Time to Service the Life Raft

We bought our life raft at the Annapolis Boat Show a few years ago.  For those who don’t know, this is the largest boat show in the US, and one of the largest in the world.  All of the life raft manufacturers were represented at this show and we had the opportunity to make side by side comparisons to help us decide which raft to buy.  Also, these same manufacturers offer special pricing if you buy at the boat show (or shortly thereafter) to entice you to buy.  Given all of that, we purchased a life raft by Revere, a six person Offshore Commander.

Someone not familiar with life rafts may wonder why on earth we bought a six person raft when we very rarely have that many people on board.  Simple, these companies allow only four square feet per person when sizing these rafts.  A six person raft will allow three people to lay down at the same time with not much room to spare.

Life rafts have a three year service life before needing to be opened, inspected, and repacked.  Also, some of the contents of the survival kit such as flares, flashlight batteries, etc. have shelf lives and must be replaced at regular intervals.  Being a US company, Revere has many service centers located around the United States and Caribbean, but only one location in Europe.  This facility is located in Grosetto, Italy, about two hours northwest of Rome.

The Grosetto location is a company named Eurovinil (EV) Survitec Group, which is a firm that also manufactures their own line of life rafts, inflatable boats, and similar products.  Apparently, this company used to manufacture the raft for Revere until a year ago when operations were moved to another firm overseas.  (This was per the folks at EV and I have not confirmed it independently.)  Since EV was the original manufacturer, they have maintained their status as an approved service center for Revere life rafts.  We made arrangements by e-mail to have our raft serviced and confirmed that we would be able to witness the inspection and packing.

Life raft and luggage ready for the trip to Grosetto

I had bought a folding cart to help transport the raft to the service facility.  I checked the specifications and the raft weighs 86 pounds.  Pretty heavy, but manageable.  We put the raft on the cart, secured it with bungee cords, and got a ride to the train station.  The cart complained, but held the weight.  At the station we had to go up and down stairs to get to the platform for our train, and that was when I realized how heavy the raft was.  When the train arrived I was able to get it aboard and next to our seat for the one hour trip to Grosetto.

Laura on the train to Grosetto

At Grosetto, we disembarked and walked to our hotel, only a short 100 yards away.  We put the raft and our luggage in the room and went to visit the walled medivial city of Grosetto.  It was very pretty and interesting and we had a great time relaxing in the piazzas.

The next morning we took a taxi to EV’s service facility and were met by Ms. Francesca Crugnola and Alberto Scala, the head of the raft service and repacking department.  We discussed the service that our raft would require and how it would be inspected and repacked.  At first, the EV folks wanted us to pull the emergency cord on our raft to watch the raft inflate.  While this is the ultimate test of performance, it stresses the raft and associated equipment by inflating it with very cold nitrogen, and should not be done as a regular practice.  This is why most facilities use an alternate source of dry air or nitrogen to inflate the raft, rather than pulling the emergency cord.

Once we explained that we did not want to stress the raft, they asked if we would like to watch a different raft be inflated from the emergency cylinder.  (Apparently most of their customers like to pull the cord!)  We agreed and they provided another raft that needed service to allow Laura to pull the cord and witness the inflation.  It was an experience we hope to never have to do, but it was educational to realize how much force is required to trigger the auto-inflation.

After the other raft was inflated and we asked a few questions about location of the knife for cutting the safety line, etc., we turned our attention to our raft.  The technician carefully cut open the straps securing the canister and removed the raft.  The raft is vacuum-sealed, and thus enclosed in an airtight plastic bag.  This was also cut open and the raft removed.  Several tests and inspections were conducted on the compressed air cylinder, valve, and the hoses between the two.  The cylinder was then removed since replacement of the cylinder was part of the service.

The cylinder was weighed with a precision scale to determine if there has been any leakage.  CO2 does have weight, and with a sensitive enough scale you can determine how much, if any, has leaked out.  In our case the cylinder was well within specs, indicating the cylinder would have properly inflated the raft.

Opening the vacuum sealed bag

Opening the raft and inspecting

During inspection of the raft, we found the only problem.  Although the raft itself was fine, there is another vacuum sealed package with water, flares, flashlight, and other survival gear inside.  The water is in small foil packets of about 8 oz. each.  One of the foil packets had either leaked or was punctured, contaminating the contents of the package.  This probably meant that the flares were no good, and perhaps other items as well.  The technician simply discarded the packet to be replaced with a new one.  We were told that the water packaging had been redesigned to prevent occurrences just such as this.

Unfolding the raft

Our raft was then inflated using dry air from their compressor.  The raft inflated properly and no leaks were immediately apparent.  The raft was then lifted to a rack and left inflated to check for any leakage.  The acceptance criteria is six hours with no leakage, although ours was checked until the next morning since six hours was after the work shift.

Raft fully inflated and undergoing inspection

From the above photo you get an idea of the size of the raft.  Six people would have to be very good friends to spend much time together here.

Life raft (in slings) inflated and waiting on six hour leakage test

At this point we left the facility to allow EV to finish the leak down test.    By now the luggage cart was really drooping from the weight of the raft, and arrangements were made to have the raft shipped back to the marina where we were staying so we would not have to take it on the train again.

We left for a sight-seeing trip of Pisa and Florence, spending several days seeing delightful countryside and all of the sights.  We returned to our boat in time for the raft to arrive, just as scheduled.

We used a spare halyard to lift the boat from the dock and swing it onboard Orontes II.  It easily went back to its cradle mounted on deck, where we hope it happily remains for another three years.

Life raft in it’s cradle back on Orontes II

Decal showing the raft is inspected until June 2020

Trip to Palermo, Italy, August 11, 2016

On this trip, we took a bus to Seville, Spain, and spent the night in Seville before our flight to Palermo on the 10th.  Actually, it was a train from Seville to Madrid, flight from Madrid to Rome, flight from Rome to Palermo, then taxi to hotel!  Yes, we had a long, tiring day of travel!!

Our Bed and Breakfast the next day, August 11th, served us the most delicious ricotta croissants (called cornettos) we have had in Italy!  As David’s family (Tamra, Tanner and Trent) would not arrive until late on the 12th, we were off to take our first walk around Palermo! Above is “Nautiscopio”, artwork by Giuseppe Amato, 2009, described as “realized utopia, a home/observatory rotating above the sea and city”, designed on the beach of south pier, with a sign clearly saying no swimming!! Above and below is “Castello a Mare”, the ruins of this castle by the sea!We then walked to the very nice Palermo Botanical Garden (Orto botanico di Palermo), which also has a research and educational department for the University of Palermo. Then back to walking around the city towards our bed and breakfast.  Below is the marina nearest us, but it was expensive, limited in showers and bare essentials, with dirty water, so we decided this would not be a place we would come back to visit with Orontes II!We pass many churches in Italian cities and towns.  Above is Chiesa di S. Anna and below is Chiesa di S. Francisco D’Assissi.  Some are open for visitation. Our first night in Palermo was over, except for trying new dishes!!




Gibraltar!! August 5, 2016

We finally arrived in Gibraltar today, so had to celebrate!!  We berthed (called “stern-to”, as Steve backs into the slip and we exit from the stern of our boat to shore) to the left of the former cruise ship below (now a floating casino/hotel). The Rock of Gibraltar is to the right of the ship!  In European Union (EU) countries, all non EU visitors have a 90 day visa limiting your stay in the EU countries.  Gibraltar was our exit area out of the EU, so we stayed here almost 2 months, getting our EU visa back!The celebratory dinner below lasted us 4 MEALS and yes, we tried to walk off ALL those calories!!Gibraltar’s size is 2.6 square miles with 7.5 miles of shoreline.  Their airport runway must be crossed to get to the city of Gibraltar, once you enter the country from Spain (walking or vehicular), or leaving the airport terminal.  Flights are occasional, so you walk across the runway when the lights are green, OR wait for the jets to pass when the lights are red and chains are up to keep you out of the way!  YES, the jets are loud, but we rarely had a flight after 10 PM.  Closest we have ever lived to a runway though!!Some beautiful sunsets overlooking the bay of Gibraltar towards the coast of Morocco! Interesting artwork near the shops in Gibraltar! There is a lot of military history here, even for such a small area, but it had a VERY strategic location, that lots of countries wanted and apparently still do!

More Gibraltar pictures after our trip to Palermo, Sicily, Italy to see Steve’s brother David, wife, Tamra, and their sons, Tanner and Trent!


Straits of Gibraltar!

We really have to say this was one of our most surreal experiences!!  After all the years of dreaming, planning, saving, working on the boat, planning and charting courses, working on the boat some more, sailing and more dreaming, WE WERE FINALLY IN THE STRAITS!!   It was a phenomenal experience!  At this point, we even agreed, we had definitely completed our crossing of the Atlantic!! Above are the Atlas Mountains in northern Morocco, Africa.  Yes, there were quite a few ships in the straits, but westbound ships stay on the African side of the straits and eastbound on the European side.  Pleasure boats like ours stay closer to shore and definitely out of their way.  We still check in and out with the Gibraltar Ship Traffic Controller, so they know we are there!  Below is one of the ferries crossing the straits from Spain to Morocco!Above, finally a view of the ROCK of Gibraltar!!  Almost there!!

Passage to Lagos, Portugal August 1-3, 2016

After finally leaving Lisbon with a brand new mast and standing rigging, we motored to Cascais, Portugal for final adjustments to rigging and payment of our bills!  THEN we are underway!!  YEAH!!  Below are pictures of the bay and the Cascais Citadel as we leave them behind!!! Above is the lighthouse facing the Atlantic Ocean as you begin your eastern passage along southern Portugal to entering the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar!  Below some caves and cliffs along the shoreline.

Above, we passed this beautiful tall ship!!  Then we headed to Lagos, Portugal, to pick up one more part for the boat, then on to the straits of Gibraltar!