Preparation began in January 2004 when Phil saw the Ovni 385 at the London Boat Show and was intrigued by the construction, design, layout and finish – in simple terms he was smitten. Extensive research was undertaken that included a trip to Rome to view an Ovni 385 at Ostia Marina in February 2004 (it just happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day and England playing Italy in the Six Nations, when England still won rugby matches).
E-mails winged their way around the globe in search of people’s experiences with these unusual boats, including to Jimmy Cornell who completed four circumnavigations and has had an Ovni 435 since 1998 - he was very helpful with advice and information by e-mail and again when we met in May 2008 when he was speaking at our yacht club, Royal North of Ireland YC.
A visit to the Southampton Boat Show in September 2004 included a day of Phil and Norma sailing in the Solent on an Ovni 385 with circumnavigator Charlie Tait. This enabled the head to catch up with the heart and Norma to become just as smitten as Phil. The order was placed before leaving Southampton, for delivery in Spring 2006 – there has generally been an 18 months waiting list, since Alubat produce only c.50 boats a year.
So what to do for the next 18 months? Well the options for customising an Ovni are very extensive and the detailed specification of equipment required hours of reading reviews, consulting the fora on www.ybw.com, a trip to the Paris Boat Show in December 2004 to see the actual boat we had ordered – the new 395 which replaced the 385 we had seen and sailed. Again, fortune favoured the brave and there was a happy coincidence - Ulster were playing Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup. It was yet another stunning combination of boats, rugby, and excellent restaurants (and Paris was dressed up in its Christmas finery).
Naturally, we could not make final decisions about the configuration and specification without a visit to the factory. So what could be better than a June trip to Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the Vendee Globe, to view the boats in construction and enjoy the fruits de mer and other culinary delights of France. Alubat were extremely welcoming and we were hosted by the UK and Ireland Agents (North Sea Maritime) Stephen and Francine, and their charming daughters Zoe and Thea. The three-cabin configuration was settled on and neat options, like split leaves on both sides of the saloon table, were eagerly agreed.
A trip to Southampton Boat Show in September 2005 for some chandlery bargains led to a series of deliveries that started to fill the garage and the house – liferaft, dinghy, warps, fenders etc.
New skills were developed over the winter and particular satisfaction was gained from successfully producing eyesplices in both three-strand and braid-on-braid rope.
Another overnight ferry (a great view of the Spinnaker Tower at night) from Portsmouth to St Malo, led to a fast trip in sub-zero temperatures to Les Sables d’Olonne for lunch.
We arrived at the factory with our boxes and bags of kit to put into storage but all that had to wait as we wanted to see our boat in build – the excitement of seeing our boat was immense.
Now we could see her and touch her, knowing that soon she would be in the water and we would be sailing her. At that point it all became so much more tangible and our dream was becoming reality before our eyes. We met Eric who was leading the fitting out team and we could see where and how everything was being put together – so much more helpful than just seeing the finished product, when such as cabling runs are out of sight.
We overnighted in Boulogne and took the (very expensive) Channel Tunnel back to Blighty.
We also took advantage of calling at IKEA in England where bunk slats, for anti-condensation under mattresses, were bought at a quarter of the price that marine suppliers charge.
Things were now moving quickly and our boat was to be launched at the end of February with commissioning starting on 3rd March. So Phil flew out to do the boat testing with Stephen, the agent. Brilliant sunshine and winds of 12-15kts ensured three great days of sailing and crawling all over the boat to check everything was in order. The snagging list was short, which reflected well on Alubat. We had been advised that there was problem with the radar software but it would be ready in time for our voyage home.
Commissioning included having a number of visitors who were thinking of buying an Ovni. Coincidentally, this included Colin and Lou who undertook the annual Basking Shark survey of Britain and Ireland in a Dehler 40 and with whom Julia (daughter no. 2) had spent a week scanning the sea around Northern Ireland for sightings of Basking Sharks. Colin and Lou now have an Ovni 435.
Phil flew home with lots of photos and one of the largest grins possible.
The next phase was to collect our Ovni and sail back to Northern Ireland. The date was set – depart from Les Sables d’Olonne on 11th April and with fair weather we would be back in a week.
January 2006 required a trip to the factory with a car full of safety equipment and the other chandlery – only half the kit could be transported at this stage. The weather was cold but dry.
Overnight on the ferry from Larne to Fleetwood got us to Portsmouth for lunch and an afternoon exploring the naval dockyard and a tour around HMS Victory – she is immaculate and the complexity of the ship is worthy of a repeat visit at some point in the future. Then a trip up the new Spinnaker Tower produced some excellent views over the dockyard and harbour.
Friends now joined this great adventure with enthusiasm that matched our own. We still had a pile of equipment to get to Les Sables d’Olonne, we wanted a crew of four for the return trip and we wanted ready access to detailed weather forecasts. Unfortunately, daughter Anna could not join us because of doing her final exams.
Brian very kindly drove down to Les Sables d’Olonne with Phil and the rest of the kit, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham.
Our return trip included visiting Bayeux, the British war cemetery and the D-Day beaches. St Mere Eglise where US paratroopers landed was quite sad with its dummy paratrooper hanging from the church tower, as seen in the film ‘The Longest Day’. It was Disneyfication of something heroic, magnificent and tragic, and therefore diminished what had happened.
We drove along the coast from Pointe du Hoc where the US Rangers had to scale the cliffs, stopping at Omaha Beach with its two splendid memorials, then the remains of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, and the start of Gold Beach
and on to Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. The contrast of the scale of remembrance of the Americans and Canadians at Omaha and Juno respectively, and the almost insignificant memorials of the British at Gold and Sword beaches was surprising and disappointing.
We called at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and which British troops had captured, but the museum was still in its winter closing period.
Jill (Brian’s wife) flew down with Norma to officiate at the naming ceremony and accompany Brian on the return trip; daughter Julia and friend David joined the crew; and, Greg (“Gale Force Greg”) became our weather guide checking multiple weather sources and giving advice by phone. We had Navtex, but it was untested.
On Sunday 9th April, Norma, Julia, Jill and David flew to La Rochelle and were collected by Brian having left Phil and a pile of kit at the marina.
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Launch & Seatrials pictures
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We did thorough research on the restaurants of Les Sables d’Olonne and viewed the harbour entrance, thinking of our impending departure.