öppna Varv” in swedish, the show takes place every August on the island of Orust.
Much to our dismay at the time, Najad went bankrupt just a week after we returned from our trip. What kind of support would there be for a brand that didn’t exist anymore? So we started looking at Hallberg-Rassy, Malö, and the other Orust boats and decided that the 45 to 54 foot size range would be a good choice for a live-aboard boat. We wanted to have enough space for permanent living and for friends and family to visit. We also had two large dogs. We couldn’t imagine having 6 people and two big dogs on a smaller boat than 45 feet.
Jacques inspecting a Hallberg-Rassy 53 at Vindö Marina on the west coast of Sweden. Little did we know in 2011 that we’d be here with our own boat in 2015.
Here’s our first “basic boat requirements list”:
- Robust, classic, heavy displacement style. We are going to live and voyage on this boat, not just spend weekends and holidays on it!
- Well-protected and deep centre-cockpit style, rather than the light-displacement, aft-cockpit, wide-beamed sun-bathing style boats popular in the Mediterranean.
- Modified (longer) fin keel. And, if possible, shoal draft. My old boat was a long-keeler that drew just 1m60. Why shoal draft? Because in the archipelagos of Sweden and Finland, where we will spend a great deal of time, a boat that draws 2 meters or more will not be able to come into certain anchorages or use certain fairways.
- Easy to handle for a couple of “a certain age”, and capable of being sailed single-handed.
- Cutter rig for more/easier “options” in sail handling
- Good interior layout for safety and comfort (lots of handholds, relatively narrow for boat length). We didn’t want a wide “party boat” where you’d be tossed around with nothing to hold onto during a storm.
- “Homey”. We would need to feel emotionally “at home” on this boat. For us, that meant a wooden interior and a bright, fresh feeling as opposed to the austere interiors found on many modern boats, especially the French and Italian ones.
- Well-equipped galley, with a good oven, microwave, refrigerator and freezer. I’d like as much drawer or basket storage space as possible. I used to always hate getting on my knees to search for things lost in the back of a lower cabinet or stored underneath the cabin sole.
- A reliable engine with a reasonable amount of horsepower (at least 2 for each foot). I know, I know, it’s a sailboat. But not every day is windy. We don’t want to be forced to stay at an anchorage or marina we don’t like simply because there’s no wind. Or be “stuck” if we need to stay out of a bad weather situation.
- Good sized diesel tanks to feed the engine, the generator and the heater. In the northern latitudes, such as the Lofoten coast of Norway, fuel stations may be few and far between.
- Three cabin – two heads design (so that friends or family visit, they are confortable) and a useful/comfortable navagation station.