Around the world in 80 months

Create a notification for "Cruising"

So here we are, back at our starting point in South Africa.

January 1st 2010 we let slip the lines with our four children on board our new 50 foot catamaran, Banana, a St Francis 50 which had only come out of the yard five months previously. Fast forward to March 2016, 6 years later, and there are only three of us on board. Our two eldest are finishing university in Montreal, while our daughter has been boarding in high school the past two years. The youngest has continued with home-schooling on board, right till the end of our trip. He’s 15 now, and we’re going to be ashore for three years, which will give him time to graduate from high school.
As I haven’t got the space to write a novel here, I’m going to try and summarize as much as possible. Both the human and technical aspects of our adventure will hopefully be interesting to those planning to set off one day. The simplest way to put it, is to simply say “Yes, but they can”, and to carry on with your usual routine. Of course in this case you should immediately put down this corrupting magazine, otherwise you might end up taking a huge risk: you’ll set off, or at least start dreaming about a project.
Without any doubt, that’s what happened to us. One day our dreams became a project, and eventually we cast off.
40,000 miles, that’s twice the distance around the world, and way more than we had banked on doing. We had anticipated the stock of spares we would need for a year (filters, service kits, seals, pumps, etc.) on setting out from Cape Town, and replacing them as necessary as we went along. Any small problems were apparent in the first few weeks and had been resolved by the first long passage. A spi halyard block which broke, a halyard with a poor lead into the mast which wore out… but nothing to cause us to question the reliability of the boat. I have to say, looking back, that we didn’t need to make too many repairs, other than for things which we broke ourselves. And even when this happened, the yard always replied to our emails and managed to send us the parts.
And in the end, after six years everything is still in good order. Only the sails might need changing before setting off on a new trip. They have however done more than 40,000 miles without losing any shape but are starting to delaminate.

Around the world in 80 months

Banana’s crew setting off from South Africa in 2010.

And if we were to set off tomorrow on a new trip?

I would opt for a set of Hydranet sails, which are lighter and easily repairable. Membrane type sails in carbon spectra are strong, do not lose shape but are heavier and impossible to re-stitch.
As for the rigging I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything is ultra-strong, with double shrouds and double forestays. The halyards and other lines were changed as necessary depending on wear. For the deck hardware we wouldn’t change anything either: with two big electric winches everything is easy, the windlass is fantastic. After six years there are still no problems at all.
The Yanmar motors are a great option for going around the world. Strong, low fuel consumption and super-easy to maintain.
The saildrives work very well, but their maintenance is a little bit more involved. At every haul out you need to think of changing the oil from below and to change the lower seals every two years. It’s also imperative to change the upper seals every third oil change. The clutch cones need to be replaced when they start to slip after about 1600 hours. They can easily go on longer if you don’t have the parts, but as we all know, prevention is better than cure…
The propellers I chose were Varifold, and they were excellent. We would definitely choose them again.
In conclusion, as regards the mechanics, there is nothing to change before setting off again. Having sailed around the world, it’s clear that we chose the right kit.

Around the world in 80 months

The crew in 2014. For the new departure in 2016, there are now only three of them on-board (plus the dog!)

As for power, we found the right balance. 950 W of solar panels on the bimini allowed us to live at anchor if it was sunny, and if not running the Yanmar 3 kW generator for a bit meant the batteries were happy again. We also had a (silent) 400 W wind generator, but this was really only any use in the Caribbean. On a cat, they don’t work so well due to the mainsail deflecting the wind, and us mostly sailing downwind. At anchor, generally well sheltered, they don’t charge so much… It is also a mechanical system which requires care and maintenance (bearings every two years). If you’ve got one, keep it, but I won’t be fitting one to my next boat.
For the amount we were using, we didn’t have to impose any restrictions when there were three or four of us on the boat.
The 60 l/h Spectra watermaker was brilliant. We did a full overhaul after 2000 hours, and changed the high pressure pump head at 2500 hours. When there were six or eight of us on board we needed to run the generator for 2 hours every morning because the watermaker had to do twice the work, without taking into account all of our visitors’ electronic devices which needed charging. With LED’s fitted everywhere, lighting was never a problem. If we were going to set off again as a couple we wouldn’t change a thing, although a 100 l/h watermaker would make life easier when we have visitors on board.
The Optima battery bank was 900 amps at 12 Volts plus a starter battery for the two motors. In six years we never had any concerns, and would set off again with the same system.
All the electronics were Raymarine, and apart from a chart problem with the E120 in the first few months which was changed under guarantee, we had no problems, and would use this again. Our very tired Iridium phone was changed for an Iridium Go with a fixed antenna which was definitely more effective for weather files, with the SSB and Pactor 3 modem being our backup.
In terms of comfort, we had ventilation everywhere, and reversible aircon when we were alongside a dock. The two refrigerators and the freezer gave no trouble apart from one fridge needing a new thermostat after five years and a gas leak on a part which was not properly tightened in the first month. Everything was impeccable. The gas oven and the cook top are going to be changed now as they are starting to rust and the temperature regulation is fairly mediocre. I think these should be considered as part of the consumables which need changing every six years.
We have redone all the upholstery and it looks great, as the foam and the fabric of the old ones were getting tired.
Having returned to our starting point, we are making the most of being back at the boatyard in South Africa, and we are re-doing some varnish work even though it is still in very good condition after six years around the world.
This haulout at St Francis has allowed us to do a complete checkup/ refit of Banana. Unstepping the mast for a thorough check of the rigging, changing halyard sheaves, etc. The new Hydranet sails have been fitted, Harken batten cars overhauled, halyards, etc…

Around the world in 80 months

During the build, cardboard furniture was installed to confirm the right choices were being made.

The Things which made a difference or which we really appreciated

On board Banana, we had specified certain things which were really useful during stopovers, such as an on-board workshop with a vise and full set of tools and a not insignificant stock of parts. Every part of the boat was accessible without any problem. A real plus for maintenance and / or repair. The boat is well balanced electrically, with no power consumption problems. We never had any concerns about the electrical circuits or the plumbing, except for the water heater which was changed under guarantee after four years.
We slept soundly at anchor (using a 40 kg Rocna anchor and 100 meters of chain) with a strong windlass.
Four 220 l diesel tanks making 880 l, which could be linked or not, freed us from any worries and gave us a great level of self-sufficiency. Finally, for comfort on board we have a washing machine, a really spacious galley with a dryer and even a range cooker. Great for entertaining!
The boat’s natural ventilation is particularly effective and a small air-con unit allows us to live on board when we are alongside even in the rainy season when the hatches remain shut.
There is an aluminum-hulled tender with a 25 hp motor which planes easily.
Special stowage for diving tanks, fishing rods, water skis, wake board, fins etc.
A helm station sheltered under the bimini and not “upstairs” as you see so often on charter boats…

Around the world in 80 months

In Vanuatu the inhabitants have thankfully long since abandoned the cannibal practices of their ancestors, but they haven’t lost their sense of humor…

But after this somewhat technical review, the most important thing remains the human adventure. We met boats and people from all four corners of the world. Curiously the nicest encounters happened when we weren’t expecting them and the best memories from places where we previously had a negative impression. It’s this social aspect which forms the real richness of a long sailing trip, but it would take many pages, which we don’t have here, to try and share this experience.
In three years’ time we’re going to prepare a new boat to set off again, but we already know that we mustn’t visit to the same places again for fear of being disappointed, unless of course we want to go and see old friends.
Sailing friends already know that we’ll be back to St Francis for the new catamaran, because we have never found a better combination of safety, comfort, speed and layout. And it’s always to our design. We are hoping that technology will allow us to use electric motors by then so that we can enjoy motor-sailing in silence. The year preparing and building the boat will also be part of the human adventure and we will equally enjoy the time spent at the yard refitting Banana before putting her on the market.

Editor’s Note: while we have been preparing our Blue Water special edition, we were surprised to hear that Sophie and Robert-Louis have set off again on board Banana following the big refit undertaken in South Africa. At the time of going to press, Banana was underway in the Atlantic between the African and American continents…

Around the world in 80 months

40,000 miles in 80 months and so many wonderful memories!

They’re off again. The adventures of Banana, Season 2…

Since the island was practically on our route (between South Africa and Canada, next stop), we decided to call in at Ascension Island, a British Territory, which meant that Dinghy (the dog) had to stay on-board. One good thing though, we were able to send and receive email, especially Oscar-Louis’ homework.
We hadn’t expected to see much change since our last crossing in 2010, and sure, there is still nothing there, but the population has gone from over 2000 down to 800. The majority of the military personnel have left and the place is a bit more cheerful again! Especially if you like a stony style with concrete block architecture. We deserve a medal for having stopped there twice…

Around the world in 80 months

Banana Season 2: they’re off again for another round trip! Bon voyage…

Share this article