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Delivering a Swan – Gerry Hegie

Yacht Music Swan 53 delivery from Finland to Saint Tropez

I was contracted by Mr James Blakemore a Johannesburg based businessman and proud owner of a new Swan 53 yacht Music, my role was to be the owners representative and Skipper of his newly purchased yacht, and to oversee the final fitment and familiarization stage and to make sure that the purchased yacht met all contractual and specification requirements prior to hand over.

In the month of June my travels have taken me through the waters and various ports of Finland to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, England, France, Channel Islands across the bay of Biscay to Spain past Portugal, through the straits of Gibraltar stopping again in Spain to Mallorca and finally ending the delivery in the south of France in port Grimaud.

I arrived in Finland in the town of Jakobstad/ Pietarsaari the home of Nautor Swan, Finland in Finish – Suomi – means land of lakes and fens, Some 93 percent of the Finns speak Finnish as their native tongue and the other 6 to 7 percent Swedish speaking around the coastal districts and the land Islands, hence the town’s name is read in both languages and the street signs and so forth.

Nautor’s Swan the world renowned shipyard who have 40 years of heritage, Nautor’s swan was founded in 1966 in Pietarsaari Finland, hundreds of years of finish boat building history combined with the unforgiving landscape around the small town of Pietarsaari where temperatures can fall to minus 30 Centigrade in depths of winter and the surrounding sea in the gulf of Bothnia can be frozen for 5 months of the year due to the position of the town being just 900 nautical mile south of the north pole, Nautor’s Swan is leader in the luxury sailing yacht market, it is globally recognised as a producer of exquisitely crafted yachts capable of offering a perfect balance of style and performance. Since the foundation of the company in 1966, almost 2000 Swans Yachts have been produced, ranging from 36 to 131 feet and almost all of them still in use today. Swan was revolutionary in building the first fibreglass yacht over 10 metres which was highly successful in Cowes week in 1968 hence the yard gained a reputation and became the foremost manufacturer of high performance racing yachts.

It was an honour to be associated with the yard whilst I was there and walking around the yard where over 15 yachts were in the final fitment stage all ranging from 53 foot to 112 foot. I was amazed and can’t fully explain the magnitude of the yachts produced here and the level of craft man ship and the levels and standards that are met in production, so much so that when I did add criteria to the snag list with areas concerning the finish and installations of the boat, the numerous points I raised where noted, photos taken for record and the points rectified swiftly by the Nautor team.

The most important asset in building a Swan yacht today remains in the teams of boat builders and craftsman, who have the skills and know-how inherited from their forefathers, they spend painstaking hours crafting each section of the yacht in accordance with the projects developed by the Frers design team at Frers Naval Architecture and Engineering, the craftsman are supported by Nautor’s Swan Product Development and Technical Office departments which employ over 50 in-house designers and engineers, the yard in total employ over 400 staff.

The Swan 53 which I am involved with reflects Nautor’s Swans on-going commitment to designing yachts that combine excellent cruising and racing capabilities, the yacht as all the rest of the yachts built at swan is exquisitely finished with teak decks, great lines and performs well under sail she also has all the latest gear on-board, all winches are Harken electric, recessed Harken roller furler unit , Harken deck gear and spinlock jammers, 20 degree double swept back spreaders with 15/16 aluminium mast wide shroud base, Standing rigging of round Navtec rod. C550 rigging screws with stainless covers with carbon fibre park avenue winged boom, PBO inner forestay and runners, hydraulic, outhaul, vang and backstay, broadband satellite internet on board whilst under sail, Brookes and Gatehouse H3000 main processor with numerous Graphic displays positioned on the mast and cockpit area, Fridge freezers, hot running water and showers, electric toilets, Webasto air conditioners, Yanmar 106 SHP with 3 blade folding prop, and the list goes on and on.

After my first month of being there and commissioning, purchasing of all safety equipment and familiarization of the boat combined with sea trials and so-forth the boat was handed over to the proud owner, the rest of the delivery crew joined us and we provisioned the boat with food and so-forth, we set sail on the 31st of May 2012

The waters of the Baltic Sea in the Gulf of Bothnia in May are not frozen but are still below 5 degrees centigrade and the wind chill factor is not comfortable, gloves and layers of clothing are a must, Also the sun only sets at 23h30 at night and rises at 03h00 but during the night time hours between sunset and sunrise it does not get that dark at all, so it’s great for night time navigation.

I set a waypoint for Nordvalen light house 63.32.519 N 020.48.116 E which is 46 NM from the safe water mark outside the channel at Peitassaren Majakka lighthouse at a bearing of 256 T, the Nordvalen lighthouse and the surrounding north and east cardinal marks and channel buoys demarcate a channel for navigation through the finish side of the Quark and clears the vast archipelago of islands and rocky out crops, wind was 10 – 15 knots and made for nice flat water beating conditions, upon approaching the channel the wind dropped we then motored at a heading of 195 T for Mariehamn the Largest town in the Aland Islands, we stopped for Fuel and to drop of the Yards representative.

We headed out next morning from Mariehamn knowing that there was a gale forecast, so we prepped the boat, stowed all gear, fitted reef lines to accommodate 3 reefs and staysail plugged in on removable PBO inner forestay, we had a lovely 45 NM downwind run leaving Mariehamn, by mid-afternoon as forecast the wind had veered to the beam and started increasing I set a course to steer higher than The Island of Gotland so that If the conditions worsened we would have enough weather gage to crack off and take shelter in the lee shore of the island, the conditions did worsen we were down to 3 reefs & staysail, we ended up stopping at Gotland in the port of Farosund for a day and a half due to 45 knots blowing across the deck and a messy sea with large swell, The Island of Gotland is 100 NM south of Stockholm. The Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic sea in general is very shallow, the deepest recorded depth is 200 metres, the waters in which we travelled depths ranged from 10-50 metres at most, gale force winds can kick up a nasty short steep wave and the sea state picks up very quickly due to the water being so shallow, the only positive in a Gale force Baltic Storm is that the water is not salty at all so foulies and boots dry quickly, I was impressed with the handling of the boat, she ploughed through the oncoming water, no breakages on board apart from a knackered crew, and irreparable Nespresso machine. We departed Gotland to the west through the channel and set sail heading for the northern point of ??land Island which is east of Sweden, conditions had improved after waiting in port at Gotland, our next stop was Copenhagen, we sailed down between the Swedish coast and the long land island through a network of demarcated narrow channels passing under the bridge of Kalmar at night viewing the spectacular national heritage site of the lit up Kalmar Slott Castle.

A lot of our approaches to ports moving southwards were done at night Copenhagen approach was interesting in that the chart shows a very clear well lit wide channel and a very long bridge going from Sweden to Denmark, I had misinterpreted the chart in thinking that we would pass below a bridge, in fact half way between Sweden & Denmark the bridge actually slopes down and becomes a tunnel below the water, so on the Swedish side the road is a bridge and the Danish insisted that it be a tunnel so they met halfway in the construction.

After reaching Copenhagen and buying necessary provisions spending time ashore tasting the cuisines and marvelling at the waterways that pass through the main town, we set sail for the Kiel Canal, The canal links the North Sea at Brunsbottel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. An average of 250 nautical miles (460 km) is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula. This not only saves time but also avoids potentially dangerous storm-prone seas, we spent the night in Rendsburg on the canal after passing through the lock at Kiel-Holtenau, waiting for a 25-30 knot headwind to subside in the North Sea, in the morning I timed our departure to arrive at high tide so that we could have the tide flowing out the Elbe river, it’s one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkono’e Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia (Czech Republic), then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, it was a bit choppy when we got out into open water, but the added speed of the 3 knot tide made up for it, it worked out perfectly as by the time we approached the mouth the tide went slack and turned and the sea state improved, by mid-day the wind subsided as forecast and made for a bit of motoring past Friesland north of Holland, there are so many buoys marking pipe lines, and fixed oil rig stations in the North sea it’s incredible, the wind had turned to the north and increased so we were running poled out at 10 knots past the abundance of oil rigs perfectly on course for the English channel sailing past the Dutch coast.

We did get to see a glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover, when the over cast conditions lifted slightly, but it was a laugh when a crew member had mistaken a large white ferry as the cliffs.

AIS has changed navigation on chart plotters, the information is incredible, from a range of 24 miles you can see detailed information of COG, SOG, HDG and the destination of ships, but smaller fishing vessels have not go this equipped or other smaller sailing vessels so a good radar watch and over all look out is compulsory, I can see in the future that AIS will become as crucial as flares are part of the safety criteria for a Certificate of Fitness for any sea going vessel.

After the English channel we stopped at Guernsey which is part of the Channel Islands, it’s important to meet the Alderney Race at high water Dover + 5 which is low water St Peters port, The Alderney race is a very fast moving current that flows North and South from Cherbourg at a rate of 6 knots at times, at this time the water is slack and turns towards the south to where we were heading. This is a very dangerous bit of water when conditions are bad with the added fast flowing water it can be treacherous, the tidal range in Guernsey is incredible, on the harbour wall you can clearly see how high the tide falls, the highest recorded tide in Guernsey was 12 metres at Springs, we were present at neaps so the tide was at its highest at 8.2 metres. The harbours have drying sills to keep water in the marina, so it’s only possible to pass over the sill at high tide; the drying height of the sill at LAT is 4, 2 metres.

We had to delay our departure and stay in Guernsey for 3 days due to Strong westerly’s blowing across the Bay of Biscay, England has had a bad stretch of weather over June with a bad string of fronts and rain floods, The bay of Biscay can be treacherous, many sailing books have been written about it, the Vendee globe starts in Les Sables d’Olonne and on numerous occasions of the race they have delayed the start due to the heavy westerly’s. This is a pasting from a race article and reads as follows,

Philippe Jeantot, the race organiser for the Vend’e Globe, announced today in a press conference at 1500hrs in Les Sables d’Olonne that the start for the 4th edition of the race has been postponed for 48 hours. The 24 skippers will now start on Tuesday 7th November at 1301hrs.
This decision was taken in a skippers’ briefing earlier in the morning, due to the announcement of a very bad weather forecast (South Westerly 50 knot winds over Sunday night and Monday morning

We left Guernsey and had to do a fair bit of motoring across the Bay of Biscay as there is no wind behind a moving front, we were accompanied by large pods of dolphins, after crossing the bay we stopped in Vigo 70 miles south from the north west tip of Spain just above Portugal to take on Fuel, we spent the night, because as forecast a small coastal low had accompanied us on our arrival in Vigo with headwinds of 25 knots which were evident on our final approach.

We left the next morning conditions were moderate to light with a big rolling messy sea, by mid-afternoon conditions improved to allow us to sail poled out again running down the Portuguese coast with a fresh to Strong Northerly from behind, conditions were just like the Rio race big following sea with 20-25 knots of wind, warm and sunny, by next morning we gybed off Lisbon and holding a steady course for Punta de Sagres of Portimao approaching the Traffic Separation Scheme conditions got worse, 35 to 40 knots from behind and a really big following sea the wind was ridging off a coastal low and the land, it was necessary to have two reefs and half a genoa poled out, we were still doing steady speeds of 10 knots, 12 knots at times and the occasional 14 knot surf.

We gybed to join on the correct side of the Traffic Separation Scheme as to avoid crossing the bows of ships, and gybed back and held a steady course for Gibraltar, conditions did not improve until we were well in the lee shore of the Portuguese coast, by next morning it was a different story all together, sea flattened out and wind dropped off completely by the afternoon the tables had turned, wind increased from the nose and the last 65 NM till the straights of Gibraltar were interesting 35 knot headwinds, so we cracked off and steered a moderate heading for the top of Morocco, once in the lee shore of Morocco we were down to only 3 reefs in the main and the engine at 2000 rpm doing a steady 7.5 knots, every tack took us within 200 metres of the shoreline to stay on the starboard side of the TSS at Gibraltar, there was an enormous amount of shipping passing through the Straits, on many occasions with the AIS features on the Chart plotter I was able to call up ships on channel 16 and communicate on channel 8 and between the two of us alter course. The strange thing was upon entering the med just 5 Nm within Gibraltar off the Moroccan coast after beating into 30 knots head winds, the wind dropped to just under twenty knots and thick fog rolled in, thank goodness for Radar and AIS. Sadly for the next 600 NM there was no wind and light headwinds, we took on fuel beforehand in Malaga after dropping off some guests and pressed on to Mallorca, where we took on more fuel.

The Last 80 NM before arriving in Saint Tropez conditions made for lovely flat water 10-15 knot broad reach with asymmetric flying and dolphins all around. Our Approach to the Golfe du Saint Tropez was in the morning with all the Super Yachts anchored in the bay accompanied by the 5 decked Gin Palace Stink Pots scattered around at anchor, a really marvellous and spectacular sight, It is amazing how much wealth is in this area. To sum up the trip, I was very impressed with the boat, the overall handling was great she sailed well under all conditions, I gained a certain trust in knowing that when conditions worsened the boat would handle anything that was thrown at her, there was no creaking or movement of bulkheads and doors, the overall finish of the boat is great and everything stayed in place, the places we visited were spectacular with very well managed marinas, I was running Adrena navigation program with C-Map Jeppeson Database charts from a PC on-board which I installed and interfaced with the boats electronics myself, the charts are a must have, as it covers more info than a yachting pilot book would offer, and makes navigation safer with the ability to overlay detailed weather charts and so-forth.

The Swan 53 Music is based in Port-Grimaud, in the Golfe du Saint Tropez in a lovely picturesque residential marina development with the boat moored on the foot of the lawn next to the owner’s villa; I am in the process of preparing the boat to take part in the upcoming Swan Rolex Cup in Sardinia on the 10th of September.

Regards from the south of France

Yours in sailing
Gerry William Hegie
06 July 2012

 

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