#1 2012-11-02 11:44:52

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VITA - The Cuckoo Cruise (V800)

The Cuckoo Cruise
by Mo Jeffries


Our Cuckoo Cruise really began back on a cold February day, when (clad in wetsuits and buoyancy aids) we tried out our old liferaft on the local sailing pond. It seemed the perfect opportunity for a DIY survival course – we’d finally replaced the 15-year old liferaft we’d had since our early days on Vita, our Victoria 800, and the old one was hanging about the house taking up space. How easy were they to launch? How easy to climb into? What would the drift be like and how would it paddle? The answers came quick and fast – difficult to launch single-handed, when it finally inflated and I climbed in, the top tube had a big hole in it where the valve had blown out and was already collapsing, and the knife needed to cut us free from the mother ship was not to be found, either missing or at the bottom of the lake.

I clambered out of the raft greatly dismayed. Although the raft was now long in the tooth, it had a full service history, and yet would have proved fatal had we tried to use it in an emergency. Could we trust the new one on board to perform any better? We needed some backup plans. One option would be to keep the tender (Vitalite) partially inflated and on deck, but she was already 12 years old, and we’d have to protect her from UV. How easy would she be to pump up in the water? Eventually Leo brought us back to an idea he had wanted to try out ever since we first bought Vita – could we find a solid dinghy that would stow on deck or be towed, as conditions dictated. Quite a tall order for an 8m boat, and I struggled to imagine how and where we could stow it, but Leo found some designs for fold-down dinghies that might work, so why not give it a try. It wouldn’t necessarily match the specifications for a liferaft, but in the event that our other inflatable options let us down, it might provide some self-rescue potential.

The design we decided upon was the nesting Eastport Pram. Ours is called Y-Vita, and she was built and finished over a period of 6 weeks from early April to mid-May 2012.

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Our cruise story now restarts in mid-May, loading a small blue boat onto our roofrack and setting off for the Isle of Kerrera, opposite Oban, where Vita was due to be launched later in the week.

We carried the new tender across to the marina in the marina’s ferry - folded down and stowed amidships. We spent the next couple of days in the usual round of jobs getting Vita ready for launching, and we left the tender to one side for a few days. Finally we were afloat and ready to try out our new toy. Still on the pontoon, we tried to manhandle her over the stanchions and across the coach roof. At this point we still weren’t completely sure if she would actually fit! With quite a bit of jiggery-pokery and by undoing the kicking strap, we found it was possible to squeeze her onto the coachroof, behind the mast and over the hatch garage. We set off for a shakedown sail to a nearby anchorage (Puilladobhrain) and set about playing with her. At the anchorage, we managed to reverse the procedure and launch her, but she’d left her mark on the coachroof and on my muscles, so I still wasn’t convinced that this was going to work. However rowing her and sailing her about the lagoon was great fun, so we set off again for Lismore, to see how towing might impact Vita’s sailing performance. The winds were light, and we went anticlockwise around the island, anchoring at Port Ramsay in the north on the first night, and Arduchon Bay in the south west on the second night. She towed like a dream, didn’t ship any water and the chines deflected the spray, but the real bonus was that when we were settled in our anchorage, the incentive to get out in the dinghy and explore was much greater, as it was ready and waiting and not requiring any pumping up.

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After Lismore it was difficult to imagine not having Y-Vita with us, and our systems for getting her launched and recovered also improved, to the point where Leo even managed it single-handed.

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As a final fling, and to make the most of the remaining few days of good weather that were forecast, we embarked on a circumnavigation of Mull via Tobermory, Arinagour (Coll), Gometra, Ulva, Staff, Bunessan, down the Sound of Iona (wind against tide – shades of the Irish Sea returned to haunt me!), along the south coast of Mull back to Puilladobhrain and once more to Kerrera. Y-Vita towed beautifully throughout all of this time. Leo jumped into her to take a closer look at Fingal’s cave, and we both used her to paddle around Bunessan. We saw gannets, puffins, sea-eagles, dolphins and in every single anchorage, a cuckoo greeted us as we entered. A fantastic start to the season. As for Y-Vita – Y not?

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