Taking Possession of Z3 and Setting a Course for Adventure

Bali 5.4 catamaran Zuri 3

Here’s an update of our adventures so far from taking possession and christening of our new Bali 5.4 through her maiden voyage into exotic ports full of fun and sailing traditions. And tidbits about the crew that we picked along the way.

Thanks to all who have been following our trip to take possession of our new Bali 5.4, Z3, and then traverse the Atlantic as part of the ARC Rally. If you have not started tracking us and getting in on the updates, you can now:

If you are interested in how we decided on purchasing a Bali 5.4 including a detailed review and exclusive factory photos of the boat build, visit Bali 5.4 Fundamentals: Our New Cruising Catamaran.

Our sailing adventures so far have been a typical sailor’s mix of fighting nature (and Z3 has been winning!) and celebrating many moments, big and small. Our posts on Facebook and the website are intermittent as it goes with the bluewater sailing life. Below are some tidbits to catch you up since we first boarded Z3, christened her, provisioned, and set sail for the ARC Rally.

Barcelona with Don & Lynda

catamaran guru drive barcelona canet franceOur first crewmembers, Don & Lynda (longtime sailing friends), joined us in Barcelona, Spain where we landed after our flight over from the US. We spent the night in the Hotel 1898, where we enjoyed the vibey speakeasy atmosphere right on La Rambla, the main artery of old town Barcelona. As tired as we all were, we explored the markets that night, enjoyed the obligatory tourist drink, Sangria, in a street café, and made our way to a local dinner fest.

We drove 200 km (125 miles), from Barcelona to Canet-en-Roussillon, France, with our rented van stuffed to the roof with our 8 giant suitcases that had more outfitting gear for Z3 than clothes. While driving through the beautiful countryside, we encountered thousands of pro-independence Catalan protesters who closed off the entire highway. Fortunately, the road they chose to shut down led in the opposite direction where we needed to go. The sea of people with huge Catalan flags was quite a sight. This protest has been going on for a while and even closed the airport the day before. Thousands of Catalans have protested throughout Barcelona in support of calls to free jailed separatist leaders and in support of separation from Spain.

We passed the protest march unscathed and made our way to the marina and Bali factory in Canet, France to board Z3 for the first time.

Meeting Z3

Our Bali 5.4 was bobbing in the harbor, ready to accept us and sail us to distant shores. We could not be happier! Z3 had just completed her round of the Cannes, Genoa, and Barcelona boat shows with French master skipper, Willfred, onboard. She arrived back in Canet literally the night before we arrived. The cleaning crew was still mopping up the remnants of the shows and delivery back to the factory as we arrived. Z3 was in great shape.

When Donald lays eyes on her, his first impressions are of wonderment: “She is a beautiful beast of a boat! She stands 82 feet to the head of the mast. Her hulls are 9 feet tall from the waterline to the top of the deck. Z3’s length of 54 feet, has a beam of 28 feet, and is enormous!” Yup, the Bali 5.4 is a mega yacht and she is beautiful!

Birthday on Zuri 3 catamaranStephen, Don, Willfred, and the Bali handover crew immediately got to work making sure that every system and piece of equipment worked as advertised. They reviewed it all with us ensuring we knew how to operate it. But for a few small exceptions, all was in order.

The most obvious issue was that the bow thruster cut out when any load was put on it. The technicians soon figured out that it was a dedicated bow thruster battery low voltage issue. Upon further inspection, they realized the factory default setting had to be adjusted up and all was good! Easy fix!

Meanwhile, Lynda and I unpacked the suitcases and our pallet with a shipment full of equipment. Many hands…light work? We stocked the boat with some French delicacies from a nearby Carrefour (a common French supermarket chain) and the local winery called “Domaine Lafage”. Excellent wine!

First Night Aboard – Don’s Birthday

We were all settled, tired, and jetlagged, but happy when we toasted our first night onboard. We also celebrated Don’s 67th birthday that night by crashing the only local restaurant within walking distance called La Voile Blue. The restaurant was hosting an “end of season” party. Nobody spoke English, but motioned graciously inviting us to join them. We danced and sang the night away in pigeon French and much sign language. It was great!

catamaran guru z3 christening in canet france october 2019Boat Christening & Naming Ceremony

As per sailing tradition, we made sure that Zuri 3 (Z3 for short) was christened properly on Friday, October 18th, in Canet.

We invited the Catana and Bali team members to join us for the christening ceremony. We were thrilled that Olivier Poncin, owner of Catana, builders of our Bali 5.4. Olivier and his staff members graciously gave us a wonderful send-off as only the French can do.

Florian Foglietti officiated the ceremony. Florian has a storied history as a transatlantic sailor and was part of the French Americas Cup race team. He will also join us a crewmember onboard Z3 in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to do the Atlantic crossing with us.

Find out here how we came up with the Z3 name for our Bali 5.4. It is quite an interesting story!

Outfitting the New Boat for Immediate Departure from a Foreign Port

After boarding the boat in Canet, France, with two crewmembers, we intended to sail out within a few days. We had a time restraint because of weather. The Strait of Gibraltar is notorious for extreme weather during the winter months and one can get stuck in Gibraltar for weeks. So, with limited time to outfit and provision our new boat, we had to plan ahead and ship or buy all the equipment, spares, tools, etc. that we needed for the passage before arriving in France.

We shipped all our appliances, galley equipment, and 110V tools (they are 220V in Europe) like drills, angle grinder, chargeable flashlights, portable vacuum cleaner, instant pot, panini maker and microwave/convection oven. It was not hugely expensive to ship to France but the VAT tax was a killer. We claimed a refund for it, but the process is cumbersome and time-consuming.

Ocean Passage provisioningWe also shipped stuff like a sail repair kit, courtesy flags, extensive medical kit, complete grab bag, foul weather gear, safety gear, etc.

We ordered all linens, pots, crockery, cutlery, etc. from the nearest Ikea and had it delivered. Delivery was free and while the items are “make do” for the crossing, the products were totally adequate and saved us a ton of time and money.

Stephen ordered all the spare parts we needed from the Bali factory like fan belts, impellers, fuel filters, etc. The Bali team was extremely helpful on this key activity.

The remaining items on our outfitting and provisioning checklists were sourced locally after we arrived. We hired a car for three days to help us run errands as we loaded the boat, organized, and provisioned (more on that later).

We found out that shopping in a foreign country (according to Donald) is like something between Charades and “show and tell”. We were not familiar with a lot of the products in the grocery store and not being able to speak the language really well, made for some interesting conversations with the locals. Let’s just say that some wild gesturing and google translating was the order of the day, every day for three days!

Stephen and I had to be able to work with our yacht buying clients while on passage, so our communication system was a top priority to have up and running. We need to be able to communicate with the US by phone, messaging, and email at all times during the crossing. We had several contracts in the works from the Annapolis boat show so this was critical. Thanks to the IRIDIUM GO, and the Global Marine Network’s Xgate subscription, we are connected at all times, even in the middle of the ocean.

The competitors in the Golden Globe Challenge have demonstrated again this year that it is still possible to go around the world without electronics, but it sure makes life at sea a lot easier when you have it. Here’s our setup:

  • AIS transmitter / receiver: It allows to be visible on the website Marine Traffic
  • Our RAYMARINE plotter GPS is already installed on the catamaran flybridge, and we have another system at the chart table, each with its own separate network
  • Our iPads becomes repeaters of the central navigation system
  • NAVIONICS and PredictWind application for weather and charts.

Thinking of buying a new boat in a foreign country? There are many things to think about. Here are our tips for an easier catamaran purchase in a foreign country.

Z3′s Maiden Voyage

Our maiden voyage on Z3 out of Canet-en-Rousillon, France was supposed to be a quick 200-mile run down to Cartagena. Our departure was delayed several days because of a weather system over us, so we were eager to get moving. The Windy App (favored here by the locals) gave us a clear forecast with the weather predicted to begin changing as we reached our destination in Cartagena. But we knew we would have following winds and while it may have become a little uncomfortable, it was totally doable.

Learning how to read the weather on Grib files is important to ensure safe and risk-free passage. Study the weather patterns on your planned route and learn how to plan the passage using weather data and charts.

We studied the weather for days before we left and consulted the local delivery captains then made the call to leave at midnight on Sunday, October 20th. It was a pitch-black night, no moon, and cold. We were all exhausted from feverish outfitting and provisioning activity. And with little time for rest, we were still a little jet-lagged. To add to the mix of stress and uncertainty, we all had a cold, brought about by Donald who started this “boatbonic” plague, as we came to name this nagging, lingering snotty nose and cough. Even so, we were super-excited to start our journey.

As we left the harbor, one of our crew (Donald) thought that Stephen had lost his mind when he headed out of the marina on the “wrong side of the channel markers”, or so he thought. Truth is, we are in Zone A where the rule is “green right returning” unlike the US, Zone B where the rule is “red right returning”.

It was a bumpy ride during the night and by the next morning we were making alternative plans to get to Greenwich Marina in Altea, Spain, about 50 miles short of our original destination to get out of the weather. By 10 am, the seas had built to 8ft plus with torrential rain and 45knot wind gusts from astern. It was nasty, but we were fairly comfortable in the flybridge with the full enclosure all closed up. That enclosure was a lifesaver! (See video at right.)

Know the Boat; It’s a Safety Issue!

This rocky passage is not really what we wanted for our maiden voyage. The boat was new to us and while we are experienced sailors and boat owners with the ability to figure things out pretty quickly, I would have preferred a bit more time to learn the boat. Here are some of the challenges we faced as we got to know Z3 :


The new Bali 5.4 has a flybridge, which is something we are not used to. Our golden rule, “don’t leave the cockpit in bad weather or at night unless absolutely necessary” was shot to hell. The problem with a flybridge is that one has to leave the safety of the cockpit and walk onto the side decks to reach the saloon inside the cabin, if for any reason you need to be inside. As you might imagine, this happens fairly often as the need for food, water, or to going to the bathroom arises. That was a learning curve in bad weather straight out of the gate. We had to quickly figure out how to navigate this safely and what advance preparations to make before we leave the dock. While there are handgrips everywhere, Stephen rigged some extra safety straps in hard to reach spots (for me since I am a bit shorter) for the passage. It made things so much easier for us.

Boat Handling

This boat is light and buoyant and very lively. She responds very quickly and her steering is light. She takes off in a whisper of wind with her full sails out. The motion on this boat is totally different compared to our heavier Lagoon 450. The Lagoon felt nice and steady even in bumpy seas and it felt safe, like a big old Cadillac. The Bali on the other hand is more like a sportscar; light and lively and one has to pay closer attention. The motion, at first, feels bumpy and I constantly felt off balance. It takes some getting used to, but after 5 days of sailing, I am totally comfortable now and understand the motion better.

People often ask us about “performance” of catamarans. They seem to think that speed on a cruising catamaran is a prerequisite, but performance is a relative thing. I happen to think that most average sailors are more comfortable with speeds below 10 knots. Anything over that may become uncomfortable and requires much more and constant attention to wind changes and other factors. This boat bears that theory out, at least for me. While we LOVE being able to do 200+ miles per day, it takes a lot more attention from us to sail trim, weather and sea.

Boat Systems Bali 5.4 catamaran

While Stephen got a full systems and operational briefing from the Catana factory rep, we had to divide up duties so I could take care of some tasks that needed to be done before we departed for Cartagena. So, my cursory glance at how things work and a quick scan of the manuals left me a little uncomfortable that I was not a fully prepared crewmember. But I knew we were skirting the coast on the maiden voyage and would be within reach of land in most cases. I decided I would have to rely on my experience operating boats and communications systems, rather than deep preparation given our time restraint.

Like I said, we are fairly experienced and know most of these systems, so we were confident that we can navigate most issues but we highly recommend that you read your manuals, test every system, plumbing, wiring, seacocks etc. and understand how things work before you go sailing! Learn how the boat works as soon as possible. It is a safety issue! You will make better decisions and fewer things may break or dysfunction. Even in this era of satellite phones, safety and rescue technology, and communication systems, the nearest help can still be a long way off. You need to rely on yourself. That’s why it’s so important that the boat is as safe and as prepared as it can be and you are well-versed on operations of all systems.

Issues While Underway

After leaving our safe harbor in Greenwich Marina as the weather cleared, we set out on our next hop to the Straits of Gibraltar. FYI – an interesting tidbit is that it just so happened that the marina is situated exactly at 000 000’ 000” longitude. Greenwich Marina lies directly South of Greenwich, England, GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), hence the name of the marina.

Rope around the Prop

We picked up a length of Polyprop line while motor sailing on the last night. Luckily, the line only wrapped on the hub and blades and did not get into the seal area. We noticed the vibration, but is was very slight, so when we got into port and dropped the anchor, Stephen drew the short straw and had to go over the side to inspect the props. As suspected, there was a line around the port side prop. Luckily or maybe with foresight, we had shipped a breathing apparatus (Powerdive made in Australia) from the USA, so we deployed this and sent Stephen under the boat to remove the line. Problem solved.

Chafing Gear

It is always a good idea to check your running rigging periodically because of chafe during long passages. We had purchased 20 feet of Dyneema chafing sleeve from Nance and Underwood in Fort Lauderdale for the spinnaker halyard. When we stopped in Port Santo we discovered that the main halyard had chafed through the sheathing of the halyard. We sent a crewmember up the mast to retrieve the end attached to the mast head where the chafe occurred. We trimmed the damaged line off and identified the area where the chafe was occurring. We had some spare chafing sleeve which we put on the halyard at the identified location then put it all back together. We now have the halyard repaired with the chafing gear and are ready for the next leg.

Bali 5.4 Performance in All Weather Conditions

The Bali 5.4 is probably more than most cruising couples need, including ourselves. But honestly, not only is it fantastic to have the extra space, our crew and provisions seemed to eat the “extra” volume of the boat fast.

We sailed about 800 miles and making our way across the Mediterranean from France to Gibraltar in spite of weather and a couple of typical sailing problems. We settled in for some R&R and we picked up another set of crew, Deon and Janine, who are joining us for the crossing.

We are ecstatic about how the boat performed so far. We easily accomplished 200-mile days and the boat proved to be safe and seaworthy, even in some pretty rough sea conditions. The Mediterranean had been challenging in some spots during our trip and while a little uncomfortable at times, especially when we pounded into the short, steep waves just outside of Greenwich Marina, the boat handled it remarkably well. This was a litmus test for pounding on the bridgedeck! Even though the Bali has a very high bridgedeck clearance, it slammed while going into this nasty chop like every other cat would have. But as soon as we cracked off the wind slightly, it smoothed out and the slamming stopped.

We did some surfing down 8ft+ cork-screwing waves at one point with wind gusts up to 45 knots with reefed main and jib. But the boat was tracking like a champion which means that the boat is well-balanced and has great steerage with the rudders situated at the very back behind the propellers. We motor at a respectable 9 knots at 2200 RPM.

Crew Issues

catamaran guru z3 crew readying for arc rally 2019

One of the questions we are asked a lot is, “How do you cope with so many crew?” The first four of us have been together since mid-October and we added another two just over a week ago. There is another two crewmembers joining us in the Canaries. While these guys don’t really know each other well, or at all, we knew from previous experience and from training many people over the years that these guys will get along.

We think we chose our crew well. Firstly, we have known the first two couples (Don & Lynda from Michigan and Deon & Janine from Texas (formerly South Africa) for 20+ years and both couples have bought boats from. Being boat owners themselves, they understand what is expected on a boat. These guys have all sailed with us several times before on our various boats, so we knew that we can expect them to be good crew.

Florian is a French sailor with whom we have worked at various manufacturers or the years and we know that he is an unassuming guy and an extraordinary sailor who has been part of racing crews and knows how to fit in. Steele is the young buck and a master RYA instructor from South Africa. He is the son of one of Stephen’s good friends from military days and we recognized that Steele has a natural aptitude for sailing, so it was easy to invite him along.

Secondly, each one of the crewmembers has a unique skill or area of expertise that will help make the trip easier for all of us. Deon is particularly skilled in electronics, Don is a MacGyver of sorts, Florian is an extraordinary sail trimmer, Lynda has incredible organizational skills, Janine is the purser, and Steele will be an all-rounder. All of them are great cooks, so no problem in the cuisine department!

It takes some planning to keep a crew of eight straight and organized, but we all seem to simply fall into step filling in where needed. Stephen, as captain of the vessel decides on weather and route planning and we have set watches for everyone. Each member has their individual jobs and they simply get on with it. When one crewmember needs a break, the others step in to fill the void. No questions asked. There has been no grandstanding and we are all excited about the adventure. It’s been great so far!

Next Up…

Stay tuned…next installment: Sailing from Madeira to the Canaries. Find out if our paths will cross during our adventure from the Mediterranean across the Atlantic into the Caribbean and meet up with us. See our adventure map, plans, and meetup schedule. Thinking of buying a new yacht? Let us help you lower the risks and up the enjoyment! At no cost to you, our concierge boat buying service gives you all the information you need about charter yacht programs, the realities of living aboard, and how to set up your yacht business to thwart any challenges by the IRS.


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