Carbon monoxide alarm in Les Sables d'Olonne and La Rochelle 23.6. - 6.7.

  • Posted on: 18 July 2017
  • By: Eve

"Warning, carbon monoxide! Warning, carbon monoxide!" is not something you'd like to hear at night for sure. Andrus was watching Netflix on iPad and I was listening audiobook when the warning suddenly sounded. As CO is odourless gas and silent killer we quickly opened the windows and hatches and started to investigate what is going on?

Nothing seemed to be burning but the main battery was still been charged at 30 amps. Andrus had connected shore power earlier in the afternoon and by now the batteries should had been fully charged. He quickly disconnected the charger and went checking the batteries in the engine room. The batteries were fire hot and one of them was swollen and bubbled, fortunately not exploded! We waited for some time, ventilated all spaces and went back asleep as nothing more could be done at night.
Swollen AGM battery
In the morning Andrus continued exploring the batteries and chargers. The batteries were still warm but not hot anymore. The voltage looked ok and we tried charging. The charging current started at 50 amps and descended to 10 amps later. This is way too much for a float charging-phase. The problem must be in either the batteries or in the charger.

We had replaced our 4 x 225 Ah AGM battery bank two years earlier in Ireland and two years lifetime is a way too short, indeed. The batteries replaced in Ireland were 4 years old and this also is too short for high quality batteries.

We're about to start our crossing of the Bay of Biscay and going offshore with faulty electrical system is clearly a no-no. After thinking out all our options we decided to continue to La Rochelle. There is some bad weather coming to Biscay and La Rochelle would be a nice place to sit it out or in case we have to wait for spare parts as well. In best case Suwena's electric system would be fixed by the time the strong winds passed and we could continue further south. There is another charger on the engine and for making sure that there would be no fire Andrus ran the engine for two hours in our berth before we departed to La Rochelle.

In La Rochelle the marina made recommendation to use Pochon company for fixing Suwena's electric system. They must be the most professional boat electricians we've ever met. Not only they quickly diagnosed the fault being a thermal runaway that happens when AGM batteries are overcharged with too high current in hot environment but they also traced the wiring and called Mastervolt charger support several times when solving the mystic behaviour of the charger.

In the end the root cause of all the problems with batteries over the years was improper installation from the beginning at Nauticat boatyard. We have two Mastervolt Mass 50A chargers. Both of the chargers come with own temperature sensor that should be glued to the hottest part of the battery bank e.g. close to the plus connection. However both of our temperature sensors were at the bottom of the bilge in a cool location covered with the mix of oil and water. Somehow sensors' wires were hidden behind some other installations and even Andrus was looking fully puzzled after finding the sensors. He has opened every nook and granny he has found on the boat while servicing our equipment but he had also missed the two hanging sensors in the bilge. Additional twist in the story is that one of sensors was not even connected to the charger. The charger connections are behind a metal cover that needs unscrewing for access. Inside there the sensor's wire was just fastened with cable ties to the casing and it was fully disconnected.

To make a long story short, due to faulty wiring the charger was thinking that the batteries were cool and thus it was charging with full current. We were also in a middle of a major heatwave without much wind and we've been motoring a lot. After turning the engine off the temperature inside the engine room increases and we usually connect a shore power about the same time just after arriving to the marina. All together the possibility for overcharging existed and hence the thermal runaway.

Fortunately we had no fire and CO alarm probably saved our lives. As the boats are full of all kinds of equipment we think that having a carbon monoxide detector onboard should be mandatory.

Pro tip! Carbon monoxide is lighter than air and the alarm should be fitted to the highest ceiling of the boat. If you sleep with cabin doors shut then it is also a good practice to fit the alarm into each cabin.
Suwena's fire and carbon monoxide alarm
We also send our best wishes and many thanks to the professional team at Pochon in La Rochelle. We can warmly recommend their services to anybody needing any electrical or electronics installations onboard.

Les Sables d'Olonne 23.6. - 25.6.

  • Posted on: 16 July 2017
  • By: Eve

From the island of Yeu it is an easy 29 nautical miles sail to Les Sables d'Olonne. There are two marinas, a fishing port and a commercial harbour. The first and smaller marina as well as the fishing and commercial harbours are situated about half a mile up the entrance canal on the right. On the internet forums there were several discussions about the fishing boats departing early morning creating some swell to the still sleeping sailors. But on the other hand the marina is located just next to the famous Sables d'Olonne promenade.
The entrance of Les Sables d'Olonne in France
The smaller marina of Les Sables d'Olonne in France
We continued a bit further into the huge marina of Port Olona. The marina had excellent arrangements for visiting yachtsmen. All boats were asked to stop on the waiting pontoon and visit reception for berth assignment. It is very big marina of 1500 berths and this helps the organising the berths for all visitors easily.
The waiting pontoon of Port Olona in Les Sables d'Olonne in France
Just as we had made her fast to the waiting pontoon we heard a happy welcome from Caroline and John who had arrived before us on their S/Y Ceilidh.

We got the berth from the pontoon H at the end of the marina, close to the Vendée Globe pontoon. On Saturday we had to visit there and step with our own feet to the pontoon from where every fourth year the most demanding and valued sailing race starts. Vendée Globe is a non-stop singlehanded race around the world that is sailed by extremely fast IMOCA 60 monohull boats.
Suwena in Port Olona in Les Sables d'Olonne in France
It was huge to walk on the Vendée Globe pontoon and imagine the feelings which sailors must have had last November before departing into almost three month long singlehanded sailing. During the race they cannot receive any outside help. They must be prepared to deal with all possible conditions alone including fixing the boat with all of its onboard equipment and going aloft. Then adding the changing conditions from the heat of the equator to the snowstorms on the Southern Ocean. How about sleep management and mental well-being? We must take our hats off from the respect to these guys!
Andrus on the pontoon of Vendée Globe race in Les Sables d'Olonne in France
The Vendée Globe pontoon was rather wide. Three normal pontoons were put together to create one jumbo-sized dock. In the middle was still another widening or should we call it a plaza, probably for the tents of the race committee or sponsors, at least we think so.

We also noticed that we had arrived to the heart of the French boatyard industry. Most of the French boatyards are located around Les Sables d'Olonne and La Rochelle. In Port Olona one big pontoon was full of Lagoon catamarans and there were own buildings for both Feeling and Privilège Yachts yards.
The Lagoon pontoon in Les Sables d'Olonne in France
If there is a need for repair of your own boat then the help is nearby for sure on this area. Also for visitors help there are even three chandleries and we finally managed to acquire an anchor buoy there. Several times we have been thinking when the famous "Oh s…" would happen as we had missed the anchor buoy. At the bottom of the sea can be an old oyster bed, chain, even coral or a big stone where the anchor can get stuck. Now and then there is a warning in the pilot book and recommendation to use a tripline for the anchor. If the anchor gets stuck then it might be impossible to free it by pulling from its chain. The anchor buoy is fixed close to the part where the shank is connected to the fluke. This allows the pulling of anchor "wrong way" and getting it free.
Eve with the brand new anchor buoy of Suwena
There are a few restaurants on the eastern side of Port Olona, but the main dining area is at the waterfront of Sables d'Olonne next to the smaller marina. There is electric-ferry transferring people from one side to another just to the start of the famous promenade. On our way out I had to listen hard, how this thing is moving? On a way back we went to the back of the ferry but it was still quiet. There were two ferries, one in operation and departing every 10 minutes while the other was charging in Port Olona.
Les Sables d'Olonne in France
The promenade of Les Sables d'Olonne in France

Île d'Yeu 19.6. - 23.6.

  • Posted on: 11 July 2017
  • By: Eve

When we were sailing to southern England in 2013 and we started our circumnavigation of the British Isles we joined a very active cruising club, The Cruising Association. The club has sections all over the world. At first we joined the North Sea section and got to know many sailors on the East coast of the UK.

Now that we are sailing on the Bay of Biscay we follow the CA Biscay section. The main Biscay events of this summer were two rallies and one of them was just on our route. There were a total of 14 boats participating in the Yeu Rally, all other boats were from the UK and we were from Finland. The rally lasted for three days and every evening we had common activities while daytime was free for exploring the island on its own pace.

When we were arriving to the harbour of Port-Joinville on Monday evening it was already full with several yachts being rafted up. The heatwave had really got the sailors out to the sea. Here it is more a rule than an exception for building rafts from multiple yachts as the marinas fill up. There were two yachts moored in a row on the hammerhead. We were about to come alongside one of them when the skipper had such a facial expression making sure that we're not welcome. We continued and made her fast to the next boat that had super friendly crew. Mr Grumpy really did not want to raft with anybody and also sent out some other boats but the yachts kept coming in never ending line. Later when Mr Grumpy returned back to his boat, there was a nice raft alongside his boat.
Port-Joinville, Île d'Yeu
We spent a peaceful night as a middle boat on our raft as in the evening still another boat was coming alongside us. In the morning there was a departure time when the rafts were dismantled slowly and the boats were departing to the sea. We also got our own berth. The same dance repeated every evening and morning with the harbour getting full.

When Suwena was in her own berth on Tuesday morning we were eagerly looking forward to the CA rally starting at the evening. It was so nice when Judith the event organizer from S/Y Wizard of Paget came to welcome us to the rally. She also told the final program of the upcoming days.

It all came out as quite a feast. The first evening we had BYO (Bring Your Own) pontoon party. We had a vast variety of snacks that were shared among chatting sailors.
The pontoon party of The Cruising Association on the island of Yeu in France
Everybody had already spent some time sailing in these waters and experiences of various locations were enthusiastically shared. The most discussed topic of the evening was Arcachon entrance that can be potentially dangerous when the swell is breaking on the entrance bar. The consensus was that Arcachon entrance should be passed close to the high water slack with the swell of 1m or less. The entrance channel moves during the winter storms and so the lateral buoys have to be moved regularly making charts useless. Before entrance you should either make VHF call on channel 16 or alternatively call +33 5 56 60 60 03) to Sémaphore du Cap Ferret for asking the actual conditions of the bar. Alternatively you can always follow any fishing boat that knows the local area well.

The evening was a success and soon in the air was an idea for arranging a pot luck pontoon dinner next evening, where everybody brings one dish for sharing. The Wednesday was a really hot day for cooking in galley but anyhow what an amazing range of main dishes and puddings have been cooked. Yummy yummy.

The entertaining evening continued when we all went together to the centre of Joinville. There was a summer party where children were dancing, people partying, the band was playing traditional seafaring songs and fire artists performing a show. We had a great time together even if we had absolutely no idea what we are celebrating.
Summer event in Port-Joinville of Île d'Yeu in France
Summer event in Port-Joinville of Île d'Yeu in France
On Thursday evening the rally culminated with a joint dinner at the restaurant 09 where Judith had organized menu selections beforehand. The food was delicious and changing of the experiences and future plans continued. Every evening at rally meetings we got to know new sailors. Time was quickly flying among nice people with good food.
The Cruising Association's Yeu Rally in France
The world is a really small place. Without knowing we had already met one of the rally yachts in Roscoff when S/Y Ceilidh was moored next to Suwena during last winter. We also almost met at Houat when we both were anchoring in the same bay at the same time. Now we met again with Caroline and John from S/Y Ceilidh. It is peculiar when sometimes by meeting new friends you feel like you are already old friends.

The island of Île d'Yeu is located about 10 miles off the western coast of France. It is about 8 by 4 kilometres and so we did like many others, we went for exploring the island by bike. We could really see that we have left Brittany behind and arrived in Vendée and closer to the Mediterranean. The more steep grey roofs of Brittany had changed into flatter terracotta roofs in the island of Yeu. We also stopped for admiring amazing beaches where one can choose either to sunbath in 30-degree sunshine or relax and read in a shadow of the trees. Both the options were in active use.
Andrus on the beach of the island of Yeu in France
The village of St-Sauveur on the island of Île d'Yeu in France
The village of St-Sauveur on the island of Île d'Yeu in France
Port-Joinville of Île d'Yeu in France
On Friday morning it was time to say goodbye to the new friends when most of the rally boats were continuing their adventures. We met many lovely couples and we really hope to meet them again one day somewhere.

Judith had made excellent arrangements in organizing the Yeu Rally. Warm thanks to Judith! We departed from the island of Yeu towards Les Sables d'Olonne with many good rally memories.