The schooner America was launched in 1851, and is best known for winning- and giving her name- to the challenge we all know as The America’s Cup. It’s arguably among the most famous schooners ever built.
Pulling into Telaga Harbour, Malaysia, felt a little like entering a time warp. The craggy ridge covered in jungle greens soaring above the bay felt like nothing so much coming into the Marquesas in some distant past. Fuzz your eyes a little to blur the modern boats anchored in the bay, and among the dozen or so vessels scattered through, a beautiful schooner dwarfs the fleet. This boat, Coracle, turns out to be a 2:3 scale replica of the America.
That’s just the beginning of what makes this boat remarkable. Built from bamboo, her owner Dirk Schelling believes she’s the only bamboo-planked schooner in the world.
Coracle is the most recent boat he has built, and she’s the counterpoint to one prior- a 51’ modern cruising boat. He began building after extensive research and thinking about the right boat to comfortably hold his family of five and enable off-the-grid cruising. Being told over and over that “it can’t be done” only convinced him to find out how it could be done. Built upside down on frames, Coracle is strip planked with bamboo over eight structural bulkheads. The bamboo is isolated in a sandwich of fiberglass and epoxy, to prevent water incursion.
Why bamboo? While he’s not out to prove anything, Dirk appreciated the sustainable aspect of this readily renewable resource. In addition to the environmentally friendly aspect of bamboo, it was highly efficient compared to the ‘traditional material- western red cedar- not to mention, dramatically lighter.
Dirk, his wife Michele, and daughters Nicole, Simone, and Brie hail from South Africa. Since launching Coracle in 2011, they’ve been an open ended cruising itinerary. Nicole and Simone were my jogging companions, along with Kathy from Love Song, for many mornings in the harbor. These accomplished women are the “boat guys” in the harbor, with everything from on board skills, to bottom cleaning work, to, well, who doesn’t have a 100 ton captain’s license? (Oh, right, ALMOST ALL OF US).
What’s next for the Coracle crew? Who knows! Which way does the wind blow today? Dirk thinks the boat would make an excellent training vessel (I have to agree, and it definitely comes with the crew quarters to facilitate a team or students). As much as he loves Coracle, he feels the pang to build something else. Then again, there’s the cruising siren call to keep going: we traded notes on points farther east, and shared inforamtion to help them plan a possible move to Papua New Guinea.
I can’t wait to see what happens, and mostly hope it means a path that converges with ours again someday.
For additional information on Coracle’s back story, videos, and more: see their website, www.bambooschooner.com.
Over the past few months, I have sent a lot of emails with a line that looked like this: “Our current and almost definite plan is to head to Tasmania for cyclone season. We’ll check in at Newcastle or Sydney, and wait for the weather to be right early in January to make the last hop to Hobart.”
Now, because you have been paying attention, you know that cruisers are totally unreliable when it comes to reporting their own plans. And so it was with us. Erik and I were 98% sure we were going to Tas. We were keen on Tas. We had heard nothing but great things about the place: not many boats make the trip down, the cruising is spectacular, the people are great. They understand cruisers there, which has not always been our experience in Australia. In short, it sounded perfect.
But we’re not in Tasmania. We’re not even in Australia. We are still in Noumea, with a cyclone-secure berth waiting at the marina and the kids enrolled in school. What happened? In a phrase, the cruising life happened.
We had three reasonable options as cyclone season approached: Tasmania, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. Looking at the map at the head of this post, you can see that it is about 1700 NM to Hobart from here. That isn’t the end of the world; we like long passages. About a thousand miles to Sydney, then pop south when the time comes. But it isn’t 1700 NM of bobbing along the Equator; it is 1700 NM through the Tasman Sea (no joke) and the Bass Strait (even worse.) Papillon is in good shape, but we don’t trust the motor right now. Until we pull and replace that manky thrust bearing, we don’t want to run the engine more than we have to. The local specialists won’t have time until the new year, so a quick fix is out. Even though we almost never use the engine on passage, we would be fools to knowingly enter an iffy situation in the Tasman with less-than-trustworthy engine power. Distance and conditions were a big strike against Tasmania.
What about option #2: Whangarei, the Sequel? We know the town, the people, the yard, and like them all. It is only 900 NM. But again, the Tasman. You still have to get from here to there, and you are sure to encounter at least one bit of weather. Shorter than Australia, but still dumb with the engine issue. And since we are already here: advantage – Noumea.
While we were debating our repair needs, work happened. And for once, I don’t mean: “we fixed a bunch of stuff.” I mean the “we want to pay you money to do things for us,” kind of work. Money is always welcome around here, because – duh – boat parts. It is possible that Erik will work for a few months in the new year, which begs the question: why sail all the way to Tasmania only to sit in one spot for months on end while Erik is away working, then have to fight our way north again when he is done? That’s a lot of sailing for little benefit. Ditto Whangarei. I’ve spent enough months in the cold, cold rain for a little while, thank you anyway. If we are going to put down roots for a few months, why not be somewhere we can still swim? And learn French? We were lucky enough to get a spot at the marina for cyclone season (and they have their cyclone procedures down), so the boat will be safe. A quick check of our insurance policy showed it was okay from that angle. And there we were: Noumea for the win.
An extraordinary volume of paperwork later, here we are, a family with a mission. This season we are going to correct one of our great failures as parents, and will finally teach the girls a second language. Indy started school on Thursday, and has already begun correcting my pronunciation.Off to school, and loving every minute of it.
I started classes, too, and am doing my best to drag out tenses and vocabulary that haven’t crossed my mind in twenty years. (Side note: the Red Cross in Noumea offers French lessons for adults for $50 per year. PER YEAR. For three hours of coursework and an hour of conversation every week! I’ve never heard of such a bargain.) Stylish will begin as soon as a place opens up in her school, and, in the meantime, Erik is getting her started. I expect the girls to be helping me with my homework very shortly.
And that is why 98% sure is not 100% sure. And we didn’t get Tasmania this year after all. Another time. And I expect we are going to have a great time continuing to explore New Caledonia.
Here I will try to distill some basic information common to all watermakers. I won’t hide the fact that I’m affiliated with Spectra Watermakers (I’m a consultant there), but I cruised for ten years and became intimate, oh-so-intimate, with a Katadyne, nee PUR, nee Recovery Engineering PowerSurvivor 35 then 40:
First of all, if you’re not planning to do some serious cruising, don’t get a watermaker! A watermaker will be the most maintenance intensive device you have aboard. They take constant vigilance and care, and the second you install one and first expose it to sea water, so begins the long (or short) decline of the membrane, the specialized “filter” that separates fresh water from salt. And they ain’t cheap: The smallest models run $4000-$5000. More output, more money. And it’s a fairly involved installation, which will take up some real estate, and require electrical connections, plumbing connections, and several thru-hulls. If you’re just a weekend/week-here-or-there cruiser, sticking a hose in your tank from time to time will be a simpler, cheaper option.
If you are going cruising, a watermaker is one of several key pieces of technology that can really improve your quality of life. You’ll never have to worry about the quality of dock water, or how to get it in the first place. You’ll never have to break your back carrying jerry jug after jerry jug out to your boat from some remote location. Your tanks will runneth over, more or less, as you regularly observe the small technological miracle of turning sea water into fresh. And not just any fresh water, but the best damn glass of water you’ve ever tasted.
Watermaker maintenance isn’t too onerous, but it must be regimented and regular, otherwise you’ll destroy your watermaker, or at least the membrane.
Tip: Reverse osmosis water has very few dissolved solids, so if you’ve got flooded batteries aboard you don’t need to go searching the supermarket aisles for distilled water to top up your batteries. You’re pretty much making it every day.
Reverse osmosis technology has been around since the fifties, but didn’t really become viable for small yachts until the eighties. The PowerSurvivor 35, so-called because it could be powered electrically or manually, was the first affordable shipboard watermaker for a small yacht, and the first that most cruisers remember. (Larger systems for larger yachts have been around a bit longer.) At about $2000 the PowerSurvivor 35 would reliably put out 35-40 gallons of water per day. Cruisers got to know and love them so much that if they wanted more capacity they just installed two of them.
Many cruisers, myself included, will have the sound of the PowerSurvivor etched into our brains for life. Two of my old shipmates and I could do a three part harmony, one imitating the grr-err-grr-err of the electric motor, the next doing the shhhh-chah of the piston, and the third doing the chunk-chunk of the reversing valves. They were fairly quiet, but when you listen to something for hours every day, for years on end, it sticks with you.
I am biased toward sailboats with simple DC systems, and I don’t like the sound of generators spoiling my cocktail hour, so for me a watermaker must have two qualities, and these are non-negotiable: They must be quiet, and they mustn’t use a lot of electricity.
To give an example to the contrary, on my trip to Clipperton Island last year, the owner of the expedition boat installed a watermaker that he got from…I don’t know. It didn’t have a name. To backtrack a bit, there’s nothing technologically unique about desalinating water using reverse osmosis. If a reasonably mechanical person set out to build a watermaker they could do it with off-the-shelf parts: a high pressure pump, a membrane, a pressure vessel, a constricting valve, various high pressure hoses, and voila. The owner of my Clipperton boat did pretty much just that, and we couldn’t carry on a conversation anywhere on the whole boat while this thing was running. It’s electric pump used 30-40 amps, so one of the main engines had to be running. The high pressure lines whipped so violently that we had to screw them to the bulkhead with cushion clamps, but they still strained like angry pythons, and we were afraid they were going to rip off the bulkhead and attack us. But the contraption made about eight gallons per hour of fresh drinking water, and it made our whole trip possible:
Clipperton, an island without a lot of potable water
Compared to the contraption on my Clipperton trip, all of the manufacturers of yacht watermakers have done it with considerably more finesse, that is, they’re fairly quiet and energy efficient. You’ll often read comments from cruisers saying they could have just built their own watermaker at a fraction of the cost, using generic parts. Oh really? Again, a motivated mechanic could assemble the parts and desalinate water, but all the years of R&D and refinement by the major manufacturers add up considerably. The home grown models, while simple, are usually loud and aren’t very efficient.
Here is an excellent video tutorial on reverse osmosis desalination, and how a simple, homegrown system would work:
The efficiency comes from somehow recovering the energy consumed in bringing the water up to pressure. Reverse osmosis starts happening at about 430 PSI, but the sweet spot seems to be considerably higher, usually around 800 PSI. Energy is consumed bringing sea water up to 800 PSI, so to let it go squirting off in a big fountain after it’s passed the membrane would be a big waste. This pressurized water, and the energy it contains, is carried back into the pump and recycled. This requires a sophisticated, specialized pump. This diagram shows the connections to a Pearson Pump, used on larger Spectra models. You’ll see it has a high pressure outlet to the membranes, and a high pressure inlet coming right back:
By the way, that 800 PSI, while a very high pressure, isn’t the highest hydraulic pressure on your boat. That honor goes to the high pressure side of your diesel injection system, which can be as high as 160,000 PSI. If you’ve got a hydraulic backstay adjuster, it can run up to 5000-6000 PSI.
To give one example of such a specialized pump (again, I’m biased) the proprietary Clark Pump (no connection with me, although I wish I could take credit) used in Spectra watermakers up to 1000 gallons per day, is a triumph of elegance and ingenuity. It isn’t technically a pump, but a pressure intensifier. There are no wires or motors in the Clark Pump: It just takes the pressure from a Sureflow feed pump, of 80-120 PSI, and intensifies it to osmotic pressure. I’ve even built a few Clark Pumps, and I’m still not sure I understand them, but they work, and they’re quiet:
Reality Check: Watermakers are all named and quantified in gallons of output per day. On a small yacht you’ll seldom run a watermaker all day. Even the smaller units (Katadyne PowerSurvivor 40, Spectra Ventura, Village Marine Little Wonder) will consume 5-10 Amps at 12 Volts DC, meaning they will drain 120-250 Amp hours from your battery banks in 24 hours. This is a fairly large drain, and this energy will need to be replaced somehow. If you’re motoring for days on end, run the watermaker 24/7 and take lots of showers. But if you’re sitting at anchor, as cruisers tend to do, you’ll probably just run your watermaker part of the time. I got into a groove a running my watermaker for 4-5 hours per day, while the sun was shining on my solar panels, then flushing with product water until the next day. Whenever I ran my engine, I ran my watermaker.
Pre-filters, pre-filters, pre-filters!
I’ll say it again, pre-filters! Pre-filter changes are the most important, and most neglected tasks in watermaker upkeep. All systems employ pre-filters before the seawater gets to the pump or the membrane. Different systems employ different levels of pre-filtration, but at a minimum they filter out seaweed, plankton, whale poop, sticks, stones, etc. They must be changed regularly. Here’s why: Have you ever smelled stagnant seawater, like when you flush your head for the first time in two weeks? It’s the foulest smell on earth, worse than raw sewage, in my book, but actually containing some of the same ingredients as raw sewage, namely hydrogen sulphide, which gives off that rotten egg smell. When all that plankton, squid eggs, and whale poop gets filtered out by the pre-filter(s), it doesn’t go away, it just sits there in the pre-filter, and soon begins to rot.
Imagine a scale of filtration: At one end of the scale is a coffee filter; at the other end is reverse osmosis. In between, at various levels of filtration, which are measured in microns (millionths of a meter) and fractions of microns, we’ll see increasingly small things getting filtered out: dust, bacteria, dyes, viruses. Wow, by the time we get to reverse osmosis almost nothing gets through but water molecules. It’s some damn pure water. Almost. Almost nothing else gets through. When that crap in the pre-filter decomposes, the hydrogen sulfide molecules are a small as water molecules, and don’t get filtered out. They end up in the water, and let me tell you, my friends, it’s a rude morning wake-up to have your coffee, and your whole tank, smell and taste of raw sewage. And there’s no way to guard against this: Many manufacturers include a salinity probe with a diversion valve, so that if the water is too salty I won’t be allowed into your tanks. There’s no such thing as a stink-o-meter, so changing the pre-filters is the only preventative.
Many watermaker manufacturers have been blamed for the stink, when it’s not their fault. Pre-filter changes are the owner’s responsibility. How often to change them depends on the sea water. Strangely, in the island tropics, where you’ve got a nice warm environment for bacterial growth and decomposition, the water is usually very clear and contains few microorganisms to decompose. Cruising somewhere like Hawaii or Tahiti you can probably get away with going a week or so without changing the pre-filters. Somewhere warm where the water’s murky, like a coastal tropical area with a river outflow, you should probably change the pre-filters every day or two. How will you know the difference? Because you’ll be checking all the time. If they’re black you’ll know you’ve got decomposing ocean muck in your pre-filters; if they’re white you’ll know they’ll still clean. You’ll be intimate with your pre-filter situation, because if you aren’t you might contaminate your whole water supply and be very unpopular with your guests.
With all this in mind, the pre-filter location is paramount. It’s worth routing hoses all over creation to get those pre-filter housings to a convenient place. If you have to climb into a scalding hot engine room to burn yourself while changing a pre-filter you’ll be less likely to do it.
Pre-filters can be cleaned and recycled, at least a few times. I got in the habit of dragging dirty ones behind the boat, if underway, or hanging them overboard at anchor, baking them in the sun for a day or two, then recycling.
Beyond regular pre-filter changes, watermaker care becomes a little more varied. It’s a big, sophisticated pump, with parts that will wear over time, so pump re-builds every year or two, or every 1000-2000 hours of use. In this regard, watermaker maintenance can be compared to diesel engine maintenance: Not terribly difficult once we’ve got it figured out, but we’ve got to stay on top of it.
What’s stickier is the general discussion of membrane care. The membrane is a very specialized, high tech thing, not really a filter, by definition. While pressurized water flows past the membrane, some of it, called permeate, goes through the membrane and goes into your tanks as fresh water. The rest goes overboard as brine. As long as this process goes on, the membrane is generally happy. If you shut your watermaker down and leave it full of seawater, stuff will start to grow on the membrane and foul it.
The first line of defense is to flush your membrane with product water, which is part of the shut-down process. It hurts to watch all this hard-won water flush the membrane and go overboard. On some systems this flushing happens automatically; on others it’s a manual operation, some more manual than others.
Back to pre-filters: In some systems the fresh water flushing includes the pre-filters; in others it just flushes the membrane. In neither case does it clean the pre-filters. The only way to get the soon-to-rot crap out of the pre-filters is to change them.
If you’re going to let it sit for more than a few days, fresh water flushing isn’t enough and you should pickle the membrane with a biocide solution.
Pickling is hard on the membrane. Fouling will clog the membrane. Chlorine (as from a municipal water supply) will damage the membrane. Oil or petroleum products will damage the membrane. Time will damage the membrane.
How much damage? Nobody seems to know, but all of these things are bad. It turns out a little chlorine from a municipal water supply won’t really hurt a membrane that much. Oil usually floats on the surface of the water, while the intakes are below the water, and a little oil won’t be a complete disaster.
There are cleaning solutions for membranes, alkaline for biological growth, acid for mineral deposits. Cleaning is also detrimental to the membrane.
What’s a sailor to do when all these things damage the membrane? We do our best, follow the directions, stay away from the damaging practices when possible, and choose the lesser of the evils: Obviously pickling is preferable to leaving the membrane unprotected for two months. If we do our best our membranes will probably lead reasonably long lives. In the worst case, a replacement membrane for a small unit runs $400-$600, less if you shop around.
I cleaned, pickled, and flushed my membrane, forgot those things and left it steeping in sea water for days on end several times, and my membrane lasted ten years. It might still be okay, but the rest of the watermaker, or at least the electric motor, has definitely given up the ghost. I have no intention of installing another one until the far horizons beckon again.
Russ & Laurie Owen sat down with me on their catamaran ‘Nexus’ in Tortola last week. They had just completed the Caribbean 1500, and are on their way to St. Lucia now to sail around the world with World ARC. I warmed to Russ & Laurie straightaway in Portsmouth at the start of the rally – they’re just genuine, nice people! Russ is very proud of the refit he’s done on the boat – he’s an aerospace engineer by trade, and one look at the ‘guts’ of his boat will tell you that he’s thought it all through and then some. We chatted about their plans, how they got into sailing and what motivated them to make the leap and embark on such a long adventure. Thanks Russ & Laurie!
My last post about All is Lost, perhaps the worst sailing movie ever made, has garnered so much attention, I thought I better point to what I consider to be a most excellent sailing movie. True, Hold Fast, a documentary released in 2007, is not fiction, but it could be. It tells the story of a skinny white guy with dreads named Mike (aka Moxie Marlinspike) who cruises from Florida to the Dominican Republic with an all-girl crew of post-punk anarchists in a decrepit Pearson 30.
The crew of Pestilence seems to view cruising under sail almost as a political act. By reclaiming an ugly hulk of a fiberglass boat and rebuilding it with scavenged materials (they step the mast with the dinghy davit of an untended superyacht), then sailing away in it despite its manifest unseaworthiness, they are making a statement against our disposable consumer culture. What they teach us is that only by stepping outside this culture can we truly experience life.
They aspire to be “sailing maniacs,” and they succeed: “The maniacs are the ones who have accepted their insignificance to the vast expanses of unrelenting ocean and yet still sail on quixotically, because they are in love with the direct, unmediated experience they find out there.”
The good ship Pestilence before her guerilla refit
The all-girl crew: Kirsten, Allie, and Lisa
Heading ashore for fresh water
Moxie hunts for food
Making a direct deposit
Dancing with a water spout
One of the best things about it is you can watch it for free online. Running length is a bit over an hour, but it’s time well spent:
Entertainment on our cruising boat is pretty low tech. Oh, we watch some of the movies and TV series, but a lot of our fun and games as a family are the kind that doesn’t have a screen or need a power supply.It occurred me this last week, as I watched our kids playing with their new friends from sv Water Musick (that’s Bananagram happening in the Totem main cabin, above), that having some idea starters for those games to bring on board would have been one of those really nice-to-knows before we went cruising. Cards are a great way to pack a lot of fun into a minimum of storage space. We have always been big card players and spread the fun of our family’s Chicago Rummy tournament to three continents. Priorities, you know. The kids have started playing in adult tables around age 9 or 10. There seem to be a lot of pictures on the hard drive of Chicago Rummy being played at lovely anchorages between here and Seattle: this one in Fiji, with Oso Blanco and IO. Simple card games like Uno and Spot-It are a great way to make friends when you don’t share a common language. When we have a spare set, it’s a great gift to leave behind after a fun afternoon- something to remember you by.
We’ll play cribbage pretty much anywhere. Siobhan (age 9) skunks me if I’m not paying attention. She continued her streak of cribbage domination on the beach in Langkawi last week.
Apples to Apples (which will always remind me of rainy afternoon funfriends on board Ceilydh), Pirate Fluxx, and Dutch Blitz are more card games that while aimed for kids, are absolutely fun for Jamie and me as well. Lately we’ve had fun playing the card gamne version of Monopoly as well: the themes are the same, but cards fit on a locker more easily than a playing board.One game that is decidedly not for the junior set is Cards Against Humanity. When I saw this picture of my bloggy friend Charlotte playing, I knew we had to give this one a try. I can almost guarantee: you WILL laugh as hard as she is laughing here. photo thanks to Charlotte and Eric of sv Rebel Heart
To quote Charlotte: “If you haven’t played this game yet, strap on your big-kid panties, imbibe something potent, and play it with some whip-smart friends. “ Her advance warning that this was NC/17 was is good to know… it might not hurt to be of generally the same shade of the political spectrum, too. The McCanns brought a set when they came to visit us in Borneo and we’ve been looking for excuses to play it ever since. I have never heard Jamie laugh so hard!In Mexico,we were introduced to Mexican Train dominoes. I don’t know that this is particularly Mexican, but it was popular among cruisers and a great all-ages game where the kids could compete with adults. It doesn’t use any old set of dominoes, so it took a while before we had our own set. I’ve lost count of the times we’ve played dominoes in our cockpit, washed by a warm breeze. We do have some board games: they’ve grown up and moved along as they were no longer age appropriate. Our days of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are over. Max the Cat was just passed to our friends with a younger age of kids on board. Settlers of Catan, Axis and Allies, and chess have taken their place. Scrabble, too, but we find Banagram to be even more fun and easier to play across different spelling levels- not to mention, much more compact and travel friendly! When we started cruising, we migrated a subset of the games we had onto the boat. Before we left, I used a box cutter to cut and score boards so that we could stow them in quarter size, not as the default half. Use a bag for the playing pieces, and it all fits MUCH better in a locker that way.The simple truth is that we have a lot more time to play games together, with our friends or as a family. I don’t remember playing games nearly this much as a child. It’s certainly nothing we had the time for in our fully scheduled lives before cruising. Why not make plans for family game night this weekend?
Written by Ben Ellison on Nov 21, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
Furuno’s new multi-touch MUxxxT monitors are intended to play nicely with NavNet TZtouch MFDs. Using its DVI output, the TZT9 or TZT14 can send a screen mirror to the wopping 24-inch widescreen MU240T above — at 800×480 and 1280×800 pixels, respectively — and USB takes the touch commands back to the TZT (using a standard Windows driver). Meanwhile, the TZT Black Box has enough DVI and USB ports to drive two of these glass-bridge-style monitors (and two keypads, like the one KEP recently introduced or the one Furuno is purportedly working on)…
The Furuno MUxxxT monitors support multiple video inputs and have both Picture in Picture (PIP) and Picture by Picture (PBP) so that you can, say, navigate “while also keeping track of the news or your favorite sports team, when connected to an on-board TV/DVD player.” They’re also optically bonded and have a “typical” viewing angle of about 89° in all directions (which seems amazing) and they can be powered by both AC and DC with uninterrupted fail over to the latter.
It doesn’t take much sleuthing to learn that Furuno’s monitors are at least based on Hattleland Series X displays like the ones above on display at the NMEA Conference, and that’s not a bad thing. The two companies have a long term relationship (as does Raymarine and Hatteland, though I’m not sure we’ve seen results yet), and Hatteland quietly manufactures a lot of high-end marine monitors.
Interestingly, Hatteland also offers X Series panel computers, which are essentially the same displays with a PC fitted to the back. I can’t help but notice that one of these X Series computers is shown as the PC of choice for Furuno Deutchland’s MaxSea PC Radar package, which has expanded to include open-array DRS radars since Kees covered this no-MFD-required concept last winter. I haven’t asked Furuno USA about PC Radar since then, but they seemed confident then that it’s not doing very well in Europe and wouldn’t garner much interest here in the States.
Besides, Furuno and even its software sibling, Nobeltec, have been focused on the commercial market recently and one very interesting result is TimeZero Coastal Monitoring. It’s essentially a small VTS system that’s unusually easy and economical to install, because it’s based on Furuno hardware and Nobeltec software that’s relatively mass produced (check this PDF for detail on what a more official VTS involves). There’s some neat extra sauce, though, like the ability to play back four VHF audio streams along with vessel tracks, radar and FLIR video recordings. The software also has impressive facilities for setting up custom monitoring zones and sophisticated alerting, which are well illustrated toward the end of the demo video.
I know that some boaters dislike the idea of more surveillance, but I prefer to look at the bright side, like the opportunity for more coastal authorities to be able to help me better if I get in trouble and the chance that some of the new aspects of this system will trickle down to regular boating.
Finally got a chance to see this over the weekend, so now I can throw in my two cents. Problem is if you’re a sailor, you spend the whole film scratching your head, wondering what the hell is going on. Just how much did this annoy me? O, let me count the ways:
Mystery 1: Who is this guy? Where is he coming from? Where is he going to? Why is he in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Why should we care about him?
Mystery 2: The sea is absolutely flat calm, not a breath of wind, our Mystery Man is sleeping below (up forward, if you can believe it), without his engine running, and is struck amidships by a floating container… hard enough that it knocks a huge hole in the boat right where his nav station is. How could this possibly have happened? Was the container self-propelled?
Mystery 3: Mystery Man must somehow push the evil container away from his boat. He tries with a boathook. No go. Aha! The sea anchor! He attaches this to the container (remember again, we are in absolutely flat calm conditions), and it instantly pulls the container away from the boat. How does that work? Where can I get a sea anchor like that?
Mystery 4: Repairing the hole! Mystery Man does this with some fiberglass cloth, a few sticks, and some West System epoxy (nice product placement there!), while sailing with the boat well heeled over in a flat calm in almost no wind. How is that possible?
Mystery 5: Finally it dawns on us–the container hit in the nav station must be an important plot device. Mystery Man’s electronics have been completely saturated. He opens up his portable satellite phone and his VHF radio, rinses them in fresh water, and leaves them to dry. Once they’re dry, he focusses exclusively on trying to get the VHF (range maybe 30 miles max) to work and ignores the much more useful sat phone (range global) completely. Say what?
Mystery 6: That weird thing hanging on the back of his boat, what the heck is that? A Hollywood version of a windvane? Are those lines we see wrapped around the axle of the steering wheel supposed to be control lines? The bottom of the device, when we see it underwater, presents simply as a big rail that is bolted to underside of the hull. Say what? What did they spend on this film? Couldn’t they afford to buy a real windvane?
You can see the Mystery Object That is Presumably a Windvane, which is bolted vertically to the boat’s transom, off on the right side in this photo
Mystery 7: What’s wrong with the jib??? It never looks like it is even fully hoisted. And whenever it is deployed, it is always luffing and is never trimmed.
Mystery 8: Mystery Man hears a VHF transmission on his radio, but can’t transmit. He climbs the mast to check the antenna, which turns out to be badly broken and disconnected. How could the radio possibly receive a transmission with the antenna like that? How was the antenna broken? Did the self-propelled container somehow fly up there and whack it before shooting back down into the hull amidships?
Mystery 9: While up the mast, Mystery Man sees an enormous storm just a few miles away. It has turned half the sky all black. Why didn’t he notice this while on deck?
Mystery 10: During the two storms he sails through during the film, we notice that Mystery Man has a habit of always closing the companionway completely when he is below, but always leaves it wide open when he is on deck. When his boat is rolled and completely capsized with the companionway wide open, how is it that very little water gets below?
During his first storm, Mystery Man goes forward to bend on the storm jib (before the storm, after he finally noticed it, he spent his time shaving instead of doing this). While on the foredeck he is swept overboard. Fortunately, he is clipped on–to the top lifeline, as you can see here. Amazingly, the lifeline and stanchion post do not break away under the load, and Mystery Man is strong enough to instantly hoist himself back aboard!
Here we see Mystery Man surviving his second capsize. He has no problem staying with the boat, even though he is not tethered to it. Note also the wide open companionway, which evidently did not result in any catastrophic downflooding
Mystery 11: The boat of Mystery Man loses its rig the second time it is rolled, and the broken mast ends up in the water on the boat’s port side. This somehow creates a new hole in the boat, up forward on the starboard side. Where’d that hole come from? If the plot demands there be a hole, why not just use the first one? The repair on that one was so patently flimsy it looks like you could easily poke a finger through it. How could it possibly have survived two violent capsizes?
Mystery 12: The new hole is sinking Mystery Man’s boat, so he takes to his liferaft. He leaves the raft tethered to the boat and falls asleep. Shouldn’t he be worried that the boat will drag the raft down with it?
Mystery 13: After his nap, Mystery Man has plenty of time to reboard his boat and gather supplies. How long was that nap? Why does the boat take so long to sink? Did the ballast keel fall off or something?
Mystery 14: Just how does Mystery Man stay so dry all the time?
Mystery 15: Mystery Man, since losing his electronics, has been brushing up on his celestial navigation. Once adrift in his raft he displays uncanny ability. He takes a sun sight, looks in a book, stares at his (perfectly dry) chart for a few seconds, and makes a mark at his location–no timepiece, no parallel rules, no dividers, no math, no worksheet required. Where can I learn to do this?
Mystery 16: Why does Mystery Man have no EPIRB?
Mystery 17: Why is Mystery Man’s liferaft moving so quickly? Judging from those marks he makes on his chart, he’s covering about 100 miles a day.
ANYWAY… I think you get the point. I could go on and on like this. Pretty much everything that happens to Mystery Man, and everything he does, is inexplicable to anyone who knows anything about ocean sailing.
I asked my wife, who doesn’t know much about sailing, if any of this bothered her, and she said she did wonder about Mystery Man’s ability to stay dry and the rapidly drifting liferaft. Otherwise she thought Robert Redford gave a great performance as the Mystery Man.
Frankly, I didn’t see that. All I saw was a man who looked confused, aggravated, and worried for over an hour and a half. I had exactly the same expression on my face the entire time.
The Biggest Mystery, of course, is why didn’t the filmmakers hire someone to advise them on what ocean sailing is really like? Reading through this very detailed precis on the film, I find only references to liferaft and marine electronics consultants. I know you can’t expect Hollywood’s version of reality to be much like real reality, but they could have done much better than this.
If you haven’t seen the film, I say give it a pass. Watch this trailer instead: