CW’s Sailing Adventures

December 6, 2006

Boat Deliveries - #82

It was my very first ocean voyage. I was on Bob and Jody’s Lost Soul. On the evening of the fourth day of our 13 month adventure I got my first taste of what the cruising lifestyle was all about. We had sailed south from California and were hold up in a tiny anchorage in Mex. We were the only boat there. For that matter, we were the only humans for a hundred miles. The sun was setting. We three were kicking back on the aft deck enjoying cocktails, listening to Nat King Cole and dipping into the hors d'oeuvres Jody had just brought up. It was shaping up to be a perfect sunset. As the sun dropped low we saw that it was going to set over the edge of the headland that we had anchored behind. Bob was telling me some great story from his biker days when he stopped, noticed our sunset predicament, and said, “Woody … go on up and let out 50 more feet of chain.” I did and Lost Soul slowly drifted back, just far enough so that the sun would set into the sea … as it should. Was it the conversation, the company, the food, or the ability to enhance our environment that ruined the rest of my life that evening? Of course it was a little of everything. Corrupted by Bob and Jody, I had given up a successful business, my apartment on the beach, my convertible bronco, and also the taxes and the bills and the rest of the rat race in order to live a dream. That night I drifted off to sleep knowing that I had made the right decision.

I’ve gone on to complete my own tour of the planet by sea and since then have spent some time helping out at the worlds greatest magazine and doing my small part to help Bob and Jody get back out there – they leave in two weeks as I write. But as you would expect, I’m itchin’ to head out on my own cruising adventure. Of course I’ve got a plan and as usual, I’m sharing it with you. Unlike most people, arranging the time for such an adventure is not a problem for me. Neither is it a problem to rid myself of a lifetime of junk since I have not acquired any gear or items that are unessential for the next adventure. Finding a boat is a key part of the process for most people but alas, I still have Low Key. I love that boat. She’s ready to go as always but, if I decide to take her out again, I’ll be laying up some more glass, 'round the keel, for piece of mind. On the previous voyage that my only concern with her. If I can get into another boat without delaying my departure much, I’ll consider that. No, for me there are not a lot of obstacles to setting out again, you know, besides the $ one.

Before he died my dad used to say, “Do what you like doing, eventually someone will pay you for it.” I learned that this was true. There are a surprising number of ways to make money in sailing. I’ve narrowed them down to the few that suit me. Skippering private yachts is the best way for someone like me to acquire the funds to get back in the game and I’ve started putting my name out there for those ‘jobs’. The downside to skippering yachts is the full-time out-of-the-country nature of the position. Of course, if you like where you’re ‘cruising’, this is hardly a downside.

Deliveries are another way to make some fast cash while allowing a life ashore including time to put a boat together. A couple weeks ago I did my first real delivery since returning home from the circumnavigation. The boat was called Nonnie (no-nee). I sailed with Paul and two of his friends from Bellingham, WA to San Francisco. It’s a sad thing to report but the delivery was largely uneventful, very fun and even hysterical at times but it lacked crisis. Keeping things uneventful is very good for delivery referrals but is decidedly bad when you write stories for a magazine like Lats. Since I can’t fill this space with tales of harrowing sailing feats while braving the tempest waters of the north Pacific, I’m going to promote the merits of hiring a pro (pick me!) to move your boat and/or jump start your own cruising adventure.

Most delivery skippers don’t allow owners onboard. Besides messing with their command structure (some owners are uncomfortable with being told what to do on their own boat) most delivery skippers like more predictability in their offshore crew so they bring their own. I kinda like having the owners onboard. It’s more fun for me to figure out your boat with you there. We learn together and you get to see that even seemingly insurmountable problems are often easily solved. When the conditions merit it I prefer to have the owner act as skipper with me as a constant advisor. This is the best way to get you up to speed on your cruiser and my version of the cruising lifestyle. While hashing out the details for an owner onboard delivery I make two things very clear. 1) When there is a “situation” I’ll be taking over. 2) I determine when there is a “situation”.

Competent boat skippers aren’t cheap but if what you learn from them prevents you, down the road, from seizing a motor, blowing out a sail, wrecking a spendy piece of gear, running aground or most importantly, instills safe habits that prevent injury, you’ll come out way ahead. It’s often that first month or two of a cruise that can wreck a new cruiser’s impression of cruising forever more. Trying to climb that steep learning curve while adapting to the boat and the cruising lifestyle and encountering sea states that they previously thought occurred solely in story exaggeration can be hard to take all at once without the confidence earned from some time with someone who’s at home on the ocean.

Another way to get some ocean experience is to crew on other people’s boats. My friend Hank Schmitt runs a crew placement service called Offshore Passage Opportunities. For an annual fee he will match you with an endless list of boats looking for crew. You can get a hold of Hank at Want to get into the skipper side of things? Get your Captain’s License. On the east coast contact Mariner’s School at: On the Left Coast contact me at the edres below as I will likely be running some courses for them out here. At both places, ask for your Captain Woody discount.

Just as I am about to revisit my cruising origins with a leg on Lost Soul, another member of the Lats family is coming full circle. Tania Aebi is striking out again, setting sail this time with her two boys Sam 12 and Nicolas 15. They are planning a cruise from the Caribbean to Australia. I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Trinidad with her to look at potential boats. We looked at lots of abandoned cruisers in all shapes, sizes and conditions. She made an offer on a 38 foot steel cutter. It’s just what she was looking for. I want to thank Yellow Shoes Jake (and Cheryl) for letting us hang out on their big beautiful cruising yacht, appropriately named Yellow Shoes, while we were in Trinidad. Tania especially liked the central vacuuming system though there are no plans to install one on her cutter.

In two weeks I’ll be heading south with Lost Soul as far as Cabo … for old time sake. As you read this, I’ll be sitting there, in that Mexican anchorage or one just like it, doing the same thing with the same people on the same boat and most importantly having the same feeling; the feeling that I have made right choices in my voyage through life. I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks Bob and Jody.

September 6, 2006

Q&A - #78

I get Questions ...

My husband purchased a Bruce Robert's steel hull 36 foot sail boat. It was only roughly finished inside. We planned on fixing it up enjoying it and using it as a summer get away! I spent a lot of time with my husband insulating the inside, cleaning, painting, making cushions etc. It still needs major work inside. We had it shipped from Florida to New Jersey where we live on a lagoon. The sail boat is at a marina because it has a Ft 6 draw and the bay has many areas where it would hit bottom.

Since we got the boat we've had many distractions prohibiting us from completing or working on the boat. When we finally planned on enjoying the boat with friends, the engine quit working. (Diesel engine.) Now my husband wants to figure out a way to move the boat here to our lagoon and work on it when he has the time. It still needs a tremendous amount of work to finish it. My husband Steve, mentioned something about when boats sink they put large floatation's on them and move them where they can fix them. Do you know anything about this? Also we really don't have the money to keep the boat in the marina and we can't sell it in the condition it is in. Do you or your readers have any suggestions on moving the boat? Would you consider a very worthy cause and have one of those boat improvement show's where you surprise the owner and fix the boat up for him? LOLAnyway if you have any suggestions on moving the boat to our lagoon I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time and I would appreciate any advise you would have.Sincerely,

That would be great if we had a fix up show. I'll pass that on to Darren, our show's producer. For now I'm pretty sure we don't have the budget for that (Have you seen my boat?).

As I see it:
Option 1) I suggest you sell the boat for whatever you can get (or strip it and sink it) and get a nice little 20 something foot daysailor that you can actually use. It would be small enough to keep on a trailer in the yard but big enough for the two of you to enjoy overnighters on the lagoon or anywhere that has a boat ramp (FL Keys??). On the weekend you could either be covered in rust or anchored in some secluded cove sipping wine while Steve BBQs or fishes or does whatever he does. We are shooting for minimal investment in time and money yielding maximum R&R value. Your boat should work for you, not the other way around.
I assume that's not going to happen so ...

Option 2) I don't think adding floatation will solve your problem. I see a potential World's Funniest Videos entry. You could haul out, put the big boat on a trailer and have it shipped over to the lagoon and put into "a deep spot" at a dock. But that won't solve your marina expense problem. FYI, when I bought Low Key I had to rent a crane, a hydraulic boat trailer, and finally a Travelift at the destination, to finally get her into the water. All that cost me under $1000.

Option 3) Execute Option 2, except instead of taking her to the lagoon you could drop the boat off at your house ... if you have room. The cheapest way to go is to find a spot on land, whether it is behind the house or some warehouse down the street, and put the boat on stands (or in a hole) there to work on.

With all of the fixer upper stories that I've heard, in the end, the person or couple ended up putting more money into the boat than if they had bought the same boat already fixed up. Buy someone else's money pit ... after it's mostly filled in.
Hope this helps!


Thanks for the kudos. Best time to head south: you want to cross the Mex border around Nov 1. That's when most insurance companies allow you to go to avoid hurricanes. I would suggest that you depart SF a little earlier and enjoy some of the coastal cruising that California has to offer in the summer. It might be nice for your family to go through the initial shock of living aboard while you guys are still in a familiar country. Of course, on your way down, in mid-October, you'll want to stop by Catalina Island to visit us at the Lats & Atts cruiser's weekend!

Be sure and pick up some cruising guides for the areas you will be sailing in. They are not just an invaluable resource while cruising; they also make the planning stage so much more fun. An inexpensive way to get the charts you need for that run is to buy a Chartbook. Maptech makes 'em. We sell them at our Ship Store.

Once in Mex, you can pull in somewheres everyday if you'd like, but the best anchorages are Turtle Bay and Magdalena Bay. Turtle's a good stop because it's halfway to Cabo. Last time we had great wind, almost 30 knots, so we opted to stay out and sailed directly from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. You'll find that the mainland is greener than Baja and a little warmer. Most people roll up into the Sea of Cortez and swing by La Paz and other spots north. You can cross over to the mainland and hit Mazatlan before heading down through Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa, Barra Navidad (my favorite) and Zihuatenejo.

For a winter trip, most people never head more south than Zihuatenejo. Then they turn around and come back before June. Generally, you want to be out of the hurricane belt (from Costa Rica to the US border) by late May.

On a two year plan consider the Big Circle. I'd like to do this sometime. Sail south as far as Barra, Mexico. Cross over to the Marquesas heading SSW first to get down to the trades and then WSW to the islands. That one's a long leg (3000nm) but it's mostly downwind. Do the Marquesas, Tuomotus, Moorea, Huahine, Maupiti, Bora Bora. And then head north to Kiritimati (Christmas) Island, maybe Palmyra (heard it's private now) and then Hawaii. After getting your fill there you can make the big north arc around the high pressure system and shoot back into San Francisco.

Try to have fun.

August 6, 2006

Environment and Cruising - #77

Yep, it's time to talk a little about the environment, from a cruiser's perspective.

While out sailing for two years, I was unexpectedly enlightened about how effective my fellow humans and I have been at defiling our irreplaceable planet home. For example, while making our way across the South Pacific on Low Key, we took a month to explore the island archipelago of Fiji. We saw some amazing things. But, as in most of our stops, we also saw more evidence of the not-so-good effect that humans have on our planet. In Fiji, most of the reefs that we snorkeled were bleached white. It wasn't until I did a little research that I found out why. It turns out that the bleaching is happening to reefs all over the world. It's caused by an increase in water temperature and CO2 and exposure to too much UV light, a result of ozone depletion.

In Bora Bora I met an Australian fisherman who was on vacation. He said it is normal practice these days for fishermen to go in to have skin tumors removed every year. Later, while spending three months of cyclone season holed up in Sydney Harbor, I had a chance to find out more about the effect of our thinning atmosphere on the population there in Australia (Oz). One of the things I learned was that in many Australian schools, the children are not allowed to play outside in the middle of the day because of the oddly high skin cancer risk. It seems that Australia, along with the other southern hemisphere countries, is particularly affected by the Ozone depletion that collects over the poles, especially Antarctica. Another thing I learned is that without an atmosphere, the UV rays from the sun would kill a human in a matter of seconds. Did you know that? Sounds like something we want to keep intact.

When I got back, I did some more research and was disappointed to learn that it is my own country that holds the position as the world's worst polluter (CO2 emissions per capita). FYI: There is a consensus that global warming caused by increased CO2 levels (currently the highest level in 650,000 years) will lead to worsening heat waves, floods, droughts, extreme weather, rising sea levels, and the spreading of infectious diseases. I see a couple of those that could affect the quality of my future cruising adventures.

Even primitive Brazil, who shares the U.S.'s ecological pariah status, has conquered their dependence on foreign oil. Brazil no longer imports oil because they grow it. Brazil has switched over to ethanol. By next year they expect to be producing enough ethanol from crops to run every passenger vehicle on 100% ethanol. I say that if Brazil could do it, we could do it in our sleep. As it is, we pay some of our farmers to not farm. We could pay them to grow fuel products.

I've been in some of the most beautiful parts of the planet, far far away from the comforts of home, blissfully sitting amongst my cruising friends from all over the world. Over our beverages of choice, the sun sets and our conversations span many fascinating topics. The environment is a dear subject, especially to this group, whose day to day life is immersed in some of the most pristine environments on the planet. At some point in the evening, my foreign cruising friends were likely to broach the subject of what we Americans think about our current ruling party's wholesale anti-environment policies. “The intelligent nations of the world need a rallying point,” I’d tell them, “a seemingly insurmountable environmental blockade to keep you all focused. That’s what our Grand Oil Party provides.”

It looks unlikely that I'm going to have kids or grandkids to worry about so why do I do it? Why do I recycle, drive a car that's not bigger than I need, turn off lights/air conditioning/heaters that I'm not using, mock powerboaters (it just slipped out), buy green products, and vote with the planet in mind? I'm doing it for you. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do. I'm doing it as a favor to the planet that's done so right by me. I'm doing it for future generations because I think they would appreciate being able to play outside or to see at least some of the amazing things I have seen.

I used to take long walks into the hills of islands that we were visiting with friend and fellow sailor Tania Aebi. We'd discuss the state of things and at one point Tania enlightened me to an interesting fact. She pointed out that the planet has been here long before us and will be here long after us. All of the pretty stuff that you are worried about will come back after we're gone. The thought was comforting. Still, everyone needs a challenge. As a country, if we can overcome the income drain of the terrorism thing (which has been around for thousands of years, just not as well hyped as now), we could stop falling behind Europe in envirotech. Just as we latched onto and then dominated the internet revolution, the U.S. could catch up and run free in the vast arenas of the technology of living clean. In case those of you that are voting your pocketbooks over the future of your race missed it, I'm saying that there's money to be made, more than the internet or oil ever produced.

In fact, there's no downside. In striving for a cleaner planet the quality of your life goes up in every way. Jobs are created, people are healthier, reasons for war diminish, and we as a country can go back to doing what we used to do best---setting a good example for the rest of the planet. (Of course the oil companies will suffer a bit, but from the looks of things they should have enough money to hold them over through the hard times).

Well, I feel better. I've waited a year to put that down. I figure since we're fast approaching voting season (November 7th), now would be a good time to speak up for cruising and humanity and the planet in general. All I can ask is that you research your vote and then do what's best for you, for your kid’s kids, for all of US.

*For info on related issues goto, click on Marine Links, click Bull Boards-Blogs-Info, click Eviro Info.

July 6, 2006

Q&A - #76

I get emails. I figure that if one person is looking for some perspective on a particular subject then maybe there are other readers looking for the same.

Ahoy Woody,
While I am new to cruising, I feel I have a pretty good handle on sailing, seamanship, etc. My philosophy is think it out, do it slow and don’t get flustered when you hit something. Anyway, while I am confident enough in my sailing ability to not to look like a schmuck on the water, I don’t have enough experience pulling into a new marina to feel confident once I get on the dock. How do you handle yourself when you enter a new marina? Until I have done it a dozen times, can you give me an idea how to seem like I have pulled into more ports than Marina del Rey? And, just how much do you tip the hands at the fuel dock? - Insecure in Ensenada.

Something we had students do in ASA was to get them to first practice on buoys in the harbor. We would pull up to the buoy pretending it was a slip, wharf, fuel dock or another boat for a raft up. Sometimes we would even back down on it like it was a Med tie quay. As with all docking maneuvers, consider your wind and especially your current. Look at the buoy and you will see the little wavelets coming off of it if there is current. Remember to keep clear of traffic and be aware of any lines coming from the buoy including its rode. I still use this practice technique when first taking out a big boat that I haven’t been on before. I want to know how the boat will respond (or not) in close quartered situations.

Tipping line handlers? I’ve never done it, or heard of it. The problem I see with tipping is that you may end up getting just what you don’t want, a dock full of locals fighting over who is going to tie up your boat the wrong way. With most marinas and fuel docks you will be calling them first on the vhf. That is a good time to ask for someone to take your lines, that is if you are looking for qualified help. Remember the golden rule: discourage your crew from throwing your lines ashore before you give the signal to do so. Often not knowing any better, the person ashore will tie the line off before you have stopped the boat making for entertaining viewing for spectators.

But of course only professional boat handlers are expected to dock without a hitch. The rest of us are expected to miss it from time to time. Make a plan and a back up plan and share them with your crew. Eventually you’ll look at docking as the fun part of an otherwise less than challenging day.

Dear Woody: I have enjoyed your writing in Lats & Atts and thought of you for some advice. It looks like my business is going to sell this summer. This is good news as it will give me the means to take a year off. There is the slightest possibility that I might be able to con my wife and three kids into going cruising for the next year. My wife and I are 45 and the kids are 8, 12 and 14. I am a very amateur sailor, growing up on a lake with a sunfish and taking a half dozen bare boat vacations to different places around the globe in my late twenties and early thirties. I am also confident, competent and handy but haven't been sailing other than in my dreams for 10 years. My wife has said that if we spend a year sailing that she doesn't want to anything "SCARY!" I like the idea of warm water better than cold. We hail from a little town outside of Seattle and we've done cold water sailing, I want to see coral reefs. Where should we go? My thoughts are as follows in order. The Great Barrier Reef, The Bahamas, The Bay of Islands(NZ), South Pacific(where?). Are these the right areas to consider and would you add any others to the list? Any special ways in which we should research them?
Sincerely, Dreamin of Sailin

The Bahamas are real nice. They have the most beautiful sand and water there. They have great cruising grounds and are only a 60 mile sail from FL. The only problem is that they are not so close to the rest of the good Caribbean cruising.

The Bay of Islands is a small area though you could spend a year cruising all of New Zealand. NZ’s weather and challenging anchoring puts it into the realm of advanced cruising. I don't remember a lot of coral there. You can't beat New Zealand, though, for raw beauty.

The South Pacific has lots of great cruising. It's my favorite area. You have the islands around Tahiti which have great water and coral etc. You have the low islands of the Tuomotus which are all coral and palm trees. Fiji has tons of area for cruising coral islands in calm seas, though you have to keep your eye out for random reefs - easy in a place where underwater visibility can be 100'.

The Barrier Reef is great but I didn't always find truly clear water. The locals told me that the clearer water was found at the outer reefs. You wouldn’t generally overnight out there so that kind of thing would have been limited to day trips. Like NZ, the people are great.

Your plan sounds like fun. If I were you … I wouldn’t buy a boat. If you're only going for a year you should look into extended charters. I think that, down the road, charter companies are going to get into this big time. It's smarter for most people who want to cruise only part of the year or for anyone not wanting to take off forever. You will be investing less money and you’ll have the support of the charter bases. Check with the bigger charter companies. Sunsail is the world’s largest. You may be able to make a deal if you charter all of your “legs” from one source. Another option is to buy from a big company. They have programs that let you use their boats at other bases on the planet while they charter out yours.

The way the seasons work you would want to spend half the year in the southern hemisphere and half in the north. To reduce the scary factor, fly from place to place and charter. On the first “leg” of your adventure you could hire a skipper for a week. I’m thinking a few months in Tahiti and a few in Fiji or the Barrier Reef. Then you’re off to the Caribbean. Consider the BVI. It’s got the world’s easiest sailing and is perched at the top of an interesting mix of islands that lead all the way down to South America.

For research you should get cruising guides for the places you want to see. It’s a cheap way to get a feel for a place.

June 6, 2006

Jessica - #75

I received the following Email from a friend cruising the South Pacific:

> Mast broke in two. Managed to get most of rigging in - think we saved> sails - too early to tell. All rigging, incl. roller furling destroyed.
> Dinghy lost at sea during first "rescue" attempt when lost all steering.>> Adventure - she wears many disguises, no?
>> Jes
> PS No serious injuries.

I have always told people that anyone can do it. I sailed around the world on a coastal cruiser to prove it. I’ve always felt that, with the right attitude, anyone could head out cruising and learn what they need to know on the way. After returning from my circumnavigation, I have adjusted that perspective. Because of the structural issues that I had with Low Key, I started telling people that anyone can do it … with the right boat. There are lots of stories about properly built ocean-going boats (I call them real boats) weathering hurricanes on their own while their owners lay below incapacitated. I have learned recently that there is another aspect that should be addressed before setting off on a cruising adventure.

I met my friend Jes on the Lats and Atts Share the Sail New Zealand trip. She was a fun redhead with a passion for life and a dream to go cruising. One evening at anchor, while sitting around the saloon table imbibing the good stuff, we talked about her dream to go. She had a real boat and the desire. The two things holding her back were her aging dog and lack of crew. Neither of these things I considered to be a cruise preventer. Her dog could go along and as far as crew was concerned? She was a cool chick with her own boat and a desire for adventure. I couldn’t imagine crew was going to be a problem.

I gave her my “Forget about everything else. Make a plan, set a date, and stick to it” sermon. She was listening. Jes took off from Washington - the left coast one - with temporary crew and parked the boat in Mexico for the summer. With a different crewman, she set off on the 3000+ mile cruise to the South Pacific paradise of the Marquesas. Just as they were closing with the island chain, things turned bad. The boat, Blessed Be, developed a rudder problem and was dismasted. I don’t have the all details yet but they made it safely to port.

So I’m thinking of adding another concept to my “Just get out there” speech. Along with the strong boat point, mention should be made about keeping tabs on the workings of your vessel. It’s true that rigging can just fail without any warning, and this may be the case in the Blessed Be incident, but as I understand it, this is very rare.

Before departing on a cruise, there are things that can be addressed to make the cruise both more comfortable and safe for crew and captain. What we’re trying to achieve here is to keep the fun factor restrictions (FFRs) to a minimum. For that we need the boat to be able to fair for itself. A boat that has been thoroughly gone through is more likely to take care of her crew instead of vice versa.

My Cal 33 Low Key and I started out on our adventure as owner and boat. When we returned, we were soul mates. No one knows that boat as well as I and, likely, no one ever will. Boats will do amazing things for you but it’s a two way street. You need to be a good partner and listen to her, and as the kiwi’s say, get in amongst it, making sure that your boat’s every need is attended to. Fortunately for me Low Key was set up very simply. The list of potential gear failures was minimal. That being said, with a coastal boat, the gear that I did have was mostly a size or two too small and prone to early retirement.

Learn to be a pessimist regarding your boat‘s health. Could the metafarkal fail? Is the corpaljiber securely fastened? Learn your boat’s sounds. What is that new creak or ticking sound? Play the game. Once out cruising, you no longer have most of the concerns that encumber the landlocked. You will be looking for something to occupy your mind. Look up from that book now and again and let it wander around the boat. You’ll think of something that would appreciate a quick look.

My boat was not designed to be on an unkind sea for extended voyages. With all of the near failures that I had on Low Key, I feel like I became some kind of expert on preventative inspection and maintenance on my voyage. The sea can be distracting but don’t lose site of the objective. It was a game for me, and I considered myself a winner every time I had an uneventful crossing. And my prize? Often my own palm-treed powdered-sand island.

I conducted frequent and thorough boat inspections not because I enjoyed it so much as because I’m cheap. When calculating my cruising expenses, I would consider how many coldies I was going to miss out on because of a potential repair. Also, I usually just wanted to get there. I recognized early on that my boat was not that tough and so I preferred to keep the at-sea portion of my adventure to a minimum. Foreseeing “unforeseen” gear failures accomplished both these goals.

Also on the list of things that should be considered in the pre-departure stage: Do you know where all of your through-hulls are? Are they easily accessible and operate freely? Do you know how your steering works and how to bypass it (emergency tiller)? Is the boom-to-mast connection (gooseneck) a strong one? Do you have a ditch kit with an Epirb and a plan for getting the crew off the boat in a short amount of time? See a fastener sitting on deck? Drop what you are doing and find out where it came from. Is your engine in good shape and do you know how to maintain it. These days, when heading out on any boat, I do a quick 360 look (and listen) of the boat’s engine after start up. I usually get the “What are you looking for?” from the boat’s owner. I say, “Everything”.

A strong boat keeps you alive in severe conditions. A well maintained boat makes for happier cruises.

Jes is in Raiatea, Tahiti and is working on a partial refit of Blessed Be. When done she plans on giving this cruising stuff another go. Interested in cruising with Jes? You can email her at: Stay tuned for her story from her own perspective in an upcoming issue.

May 6, 2006

Catamarans - #74

I get a lot of questions from future cruisers looking for a boat. Many of these people are hung up on the monohull vs. catamaran dilemma. Though most of us learned to sail on single-hulled boats, both monos and cats have been around since man thought up the idea of taking wood to water. It is only recently that cats have really flourished in the cruising world. To me, the choice comes down to what kind of cruising experience you are looking for. And between cats and monos, the old saying is especially true, "Choosing a boat is all about compromise".

In my 36 years, most of my sailing has taken place on monohulls. I learned most of what I know about our double-hulled friends when I skippered a new 42' Catana on a 4000 mile epic (in my mind) voyage from France to the Caribbean. On that adventure, my crew and I encountered a surprising array of conditions.

Cruising speed: We had a few choice, mostly accidental, bouts with unbridled acceleration but that was not the norm. For our Atlantic crossing, on our nearly empty modern cat, we averaged about 8 knots. We weren't racing, though much of the time we had as much sail up as we dared. The average speed wasn't much more than a monohulled cruiser of the same size. Another thing to consider: you can load monohulls to the gills and it will have minimal affect on speed. Cats are a very different story.

Beating: You may not think that the ability to beat is important in cruising. That is unless you have been in the unfortunate position of having to claw off a lee shore in heavy weather. It was a beautiful sunny day off the southern coast of Spain. We were on our shiny cat trying to make Gibraltar by nightfall. There was a strong breeze blowing onto shore. The wind had kicked up a nasty three-foot chop. If I were in a monohull, I would have worked up into the wind, pointing high as we rode up the crest of the swell, falling off the wind as we rode down the back of it taking advantage of the shape of the back of the wave to shoot us forward again. However, on a cat there is no graceful way to claw off a coast through steep swells. With both engines blazing, boards down and a good amount of sail up we couldn't gain from the coast. We could get one hull to carve nicely but just as we started to make headway, the opposing hull would slam into the next swell. It was like shoving a shoebox through a keyhole.

Later, off the coast of Morocco, we found ourselves beating into twelve-foot swells, the hulls creaking and grinding, forever trying to undue their unnatural pairing. The owner of the boat, who was helping in the delivery, would later tell me, "If I thought that paying a million dollars would have gotten me off that boat, I would have paid it." There's a money-making business in there somewhere.

Stability: We were surfing downwind en route to the Caribbean. I was sleeping. The owner decided to try wing and wing … at three in the morning … in a near gale. I awoke to the cat skipping sideways through the water. If the boards were down or if the hulls had keels, who knows what would have happened.

Cost: There is the concern of finding parking at marinas, at any cost for the beasts. As you would imagine there are two of most everything on cats. They can be double the cost of a similar sized monohull. That is, unless you are talking about a very well built monohull. Which brings us to …

Integrity: I hung out with Lats contributor Jo Djubal and her husband when we were hauled out in Australia. They cruise on a cat. They were doing some work to a hull and I was surprised to see how thin the cored hull was. Even my coastal cruiser had a solid glass hull an inch thick. My friend Warren just sent me a story about a family that sailed off into the sunset on a modern 55' cat. But the story didn't end there. The big cat hit a reef and when it did it tore the bottom out of the boat. The boat lost some of its integrity, which allowed the rig to give way, falling on the skipper and severing his leg. By morning, the entire cat had nearly disintegrated. Many mistakes have to be made before you'll find yourself on a reef. The point here is that most monohulls that wash up on reefs still float when they get dragged off.

Comfort: Let's just say that the motion is different between a cat and a monohull. While a mono can be rolly (very much so depending on the design) cats stay mostly upright. Some complain that the jerky motion of a cat is uncomfortable to them. It's never bothered me. I should point out that while sailing the cat there were times I didn't sleep well. It was always in the back of my mind that the boat could flip over. All boats can flip over. It's the staying upside down feature of a cat that concerns me. I hear the point that people make about how cats don't sink when they are upside down, that the crew of a cat can survive on the upturned hull when inverted. Just thinking out loud here: if conditions were grand enough to flip a cruising cat, survival of crew strapped onto a slippery exposed stretch of fiberglass must be challenging at best.

Fun: I've heard people tell me that they think my priorities are out of whack. When I went to sea in a coastal boat instead of waiting to be able to afford a safe boat, people commented. And maybe it was wrong for many, just not for me. To me, the first thing a boat should be is fun. To me, the potential speed of a cat; the gigantic on-deck party area; the all around viewing ability of the raised saloon; setting my beer down on a flat surface at 24 knots and not worrying; is a good time … to me.

I've heard it on both sides. One's better than the other. Truth is, they are completely different, and I like 'em both. If pressed, I'd tell you that for serious, though restful, rough-ocean passages, I'd take a monohull. However, for living it up in high-style 'round the islands, my choice would be a cat. But I'm in it for the islands. Since it is my personal cruising style to give up a little at-sea safety for a faster passage in order to extend my island time … I'd try a cat.

April 6, 2006

Crew II - #73

Last month we talked about crew: finding them, convincing them to sail with you and then integrating them into your unique shipboard living situation. It’s a skipper's best kept secret that the tables turn once you are at sea. When still ashore, it is often the crew that is working to gain the skipper’s confidence. Now that you’ve moved onto the sea, it is the skipper that is working to keep your buoyant utopia running smoothly. Once you are out of sight of land, a clever skipper will focus on keeping the boat’s crew content if not cheery.

If you and your new crew are pairing up for a long journey, don't rush straight out to sea. The first part of your voyage should be leisurely. Start with a couple of coastal hops. Your crew may need time to adjust to the boat and life at sea and you should take some time to get to know them. In the rare case that you find that you are somehow incompatible, you still have the option of pulling in somewheres to lose a few pounds.

My first paid crew position was on a yacht sailing across the Pacific. The boat had a very accomplished, though young, skipper. I learned a lot on that boat. One thing that the skipper was not good at was priming the crew when approaching the dock. No matter how well my fellow crew and I would second-guess the situation, we would eventually get it wrong ... and name calling would ensue. When I found myself in the position of skipper (on my next yacht job), I had decided to handle things a little bit differently. When coming in to dock, when anchoring, when jibing or when doing any activity-intensive boat manipulation, I would have a little crew pow-wow. We would get together and I would go over how I envisioned the episode playing out along with a possible backup scenario, finishing up the meeting with the statement, "It may not go like that at all but I'll make sure you know what I'm thinking." It was how I wanted to be treated as crew.

Last month I mentioned the two things I look for in crew. I look for crew that gets along with everyone and crew that is not overly prone to getting seasick. I believe that seasickness can be caused by nervousness or fear. As skipper, it’s my job to make you feel safe. Your overall experience should involve a general sense of safety and wellbeing. This starts with your introduction to my vessel. I show crew around pointing out the location of both fun stuff and safety stuff with some procedure mixed in. I used to not sleep well when I first joined a boat. I would worry about the overall integrity of a vessel until after that first rough water experience aboard. Once I saw that the boat could withstand a little weather I would sleep like a baby. During my crew-to-boat introduction, I like to weave into the conversation a little story about the boat taking some bad weather in stride to indicate how sturdy she is.

The way the skipper handles problems can go a long way in keeping shipboard tension to a minimum. Instead of getting upset or excited when the unexpected occurs, I approach problems as a challenge or as a game that we can all band together to win. It is always good to keep everyone onboard involved in the boat’s progress toward its destination.

A good at-sea distraction for the crew is the points game. This game also helps to keep watches more fun and more effective. A point is awarded every time a ship is spotted, two points if you are off watch and the person on watch has not seen it. Pods of whales, sharks, turtles and other unusual marine life are each worth a point. No, no points for dolphins since you see them all the time. We award two points for the person who guesses closest to the time we’ll reach the half way point in miles. Another two points go to the crewmember that is closest to the arrival time at the destination. A point is awarded each day for the one who guesses closest to how many miles had been traveled in the last 24 hours. Did I mention water spout points?

Space onboard cruising boats can be scarce. One thing that can keep closely confined crew from going a little crazy is to provide them with a comfort zone. They need to have an area onboard that is their own. Sometimes, the only space a crewperson will have is their bunk. But it is theirs and it is not to be disturbed by anyone else aboard. Need to get some parts from under your crew's bunk? You ask them.

Your crew may not always be completely blissful but they should be as comfortable as possible. Inexperienced crew will come aboard without foulies. You will need to provide them. Even in the tropics, staying dry is paramount to comfort. Salt, my personal archnemesis, requires battling on all fronts. On boats where the helm is somewhat or totally exposed, the crew should be able to come in from watch, strip down to their fuzzy layers and be totally dry. I used to love that: battling it out with the elements for a few hours at the helm, pounding the boat into big seas, watching the tops of waves breaking off at the bow and come crashing back to wash over me in the cockpit. I would hand over my watch, remove my foulies, rinse the salt from my face, hands and feet and climb warm and dry into a cozy bunk, a tempest still raging outside.

I always give the watch person the best seat in the house. You want them to be comfortable and still have good visibility. I had a problem on Low Key. The best seat was on the high side of the cockpit, tucked under the dodger, in the big beanbag. It was comfy. The problem was that my crew would fall asleep. That setup may have been too comfortable. I’ll never forget the story Bob told me about his sleepy crew. After waking and warning the guy on two separate occasions, Bob found him asleep a third time. Bob unloaded a large handgun into the sea just a foot or two from the crewman’s head. The guy didn’t sleep on watch after that. Of course, he don't hear so well no more neither.

In the end, the way you treat your crew can make all the difference in how much they enjoy their voyage with you and your boat. And for you, happy crew means happy days at sea.

March 6, 2006

Crew - #72

There are chapters in every cruising manual about finding and caring for crew. In my own small sailing career I have had some experience with being crew as well as finding crew. I have been the lone crewmember on a boat and I have been on boats with many crew. I have learned valuable lessons on how to coexist with my fellow crewmembers on extended passages. As skipper, I have employed crew, had volunteer crew and even had crew pay to be aboard (the holy grail of crew scenarios). Over the years I have learned a couple things.

For most sailors their primary crew member is their better half. Even though it was always our dream to sail off into the sunset, it may not have always been theirs. For many a wanna-be cruiser the thing that is keeping them from getting out there is not money or time or even lack of a boat but simply how to get the one they love to want to also make their home the sea. Sometimes the partner of the wanna-be cruiser simply doesn't know how to sail or isn't "into" sailing. That fact doesn't have to be a cruise stopper. Introduce them to cruising.

Here's where it gets tricky for some and is where many an irreversible mistake has been made. Don't introduce your loved one to sailing by taking them, their first time, into a storm or out in a boat that hasn't been sailed in years. Either way they are going to come out of the experience with a bad impression, dashing your hopes of an amiable life together at sea. It seams like obvious advice, but I hear time and again some guy explaining to me that his wife won't go cruising because their first sail together was a nearly fatal rough water episode with lots of gear failure. Bad call ... or did the guy plan the whole thing? Just kidding.

Take her out on the bay in no wind or super light conditions on a boat that you have recently put many hours on. If this turns out to be horribly boring for you, consider entertaining yourself with the vision of you and the human you most care about cruising tanned and blissful 'tween tropical paradises. Your first sail together should leave your companion with the impression that sailing can be a simple, safe, friendly experience.

There will likely be a time, whether sailing with family or singlehanding that you will require extra crew or simply want the diversion of a new perspective. Extra crew means shorter or more spread out watches. In some cases crew can provide help with expenses. The first time I crossed the Pacific, I had only landed the crew position because they needed a fourth crewmember for insurance purposes. Boats need crew for all kinds of reasons.

Finding compatible crew is important. When hiring crew as a professional skipper, I didn’t care what your qualifications were. I preferred crew with less experience because within the skulls of virgin sailors lie less bad habits and corrupt knowledge that needs to be dredged out. No, there were only two things that were important to me: how you would get along with others onboard and whether or not you were prone to seasickness (what you looked like in a bikini would often bear some weight). When you are seasick, you are not only not helping but other crew resources must be spent in looking after you.

My crew screening process on Low Key was simple but effective. Because all of my potential crew was gleaned from the reader list of a certain seedy sailing rag, I knew that my crew would have that all important at-sea attribute, a sense of humor. Also, as a contributor to said rag, I didn’t run the risk of having crew that could claim that they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into. We were already like-minded.

I was only able to charge because of my undeserved status as a cruising icon amongst my seven fans. But I met boats that charged people and were able to eek out a meager living. They mostly hung around the touristy areas and posted flyers at hostels and charged per day, cruising the same area over and over.

With potential crew that I had not yet met or that did not come recommended by someone I knew, I wouldn’t commit to having them aboard for more than ten days. Well there was that one time I agreed to an ocean crossing but she and I had emailed back and forth for months before the trip and she talked a pretty good game. I took a risk. It didn‘t start out so well. She was very seasick for the first week. I would have put her ashore but she was very tough about her condition. I could see that she badly wanted to complete her first crossing.

I have been known to take “unstable” acquaintances on select deliveries but those were predictably crazy individuals. There are some people that are only ever truly focused, only ever at peace, when dropped in the middle of chaos. A livid sea can provide this kind of environment. These types are particularly valuable on rougher voyages. I find that day to day living, on the other hand, can be especially tedious when encumbered with this quality.

Something else to remember when getting to know your crew is to be very upfront with them. Your crew needs to know what to expect. Will they be paid or be paying? How long is the voyage likely to be? What kind of conditions could you encounter? What is expected of them in terms of watches and other duties? What is available to them for food? I always showed my new crew what I ate each day and encouraged them to go shopping if the fare didn't seam appealing to them.

I carried with me a crew contract that clearly stated the "No Drug" policy. It made it clear that crew could be put ashore for any reason. That being said, part of being a good skipper (and following the tenants of international law) requires that you not put someone ashore in a place where they might not fare well or are otherwise not expected by the hosting country. Low Key's crew contract went on to mention that sailing could be dangerous. It finished up with a release of liability ... for me.

There are many things to keep in mind when choosing crew. Only a few are listed here. Choosing the right crew for your cruise can go a long way in determining not only how much fun everyone has on the voyage but also how safe it is. Choose carefully.

Next time we'll cover what to do with crew once you get them and how to keep them happy.

February 6, 2006

Gear Check - #71

It's time, once again to cover some of the gear that I found indispensable on my last cruise. As you likely know, my adventure was decidedly low end and so what I lacked in funds I had to make up for in creativity.

We all need a way to get up the mast and we would like to be able to do it singlehanded. I have recently arrived home from a boatshow where I saw two of the new systems. One was a long length of looped strapping that, once fed into the mainsail mast track, was hoisted to the top. It allows you to climb the mast like a ladder. The other system has you climbing the halyard or any other line using mountain climbing gear. It uses the power of your legs to conquer the mast. My personal rig is not very original but it is low cost. I remove the set of blocks from my boomvang and attach a very long length of line. The blocks allow four to one purchase. With a forty foot mast I need more than a hundred and sixty feet of line. I attach one block to my boson’s chair and hoist the other to the top of the mast. Pulling hand over hand; I go up. To secure it, I pull the line into a cam cleat and for extra safety, tie off the end to the purchase. If I won’t be needing the vang right away I lower the whole rig into a plastic crate, chair and all. From there it pays out easily. A disadvantage is that, even when rigged carefully I cannot stand and view over the top of the mast.

When crossing oceans in the cockpit of a boat we are exposed to the sun. The morning’s routine application of sunblock is important. Just as important is having a comprehensive shade management program. One of the things that I found useful both at sea and on land was a lifeguard hat. For those who haven't seen one, it is a hat made from straw that starts out on top like a cowboy hat and finishes with a wide brim that curves down slightly to the outside. The brim is big enough so that it covers your neck and some of your shoulders as well as your face. The lifeguard hat comes with a shoelace chin strap and sells for about 10 bucks out West.

Offering up a form of entertainment when invited to a sundowner is almost always appreciated. Some bring in musical instruments, others come equipped with their fire making skills. When I felt the occasion called for it, I would arrive with Bocce. You've probably seen the game in some form. It is a little like lawn bowling. Where I'm from, the game is best enjoyed in its free range form, on the open beach. Integrating turf into the challenges of Bocce enhances the game.

It seems like a simple thing but for those of us without mainsails that furl or self stack, your choice of sail ties is important. I've tried all different kinds. I prefer the nylon ones with the loop in the end. You can make these yourself. If you have different lengths you can use different colors to remind you where each tie goes. I keep them the same length and color. Before sewing up the loop, be sure to give the end a twist so that the loop tends to stay open. To secure the sail, lob the tie over the main and pull the end through the loop. Don't go too tight, it’s hard on the sail. Finish with a simple bow knot. When you go to raise the sail, pull the end of the tie to undo the bow and then pull on the loop and the tie comes free.

I made my own lifelines. I used the 316 stainless wire which is not quite as strong but it stays shinier while keeping the rust away longer. I stayed away from the wire that had the plastic cover. I was never comfortable not knowing where I was getting rust or other kinds of deterioration. Stainless needs oxygen (an argument against rigging tape too). I crimped my own ends using one of those kewl (and cheap) bolt operated hand swaging tools, some stainless thimbles and some copper oval sleeves. You get everything lined up and then tighten down the bolts; a perfect crimp every time. I put three crimps in each sleeve just to be sure. Instead of those dumb pelican hooks which can open at any time sending you overboard; I used line and lashed the eyes to the stern pulpit catches. Having a long length of wire onboard with my crimping set up would have enabled me to make a spare shroud or stay at sea if the need arose.

In our haste to depart I ignored all that wiring coming out of the bottom of the mast. Originally, Low Key had in mast wiring for tri-color, anchor, steaming and spreader lights. I left with running lights at deck level. You are allowed to rig an anchor light in the foretriangle so the only time a law was broken was when I would motor at night without a steaming light. Sue me. While holding over for cyclone season in Australia I stripped most of the wires out of the mast, removing much weight aloft. I left the wiring for the steaming light, tag lines for the masthead wiring and added wiring for a spreader high VHF antenna.

Also removed from the mast were the wind instrument wires. I was never a big fan of gauges. Do I really need to have a gauge to tell me that it's windy? I did however, need to know the apparent wind angle to make the most of my sail trim. For this I set up one of those cheerfully simple and infallible wind indicators atop the mast. Look up and see which way the wind is blowing. At night, a quick flick of a weak flashlight would light up the reflectors on the high flying arrow. The wind indicator’s only lethal enemy was a very heavy footed bird. In my trip around I was spared a fatal blow.

Most boats have them. The flexible plastic, almost rubber, winch handle holder. I had one in the cockpit and one on the mast. These useful pockets also just happen to be the perfect size to hold a coldy. And while we are on subject of drink holders I would like to mention my own product, wrought from years of demanding research and development, the Winch Wench. It is simply, a beverage/small gear holder that fits into the winch handle recess that you’ll find at the top of most every winch. You can get them at our Ship’s Store. Order yours today so that I can get back to sea already!!