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New Motorsailor gets a thorough shakedown

Watersigns, a new Traveller 46 motorsailer, gets tested on her delivery from Halifax to Boston, September 2008.

Sea trials are one thing, but you never really know how well a boat will perform until you get her out on the open ocean for an extended time.  Bot the design and the systems then get a real shakedown and any shortcomings make themselves known in short order.  In the case of Watersigns, a Bruce Roberts designed motorsailer, her new owners got a bit more than they bargained for on her initial delivery from the YachtSmiths yard in Halifax, down the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and across the Gulf of Maine to Boston.

Watersigns’ owners were referred to YachtSmiths by Bruce Roberts Design, as the yard had already proven themselves by building several boats to Roberts’ designs.  This new motorsailer is the first boat to be built to this design, a modification of an earlier design.  The steel hulled yacht was originally launched in the fall of 2007 but was damaged and spent the winter at the YachtSmiths yard.

Ultimately bound for Chesapeake Bay, it was agreed that Brian Smyth of YachtSmiths would accompany the owners as far as Boston.  The plan was simple, a non-stop run down the Nova Scotia coast, then across the Gulf of Maine to Boston, a distance of about 375 nautical miles (430 statute miles).  They got underway on September 11 and the trip began in beautiful conditions, with a near perfect forecast.

After motorsailing all day they rolled up the mule (that’s the triangular sail set between the main and mizzen and visible on the photograph).  After a quiet night, it was about 7 am when they rounded Cape Sable Island at the southern tip of Nova Scotia.  From that point they were able to set a course directly for Boston some 250 nautical miles to the east.  Winds were forecast to be out of the north at 10 – 15 knots, later backing to the northwest at 15, pretty good condistions for crossing the gulf.  It wa snot long after they were fully committed to the gulf crossing that the wind began to build out of the southwest, the worst possible direction.  In no time winds were gusting to 25 knots, pretty much right on the nose, kicking up a steep 6 – 8 foot sea.  Banging straight into these conditions is never fun on any small vessel.  As the wind began to set against the outgoing tide of the Bay of Fundy, seas became very steep and conditions onboard were becoming very uncomfortable.  The waves were now 8 – 12 feet.  Although they were in no danger, the boat was taking a heavy poinding, with occasional green water over the bow.  It is these conditions that quickly show up any shortcoming in both the design and the build of any boat.  Watersigns was standing up to the thrashing in fine style, but the crew, not so much… By Monday afternoon the Sirius weather identified thunderstorms developing ahead of them, with gusts to 50 knots.

As is usually the case with a seaworthy boat, the crew had had enough long before the boat was in any danger.  The decision was made to turn around and head for Yarmouth to wait out the weather.  In very confused seas the boat was now headed downwind with the autopilot keeping things well under control.  As soon as you turn around and have the wind at your back things never seem as bad.  After some time the weather really did look to be moderating and they were still 6 – 7 hours out of Yarmouth.  With the change in the tide, the seas were less steep so they decided to turn around again and head for Boston.  The weather continued to improve and around midnight they found themselves entering the multitude of confusing lights at the entrance to the Boston Harbour.  Despite repeated calls there was no response from Boston Harbour traffic on the radio.  Calls to all the local yacht clubs went unanswered.  Finally on the third try they reached the US Coast Guard and explained that they were inbound from Halifax and looking for customs clearance.  this lead to calls to Homeland Security – no answer!  Finally an 888 number for immigration reached someone (not in Boston) and all clearance was done on the phone… Watersigns continued into downtown Boston, finally locating their marina in a thick fog.  The next morning Brian Smyth caught a flight back to Halifax knowing that the boat his company built had just passed her first test with flying colours.  Watersigns‘ owners, Lee and Sheila, are now safely home at their dock.  They had a wonderful trip down the coast and the boat performed flawlessly.  It may be a long time before they encounter similar conditions, but they can have confidence knowing their boat is, as the NSBA logo says, “built for the sea!”