I am not a blue water sailor and am rather apprehensive of the water, so in many ways, a trip on a canal and among islands with abundant sea and bird life is just about right for me. And indeed it was — there were so many things to see, and Steph and Brian were absolutely awesome hosts; making me feel at home right away and providing a gentle introduction of the ways of living on a boat.
Detour is a very comfortable boat; lots of room for sitting and hanging out down below and up on deck; it just feels roomy, besides having many of the comforts you would expect while traveling in something moving. I can make some comparisons with the travel trailer I’ve been using for 5 years — yes, you squeeze around people in the aisles and you’ll hit your head on some low ceilings, but fully functional electrical, cooking, plumbing and sewer systems make most things pretty easy.
I was hitting my head on some of the low ceilings the first few days, and even after that, but one does learn. On the deck there are plenty of places to hold on and I soon developed some favorite spots. Some favorite times were when the weather was good enough to have a meal outdoors, which we managed to do a few times.
The main cabin is very roomy and the large table with bench seating is especially inviting. This is where pretty much everything happens below deck. My sleeping quarters were adequate, but small; I could sit up, but just barely, so it was really only a place for sleeping.
Even after staying up until midnight just about every night (far later than my usual routine at home), I was almost always the first one up in the morning, after a good night’s sleep (I always slept well on the boat). The floorboards creak, and so do the doors, so I was as quiet as I could be. Once I learned how to operate the stove, I eventually started making coffee early; somewhat handy since we’d always be making 2 or 3 pots anyway, and this way I got my coffee craving out of the way.
If we happened to be on a mooring with good Internet data access, I might check things online, or if not, just read a book and sometimes write up notes about the trip, such as this one. Sometimes we had a great connection and it was fun to upload pics and tidbits from the day before, but often the connection was minimal or nonexistent.
We mostly ate meals on the boat, and always breakfast, but would often go out, especially if we were staying in a small town with restaurants. This gave us a good chance to sample the local cuisine and the beer, all a lot of fun.
On only a few days were we up very early — days where we had a lot of mileage to cover, for example. But we often would not get moving until 10-11am, or even early afternoon sometimes, depending on the plan. We spent about a week in the Caledonian Canal, and we extended that a bit since we had some necessary errands.
In the canal, we would either dock at a pontoon or use the anchor someplace. Now I understand better how the anchor is used and how it is ‘set’ to ensure that it doesn’t drag. If you’re in about 8 meters of water, you’re going to let out about 30 meters of chain. Then, slowly back up until you can tell you are no longer moving. If that still looks like it’s a good distance from shore and other boats and shallow water, run the engine at hard reverse, to see if it’s really holding. That was usually it; the final step was something called snubbing, which was explained and made some sense at the time, but I’d have to read more about it to really understand it.
The charting software, running on an iPad, is very interesting, showing our location and course on a high resolution chart, with our projected course shown by a line. You can zoom in and out at will, choose a point as a waypoint to navigate towards, and so on. The detail is just like the old paper charts, extremely readable and useful.
Our position is broadcast on VHF, by a system known as AIS, so other vessels equipped with AIS can see us and our information and we can see theirs. In fact, we also see their projected courses and closest point of approach, very useful for making minor course adjustments. This is mostly used by commercial vessels of all sizes and sometimes by pleasure craft like Detour. We did see a freighter or two, but mostly the larger vessels we saw were various ferry boats.
The boat has an autopilot, so once it’s on the course you want, it will hold it unless you lose headway, i.e. slow down to a crawl. It’s easy to adjust this course by any number of degrees. When there is a lot of wind or waves, it’s interesting to watch the wheel constantly adjust to the changing conditions.
The diesel engine is noisy but sure was reliable. We refilled the tank near Glasgow. We did a lot of motoring on this trip because of the canals and because many of the long trips were against the wind.
The stove is on gimbals, so it stays level no matter what the boat is doing. There are also some guides you attach to help pans stay in place. There is also an oven, which we used multiple times for roasts. We were able to grill on shore one time, in nice weather, with one of those one-time-use grills.
There are solar panels on the back and they do a great job of keeping the various battery packs charged. I think there are 3 sets of batteries — one for the bow thruster, one for the boat in general, and one for the diesel engine. The engine charges everything if it’s running.
Keeping electronic devices charged was interesting. Our most common power source was the standard 12v adapter, from the battery/solar array. We would charge phones and tablets from this. We also had a couple of inverters which supplied 110 volts from the 12v adapter, for those devices that needed that, such as my laptop. The boat itself can be plugged into shore power, which in Europe is 220 volts and the outlets on the boat are standard European outlets. We did this only once, in Glasgow.
There are lots of nooks and crannies for storing things and most of the tables have an inch or so of lip so that things won’t slide off. While we were motoring along in the calm canals, we could be a bit lax about where things were placed, but once on salt water, we took more care to properly stow equipment.
There are many, many ropes for the sails. The Genoa, which unfurls at the front of the boat, can be operated entirely from the cockpit. So can the main sail, at least it can once it’s not all bundled up. We mostly used the Genoa when we could sail, as it’s so easy to unfurl. I think we used the main sail once or twice. The spinnaker was not available, as it was being repaired at a sailmaker.
The boat has a movable keel, known as a centerboard. This is raised and lowered with ropes. Being able to raise it in a canal obviously gives the boat a very shallow draft; this was very useful when Detour was in France last year and we also were sure to raise it in the Crinan Canal, which is quite shallow, not much more than 2 meters.
The dinghy is indispensable once you are anchored somewhere off shore and need to come to shore. The dinghy was packed away at the bow of the boat when I arrived and we didn’t need it until well into the trip, when we anchored for a hike on Loch Lochy. Then the dinghy needed to be unpacked and inflated — this took about 5-10 minutes, then winched overboard. It’s pretty easy to handle without the motor attached, but the motor makes it considerably heavier. When not in use, it’s hauled up at the back of the boat on davits. It takes about 5 minutes to lower it and get it ready, or about the same to haul it back up after use.
There are three large instruments visible when you are out on deck, not counting what is at the wheel. One of them shows the depth, in meters, at least if it’s less than 150 meters. If it’s more than that, then it just shows what the last reading was. This instrument was always watched closely when anchoring in shallow waters! The second instrument was the current heading, in degrees, and the third was the speed over ground, in knots. The latter could be switched to speed over water, since there is GPS data available, along with apparent wind speed; hence you can see just how much the wind or current might be affecting the boat speed through the water. The iPad with the charts was usually set up on a pedestal nearby and could always be checked to see what was going on and what was nearby.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I enjoyed the parallels with my travel trailer. When you are inside, or below deck, everything is the same; it’s the place you are used to. When you go outside, or above deck, you see that you are in a completely different place, with different views. Living on a boat is both the same, and different, from a trailer/RV.
Many thanks to Stephanie & Brian for making my travels aboard s/v Detour so enjoyable. I hope to join them again sometime in the future!