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Trincomalee: from war zone to cruising port, II

Sail Feed - Wed, 2015-03-04 10:22

We approached Trincomalee with excitement and trepidation. This port is run by the Navy; it’s new to cruising boats after decades of civil war: officials don’t understand our needs, any more than cruisers understand theirs.

The first boats to arrive didn’t have the freedom they’re accustomed to at most cruising ports of call (such as not being allowed to anchor overnight and wait for clearance, but required to proceed to a specific location). There were concerns about the lack of transparency around fees, and ensuring that there is parity with the fees levied in Galle. Boats received services from the port (such as piloting, or dockage) which they didn’t realize they’d later be charged for. The port isn’t trying to duck on setting expectations, but they’re also not used to having line items questioned on a fee schedule. Cruisers aren’t used to having to wait 3-4 days to clear out (weather windows make this problematic). Those are just the highlights! Cruisers like to operate independently, and want things to be predictable and fair, and with early arrivals in particular, much of their experience was not predictable, and didn’t feel fair. We’ve had to get used to working more closely with the agent than is typical in other countries.

Navy provides final clearance papers to Rutea just before they depart

What we failed to appreciate before our arrival is the role Trincomalee played during the protracted civil war, and how that has influenced our reception. We toured a museum on the grounds of the Navy base, where much of the local action is documented- an eye opening visit. It’s sobering, and shocking. Beyond the tragedy of thousands upon thousands of human casualties, it is the harbor itself- as a major point of entry for supplies for the rebel Tigers- that was deeply affected. I lost count of how many ships were sunk, with methods like human torpedoes (basically, a person on an armament powered by a small outboard, driven at speed into the target), ‘limpet’ mines (stuck by divers onto the hulls of boats), and other suicide diver tactics. This explains the intense Navy scrutiny, and why the first boats arriving actually had divers checking their hulls for explosives. It’s just unheard of in our experience, but we can’t begin to imagine the war that is very recent memory here. It was disconcerting to have the very young looking Navy cadet with an AK47 on our aft deck while we cleared in. After the museum visit I could better understand where that caution comes from.

Navy personnel (and a big gun) on Totem during clearance

GAC (local agent) facilitated meetings, with their senior representative driving seven hours over from Colombo to meet with the Deputy Harbormaster in Trinco. Jamie and I were invited to participate to represent the cruising fleet. And we found at each turn, as miscommunication and misunderstanding was unraveled, that both agent and port were for us, not against us. They want to find a way to ensure Trinco becomes a more welcoming place for boats, and to enact the changes needed to improve the experience for cruisers. The Deputy Harbormaster said that the last time a fleet like ours came through was thirty years ago, so the lack of familiarity is pretty understandable.

Totem and Utopia clearing in at the town pier

Some issues (like net clearance fees) were solved on the spot. A few were remedied within days (like putting processes in place to handle fuel, water, and garbage without incurring the fees levied merchant ships). Others need more time, because they involve legislative approval (as in domestic port-to-port clearance). It’s still not easy, but cruisers should be accustomed to being flexible with the uncertainties of traveling through foreign ports, and prepared to work a little for the benefits- or at least be good guests in the interim. Now, fees are on parity with Galle. The harbormaster understands we want relief from the technical Port requirements to work through our agent for things like a few cans of fuel or water, and we’re able to get them delivered to the dock now. And we see the changes in action with the progressively easier process for boats checking in and checking out. What took two days for the first arrivals is now being completed in just a couple of hours. We no longer need to leave our passports with police when we go to shore.

Mustapha is one of the security guards; we did a little show-n-tell on Totem

One boat decided they’d rather not follow the guidelines and ferry their own jerries on the beach, which was all observed by customs officials across the water. Jamie ended up in an unpleasant sandwich between an irate customs official’s wrath and the frustrated disappointment of the officials we had worked hard to establish norms for boats with. It’s blowing over, but that was all we needed to appreciate the delicacy of what’s being established.

Bill from Solstice snapped this gorgeous sunrise over Trincomalee

Meanwhile, Trincomalee’s bay is the counterpoint everything I’ve heard about the mooring arrangement in Galle: we have a gorgeous harbor to swing at anchor, our boats are secure, there’s no 700 meter walk from the gate to the pontoons, and no cement dust corroding our gear from the nearby factory. But very much like Galle, there’s a delightful town to explore, the market is near bursting with beautiful produce, the culture is fascinating, the food is delicious, and the people we’ve met have been welcoming and friendly: it’s been well worth the effort to explore. It’s just plain that we’ve got to step in patiently, with respect for the people we’re working with, and the war atrocities that filter their handling of boats.

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Across the Atlantic…& Back!

Sail Feed - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:00

Andy’s seminar about sailing to Europe and back from the 2015 Toronto Boat Show in January. Recorded in front of a live audience!

Episode includes Q&A at the end, tips on weather routing, northern versus southern routes to Europe, and how to get back!

Want to go ocean sailing with Andy? Book a berth on at 59-north.com/events.

FOOD BOAT: Pizza Pi to Go From a Rebuilt Motorsailer

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:34

Gourmet food trucks are very trendy these days. Witness last year’s popular film Chef, about a gourmet chef who rebuilds his reputation peddling Cuban sandwiches out of a truck after getting into a debilitating social-media spat with a powerful food critic. So why not a food boat? Enter Sasha and Tara Bouis, a young couple who spent two years fixing up a hulk of an old motorsailer and rebuilt it as a floating pizzeria, called Pizza Pi (as in the mathematical term). They just started peddling pies this past November at Christmas Cove off Great St. James Island, between St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Bareboat charterers and transient cruisers take note. You should grab a bite here if you are in the vicinity.

It seems Sasha and Tara had the idea for a food boat long before they ever found the right sort of boat to do it in. They needed something cheap, bulky, preferably with no interior (so they could build one to spec), and with an orifice that could serve as a take-out service window.

They finally hit paydirt when they came across this old 37-foot G.L. Watson aluminum-hulled motorsailer:

The diamond in the rough. Pretty it is not. The key fact was that the interior was gone, as it conveniently had been consumed by termites as the boat sat abandoned in Antigua for 10 years

The galley, prior to the refit

The galley, after the refit

Sasha at work during the refit

Pizza Pi on the hard waiting to launch post refit. Gotta dig that paint job!

The critical part of the reconstruction, obviously, was installing a commercial-grade galley, which now features a proper wash station (three sinks total), a 20-quart mixer for making dough, a 7.5-cu.ft. freezer, a 22-cu.ft. fridge, and (of course) some pizza ovens.

Tara weighs some flour prior to mixing

Pulling a pie from the oven

Sasha in the galley (looking forward)

For a more complete idea of how the boat works now, you can take this short video tour:

Where the action is. Business seems to be brisk

You can check out Pizza Pi’s website and menu right here. (Be sure also to check out their Aluminuts blog.)

I think I’ll take a Carbonara pie, please. With shrimp.

FOOD BOAT: Pizza Pi to Go From a Rebuilt Motorsailer

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:34

Gourmet food trucks are very trendy these days. Witness last year’s popular film Chef, about a gourmet chef who rebuilds his reputation peddling Cuban sandwiches out of a truck after getting into a debilitating social-media spat with a powerful food critic. So why not a food boat? Enter Sasha and Tara Bouis, a young couple who spent two years fixing up a hulk of an old motorsailer and rebuilt it as a floating pizzeria, called Pizza Pi (as in the mathematical term). They just started peddling pies this past November at Christmas Cove off Great St. James Island, between St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Bareboat charterers and transient cruisers take note. You should grab a bite here if you are in the vicinity.

It seems Sasha and Tara had the idea for a food boat long before they ever found the right sort of boat to do it in. They needed something cheap, bulky, preferably with no interior (so they could build one to spec), and with an orifice that could serve as a take-out service window.

They finally hit paydirt when they came across this old 37-foot G.L. Watson aluminum-hulled motorsailer:

The diamond in the rough. Pretty it is not. The key fact was that the interior was gone, as it conveniently had been consumed by termites as the boat sat abandoned in Antigua for 10 years

The galley, prior to the refit

The galley, after the refit

Sasha at work during the refit

Pizza Pi on the hard waiting to launch post refit. Gotta dig that paint job!

The critical part of the reconstruction, obviously, was installing a commercial-grade galley, which now features a proper wash station (three sinks total), a 20-quart mixer for making dough, a 7.5-cu.ft. freezer, a 22-cu.ft. fridge, and (of course) some pizza ovens.

Tara weighs some flour prior to mixing

Pulling a pie from the oven

Sasha in the galley (looking forward)

For a more complete idea of how the boat works now, you can take this short video tour:

Where the action is. Business seems to be brisk

You can check out Pizza Pi’s website and menu right here. (Be sure also to check out their Aluminuts blog.)

I think I’ll take a Carbonara pie, please. With shrimp.

“Saving Sailing” or a Piece of It

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-03-02 02:24

By Kimball Livingston Posted March 1, 2015

Right about now would be the perfect time for the National Sailing Hall of Fame to induct Paralympic gold medalist Nick Scandone.

I have every confidence it will happen one year or another. What puts the bang in the now is the way in which sailing was dropped from the lineup of events for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo — and the push to get sailing reinstated. The chorus is strong and the ranks are broad, but there remains a lot of convincing ahead if we’re going to turn the International Paralympic Committee around on this one.

If you’re new to the subject of Nick Scandone, or needing a refresher on his inspirational, over-the-top life and death story, I think I got it pretty right in not too many words here.

In January, at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, I ran into Maureen McKinnon, the other half of Scandone’s gold medal effort in a Skud 18. Fair to say, it was a complicated moment. The prize giving was under way, the atmosphere was celebratory, and in the space of half an hour, Maureen had just learned that she and her new-to-the-game skipper, Ryan Porteous, had been named to the US Paralympic Sailing Team despite a lackluster performance in Miami.

Photo by Walter Cooper

And she had learned that sailing was dumped from the 2020 Games. As you might imagine, Maureen was chewing on two big bites. Sugar vs. vinegar.

Over this last weekend, and over the phone, I checked in. There was something about a big Five-0 that packed Maureen’s house on Saturday night, with the guests defying Boston’s mountains of snow just to get there. And then came the aftermath, “and after four dishwater loads I’m still not done. But I hate drinking wine from a plastic glass.”

Don’t “plastic” and “glass” qualify as a built-in contradiction?

And that led to agreeing that we both despise the proliferation of single-use plastic and other unnecessary toxins. And speaking of toxins, no need to speak too loudly on the day after . . .

But, eventually, we had to get down to business, which I phrased as, What do we know about the state of play for 2020?

“That,” Maureen said, “depends upon the we.

“Are we talking about my brain?

“The US Sailing brain?

“The IPC brain?”

Referring of course, to the International Paralympic Committee.

“The most promising organization out there is the Tokyo planning committee,” McKinnon said. “Their response is, business as usual, and they’re planning a sailing center on the assumption that Paralympians will sail there.

“I’m also confident of the support we have in the U.S. Tom Hubbell as president of US Sailing, Josh Adams as managing director of US Olympic Sailing — more than anyone before him, he treats us as equal to the Olympians — and Gary Jobson as a vice president of ISAF. Gary is perhaps one of the few who admire Nick Scandone even more than [West Coast blogger, name withheld]. These people are genuine, and they’ll do what they can do to help the other world organizations influence the IPC.”

Not to get too technical, the IPC seeks to please the International Olympic Committee by advancing sports with a wide base of participation and wide appeal. “Someone” was asleep at the wheel and failed to supply the IPC with the right fodder to support sailing.

“I don’t know where the problem started,” McKinnon said, “but we need to rally sailors to get the word out as to why sailing belongs in the Paralympic Games. Try this: An amputee, a paraplegic and a blind guy walk into a bar . . .

“What sport can they play together?”

BOINK

“Sailing is life-altering, empowering, a sport of freedom,” McKinnon said. “That is true for anyone. Water and boats are equalizers. We can adapt each boat individually, to fit the need, and in the the 2.4mR singlehanded boat, the world champion in any given year could be an able-bodied person or someone mildly or severely disabled.”

Name another sport where that happens.

Time’s up.

I am proud that my sport has embraced disabled sailing. We have one of the few sports where good brains guiding severely limited bodies can be set free to play in fresh air and sunshine, and to compete if that’s their thing. Nick was a UC Irvine (go, Anteaters) All American and an Olympic-caliber sailor who barely missed making the team in 1992. He worried that it was a sympathy vote that made him the Rolex US Sailor of the Year in 2005, the year he won the 2.4mR worlds against able bodied sailors. But no, Nick, it was not that. By the time Nick got to Qingdao — and just traveling there took a toll — he often needed a feeding tube. There wasn’t much of him left except spirit. After racing each day, and usually winning, he was rushed by his helpmeets, via wheelchair, to a bed where he mostly slept until it was time to race again. Given the points total, he didn’t have to sail on the final day, but he did, to put his stamp on his medal in his moment.

As a great American once said, holy shit.

ISAF is asking its national governing bodies to supply participation numbers for presentation to the IPC by March 31.

Teeny Tiny Sailing

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-03-02 01:57

Hello, everyone! Sorry for the prolonged absence. My lungs and I had a serious disagreement. They decided they would be happier outside my body, and attempted to cough their way to freedom. I was of the firm opinion that we would both be better off if they stayed inside my chest. That is just the kind of hard-line organ traditionalist that I am. Eventually they saw things my way, but it took three weeks and a lot of coaxing.

By Sunday, I was well enough for an outing. Erik saw his chance. He has been determined to try out the sailing dinghies we found, and mounted a campaign of persuasion. Over the past few weeks, his conversation was peppered with statements like:
“I’d like to check whether that epoxy set properly in the dinghy.”
“A couple of those dinghy sails are still in decent condition.”
“I’d love to test out the rig we found, and see if anything else need to be replaced.”
And, when the Well of Subtlety had run dry:
“We should try out the sailing dinghy this weekend.”

Sure enough, the epoxy had set and the dinghy didn’t leak. The battens we found were slightly too short, but were more than adequate to toodle around the harbour. And toodle we did!

Far be it from me to pour salt in the wound that is a North America winter circa March. Many of you have no control over the fact that you are suffering through icy winds, meters of snow, and the general hopelessness that sets in around this time of year. But for those of you who keep asking when we are moving home, I submit the following:

Your move, Ontario.

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka: from war zone to cruising port

Sail Feed - Sun, 2015-03-01 19:56

Trincomalee so far has been a feast of sights, sounds, smells, experiences. It has been both friendly and jarring, and I wake up wondering what each day will bring. But that’s getting ahead of things a little. First, we had to get here!

For years, cruising boats pointing to Sri Lanka all called in to Galle on the southwest side of Sri Lanka. Trincomalee – the fifth largest natural harbor in the world – was in LTTE (Tamil Tiger) territory on the northeast coast, and not considered a safe destination during the civil war that dragged on from 1986 to 2009. It’s a pity, because this natural deepwater port  has been visited by seafarers from Lord Nelson to Marco Polo to Ptolemy. The only two other international ports were industrial, and not appealing as destinations.

Although the civil war ended nearly six years ago, cruiser habits seem to die hard, and only a couple of boats (literally, two) called on Trinco last year. Still, it’s a little surprising that the flow to Galle remained steady considering cruisers had descriptions like this one of the facilities:

“No matter how nice the people were ashore, especially on our travels around the island, the fact is that 70% of our time in Sri Lanka was spent sitting in a dirty, noisy, sewer; surging up and down with the swell, getting rocked around by passing launch and boat traffic and continually worried about sustaining damage. That, unfortunately, is the memory we will take away with us more than anything else.”

Way to sell Galle, right? But this is a typical reaction. And that doesn’t even mention you get to walk about a half mile just to get from the harbor gate to your boat (lots of fun for provisioning), or how risky it is to leave your boat unattended in the inadequate mooring setup (boats get damaged).

So last year, when friends of ours told us about a boat in Galle that had also gone to Trinco, I was interested. VERY interested! Larry was motivated to go to Trincomalee because his boat had been built nearby, and he hoped to find the yard. By pure chance I met him last June at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo, and hearing how favorably he compared Trinco to Galle, from that point on it was decided in my head: we were going to Trincomalee. I just had to get an agent (required for clearance in Sri Lanka) that could help us, since the one Larry worked with was a gross disappointment at best.

Emailing major shipping agents brought a few names forward, and GAC stood out as a better communicator; after some weeks of emailing we established a working agreement. It was slow only because they are accustomed to dealing with large merchant vessels here – tankers or cargo ships – and little sailing boats like ours are a completely different beast, and took some adjustments. For starters, we needed a different fee scale: our initial quote was for $2,000! We needed to be exempt from providing many of the information “required” by the port that simply isn’t followed by small private boats (like IMO security certificates and declared security levels). It provided interesting questions in advance of our arrival, such as the request for our draft at the forward and aft ends of Totem. I sent a line drawing and gave them our keel depth.

As the problems became more apparently surmountable, I wanted to get other boats in on the Trinco action! So I shared all the details with a loosely organized list of boats planning to cross the Indian Ocean. Momentum built around Trincomalee, and as a result, a dozen boats so far have called in at Trinco instead of Galle this year- and at least another half dozen are on the way.

NEXT: reality on the ground for checking into Trinco.

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Vexilar T-Box WiFi fishfinder & Navionics SonarChart Live wow

Sail Feed - Sun, 2015-03-01 10:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 1, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

This mid-January screenshot represents a very pleasing experience in marine electronics testing. Thanks to a Vexilar SonarPhone T-Box SP200 and the Navionics Boating app I’m cruising around in my 9-foot dinghy with more than just charting and a fishfinder. I have access to three different chart formats plus a live SonarChart being created as I move along, and the data I’m collecting will be available to my fellow cruisers a week or two later. It sounds exotic, but the total cost was about $250 (iPad mini excepted), installation was fairly trivial, and it all worked quite well right out of the box.

Here’s the tentative Vexilar test setup on Gizmo’s tender, which had just been dubbed Gadget when the iPad got TorqTrac monitoring for the Torqueedo electric outboard. I just mounted the little dual frequency T-Box transducer on an Azek board that I could clamp to the transom and went “belt and suspenders” with the waterproof wifi box itself by putting it in a tight plastic food box with a 4 amp hour rechargeable AGM battery from Walmart. (Dinghy afficionados may appreciate the custom fender/cleat hardware I had made last summer so I can use the swim platform like a dock without adding cumbersome Weaver clips to the fine Fatty Knees 9. The clips would be more secure, especially with Gadget “folded up” and Gizmo underway, but I like how I can easily haul the light FK9 into the cockpit, right side up and heading in the proper direction.)

Here’s the $150 T-Box SP200 being tested in Gizmo‘s salon with the included SonarPhone app running on the mini. I also tried the Android version when I tested the Vexilar T-Pod model meant for shore fishermen, and saw that app made even that “bobber” style transducer act like a pretty full-fledged fishfinder. Incidentally, I was pleased to meet “Mr. Vexilar” Tom Zenanko and learn more about Vexilar’s long and distinguished sonar history. They are not a small company, apparently dominating ice fishing in the icy midwest, and they’re darn excited about the global opportunity they’re finding with the SonarPhone line.

In fact, Vexilar is already out with the SP300 T-Box portable boat install kit that seems to do what I did better and cheaper. For $200 you get the SP200 with transducer suction mount, a 4.5 amp hour battery, a case that organizes all of the above, and a 1a charger. Obviously, this makes trying T-Box WiFi sonar on a small boat much easier, but I’m probably going to install it semi-permanently in Gadget — think solar-powered battery for sonar, bilge pump, and whatnot hidden under new seat hatch — mainly because the SonarChart integration is such a blast.

The first you’ll notice about the integration between the Vexilar sonar and the Navionics Boating App is that it just works. As long as the iPad (or Android device) is pointed at the T-Box WiFi, that little fishfinder box will pop up on the screen and can be made split window with a tap. Before moving on to the Live SonarChart feature, note the depths around New Bern harbor as presented on the “Govt” chart — the Navionics version of NOAA vector charts that comes with the free version of Boating — and on a regular Navionics+ chart. I point this out because the SonarChart I downloaded before this testing was terrible!

If the actual depths were remotely like what was shown on the existing SonarChart, Gizmo and a whole lot of other boats currently tied up in those two marinas would be hard aground. Fortunately, this is about the worst SonarChart example I’ve ever seen, and Navionics subsequently told me that marinas can be a particularly difficult issue. But be careful, boaters, a whole lot of bathy lines do not necessarily connote accuracy. These screens also show what the chart selection and SonarChart Live overlay buttons look like when you tap the Chart Type button, plus the sonar Gain control you can tap into on the full Vexilar window. And if you click the screen above bigger , you may notice the funky spot soundings in the Live sonar swaths that had me confused for a while.

I guess it makes sense in retrospect, but the depth numbers shown in SonarChart Live are not related to the live data being collected; they come instead from the underlying chart. So, given the bad original data in New Bern, I was seeing sensible bathy lines and shading with weirdly shallow spot soundings. Also, somewhat disconcerting is the aggressive way SonarChart Live guesstimates bathy lines about 80 feet to either side of your track, regardless of depth, and also wipes out bridges, shorelines and docks along the way. If what I mean isn’t obvious from the screens above, the dock photo was taken right where the Camera icon is (a nice Navionics feature).

But my North Carolina test site probably highlights this aspect of SonarCharts Live a lot more than other uses like, say, mapping a lake or pond with little or no existing bottom info (which still exist all over this country and the world). And because Navionics has just gotten started with this Live presentation, it will probably improve over time. For instance, I’d like to see all the yellow tracks (or a light dotted representation) shown for all Live SonarChart data. (Tracks are displayed independently now and only one at a time while the SonarChart Live data seems to accumulate as a single overlay). Overall, though, SonarChart Live should always be thought of as raw data, and you may be as pleased as I was with what it looks like after processing back at the cartographic mothership.

Here’s the SonarChart I downloaded from Navionics to my iPad a few weeks after my SonarChart Live data was automatically uploaded, and it may well be the best bottom detail of New Bern available, if I do say so myself. Actually, it would be even better if Navionics hadn’t ignored some of the data I collected along the shorelines. For instance, I surveyed that deep water slip (just above the “Route” button) where BridgePointe Marina has its pump out station and boat project area (pictures here).

But I quibble. Navionics SonarChart Live is a big deal, I think, and definitely worthy of the MIBS Innovation Award it received in Miami. I can picture all sorts of fishing and cruising uses, and it’s great how many other ways there are now to access (and contribute) SonarChart data. You can, for instance, easily check out my New Bern work via the fast Navionics WebApp chart viewer. And anyone with a current Raymarine MFD can get fresh SonarCharts either via a Navionics card update or wirelessly via from the Boating app (as I first experienced last summer). However, crowdsourced chart data is becoming such a hot and potentially lucrative area that there may be some trouble brewing, and that will be the subject of the next entry.

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Iridium GO! + PredictWind for Totem’s Indian Ocean debut

Sail Feed - Fri, 2015-02-27 10:49

Not long before leaving Malaysia, we purchased an Iridium GO!. This was somewhat unexpected because Totem has long been a radio centric boat. Since we started cruising in 2008 we’ve relied solely on our HF radio for long distance communications: it has met our needs, we value the community of an informal radio net at sea, and we are grateful the safety net of land-based hams such as the awesome Pacific Seafarers Net.

What changed?

But this past year, paying close attention to the progress of boats along our intended route in the Indian Ocean, we were dismayed to hear how much trouble they were having connecting to land-based stations for the purpose of receiving updated weather data over PACTOR modems- to the point that we know radio-centric boats that relied upon sailing in company with those carrying satellite based systems on board so that they could to receive updated weather forecasts.

Weather data is critical for cruisers.

The waters around the south end of Africa are famous for monstrous wind and wave events. We don’t want to be without current weather data anywhere in the world, but if we had to pick spots we’re especially keen to have weather info on demand- it’s off southern Africa. South Africa has radio nets and hams, but connecting to the land stations for boats coming in from the east was a struggle. It was also difficult for boats heading into the Atlantic after rounding the Cape. Sailmail or Winlink, it didn’t seem to matter- both had issues with station access from that corner of the world.

Time to look beyond HF!

To solve our weather dilemma, for us the best solution is a combination of PredictWind and the Iridium GO!. We’ve used PredictWind for years on Totem, and they have apps designed specifically for working with an Iridium GO!. That’s actually very important: there’s a misconception that the GO! is like having a satellite based wifi-hotspot with you. It’s more complicated than that, because applications must be specifically designed for Iridium GO! to work with the unit. For the most part, these apps are tablet or smartphone based, but PredictWind works with the Iridium on a computer – and I want to be able to see and work with weather info on my bigger screen, not just a mobile one.

Before the passage.

The hardest part of the install was deciding where to put the base unit. Once we had that worked out, the rest was uncomplicated: Jamie mounted the external antenna on the top of our solar arch, and ran the cable back through the conduit already in place for our SilentWind turbine and solar panels. Easy.

We used the PredictWind Offshore App on a Windows laptop, with a Professional subscription. Prior to departure, Jamie spent time using routing tools in the PredictWind app to analyze our plan and found valuable insights that prompted us to adjust our route. Originally, the plan was to sail pretty close to a rhumb line through the northern Nicobar islands- something like the yellow track above. Based on what he learned thorugh the PredictWind routing algorithm, we decided to go farther south instead–between Sumatra and the south end of the Nicobars, which the routing showed to have a stronger favorable current flow. This had obvious benefits for our overall passage time, and helped us keep up our pace in very light air.

On the way to Sri Lanka

Thankfully, sailing from the Malay peninsula at this time of year is pretty benign. But “weather happens” and we wouldn’t rely on any forecast after a few days, and we expected up to 10 days on this passage.  Going through the PredictWind app, we could download satellite images of the region, text based forecasts, and grib files. There are four different grib file types available (three are GFS based, and two of those are specialized PredictWind algorithms), and you can choose different viewers for the gribs: we like looking at it with a grib plugin on OpenCPN.

Winds in the Bay of Bengal are light at this time of year, and only get lighter until the end of the NE Monsoon in late March or April. As the forecast evolved during our voyage, the breezes held and we were able to knock three days off our expected time- getting in after seven days and a few hours.

Beyond weather.

The #1 reason we got the GO! is for weather data. But the GO! opens up a world of other features that I’m very happy to have on board.

Email. We used the (free) Iridium email app, and gave the address to a handful of friends and family to reach us while we were at sea. This worked tremendously well. I really liked the easy communication, and with a Bluetooth keyboard, could type as comfortably as at a laptop.

SMS. We tested this with a few friends, and it worked really well. It’s probably going to be the fastest / easiest way to get messages while we’re “out there”: there’s an audible ping from the Iridium when a new message comes in, so we get it much sooner than waiting for the next time we check our email. Happily, several other boats traveling loosely in company with us have recently purchased GO! units as well, so we can text back and forth anytime we want to get immediately in touch.

Twitter. The GO! made it very easy to keep tweeting away, and I had fun sending messages from our passage- and getting notifications for any pings, favorites, and retweets. It’s not set up for photos, just text.

Internet browsing. This only worked marginally for us. We simply found it to be very, very slow. I mean, it IS a satellite connection. We expected slow. But pages often timed out before loading, even with the super stripped down Opera “Mini” app cranked to minimize the pipe and remove images. But I have heard other boats having more success with this, so… well, we’ll keep trying.

Facebook. We should be able to post from the GO! to Totem’s facebook page, but unfortunately, this was a total fail. It could be user error; I’m still trying to figure this one out. I tested it before we left, and it worked just fine. Great, even! I had grand illusions of posting pictures to Totem’s Facebook page from the middle of the ocean. But as soon as we left, the posts failed to show up. I’m not sure what happened, as we see this working well for our buddies on Ceilydh, who are happily posting away as they sail towards us from Malaysia. Hopefully we can fix this for the next passage to Maldives.

Phone. Yes, you can make phone calls too! We didn’t, because our Unlimited data plan only includes 5 minutes of phone calls through the GO! per month, and we were hanging onto them “just in case.” But I’ll test it out soon. With a few extra bucks for the Unlimited Plus plan, you get 100 minutes. You pay a per-minute rate once you exceed the limit- this can add up fast.

Looking ahead.

One of the cool tools that PredictWind offers that we have yet to really take advantage of is a custom web page for tracking your boat, automatically updated with GPS positions from the Iridium GO! Friends and family can use it to follow your every move from afar (it updates every  hour, automatically), and you can embed it into a web page. I’m looking forward to using this, but we won’t start until we’ve cleared the Lloyds London Market Exclusions list (aka, the piracy “High Risk Area”) for yachts. Unfortunately, the HRA box currently includes Maldives and Chagos, our next two destinations- so we’ll hold off on real time tracking for now, and begin using the page designed just for Totem from the Seychelles forward.

You should know:

PredictWind sells the GO! competitively with a cruiser-friendly package. They bundle the base unit with a variety of options we need, from an external antenna and varying lengths of cable to a SIM card. And trust me- you want that external antenna! Below deck, there’s not enough reception to be functional without the outside antenna. And yes, although the device is rugged (e.g., you can take it on deck), you wouldn’t want to leave it exposed to the elements- and we found it to be finicky without a full view of the sky. The GPS antenna on the device is not in the external antenna, however: it’s in the GO! base unit, so do give thought to where you mount it. For satellite visibility, putting the antenna on our solar arch is an easy solution.

Well connected readers know we love it when you read this on the SAILfeed website – thanks for kicking the change in our cruising kitty!

Furuno TZtouch2 and FI-70, back in the game!

Sail Feed - Wed, 2015-02-25 19:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 25, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Sorry for the blown out screens, but the point of this photo is Furuno USA marketing manager Dean Kurutz, who co-delivered the NavNet TZtouch2 introduction with senior product manager Eric Kunz just like they did with the original NavNet in 2001 — when I was just getting into electronics writing — and every NavNet update since. The dynamic duo have been coming to Miami with the company since well into the last century and a lot of their colleagues have similar histories. If you go Furuno you get remarkable management consistency and institutional memory, but that doesn’t mean they’re old school…

Well, in some ways Furuno is old school: they distribute mainly through traditional dealer/installers; their famous customer service apparently stocks spares for decades-old equipment; and they’ve earned high esteem in tough niches like offshore commercial fishing and the US Coast Guard. But the corporate personality is quite complex, especially since the Furuno team partnered with the TimeZero developers at MaxSea, which means they’re now also deeply involved with Nobeltec.

In fact, at least one sweet detail of the new TZtouch2 user interface — that blue ship wheel icon above representing a collapsed route that can be opened with one tap, which also collapses any other route cluttering the screen — first impressed me in the Nobeltec Timezero iPad app. The powerful TZ charting engine marks the decidedly new school side of Furuno, and it’s now being developed in Windows (all previous NavNet TZ MFDs plus MaxSea/Nobeltec charting programs), Apple iOS (MaxSea/Nobeltec apps), and now Android (the new 12- and 15-inch TZT2 MFDs). I didn’t know about the Android platform change until after the Miami introduction, but I sure noticed how the new interface seems to nicely mix elements from all sorts of touchscreen systems.

The NavNet TZT2 site and especially the brochure found on the new MFD product pages are good ways to get familiar with the “Total Control, Simply Refined” graphical interface. Don’t the new big Home Screen icons look like Windows 8 tiles, in a good way? And the four “edge swipes” remind me of many likable tablet and phone features. Down from the top reveals those big tiles for Quick Page changes, while in from the left gets the familiar TZT custom data window (which therefore no longer needs an onscreen button). Swiping up from the bottom yields a Layers menu context sensitive to the active window function and finally, a right edge swipe slides out a menu similar to what you’d get if the good old NavNet RotoKey was still there.

So here’s the 15-inch TZT2 with the Layers menu showing chart options. Many of those controls may actually be easier to access than with the RotoKey, but the TZT2 MFDs can also be controlled by the MCU002 keypad and/or a new Android NavNet Controller app (iOS version coming). Note the Departure/Arrival choice under Routes On/Off, which means those collapsed route icons can display at either end. Also, note that the new MFDs are not actually named TZT2, I guess because they will network fine with the existing TZT models, which aren’t going away. TZtouch2 is more an interface and feature set, while the MFD above is officially designated a TZTL15F, which may imply future models that aren’t in Landscape mode and/or do not include a internal sonar for Fishing.

And here’s the NavNet TZTL12F showing a new autopilot control window that looks quite powerful. I think it’s great that the manufacturers are learning how to put more controls onto their main touch screens, or a single swipe, tap, or button push away. The ever growing System Controls menu, always accessible with the Lowrance (and sister MFD) power button, is a good example, and TZtouch2 seems to have come up with several new ones. Incidentally, the TZTL12F will usually be panel or even flush mounted, which seems almost mandatory given such a clean glass style, but the photo shows a new style plastic bracket that’s quite a contrast to the heavy metal ones designed for previous Furuno MFDs. The change is no doubt part of what may be TZtouch2’s biggest feature — “Best-Ever Furuno MFD” value — which I’ll get to below.

First, I want to touch on the instrumentation display that Dean and Eric emphasized during the Miami demos. The screen above is not meant to be useful but rather to show off all the gauge and numeric data styles available, as well as the expanded NMEA 2000 PGN support, and this video suggests how you can apparently fingertip arrange all those instruments in nearly infinite ways. I’m going to reserve judgment until I can see how well we can customize gauge ranges, yellow/red alerts, labels, and so forth — Maretron has long shown the way — but TZtouch2 may have the best MFD instruments yet.

Of course, Furuno had another reason to work on instrumentation and that’s the new FI70 4.1-inch color N2K display also introduced in Miami. It wasn’t really a surprise given the matching 711C Navpilot head covered here last summer, but it looks good. I noticed that Furuno was willing to borrow the nice mini AIS display first seen on the Raymarine i70, and they’re going for NMEA 2000 certification by only including one N2K port. In other words, the FI70 can’t be daisy-chained (even if that wasn’t a bad idea), though the limitation can be overcome fairly easily with a multiport.

Another feature emphasized during the TZtouch2 intro was the RezBoost technology that can purportedly improve the internal fishfinder imaging (something like CHIRP does). But perhaps the bigger story is that the new MFDs are the first in the NavNet series to have any internal sonar at all, plus a built-in GPS, and all without any apparent cost increase.

A somewhat hidden cost of the existing NavNet TZT system is the need for a separate power supply even for the little but mighty 2kW DRS2D radome, but it looks like Furuno is dealing with that issue, too. The DRS4DL was not mentioned in Miami — and the US team doesn’t know what it will cost or when it will arrive — but the brochure certainly suggests a version of the DRS4W WiFi Radar that runs directly on 12 volts and trades advanced features for a lower price.

Incidentally, not only did the attractive integration of WiFi radar and the Nobeltec TZ app become official in Miami, but there’s yet another Furuno 19-inch radome, the DRS4DCM, that will work directly with Nobeltec PC programs, no MFD required. There’s more info here and I understand that another TZtouch2 feature — the “coming soon” TimeZero Cloud Data Service — will further enable integration among all the TZ cousins. Also “coming soon” are ActiveCaptain cruising info support, first ever on an MFD, and Community Charts, MapMedia’s first foray into crowdsourcing, all purportedly made easy with TZT2 WiFi.

And now the TZT2 booty shots, which reveal a backside very unlike other NavNet MFDs. In fact, I don’t recall any MFD that uses pigtail ports like these, but I think they make sense for easing installations and cutting production costs. And that latter part is really key to this whole endeavor. I exaggerated when I added the “back in the game!” to this entry. Furuno has never left the game, at least in terms of medium to big recreational boats, but when I discussed specs/price options in the popular glass bridge MFD style last summer, the TZT14 that arguably spearheaded the trend had become a distinctly premium choice.

Well, compare that spreadsheet to this one! The game has tightened up all around. Furuno already dropped existing TZT prices considerably and the new MFDs — said to ship “spring of this year” – are right in the ball park, built-in features and popular 12-inch size included. Garmin also got more competitive with their new 76xx MFDs and for a minute both nearly matched the NSS evo2 pricing (which just went down). But MSRP pricing is only a guide, and the ones for Raymarine MFDs are quite tentative so far. I added their a- and e- models to better illustrate the broadness of their lines, though they aren’t quite “glass bridge” style, and I added weight specs because that also seems to tell the competitive story. Note, for instance, how the TZTL15F — which could have easily been called a 16 — weighs about 2/3rds of a TZT14. If you need an MFD that you could practically drive a truck over, a TZT2 may not be the right choice.

So that’s what I mean by “back in the game!” In the world of glass bridge systems there are four strong competitors, and Furuno is suddenly looking quite good. I do have caveats, though. When you port or rewrite a whole MFD software package like TimeZero, things can get lost, and a couple I’ve noticed with TZT2 is the lack of Axis IP camera support and also support of Furuno’s NavNet Remote App (though I’m told that’s planned). TZT users may find things they can’t do anymore. Moreover, Furuno still doesn’t have a 7-inch networkable MFD, let alone Ray’s a5, and it is the only one of the big four that hasn’t partnered with a digital switching and monitoring company. Nor have they shown interest yet in all the sonar innovations the others are mainly bringing to fresh and shallow water boaters, but which hold promise for deeper water fishermen and cruisers. Overall, though, I almost feel sorry for anyone trying to make the big main MFD system decision these days, except that you really can’t go too far wrong, especially if you take the time to figure out which system, and company, suits you best.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Giving back: the best birthday gift ever

Sail Feed - Wed, 2015-02-25 14:17

We’re just over one week in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. It is an explosion of new experiences: it’s so different, full of new sights and sounds and tastes and smells, which are taking time to process! But we are so happy to be here, relaxing into a familiar rhythm and learning about a new place…like walking past the gauntlet of marine police, above,to what must be the best-guarded dinghy dock we’ve EVER tied up to.

They named her Lucy. Dutch Beach, Tricomalee, Sri Lanka

One of the things you can’t miss in Trinco is the number of stray dogs. They’re not a problem, they’re just omnipresent. Every walk, there’s one that follows for a spell. On the beach, a yearling romps in the sand with the kids. Almost every day, I see the same desperate looking pooch in front of the same storefront. Mostly, they don’t seem to belong to anyone, but to a space- a stretch of street- and somehow get by. The same few dogs in the police-customs compound we pass through from dock to street don’t seem to belong to anyone, but they seem to belong to everyone just a little bit. And it’s happened to us, certainly, as with the kittens and puppies back in Satun that our girls cared for last year, nursing them through early weeks when they were too young to be motherless.

Two of the six kittens the girls fostered in Thailand.

We’re not alone in having our hearts tugged by the critters around us. In Mexico, the family on SV Eyoni has a tremendous tale of two dogs they rescued from an island off Baja, fostering them (in addition to the pup they’d adopted in Guayamas) until finding them new homes. In La Paz, the two girls on SV Del Viento volunteered in two different shelters where they’d walk dogs, and it was younger sister Frances in particular who is passionate about caring for them. They’ve done fundraisers for clinics with dockside bake sales in Canada and Mexico, and Frances has fostered three dogs on board during their time in Mexico, and gone beyond the role of dog walker to provide meaningful support at spay/neuter clinics in Mexico.

Frances with puppy, and her sister Eleanor; Mexico. photo, M/W Robertson, SV Del Viento.

But the subject here is birthdays. Frances turns nine this week. When her parents asked what she wanted for Christmas, it was all about the dogs. When they asked about her birthday, all about the dogs. So, for her birthday, her parents are raising money to run a spay/neuter clinic for stray dogs in La Paz, in Frances’ name.

Frances doesn’t know yet- they’ll tell her on Thursday, for her birthday. The fundraiser runs for the next ten days. I really can’t think of a better way to help a bunch of creatures and make a little girl really, really happy! So if you’ve got a spare buck or ten, please visit their fundraiser site and give a boost. The more they can raise, the more dogs they can help- so share this to some friends, and see those funds get used more and more efficiently as it grows.

Back here in Trinco, I think about Frances and what a great gift this is from her parents, and what a great example of how cruising doesn’t limit opportunities to give back in communities – it just presents more and more of them, when you take the time to find an avenue.

Share the awesome, and click through to enjoy this on the SAILfeed website- it kicks change in our cruising kitty! 

STEVE JOBS SUPERYACHT VENUS: Barely Escapes From Simpson Bay Lagoon

Sail Feed - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:09

And now for something completely different. Steve Jobs’ 256-foot superyacht Venus, built by Feadship and completed in 2012, a year after his death, has been out and about this season and was most recently drone-videoed as it squeezed through the Simpson Bay drawbridge in St. Maarten. According to the Insider’s St. Maarten Island Guide, the yacht had been in SXM for two weeks and on Saturday headed out on a private charter.

In superyacht lingo, I guess Venus is what you’d call a “Simpson-Max” vessel, as in there is no possible way it could be any bigger and still fit through this bridge:

Got hand it to the skipper: he (or she?) has got some cojones for sure.

But what I really want to talk about is the boat’s appearance. Steve Jobs was justifiably renowned for his sense of taste and style when it came to electronic devices, but somehow, IMHO, it doesn’t seem to translate too well to boats.

Jobs worked with designer Philippe Starck in developing the boat and the goal was to create a minimalist superyacht, which, pardon me for saying so, is a gross oxymoron in and of itself. The boat, as you can see here, looks quite good in a forward quarter shot:

But the aft quarter is more problematic:

Particularly when you close up the garage doors.

To me from these angles it looks like an ugly slab-sided gun emplacement. The “fortress pillbox” aesthetic is particularly noticeable when you consider the bridge, where the ship is controlled by a battery of seven iMac monitors.

According to an interesting article in the French version of Vanity Fair, in which Starck both brags about his connection to Jobs and complains about Jobs’ anal personality and ego (takes one to know one is all I can say), Jobs was particularly interested in the interior design. Unfortunately, there are no photos available yet of the boat’s living spaces, except you can see a bit of one interesting-looking space way up forward in the bow in this shot:

I’m guessing there is no collision bulkhead. There’s really no point in having one of those if you’re going to live forward of it. Note also the Jacuzzi and lounge area up on the foredeck, which is likely a big PITA for line-handlers when docking. And the anchor deploys from much further aft than usual, so I’m wondering how much she sails around when lying to a hook. Though I suppose the answer to that problem is to just set both of them.

Bonus video: This is Venus noodling around the harbor at Horta on Faial in the Azores. You can see how awkward she looks at certain angles:

Another fast day at sea…

Sail Feed - Tue, 2015-02-24 12:57

It was another fast day for Serenity on their way from Grenada back to the BVI. So fast that the crew has decided to stop in St. Croix on the way to Tortola..

Serenity in Grenada

Position February 24, 2015 8am
16°41’N 63°49’W

When i spoke to Andy, they were about 80nm from, St. Croix and since it the island is almost on the way to the BVI, and since the trip has been way faster than expected, they have decided to stop there for a day. They expect to arrive sometime tonight, and leave for Tortola on Thursday.

On the way out of Grenada they saw a big sea turtle, and there has been plenty of sea birds hanging around the boat. No dolphins except some on the way down.

The sea state has been rough at times and apparently the first night no dinner was made, so a little bit of rough weathers.  They cooked a nice veggie stir-fry last night though. Jake has tried to fish but they haven’t caught any so far, maybe the equipment or the fisherman?

Sounds like they all are having a great time, I am very excited to see some pictures from the trip! I am sure you are as well!

Serenity only 80 nm, from St. Croix at 9 am February 24. St. Croix and BVI is marked with yellow text on the picture, click on the photo to see it bigger.

Offshore to the Bahamas

Sail Feed - Tue, 2015-02-24 01:00

This week’s episode features another LIVE lecture from the Toronto International Boat Show about sailing offshore to the Bahamas! The tried and true route is down the ICW from the Chesapeake. But that takes weeks! Which ic great if you have the time to meander and enjoy the nice towns along the way.

But if you’re really keen to get to the islands and enjoy that time there, there’s a much faster way, and it’s in the ocean. In five days from Norfolk or Beaufort, you can be sipping rum and laying back in the Abacos! The focus of today’s episode is getting over the fear and trepidation of going offshore in general, and then planning specifically for a Bahamas-bound passage. What weather to expect, where to make landfall, etc.

Want to go ocean sailing with Andy? Book a berth at 59-north.com/events.

CRUISING SAILBOAT EVOLUTION: Multihulls and Other Alternatives

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-02-23 21:58

Our most recent ruminations on this topic focused on some of the popular dedicated cruising-sailboat designs that dominated mass-production boatbuilding as the industry started growing and maturing through the 1970s. It is important to remember, however, that even as fiberglass production techniques were thrusting sailboats into the heart of the 20th-century consumer economy, some cruising enthusiasts, as always, were determined to stay outside the mainstream. Many of these modern alternative cruisers favored unusual offbeat boats. One of these was James Wharram (see photo up top), who in 1954 designed and built for himself an extremely crude 24-foot plywood catamaran he called Tangaroa.

In company with two young German women, Wharram cruised his unlikely craft from his home in England across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. On a beach in Trinidad, he then designed and built yet another plywood cat, the 40-foot Rongo, to replace the disintegrating Tangaroa, and sailed this new boat with his all-girl crew back to England via New York in 1959. Wharram documented his adventure in various magazine articles and later in a book, Two Girls Two Catamarans (featuring several photos of his bare-chested crew), and thus helped bring the concept of the catamaran to the attention of the 20th-century sailing public.

Wharram and crew aboard his first boat, Tangaroa, in the Canary islands en route to the Caribbean

Wharram was certainly not the first Westerner ever to build and sail a catamaran. Eighty years earlier, in 1876, the legendary yacht designer Nat Herreshoff conceived and patented a unique design for a twin-hulled sailboat, Amaryllis, that proved capable of outstanding speed and was soon banned from organized competition. Even earlier, way back in 1662, Sir William Petty designed and built for England’s King Charles II (who, we’ll recall, was an early and very influential recreational sailor) an innovative “double-bottom” yacht that, appropriately, was named The Experiment.

Plan for Petty’s radical 17th-century catamaran. King Charles II did not look upon it favorably

Wharram himself was aware of at least one Western predecessor, the Frenchman Eric de Bisschop, who in 1937 built a 38-foot “double canoe” on a beach in Hawaii and then sailed it to France via the Cape of Good Hope. Indeed, Wharram carefully studied de Bisschop’s book, The Voyage of the Kaimiloa, when designing and building his first boat. But ultimately (like de Bisschop before him) he was more heavily influenced by the Polynesians, who first traversed the Pacific in double-hulled voyaging canoes hundreds of years earlier. (Note that the English term “catamaran” is not Polynesian in origin, but in fact derives from the Tamil term kattumaram, for “bound wood,” which describes a type of raft once used in southeast India.) There were also some other more immediate predecessors, including Roland and Francis Prout in England, Francis “Skip” Creger in California, and Woody Brown in Hawaii, all of whom began experimenting with small beach cats in the mid-1940s.

Eric de Bisschop departing Honolulu aboard Kamiloa in 1937

Jim Wharram, more importantly, was among the first to promote cruising not just as a mode of sailing that might challenge certain orthodoxies of the yachting establishment, but as an entire counter-cultural lifestyle that called into question the values of 20th-century industrial society. He was also one of the first Westerners to devote his attention to the creation of larger catamarans capable of cruising long distances. Since the early 1960s, Wharram has generated a large portfolio of build-it-yourself designs, from small beach cruisers to huge “tribal” voyaging vessels, that to this day he sells to others who want to sail away from civilized life on the cheap. Having sold over 8,000 sets of plans to date–half of which, he estimates, have led to the creation of finished boats–he is very likely the most successful and influential designer of build-it-yourself cruising sailboats in history.

Profile drawing of a Pahi 63, a larger “tribal” design by Jim Wharram

Another visionary who began creating larger multihulls around the same time was Arthur Piver, a retired pilot and trade-journal publisher from California. Piver first designed and built a small 20-foot catamaran in 1954, but soon shifted his attention to trimarans. By 1957 he was selling build-it-yourself trimaran plans (his boats, like Wharram’s, were plywood and thus simple to build). In 1960 he gained some notoriety sailing Nimble, a 30-foot plywood trimaran he designed and built, across the Atlantic from Massachusetts to England.

Piver died at sea aboard one of his boats in 1968 while attempting to qualify for a singlehanded ocean race, but lived long enough to mentor other men–Norm Cross, Jim Brown, and Dick Newick–who also began designing and building trimarans. Newick focused more on performance designs, but most of the boats designed by Cross, Brown, and Piver himself were intended to function primarily as cruisers. All three of these men, though perhaps not to the same degree as Jim Wharram, saw cruising multihulls as catalysts for alternative lifestyles.

A Victress trimaran, designed by Arthur Piver. Nigel Tetley sailed one of these around the world in the 1968-69 Golden Globe Race. Donald Crowhurst, who came to such a tragic end in the same race, sailed a variation of the same design. You still see some of these boats actively cruising today

The old-school yachting establishment, unsurprisingly, was for many years disdainful of multihulls and the colorful men who created and promoted them. But by this time the yachting establishment had less and less to do with the mainstream of the sport, which was increasingly consumer oriented. As is so often the case, the market did not hesitate to wrap its arms around a product with a counter-cultural image, and by the late 1960s the first fiberglass multihulls were being offered for sale.

The potentially greater speed of multihulls, their larger living spaces, unsinkability, and disinclination to heel under sail were all palpable advantages that were easy to promote to family-oriented middle-class cruisers. The first mass-produced multihull in the United States was evidently a trimaran, the Corinthian 41 (circa 1967), designed by Ted Irwin for Symons-Sailing. Most other early fiberglass multihulls were catamarans built in Great Britain. These included the Buccaneer 24 (circa 1968), Iroquois 30 (circa 1969), Hirondelle 24 (circa 1970), the Snow Goose 34 (circa 1971), and the Solaris 42 (circa 1971).

Sales brochure for an Iroquois catamaran, an early fiberglass multihull design

For many years boats like these were more or less outliers in the boatbuilding industry, but over time multihulls, particularly since catamarans started appearing in bareboat charter fleets, have steadily garnered more and more market share.

Alternative Materials

Other alternative-type cruising boats that began emerging during the 1960s and ’70s were constructed of materials other than fiberglass and wood. These included boats built of metal, most especially steel. The key evangelist here was an iconoclastic French colonial, Bernard Moitessier, who first took to bluewater cruising in the mid-1950s as a way to escape his homeland, Vietnam, which had been engulfed in a bitter anti-colonial civil war.

Moitessier wrecked two wooden boats early in his sailing career, the second of which he designed and built himself, and was stranded in Trinidad when he first considered alternative construction materials. His initial idea for getting away from Trinidad was to build a composite boat of newspaper and pitch on a wood frame, but he set this ambitious scheme aside when offered passage to Europe as crew aboard an oil tanker. Working on the tanker, he spent much time scraping and painting the ship’s steel topsides and concluded, as he later put it, “that a properly built steel yacht could be maintained by a well-trained monkey.” Moitessier, who had spent much time attending to worms and rot aboard his wooden boats, was greatly attracted to the seeming ease of maintenance and the indestructibility of steel as a building material.

Moitessier’s Joshua under sail. Today she is owned and maintained (and often exercised) by the La Rochelle Maritime Museum in France

In his next boat, Joshua, a rather crude 40-foot steel ketch designed by Jean Knocker and launched in 1961, Moitessier gained an international reputation making record-breaking non-stop ocean passages. The first was from Tahiti to Spain via Cape Horn with his wife in 1965-66. The second, in 1968-69 during the first non-stop solo around-the-world race took him one-and-a-half times around the world singlehanded. These voyages, and the best-selling books Moitessier wrote about them, helped popularize steel yacht construction, which up to that time had been common only in Holland.

Metal construction became particularly prevalent in France, where Moitessier was (and still is) revered. Soon there appeared a variety of designs for steel cruising boats, many of them featuring hard-chined hulls that significantly simplified construction. Aluminum, which is much lighter than steel, was also recognized as a viable building material, and by the mid-1970s one-off aluminum racing and cruising yachts were likewise increasingly common.

Metal boatbuilding ultimately became mainstream in Europe, and this has been reflected in design trends there. The Europeans quickly moved away from the conservative precedent established by Joshua, which had a double-ended full-keel hull form very similar to Colin Archer’s Redningskoite, and soon were building more modern hulls with fin keels and separated rudders. Some production metal-boat builders, notably Garcia and Alubat in France, both of which remain successful to this day, also appeared.

A modern example of a hard-chined aluminum production boat, an Alubat Ovni. The Ovnis are centerboard boats that can easily take the ground

In the U.S., meanwhile, the metal sailboat scene has never been anything more than marginal. With the exception of those developed for aluminum racing boats, American metal-boat designs have favored traditional forms and have been built on a one-off basis, either by custom builders or adventurous build-it-yourself types. Probably the most successful American designer of metal cruising boats has been Tom Colvin, whose work is based largely on working vessels such as pinky schooners, Chesapeake skipjacks, Chinese junks, and other types. His most popular design, the 42-foot Gazelle (of which over 700 have been built), blends the hull of a traditional working schooner with an Asian junk rig. Other American designers favoring metal boats include Ted Brewer, Charles Wittholz, and Jay Benford.

The Colvin Gazelle, an American junk-rigged schooner designed to be built in steel. Several have also been built in aluminum

Ferrocement was yet another alternative building material that briefly attracted the attention of cruising sailors. This technique, similar to that proposed by Moitessier for paper, involved plastering concrete over a frame constructed of wire mesh and steel pipes and rods. Hailed at first as the ultimate do-it-yourself building method because it required no specialized skills, ferrocement was enthusiastically embraced for a short period starting in the late 1960s.

A ferrocment boat under construction. Boats like these were easy for amateurs to frame up, but harder to complete successfully

Example of erosion seen in a typical ferrocement hull. Ferro boats are still afloat and are cheap to buy, for just this reason

Eventually, however, it became clear that ferrocement construction in fact does require a great deal of persistence and patience and that construction quality is extremely variable. Improperly built hulls soon exhibited a tendency to disintegrate, and by the end of the 1970s the ferro building craze was pretty much over. These boats were most often built to traditional full-keel designs, as this simple hull form was relatively easy to frame in wire mesh.

Earlier posts in this series:

Early Fiberglass Cruisers and the Westsail Cult

The Golden Age of the Cruiser-Racer

From Work Boats to Yachts

The Emergence of “Alternative” Cruising

Early Trends in Yachts Design

Cleopatra’s Barge

CRUISING SAILBOAT EVOLUTION: Multihulls and Other Alternatives

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-02-23 21:58

Our most recent ruminations on this topic focused on some of the popular dedicated cruising-sailboat designs that dominated mass-production boatbuilding as the industry started growing and maturing through the 1970s. It is important to remember, however, that even as fiberglass production techniques were thrusting sailboats into the heart of the 20th-century consumer economy, some cruising enthusiasts, as always, were determined to stay outside the mainstream. Many of these modern alternative cruisers favored unusual offbeat boats. One of these was James Wharram (see photo up top), who in 1954 designed and built for himself an extremely crude 24-foot plywood catamaran he called Tangaroa.

In company with two young German women, Wharram cruised his unlikely craft from his home in England across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. On a beach in Trinidad, he then designed and built yet another plywood cat, the 40-foot Rongo, to replace the disintegrating Tangaroa, and sailed this new boat with his all-girl crew back to England via New York in 1959. Wharram documented his adventure in various magazine articles and later in a book, Two Girls Two Catamarans (featuring several photos of his bare-chested crew), and thus helped bring the concept of the catamaran to the attention of the 20th-century sailing public.

Wharram and crew aboard his first boat, Tangaroa, in the Canary islands en route to the Caribbean

Wharram was certainly not the first Westerner ever to build and sail a catamaran. Eighty years earlier, in 1876, the legendary yacht designer Nat Herreshoff conceived and patented a unique design for a twin-hulled sailboat, Amaryllis, that proved capable of outstanding speed and was soon banned from organized competition. Even earlier, way back in 1662, Sir William Petty designed and built for England’s King Charles II (who, we’ll recall, was an early and very influential recreational sailor) an innovative “double-bottom” yacht that, appropriately, was named The Experiment.

Plan for Petty’s radical 17th-century catamaran. King Charles II did not look upon it favorably

Wharram himself was aware of at least one Western predecessor, the Frenchman Eric de Bisschop, who in 1937 built a 38-foot “double canoe” on a beach in Hawaii and then sailed it to France via the Cape of Good Hope. Indeed, Wharram carefully studied de Bisschop’s book, The Voyage of the Kaimiloa, when designing and building his first boat. But ultimately (like de Bisschop before him) he was more heavily influenced by the Polynesians, who first traversed the Pacific in double-hulled voyaging canoes hundreds of years earlier. (Note that the English term “catamaran” is not Polynesian in origin, but in fact derives from the Tamil term kattumaram, for “bound wood,” which describes a type of raft once used in southeast India.) There were also some other more immediate predecessors, including Roland and Francis Prout in England, Francis “Skip” Creger in California, and Woody Brown in Hawaii, all of whom began experimenting with small beach cats in the mid-1940s.

Eric de Bisschop departing Honolulu aboard Kamiloa in 1937

Jim Wharram, more importantly, was among the first to promote cruising not just as a mode of sailing that might challenge certain orthodoxies of the yachting establishment, but as an entire counter-cultural lifestyle that called into question the values of 20th-century industrial society. He was also one of the first Westerners to devote his attention to the creation of larger catamarans capable of cruising long distances. Since the early 1960s, Wharram has generated a large portfolio of build-it-yourself designs, from small beach cruisers to huge “tribal” voyaging vessels, that to this day he sells to others who want to sail away from civilized life on the cheap. Having sold over 8,000 sets of plans to date–half of which, he estimates, have led to the creation of finished boats–he is very likely the most successful and influential designer of build-it-yourself cruising sailboats in history.

Profile drawing of a Pahi 63, a larger “tribal” design by Jim Wharram

Another visionary who began creating larger multihulls around the same time was Arthur Piver, a retired pilot and trade-journal publisher from California. Piver first designed and built a small 20-foot catamaran in 1954, but soon shifted his attention to trimarans. By 1957 he was selling build-it-yourself trimaran plans (his boats, like Wharram’s, were plywood and thus simple to build). In 1960 he gained some notoriety sailing Nimble, a 30-foot plywood trimaran he designed and built, across the Atlantic from Massachusetts to England.

Piver died at sea aboard one of his boats in 1968 while attempting to qualify for a singlehanded ocean race, but lived long enough to mentor other men–Norm Cross, Jim Brown, and Dick Newick–who also began designing and building trimarans. Newick focused more on performance designs, but most of the boats designed by Cross, Brown, and Piver himself were intended to function primarily as cruisers. All three of these men, though perhaps not to the same degree as Jim Wharram, saw cruising multihulls as catalysts for alternative lifestyles.

A Victress trimaran, designed by Arthur Piver. Nigel Tetley sailed one of these around the world in the 1968-69 Golden Globe Race. Donald Crowhurst, who came to such a tragic end in the same race, sailed a variation of the same design. You still see some of these boats actively cruising today

The old-school yachting establishment, unsurprisingly, was for many years disdainful of multihulls and the colorful men who created and promoted them. But by this time the yachting establishment had less and less to do with the mainstream of the sport, which was increasingly consumer oriented. As is so often the case, the market did not hesitate to wrap its arms around a product with a counter-cultural image, and by the late 1960s the first fiberglass multihulls were being offered for sale.

The potentially greater speed of multihulls, their larger living spaces, unsinkability, and disinclination to heel under sail were all palpable advantages that were easy to promote to family-oriented middle-class cruisers. The first mass-produced multihull in the United States was evidently a trimaran, the Corinthian 41 (circa 1967), designed by Ted Irwin for Symons-Sailing. Most other early fiberglass multihulls were catamarans built in Great Britain. These included the Buccaneer 24 (circa 1968), Iroquois 30 (circa 1969), Hirondelle 24 (circa 1970), the Snow Goose 34 (circa 1971), and the Solaris 42 (circa 1971).

Sales brochure for an Iroquois catamaran, an early fiberglass multihull design

For many years boats like these were more or less outliers in the boatbuilding industry, but over time multihulls, particularly since catamarans started appearing in bareboat charter fleets, have steadily garnered more and more market share.

Alternative Materials

Other alternative-type cruising boats that began emerging during the 1960s and ’70s were constructed of materials other than fiberglass and wood. These included boats built of metal, most especially steel. The key evangelist here was an iconoclastic French colonial, Bernard Moitessier, who first took to bluewater cruising in the mid-1950s as a way to escape his homeland, Vietnam, which had been engulfed in a bitter anti-colonial civil war.

Moitessier wrecked two wooden boats early in his sailing career, the second of which he designed and built himself, and was stranded in Trinidad when he first considered alternative construction materials. His initial idea for getting away from Trinidad was to build a composite boat of newspaper and pitch on a wood frame, but he set this ambitious scheme aside when offered passage to Europe as crew aboard an oil tanker. Working on the tanker, he spent much time scraping and painting the ship’s steel topsides and concluded, as he later put it, “that a properly built steel yacht could be maintained by a well-trained monkey.” Moitessier, who had spent much time attending to worms and rot aboard his wooden boats, was greatly attracted to the seeming ease of maintenance and the indestructibility of steel as a building material.

Moitessier’s Joshua under sail. Today she is owned and maintained (and often exercised) by the La Rochelle Maritime Museum in France

In his next boat, Joshua, a rather crude 40-foot steel ketch designed by Jean Knocker and launched in 1961, Moitessier gained an international reputation making record-breaking non-stop ocean passages. The first was from Tahiti to Spain via Cape Horn with his wife in 1965-66. The second, in 1968-69 during the first non-stop solo around-the-world race took him one-and-a-half times around the world singlehanded. These voyages, and the best-selling books Moitessier wrote about them, helped popularize steel yacht construction, which up to that time had been common only in Holland.

Metal construction became particularly prevalent in France, where Moitessier was (and still is) revered. Soon there appeared a variety of designs for steel cruising boats, many of them featuring hard-chined hulls that significantly simplified construction. Aluminum, which is much lighter than steel, was also recognized as a viable building material, and by the mid-1970s one-off aluminum racing and cruising yachts were likewise increasingly common.

Metal boatbuilding ultimately became mainstream in Europe, and this has been reflected in design trends there. The Europeans quickly moved away from the conservative precedent established by Joshua, which had a double-ended full-keel hull form very similar to Colin Archer’s Redningskoite, and soon were building more modern hulls with fin keels and separated rudders. Some production metal-boat builders, notably Garcia and Alubat in France, both of which remain successful to this day, also appeared.

A modern example of a hard-chined aluminum production boat, an Alubat Ovni. The Ovnis are centerboard boats that can easily take the ground

In the U.S., meanwhile, the metal sailboat scene has never been anything more than marginal. With the exception of those developed for aluminum racing boats, American metal-boat designs have favored traditional forms and have been built on a one-off basis, either by custom builders or adventurous build-it-yourself types. Probably the most successful American designer of metal cruising boats has been Tom Colvin, whose work is based largely on working vessels such as pinky schooners, Chesapeake skipjacks, Chinese junks, and other types. His most popular design, the 42-foot Gazelle (of which over 700 have been built), blends the hull of a traditional working schooner with an Asian junk rig. Other American designers favoring metal boats include Ted Brewer, Charles Wittholz, and Jay Benford.

The Colvin Gazelle, an American junk-rigged schooner designed to be built in steel. Several have also been built in aluminum

Ferrocement was yet another alternative building material that briefly attracted the attention of cruising sailors. This technique, similar to that proposed by Moitessier for paper, involved plastering concrete over a frame constructed of wire mesh and steel pipes and rods. Hailed at first as the ultimate do-it-yourself building method because it required no specialized skills, ferrocement was enthusiastically embraced for a short period starting in the late 1960s.

A ferrocment boat under construction. Boats like these were easy for amateurs to frame up, but harder to complete successfully

Example of erosion seen in a typical ferrocement hull. Ferro boats are still afloat and are cheap to buy, for just this reason

Eventually, however, it became clear that ferrocement construction in fact does require a great deal of persistence and patience and that construction quality is extremely variable. Improperly built hulls soon exhibited a tendency to disintegrate, and by the end of the 1970s the ferro building craze was pretty much over. These boats were most often built to traditional full-keel designs, as this simple hull form was relatively easy to frame in wire mesh.

Earlier posts in this series:

Early Fiberglass Cruisers and the Westsail Cult

The Golden Age of the Cruiser-Racer

From Work Boats to Yachts

The Emergence of “Alternative” Cruising

Early Trends in Yachts Design

Cleopatra’s Barge

Fast sailing on Serenity

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-02-23 16:40

Serenity had a great first 24hr run from Grenada. When i spoke to Andy at 9am this morning, they still had 1 hr to go until they had been at sea for 24hr. And they had already covered 160nm! Very impressive! 

Position at 9 am, 2013.02.23
14°30’N 62°52’W
Wind: 15-20 kt

Last evening and night was a bit squally, with gusts above 30kt. During Tom & Jake’s watch, they got the speed record for the trip of 10.7kt! When i spoke to Andy, they were having a lovely sail under full genoa and 15kt of wind on the beam!

The crew really enjoyed to read the comments when they arrived to Grenada, so if you read the blog, please remember to add a quick (or long) comment.

14°30’N 62°52’W at 9am, February 23 2015. 

MIBS 2015: Raymarine, Icom, Lowrance, B&G, FLIR, Blue Sea and drones

Sail Feed - Mon, 2015-02-23 13:45

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 23, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

“Black is the new gray,” say the folks at Raymarine, and so it is with the three new CPx70 sonar modules which were introduced in Miami. They’ll replace the existing blackbox fishfinders but not the CP100 and 200 CHIRP Down-or-Side-Vision and sonar combos designed for shallower depths and structure imaging. So by contrast the 600-foot-max-depth CP100 also installed on the demo boat above highlights the beefiness of the new base CP370 model, which is actually the bottom of the line with its traditional dual 50KHz and 200 KHz fixed frequencies, 1,000W of power and purported depth range of 5,000 feet. The performance enhancements seem subtle but multiple…

The demo ride was rough and the CP370 firmware not yet completely dialed in, but I learned that besides the sharp industrial design, the new fishfinders will be better at discriminating targets and holding bottom in tough conditions while also offering improved controls. Manual gain, for instance, will become auto gain with a manual plus or minus factor. In other words, when you go into manual mode, you don’t just turn the auto algorithms completely off, but work with them. This is actually already done by at least one competitor, Navico, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea for Ray users. Meanwhile, the often confusing TVG control – explained well on the Ray tech forum — will be eliminated (automated) and there are numerous other interface improvements that will hopefully be illustrated in coming Ray videos.

In fact, Raymarine’s techy U.S. marketing manager, Jim McGowan, brought along a video tool that seems worth a side note to the industry. The completely self-contained Atomos Ninja 2 can record professional level video from any HDMI source, like the one on the back of Raymarine gS Series MFDs. I believe that McGowan also has experience creating training aids, and I’m hopeful he’ll find the time to produce some videos that walk through subjects like the new CPx70 user interface. Please show us all how it’s done, Jim, and I’ll post links!

Incidentally, the CP370 will be MFD compatible all the way back to the E-Classic series, while the CP470 and CP570 will provide high-power multi-channel CHIRP fishfinding to a-, c, e-, and gS series displays.

I’ve already mentioned C-Map’s delight about Raymarine’s new support for its 4D chart packages, and here are some photographic attempts at showing how good it looks. Available are three levels of C-Map 4D, starting with the stripped down Essentials subset that comes bundled with many new Raymarine MFDs, then 4D-Max with many added features (especially for fishermen), and finally, C-Map 4D-Max+ which includes complete paper-like raster chart coverage in addittion to the 4D vector charts. Thus, a 4D-Max+ card that covers the Bahamas includes the orginal Explorer Charts and coverage of most foreign coasts includes the official hydrographic office paper charts.

I think that Raymarine’s presentation of C-Map 4D vector charts looked good, too, and the Lighthouse II Release 13 update adds a nice chart interface feature called “hot-spotting” that gives you basic info on any chart object you tap, plus lets you move that query spot around the chart, all before you dig deeper into a big dialog box of possible commands and more info. I believe this works with all three vector chart formats Raymarine now supports, as well as C-Map 4D rasters because they are integrated with 4D vectors behind the scenes. Lighthouse 13 also brings C-Map compatability to all existing a-, c-, e- and gS Series MFDs, and I understand that there will soon be a Raymarine online chart store that will make it easy to understand all the choices and pricing.

Raymarine’s relatively new — and black! — Ray50, 60 and 70 VHF radios are still not shipping, but the interfaces are certainly looking more finished than they did in Fort Lauderdale. The Ray70 seems particularly noteworthy, as I think it’s first to combine all the features — NMEA 2000 support, built-in AIS receiver and built-in GPS — that may be needed to maximize the safety potential of DSC on many boats. However, I’m learning to be a little skeptical about the ability of big manufacturers to get VHF detail right — the prime example being the Simrad RS35’s early bugs, and the fact that it still hasn’t been updated so it can place direct calls to AIS targets it sees with its own receiver. As for Ray70 first impressions, the big push-to-select knob may run the iconed menu system almost as well as the soft key approach favored by the major VHF developers, but let’s hope they beef up that channel number font so even us old-eyes can read it across a pilothouse.

Note, for instance, the highly readable channel numbers on the new Icom M424G with its built-in GPS, white backlit LCD screen and optional matching CommandMic. I covered the M424G in January along with sister M324G when their (very) slightly different European cousins came out. But Icom America also had some interesting possible news about the future; absolutely no promises were made, nor dates set, but they do now think it’s possible to build a combination VHF radio and Class B AIS transponder that could be approved by the authorities.

Navico was understandably quiet, having just shown boating writers many new developments like GoFree MFD online in January. But then again, Navico’s product development is relentless, and thus they were able to impress mightily with Lowrance MotorGuide trolling motor control off Hawk’s Cay without even mentioning the related Power-Pole control they showed in Miami. Power-Poles are the hydraulic shallow water anchoring systems that you often see now on serious fishing boats in the Keys, Carolinas, and the like; plus, they’re sometimes suited to fishing kayak setups like the Miami demo. In all cases the fishermen have lots to do with their hands besides grabbing another wireless remote control, which is why alternate control on the MFD screen may be very welcome. I think that only Lowrance’s new HDS Gen3 models can support Power-Pole control — and it will only take a software update — because it’s the first HDS with Bluetooth (and WiFi) built in.

In Hawk’s Cay I saw B&G advancements I can’t talk about yet, but in Miami I learned about the system integrations on the Volvo Ocean Race one-designs at a press conference that included a Q&A Inmarsat call with Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright while he was sailing hard on a South Pacific breeze. The navigation, safety, communications and power systems deserve a whole entry and will get one, but this slide suggests the mass of data being displayed on the B&G systems, including about 150 elements that are also streamed up to the Race HQ. Did you see that all six active one-designs are within less than 20 miles Distance to Finish (Auckland) after more than two weeks of racing?

A separate entry will also detail FLIR’s new Ocean Scout handheld thermal camera and high-end M400 “Multi-Sensor Marine Thermal Night Vision” device. The M400 has the sleek and tilt/pan efficient design of the familiar M-Series but it’s significantly bigger, as seen in this booth top picture, and it’s loaded with new features.

Speaking of cameras, Garmin was showing off support for multiple Axis Network (IP) cams as well as analog-to-IP encoders at their booth, though to my knowledge nothing has been announced yet. Obviously a quad view is planned — perhaps like what Raymarine showed in Lauderdale with their own IP camera, or what Furuno NavNet has long done with Axis cams — but I’m sure we’ll hear more when Garmin is ready. Incidentally, the remarkable IC360 cam also mentioned that Lauderdale entry will be offered by KEP Marine, who seem quite happy about their recent acquisition by the resource-rich Sparton corporation.

Something different was getting to see a Blue Sea PowerBar 1000 and several other new products while sipping wine in a dimly lit tapas lounge. But it worked; what a hefty busbar for our boats’ expanding power complexities, and what a good chance to ask Blue Sea management about their recent acquisition by Power Products, LLC. The main question is how do Blue Sea power products — beloved by many installers and DIYers I know — get blended with the coming-on-strong Marinco BEP line. There are many overlaps, like the IBEX prize-winning Pro Installer busbars. But this is a good problem for a power conglomerate to have, and the short answer was a grinning and slowly spoken “c a r e f u l l y!” I suspect that we’ll have both brands around for quite a while though specialties may get assigned much like BEP CZone and Mastervolt have nicely rationalized their overlaps and integrated with each other in the process.

Finally, the subject of the Boating Writers International annual meeting — besides prizes, including a Panbo Second for Online Expressions — was drones. They obviously have huge potential for boat photography but the technical and regulatory complications are many. All were discussed, so I better understood the proposed FAA regulations that came out just two days later, but the real excitement was watching Miami Aerial’s Hagen Rottke demo the smaller of two drones he built and regularly pilots. When it blew all the papers off a table near me, the seriousness of this tech got real. At any rate, I was pleased that so many of my AIM colleagues were honored at BWI and also that PassageMaker at least thinks it published the first boating magazine cover shot (legally) by a drone, interesting details here and more Greenline 48 drone shots here.


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Serenity update 2015.02.22

Sail Feed - Sun, 2015-02-22 14:36

Captain Andy on the beach in Grenada

After a few days in Grenada Serenity is now back at sea again. They departed St. Georges, Grenada at 10 am this morning (Sunday February 22), a beautiful beam reach and sunny sky! Next stop will be BVI, where the trip first started about a week ago.

Grenada was a nice break for the crew, they stayed in St. Louis Marina in St. Georges, enjoyed some hiking, the beaches, good food and the pool that belonged to the marina. Jake managed to send me a few photos through the very unreliable wifi.

In Grenada they also changed up the crew a bit. Tom, Paula and Steve are on board for both legs, Andrew left Serenity in Grenada and along came Gil, all according to plan. 

Serenity was spotted on marinetraffic.com via AIS 22 February at 13.00, three our after departing Grenada. They are the pink/purple spot next to the name box.

BLACK SAILS: Pirates on TV

Sail Feed - Fri, 2015-02-20 01:38

One thing I particularly like about the age in which we live is that there are lots of great TV shows to watch. An astounding number, really, with gritty adult themes such as we never dreamed of back in the days of straight broadcast TV, well-written scripts with subtle, involved plots, and fantastic performances from actors and actresses who can now develop truly multi-dimensional characters over the course of protracted detailed story lines. It really is putting the film industry to shame, as cable TV shows (some of them, anyway) are now far superior to most of the pablum you see in cinemas. Another thing I really like is that digital special effects have made it possible to create quite convincing action scenes involving ships under sail (see, e.g., the image up top, from the TV series in question). Gone are the days, thankfully, of blatantly fake scenes staged with models in placid swimming pools.

Given these two serendipitous trends, it was only a matter of time before someone thought to put together a cable TV series involving pirates. Given the great success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, one might reasonably fear such a show would be just as goofy and frivolous. But the Starz Network, in its TV pirate series Black Sails, has instead steered a much more intriguing course, blending fictional characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island with historical characters from the golden age of piracy in the early 18th century. I just finished watching season one (now available on iTunes, as season two just started up on cable last month) and by the end was totally hooked.

The show as it opens is set in 1715, with most of the action taking place at Nassau in the Bahamas, which at the time, in true historical fact, was known as the Republic of Pirates and was an independent sanctuary and base for privateers, subject to the law of no nation. The primary plot premise is that this is a prequel to Treasure Island and tells the story of how Stevenson’s fictional Captain Flint won the great hoard of gold later sought by Jim Hawkins and company. Flint’s target is a Spanish treasure galleon, the Urca de Lima, which also existed in history and was wrecked with an entire fleet of treasure ships near Ft. Pierce, Florida, in 1715 no less. Flint’s unwanted accomplice is none other than Long John Silver (complete with two legs), who scams his way into a position as cook aboard Flint’s ship, the Walrus. Other real-life historical pirates with important roles in the story include Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Charles Vane.

I’m not going to ruin the story for you by giving anything away, but suffice it to say the plot involves lots of betrayal, unexpected twists and turns, a fair amount of intelligent character development, and enough violence and naked ladies to capture the attention of most over-stimulated adolescents. As in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the sets and costumes look quite realistic (except, interestingly, none of the characters in Black Sails have realistic bad teeth like they do in the Pirates franchise), with the added bonus that the story itself is fairly realistic.

As I now seem to have a reputation as an unforgiving sailing-film purist, after my scathing review of Robert Redford’s All is Lost, I am happy to report that technical sailing details in this series are at least accurate enough to keep real sailors from laughing out loud. Admittedly, most of the story is character-driven and there isn’t actually too much sailing involved, though issues of marine science do intrude on the plot from time to time, such as when Flint has the Walrus careened for a bottom-cleaning, with some unexpected consequences, prior to setting out in hot pursuit of the Urca.

The Walrus careened, with Flint supervising on horseback

I will note nonetheless that the digital-effects crew does seem apt to get a bit carried away with themselves when depicting bad weather, but this, alas, is only to be expected (see, e.g., The Perfect Storm).

The Walrus mounts an exaggerated cartoon wave during a storm at sea. It looks to me like she has way too much canvas up!

My favorite character so far is Jack Rackham, who in both history and in this tale was/is the paramour of Anne Bonny and an important associate of Charles Vane. As played by Toby Schmitz, Rackham is quite rakish, ultimately pragmatic, but also quick-witted, well spoken, with a chameleon-like adaptability. Thus far in his relationship with Bonny, who is mostly sullen and inarticulate, Rackham seems the weaker partner, an interesting twist, and is more often scrambling to keep up with her machinations than she is with his. The bond between them, however, seems very deep, for reasons that remain unclear.

Calico Jack in action on TV, not fighting, but negotiating. Note the involved metro-male facial hair. The historical Jack Rackham, who gave up an official pardon to run away with Anne Bonny, was executed at Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1720, and his corpse was gibbeted (i.e., publicly displayed) on a small island near the harbor entrance that is now known as Rackham’s Cay

My next favorite character is purely fictional–Mr. Dufresne, who serves under Flint on the Walrus, and evolves from a timid ship’s clerk and accountant into a battle-hardened quartermaster (which is seemingly equivalent to a first mate in this particular nautical universe). He seems the most ethical pirate you could ever hope to meet and is married to the buccaneer’s code of business and justice, which in fact was quite rigorous, fair, and rational.

Mr. Dufresne, played by Jannes Eiselen (in season one, but not season two unfortunately), in a climatic scene in the final episode of season one. The glasses give him away as a reformed clerk; the minimalist hairstyle was inflicted on him by his shipmates after he was promoted to quartermaster

One of my least favorite characters, ironically, is Long John Silver, played by Luke Arnold. If you read Treasure Island (which I urge you to do, if you haven’t recently), you will be struck by the intensity of the original character as conceived by Stevenson. John Silver may well be the first truly sympathetic evil character in English literature. In the book he seems absolutely sincere as he befriends and earns the trust of young Jim Hawkins, becoming in effect his surrogate father. But of course he is ultimately only interested in winning Flint’s treasure, and is perfectly willing to betray Jim to do this, but somehow you never really believe that his affection for Jim is not true.

I cannot imagine how the Silver we meet in this TV series will ever evolve into the Silver who drives all the action in the book. There is no complexity to him, only self interest, and so far, though he is somewhat likable, he seems ultimately one-dimensional.

Long John Silver, as seen on TV, groveling at gunpoint, as usual

I am also not very impressed with Eleanor Guthrie, played by Hannah New, who in fact is the most important central character in the series, after Flint (played by Toby Stephens). Eleanor, daughter of merchant Richard Guthrie, is supposed to be the putative ruler of Nassau, the seemingly reputable intermediary through whom the pirates must sell all their stolen goods. Plot-wise Eleanor’s character is very complex–bisexual, ruthless, extremely ambitious, and presumably charismatic. But mostly she comes off as an overly attractive fashion model who is simply pretending to be all these things.

Ms. Guthrie, looking a bit befuddled, but beautiful, as she tries to assert herself

Admittedly, another important female character, Ann Bonny, played by Clara Paget, also looks a bit too much like a lost fashion model, but she manages to transcend her appearance and is more believable in her role. When she says “f*ck,” as both a verb and an expletive, you really feel it as such. When Eleanor says it, it seems only a pose.

Ann Bonny telling Jack Rackham what he can do to himself. That raggedy hat certainly does help her seem more disreputable. The historical Bonny abandoned her husband to take up with Jack Rackham as a pirate. Together they had a child in Cuba. Bonny was captured with Rackham, but there is no record of her being executed

These are mere quibbles, however, and this was only season one, and overall the scripting of the show is strong enough that I will not be at all surprised if its one-dimensional characters grow more dimensions as the story progresses. To give an idea of the quality of the writing, I will throw one quote your way. I actually paused the show to write this down, as it is something any true sailor (or pirate) can relate to.

This is Mr. Gates, Flint’s formerly loyal quartermaster, speaking to Flint during a storm at sea not long before something unfortunate happens to him:

There are no legacies in this life. No monuments, no history. Just the water. It pays us, and then it claims us. It swallows us whole, as if we had never been here at all.

POSTSCRIPT: If you are interested in reading more about historical pirates, I recommend you start with The Buccaneers of America, a first-person account by Alexander Exquemelin, who served with Henry Morgan, the most successful pirate of all time, in the late 17th century. Highlights include a good account of how buccaneering got started in the Caribbean and an eyewitness depiction of Morgan’s famous sack of Panama.

I also recommend you read (or re-read) Treasure Island. Even for adults, it really is a fantastic story!

BONUS IMAGES

Long John Silver, as depicted by artist N.C. Wyeth, doing unkind things to young Jim Hawkins

The bones of Captain Flint, guarding his vast treasure, as depicted in the Disney animated feature film Treasure Planet

OH, YEAH: I almost forgot. Here’s a trailer for the series, to whet your appetite.

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