I am just coming up to the end of my first year with the Liberty and although it might seem that with a channel crossing under my belt and an all-year round sailing ethos here that i might know the boat by now but i feel that i know just enough to be planning my next trip which is the serial voayge around the UK.
Going back over my logbook though shows me the modifications i have done , what i think about those and my general impressions about the boat in the varied conditions that i have sailed her in and of course the 2 channel crossings and the Brittanny trip are a large part of that. The France trip was pretty testing at times, not because the boat couldn’t cope but more because its not set up well for the longer legs unlike my previous boat which was completely ready for singlehanded long distance sailing and long periods spent aboard. My Liberty doesn’t yet have any self-steering system , i can’t really justify putting a windpilot on the back but am seriously considering one of the smaller tillerpilots now that i have a doubled battery capacity : i will be covering that side over in my own blog.
In no particular order then i will try and run through a few of the things that i learnt abou the boat during the year i have owned her , the modifications i have made and the projects that are ongoing now in preparation for my longer voayges to come. Something that i would like to add right at the start is that i had the good fortune to know the late David Thomas from being involved myself in the first BT race, from sailing many of his racing designs and from several years of working alongside Trudi Thomas (Davids wife). During that time i remember discussing the boat with Trudi who was very enthusiastic about the concept and did herself think that it was an unexplored avenue in British boat design : there isn’t really much else that is similar except for the smaller Poacher that i mentionned. At the time i remember being very interested in building a true sharpie but again at the time there was very little information out there except for some historical work and modern rebuilds of ‘Egret’ : the commodore Munroe design.
What i wanted from the Libery is a bit of an ‘MPV’ of a boat in that i want to sail but i know that i will motor quite a bit, the ability to dry out level and sit on the mud safely, that will sail in very thin water and can access even thinner water with her boards up, but aboat that would be able to do at least coastal passages and be comfortable enough to spend time aboard. Time spent with small boats tells me that 22-23 feet is just about the smallest i can cope with, ok so there are smaller boats that i would be happy to own but most of them get pretty cramped below except for a camping existence. All boats are of course a compromise, i would love to have the space of my Frances 26 but without the expense and the deep keel ! and yes i did look at other boats that would do the same or similar job : couple of examples come to mind such as the Dehler 25 TS , the more modern Red Fox and a much older boat the Fairey Atalanta (there is one on the evilbay right now)…well the Dehler and the Fox are wel outside my budget and i know that most of the Atalanta’s would need a major refit and though i could do that i really want to be sailing and not working on yet another refit project. At its budget the Libery was just about the best boat i could get for the job : and the job being to see as much of the Uk coast, estuaries and rivers ‘close-up’. I think the boat will do the job but that i can make it work a bit better all-round with the minor tinkering that i am doing.
My first project with the boat once that i could actually get sails up and down…oh and put the rudder blade in the right way around ! was to move the galley as the original is just about the worst arrangment i have ever seen outside of a victorian gentlemans yacht with a pressurised parafin coooker and ‘galley’ up in the forepeak. The new one is i guess what many do ie uses the small space inside the comapnionway : all i had there at first was a 2 burner hob and since then i built a new counter-top including a step, a new back unit and a galley storage box that sits in what was the coffin berth and it works fine, when i am sailing i can make a brew from the cockpit and can cook below sat on the end of the settee berth to stbd. The spirit cooker nearly got the heave-ho ( i am a gas man) but i have slowly got used to it, my current project is to make up a dutch oven so that i can bake with the hob.
Second job was to get rid of the sea-toilet and use the heads space instead as dedicated stowage : i am definitely a ‘bucket’ man at sea and strangely enough my partner isn’t put-out at all about it (grew up on a farm). The first use of the heads compartment then was to take a pair of plastic stacking crates that became my larder and tin store, since then i have moved a lot of my longer term stores , thats a separate project, but this month will be building an ice-box just as the Frances had except that this one will be removeable. The heads compartment i can only describe as ‘bloody-awkward’ in that at 6 foot 2 i have to fold myself up and down at the same time to get over the centreboard case and under the top sill just to get in there…working in there recently for hours on end sorting the electrics out was nothing short of purgatory.
Sailing qualities : were massively improved with the rudder going back in right way around, spending a couple of days getting her bum super-smooth , changing halyards and sheets to ones that would both run freely and not stretch like old knicker elastic, using the centreboard winch as a halyard winch (oh look it gets flatter !) and rigging a centreboard tackle so that i can work the CB from the cockpit. Gradually i feel that i am maximising the sailing envelope or at least not throwing away so much of the available sailing performance. Now , certainly offwind she is becoming a slippery little customer and much more pleasant to sail with times this year that i have easily kept pace with larger boats. What also helped ?…well i did make a mistake by having a heavier anchor, chain and warp in the bow well and i suspect now that was some of my problem with the plunging and spray over the boat coming back over the channel. Right now i have the old and slightly useless original CQR up there but that is coming off this month now that the cockpit deployed anchoring set-up is nearly finished when i will be swapping to my new Rocna anchor as my best bower and a delta type stowed below in reserve. I couldn’t get her to balance perfectly on any point of sail during the solo channel crossing and even with a line over the tiller had to correct the course every few minutes : part of that i feel is the changing fore and aft balance as i move around as its less noticeable when i stay in one place.
Sailing comfort is still a small problem in that during both channel passages i had to spend long periods at the helm as i couldn’t get the boat to self-steer either upwind or down but neither could i settle in and get comfortable like i used to have to do when i raced offshore boats. What might help is having a second and longer tiller to bring me further forward in the cockpit (the racing tiller extension doesn’t work well). That comes back once again to not having self-steering, once i have that a lot of the minor problems will sort themselves out .
Not having a sprayhood has been uncomfortable a few times and i have thought about making one as a project : too expensive to have one made professionally. What the boat would benefit from is better cockpit and hatch shelter while moored : some kind of boom tent or awning will be an early job when i get a sewing machine this year and already at design stage is a sliding ‘bullet’ for the mizzen boom to get that higher for more space in the cockpit. I am working on an extended hatch cover just to stop rain getting below and while i am thinking about that also making a wylie port for the companionway boards. At some time i have in mind building a slightly ‘dog-house’ main hatch so that i could stand under it at sea on watch but that also needs another modification as below.
One of the worst aspects of the boat for me is going forward to reef and anchor : in my blog i talked about a near MOB in the river locally last year. the so called gauradrails are so low that they feel like trip-wires and just hinder progress and the cabin rail feels too low to be of real value. What i would like to do is have a new cabin rail fabricated but higher like a pilot boat has, if i can find a local stainless steel fabricator who can do the job in-situ then that will be a go otherwise i may have to make a flash of the entire deck and take it to the local SS works. The problem of working forward especially reefing and anchoring is one that i am working on right now, the newcomposite bow fairlead is finished and i am just working out the line handling to set and raise anchor from the cockpit, most of the new reefing arrangment is done so i will soon test that which will then allow me to reef and un-reef from aft as well.
Living aboard is of course tight on space when compared to even a 26 foot boat, i now keep the berth infill in permanently with dedicated stowage built in below that : when relaxing i tend to sit with my back against the forward end of the berths but with the under-shelf space thoroughly packed with bedding to make a comfortable backrest, otherwise i tend to sit at the aft end with my legs up on the oppositse side especially when i am cooking. I do feel i need to be able to use the cockpit better as a living space this year. Having said that we managed 2 weeks cruising 2 up last year without totally getting in each others way so any improvement on that will be a bonus.
The next major project i have worked on is the boats electrics which were a diabolical mess, everything just packed up during my christmas cruise and what i thought would be half a days work just changing the battery switch turned into most of 6 days and a total re-wire and now with a new battery which doubles the battery capacity : 180 AH now from 90 before : that should now allow me to run a tillerpilot, the new VHF/GPS , new LED navigation lights and some interior lights. I do now have a fully functional PV panel and with a plan to fit a second one (the old one was shot). I did think about and enquire about the benefit of fitting a charging circuit to the outboard motor but have been advised not to an dwait until i fit a bigger engine (8hp from 6hp) later this year.
Right now (February) i am only a few weeks away from my planned departure on my round Britain voyage, the boat is in a much better state of preparedness than when i bought her and last years experience with local sailing and the cross-channel passages shows me that the boat will do it (at its own pace) and will allow me to get into the kinds of places that i couldn’t contemplate in my last boat or the kinds of boats i used to race and drive professionally.