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Well, technically we hit 6,002 nm on Starry Horizons as we pulled into Regatta Pointe Marina but that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, so for the purpose of this post, we will round down slightly. There are others out there with more experience on their Helias, but after picking up our boat in France and sailing all the way to Florida, I finally feel qualified enough to share my thoughts. So buckle up kids, this is the post for those of you who are interested in some of the more intimate details about our boat.
What I Love
Sailing: Overall, I enjoyed sailing the Helia. The few times we got on a good beam reach in calm seas, she took off. We haven’t done too much upwind sailing yet, but downwind was easy, comfortable and relatively quick!
Construction: This boat is well built and you can tell. We had some pretty decent winds during our passages and at no time did I ever fear that the boat couldn’t handle things. We were very cautious with our sail plan which helped, but this boat is solid. It’s not an Antares so don’t expect perfect finishing everywhere, but she’s got it where it counts.
The Helm: This space is going to get even better with the hardtop we’re having custom made, but the positioning of the helm is great. The person on watch can still be social with others if they’re in the cockpit or even in the galley. When it’s just the two of us for long passages, ease of social interaction makes a difference. Visibility is also good, with the sole exception being the port aft portion of the boat.
The Space: I’ve heard the term “condomaran” used in derogatory term, but personally I think those people are just jealous. We love how much liveable space we have on the boat. Our master stateroom is huge, the galley (almost) has enough space for all the items Amy wants and if the salon and cockpit start to feel restrictive (can’t see how this would happen), we can just hop up to the lounge deck and enjoy even more open spaces.
Interior Navigation Station: Others have varying opinions, but we really liked having a place inside the boat we could set up a dedicated laptop to download weather reports, send/receive emails, and use our charting programs. We also kept our log book here and had easy access to information to update it. It would be nice if it had a backrest, but we just used one of the cushions from the salon to make a temporary backrest.
Wire Runs: Other boats do it better I’m sure, but I’ve been relatively pleased with the easy access to wire runs inside the boat. Outside the boat for our solar panels was a bit of a different story, but overall we’ve been able to figure out how to get our wires run.
Engine Power: We chose to upgrade to the 55hp Volvos and we’re glad we did. They give us lots of power and with the Flexofold props that we had Uchimata install, we’ve felt pretty comfortable maneuvering the boat around the dock, even in decent winds. As an added plus, there is a decent amount of space in the engine compartments so getting down there to work on things hasn’t required me to do my best Russian gymnast impression.
Raymarine Electronics: Four of the five boats in Amy’s fleet had Raymarine electronics, so we had a pretty good familiarity with them, but the system we installed on Starry Horizons works very well. Our plotter had it’s own wifi network and we could connect our iphones/ipads and see/control the system. This led to much greater peace of mind when you could wake up, check your iphone and see how things were going. And our autopilot worked flawlessly during the crossing.
Vesper AIS: Another custom thing we had Uchimata install, but our Vesper AIS was a godsend during our passages. In fact we liked it so much that I now say it should be on someone’s “must install” list if they want to go cruising.
Equipment Quality: In general, the quality of the important equipment from the factory is good. We have a Victron inverter/charger, Volvo engines, Onan Generator, and CruisAir Air Conditioners all from the factory. If we were building the boat ourselves, it’d be tough to do much better.
Her Looks: Superficial? Probably, but I don’t care. I still think the Helia is one of the best looking cats out there.
Things I Don’t Love
Dinghy Davits: FP raised the davits from the first Helias to ours, but in my opinion, they’re still not high enough. We took our outboard off and stored it in the generator locker so we could try and pull the dinghy as high as we could but waves still touched the bottom of the dinghy! We are reworking the bridle for our dinghy so that we’ll be able to pull it even higher and hopefully keep the outboard on as well, but a better davit design would make all that work unnecessary.
Bridgedeck Clearance: One of the biggest surprises for us was how much slamming and wave slapping we experienced. Slapping against the hulls is a bit easier to understand, but the amount of slamming was unpleasant and unexpected. Starry Horizons is well equipped (meaning heavy!) but this was disappointing.
Trampoline: Another personal preference, but both Amy and I think the factory trampoline is quite uncomfortable to lay on, and I dislike how “springy” it is. I never felt like I had good footing when I went forward while underway. This is being replaced while we’re here in the US.
Everything is in French: While this is understandable for a French boat, it can be very frustrating trying to map out electrical wiring when everything is labeled in French!
No Starboard Aft Winch: We went with the “Bowsprit and Gennaker Gear Option” which includes an aft winch on the port side to use for the sheet for a headsail. However, it doesn’t include a corresponding winch on the starboard side. There are two problems with this:
- Instead of a dedicated winch, there is a block along the toe rail to take the line back up to a winch at the helm. This makes moving around the helm difficult and blocks off the deck. Not ideal! Since we also used the aft winch for our boom preventer and a sheet we rigged up to an outboard jib lead, it got a lot of use.
- We’re going to be reworking the winches to add one to the starboard side. However, FP didn’t design for this possibility and the headliner in the owners cabin is flush up to the deck, meaning we’ll need to do some creative re-design. On the port side, they dropped the headliner down to accommodate the bolts for the winch.
Reefing: I really dislike having to go to the mast for anything while underway. We went with the “automatic” first reef, which is really just a single line reef, but the other two reefs have lines that go up the leech of the sail but require you to go pull a webbing strap through a grommet and into a snap shackle on the mast in order to secure the tack. It’s not so fun to pull this strap through when the boat is slamming into large waves! We’re going to try and move to a single line reef for our 2nd reef and will be removing our 3rd reef as if the winds are that high, we’re just going to be taking down our mainsail.
Chain size: The Helia comes from the factory with 1/2″ chain. I didn’t quite realize just how big this is and how much it weights and went ahead and ordered 300′ of it in preparation for some of the anchoring in deep water we’ll be doing. The bow of the boat immediately sunk down! We’re going to swapping out our windlass gypsy and chain to Acco G4 5/16″ chain. This will save us almost 600 pounds of weight! Speaking of which… anyone need 300′ of 1/2″ galvanized anchor chain? Please??
Cleats: During a wild day in Las Palmas when Starry Horizons was jerking forward and back thanks to the wind and swell, we managed to bend a cleat. We’ve had several people tell us they’d never seen that before. In addition, our stern cleats were starting to come loose by the time we arrived in the States. We had large backing plates made to help reinforce things and hopefully prevent those type of issues in the future.
Automatic Bilge Pumps: I tested out our bilge pumps by blocking off one compartment and filling it with water. I was quite dismayed at how much water (several inches) was required before the pumps kicked on. And since the bilges are all connected, it would take a lot of water in the bilge before they activated automatically. The pumps are activated by air pressure sensitive Rule Eco Switches, but as I looked up the installation diagrams, they are not installed correctly. The lines leading from the “cup” to the switch are not straight as they have to run throughout the compartment. These sensors may be a good idea, but it’s a bad execution.
From the “What the F&*K Were They Thinking”Files
Mainsail: I know I’m not the best sailor in the world, but I’m not truly incompetent either. However, I could not figure out how to get the mainsail down easily in anything over 10/15 knots of wind. It would “billow” out, catch the wind and refuse to come down, requiring me to go the the mast and manually pull it down. Doing this was the most scared I felt on the boat and thanks to our boat guru Pat, we rigged a downhaul to help us cross the Atlantic which worked well.
After getting back to the land of internet, I discovered that other Helia owners have had this same problem and in talking with them, I/we have determined what I consider to be two root causes:
- There are no intermediate cars on the mainsail from the factory. I have never sailed another boat like this and it means that the distance from the cars on the sail (where the battens are) ranges from about 11-14 feet! When the sail drops, having this much distance from the cars leads to the billowing effect and prevents the sail from coming down.
- Friction. The factory supplied main halyard is a 14mm line and is rigged with a 2:1 purchase. The stopper used for the halyard is rated at a max 14mm and halyard rubs against the sides of the entrance into the mast. As the weight of the sail aloft decreases as the sail falls, the remaining weight of the sail isn’t enough to overcome the friction in the system.
In my mind, this is the absolute #1 negative of the Helia and in spite of seeing assurances sent by FP to other owners that the factory setup works and that it was tested out by riggers, my practical experience has led me to strongly disagree. I believe that most Helias are going into charter and thus are being used in relatively calmer conditions where it may not be a big deal to go forward and help the mainsail down, but for serious cruising it is unacceptable.
To remedy, we’re adding 4 additional intermediate cars, which of course necessitated the modification of our stack pack, as well as upgrading our main halyard to an 11mm T900 line. Just running the line through the stopper, you can feel how much less friction there is! We’re also contemplating getting rid of the 2:1 halyard if the new setup still doesn’t work the way we want it.
(Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now, but as you can tell, this is an area that I strongly believe FP needs to address)
Navigation Lights: FP may have changed this, but they did not offer a tri-color light at the top of the mast as a factory option. In big seas, there is no way that another ship is going to easily see the deck level navigation lights! On a boat this size, I believe a tri color should be standard.
In addition, the stern light is located inside the cockpit! When using the nav lights at night (when else would you really use them??) it lit up the whole cockpit. And in case you haven’t done a lot of night sailing before, this is not a good thing as it really messes with your night vision. We ended up adding a tricolor light and are going to move the stern light to the end of the davits.
Running Rigging: This was a debatable one to put in this category, but the fact that all winches and stoppers are rated for a max 14mm line and the factory genoa sheets are 16mm lines pushes it over the edge. I had wondered why it was difficult to get the genoa sheets into the winches and finally figured out why when doing research on the Harken winches we have. In general the rigging on the boat is pretty low quality and we’re working on replacing it. The fact that the owner’s manual lists the main halyard at 55m/180ish’ when in reality it is about 63m/207ish’ (discovered after running the new halyard through the mast!) also helps push running rigging into this category.
Overall, we’re satisfied with our choice of a boat. There are a lot of things that FP does well and most of the things we didn’t love about the boat are fixable. We’re going above and beyond by doing some pretty extensive outfitting to make the boat even more awesome and I’m pretty comfortable saying that by the time we’re finished, she’ll be the most customized Helia in the world. At the end of the day, we still believe that she will be able to take us safely around the world and in a decent level of comfort, which is what matters most.