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Upon our arrival into Fiji we crossed the longitude 178° 51′ E. This meant we had officially sailed halfway around the world (!) on our Fountaine Pajot Helia from the factory in France. I’ve been meaning to write an update to my original 6,000nm Helia Review and after a few not so subtle hints from the Admiral, I figured it’s time to get to it. Since my original review, Fountaine Pajot has released the Helia Evolution, which did address a few of my original gripes, namely the dinghy davits, so I’m going to try and focus on things in this review that will hopefully be applicable to all Helias.
To answer the basic question I know everyone is thinking; yes, we are still very happy with our Helia. Since we left France in November 2014, we’ve:
- sailed almost 20,000nm
- crossed two oceans
- visited 20 countries
- published over 325 blog posts
- almost 50 YouTube videos
It feels like the time has flown by, but actually writing all that out, we’ve done a lot in a bit over two years!
Through it all, our respect and admiration for the Helia has continued to grow. We did a lot of research before choosing to buy a Helia and all of our experiences since then have just served to confirm that we made the right choice. That’s not to say that the Helia is the perfect boat. All boats are a compromise in one way or another, but for our requirements, it’d be hard to do much better.
In my first review, I mentioned that we enjoyed sailing the Helia and that definitely hasn’t changed. Overall, she’s a very comfortable boat at sea, capable of taking everything we’ve thrown at her and more.
I keep pretty detailed spreadsheets from all our passages and I figured some of this data may be of interest:
- Overall Avg SOG: 6.7 knots
- Overall Avg NM/Day: 160.8nm
- Fastest Passage SOG: 7.45 knots (Grenada to Panama) over 1,249nm
- Slowest Passage SOG: 5.7 knots (Marquesas to Tuamotus) over 547nm
- Note: we purposefully sailed slowly on this passage to arrive in the Tuamotus in daylight and with proper tide conditions
- Fastest 24hr Run: 8.71 knots and 209nm (Grenada to Panama)
- Slowest 24hr Run: 4.92 and 118nm (Marquesas to Tuamotus)
The Helia isn’t the fastest boat in the world, but she definitely isn’t the slowest either. Since we’re doing a trade winds circumnavigation, we’ve spent a majority of our time going downwind. We have, however, experienced all kinds of conditions.
Sailing Dead Downwind
Many purists will say you shouldn’t sail dead downwind because it’s slow, but man is this an easy point of sail. We’ve had lots of success with a wing on wing set up, starting with main and genoa and recently with genoa and screecher when AWS is 15knots or less. The Helia is so wide we don’t need poles and we’ve seen wind gusts to even 160deg AWA and the sails stayed full. With the genoa and screecher, we’ve even been able to sail all the way down to 8-10 knots TWS. Main + genoa requires more wind to keep the main full.
This is where it gets fun. Come off the wind a bit and the Fountaine Pajot Helia can really come alive. Main+genoa on a reach usually gives us about 7-8 knots. Using our screecher gets about 8-9 knots. We’ve seen bursts of 10+ knots boat speed when conditions are just right. For comfort reasons, we don’t usually push this hard out in the open ocean, but our 209nm day was a perfect combination of smallish waves, right wind angle and just enough wind to allow us to keep full sails. And we did it using just our main and genoa! We are confident in saying that our Fountaine Pajot is faster than most cruising boats.
I don’t care what kind of boat you’re on, upwind sailing is just no fun. Bashing into waves is uncomfortable, plain and simple. Our longest/worst stretch of upwind sailing was the start of our Fiji to New Zealand passage. We had 25-30+ knots AWS where we sailed at AWA’s of about 47-42 degrees. With several reefs in the sails, we still managed to do about 6.5knots but we lost quite a bit of leeway. If you want to sail to windward on a regular basis, get a cat with daggerboards.
This comes with a major disclaimer that I’m no world class racer, but there are a few annoyances about sail trim on a Helia. The genoa track cars are too far inboard to be of great use while sailing deep wind angles. We’ve solved this problem by rigging up a block at the shrouds to be used with an additional line tied to the clew of the sail as an outboard jib lead. This has worked well.
The mainsheet traveler spreads almost entirely across the coachroof. While sailing downwind, you want the main let far out. However, the shrouds and spreaders are in the way. The mainsail, when let all the way out, can chafe against the rigging. We reinforced the mainsail at the contact point for the spreaders, but after hearing of chaffing stories from other Fountaine Pajot owners, we are very careful not to let out the mainsail too far.
To be fair, you would likely encounter these issues on pretty much all other cats, not just Fountaine Pajots, but it is still something you have to account for.
In my first review, I mentioned how disappointed I was in how much Starry Horizons slammed while we sailed across the Atlantic. Since then we replaced our 300′ of 1/2 chain with 300′ of 3/8″ HT G4 chain and reworked the dinghy bridle so that we can actually keep the outboard on the dinghy during passages. This saved us about 500lb of weight up at the bow of the boat and has essentially solved the problem.
We still experience “wave slap” on the inside of the hulls, but any cat will experience this. Very rarely do we now experience the whole boat shuddering slamming effect.
We get a lot of compliments from guests about how new she looks. We both do quite a bit of work to keep her looking good. This also speaks to the quality of her construction. Sure there are a couple of gelcoat cracks that have shown up, and we can hear a few more creaks while out at sea, but after 20,000nm that’s not unexpected.
Even in some of the worst seas we’ve experienced, I’ve never been concerned that the structural integrity of the boat was at risk.
The Helia really is an easy boat to sail. We’ve modified things so that all lines are led back to the helm (we purchased single line 1st reef from the Fountaine Pajot factory and modified the 2nd reef to be single line reefing as well) which means we can enclose the helm and be incredibly protected.
It was important to both of us that we be able to essentially single hand the boat in case something happened to the other person and with the Fountaine Pajot Helia, we can do that. The electric winch makes raising the mainsail a breeze but it can be frustrating having to go back and forth to the helm pod to adjust the autopilot when raising or reefing by yourself. Having two people does make this easier.
I touched on this in my first review, but it bears repeating. We love the space we have in the Helia. We’re usually the ones hosting get-togethers in an anchorage because the Helia has more space than almost all the other boats there. The lounge deck is a great spot for sundowners, we can work out up on the bow, the galley has enough counter space to actually prepare food and the jealousy on people’s faces when they see the size of the owners’ hull is readily apparent. Fountaine Pajot has done a great job of organizing the boat and the living space.
We give up some speed to cats with thinner hulls and daggerboards. But since we’ve spent 85% (107 days on passage out of 2 years) of our time at anchor/on a mooring/dockside, I’d rather have more space.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate with how Starry Horizons has held up so far. Overall we’ve had far fewer troubles with her than other boats (and other Fountaine Pajots) we’ve met. Here are some of the big ticket items we’ve had to work on:
- Cracked Mini Keel
- We discovered a crack in our port mini keel while hauled out in the BVIs. We’re fairly sure we haven’t hit bottom on that side yet. Our best guess is when we “beached” the boat in La Rochelle on the asphalt ramp so Uchimata could do some work on the props for us. Can’t really fault the Helia for this one.
- Leaking Hydraulic System
- Our hydraulic steering system had a leak coming from the “drain fitting” on the hydraulic pump. It wasn’t a big leak and was easily fixed by adding some Teflon tape.
- Genset Impeller Destruction
- Since buying the boat, I’ve since come to discover that Onan generators have a reputation for eating impellers. We’ve gotten a Raw Water Flow alarm several times and the solution has always required replacing the impeller. Again, a simple fix, but rather annoying, and we haven’t found a longer-term solution.
- Oil and Filter Changes
- Classify this one under preventative maintenance. So far our generator and engines have run almost flawlessly (with the exception of the genset impeller) so all I’ve had to do are scheduled oil and filter changes.
- Owner’s Side Shower Sump Box
- The drain for the shower in the owner’s head is constantly getting backed up. This is due to the accumulation of soap scum/hair/etc that gets down that drain. The sump box itself is easy to open up and clean. However, the long hose run from the drain to the sump box isn’t. We try to use a snake to clean the hose, but it doesn’t work all that well.
- Leaky Hatches/Engine Compartment Courtesy Lights
- I have now rebedded all the courtesy lights in the engine compartments. I have also rebedded all but two of our deck level hatches. It appears that Fountaine Pajot used silicone to bed all of these things, which was a terrible idea. The courtesy lights leaked salt water into the engine compartments, which has caused some premature rusting. Using Sikaflex or 3M 4000UV has fixed the hatches and BoatLife Life Seal fixed the courtesy lights.
The owners’ hull sliding door… The nut and bolt system for keeping the door in the track sucks! The nuts are constantly coming undone. When they unwind up the bolt, they grind into the track and prevent the door from moving. Try to tighten the nuts all the way down and the level of the door raises too high and scrapes against the ceiling panels! Those same ceiling panels are glued in so you can’t easily remove them. It’s difficult to adjust anything or get easier access to the track. Frustrating all the way around, and you’d think Fountaine Pajot would have a better solution.
This review tried to focus strictly on the Helia itself. We’ve also done quite a lot of modifications to Starry Horizons that I think it would also be worthwhile to reflect on. That will be coming up in another blog post, hopefully sometime in the near future.
I’d like to again reiterate that we’re extremely pleased with our Helia. We are happy to be part of the Fountaine Pajot family. She’s a great compromise of safety/performance/liveability at an acceptable cost. We are still excited about sailing her around the 2nd half of the world!