I have just been helping a husband and wife to commission their boat in La Rochelle, and thought it worthwhile highlighting some of the problems they had.

As a background, they were a successful couple who had worked for seven years in Rio de Janeiro and had decided, rather than spend their pennies on a house, they would buy a boat and spend a year in the Mediterranean before returning to work and starting a family.

They had seen the boat they fancied at the Rio Boat Show, and been helped in the buy by the agent for the particular boat manufacturer. The boat, the product of a foreign volume manufacturer, had been ordered in March 02 for delivery to La Rochelle in September.  The couple’s previous experience was three weeks sailing in the Caribbean on charter boats and a bit of day racing out of Rio. I had been engaged to teach them Day Skipper Theory and Practical, help them to shake the boat down and then progress towards Coastal Skipper Practical. I was asked to join the owners in France in the first week in November, by which time they would have launched the boat and sorted out the teething problems.

Having put off various other requests to teach in November, by half way through the month, I was concerned at being delayed going out to France because of “problems” with the boat. By early December I suggested that I go out to teach the theory and to help with the problems they were having.

When I arrived, the boat had yet to be launched, the boat yard were eight weeks behind schedule and the quality of management and workmanship had left much to be desired.

During the fortnight I was on board before Christmas I found a number of things wrong, some due to poor advice and some to just plain bad workmanship.

The Rigging
The boat was meant to have single line reefing, but the reefing pennants were set up for slab reefing. Of these the second and third pennants were short by 1.5m and 2.5m respectively. The blocks for single line reefing had been provided by the manufacturer but the boat yard had failed to fit them, probably because the pennants were too short.
The topping lift jammed behind the main halyard for the last three metres of taking up the mainsail, the two lines had been crossed in the mast when fitted. The winch had to be used before the main was half way up the track, and this sail was not fitted with full length battens. In addition:

  • The plastic end to the boom fell off.
  • The boom bag provided was not the right one for the sail and boom.
  • The headsail furling line was not rove correctly, and if left would have chafed through in short time.
  • A separate forestay for the storm jib had been ordered, but when fixed to its pad-eye with a Highfield lever, it chafed against the furling headsail.
  • No separate sheets or tack strop were provided with the storm jib.

The owners wanted air conditioning. They got it, but at a price. An extra seven batteries were fitted which gave the boat, a 43 footer, a distinct permanent list to port.

  • The Autopilot was between 30° to 40° off course in relation to the steering compass one week after being set up.
  • The seal around the generator case gave way after a fortnight on board.
  • The windlass would not work.
  • An additional alternator had been fitted and was misaligned to such a degree that I feared damage to the engine.
  • A holding nut and bolt fell off within one week of use.
  • The belt showed wear from the start.
  • This alternator did not work at relatively low revs; we were told subsequently that it was not meant to kick in until 2200 rpm.
  • No instruction book was provided.
  • The GPS failed to accept ED 50 as a datum.
  • The electric winches failed to work, again no instruction book provided.

The Engine
The engine manual indicated that certain tools would be provided with the engine, namely: a pump for sucking out oil from the sump, a strap spanner for taking off oil filters and an emergency bolt-tightening tool. When asked for, we were told that the engine manufacturer did not provide them.

The way the workshop staff treated the boat was poor, tools were dropped on the sole making dents in the varnish, GRP modifications were poorly carried out, the steering wheel had not been properly lubricated at the start and squeaked, the plastic on the compass binnacle surround was split. When revarnishing of the cabin sole was done the tape used around fittings took more varnish off when removed.

It was all a very sad story for a couple who had their dream turned into a nightmare at the start of their sabbatical. For all those buying new, beware, make sure you have a good agent and that he kicks the relevant people in the right quarter to ensure that a boat is properly set up before being handed over.