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Rallying across the Atlantic: ARC Europe fleet prepares in Portsmouth, VA

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-05-01 11:41

1st ARC Europe Happy Hour at the Bier Garden on High Street in Portsmouth, VA

What a wild week for weather! It’s something like 80 degrees and humid here in the rally office at Ocean Marine Yacht Center in Portsmouth, VA, and the thunderstorms and tornado warnings are just now expiring after a wet night in the historic waterfront town.

With that said, it’s supposed to go down to 55º tonight, but Neptune is working on providing the fleet a pretty darn good forecast for departure on Saturday. So we’ve got that going for us!

Seven boats are set to take part in the USA start of ARC Europe this year, a whopping 7x the numbers we had last year (yes, it was only 1…)! Combine that with the fleet in Tortola, and Mia, Lyall and I – the ‘Yellowshirt’ team – is set for a busy ten days in St. Georges, Bermuda! The fleet here consists of three big catamarans (including the all-carbon-fiber 61-footer Tosca, an impressive sight on the end of the main pontoon with her synthetic rigging, rotating wing mast and menacing dark grey hull) and four monohulls. The smallest yacht, Tiger Lily, a Pacific Seacraft 31, also gets my vote for most beautiful, but then again I’m a traditionalist. With her study bulwarks and oiled teak interior, Tiger Lily gets my pulse going. Granted, she’ll have a hard time keeping up with the 30-knot max speed of Tosca, but then again, ocean sailing is about the journey, not the destination, and I reckon Julia & Purnell will have a nice one on little Tiger Lily.

In the middle of the fleet, we’ve got Sojourner (no, not my dad’s boat that did the 1500 last fall), a Shannon 43 cutter from Milwaukee, Athenea, the other big cat with the widest spreaders I’ve ever seen (in fact, the owner claims it’s rig was wind-tunnel tested to 200 knots!), Mariposa, the third catamaran, Persistent Lady a classic Hardin 45 ketch (with new aluminum spars!), and Happy Destiny, a Jeanneau 43 with a cheerful crew led by Ray Smith  that perfectly embodies the boat’s name.

While the dock is busy with skippers and crew preparing the boats for sea, it’s not that busy, despite being now 48 hours from the start on Saturday. Which is a good sign. The safety inspections have been very reassuring, with most folks having arrived here at Ocean Marine very well-prepared. Persistent Lady is the only boat with real work being done on her – she’s currently in the yard here at Ocean Marine getting new rudder bearings and beefing up the autopilot linkages. Combine that with the new Selden rig (mainmast & mizzen mast) she got in NY earlier this spring, and she’ll be in tip-top shape for the voyage across the pond.

Festivities started yesterday in Portsmouth, with check-ins and safety inspections happening all day, followed by the first Happy Hour (of many during the six-week ARC Europe event!) at the Bier Garden on High Street. The German-themed bar & restaurant boasts hundreds of beers in bottles and array of German lagers on tap, not to mention a wonderfully European atmosphere and a great place for the folks to get to know one another.

Tonight’s program continues with a happy hour at Skipjack Nautical on the waterfront, and the flare demo gets underway tomorrow afternoon! Follow the rally, including news, feature stories, weather, at-sea logs & photos and GPS fleet tracking on www.worldcruising.com/arc_europe

Don Street Stories: When to abandon ship?

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-05-01 07:56

Here comes No. 4 in the ongoing ‘Don Street Stories’ series. This one was intended to be run as a sidebar to the magazine article, and it’s less of a ‘story’ than it is my own thoughts on one of Street’s most vehement opinions, and that’s manual bilge pump capacity. Don’t get me wrong – I agree 100% with Street that boats going offshore need more pump capacity – but my thoughts below represent what I see actually happening in the ocean sailing world, not necessarily what I think is right. Interestingly enough, Patrick Shaughnessy, President of Farr Yacht Design, and I talked about this very topic in my last podcast episode. Here goes.

More and more people are crossing oceans in lightly built production boats, un-seaworthy boats, by Street’s definition. Granted there is a lot you can do to a production boat to make it more suited to crossing oceans, but you can never escape the fact that most modern production boats simply aren’t designed or built for the rigors of continuous bluewater sailing. I think it probably drives Street nuts.

Inevitably each year a boat will be lost crossing an ocean, and Street will begin his email campaign anew, writing to magazine editors, insurance companies, race committees and rally organizations. He’ll argue for heavier-duty manual bilge pumps and claiming that had the crew worked harder, they might have saved the boat.

But in a way, I think Street is missing the point. Boat design and construction has changed as Street has aged, but something more important has changed with it – the sailors that take the boats to the sea. Gone are the days of true self-sufficiency when the ocean sailing yachtsman needed to know celestial navigation just to get somewhere and had very limited means of calling for help should the need arise. Ocean crossings today seem deceptively easy, logistically at least, and are usually long-term sabbaticals, once-in-a-lifetime adventures to be seized before returning to a life ashore.

And therein lies the conundrum – if you’re taking on water at an alarming rate halfway across the Atlantic, you have insurance on the boat and a freighter is standing by to pick you up, are you really going to work that hard to save the boat, a boat which may have no sentimental value to you, for you’ve purchased it solely for the sake of taking on this great adventure, with intentions to sell it anyway once your done? Is the size of your manual bilge pump really going to make a difference when absolute safety awaits on the bridge of a container ship? And should that choice be ridiculed or applauded?

I agree with Street that standards need to be raised, because one of these times there won’t be a container ship waiting and the crew will have no choice but to try and save the boat. But I think overall the attitude of absolute self-sufficiency is long forgotten. Most people now expect help just over the horizon and plan accordingly.

Passagemaking dreams

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-05-01 06:00

The unmistakable bellow of conch horns echoed around the bay yesterday morning as the 50′ sloop Love Song headed out, bound for the Indian Ocean. Next stop: Maldives, if they need fuel, otherwise- Mauritius! With a likely three thousand mile passage looming, their exit earned a salute.

Love Song was the latest in a series of boats making their exodus from this quiet harbor in Langkawi we’ve called The Duck Pond as a nod to the calm, protected waters sandwiched between by two little islands and the shoreline. It’s that time of year: in our corner of Southeast Asia, the seasons are in transition, and the rainier southwest monsoon prompts most cruisers to move on to different corners or the region- or away, like Love Song, looking for favorable winds to cross the Indian Ocean. I can’t resist following boats who have pointed for South Africa, and daydreaming about passage making again.

The night before Love Song’s departure, we gathered around with other cruisers in a local watering hole and reminisced. It’s funny how the reflections were all good memories, even though we know, at the time, some of those miles were miserable. There’s a kind of amnesia that sets in not long after the joy of a landfall. The last, very uncomfortable stretch of our 19-day passage to the Marquesas in the reinforced trades of a La Nina year were quickly erased from memory as we reveled in the immensity of arrival. The squash zone that caught us in gale conditions for days was quickly repressed as we discovered our landfall was an island where nautilus shells lay sprinkled periodically along the fringing white beach.

Our journeys this year are scaled back. Parked in Langkawi for two months (an unusually long time for us to stay fixed in one place), we’ve caught up on both the cruising kitty and boat projects. Jamie has worked with boats on rigging and electrical projects, enabling us to make progress on our list of maintenance needs. In addition to installing our new 1000Ah battery bank, we have put up a new 420 watt Silentwind turbine and 270 watt solar panel to pump in the juice. Worn cloth is being replaced: the torn settees in our main cabin have pretty new covers, there’s a mainsail cover showing up soon. Meanwhile, essential parts of our trusty Yanmar are undergoing spa treatment in Kuala Lumpur. As much as we’d like to have continued to South Africa, these and other projects come first.

What WILL we do? This has been the subject of much debate. How do you choose a route? Weather practicality comes first. Then, there’s a magic mix between the places that draw us, those that we can afford, and the plans of our friends on other boats. Bringing those together, a plan is taking shape that takes us back down the peninsula and out to the Philippines, where we’ll enjoy pretty clear water for a while before making a U-turn back to mainland southeast Asia- probably landing back in Langkawi again around the end of this year- the yellow line, approximately.

I hoped to spend more time in Indonesia, along one of the two green line routes, but adding up the miles and considering that we’d spend most of them motoring, it just didn’t make sense. We’d be pushing ahead instead of enjoying places, and burning a lot of diesel. No thanks! The world is round, and mostly likely, I’ll get to spend time in my beloved Indonesia again someday.

Meanwhile, kid boats know that life is better when you are with other kid boats. We’re lucky to know quite a few in the region that we can share anchorages with along this way. There were a dozen kids celebrating Mairen’s twelfth birthday on the beach this last week, and many of them will be with us in anchorages between here and the Philippines.

On the far side of the Pacific, we watch reports of friends sailing from Mexico- Fluenta’s reports from their journey, Hotspur celebrating landfall in the Marquesas. I make some of Meri’s kimchi (an excellent cruising solution for on-refrigerated, long life, crunchy veggies), pass a jar of it to Love Song, and dream of anticipating life at sea for weeks again.

Reaaders who go the distance know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

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