Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 25, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
I love Nick Munro’s signal flag holiday cards — which you can see more of at the cheery Brit blog called slingthehook: the geek and the girl go to sea – but unfortunately, they no longer seem available to benefit the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (though other Munro RNLI designs are). What follows is a highly eclectic collection of notable boating world cards that came my way recently, and I will point out a way you can help the U.S. Coast Guard as well…
It’s a sad thing the way the term “Merry Christmas” has been politicized here in the States. I find myself happily using the expression until I read an ignorant rant about how I must use it, which makes me not use it! At any rate, the term obviously isn’t such a hot potato elsewhere in the world and I got a special kick out of how MaxSea put a multilingual and marine twist on the season’s greetings.
Many marine companies can’t help but put products on their cards, but that can work very nicely when you make something as beautiful as Edson’s carbon and wood steering wheels.
There’s also a temptation toward the liberal use of Photoshop, particularly for the e-cards that have become so popular. Did Unlimited Marine Services go too far?
It seems a little odd that so many British cards made my 2013 collection, but isn’t Digital Yacht’s printed circuit board Christmas tree classy?
Admittedly, the Spectacular Superyachts 2014 calender is not even a card, but Megayacht News is generously donating 25% of the retail cost to the Coast Guard Foundation, a wonderful outfit that supports the hardworking members of the USCG in myriad ways large and small. Recent readings about the Bounty disaster reminded me of the extraordinary skills and bravery the SAR teams routinely deploy, and I think that recreational boaters should support the foundation big time.
Finally, though, the marine electronics Christmas card of the year must once again go to the proprieters of EchoPilot, who bring joy to the season by hilariously mocking the extremes of what we do. As in the notion that key members of their entry to America’s Cup 35 “have been recruited exclusively from Cirque du Soleil”! (Click below for readable size image.) Panbo, too, is wishing all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Bonne Navigation. Please share links to cards you like.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: twelve expired flares!Eleven rusting stanchions Ten volt batteries Nine frozen turnbuckles Eight mildewed cushions Seven squeaky winches Six broken shackles Five leaky hatches Four chafed halyards Three blown-out sails Two clogged heads …and a sunset in Papeete.
Happy holidays, from our floating home to wherever you are!
Here’s a bit of holiday inspiration for those of you thinking of blowing off the rat race to go cruising. Nike Steiger, a 32-year-old German woman, recently quit her marketing job, bought a 37-foot aluminum Reinke Super 10, and has been fitting it out for an open-ended adventure that may (or may not) take her to the fjords of Chile. She has been maintaining a well-produced video diary and posts short updates each week on her YouTube channel. So far the plot line has focussed mostly on the process of cleaning up and refitting her boat Karl (and its very recalcitrant engine) and on cutting ties with her old life, but now it seems she’s about ready to move on.
This represents a big leap of faith, to be sure. Nike tells me she had a modicum of sailing experience before putting her plan into action–some classes and certificates, holiday sails with her family while growing up, and some “training” trips with friends. She looked for a suitable boat to buy in Europe for three years, but then heard about this Reinke, then named Vela Bianca, that had been sitting idle in Panama for five years. She bought it sight unseen for about a third of what an equivalent boat would cost in Europe, and though a friend had checked it out beforehand, she still had a bit of a surprise when she flew down to Panama to see what she had gotten herself into.
Here’s the trailer for the series, with lots of nice sailing footage:
And here’s Episode No. 1, In the Jungle of Mold, and yes, it is very impressive mold:
I’m telling you, this woman has chutzpah. A lot of wanna-be cruisers would be thoroughly daunted by the prospect of dealing with such a badly neglected boat. But Nike obviously has a great deal of determination. Check out this episode (No. 12) where she finally takes the boat out for the first time herself:
She’s also pretty inventive. Check out how she rigs up her depthsounder (starting at 1:42) in Episode No. 16:
I asked Nike why she named the boat Karl, and she told me the name derives from an old German word “karal” that means “man” or “husband” but also “the free one.” She feels it fits perfectly.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this adventure unfolds and have two predictions: 1) Nike is going to get her boat out of Panama and put some miles under her keel; and 2) she’s going to get good at sailing without engine.
MEANWHILE, speaking of cruisers with a dream, we should note that Pat Schulte and his family of Bumfuzzles, who until recently were sharing their lives with rest of us at SAILfeed, have decided to ditch the boat and do some cruising on land for a while.
Seems they’ve bought an antique RV, sight unseen, and will be heading out on an extended road trip. Coincidentally (or not), this decision followed a spate of chronic engine problems aboard their boat.
I might have maligned the Similans a bit by pointing out that the coral is kinda dead, the diversity is lacking, and the tourists outnumber almost everything else. It’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The truth is that we still had a great time and saw some amazing things underwater. It’s just not the in-your-face marine lushness that we’ve been completely spoiled by in the past.
The first and most striking aspect was how crystal clear the water is- really, the clearest we’ve seen since French Polynesia. The viz dropped a little at the northern end, but apparently that’s partly because we’re still at the front edge of the NE monsoon season- it will be better still in January.The island is a string of nine are granite heaps (Similan is from the Malay word for nine, sembilan), about fifty miles northwest of Phuket. The big boulders of an islet behind Totem’s transom above? They give you a sense for the shape of the underwater environment as well- much of the time, what we’re swimming through and around looks like this image of Niall below. The swell coming through rocks and crevices could make things a little interesting upon occasion, but we only had a few barnacle scrapes.
Another really crazy, I have no idea what the heck it is, underwater critter were these transparent batwing things. I have no idea how to even categorize it. Can you see it in the image below? Anyone with more marine smarts than we have who can ID? The boomerang-like shapes averaged about a foot long, and an inch or two tall. There was a school of hundreds of these that came through, and just kind of bounced off our bodies as we swam against the current that carried them along. Update: thanks to the comment from Mark below, and on our facebook page from a couple of marine biologists + former cruisers, this cool little critter is identified as Cestum veneris, a Ctenophore- “which are related to the jellyfish (cnidarians) but in their own phylum. They differ by their mode if propulsion – they use thousands of microscopic “combs (elaborate cilia) to create water currents – as opposed to the pumping action of a jellyfish.” Thanks Emmanuelle and Mike!
We saw more holothurians (sea cuccumbers) than we’ve seen in a long time. Not just more, and a variety, but some really big ones- see the shape next to my body below?
These are sought after for the Chinese culinary market, and completely fished out in may places we visited. If you are wondering what they taste like, let me just save you the experience and say- it’s gross, don’t. You’re welcome.
I was so excited to even see a fan, that I took a picture of it. It’s really unremarkable, except for the pathetic fact that it was so very much alone.There weren’t a lot of soft corals, either, so the few spotted naturally stood out. Look at this beautiful thing! I think it’s a bubble coral. Dan and I came back from one expedition raving about all the spider conchs we’d seen. The striking difference? All his had a mollusck inside, and all mine had hermit crabs. There were a lot of hermit crab conventions happening on the sea floor. I swear these two were having a convention. A lot of the schools of fish were hanging out in about a 12″ range from coral heads, like this one at right. They just look like bait to me. They look like bait to a lot of fish, I think. Pretty, though, and curious. It’s fun to swim through them. Does that make me an irresponsible snorkeler? I hope not!
The sheer volume of wee little baitfish schools everywhere was one of the most consistent impressions of the Similans. Almost any panned-out photo you look at, they’re the speckles in the distance or the blob that makes a coral head’s otherwise sharp edges appear a litlte fuzzy.
It seemed to be the nursery for many fish. Check out this crazy little translucent one: it was about the size of my pinkie finger. That’s it. Teeny. There were a pile of them right next to Totem.I wonder if the juveniles are just finding this a good place to get bigger, so they can go out to the Andaman and get plucked off in mass by the wall of fishing boats? Yes, cynical me. But it’s true. You could always count a half dozen boats during the day, and many many more strung out along the horizon at night. No way were they staying outside the 5-mile no take zone that’s supposed to exist around the park. Sad. The occasional pelagic fish managed to make it through the gauntlet. One of the cooler fish was this giant barracuda. It was just hanging out on the bottom, minding it’s own business, not wanting to bother anyone. Just… sitting there. Niall went down to take a look, and it was barely fazed. Besides the big (and sorry, but fuzzy) ‘cuda in this shot- check out the gazillion little speckles. FISH. There were so, so, so many little fish everywhere around the Similans.
These four trevally spent most of the day around a coral head that was under Totem. It was FULL of tiny fish- see the fuzzy stuff in the photo? Fish. They move in a school almost like they share a brain. Most of the time, the trevally were just acting cool, but every once in a while one of them would blast through the school for a little snack. It was wild to watch.
Gratuitous anemone shot, because clownfish are just so dang cute. Yes, I’m a sucker for the whole Nemo thing, fine, laugh at my expense. I’ll just leave you with that cuteness.If you’re reading this on the SAILfeed website, you’re tossing change in our cruising kitty. Thank you!
Written by Kees Verruijt on Dec 22, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
At the METS 2013 show in Amsterdam last month B&G unveiled their new H5000 range of sailing instruments and auto pilots. Unlike the Triton range which is meant for recreational and club racers the H5000 series is designed for high end cruisers and all levels of racers (from club to round-the-world), and replaces the H3000 series. B&G’s racing reputation stems from the capability of their systems to make corrections to the raw sensor values and deduce derived values at high rates. Cruising systems do basic smoothing of raw sensor values (wind, boat speed) and some computations (remember the Panbo discussion on calculating true wind?) but nothing else. The H5000 range can do much, much more. For instance all systems compensate the wind speed for heel and trim angle, there are advanced MOB features and the autopilots have special gust and high-wind response modes.
The way that this was implemented historically was a central processing box that the sensors were connected to and then the box computed the improved values. This has not changed, and the same performance levels are available as before. The three levels are:
- Hydra (€ 1290 – $1499 – ROW $1649)
- Hercules (€ 1890 – $2399 – ROW $2749)
- Performance (€ 3690 – $4599 – ROW $5299)
What’s different is that the actual physical processor remains the same and apparently you can upgrade to a higher level via a software update. Previously the PCB would have to be swapped. The setup has been dramatically simplified by including a web server in the CPU box. You can use a computer or (if you have the GoFree WiFi or your own router) a tablet to perform functions such as set-up, calibration, commissioning but also backup/restore and diagnostics. You can expand the capabilities of the processor by adding expansion modules. The current list includes a 3D motion module, a barometer module, a network alarm module, a serial expansion module and an analogue value module.
The “basic” Hydra level has NMEA 2000, dual NMEA 0183 and Ethernet interfaces to integrate with your computers and other navigation equipment. It supports wind heel compensation, and has a special Performance Wind Filter that aims to optimise wind angle stability. It also has an advanced MOB function which keeps a dead reckoned position of the MOB based on tide or as as updated via AIS SART. It supports most expansion modules and many of B&G’s existing sensors. In addition, the processor provides advanced MOB function with dedicated MOB button input and dead reckoning of relative MOB position, allowing for tide, based on the initial MOB position or as updated via AIS SART with compatible equipment.
The next level, Hercules, is specifically designed for racing yachts, adding more accurate data and more race specific features. If you add a “3D Motion Expansion Module” you get a motion compensated wind value — ie. it compensates for rolling, pitching and yawing. It would be interesting to compare a Hercules system with this module to a system equipped with the Airmar PB200 — which Dan Corcoran reported as motion compensated as well. The H5000 also allows you to upload polar table data to the CPU that provides target boat speed, target wind angles and performance monitoring. It also allows heel/linearity correction of boat speed and increased sensitivity of boat speed data to real accelerations / decelerations by better filtering. Hercules also provides enhanced communication, Polar table configuration and Start Line information.
The highest level, Performance, is meant for complex yachts that have items such as dual wind sensors, dual rudders, dual or triple daggerboards (providing a calculated depth below the daggerboard). Further functionality delivered by Performance includes the tracking of ground wind speed and direction, Rate of Turn and enhanced polar performance targets.
The H5000 range includes two new displays and carries over two existing ranges. First and foremost there will be a H5000 Graphic display, at around €/$ 1000, that looks like a Triton on steroids — a big bold 5″ colour screen using the same UI style as we already know from Triton. I felt right at home with it, and it was easy to use. Like all B&G displays it uses a fully bonded LCD which means there is no air gap between the front glass and the LCD. This has the advantage that it is impossible for condensation to penetrate and show up on the LCD. Whereas Triton is able to show depth and wind history plots, this also includes special sailing pages, a start line page and the sail steer page that we’ve seen first on the Zeus MFD.
Next up is a new H5000 Race display, using a segmented black/white display that uses a little less power (but not much), is a little cheaper, but more importantly might just match your boat or racing style. It has a small bar graph on the left side of the display that can be used as a visual indicator.
What I also liked that these displays will just drop in for the older H3000 (or even H2000) displays as they have the same physical dimensions, so cutouts as well as the overall feel remain the same. The H5000 Race display will look familiar for H3000 owners but I guess that a lot of owners will prefer then new H5000 Graphic display, which boasts a very bright 5″ color display. With their fully bonded (no condensation) graphical displays the data that can be shown is much more useful. The H5000 graphic display copies the sail steer and start line pages that we know from the Zeus MFD and the windplot display seen on the Triton T41.
The H5000 system also supports the existing HVision 10/10, 20/20, 30/30 and 40/40 mast displays with prices from 500 to 4000 €/$, with more functionality than H3000 did as the new processors can send alternating values (Hydra) or even dynamic sets of data (Hercules, choosing automatically beween pre-start, upwind, reaching and downwind) and 10 Hz update (with Hercules.)
The analogue displays were updated to NMEA 2000 / Simnet a few years ago for use with H3000, and as they are classically styled they just carried over.
The H5000 autopilot shares the hardware with the recent Simrad AC70 computer but runs B&G software which offers dedicated sailing steering modes – gust response, recovery and high-wind response. I guess most sailors won’t miss the removed fishing patterns… B&G claims excellent response for sailing boats, and a win in the latest Vendee Globe.
There is also a new controller that I liked as it is almost as small as the Triton controller but still includes a small B&W LCD display. I asked whether you could mix and match, and use the new controller with a Simrad autopilot computer, but my feedback is that this is not supported.
I’m sure some people out there wouldn’t mind if Santa brought them a H5000 system… Alas that won’t happen as the product availability is still one or two months out.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
Here we are, two days from Christmas. Time to break out that wallet and go buy some cheap junk that your family neither wants nor needs! And even if Christmas isn’t your thing, there are all the sales to think about, right? If you’re going to buy things you don’t need, you might as well get them at a reduced price.
But, oh, what’s this? Hmm. Something is fishy here. It looks like home. Huge floorspace. Big crowds.
Industrial-sized bottles of ketchup.
Aha! There’s a clue.
Poker. Well, sure, I guess that is a still a thing.
Home bingo/lotto? Maybe I’ve missed the finer points of this gambling trend, but I don’t see the Papillon crew sitting around in the evening with our bingo dabbers while the captain calls out: “B-28!” I like the lotto idea, though. Do you think it comes with its own prizes?
Roulette? Really? And, come on, the graphic design on that package is terrible. If I am going to buy my own roulette wheel, you need to attract me with bright colors. Make an effort, people!
Aside from Champagne, there is nothing more French than bread. And, sure enough, the young bakers among us will have something special to open on Christmas. You can make baguette, pain au chocolat, boule de campagne, and various other breads that I suspect will turn out better than anything I can make myself. Bonus points to the marketing team for naming it “the Bread Laboratory,” but refusing to gussy it up with “scientific” trappings like safety goggles or blue dye.
It may be cliché, but you don’t mess with the bread and pastries around here. Even the fast food joints have a dessert menu:Items may not be as delicious as shown.
But back to the toys. Here is a pretty normal-looking item. Steal the dragon’s treasure, don’t get eaten – pretty standard stuff. Nothing like encouraging thievery to make a holiday special.What I couldn’t resist about this game was the kid in the middle. The boy on the left and the girl on the right are really giving it. Fear! Drama! Oh no, the draaaaaagooooon!!! But the pirate isn’t so sure. He has an expression I can’t quite place. Is he determined to get that treasure while others around him are losing their heads? Has he suddenly noticed something suspicious about that orange game marker? Is he thinking about the ice cream his mom promised him after the photo shoot? What is going through that young man’s mind?
And then we come to Carlo Crado, the yuckiest game I have seen in many a long year. The front of the box pretty much sums it up. You have to pull snot-like yuckles out of Carlo’s nose. If you pull the wrong one, his brain explodes out of his head.
I assume that whomever collects the most boogers wins. Blech. Rest assured, no one will be opening this under the Papillon tree on Wednesday. (Jasper Fforde fans should note that this game was made by Goliath. It was only a matter of time.)
“But, Amy,” you ask, “don’t you have a more sophisticated game for us? Something family friendly?”
Well! I do! And it combines all of the delights of pseudo-science and an utterly creepy design!
I have to pause here for a public service announcement to the ESL countries of the world. Before you decide to market a product with an English title, please ask a native English speaker to look it over. They might notice something you wouldn’t. For example, the title “Finger Tree” is unpleasant, and makes my flesh creep. That is not the reaction you are looking for. (Sidenote: my #1 favorite car name here is the “Great Wall Wingle.” No word of a lie.) But, let’s face it: even the best title wasn’t going to induce me to play fingerprint phrenology with my family. Tinfoil hats on, people.
Well, it looks like we struck out on our gift list. I guess I’ll have to go with the old stand-by instead.
Check out the bonus episode of 59 Degrees North above, or continue reading the article about why the ARC is so popular…
In it’s 27th year, the popularity of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers has never been higher. 2013 marked the first-ever ARC+ rally, which saw 43 boats take the starting line in Las Palmas 14 days ahead of the larger fleet, and sail south to the Cape Verde’s for a brief stopover before crossing the Atlantic in the heart of the Trade Wind belt.
The ARC+ came about as a way to meet the increasing demand for the ARC itself – the waiting list of boats wishing to join the fleet in Las Palmas grew so long, that an entirely new event suddenly became viable. As it turned out though, unexpectedly almost 60% of ARC+ entries were from former ARC participants who wanted to see a new part of the Atlantic before making the crossing. Boats like the catamaran Easy Rider and the OVNI 445 Hanami II, ARC veterans, looked at the new rally as a way to even further expand their horizons, which has always been World Cruising Club’s goal.
Even so, there remains that elusive question of what, exactly makes the event so popular to so many people. I trawled the logs and talked with crews on the docks in St. Lucia to get the answer.
For most, the ARC represents that once-in-a-lifetime moment, an unforgettable adventure that takes time, money and an enormous amount of emotional resources to even make it to the starting line in Las Palmas. Not to mention completing the 2,800-mile passage.
The majority of the 230+ yachts in the fleet are family cruisers on sabbatical from ‘normal’ lives ashore, with houses, cars, pets and mortgages – in short, responsibilities. Yes, the odd racing boat shows up for the start with professional crew onboard (Caro, who set a new ARC racing record this year is the best example), but they’re the exception, not the rule (though in fact, having those few big boats makes the ARC that much more exciting – how often does a family cruiser get to rub elbows at the same parties as some of the hottest sailors in the world? After all, the ocean is the great equalizer – out there, the conditions are the same for everyone).
For the American flagged Hallberg Rassey Windleblo, the ARC passage has been the culmination of a years-long project and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Skipper Jack bought the boat in Sweden several years ago and has been cruising Europe in anticipation of finally bringing her back home to American waters. As they neared the end of the 3-week Atlantic crossing, the reality of it all began to sink in.
“It is bittersweet that the end is in sight,” the crew wrote. “This journey was so many years in the making – the dreaming, the planning, the scheming, and now our first major ocean crossing is nearing completion.”
Aboard Arkouda, with 850 miles to go, the crew seemed to really have settled into the life and sea and wrote with awe about the nature they’ve been so close to for so long.
“The seas are building in size, and it beautiful to watch them roll in, under, and away. The crests are starting to rise up and break, a little like waves the surfers ride. The sun hits this crest just before the white water, and it glows a magnificent teal blue. The early morning sun and the moon at night cast a metallic shadow on the water, turning it into molten silver. It is beautiful, awe inspiring, humbling. I feel so privileged to allowed to watch.”
Another yacht, Windsurf, like so many others, have made lasting friendships in the ARC, at shore and indeed at sea. “Half of the ocean the Swiss catamaran Allure was in our neighborhood,” they said, “And we had radio contact several times. So we toasted at the finish with the rum punch at 05.00 am!” At the ARC finish,‘5 o’clock somewhere’ suddenly has a new meaning.
Of all the folks we spoke to on the docks, the British-flagged Adina, who are continuing around the world with World ARC in January, provided the best insight into just what it is about the ARC that makes it so special.
“I think for us, the key thing was we’d never been across an ocean,” they said. The crew was eating a mellow breakfast in the cabin of Adina, tied to the end of E-dock in Rodney Bay and enjoying the comfortable motion of no motion at all for the first time in weeks. “Usually we’re quite happy doing independent travel, but we thought, ‘alright, we need some really good help.’”
Tom and Susie from Adina are used to taking breaks from real life and going on grand adventures. This is the third time that they’ve taken a lengthy sabbatical, but the first that they’d attempted something as audacious as an Atlantic crossing.
“The preparation in the handbook was just brilliant. I mean we’d been reading it since a year ago,” they said. “And we always said, ‘if we can get the boat through the ARC inspections, it was good to go around the entire world.’”
For Adina, like much of the fleet, the ARC started long before the gun went off in Las Palmas. They left England in March and wanted to have as much of the prep to the boat done before they left, so they wouldn’t have to do it en route in Europe. The ARC support staff was there during the entire process.
“I mean, simple things like, the ARC used Jerry the Rigger,” they said. So they got a hold of him and had him inspect the boat way back in the spring before they ever left the UK. When they got to Las Palmas, Jerry came by a second time, recalled the boat, and was able to go over the rig once more, with the benefit of having already been familiar with it.
“We talked about it when we were at sea, we talked about ‘Jerry’s Checks,’” they said. “It becomes – because there’s a face on it, it brings it all to life.”
But it was the safety equipment requirements that really forced the Adina crew to stop and focus.
“We actually went out and we tested all of the safety equipment,” they told us in St. Lucia. “I think that was a really important part – getting all the safety stuff right, and actually testing it, understanding it and knowing how it works.”
Finally, Adina admitted that through all of the equipment checks, all the boat prep, and all the work involved in making it to Las Palmas on time, it’s the friends they’ve met along the way that will stick strongest in their memories of the ARC.
When they got to Gibraltar en route to Las Palmas, Adina hoisted her ARC flag for the first time. Almost immediately they realized they had familiar company.
“Millport came in opposite us with their ARC flag up,” they recalled. “Next thing there was another boat down the pontoon from us, George, and he got his banner up. Within 24 hours, we’d got them all on our boat for drinks, and they’ve since become lifelong friends.”
When Adina left Gibraltar, they had a problem with their gearbox, which failed shortly after their departure. Millport came out and towed them back. In doing so, they missed their crossing to Las Palmas, as the brief weather window evaporated in the time it took to perform the tow.
“You make lifelong friends in this, and Millport II will be a friend forever,” said Tom. “Tim from George will be a friend forever. The guys next to us in Las Palmas, Tim and Claire from Ghost, you know we’ve seen them so many times. And we’re going to meet up with them for New Year further down the line in Grenada.”
When Adina crossed the finish line, having never before been into St. Lucia or Rodney Bay Marina, they weren’t exactly sure where they were supposed to go. They had their marina map, and had gotten berthing instructions from the Yellowshirt team, but were still unsure.
“And Alvaro, one of the Yellowshirts, just came back on the radio and said, ‘Tom, look at the welcoming party, all those people cheering. That’s where you’re going!’ That just made it for us. It’s a lifetime highlight.”
“You know, some people get slightly skeptical about rallies, and say ‘do you really need it?’” Tom added as he finished up his story. “And I would look at this and I would just a thousand times recommend it to somebody and say, ‘you know, an ocean crossing is a big deal, and you need to have your boat in the best state possible, and the ARC will help you do that.”
Click here to hear the full interview with Tom & Susie from Adina on the 59 Degrees North podcast.
How do you bring the holidays on board, adapted to the cruising life? When we sailed south from Puget Sound in 2008 to begin for cruising adventures, our children were in the thick of the “holiday magic” years at ages 4, 6 and 9. That magic was very real, and I didn’t want it to be a casualty of our lifestyle change. Finding new, boat-friendly traditions has been a journey.
One morning last week, the children decided it was time to decorate. I pulled out a box of seasonal treasures from the storage space under our bunk, and as they unleashed an explosion of tinsel, I sat back with my tea and wondered- what are other cruising families doing? It’s just what I would like to have known before we took off cruising. So- I reached out to cruising families, and asked.Wondertime’s main cabin with a holiday glow Tinsel tangle on Papillon!
The first to reply was Sara from Wondertime, also from our home waters, with a gorgeous photo of their main cabin with a mast-tree and homemade paper snowflakes…and a reminder that they might have gotten that mast tree idea from us! She wrapsthe mast with swags of lights and “greens” (OK, so green tinsel is the tropical alternative). Sara and I both grew up with chilly winter Christmases and also feel compelled to make snowflakes… maybe there’s something about bringing a touch of winter to the lower latitudes? It’s certainly something we all enjoy doing together!
Amy Schaeffer made me laugh out loud with her reply- over on Papillon , the same child-driven direction of “it’s time” had happened that morning as well. Opening up the stash where decorations live the rest of the year, she realized that during last years’ clean-up everything had just been rolled up into a ball and crammed back into a bag…and worm into a gigantic mass of a tinsel in a hopeless knot that naturally, it was assumed that mom would fix! (For the record, I voted for “tinsel disco ball” and just starting over)
Cindy lives with her family on their catamaran, Majestic, and has a great eye for design, so I really couldn’t wait to hear her ideas- also, like our family, they blend different traditions into the holidays and just “celebrate the heck out of everything”- December is one big party. Yeah!
When she and Doug were cruising, they had a wee plastic table top tree that came out for the purpose- now, living aboard in Maryland, they can actually get a wee real tree…I’ll be honest. I’m jealous. Nothing replaces that aroma and ambiance.
The cockpit of their catamaran is enclosed in plastic for the winter, so it’s a perfect place for a greenhouse holiday room: tree on the table, stockings hung nearby. Round it out with a basket of seasonal books and happy kids drinking cocoa, and you have the holidays in spades.Cloth wrapping: a better way, boat or not!
Cindy’s also an avid collector of cloth. Her collection includes special vintage tablecloths and bunting to hang with the lights. This is such a great pro-tip for gonna-be cruisers: cloth takes very, very little room to store, and really adds to the spirit of the cabin when you want to decorate. Cloth isn’t just for decorating, either. Who has room to store a bunch of wrapping paper on board? I’ve tried, and… well, having re-usable cloth wrapping is really a much, much better way to go. Besides the storage nightmare (wrinkled mess!), why create all that trash? Living on a boat puts us so much more in touch with the amount of garbage created at Christmas…cloth wrapping eliminates a pile of it.
More newly minted as a cruiser but with seven years of experience living aboard, one of the things Charlotte says she’s missed on Rebel Heart is not being able to have a real tree. Now that her daughter Cora is three (and baby Lyra is hurtling towards one year), having a tree felt even more important, and she came up with the (oh, wow, I really wish I had thought of this before) felt Christmas tree. Charlotte has a sewing business and really knows her fabric, but even the craft-challenged (cough me cough) can do this. Cute holiday stockings a bonus: I love how bright and cheery her cabin is!
Spend a crafty afternoon making ornaments with the kids, and you have great memories and a tree they’ve been able to help decorate. They’ll never forget it. Usable year after year. Update it as the children grow and your travels extend. Fold up into almost nothing when Christmas is over. It is absolutely brilliant.Cora decorates her tree with a friend on Rebel Heart
Yep, for a cruising boat tree, I think this might be even more awesome than a gimbaled mini spruce.
Michael wrote from their anchorage in Baja about their first Christmas on Del Viento. After selling their house (and everything in it, including a large tree), they had a few keepsake ornaments with them on their road trip to the boat that awaited them in Mexico. Along the way, their girls spotted a diminutive plastic conifer at a thrift store in Montana and declared it perfect for the boat. It was, of course, in every way (cruiser bargain: $1). Three years later, it’s still the perfect decoration. Lots of holiday cheer, with minimal storage, and Michael’s favorite bonus: no matter how paltry the gift offerings are, the tree never dwarfs them! I think he’s onto something. I spotted a little tree at a shop here in Phuket and might spring for it- we have the perfect corner in the forward cabin.Elias decorates Galactic with local greens, and a strand of popcorn and cranberries
Mike from Galactic related how they recreated their traditions from life ashore- mostly. Back in Alaska, they’d sneak onto a neighbor’s lot to cut down a tree (oh, sly Alaskans!). They’re down in New Zealand now, and realize that local folks might not have the same sense of humor about tree pinching as their friends from home, but still find a lot of fun in foraging ashore to source greens for a tree on board. String up popcorn, cranberries, and lights and they have the same feel of holiday boat warming traditions of their pre-cruising Christmases. He’s made me nostalgic for our old land-based holidays, which had the same natural bent: lots of cedar and fir in swags and wreaths in our home, stringing popcorn and cranberries by the fire. Tinsel only entered our lives when went cruising, and with some reluctance, but geez it’s practical when there aren’t any conifers nearby! Still, I’m inspired, and will be looking at the foliage around Phuket with a different eye this week. I’m just not really seeing the banana-leaf ‘tree’ as a winner on Totem.Of course the snowmen cookies on Ceilydh are melting: it’s summer in Australia!
On Ceilydh, Diane shares their holiday themes- in addition to decorating the salon with ornaments they’ve collected along the way, essential elements are to gather a bunch of kids and do a bunch of cookies (what’s more fun than decorating?) and to do something local (Newport lighted boat parade!). She laughs that their ornaments are hung everywhere – “it’s a good thing we’re all fans of the tacky Christmas look”- but you know what? I’ve been in that cozy salon, and the pieces they have collected along the way are beautiful reminders of rich memories. Start with your treasured few from home, then grow your memories with additions from new locales along the way.Gingerbread cookies on Totem, over a holiday table runner that’s been in my family for four decades
What do almost all of us consider an important tradition? It’s holiday baking, even if our lower-latitude locations mean thinking twice before turning on the heater boat oven. Brittany from Asante admits she’s not a big baker, but the holiday spirit wins out and she had quite the adventure when she took on holiday cookies. Yes, there are lessons to be learned! Back home in Illinois waiting for the twins, what is she doing with her toddler? Making cookies, of course.Eleanor and Frances from DelViento, with Leah from Wondertime, sneaking treats from the gingerbread house
It was Mike’s email that started me thinking, and Diane and Brittany that nudged me along, but brought me back from “how to decorate” to the fundamentals of the season. Decorations are placeholders for your traditions. What are the traditions you want to remember? It might be the sly delight of cutting down a tree on your neighbor’s lot. It might be the cookies you make every year. It might be the well-loved books, set out in a basket next to your tree, or the cocoa party you have for kids. It might be making a gingerbread house with friends.
Going cruising means simplifying your life. Holidays in December mean different things to different people, but it’s easy for us all to get lost in the trappings. The natural reduction of the cruising life lets the main thing- whatever that means to you- be the main thing, and not let distractions for the less important Stuff of life take over. For us, what’s most important this time of year is building memories with our family, and remembering how lucky we are by giving when and what we can- and being grateful with what we’re given.
Like caroling in the marina, or in the anchorage…
wearing silly hats…
re-reading favorite books…
our mast “tree”, of course, hung with crocheted snowflakes, that come back year after year…
finally, winter solstice in December again, instead of June…
laughing and singing with good friends.
Wishing the happiest of holidays, where ever you float!
If you’re reading this on the SAILfeed site, you’ve just made our holidays a little brighter. Thank you!
Editor’s Note: Tis the season. The dreaded materialistic frenzy that is Christmas is nearly upon us, to be immediately followed (thank God) by the big race to Hobart. The early forecast this year is for a downwind sleigh ride, and Bob Oatley’s super-maxi Wild Oats XI may have a good chance at breaking her course record, set just last year, of 1 day, 18 hours, and change. Course records aren’t that easy to come by in this race, and two in successive years would be a notable achievement. So I’ll be watching developments with interest. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share this account of my one-and-only Sydney-Hobart experience, circa year 2000.
MY RIDE, appropriately enough, was named Antipodes. She wasn’t a racing boat, but a dedicated cruiser, a Taswell 56, built in 1991 to a design by Bill Dixon. I had first met her in the Canary Islands in 1992 while bumming around the North Atlantic as pick-up crew.
During my tenure aboard, her owner, Geoff Hill, generous to a fault, shared with me his unique Australian essence, taught me the words to several songs whose lyrics cannot be repeated in polite company, and promised he would one day lure me to the Land of Oz. Her skipper, Glenn Belcher, an unreconstructed rebel from South Carolina, took good care of me and learned me a thing or two about sailing as we voyaged across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Bahamas.
When Geoff finally decided to keep his promise eight years later, he cut right to the chase. Just a one-line e-mail flickering at me like pornography from across the Internet: Could you would you should you dare do the 2000 Hobart race with me and Cap’n Ahab Belcher and a motley crew of Aussies on good ship Antipodes?
Such invitations demand draconian responses. You lie to the boss, burn the Christmas gift list, hock a family heirloom. Whatever it takes to get to Sydney by Boxing Day.
I crawled off the plane like Lizard Boy, with a sleeping-pill hangover and Qantas eye-shades plastered across my forehead. My tongue darted in and out of my mouth tasting the strange airs of a world turned upside down. This is amazing, I thought. The toilets flush backwards, cars drive on the wrong side of the road, south is cold, and ocean sailing is a big sport commanding national media attention. It was like I’d died and gone to heaven.
The first time I sailed on Antipodes there’d been five crew total, and only one (Geoff) was an Aussie. This time there would be 12, nine of them Aussies I’d never met before. They all referred to Glenn and me as the “Seppos.” The devious etymology of this word running as follows: “Septic tank” rhymes with “septic Yank,” so Yanks are “Septics” for short, or, even better, just-plain “Seppos.”
Glenn drawled back at them: “Y’all go and laugh. But why is it when you Aussies want to get something important done, you always need American supervision?” Our Aussies howled in pain, scowled a lot, and from that point forward we were a happy and united crew.
To understand the importance of the Hobart race in the Australian national psyche, consider first that sailing is indeed quite popular down there. Stir in the fact that the race is part-and-parcel of the annual Christmas holiday hysteria, and finally that anyone with a boat and the will to get across Bass Strait can participate if they really want to. Bake evenly for over half a century, and what you get is a sporting extravaganza the closest equivalent of which in American terms would be something like a cross between the Rose Bowl game, a Fourth of July picnic, and an ESPN Extreme Games Olympiad.
The spirit of the thing
The hype that year was even more intense than usual. First because of the release of a controversial coroner’s report (see below) that seriously criticized the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia‘s management of the tragic 1998 race in which six sailors died in a tremendous storm. Second, the weather forecast was looking a bit dark. The weather briefings were all attended by a phalanx of camera-wielding “journos” (as Aussies call them), and from some of the newspaper headlines I read you’d think we were being sent off to die at Gallipoli.
My Aussie shipmates pooh-poohed the forecasts and assured me that the government prognosticators, who suffered much abuse after the ’98 race, were simply covering their butts by laying on the doom-and-gloom nice and thick. What the crew seemed more concerned about was how the original down-to-earth-let’s-sail-to-Hobart-with-our-mates-on-the-day-after-Christmas spirit of the race was being corrupted by a surfeit of fancy professionals sailing fancy grand-prix race boats.
Exhibit number one that year was an enormous brand-new water-ballasted 83-foot maxi called Shockwave with a rock-star crew featuring Dean Barker and elements of Team New Zealand, of America’s Cup fame. Other suspects included Grant Wharington’s newly-lengthened Wild Thing, the perennial Aussie favorite Brindabella, and the Swedish Nicorette, not to mention a whole sub-fleet of fancy Volvo 60s that were tuning up for the next Volvo Race.
Elements of Team New Zealand aboard Shockwave
Elements of Team Antipodes
“We’re the only cruising boat in the whole bloody fleet,” noted one of my shipmates as he flipped through a list of entrants. And though this was an exaggeration, it was true we were members of a small minority.
But the start of the race was spectacular. Imagine this: the enormous, gorgeous amphitheater that is Sydney Harbor with the 600,000 eyes of 300,000 spectators all turned upon it–from onshore; from helipcopters swizzle-sticking the sky overhead; from hundreds of boats swarming like locusts on the sidelines. And in the midst of it all the 82 gladiators, from super-sized maxis right down to modest 30-footers, our sails all flashing like scimitars in the afternoon sun as we pirouetted through pre-start maneuvers.
Race start as seen from the deck of Antipodes
Race start as seen from a helicopter. We’re in there somewhere!
Finally the gun sounded, we charged down harbor on a port-tack reach, and were then neatly excreted into the South Pacific from between the imposing bluffs of Sydney Heads. The fleet turned right, spinnakers erupting everywhere like huge multi-colored zits, and suddenly we were focused on one simple goal: get the boat to Hobart.
This was Antipodes‘ third attempt at the 630-mile passage to the southern Tasmania. Her first run, during the ’96 race, had been successful, but in ’98, during that horrible storm, she like many others was forced to retire to Eden. Several of our present crew had suffered through this, so there now was a strong feeling onboard, an unspoken resolve, that the boat had a score to settle. I wondered about our ’98 veterans and what sort of suicidal tendencies it took to want to do this again.
“Oh, no worries there,” explained my watch-mate, Doug McEwan, “I reckon I’ll never see another dose like that in my lifetime.”
But in an eerie bit of deja-vu, just like in ’98, the first few hours of this race did consist of a splendid downwind romp before moderate northeasterlies. Then in the early evening came an angry-looking roll-cloud with lots of cold Antarctic air behind it ramping north up the New South Wales coast against the warm southbound East Australia current.
Sometimes the wind is right under the cloud, so we didn’t fool around. We doused our spinnaker and kept it down until hours later the buster started filling in just below Jervis Bay. Light at first, but growing steadily stronger until less than 12 hours after that–in the early afternoon of Wednesday, December 27–we found ourselves down to a triple-reefed main and staysail punching closehauled into steep seas and a 30-knot-plus southwest breeze.
For the next two days, from 1400 hours Wednesday to 1400 hours Friday, Antipodes battled southwesterly headwinds blowing at speeds between 30 and 50 knots. Friday afternoon and evening there was a lull, during which the wind dropped to just 20 knots. Then from Saturday morning all through Saturday night the wind blew a steady 35 knots straight at us out of the south.
During all this, my shipmates and I achieved levels of intimacy normally experienced only by concentration camp inmates and female mud wrestlers. Down below it was a soggy mixmaster of unkempt male flesh trying to sleep. Outside my stints at the wheel consisted of repeated fire-hosings from cold, angry waves. When the wind blew over 40, the spray flying down the deck felt like blasts of gravel fired from a cannon. If you were a helmsman, you had to face forward into this and try to see. I literally squealed like a whipped puppy each time I caught a load full in the face.
Spray flying during the worst of it
To avoid the worst seas, we plotted a course well east of the shoals that clog the mouth of Bass Strait. Still the motion was horrendous, and many of us were soon puking over the rail. Aussies call this chundering and know exactly how to deal with it. Each morning they fired up our AC generator, plugged in a toaster, and started making toast. An enormous wall of toast, served regularly, all of it smeared with a disgusting black paste called Vegemite, was all that stood between us and the depths of digestive depravity.
In between toast feasts, we maintained radio skeds and gleaned news of the fleet. The Volvo 60 Nokia (the previous year’s record-breaking line-honors winner) had gone missing; Shockwave, Brindabella, and many others had retired; four men (off four different boats) and one keel (off the 62-foot Bumblebee 5) had gone overboard. Then the men were recovered, though the keel was not, and Nokia reappeared. Finally there came word of a finish: Nicorette was first over the line; Ausmaid (long a local favorite) was the overall winner.
Meanwhile, we were still hacking our way across Bass Strait. When finally the gale blew out, we found ourselves becalmed off the east coast of Tasmania near Maria Island. Our intimacy became at once less moist and more civilized, but still we were a long ways from the finish.
Geoff enjoys a little après-gale sunbathing
All day Sunday, December 31, more than five days after the start (this in a race where winning times were usually three days or less), we beat down the coast in a whisper of air. Surrounding us were a handful of much smaller boats, likewise tiptoeing south on the smooth oily swell. That morning we suffered the indignity of seeing the triumphant Nicorette shoot past us under spinnaker northbound on her way back to Sydney full of beer and trophies. Then that afternoon we heard ourselves referred to on the radio as “the stragglers.”
Norman, our psycho-killer bowman, went ballistic: “Stragglers is it? Stragglers they’re calling us! We beat flipping Shockwave, didn’t we? We beat flipping Team New Zealand! Team DNF is more like it… and they’re calling us stragglers???”
Our stormin’ Norman, looking glamorous
Indeed, we were. Straggling like sons of bitches. By sunset Sunday the wind had gone northerly, but was still weak, and we were still crawling at a snail’s pace toward our destination. At exactly 0000 hours Monday morning, as the New Year and new millenium arrived, we arrived at the southern tip of Tasman Island and at last were able to report our proximity to the finish line to the race committee.
We turned northwest, but then the wind shut down altogether, and for more than six hours we lay perfectly motionless. At daybreak we found ourselves adrift inside Storm Bay several miles east of the Derwent River mouth. Behind us stood the sheer cliff coast of Tasman Island, studded with enormous freestanding columns of rock. To our right a thin waterfall splashed down from the heights into the bay. To our left, barely discernible in the haze, loomed distant snow-capped mountains.
Serving up our best meal yet
Up the river to Hobart at last
Per usual, we fired up the generator and had toast and Veggie for breakfast. We sat then and watched the scenery for several more hours as we continued drifting helplessly in the bay. Then came lunch, and Geoff announced he would make toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Everyone cheered. The stove was fired up, and the smell of burning cheese soon emerged from the companionway.
More toast was handed up, and finally the wind filled in behind us. With a great shout we launched a spinnaker and at long last started sailing up the river toward Hobart.
The Aftermath of ’98
An awful reminder of what had happened in 1998, when an explosive low-pressure cell formed right over the fleet as it entered Bass Strait, arrived in the form of a 330-page coroner’s report that was released to the public just two weeks prior our race start.
Prepared by New South Wales Coroner John Abernethy, the report was scathing in its criticism of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) and most particularly its Race Director, Phil Thompson. Abernethy found that one of the yachts that rolled during the ’98 storm, Business Post Naiad, on which two crew members died, did not meet the race’s minimum stability standards and should not have been allowed to compete. He further found that Thompson and the race management team did not understand the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) weather forecasts, and, most damning of all, were not available to receive and pass on to the race fleet the BOM’s last emergency update, wherein it issued a top-priority storm warning just after the race start. Indeed, the race office did not learn of the warning until the next day, after the storm had already hit the fleet.
In sum, Abernethy wrote, the race team was “practically useless” in the moment of crisis. Thompson, he concluded, through out his tenure as Race Director, had presided over a marked deterioration in the CYCA’s handling of the event.
The CYCA responded instantly and fired Thompson, who nevertheless received a standing ovation at our final skipper’s briefing. It also unilaterally adopted Abernethy’s recommendation that non-SOLAS-approved liferafts and Mae-West-type life-jackets be banned from the race; this despite the fact that the new liferaft rule, adopted just days before the start, threatened to disqualify almost a quarter of the fleet.
Indeed, the CYCA that year was ruthless in its enforcement of safety rules. Nicorette, the eventual line-honors winner, was compelled to cut an extra hatch in her foredeck on very short notice; the maxi Wild Thing had to replace her fiberglass stanchions with steel ones two days before the start. Meanwhile, two other boats, Terra Firma and Kickatinalong, were ejected from the race for failing to meet the stricter crew qualification requirements. In the end, however, after a mad scramble, everyone managed to find approved liferafts to carry and the ejected boats were re-entered after reorganizing their paperwork.
There were several other changes that had been adopted the previous year on the CYCA’s own initiative. All crew members were now required to wear personal EPIRBs, strobe lights, and dye packs. Every boat was required to carry an INMARSAT transponder (though we heard later over the radio only 9 of the 82 units actually functioned during the race). A certain percentage of every boat’s crew was required to attend all weather and skipper’s briefings. Briefings included explicit instructions on how to interpret forecasts and how to summon and interact with search-and-rescue personnel. Immediately prior to the start, each boat had to parade before the race committee with storm sails set. During the race, every boat was required to immediately report sustained wind speeds over 40 knots. Finally, at all times, there was a rescue helicopter shadowing the fleet as we made our way to Hobart.
As it turned out, the most significant new rule demanded that each yacht radio the race committee on passing south of Green Cape into Bass Strait to certify that boat and crew were fit to cross to Tasmania. Reportedly, several of the 24 boats that retired from the race that year had to do so because malfunctioning radios prevented them from meeting this requirement.
BONUS VIDEO: Screw safety, this is what it was like in the good old days. The gale starts at about 9:30…
Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 19, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
While I don’t normally follow the small-size displays closely, the new Lowrance Elite-4 HDI models announced yesterday seems to sport a remarkable ratio of dedicated marine electronics to cost. Their bright 4.3-inch LED-backlit screens, for instance, are substantially bigger than the Elite-4 models they replace, which were praised for their value. The plain Elite-4 HDI model, with a suggested $299 retail price, not only offers both regular fishfinding and high-frequency narrow beam downscanning — each with a shallow/deep frequency choice built into the included transom transducer — but also includes GPS, a bundle of lake and coastal cartography and support for all sorts of chart card types…
The new Elite-4 models can even display and alarm AIS targets — though via NMEA 0183 only, as 2000 support is one of the few features they don’t share with larger Elite HDI’s — and I won’t be surprised to see one on a bigger boat being used for secondary or backup AIS and/or chart plotting. They can even be flush mounted. The right model for such use, though, may be the Elite-4 m HD Gold, which includes an SD card of Navionics Gold detailed charts for the U.S., Canada, and Bahamas while losing the fishfinding and $30 of suggested retail. There’s also a $199 Elite-4x HDI that’s fishfinder only and an Elite-4 HDI Gold that includes everything mentioned for $369.
Don’t I remember proprietary memory cards containing small regions of relatively crude digital charts that cost as much as all this hard and software? I know that the beloved trend of consumer electronics is more for less, but it often seems less evident in the much smaller world of marine electronics. I suppose it’s the relatively high numbers of small fishing boats that largely make this high level of boat gear value possible, but isn’t it also a reminder of how far and fast we’ve come?
Plus, the Elite Hybrid Dual Imaging models offer a Downscan Overlay feature that seems valuable. I don’t have an image of it working on the new Elite-4 display, but you can see it in action in this Elite-7 HDI video. The idea is that laying the more detailed structure-oriented grayscale downscan imagery over the blobbier, but more sensitive and color-coded Broadband Sonar, can reveal fish even when they’re otherwise nearly hidden in the structure. I have not yet seen this feature live (that may happen this January in tropical waters ;-), but I suspect that it’s another reason why fishermen who already have a finder and even curious cruisers may be interested in the new generation of sonar. Note that Lowrance has Humminbird competition in this same size/price range, and if you’re looking for a somewhat bigger plotter with advanced sonar, you should also check out Garmin’s latest and Raymarine’s latest. (Heck, Furuno even has value-oriented plotter/fishfinders now.)
Finally, check out the free Insight Genesis custom online chart of Camden Harbor that I was able to create with just the downscan data I can record with the StructureScan unit on Gizmo. I can use it to watch the downscan video anywhere along my recorded track, so I’ve seen enough versions of the unusual structure shown below to be sure it’s the outlet of my town’s wastewater treatment plant! If I had an Elite-4 or many other Lowrance dual imaging setups, I could also view the simultaneously captured sonar and if I purchased an Insight Genesis subscription, I could adjust the map for tide, view bottom types and even download a chart I could take back to the MFD (good how-to article here). The bottom line, so to speak, is that you can create maps like this with just a small boat and less than $300 worth of electronics.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
Thailand’s Similan islands gave us a welcome dose of clear water to swim in and pretty fish to commune with again. Thanks to a timely departure from the shipyard in Satun, we got to Phuket in time to meet our friend Dan and take off with him for this limestone chain to the northwest.
Dan isn’t our first repeat visitor, but he’s the first to come twice in ONE year, and to two far flung destinations- Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, and now Thailand and the Similans. He’s a tech consultant with his heart in marine biology, and a freediving instructor to boot, so we have a lot of fun cranking up the underwater action when he’s on Totem. He fits right in, and generally has a kid on his lap (or wrapped around a finger) shortly after getting on board.
We heard the Similans have the best diving in a reasonable range (one-day sail) from Phuket, so that was the obvious choice of destination for Dan’s visit. For picture-perfect bays of soft, talcum powder beaches and turquoise water, the Similans did not disappoint. Under the surface, things were a little different. I’m also glad we had our expectations properly set with regard . It’s nice, but nothing like some of the really outrageous places we’ve been lucky enough to snorkel and dive in.
What the Similans had was stunning, turquoise water and a LOT of fish.
What they did not have was biodiversity, top level predators, or coral. We tended to see the same species over and over. There was ONE shark sighting in a week of very, very active diving and snorkling. One. Most of the coral was dead. This was kind of depressing. I don’t understand what’s going on- whether it’s the effect of the Andaman warming a few years back that killed a lot of coral in the region, or lingering fallout from tsumani (silting kills coral too), or the increased pressure of more people- I’ll get to the touron volume, but it adds up to a lot of chemical crap being washed off bodies in the water every day.
There were a lot of parrotfish- pretty big ones, too- with telltale scrapes from their dining on coral, they must be getting something off the dead looking hunks.
Besides fish, what they had were tourists. A lot of tourists. In the morning, the beach along the bay at the north end of at Koh Similan was just an expanse of beautiful white sand.
At some point, this starts happening. A lot.
It got kind of comical. This isn’t even peak.There were easily over 1,000 people shuttled on and off that beach in one day, in a series of waves delivered by fast boats from Phuket for the day trip of their tropical dreams. It’s fine, though. Actually, it was an interesting look at how well the different tour operators cooperated with each other. There aren’t enough moorings to go around, but instead of anchoring on coral, they’d raft up together while their flocks were baking on the beach. There was no marine tweak on road rage as the bay filled up. The park rangers were fantastic. We were fishing around for a mooring for a while, and they came over to tell us which mooring to pick up- and when (in an hour, when the tour boats rafted up to it departed the bay). 99% of the swimming tourists stayed within 10′ of the beach with life jackets on- other than the occasional SCUBA diving group, we really had the underwater landscape to ourselves. When we weren’t diving, we’d just watch the show. And then, in the evening, the beach was ours again… for a swim, or a little bocce. We’ll go back in January, when we work our way north towards Myanmar, but our week in the Similans was a great preview. This was just the leading edge of peak season, and with more boats (competing for not enough moorings) and more tourists, we’ll probably be skimming north to the Surin islands instead of spending time here again- but it will be a nice place to revisit. If you’re reading this on the SAILfeed website, you’ve just tossed change in Totem’s cruising kitty hat. Thank you!
Installing the Cape Horn windvance on Arcturus.
It’s 5:14 in the morning. I’m at the desk in the back of the ARC Office in Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia. Mia and I are on night watch here – 0200-0800 – and I’m inspired.
Earlier, I was in the process of editing the next 59 Degrees North podcast. It’ll be Episode #11, and will focus on breakages and jury rigs in the 2013 ARC (the subject of my last article on here in fact). In the midst of the work, I got the idea for this column.
The ARC fleet attracts so many big and beautiful and complicated boats, that it’s no wonder that stuff breaks during the course of a three-week passage. Not every boat, of course, but with a whopping 234 taking the start line, statistically, stuff is bound to go wrong, particularly with all the gear these boats carry. The most well-prepared and the best sailors definitely suffer less damage, but sometimes even bad luck can wreck your day.
I’ve been obsessed lately with author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a modern Lebanese philosopher who’s dabbled in the financial markets (and made a fortune) and who spends a lot of his time thinking (and taking long walks in the wintertime without a coat). Taleb’s most famous work is The Black Swan, and it is famous because it essentially predicted the financial crisis in 2008. But it’s more than that.
A ‘black swan’ is a phrase used to describe rare events, positive or negative, that have large consequences. That is, events very unlikely to happen, but with extremely large consequences if they do.
The phrase literally came about during a time when black swans – the waterfowl – were thought not to exist - as rare as a black swan. In fact, they do exist. And then there is the idea of proof – observing all the white swans in the world does not disprove the existence of a black swan. Furthermore, just one black swan does disprove the notion that all swans are white. So you kind of get the picture.
Anyway, a ‘black swan,’ or rare event with major consequences, can happen in all parts of life. Taleb uses the phrase most often to describe events in the financial markets, but it’s applicable elsewhere too. Think of 9/11, perhaps the worst example – the destruction of the Twin Towers could never have been predicted, and the consequences of that destruction have forever altered American history at home and abroad. (Alternatively, on the positive side, the rise of the Internet is a black swan – nobody could or did predict it’s impact on global society).
Generally, ‘black swans’ deal with the concept of outliers. Statisticians like to remove outliers from their samples – they wreck their models. Think of your standard high school bell curve – the highest and lowest grades in the class are removed, and the remainder are assigned along the bell curve – a few A’s and F’s, but mostly B’s and C’s. Same with a golf handicap – a 10 handicapper might be just as capable of shooting 72 as he is of shooting 90, but his highest and lowest scores are removed as ‘outliers.’
Wrongly, according to Taleb, who argues vehemently against this type of thinking. He says the outliers are precisely what makes the world work. You’ve got to read the book – or head to his website – to go deeper into this, but the implications are profound. I’ll stick to my original thesis here and apply it to outfitting an ocean sailing boat.
In this context, then, we can think of black swans this way – if an ‘outlying’ event (read ‘failure’) involving a fitted piece of gear onboard will dramatically alter a voyage, no matter how statistically improbable the event (‘failure’), there must to be a contingency in place to deal with it, or that piece of gear should not be fitted.
Take roller furling. I’m going to be in the extreme minority on this one, I realize that, but Arcturus has hank-on headsails. I even went so far as to sell the Harken gear we did have (which was nearly new when we bought the boat) in order to retrofit the old-style sails. The reasoning for me was simple, and follows this ‘black swan’ logic – if 99% of the time the roller furling unit works flawlessly, but 1% of the time it fails catastrophically, that’s enough reason for me to live without it. (And at this stage in my life, I don’t mind – in fact enjoy – going on the foredeck to change headsails. It’s a price I pay for reliability).
The consequences of a given gear’s failure are what you need to look at. With the furling example, the worst failure would be a partially furled headsail that can neither be furled completely, nor let out all the way in order to lower the sail on deck. This happened on several boats in the ARC fleet this year, both on jib furling systems and in-mast mainsail furlers. In both cases the sails were shredded by the time they made it to St. Lucia, and in one case the skipper feared he’s lose the rig with all the vibration and shaking on the forestay that the partially furled genoa caused. Not to mention it ruined the beauty of the perfect downwind conditions they had had for the last six days of their crossing, not a minor consideration when you think of sailing as being as much a philosophical pursuit as a physical one.
In 2009 before the Caribbean 1500, the same thing happened inshore on a Hylas. The furler had stuck halfway, and the forces that the crew had applied to it to unstick it actually did cause the headstay to part (the mechanical fitting aloft had unscrewed itself). Thankfully it was in Hampton Roads before the start, and they didn’t lose the rig. They installed a new furler before leaving.
Now I understand that maintenance can remove nearly all the risk in these sorts of things. Nearly. With any complicated system, you’ll never remove all the risk. A hank-on headsail system is as simple as hoisting and lowering, and the consequences of it failing are far easier to live with. If the halyard were to get jammed, cutting the line will drop the sail to the deck. And so on.
Look at steering systems. On Arcturus, we retrofitted a tiller in place of the binnacle steering wheel. My dad, only half-jokingly, said ‘you guys are setting back yachting 50 years!’
To me, it was just smart, pre-emptive risk management. Losing the steering cables halfway across the Atlantic would have at the least required me to fit new ones offshore (assuming I’d had them pre-made to fit before we left), or devise a jury rig. Or worse, use the emergency tiller, which is downright impossible over anything more than 2 knots, which one ARC yacht found out this year. With a tiller directly connected to the rudder head, there’s less to go wrong. And the consequences of the tiller itself breaking are easier to handle, as a jury tiller would have been much easier to fasten.
You can – and should – apply this thinking to every system that goes on the boat, particularly if you plan to sail far from land. Here’s a few more brief thought experiments regarding equipment:
- Watermakers: the risk of a properly maintained unit failing is probably low, and likewise the consequences of it’s failure is low (assuming you have enough in the tanks, or the ability to catch rainwater, which, I admit, might be a big assumption). It’s more a convenience issue. Conclusion: if you’ve got the money, and the patience to maintain it, fit it! (I have neither).
- Refrigeration: risk of failure is minute, consequences minute, again assuming you have enough dry stores. Mia and I have lived without a fridge for long enough – we crave yogurt and milk when coastal sailing. Conclusion: fit it! Arcturus is getting a new fridge next summer.
- Single-line reefing: risk of failure probably low, if properly installed. Consequences of failure high if you can’t reef, not to mention the myriad minor issues with lines twisting inside the boom and the enormous friction in a poorly designed system Conclusion: scrap it! Slab-reefing where you have to go forward to hook in the tack works just fine and is more robust.
And on and on.
Autopilots are another of my favorites. The likelihood of a modern, properly designed and installed electronic autopilot failing is very slim. But the consequences of that failure can ruin a voyage (maybe not safety wise, but certainly from a standpoint of enjoyment, for there is nothing I dislike more than being forced to hand steer on all of my watches. It’s absolutely exhausting when doing it double-handed).
Some risks simply cannot be mitigated against. Any offshore sailors worst nightmare is hitting something in the night – a whale or container. The likelihood of such an event is minuscule – but the consequences can be life-threatening. But we sail anyway (myself with the best liferaft money can buy as a last resort – it won’t mitigate the risk, but it’ll save my ass if it happens).
So this then, is the ‘black swan’ theory in action when it comes to outfitting an offshore boat – assessing not the likelihood of gear or systems failure, but the consequences of it, and deciding if you can live with them. If you can’t, that piece of gear shouldn’t make it onto the boat, or you should have a simpler, more robust system as backup (a windvane backing up an autopilot, for example). It’s as simple as that.
Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, our refitting of Arcturus followed precisely this way of thinking. And I’m happy to say that it paid off – in the 23-day Atlantic crossing from St. Pierre to Ireland, we didn’t have a single gear failure. In fact, the only problem at all was a small tear in the foot of the mainsail cause by it chafing on the boom during the calm spells.
Back in the early days of singlehanded ocean racing, the winners of races like the Vendee Globe and the BOC Challenge were often the guys who slept the least and steered the most. Autopilots were useful in calm to moderate conditions, but once the waves were up you needed a live body on the wheel or tiller to achieve the fastest, smoothest ride. These days, however, the most sophisticated autopilots have “fuzzy logic” software and three-dimensional motion sensors and can steer in strong conditions just as well as, if not better than, most humans.
This sounds like a great excuse to spend less time on the wheel, assuming your boat has such an autopilot, but in the hairiest situations it’s still best to have a person in control. Modern autopilots can learn a boat’s handling characteristics and can sense a boat’s bow or stern rising to a wave, but they can’t perceive what’s going on around a boat. Once you’re in a big seaway where waves are routinely breaking, it’s best to have a helmsperson who can see and hear the rough stuff and steer around it. Also, of course, an autopilot needs electricity to function. If you’ve lost power, or have little to spare, you need a human on the wheel.
Some people are intimidated steering in big waves, but once you get the hang of it it can actually be a lot of fun. For experienced sailors, helming a boat through heavy seas, particularly downwind, is exhilarating, one of the peak experiences in the sport, and is something to look forward to.
Scull the Waves
Once wave heights are equal to or exceed your boat’s beam sailing on a square beam reach becomes less comfortable and less safe. Each passing wave may roll the boat badly and the threat of a knockdown or capsize will increase as the seas grow larger. Sailing dead downwind in very large seas can also be a bad idea. The boat, again, may roll badly, and it is easier for a following sea to throw the stern far enough off line to backwind a sail, which in turn can lead to a bad broach and perhaps a knockdown or capsize.
The safest way to transit large seas is by quartering them, sailing upwind or running off on a broad reach with the boat running at an angle to the waves. This attitude minimizes rolling, reduces the chance of a sail being backwinded, and makes it easier for the helmsperson to maintain control and steer around the breaking portions of waves. When sailing over large waves at an angle, the fastest, smoothest course is not a straight line. Instead you want to scull the waves, sailing more of a scalloped horizontal course that matches the vertical shape of the seas.
This technique is particularly important when sailing upwind. Beating to weather in heavy seas, a poor helmsperson who doesn’t scull the waves properly will often bring the boat to a near standstill by pinching too close to the wind or will fall off the wind too far and let the boat get pushed down on to a beam reach. To prevent this you need to fall into a simple pattern, pinching the boat to weather as it approaches a wave crest and bearing away again as it sails down the back of the wave into the trough behind it.
Sailing off the wind, to achieve the same result, you need to reverse the pattern. As a wave crest approaches the stern of the boat, you should bear away a bit, and once the crest is past you should head up.
The end result in both cases is the same: at the wave crest the boat is depowered, with the bow or stern closer to the eye of the wind; heading down into the trough the apparent wind angle is increased and the boat is more powered up. Sailing to windward this allows a boat to get over the top of each wave with less resistance and reduces the chance of it flying off crests and slamming down into troughs. Sailing off the wind, it keeps the hull flatter as the wave crests approach, reduces torsional twist on the stern that can lead to a broach, and sets the boat up to perhaps surf down the front of the wave. Powering up the boat as it heads into the troughs in both cases increases control and speed, so you can more easily avoid obstacles and negotiate the next wave crest as it approaches.
These illustrations show a simplified view of wave-sculling courses upwind and downwind with the course adjustments exaggerated a bit for clarity. As a general rule, larger waves require larger corrections. In the real world wave patterns are also normally less organized, with two or more wave trains interacting with each other. Steering over or around offline waves, and of course avoiding breaking waves when possible, will require additional course adjustments.
Another factor not accounted for here is surfing downwind. This can happen a little bit even in traditional heavy-displacement boats, but is quite common when sailing modern light-displacement boats with shallow bilges. Once a hull breaks loose and starts surfing on a wave, you are basically riding the wave crest. On many boats you will simply maintain course while surfing and then head up a bit after the crest passes to set up for the next wave. On some faster boats, you may want to head up a bit while surfing to make up for the loss of apparent wind speed and to keep the boat surfing longer.
Feel the Boat
The best autopilots now automatically scull waves as they steer a boat through heavy seas. The best helmspersons do exactly the same thing–they feel the boat under them as they steer and instinctively scull the waves, whether they are conscious of what they are doing or not. Even if you are not a naturally talented helmsperson, you can learn to do this with a bit of practice.
When steering in large waves, body position is particularly important. You need to find a posture in which you can both comfortably grasp the wheel or tiller and can easily feel how the boat is moving under you. This is largely subjective and different people steer better in different positions. Some people can feel a boat easily through their butts and can sit while steering; many more feel a boat best while standing with their legs spread wide. Compromise positions, where you sit with one leg braced against a vertical cockpit feature, like a coaming, footwell side or wheel pedestal, can also be effective.
Vision, of course, also plays a role. Steering to windward in daylight you can easily see approaching waves and can make course adjustments accordingly. If you don’t scull waves instinctively, this is usually the best way to learn. When steering downwind with the waves behind you, or at night, you must rely more on other cues.
Motion is the biggest one. As a wave crest approaches you will feel your boat’s bow or stern rise with it, and once you are practiced the nature of this motion can tell you a great deal. Depending on its speed and torsional twist, you can sense the size and shape of each wave and its direction relative to other waves around it and should be able to steer the cleanest course over or, in some cases, around it.
You also need to keep your ears open. In daylight you can look around to see what waves are breaking. At night you have to listen for them. This doesn’t provide as much warning and your response time will be degraded, but sometimes you can at least minimize the effect of a wave breaking over the boat. Listening to the pattern of noises waves make as they pass in conjunction with the motion you feel can also tell you something about the size and angle of an approaching wave, even if it isn’t breaking.
To get good at this, you need to practice, and you shouldn’t wait until conditions are extreme to start. Switch off your autopilot when the seas get rough and take a long turn at the wheel. A great way to get all-round experience is to do a passage with crew and pretend you don’t even have an autopilot. Take turns steering and let your electronic friend take a break. There’s no reason why it should be having all the fun!
Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 17, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
Getting True Wind to my wrist was actually easy, especially considering the complex path it traveled. The raw Apparent Wind readings originated in a Maretron WSO100 on Gizmo’s masthead and then went to a Simrad NSS8 MFD via NMEA 2000, where it was combined with other N2K data like COG, SOG, Heading and/or STW (depending on which True Wind ;-). The NSS8 then sent the data out using the NMEA 0183 tier of GoFree over WiFi, where it was captured by the SeaNav 2.0 charting app running on an iPad, which then passed it along to my Pebble watch over Bluetooth! It sounds crazy, but when everything is working right, it’s as simple as turning on the boat system and opening SeaNav, which has many other features to appreciate…
SeaNav and GoFree both support Apple’s Bonjour discovery protocol, which meant that all I had to do to start was put the iPad on the boat’s GoFree WiFi network and enable GoFree in SeaNav. SeaNav discovered the NSS8′s data without having to specify an IP address — including its custom descriptive name “NSS-low-helm” — and the next time I went aboard and turned things on “it just worked”. This is particularly relevant because NMEA’s coming OneNet standard will include both Bonjour and the similar Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP). So the reliable and nearly automatic integration of SeaNav and the NSS8 is hopefully coming to many apps and marine electronics systems.
The Pebble connection was just as smooth and easy (most of the time), and given the predicted explosion of smartwatches, may be a similar sign of future boating. The first time you enable the feature in SeaNav, you’re asked to download their Pebble SeaNav app and install it using the Pebble Smartwatch app most owners will already have installed on their iPhone or iPad. Once that’s done, every time you put SeaNav in ‘Sailing’ mode — which is akin to activating a route or go-to waypoint — the Pebble starts showing a family of screens that vary according to what extra data the app is getting from GoFree or from its sister Web AIS app Boat Beacon. Unfortunately, a recent Pebble update intended in part to improve iOS integration actually messed it up, but I’m sure that will be fixed soon. There’s more on the Pebble connection below, but let’s have a look at what SeaNav can do by itself first.
The screen above shows SeaNav in Sailing mode with the second waypoint in the route selected, which is why it’s marked with a star. If I’d been moving instead of standing over near the old steamer wharf (long gone but still charted), the nav bar would also show a big steer-to arrow and note the nice control for stepping to another waypoint, if you don’t want to wait for an automatic switchover. When I first began testing SeaNav last summer its rendering of NOAA ENC (vector) charts was rough and slow, but now I think they are some of the best looking ENCs around, and the speed is improving with each update. Note that peeking out from behind this iPad AIR screen is a similar one made on my iPad mini; the resolution difference is amazing. Note, too, that I have tapped on the Northeast Point Light and can either tap again for more information or get a “visual” on the light by next tapping on the AR (augmented reality) eyeball icon…
In fact, if Northeast Point Light wasn’t in sight when I held the iPad vertical, SeaNav would have shown a left or right arrow to help me find it. It also could have drawn the activated route line over the camera image, and if you’re not searching for a particular object, it will pop up info on objects that appear center screen as you scan the horizon. SeaNav developer PocketMariner got a lot of AR experience with its first navigation app, Compass Eye, and it shows. I also think that the various bearing and attitude sensors built into tablets and smartphones these days are getting faster and more accurate and the cameras are also improving, all of which is critical to AR that works well. (And the M7 motion coprocessor is one reason why it seemed wise for Panbo to get its new ad manager an iPad AIR, which I can also use for app testing; the screen above was taken with the iPad mini, but I’ll try it with Air when the weather permits.)
At any rate, SeaNav is now an able charting app for U.S. waters that offers an interesting augmented reality feature and can also integrate with the Boat Beacon Web AIS app that first alerted me to Pocket Mariner’s innovative ways.
But I want to finish with some more on what SeaNav and the Pebble can do. Yes, that’s an auto-scaled AIS target plot on the watch face at left, and the data can come to SeaNav either from the GoFree system or from BoatBeacon, which can be getting it online via cellular and/or from your boat’s conventional AIS receiver or transponder via WiFi and a TCP connection (be it GoFree or many others). And an AIS CPA (Closest Point of Approach) warning will set off the Pebble’s vibration feature (a silent but effective alarm that is one reason I wear the Pebble constantly). The little fishfinder face — which could be very useful to cruisers, too — does require a GoFree connection, but there are also various navigation screens that only need the SeaNav app to work.
The iRegatta sail racing app also offers a Pebble extension now, and note that they’re promising an Android version soon. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more smartwatch apps like these. Are you interested?
It’s that time of year again when even the most patient parents consider slipping out of the house and hiding under a tarp in the backyard until December 25th has come and gone. And even though it is hot and humid here and about as un-Christmas-y as you can get, our family is gripped by Christmas fever. My delightful children have been replaced by screaming hyperactive terrors belched forth straight from the Parental Punishment levels of Hell. How my mother ever made it through those final days before Christmas with four kids whirling around her ankles is a mystery to me. At least my dad could escape to the office when we were too much to take.
But, despite the fact that the girls are currently driving me crazy, I’d still like to get them something nice for Christmas. As you can imagine, gift-giving on a boat takes some extra planning. You can’t exactly nip off the the store the night of the 23rd and expect to mop up your last-minute gifts. For one thing, there usually is no store. But, for once, we are somewhere completely first world in terms of available commercial goods. Being a French territory, New Caledonia is well-served out of France. But since I hadn’t planned on being here and I wanted things like English-language books, I did the bulk of my shopping months ago.
The girls made their Christmas lists about six weeks ago. As the ultra-prepared boat children they are, they wanted to give Santa and me time to get everything sorted out between us. Stylish handed me her list; I cast a critical eye over her choices. She won’t get it all, but good ideas. No surprises there.
I took Indy’s list from dictation. Lego, fine, fine, disco ball…
“A disco ball?” I asked. “You want a disco ball for Christmas?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s like a ball with little mirrors all over it and it sparkles in the light.” Indy made arm-waving sparkle gestures.
“Yes, thank you, I am familiar with the concept of a disco ball,” I said. “Why do you want one?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re neat. They sparkle.” She started waving her arms again.
“Okay,” I said, sure the idea would be forgotten by tomorrow. “Moving on.”
But the disco ball idea didn’t die. It came up frequently. The sparkle arms grew ever more frenetic. And then, Indy came home from school with a letter written to Père Noel.
It’s the typical I’ve-been-good-in-school-please-bring-me-stuff form letter. Let’s take a closer look at what she asked for.Un dragon et une boule disco.
That’s right. A dragon and a disco ball.
Something had to be done.
And so I started looking. And looking. And looking. My casual search morphed into a wild-eyed hunt. I remembered seeing little disco balls in the Dollar Store back home; surely they would have something like that here? Nope. In Chinatown? No. In one of the touristy junk shops? Still no good. I looked at the letter to Santa again. There is no way I can produce a dragon for this child on Christmas morning. So, one way or another, it would have to be a ruddy disco ball.
Erik was going into town; I grabbed him by the labels and begged him to find a disco ball. Off he went. And came home empty-handed. I deflated on one of the cockpit benches.
“Well, I found one.”
“What?” I sat up.
I looked at his hands. Still empty. “Then why didn’t you buy one?!?”
“They were expensive.”
That sobered me. When Erik says “expensive”, he means “exorbitant.”
He described what he had seen. The balls were big, and mirrored, and some had little light displays. Totally over the top. I slid down the bench again.
This morning, after pulling the girls apart from their third argument of the day and sending Indy off to school, I found this selfie that Stylish took yesterday.
As I gazed at those happy faces, my Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes. When Erik set off on more errands, he asked me about the disco ball.
“Buy it,” I said.
I nodded. It made me sick – all that money for a styrofoam ball with bits of mirror glued to it. But short of making one myself and nicking an artery in the process, this was the only way.
And hour later, Erik and Stylish were back. And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but Santa Erik with my Christmas wish come true!I am the best of all the dads.
“You found one!” I cried, turning the precious object over and over in my hands.
“It was tucked in with the Christmas decorations,” he said.
I looked up. “I told you to look with the Christmas decorations.”
“Yes, good for you, you’re brilliant,” said Erik. “They weren’t there last time.”
The ball is covered in sequins, but it will sparkle (waving arms) just as well as a mirrored ball. And when the sequins fall off, Stylish has kindly offered to sew them onto a shirt for her sister.
And that is how Erik and Stylish saved Christmas. And, after all that, if Indy doesn’t like it? Maybe I’ll take my Christmas chocolate and go have a break under that tarp after all.
A pretty blue sloop came around the corner of a sandy islet and into the bay where we were anchored recently. Jamie and I watched it from the cockpit: just admiring the lines, enjoying an afternoon of sun sparkling on water. We were lost in that reverie that a lovely boat can pull you into, not thinking about it much, when a shout and a wave came from the side decks. We knew this boat? Wait a minute, we KNEW this boat! It was Kathleen and George Hill on Kalalau, hailing from Port Townsend- our home waters- last met in Mexico, back in 2009.
We caught up quickly, and made plans for what would be the first of many gatherings during the coming couple of weeks we shared in the harbor. Their arrival added a new facet to good times. Besides catching up and telling stories, how many people do you know who can recite all six stanzas of Derelict (also known as “15 men on a dead man’s chest”) from memory, behind flickering firelight, to a wide-eyed circle of children, on Halloween no less? Right. Neither can I. It’s just one of George’s
George and Kathleen have decided that the lure of grandchildren is greater than the lure of the horizon, and are closing this cruising chapter of their lives: Kalalau is for sale. As cruisers, I think we tend to have more personal relationship with our floating homes. The prospect of selling Kalalau precipitated storytelling, of her own history and of their adventures sailing her, as we passed time together over a couple of weeks in that beautiful bay.
The story of Kalalau unfolded gradually, over beach bonfires and cockpit sundowners. She was built by Laurie Dowsett, who commissioned Bill Lapworth for the design and was her sole owner before the Hills. An ocean sailor and competitive racer, Dowsett owned a rigging shop in Honolulu: this is his dream boat, the boat built to benefit from his years of experience to be sea kindly with an eye to performance.
One of the first things that make Kalalau remarkable is that she’s built of Burmese teak. I don’t mean “Burmese teak” as it’s referred to today, a generic reference to any non-plantation teak. This is old-growth boat building gold, hand-picked by Dowsett from logging camps in Burma. He watched as elephants brought the logs down the river to float to Rangoon, where they were shipped to Hong Kong to be milled and dried. There is simply no way a boat can be built like this today. Even then, it took patience: Dowsett waited for three years before the boards had air-drying to moisture levels that were right to begin construction.Kalalau in Roderick Bay, Solomon Islands
Three years is a long time to sit around waiting for boards to dry. Dowsett used that waiting period to source quality fittings and materials and bring them to Hong Kong, as well as refine the design with Bill Lapworth. At 43 feet, Kalalau’s design is rooted in Lapworth’s popular Cal 40. Dowsett wasn’t just looking for speed, though, he wanted a boat that would allow comfortable living for extended cruising. Everything was beefed up, from the rigging size to the thickness of the hull planking and the number of frames.
How he accomplished the quality of interior living space with a few tweaks to Lapworth’s design are what I found most remarkable. With monohulls, the older you get, the more cave-like they tend to be below deck. Smaller ports, and fewer of them, mean less sunlight in the main cabins. It doesn’t help that they’re usually wood. That’s beautiful, but doesn’t lighten up a cabin the way the glossy white gelcoat in newer plastic boats does. Kalalau is the first traditional mono I’ve seen that avoids this so cleanly. The salon and master cabin are full of natural light, and layout accommodates this without the awkward looking (my nice way of saying ugly) high freeboard used as a crutch in newer boats. The natural light is tremendous, and you can gaze at the anchorage while setting on the settee. I have to pop up the companionway for that kind of view!
The port designs that facilitate this are unique. Besides bringing in a lot of light, they allow tremendous airflow- and can stay open in wet conditions when we’d have to button up Totem. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, maybe, but it is HOT in the tropics- and if you can have big windows, and keep them open, even when it’s raining? Tropical cruising gold! There’s a subset of cruisers who have air conditioning. And…well, yeah, this is the way it should be done. George said the design concept was borrowed from Portuguese ships. They open inward, hinging along the bottom; a wooden wedge holds them firmly in place. They are recessed in a manner that means anything but crazy sideways rain stays outside, while the air comes in. Want to close them? The wedges are removed, port closed, and the wedge slid back in their slots- holding it perfectly in place. The combination of function and simplicity is brilliant.thanks to the Hill’s broker, Mary at LBSS, for this photo
There’s more to the story of Kalalau’s care under Dowsett, and it kind of defies belief, but it’s true: like the fact that for the years he kept it in the Pacific Northwest, when the summer was over he stored Kalalau in a temperature-controlled warehouse that he purchased for the purpose… removing all moving rigging each year, and replacing it again for the next sailing season. Who does that?
Over the next couple of weeks, we shared a lot of stories around a beach bonfires, or over sundowners in the cockpit. Winding down six years of living aboard and cruising brought out the reflective view of favorite places and unforgettable experiences- like the time they were pinned in a harbor in New Zealand, surrounded by a pod of whales who seemed to be boisterously celebrating the return of better weather.
I think about the path we have wound, and it follows similar priorities to those of George and Kathleen: seeking the culturally or geographically interesting places, the less visited corners. Their stories of the adventures in Tonga, of being part of a multi-day celebration of dancing and feasting in the Solomon Islands, of dodging hurricanes in Australia- they are rich, and will always stay with them. There are very few other people we know who we share our friendship with the amazing families on Mal in Ninigo, Papua New Guinea, but the Kalalau crew is among them. In the four year interval between Mexico and Malaysia, it’s almost surprising that the first time we’ve in the same place again.
We all think our boats are special, but after hearing the stories and spending time on Kalalau during those days together, I feel a touch of the same bittersweet emotions at the prospect of selling their cruising home that George and Kathleen must feel. It’s not an asset, it’s the beautiful home of tremendous provenance that has carried them safely through seas of memories. It’s hard not to wonder: who will this be passed to? Who picks up this history and takes it forward? I don’t know, but I hope we share many anchorages with the pretty blue-hulled Kalalau again.
For the curious, Kalalu is listed here.
If you’re reading this on the SAILfeed website, you’ve just put a tip in our cup for the Totem cruising kitty. Thank you!
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Tim Wright’s photo of the double-handed Pollux crossing the finish line under jury rig.
Any Atlantic crossing is as much a test of boats and gear as it is a test of mental fortitude, and the 2013 ARC was no exception. There was fickle weather in the first half, followed by strong squalls and relentless tradewinds over the past week, pushing boats and gear to the limit. Yachts are arriving into Rodney Bay Marina in various states of disrepair. I walked the docks today to get an idea of what crews are repairing, how it happened, and what they might have done in hindsight to prevent it.
“Exploding sails seems much more common this year than in the past,” says Clare Pengally, ARC Yellowshirt staff. “Not just rips and tears, but rather sails just blowing themselves to pieces.”
Indeed several of the racing fleet has reported blown-up spinnakers, including Rainbow, who otherwise experienced little, if any, damage at all (read on). The cruising catamaran NDS Darwin arrived into their slip on I-dock with the top third of their spinnaker flapping like mad, the rest of it wrapped horrendously around the headstay.
But it wasn’t just sails of course. Aboard the yacht Hada, 14 days into their passage, the excitement of the day was a broken turning block at the top of the mast. It was the block through which the spinnaker halyard was reeved, and needed to be replaced.
“Sticking with tradition, we loaded the lightest guy onboard, who in this case was Anton, into the bosun’s chair and hoisted him up some 74 feet to the top of the mast,” they wrote on their at-sea blog. “Apparently the view from there was spectacular – much better than from the deck, with our limited six miles around of sea, clouds and sky.”
In the end, the repair was successful, and Hada carried on as usual.
In the racing fleet, boats were pushing hard and riding that thin line between going fast and light, and keeping the rig and sails together. In racing, there is a much finer line between ‘strong enough’ and ‘light enough’, and the boats generally carry a much higher risk of gear failure. But crews accept that risk in the name of speed. For some, it backfired.
Intuition was only about 200 miles from the Canaries when their boom broke, a decidedly inconvenient failure with so much ocean in front of them. It would be a major handicap for the small boat that was pushing hard in the racing division and hoping for a good result.
“Our boom just snapped in two pieces,” offered Vladimir, Intuition’s first mate. “I think this was a result of a very hard racing season,” he continued. That prep began in early April, with four Fastnet preparation races. That was followed up by the grueling Fastnet itself, a delivery from Hamble to Malta in the Mediterranean, then the Middle Sea Race and then the delivery from Malta to Gran Canaria.
“So the boat suffered a lot,” said Vladimir. And the hard charging continued following the start of the ARC. “Alyssa tried – and she was absolutely right – she tried to push the boat hard, because this is a racing boat. But the boom snapped in quite calm conditions when the wind was just twenty knots.”
Both Vladimir and Alyssa offered no reasons as to why they thought the boom had broken, other than simply fatigue. The preventer was on at the time, but rigged from the end of the boom as is proper procedure, and the boom just buckled in the middle. The same thing had happened to an old spinnaker pole of theirs over the summer.
“Our first reaction was just drop the mainsail, and rig a trysail. As soon as the boat was under control with the trysail, we just started to think what we could do.” Their first intention was to divert to the Cape Verdes, but they persevered. “We soon recognized that we could manage without the boom,” said Vladimir.
Over the next few days, they continued refining the jury rig. “Our best invention was our emergency boom, created by one of our crew, Sergei,” added Vladimir. Sergei had the bright idea to take the spinnaker pole and slide it into the after-end of the broken boom. They drilled several holes through each, and through-bolted the pieces together. The forward end of the jury boom mounted to the gooseneck with the spinnaker jaws, while the after end still had all the reefing blocks and mainsheet attachments on it. Though the emergency boom only worked really well with the full mainsail, and it took several steps to simply ease the sheet, Vladimir called it “a genius piece of engineering.”
Intuition, in the end, finished in St. Lucia after a 20-day passage. They never started the engine, and while it might not be as high as they’d hoped for, they will get a result in the racing division thanks to their determination and resourcefulness. They’ve got nearly two months now to sort out a real repair before the Caribbean 600, their next race, starts in Antigua.
Pollux, the small French Pogo, suffered arguably the worst damage. Only 140 miles from making landfall in St. Lucia, Pollux was dismasted in a heavy squall. The double-handed crew didn’t panic, however, and carried on with repairs.
The top half of the mast, above the single-spreaders, had given way and went over the side. But the bottom remained. Pollux’ crew ingeniously rigged a windsurfing sail as a jury jib, and fashioned a makeshift mainsail by hoisting the clew of the sail and using what used to be the foot as the luff, sheeting it as best they could to the end of the boom. It helped that the final 140 miles of their crossing would be downwind. Remarkably, they made over six knots under jury rig and crossed the finish line on the morning of December6, not far behind their original ETA.
There was plenty of damage in the cruising division. Thomas Wibberenz, a rep for Parasailor who annually makes the trip to both Las Palmas and St. Lucia to help clients prepare for the passage and clean up afterwards, says he’s seen more damage on the docks in 2013 than in recent years.
“And it seems to be not the wind, but the sea state,” he offered. “This year what I’ve found is that quite a few booms have broken, and most of them seem to have broken because something has been welded into the booms, and it was no good for the aluminum. That’s where the cracks started, and then they broke totally.”
As for how to prevent these kinds of breakages in the first place, Thomas tells all his clients to simply be careful. “Watch out for chafe, and keep everything from moving at all,” by using preventers and sheets and guys, he says.
The Island Packet 485 Free Spirit was doing their best to do just that when their furling line failed and their genoa split in the middle of a strong squall less than a week into the passage. Skipper Peter Harris was down below on the off watch when the helmsman called for backup as the wind increased. The line failed, the full genoa unfurled, and the sail – an old one, already damaged and repaired several times previously in fact – ripped across it’s girth in two places.
“By the time we went up on the foredeck to bring it down, the wind was gusting over 50 knots,” Harris explained. “The waves were washing over the boat. The only saving grace was that the water was warm!” Harris and his crew managed to get the sail on deck without much fuss. “Everybody worked extremely well in very difficult circumstances in the middle of the night. People did their jobs extremely well, and I have to say that at no time did I feel in any danger.”
Following the squall, a bout of calm weather overtook the fleet and gave Free Spirit an opportunity to repair the sail. “I used up every last inch of thread we had onboard,” Harris said, “but we fixed it and got it hoisted again. It did a great job for the next ten days or so.”
Then, in another squall, the sail finally gave up the ghost for good, again when the furling line jammed. This time, the crew was able to just roll up the sail altogether, though by then it was in tatters, and they were only six days away from making landfall in St. Lucia. “I decided just to park her on the forestay until we got here,” Harris said. The strong winds and heavy seas that much of the fleet has been reporting in the last 72 hours prevented them from doing much about it, and the sail started tearing itself to pieces.
“We had a real problem then actually,” Harris says. The sail was thrashing around on the forestay, and Harris admits he was very concerned about the forestay. “But we made it.”
Harris finished by offering some advice of his own. “Equipment fails, for sure, but it fails because it’s overly stressed. We learned the age-old lesson which everybody tells you every time – reef early. By the time we had got on to the deck after putting our lifejackets on, it was 50-plus knots in the rigging. So it happens so quickly. In a squall, you don’t get any warning.”
For all the carnage on the dock, there were plenty of boats who had relatively drama-free passages, reporting only minor wear and tear and in some cases, no breakages at all.
Paolo from the Italian C&C 62 Rainbow, a boat that’s quite long in the tooth at over 40 years old, says simply “The boat is really nice to sail. In all conditions, strong and light wind, we haven’t had any problems at all.” Paolo says it’s down to practice and the crew knowing one another well and working well as a team offshore. “We race together, we sail just for fun, and we know what we’re doing. And the boat is old and made a lot stronger than some of the newer racing boats, and maybe that’s one of the reasons.”
Paolo added an interesting point about crew fatigue as the passage stretches on to three weeks and beyond. “The crew gets tired,” he said. “Maybe a squall comes, and it’s easy to make a mistake. When you make a mistake, stuff breaks.”
Essex Girl Sail Repair
Mark on Northern Child Inspecting broken boom
Northern Child’s broken boom
Northern Child’s broken boom
Pollux jury rig
Pollux’ spare nav lights
Pollux’ spare nav lights
We should note that Stanley Paris, after a bit of a weather delay, finally got away from St. Augustine, Florida, 11 days ago on a solo non-stop round-the-world voyage aboard his custom-built 63-foot cutter Kiwi Spirit. Paris, age 76, is trying to beat the “ghost” of Dodge Morgan by getting around in less than 150 days. He also wants to be the oldest to pull off a non-stop circumnavigation and is trying to do it while burning zero hydrocarbons.
The modern world being what it is, we’ll be able to follow Stanley’s voyage every step of the way. He’s maintaining two blogs (one here and another here), plus he’s on Facebook and is carrying a Yellowbrick tracker.
Indeed, Stanley is so well connected to the outside world, I see in one recent blog post that his wife has been ringing him up for advice on how to operate the TV remote back home. In the same post, he describes how his power reserve, only eight days into the voyage, has been so low (just 23% of battery capacity) that he’s switched off the fridge and freezer, is eating cold food (he has an electric stove, as propane is verboten), has stopped washing dishes, and has denied himself the pleasure of listening to BBC radio. And these, he admits, are only a few of the things he’s had to do to conserve power.
This, I suspect, may be where most of the drama of this voyage will unfold. Back in medieval times, of course, anyone trying to save power on a long ocean voyage would install such archaic devices as a mechanical windvane for steering and foot pumps for moving water around, but evidently people as wealthy as Stanley can’t be bothered with such mundane technology.
He’s got solar panels and wind generators and no fewer than four (count them… four!) state-of-the art hydro generators pasted to his transom, and it will be very interesting to see if these can keep up with the long-term power demands on what seems to be a very sophisticated boat. I will be amused, to say the least, if the straw that breaks the camel’s back energy-wise turns out to be a sat-phone call with the missus on how to operate the garage-door opener.
If it comes to that, Stanley won’t be in any danger, as he is carrying diesel fuel and an engine, just in case the “green” aspect of his venture does go tits up.
Kiwi Spirit is a much more aggressive boat than Dodge Morgan’s American Promise, and I expect that, barring some major mishap, Stanley will succeed in beating Dodge’s Bermuda-to-Bermuda run, though he is currently running a bit behind Dodge, due to a lack of wind. Stanley himself, though old, is remarkably fit, as he is some sort of god or other in the world of physical therapy, so I don’t really anticipate problems on that front.
Because he is focussed on beating Dodge, who made his 150-day Bermuda-to-Bermuda run in 1986, Stanley, as you can see on the track up there, made a point of rounding Bermuda outbound from St. Augustine and will re-round it before returning there. The official start of his competition with Dodge, off St. David’s light, was captured in this thrilling viddy:
And here’s another one, even more thrilling IMHO, which depicts the time-lapse construction of Kiwi Spirit at Lyman Morse in Maine:
- Doing prep work before arrival (could never have met our timeline otherwise)
- Having materials we’d need on board (less left to chance, no delays in sourcing)
- Clear expectations set with the yard for timing and needs (they were conscious and helpful with our desire to meet a deadline)
- Advance orientation to Thai haul outs in general, and Satun in particular (thanks to great info from the crews of Larissa and Infini, and Yawarra’s helpful notes on Noonsite)
- Working alongside hired staff (good teamwork, any questions quickly resolved)
- Take greater advantage of the craftsmen available (even on a tight timeline, we could have taken on more work: we underestimated the skill set and machinery at the yard)
- Get a better understanding in advance of materials was available at the shipyard or in Satun (we could have ordered more appropriate bottom paint through them at a fair price)
Just how much of a bargain is hauling in Thailand? Every yard is different, but for a general comparison, it was eye opening to share notes on costs with a friend in Australia. PSS posts current rates on their web site: for Totem, at 47’, the haul was about $350 two way plus about $17/day. Our haul plus hardstand fees totalled around $485. By comparison, for a similarly sized boat, our friend in Oz quoted haul/splash at $537, plus a whopping $80/day to be on the hardstand- if you want a ladder, that’s another $17.80/day (the trestle planks are extra, too). Add in a few levies and fees, and the basics that were $485 in Satun would run over $1700 in Australia.
That’s all before we got to any material costs or hired labor, but this only widens the gap. Shipyard labor in Australia was quoted to start at $68/hour and increase sharply from there. The Thai shipyard charges $19/day for sanding assistance to prep the bottom. Skilled labor is more, but not that much more.
Cruisers on a budget, this economy arbitrage helps us get things done. We go without when costs are high, and do what we can when they’re affordable- whether it’s work on the boat, or a dinner on shore. Are we taking advantage or bringing opportunity?
Whatever it is, we’re enjoying the ride. Besides, a great experience at PSS was about far more than just being a good value.
It was the mix of interesting, friendly, and colorful personalities that inhabited the yard: as varied as their boats, from the traditional Polynesian modeled catamaran to a glossy power cruiser.
It was a pretty riverfront, hiding behind the dusty main road and the hulks of ships in the yard.
It was the yard dogs that the kids couldn’t love up enough.
OK, me too…It was being well looked after by the staff and management, from making sure our arrival went smoothly to sending us off with a bang, literally, as yard-supplied firecrackers were lit to scared bad spirits off Totem as we slid down the slipway rails to the river. One of our readers recently pointed me to the blog of a family who is taking a year off to travel by caravan around Europe. One of the authors themes is the kindness of strangers, and reading it today, I realize how much of our great experience at PSS was built on that same theme: open kindness, given without expectation. From the guys who wouldn’t let us pay for beers as we chewed the shipyard fat that first night, to the office staff who offered to loan me their motorcycles to run errands in town (I declined, I’m a menace on the road), to the yard manager who ran around town to source the material for our cutlass bearing, to the slices of life shared with a radiant smile by the Burmese woman who cleaned up under Totem. And, yes, to a shiny new bottom and some very solid new through hulls.
I hope everyone has read Michael Robertson’s The Complete Guide to Caring for a Cruiser in this month’s Sail. If not, go on; I’ll wait. Back? Okay. Michael’s article is a timely reminder that cruisers are, to put it kindly, a little different. But I feel compelled to add on to his fine work. Communicating with cruisers can be a challenge, whether you are a friend, relative, cruising spouse or simply a normal person. Below you will find some common points of misunderstanding. I hope this translation guide helps you to talk to the cruisers in your life.
Cruiser: “Could you help me out here, Mavis?”
Cruising Spouse: “Sure thing, Pete.”
What the Cruising Spouse hears: Pete needs some minor assistance for a few minutes.
What the Cruiser hears: “Pete, it would give me the utmost pleasure to be your assistant/slave for the next eight hours.”
Lesson: Before agreeing to help a cruiser, ask for clarification regarding time, difficulty and dirtiness level expected. Then triple it.
Normal Person: [at a party] So, what do you do?
Cruiser: (making shifty eyes) Oh… you know. So what do you think of the new rules for the America’s Cup?
What the Normal Person thinks: Gosh, I was just trying to break the ice – I didn’t realize Bob was unemployed. I really stepped in it.
What the Cruiser thinks: Why did that guy want to know what I do for work? So I used to be a plumber/mechanic/lawyer/musician/chef/teacher/surgeon/intergalactic space pirate. Big hairy deal. Let’s talk automatic stabilization systems!
Lesson: To a cruiser, their work life is like a mysterious dream they have already half-forgotten. They exist in a world of salt, sails and 10mm socket drivers. Stray beyond those conversational topics, and you might just get a blank stare back.
Relative: So, where are you going next season?
Cruiser: We thought we would start out with the San Blas islands in Panama, then make our way north to Honduras and Guatemala. If we have time, we’ll hit Cuba on our way to Florida for hurricane season.
What the Normal Person hears: Bob is going to Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and maybe Cuba next year.
What the Cruiser means: We will travel somewhere between 90 N and 90 S, at a longitude to be determined, for an unspecified length of time. Or maybe we’ll stay right here, who knows.
Lesson: Cruiser plans are lies, lies and more lies.
Land Friend: Bob, it’s Stanley! Gladys and I have two weeks off next April. Why don’t we meet you and Sylvia in St Maarten?
Cruiser: (long pause, then speaking with difficulty) We would be delighted to have you.
What the Land Friend hears: Wow, Bob got really choked up when I suggested we visit. I wish more friends from home would make the trip.
What the Cruiser hears: I now have an appointment six months in the future. I am immobilized with stress.
Lesson: Cruisers fear the unknown future like cats fear a bath. Yes, they want you to visit. But the more definite your plans (dates, tickets, offers to pack seventeen jars of peanut butter), the tougher it is on them. Ease your skittish cruiser into these details. Better yet, just show up one day. It’s better for everyone.
Cruiser: I talked to the mechanic. Fixing the [horrible broken thing] is going to mean hauling out for three days, and cost about $2000.
What the Cruiser means: Fixing the [horrible broken thing] is going to mean hauling out for three days, and cost about $2000.
What the Cruising Spouse hears: Fixing the [horrible broken thing] is going to mean hauling out for thirty days, and cost about $20,000.
Lesson: You really don’t want to know who is right, here.
Cruiser: I’d like a table for two, please.
Host: Certainly. Will sir be putting on a shirt for dinner this evening?
What the Cruiser thinks: A shirt? Darn it, did I forget to put on a shirt again? Meh. Let’s sit down and have a beer.
What the Host means: At least this one remembered pants.
I hope I’ve helped you to avoid some awkward moments with your cruiser this holiday season. Please feel free to add your own cruiser translations in the comments.