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59º North Live Podcast with Paul Exner

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-01-29 14:53

Paul Exner of Modern Geographic sat down with Andy at the Strictly Sail Chicago boat show and recorded the first-ever LIVE 59º North podcast! Andy and Paul talked all things ocean sailing, from boat design and gear selection to how to handle heavy weather offshore. Thanks to everyone who came to the show, and we look forward to doing more of these in the future!

Koh Phayam: scenes from a small island

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-01-29 07:00

There are endless delights of being on a small island, the kind of place where the closest thing to a post office is a small box colored in the Thai Post Red and with a hand lettered sign.

In the mornings, the children paddle to shore. Hours every day pass playing on the beach.

A large tree fell from an embankment, straight out across the sand. In the hollows created by boughs, they’ve dug into the sand to create a rabbit warren of hobbit holes that foster imaginary play. Everyone has their own “place”, there’s a vegetable garden, a store… habitats for hermit crabs and ghost crabs caught on the beach.

Every few days, I walk the couple of miles to the other side of the island for fresh produce. The selection can vary wildly. Their stock is replenished in  routine increments by the daily ferry service, and the selection is surprisingly broad, but it’s a tossup as to what’s going to be available on any given day!

Halfway between the bay and the shop is a small butcher. One day the pork looks fantastic, another it’s been sitting in the air with flies for a while… hit and miss.

There’s a rocky reef at the at the south end of the bay that makes the sunset views just that much more striking.

We’ve been curious to see if holds any interest underwater, and head out for a snorkeling expedition lead by the Honey crew. Coming into the shallows, a plaque is just visible near the tallest point, and begs exploration.

Expecting a political or historical marker of some sort, it is somewhat sobering to discover a memorial instead.

Later, Ella recites the epitaph as we ride back to the boats in the dinghy:

It’s not the length of life, but the depth of life. He dove in and never touched bottom.

What a spot.

In the evening, Siobhan and I go for an extended paddle after a relatively sedentary day. We turn back towards Totem when the sun sinks, and race it on the way to the horizon.

  Reading this post on the Sailfeed website tosses change in Totem’s cruising kitty. Thanks!

Skip Novak’s Storm Sailing Videos

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-01-28 12:46

If a picture is worth a thousand words, videos are worth millions. Skip Novak’s series of storm sailing videos are great for learning technique and outfitting. Skip Novak crewed and skippered multiple Whitbreads, and was among the first generation of yachtsmen to cruise and explore Antarctica. I’ve never met Skip, but I got friendly with his crews while down in Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica, and enjoyed a few meals aboard Pelagic Australis, his 74-foot expedition beast (Thanks, Skip). I also got a tour of Pelagic, his original, 54-foot steel cutter. Both vessels embody the ethos of simplicity and robustness. You too can tour both vessels (above, in Part 2).

It’s very hard to film on deck, especially in nasty weather, so these kinds of videos are hard to come by. It’s nice to see that even Skip Novak, with a full crew, can thrash around for half an hour setting a sail in those conditions. Some of the scenery in the backgrounds is spectacular.

Part 1:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:


Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-27 18:49

Given recent events, I thought maybe I should tell you about what happened last time I did a cat delivery with Hank Schmitt. This was seven years ago, in January 2007, and the short version of the story is that I ended up getting arrested. The boat–a brand new Scape 39 Sport Cruiser built in Cape Town, South Africa–belonged to a man named Wayne. He had hired Hank to skipper the delivery all the way across the South Atlantic to Grenada and was willing to pay airfare for one extra crew member to fly into Cape Town, which is where I came in.

Hank and I crawled off the plane, nearly jet-lagged to death, to be greeted by Wayne and a litany of his woes: 1) the boat, already over six weeks late, was not finished yet; 2) Wayne’s wife, who had come to attend the launching and sea-trials, had broken her leg and had to fly home again; and 3) the apartment they were renting had just been destroyed in a fire.

During the next week, while we impatiently twiddled our thumbs waiting for the builder to give us the boat, this list only grew longer.

Our Scape 39, Doubletime, on the left, lying on a dock below Table Mountain

First the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) questioned whether Hank was competent to skipper a yacht delivery across the South Atlantic and hinted they might not let us leave. After several ineffectual encounters with a lesser officer, we were at last granted an audience with the agency’s director. He made it clear he had no respect at all for Hank’s U.S. Coast Guard license and after some discussion finally admitted there was no other license or certificate, other than one issued by his agency, that he would ever consider valid. In the end, however, after putting the fear of God in us, he cheerfully granted us permission to sail anyway.

The immigration office, meanwhile, announced that they couldn’t let Wayne leave the country, as he no longer had permission to be in it. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to renew his visa, which had expired several weeks earlier. Again we had several bizarre conversations with government officials, who decided to levy a huge fine of several thousand dollars, but ruled that Wayne only had to pay it if and when he ever returned to South Africa.

A mad scramble to finish the boat so we can sail away on it

Finally one morning, after several Groundhog Days in which tomorrow was supposed to be the day we left but never was, we actually provisioned the boat, even as the builders were still rushing around completing several last-minute jobs. Not long afterwards we at last pushed them all off on to the dock and headed for open water.

And yes, of course, things immediately started to break. We roared out of Table Bay on a fast reach, tore past Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela had once been imprisoned), and then heard a huge THWACK of a noise underneath the leeward hull. Just behind us we saw broken bits of a daggerboard floating in the water. There followed a mad scramble as we checked for ancillary damage. But the daggerboard case, the saildrive, the rudder and steering all seemed OK. A pregnant pause then as Hank and I looked to Wayne, but for him now there could be no turning back. No way was he going to pay that huge immigration fine just so we could get a new daggerboard.

Wayne bids farewell to South Africa

This might seem crazy, but in fact the South Atlantic is a very calm and boring ocean. It suffers no tropical storms, normally contains no part of the greater Atlantic’s inter-tropical convergence zone, and carries very little commercial traffic. Once we were well away from Cape Town we expected nothing but mild tailwinds, empty water, and fair current all the way to Brazil, and we reckoned we could handle all that just fine with our one remaining daggerboard.

We did have other technical problems. The starboard engine made strange vibrations and developed a large oil leak. The fresh-water system also developed a large and mysterious leak, such that we lost a third of our supply in a single day and had no idea where it had gone. Also, quite suddenly, six days out of Cape Town, about 600 miles from the nearest land, the steering failed completely.

This, we quickly figured out, was because the master link in the steering wheel’s drive chain had fallen apart. Most of the link was easily recovered, but the most important bit, the little clip that held it together, was nowhere to be found. Finally, I remembered a mysterious little piece of metal we’d found on the cockpit sole the day before we left Cape Town. Fortunately, Wayne had saved this and, indeed, it proved to be the missing clip. We could only marvel that it took over 1,000 miles of sailing for the master link to at last work loose and fall apart without it.

Interior of the starboard hull. The boat had limited living space, and we had to store many of our provisions in boxes in the starboard head, right next to the tiny galley

Wayne shaves on deck. The only mirror we had onboard was the extracted hard drive from a dead computer

Our fresh-water problem, meanwhile, was finally solved when we took an interest in bathing and found a huge leak in the transom shower installation at the back of the starboard hull. Each time the fresh-water lines were pressurized, it turned out scads of water had been flowing straight overboard through an aft locker drain. This at least was very easy to fix, though we had no such luck with the starboard engine’s oil leak. Fortunately, of course, we did have a spare engine in the port hull.

Shooting Clouds

Though the South Atlantic was boring, the clouds drifting over it were remarkably dramatic. I have always enjoyed watching clouds at sea, as it feels like such a privilege, being able to see the world as it truly is, a vast realm of water and vapor and light co-mingled in infinite variations. But these clouds were something else…

They were utterly fantastic, like cathedrals of vapor in the sky. I spent part of each day trying to take pictures of them, but this was inherently frustrating, like trying to photograph dreams.

If nothing else it helped deconstruct the ego. These clouds, so ephemeral, were nothing abstract; they were real, the only reality. We ourselves were as nothing, less than nothing, mere specks of finite life adrift on a tiny raft, the only solid object in an endless flux of liquid and gas.

Tomb Raiders

Nine days out of Cape Town Wayne showed us his chart of St. Helena. This proved to be a tourist map of Ascension Island, 700 miles to the northwest, that had been copied off the Internet. Wayne explained it looked similar to a map he’d once seen of St. Helena, so he thought it might prove useful.

The following morning we approached the island through a series of beautiful rainbow-studded squalls. The coast was composed entirely of very high corrugated cliffs, utterly barren and desolate, with no evidence of habitation or even foliage.

Finally, however, we came to a port, on the island’s northwest side. This was Jamestown, a thin scar of dwellings and greenery that runs down to the sea through a deep ravine. Before it lay an open roadstead with a handful of fishing boats, three yachts, and an enormous orange LNG tanker flying a Norwegian flag. This, we soon learned, was the world’s largest “energy ship,” which had just been launched and was laying here awaiting her first assignment.

Approaching the anchorage at Jamestown

The harbor launch, with Doubletime and the world’s largest energy ship in the background

Jamestown as seen from the top of Jacob’s Ladder, a 699-step stairway that leads up the face of a cliff overlooking town

St. Helena, with a population of about 3,000 souls, is one of the most isolated communities on earth. There is no airfield, though the British government is constantly promising to build one

We spent only 28 hours on St. Helena. Landing late on a Sunday afternoon at the town dock, which was nothing but a concrete wall with ropes overhead for swinging ashore on, we found all government and financial offices were closed. On wandering inland, however, we were greeted effusively by everyone we met and were immediately offered all the food and drink we wanted on credit. Next morning, having abused our credit as best we could, we cleared both in and out with customs and immigration, changed money and paid our debts, then re-provisioned the boat.

That afternoon Hank and I took a truck ride with Reggie, father of Craig, who ran the launch that serviced the anchorage. Despite the coast’s very barren appearance, the island’s interior, we found, was a veritable garden. The road, lined with thorn trees and gorgeous purple flowers, wound through small forests of cedar and eucalyptus, stands of tall Norfolk pines, enormous clumps of wild flax, and steep cow pastures.

The lush interior

Yes, there is such a place as Fairyland, and you should not litter there

What St. Helena is most famous for, of course, is Longwood House, where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled after being defeated at Waterloo in 1815. A sprawling, low-slung affair, the house is surrounded by acres of flower beds, laid out so that the deposed emperor could wander through them without being seen from the road.

Napoleon’s crib

After he died in 1821, Bonaparte was buried nearby in a valley of willow trees. Hank and I walked down to the now empty tomb (the emperor’s remains having been removed to Les Invalides in Paris in 1840) and communed with its absent spirit.

Hank takes a break

Afterwards, on the ride back into town, Reggie shared with us a great deal of salacious gossip concerning the French consul, who had been sent to oversee both the house and the empty crypt.

Low on Water

Sailing west from St. Helena, we fell to arguing over our sail configuration. In planning the trip we’d hoped the South Atlantic’s southeast tradewinds would blow at least as hard as the northeast trades in the North Atlantic. But we were crossing the South Atlantic in January, at the height of the southern summer (something one would normally not do in the north, for fear of meeting tropical storms), so the trades in fact proved much weaker. To make the most of what we had, Hank and I favored flying both the main and the asymmetric spinnaker while tacking downwind on a series of broad reaches. Wayne, meanwhile, wanted to fly the spinnaker alone at much deeper angles. The latter tactic, in fact, is generally favored by the crews who deliver fat charter cats to the West Indies. We were told they often don’t even bother to bend on their mainsails, but instead make the entire passage from Cape Town under genoa alone.

Wayne at the helm, with main and A-sail flying

In the end we did a bit of both and were never sailing as fast as we hoped. We did see many more squalls passing through. At first they were small and moderate, with easterly winds briefly spiking only as high as 15 knots. But then, 11 days out of St. Helena, we got hit one afternoon by a huge line squall packing southerly gusts as high as 28 knots. It also brought a great deluge of rain, for which we were extremely grateful. Wayne had been too cheap to buy bottled water in St. Helena, and it turned out the water we’d taken aboard from the public tap was mostly foul. We’d long ago run out of sweet water to drink and were now down to rations of one can of soda a day each.

“We’re rich!” we shrieked gleefully as we caught cool delicious rainwater off the double-reefed mainsail. In all, we filled five 2-liter jugs in less than 40 minutes.

We arrived at Fortaleza, on the northeast coast of Brazil, just two days later, early on a Sunday morning. First we spotted a low wall of high-rise buildings on the horizon, then a line of rolling dunes and a bright stripe of beach to the east. Then, emerging at last from the grey haze, dark hills in the distance behind the city.

Arriving in Fortaleza

And then finally, all around us, the silhouettes of rafts. Some were just that–mere slabs of wood with piles of cargo and people aboard, powered by long sculling oars. But many were sailing vessels. They flew dark lateen sails on long, elegantly curved spars and looked very much like one-winged butterflies dancing gracefully across the surface of the water.

Bureaucratic Epilogue

Because of the week we lost in Cape Town and our slower than expected passage times, I had to leave the boat in Fortaleza. We spent most of that Sunday re-provisioning, then the very next morning Hank and Wayne cast off and headed north toward Grenada without me. Relying on the advice of South African delivery skippers who routinely make this trip, they never formally checked in or out, as the harbormaster running the docks at the Marina Park Hotel was happy to turn a blind eye to such comings and goings if greased with a bottle of booze.

Doubletime lies side to the dock at the Marina Park Hotel

In fact, however, Americans do need visas to enter Brazil, and I didn’t have one. The federal police were very upset with me when I presented myself at their office on Monday afternoon seeking permission to enter the country so I could leave the next morning on a plane. Fortunately, I had contacted my wife by sat-phone before we landed, and she had purchased me a plane ticket and had discussed my situation with the U.S. embassy in Brasilia. As it was, however, I was detained for several hours before the police finally found someone who’d been in touch with the embassy.

After some pleading and groveling, I was at last issued a 24-hour “emergency visa” and was allowed to leave without paying a fine. The cop who busted me was pretty upset about this, but the higher-ups in his office were inclined to be magnanimous. Later I learned that if I had instead simply tried to board the plane home without first clearing in, as I first planned to do, I most likely would have been detained for a week or more.

FOR THE RECORD, the complete list of problems we had on this trip (leaving aside my legal woes) ran as follows:

1 broken daggerboard

1 bad oil leak, starboard engine

1 leaking fresh-water system

1 busted steering system

1 chafed halyard in mast

1 broken halyard sheave at masthead

1 leaking stanchion base

1 non-functional CD player

1 non-functional AC inverter

1 cleat pulled out of the deck

Garmin VIRB “action” camera, also great on a slow boat

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-27 17:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 27, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

I think that Garmin hit a home run with the VIRB action cameras they began shipping last fall. I’ve been testing the regular model since late September and the Elite model since mid December, and I can picture all sorts of enjoyable ways to use either camera around a boat. I’m documenting a minor cruising adventure in the scene above, but could be remote controlling the camera to film my crew and me while playing a big fish or rounding a racing mark. However, I’ve also come to think of the entire “action camera” concept as a bit of a misnomer… 

When you check out the video above — and I hope you’ll try the full screen HD (1080p) version, if you have the bandwidth and display — notice how rock steady the image is. Yes, the Virb camera is securely suction mounted to Gizmo’s fly bridge windshield and the conditions are flat calm, but there’s something else going on here. The genius of the GoPro camera design that started the “action camera” craze is largely a very wide angle lens, which makes it easy to point it more or less in the right direction and also naturally stablizes the video.
  Garmin added a digital stabilization option to the mix; you can see a comparison in this well done video, but actually, I think some of my Gizmo flat water cruising clips demonstrate the effect even better. There’s an almost otherworldly serenity to the videos that is nearly the opposite of the frenetic action scenes you’ll see in all the marketing, but doesn’t it emphasize the joy that is smooth water boating?

But stabilization is just one small aspect of what Garmin brought to the action camera game. As I wrote last August, the Virb immediately joined Garmin’s ecology of handheld GPS devices and activity sensors, not to mention its vast software resources. In the first video, for instance, I’m using a quatix watch as a remote control, which was easy to set up and works fine, and there are various other Garmin devices that will do the job, plus smartphone apps for the Elite (which has WiFi).
  A key element, though, is the new Virb Edit software for PC and Mac that seems to be getting a feature update every week or so. You can edit Virb MPG4 files in any video program, but with Virb Edit it’s super easy to throw together some clips and post a finished video to YouTube. It’s also where you’ll see Garmin’s strategy of combining GPS and other sensor data with film. Note in the top screen, for instance, that when you watch a video in Virb Edit it can have a track-on-map overlay. Unfortunately, the map overlay is not included in finished videos — copyright issue perhaps? — but I’m hoping that will change eventually. In the meantime, the edit screen just above shows how you can custom overlay all sorts of data (aside from maps) on the videos you can make now. And note that you can do this with free Virb Edit using any MPG4 file and any GPX data file (at least in my limited testing). Thanks, Garmin!

One reason that it took me a while to write up this review is that the mounting accessory aspect is complicated, and I also wanted to compare the Virb to the GoPro Hero2 camera that I’ve owned for a couple of years. The prospect seemed daunting, but then lucky me discovered the amazingly detailed Virb review at DCRainmaker. The dynamo proprietor of that site, Ray Maker, has perhaps set a new standard for accurate and thoroughly researched reviews — along with a deep knowledge of the competitive gadget universe around his various sports passions — and there’s no need to repeat his excellent work (I’m also half hoping he never gets into marine electronics :-).
   At any rate, while highly recommending DCRainmaker for in-depth detail, I do have few comments on the collection of GoPro and Virb stuff pictured above. While the suction mount, handlebar mount, and headband mount were all designed for the GoPro, I’ve been able to use them fine with the Virb cameras because Garmin thoughtfully included an adapter (1). This also means I can use third-party mounting accessories like that RAM GoPro adapter (2). Note, too, the “Chroma” displays on the Virbs — one showing a live video preview and the other a handy level, because it’s Elite and it can — as compared to the sad little LCD on the Hero2…

Not only does the Hero2 have less display room for settings information, but you only get two buttons to manage the menus underneath. I found that interface really difficult to use and was tickled by Garmin’s 5 button system, which also uses plainer language like “Slow Mo HD” in addition to the resolution and frames-per-second figures. But maybe the newer model GoPros are different, and besides, I’m not really here to tear that brand down anyway. The bigger picture is that the Hero2 was an enormous success even with a difficult interface; doesn’t that suggest that an easier-to-use Virb might be for you? 

So how does Slow Mo HD perform? I haven’t used it around the boat yet, but this quick clip showed us that our 4-year-old granddaughter is getting some moves from her ballet lessons. And I mean quick. Slide the Virb’s big flashlight-style button to turn on camera and start video recording while pointing camera in general direction of subject. Later plug camera into home PC with USB cable and use Virb Edit, which starts automatically, to download and trim video and post on private YouTube site for sharing with family. A few minutes quick.

Virb Edit got a music overlay feature recently, and I hope I haven’t offended Bob Marley’s ghost by using a bit of his work to liven up the handlebar cam video above of a bike ride down the hill into Camden. The edit software still doesn’t support titles or smooth transitions between clips (as you’ll see at the end), but I imagine they’re coming. You could also use another video program for that sort of thing, but I thought I’d only post review videos that were made by Virb and Virb edit.

This one is a joke with a purpose. I did get Gizmo up to 16 knots, and the lack of camera vibration is striking, but the overlay speed, heading and altitude were collected by a BadElf Pro during an airplane flight. You can not only pair any GPX file with any film clip in Virb Edit (so far in my experience), but you can visually sync the two by sliding the start point along a track line overlaid on a map. Slick.

This video shows how well the Virb can do when handheld and will also be of interest to people to hear and see underway the Torqeedo 1003 electric outboard I’ve been long testing. The camera’s little microphone is on the back and doesn’t work too well for sounds from elsewhere, but I’m looking forward to trying a remote mic with the USB adaptor cable that’s among the many available accessories (you’ll see listed at DCRainmaker, where your purchases support the site).

Now this was a nice surprise. Plug the Virb Elite into a PC running Garmin Homeport and not only are the GPS track files easily accessible, but the still photos are automatically shown where they were taken. The same is true in Garmin’s free BaseCamp software, except that BaseCamp can’t show the LakeVu HD chart card I had inserted in the PC above. Incidentally, the photos and tracks above came from my Humminbird visit, which you’ll hear more about soon, with video. (I’ll cover the bridge repair, too.) 

I’ve just started to use the Android and iOS apps that can connect to the Virb Elite via WiFi. What they do works fine, but so far they don’t let you see what’s in frame while you’re recording video, nor can they capture video or stills to the mobile device, all of which is apparently possible with a GoPro these days. But obviously, that could change overnight.

And if Garmin can integrate Virb viewing and control into its Pilot iPad app, why not BlueChart Mobile (reviewed here)? I could mount a Virb at the masthead and use it as a lookout and cruise highlight recorder. Or maybe Garmin will incorporate some of these developements into fixed boat camera systems? It all sounds good to me, but I must observe that Garmin’s massive Virb development push has so far left out boaters a bit (even if the marine media guy is quite enthused). For instance, there are no Virb Edit data overlay templates geared to boating yet, and you can’t overlay speed in knots. Garmin could even support the depth and water temp data that’s included in GPX files generated with their marine displays (and easily managed with Homeport).

But I quibble. The Virb, especially the Elite, is a wonderfully easy-to-use and versatile “action” camera that also does a splendid job of capturing a slow harbor cruise. In fact, I set this video at double speed. The musical accompaniment is Charlie Byrd playing Indian Summer. Hope you enjoy it half as much as I do: 

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Grounded on Koh Phayam

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-27 08:30

Totem is not aground, but happily anchored in a wide bay fringed by a soft beach, backed by palms and cashew trees. Welcome to sleepy Koh Phayam, antithesis to Phuket’s noisy traffic and crowded beaches, where dogs sleep in the street and cars have yet to arrive.

About three miles long from north to south, and maybe two miles wide, life on the quiet island seems to center around rustic tourism sprinkled with cashew and rubber tree plantations. Guest houses peek from behind the trees, where one advertises “special: electricity, 6pm-6am”.

gas station, Koh Phayam style

A single lane road accommodates the odd motorcycle, and is paved for about half the length of the island- between the wide bay on the northwest corner and the commercial center on the middle of the eastern shore.

Treating ourselves to sundowners at a beach bar the evening we arrived, our friends tell us it reminds them of Phuket in the 1980s. No touts, no vendors on the beach…heck, no power or water utility! Just a handful of open-air restaurants and the odd fishing boat, and no light pollution to hide the stars at night.

kids play on the beach, parents enjoy sundowners above, everybody’s happy

Quiet as it is, it’s hardly undiscovered. During the couple of weeks we’ve spent here, at one point there were 18 boats in the wide curve of the northwest bay at the NW corner, additional boats along Ao Yai, the long beach to the southwest. Little development is apparent from the water, but rustic bungalows and open restaurants dot the shoreline. With beautiful sunny days and a cool breeze at night, it feels perfect.

One of the first landmarks we see on shore appears to be a shipwreck when we scan through the binoculars. On closer examination, it’s actually a beach bar.

With construction style that takes rustic to a whole new level, a collection of airy spaces are made entirely from wood that washed up with debris after the tsunami in 2004.

During the day, the kids spend hours on the beach playing with their mates from Utopia.

At the same time, Jamie’s been spending hours over on their boat- trying to get Utopia grounded. Oh, they’re well grounded humans, confident and level; the problem is the boat. There’s been some stray current on board that’s apparently not grounded, and it’s the root of some growing problems. They’d been to see an “expert” in Langkawi, who dismissed it as “just spurious voltage”.

Well, that “spurious voltage” is dissolving aluminum parts on the boat: the toe rail, the mast, aluminum tanks, and more all show signs of increasing corrosion. The Utopia crew has their eye on crossing the Indian Ocean, and had to take this seriously.

Part of the problem with diagnosing the problem is that the electrical system on board was kind of a mess, despite spending thousands of dollars with electricians in Australia to have wiring done. What finally became apparent is that the electricians had neglected to wire in an earth ground on multiple devices. It took days to unravel all of it, one piece at a time, but the stray current sources were all finally locked down and fixed: just in time for a birthday.

Bocce, barbecue, cake, beach, and no worries: a perfect birthday celebration! Just a few more weeks along the continuum of cruising in Southeast Asia.

Electrifying followers know that reading this on the Sailfeed website charges up the Totem cruising kitty!

Denial and Other Adventures in Avoiding Reality

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-27 01:51

Everyone has their own way of dealing with life’s unfortunate events.  Some people eat.  Some people cry.  Some people exercise until they fall down from exhaustion.  As for me, I grew up in a strong WASP-y tradition.  That means when the weather is hot, I’m accustomed to spying men in kneesocks and long shorts.  When it’s Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, we eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  And when reality serves me something I don’t want to deal with, I hide.

Mentally, of course.  You can’t physically hide from reality – that would look ridiculous.  Did Lord Grantham lock himself in a cupboard when Downton was circling the drain?  No.  Like all good avoiders, he just locked himself into a mental pattern of “la la la, this isn’t happening, I don’t have to change my ways, oh good there’s the gong, let’s all dress for dinner.”  And while some of us aboard Papillon take a, shall we say, more Teutonic approach to unwanted events, some of us are just chasing distractions while we wait for the metaphorical dinner gong.

Our cloud on the horizon is work.  This is a cloud-that-isn’t-really-a-cloud.  Work means money means we can keep sailing… just not for a while.  The bad side of work is that it will remove Erik from the equation for a time.  Oh, the work will be exciting, and he has a great team, and he’ll be home as often as he can, but nonetheless.  The whole point of this trip was to spend time as a foursome.  I’m selfishly sad to give that up, even for a little while.

So, how have we hidden from our woes?

Erik’s Solution: Fix Everything
“Don’t forget to run the engine every couple of weeks.”
“Could you return those extra parts I bought to the chandlery?”
“Make sure you get those centerboard trunk drawings to the welder so he can get started.”
I burrowed down further into the cockpit cushions and pushed my nose into my book.  Can’t Erik see that I am hiding, here?  His constant reminders about what needed to be done while he is away only reminded me that he is really going to be away.  As I tuned him out, I wondered why I didn’t buy a bag of grotesquely overpriced Cheetos the last time I was at the grocery store.  A stomachache would be an excellent distraction right now.

As the clock counted down, Erik hid by doing boat projects.  Many, many boat projects.  The Sailrite hummed away while he sewed dinghy splash guards and hatch covers with mosquito nets.  He fixed the old dinghy, ordered of the parts for our propeller shaft adventure and sorted out the water pump on the generator.  He was a whirlwind of activity.

No dengue for me, thank you. The new dinghy is as dry as a bone thanks to Erik´s distinctive splash guards.

Stylish and Indy’s Solution: Entertainment

The girls went a different route in ignoring Erik’s imminent departure.  While you can normally find them sitting around with a book in hand, it became downright pathological.  Mealtimes, in the bathroom, waiting for dinner – they allowed themselves no rest.  They rode a merry-go-round of reading-Lego-movies, interspersed with playing with friends.  Any extra time they found was quickly filled with bickering before they returned to the tried-and-true methods described.

Many Lego houses guarded by a fierce dragon.

Amy’s Solution: Three Guesses
And as for me?  Well, I’m writing this, aren’t I?

But don’t be too sad for us.  Erik will be home whenever he can.  We have visitors arriving in the morning, school starts in a few weeks, there is French to learn, and the sun is still shining here in Noumea.  Before we know it, we will be pulling away from the dock and continuing on with the sailing part of our adventure.  And, in the meantime, I’ll distract myself when I need to.  Before I know it, the dinner gong will ring again.

Gemeco iNstall ipad app, for do-it-yourselfers too

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-01-23 08:25

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 23, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

First of all, Gemeco’s iNstall app is free if you already have an iPhone or iPad. Second, though aimed at professional marine electronics installers, some of its tools are valuable to do-it-yourself types and even just regular boaters…

iNstall includes an ABYC-based wire sizer. Dial in wire length, maximum expected current flow and pow, there’s the minimum gauge you need for the job. There are several of these out there as standalone apps or online widgets, but this one seems to be full featured — except perhaps for a help file explaining nuances like “allowable voltage drop” — and it’s just one of many applets in the bundle.

There’s also a calculator that estimates the bottom coverage of a particular transducer or of any transducer with a known beam width at a particular depth. This is a feature that I’ve always appreciated seeing on fishfinders or MFDs (always from Raymarine?) because it helps me understand what I’m seeing on the sonar screen. A big fish or rock that looks like it’s right under the boat could, in fact, be anywhere in the sonar cone (or multiple cones for multiple frequencies and/or even somewhat flattened cones in some cases).

You may already have a tilt/heel measuring app, but iNstall’s is nicely dampened and especially calibrated to help you determine which tilted element transducer to install at a specific hull location. And if you’re catching on that iNstall is especially focused on transducers, you won’t be surprised that the wholesale marine electronics distributor, Gemeco, in South Carolina is a subsidiary of Airmar Technology in New Hampshire.

But since Airmar manufactures at least some of the transducers offered by or for every marine electronics brand (I think), the app’s depth of information in this area is substantial. You can search for wiring diagrams by name and plug image and then tap to download the PDF if your iThing is online. You can also search for appropriate mix and match transducers (PDF poster here) by plug type, legacy electronics definitely included, or search the whole Airmar transducer catalog by several criteria faster than you can on the company’s own website.

The iNstall applets get more arcane with details of testing thermistors and the reference tables a tech uses with an EDI transducer tester. These serve mainly to remind me how complex even one corner of the marine electronics installer world can get. And also to remind me of the several installers who’ve recently told me that they feel like they’re “caught between a rock and a hard place,” or more specifically between big manufacturers who want to sell through every channel possible and customers who always want more for less. Now, imagine an iNstall app that also dealt with the subtleties of marine antennas, ethernet cabling, boat cams, etc., etc. Respect thy installer!

The good news is that Gemeco is looking for ideas about more useful applets to add to iNstall, and they distribute many more products than Airmar’s. In fact, their thick catalog offers more lines of NMEA 2000 sensors and sub systems than I’ve ever seen in one place, along with a lot of other goodies that are often hard to source or even know about. And the catalog is all online for your perusal. Consumers cannot buy directly from Gemeco, but they’re happy to direct you to a dealer/installer who can. I was reminded of that — and frankly of the app, which debuted in September — when the Gemeco phone number showed up on an Actisense advert here this week. If you do download iNstall, please tell us what you like and what you think should be added.

PS: Today I learned that Gemeco is beta testing another free app called Boat Docs. It’s intended to be “a hand-held library of every installation manual, owner’s manual, technical document, brochure or any other electronic media we are able to locate regarding electronic items found on a boat. Our goal is to give a marine installer a single sourc to locate any current or archived media he may need to service a vessel. An owner will be able to create a private library of every manual pertaining to their specific vessel as well.” Check out the screenshot, with over 1,200 docs already collected and waiting for us:

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

Gemeco iNstall ipad app, for do-it-yourselvers too

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-01-23 08:25

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 23, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

First of all, Gemeco’s iNstall app is free if you already have an iPhone or iPad. Second, though aimed at professional marine electronics installers, some of its tools are valuable to do-it-yourself types and even just regular boaters…

iNstall includes an ABYC-based wire sizer. Dial in wire length, maximum expected current flow and pow, there’s the minimum gauge you need for the job. There are several of these out there as standalone apps or online widgets, but this one seems to be full featured — except perhaps for a help file explaining nuances like “allowable voltage drop” — and it’s just one of many applets in the bundle.

There’s also a calculator that estimates the bottom coverage of a particular transducer or of any transducer with a known beam width at a particular depth. This is a feature that I’ve always appreciated seeing on fishfinders or MFDs (always from Raymarine?) because it helps me understand what I’m seeing on the sonar screen. A big fish or rock that looks like it’s right under the boat could, in fact, be anywhere in the sonar cone (or multiple cones for multiple frequencies and/or even somewhat flattened cones in some cases).

You may already have a tilt/heel measuring app, but iNstall’s is nicely dampened and especially calibrated to help you determine which tilted element transducer to install at a specific hull location. And if you’re catching on that iNstall is especially focused on transducers, you won’t be surprised that the wholesale marine electronics distributor, Gemeco, in South Carolina is a subsidiary of Airmar Technology in New Hampshire.

But since Airmar manufactures at least some of the transducers offered by or for every marine electronics brand (I think), the app’s depth of information in this area is substantial. You can search for wiring diagrams by name and plug image and then tap to download the PDF if your iThing is online. You can also search for appropriate mix and match transducers (PDF poster here) by plug type, legacy electronics definitely included, or search the whole Airmar transducer catalog by several criteria faster than you can on the company’s own website. 

The iNstall applets get more arcane with details of testing thermistors and the reference tables a tech uses with an EDI transducer tester. These serve mainly to remind me how complex even one corner of the marine electronics installer world can get. And also to remind me of the several installers who’ve recently told me that they feel like they’re “caught between a rock and a hard place,” or more specifically between big manufacturers who want to sell through every channel possible and customers who always want more for less. Now, imagine an iNstall app that also dealt with the subtleties of marine antennas, ethernet cabling, boat cams, etc., etc. Respect thy installer!

The good news is that Gemeco is looking for ideas about more useful applets to add to iNstall, and they distribute many more products than Airmar’s. In fact, their thick catalog offers more lines of NMEA 2000 sensors and sub systems than I’ve ever seen in one place, along with a lot of other goodies that are often hard to source or even know about. And the catalog is all online for your perusal. Consumers cannot buy directly from Gemeco, but they’re happy to direct you to a dealer/installer who can. I was reminded of that — and frankly of the app, which debuted in September — when the Gemeco phone number showed up on an Actisense advert here this week. If you do download iNstall, please tell us what you like and what you think should be added.

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

Unrest in Thailand: being prepared

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-01-22 14:00

Here in sleepy Koh Phayam, a little island just south of Thailand’s border with Myanmar, the offer of electricity warrants a banner. What’s not making any headlines is the country’s lurch toward a coup, with political unrest and protesters bloodied and killed in Bangkok as the conflict rapidly escalates. The unrest was not even on our radar before we cleared in last November: we were more focused on the simmering rebellion near our entry point in the south, which continues to claim lives.

Once we arrived in Phuket in December, we started to hear stories. The first came innocently enough as a reaction to a question to a taxi driver about recent celebrations for the King’s birthday. Who knew that might be controversial?

The shorthand version: protesters from Thailand’s Democratic Party want the prime minister, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, to step down; her response to set elections (scheduled for Feb 2) was not acceptable to them. Their reaction is to use protests to effectively shut down Bangkok and as much government activity as possible until she agrees, while making threats to physically remove her, and worse.

The Democratic Party doesn’t want elections, because Yingluck would almost certainly win again. Instead, the goal is to push out elections for indefinite months (years), and put the Democrat’s own “people’s council” in place in the interim. Doesn’t sound very democratic, does it? At the core is a loss of faith in the democratic process overall, which is subverted by corruption on all fronts. Today’s protesters are the same people who were in power just a few years ago, decrying the protests which ultimately cost them power. It’s messy, and this barely scratches the surface.

Does this affect us? It hasn’t yet. We’re aware, and we keep tabs, but we’re in sleepy backwaters that aren’t affected.

The first time we saw any evidence of unrest was at the Thai immigration office in Ranong just a few days ago. We took Totem up to this town at the border of Myanmar to extend our visas, with a nice little angle of approach that let us spend a couple of hours splashing in Burmese water near the invisible dotted line that divided an estuary between the countries.

In the Immigration office waiting area, a patio outside the air conditioned offices, a TV was set up to entertain the lineup of petitioners (our crew, and several dozen Burmese) showed a live feed of the ongoing protests in Bangkok. What looked at first like a fairly routine demonstration got ugly, and before I could think about what the children were watching, there were bleeding and convulsing wounded splashed across the screen.

Later, inside having our extensions processed inside by the very serious and officious immigration staff, yet another TV screen replayed the drama. Although the Burmese waiting their turn were as transfixed as we were, within the office the officials carried on business as usual and didn’t seem to even notice the screen. How can you not notice and be moved by a live feed of a mortally wounded human? It felt surreal.

The event made us think further about our own plans and strategies for dealing with unrest. My friend (and fellow cruiser) Diane has just published an article in Outside, a really interesting piece- Surviving Your Trip- that looks at strategies for overcoming different disaster scenarios while traveling. Diane and I had covered our plans shortly before we took Totem up to Ranong. We’re featured as one of five scenarios for disaster preparedness, but there are great takeaways for cruisers throughout the article.

Reviewing our approach for what we would do and how we’ve planned, both regarding the political instability here in Thailand and for other possible disasters we’ve considered, I found a common thread:

Talk to people.
Be known.
Be friendly.

So much of preparedness is about assuming a defensive posture, of plans and preparation. I think fundamentally, it’s also very much about what we put forward with our words and our actions. No doubt this will sound incredibly naive to many, but I believe that putting faith in human nature and giving it the benefit of the doubt is a positive way to prepare that shouldn’t be discounted. Positive interactions with people we may see routinely in a given area can foster the probability for support or assistance if it’s needed.

We did this in Jayapura, Indonesia, a very militarized town where many branches of armed forces are stationed to quell the Free Papua Movement. Wives of the secret police became my BFFs for the week, and Jamie found a friend in the Navy. We did this over and over in Papua New Guinea, where being forthcoming with the chief upon arrival to an island and open, honest, friendly interaction with islanders put them in our court- a deliberate strategy to help with the petty theft and bigger issues that have challenged other cruisers.

For now, we’re enjoying a very quiet stretch at a quiet island that’s untouched by the action near Bangkok, where a State of Emergency was declared to contain the protests. No action here. Just dogs, sitting in the water on the beach, because they can.

We’re grateful to be far from the action, and hope that the competing voices for power in Bangkok can see their way beyond self-interest to truly serve the Thai people.

If you’d like to read more, Time has a good synopsis that hits on the core issues and complexities.
Politically savvy followers know that reading this on the Sailfeed website puts a little cash in our kitty for the Totem Thai Exit Strategy.

NMEA 2000 Certification, in the Panbo crossfire

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-01-22 09:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 22, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

It’s great that boaters on research missions are constantly (though quietly) digging through the Panbo archives (or using Google’s neat site search with the same intent). But when one is inspired to write a detailed, articulate rebuttal to a stand I took years ago on a subject that’s still relevant, it deserves special attention. Bo Collier is working hard to figure out a new electronics system for his 53-foot 1978 Hatteras LRC trawler and he takes exception to my notion that NMEA 2000 certification is not an absolute must when choosing devices that use the data standard. What follows is his argument with my retorts interspersed and plenty of room at the end for you to add your opinion…

Ben, today was one of those occasions when I awoke at 1:30 AM and felt compelled, for God knows what reason, to pick up my iPad. Bouncing around your site I found “NMEA 2000 certification, the elephants in the room“ and after reading it and all the posts felt that I must pen something from the perspective of a recreational user. The NMEA Certified and compatible issue struck me a bit different than it seems to have struck you.

Having read enough blogs I know that any posting of my comments will surely bring about a reprimand about being dependent on electronics. Enough please! Anyone that leaves port without some sort of paper chart and compass probably deserves whatever eventuality they get should the sea gods frown on their day of good spirits. Yes, I can read a paper chart and use a compass to plot a course. I can apply emergency measures to get me home if needed. I plan, plan, then plan again; which my wife believes is only done for the sake of driving her batty. I want comfort and safety when on the water. Let me rephrase that, I want safety then comfort when on the water. But, who in their right mind wants to pilot a 53-foot, 75,000 pound, 8-knot trawler through treacherous waters with a compass and chart? I like keeping a chart open at the helm to verify, but do we really want to return to the days of paddling at 20-degrees to the prevailing winds to find the next island? So, like my planning, I am spending hundreds of hours researching any equipment I put on my boat. And, that is where this whole NMEA 2000 stuff takes me.

Bo, You won’t catch me judging anyone’s paper chart habits. I think that there are lots of ways to navigate safely, plus lots of ways to do it badly, and that NMEA 2000 is key to the excellent electronic tools we now have available to use well.

I read over the NMEA Certification Process Overview on the NMEA web site. I gained a better perspective after reading all the posts resulting from your article. There are some very sharp folks that come to your site. But, it appears there are test methods and a verification process as outlined in the NMEA Certification Criteria and Test Methods (Appendix C in the Overview). There is a NMEA 2000 Certification Test tool which, from what I can tell, gathers specific data from a device so the data may be validated by NMEA. I am guessing that a NMEA representative doesn’t show up with a ball bat and begin beating the everloving you know what out of the device, as they attest to do at Underwriters Laboratory. NMEA publishes a set of criteria, provides a verifiable means of testing, and offers NMEA 2000 Certification should the device pass the tests.

As I understand it, the NMEA 2000 certification tool — which is essentially a special software program (that cost a lot of money to develop) — is only intended to test the behavior of a device on an N2K network. Does it identify itself properly? Does it send out data in the right way that won’t interfere with higher priority data-like switch commands? That sort of thing. But the tool does not test the data content of a particular device, which is a near impossible task if you think it through. So you could conceivably buy a certified NMEA 2000 depth transducer that did not output a standard N2K Depth message (PGN) or output one that was always wrong. Certification does largely assure that a product will not mess up a network, but the other issues are left for the market place to sort out :-)

It would probably be a good thing if NMEA made public more of Appendix C in the Standard so that consumer doing serious research like you could better understand what is and isn’t tested.

With respect to companies (manufacturers) who put NMEA 2000 Compatible, it is my opinion that NMEA should give fair warning, then use the power of the court to go after any company that violates the registered entity of NMEA 2000. I don’t mean to sound harsh, and it appears that NMEA may have missed the boat (could not resist) by not registering the entire” NMEA 2000 Certified” name, to place the registered mark after the word “Certified” and group the statement, instead of after the 2000. I can bet dollars to donuts there is not a single recreational boater in my marina (mostly larger boats) that has a clue there is a difference between NMEA 2000 Certification and NMEA 2000 Compatible. Hey guys – yes, you guys that manufacture and go through all the trouble and costs of certifying a product – do you give a hoot about what happens should a non-certified device start throwing out odd sentences at our MFD’s here in the real world? Help us out here, please.

I don’t know about the details of NMEA’s intellectual property claims, Bo, but I do know that the organization has sometimes at least threatened action against companies claiming N2K compatibility. In fact, I took a lot of flak from some readers for defending NMEA in such a situation. Happy to add that the offending company not only “came to Jesus,” but is now an active participant in NMEA standards making.

How would Furuno, Raymarine, Simrad or others look at this? Not sure! From what I am reading they all have certified, non-certified, and certified but only compatible equipment. These companies know what they have. They know some of their equipment needs to be backward compatible, and they know NMEA 2000 is a voluntary standard. If I were king, I mean if I was a big wig at NMEA, I would gather all of the NMEA 2000 Certification members and let them know the perilous road NMEA is on if they don’t stop the misuse of the NMEA 2000 trademark. Remember, we recreational boaters quickly get an attitude about an entire product line when one device starts acting up.

The big manufacturers do not run NMEA and their relationship with it seems complicated, as I tried to explain once.  The issue of daisy chaining N2K instruments, which I’ve also covered, illustrates what I mean. Furuno, Simrad, B&G and Raymarine all sell instruments with two N2K ports, so that an installer can chain them together easily — as illustrated below in a 2008 Panbo entry called NMEA 2000 Outlaw!  – even though the hardware details in the NMEA 2000 Standard don’t permit it. NMEA explains why in this PDF.

I believe that all the daisy chain instruments are what you term “certified but only compatible equipment, meaning they pass the certification software test but can’t be certified just because of the hardware issue. And I keep hoping that some compromise will be reached — like a sticker on every instrument warning about the danger of daisy chaining, which is completely optional. But so far the situation remains the same with neither side budging, and the Certification concept suffering.

That’s not to say that some very good NMEA 2000 compatible equipment is available from all of the manufacturers, I’m sure there is. However, my comments stem from a non-profit national certification association I sit on that aggressively goes after companies that misrepresent by misusing the certification logo or name. First a cease and desist letter and, if necessary, they will go to legal means. Personally, I like it. My twenty-person company invests thousands each year supporting this organization. We donate money, time and technical expertise in support so they may pay operating expenses and maintain a reliable certification standard. I would rather drive the bus, or at least have a seat on the bus, than to be standing on the sidelines as it whizzes by; that’s entirely my choice and goes to my point. Not only does my company benefit by advertising the organization’s logo (which goes directly to client and consumer relations), those seeking certification know the difference between Certification and Certification-like. There are some well-founded competitors who chose to go in a different direction. When one used the logo without permission they were slapped down pretty hard. The organization I belong to does, in fact, set the standard. So, why not allow the public to know there is a difference?

Again, I do think that NMEA polices the NMEA 2000 logo. I also think that most manufacturers large and small are honoring and supporting the standard more than ever. I just noticed, for instance, that a bunch of BEP CZone devices just made the 2014 Certified list on NMEA’s front page (even though they’ve been available for at least two years and work fine in my experience).

Ben, I don’t know if there are products that “probably won’t work on a NMEA 2000 network” as purported by Steve in his article. I don’t disagree with your comments either. My entire point, and yes, there is one, is the National Marine Electronics Association needs to do a better job of protecting their name and logo. Do that and it seems most of this controversy would go away. By protecting their name they protect recreational boaters for whom the standard is maintained. I personally believe using the NMEA 2000 Compatible is sales trickery. Heck, unless I am really missing the point, it does not seem that difficult. NMEA created a specific standard that sets criteria for a manufacturer to follow and provides a testing and verification process. Either it meets the standard or it does not. Certification always attests to an established set of criteria. We don’t want to learn about “compatible,” “works with, ” or “NMEA Lite,” (I threw that one in…) after we purchase and install a device by reading the fine print too late or by being laughed at by a NMEA installer. The product that is compatible may work just fine, but by NMEA protecting their registered trademark and name it protects me and all other recreational boaters. And please, to every manufacturer’s sales rep and technician that may read this or see me coming to your booth at the next boat show: don’t make me pull my pants down around my ankles as you try to enlighten me. Believe me when I say I am all ears and want to learn more than you can imagine. So just be honest. Your products are, or they are not, NMEA 2000 Certified.

I stand by my original thesis. NMEA and NMEA 2000 are great for boaters, I think, but certification is not a black and white issue for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Marine electronics is a relatively tiny, but vastly complicated, industry and thus, almost nothing about it is subject to simple dictates. I know, for instance, that Larry Anderson — who was NMEA Technical Director during N2K’s early years and then a principal at Maretron until he retired — now feels that the “plug and play” aspect of N2K was oversold. Lots of do-it-yourselfers have had good experiences with it, but often a pro installer should be involved sooner rather than later.

Finally, here is one example of how this concept, or point of mine, worked for me. I am currently installing Maretron digital gauge displays for Hercules and Big Boy (sorry, that would be my Detroit 4/53′s). After researching several alternatives to get analog engine data to digital I settled on Actisense. The EMU-1 that does this fancy work IS NOT, as I could find, a NMEA 2000 Certified product. However, my research found that Actisense has many products that are certified and they are listed as a NMEA member. This gives me comfort, and I am better prepared to make an informed decision. Not all recreational boaters are ignorant. We just need the facts, please.        Regards, Bo 

Well, Bo, that also seems like a good example of my attitude toward certification. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that the EMU-1 was not certified (yet) though I’ve trying to pay more attention to that and I’m a big fan of the device. At any rate, thank you very much for articulating your concerns. I’ll bet that you’ll end up with a wonderful electronics setup and that you’ll understand it. Now, I hope that interested readers will add their thoughts.

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

Kids and Cyclones

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-20 15:14

“Are we really going to get a cyclone?  A real one?”  The girls looked at me with shining eyes, as though I had brought Christmas back eleven months early.
“Yep.”  I shoved the awning onto the spare bunk.  “It’s a real cyclone.  Tropical Cyclone June.”
“Tropical Cyclone Juin,” said Indy.
“Do we have to go to the cyclone shelter?” asked Stylish.
“Is the wind going to blow the boat over?” Indy made wind hands, puffing out her cheeks and destroying an imaginary fleet.
“Do we get to use the cyclone lines?”
“When is it going to get here?”
“Guys,” I said, pausing in my struggle with the awning, “it is a cyclone, but not a big one.  And it is going to pass to the west of us, so we should be just fine.  It is going to be pretty windy and rainy for a few days.  That’s it, probably.”
“Like New Zealand?”  Stylish made a face.
“But warmer.”
Their little shoulders slumped.  What a rip-off.  Here was a genuine, super-exciting natural disaster, and Mom was acting like it was just another day.  Parents don’t understand anything.

But they kept hoping.  Erik and I, meanwhile, were busy trying to get the sails down.  We didn’t expect Cyclone June to cause us much trouble, but still.  This was a good chance to get ready for the season,and better now than when things unexpectedly take a turn for the worse.

Watching us got old fast.  So the kids appropriated the hammock, made themselves into a Chinese dragon, and waited for the cyclone prep to become more fun.

Our main is too big to fold on the sidedeck without tearing it (and our marriage) to shreds.  We all trooped down the dock to a sufficiently dog-poop-less area.

The wind was picking up, so we needed the girls for their skills as giant paperweights.

But as soon as we set them free, they started running around in circles again, waving palm fronds and climbing the green buoy that serves as a jungle gym to the marina’s smaller residents.

“Is the cyclone coming now?” asked Indy as she ran past.
“Not yet.”
It was worse than a long car ride.

And finally, we were done.  Papillon was naked.  Extra battens and spars lashed to the deck.  Sails below.  Lines tied off.  All of us were ready for Cyclone June.

…which turned out to be the non-event we predicted.  The system stayed far enough offshore that we had steady winds, but it hardly gusted above 30 knots.  There was a lot of rain, but it is so warm here that it was a minor inconvenience.  We stayed in, watched movies, ate a lot, and did our normal stuck-inside things.

But long before the baby cyclone had arrived, the girls had lost interest.  Their first real cyclone, and nothing happened.

As far as they are concerned, we cried wolf.  If a real cyclone comes, I am going to have such a hard time convincing them to take it seriously.

Lost WWII wreck- found in Thailand?

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-01-20 11:14

We like to think we’re pretty observant about the world around us. In this region vigilance is essential, thanks to the many fish traps and unattended fish nets in local waters. A thin stake with a ragged flag, a piece of Styrofoam that is the body double of floating garbage may be the only sign of prop-snagging lines in our path. There were masses of these as we worked our way coastwise to the north from Phuket, so Jamie and I spent a lot of time glued to the scenery around us. With glorious sailing weather (finally, after so many miles of motoring or motorsailing) it was hardly a burden.


A few boats headed north at the same time, as eager as we were for a break from the crowds in Phuket. Traveling in company means the chance for a few shots of boats under sail.

You know the saying- if there’s another boat on the horizon, you’re racing? Jamie was in his element as we cruised raced north with Kittani.

The province north of Phuket is the least populated in Thailand. Only a handful of communities broke the wall of green and occasional beaches along the way. That, and approximately 100,000 fish traps.

At one point, we passed a shipyard, with what appeared to be bamboo frames forming a grid for scaffolding to work on boats careened on the sand.

To the north end was a rusted out cruise ship- I snapped a few shots as we went by.

After arriving in Koh Phayam, we settled in with the sunset. Niall was flipping through pictures from the trip north and got to the few of that rusted old hulk. He called to me, frustration in his voice. “Why didn’t you tell me that we passed a World War II era wreck?” Well…because I didn’t know we had? So much for the powers of observation.

Niall’s interest in WWII started a few years ago, but kicked into high gear while we were in Papua New Guinea in 2012 and had the chance to see and explore a number of wrecks, on land and in the water. It was immediately obvious to him that what Jamie and I took for an an abandoned commercial ship was an LST (landing ships that carried tanks and personnel, landing them on an unimproved shoreline). We even discussed it as we sat in the cockpit, passing by, wondering about the fate of the rusty hulk. He’s a researcher like his mama, so Niall dug in to try and identify the original name of the ship. We didn’t see anything obvious at first blush, just what appeared to be a Thai name. He found that a number of LSTs had been sold to the Thai navy after the war, and their names carried a theme: Lincoln County, Stark County, Stone County, Dodge County. Zooming in, there appears to be a match with one of the “missing” LSTs, Dodge County. Two of the sites that Niall uses to find and reference information about the wrecks we’ve seen, PacificWrecks and NavSource, don’t have a current location for the Dodge County. He dug further, and couldn’t find it anywhere- it was just noted as lost. He’s thrilled to have “found” this lost ship and set about providing updated data to the websites… and composing a poem to LST-722, Dodge County.

Commissioned at the close of forty-four
She departed to serve on many a shore
And this she did with great renown
Till the end of the war had come around
She cheated the sea of a grave so deep
Instead lies beached in eternal sleep
With the retention and memories of her captain and crew
Of the old LST, seven twenty-two

I love it when our children teach us a lesson. That this came with a reminder to look deeper: smug as we were, feeling so observant from our floating perch.


If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’re a reader with a keen sense of observation. Thank you! Thanksn also to the crew of Kittani for sharing their photos of Totem.

USCG Issues Marine Alert in Wake of Salty Dawg Rally rescues

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-01-19 19:36

I will have WAY more to say about this in due time, but wanted to post it immediately. Thanks to Dave for sharing – you know who you are. Might we have finally reached a tipping point when it comes to taking offshore sailing seriously, instead of a ride to warmer weather?

Charlie ‘saved’…support the Coast Guard Foundation

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-01-19 15:45

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 19, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

My friend and colleague, Charlie Doane, has been making the pages of Panbo since at least 2005 (sometimes even comically), and he does seem to get seriously offshore more than any other active writer I can think of. But, damn, it’s unexpected to post an image of him being hoisted aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter last week. The abandonment of the very first Alpha 42 catamaran, Be Good Too, has been covered extensively elsewhere, probably in most accurate detail by Charlie himself, and discussions about the incident rage in various online forums. While I think that chewing over maritime casualties like this is a good thing — even if it does bring out the pedantic ass in some of us — let me also suggest an appropriate course of action for interested bystanders…

I’m already in awe of what the Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) teams can do, but seeing a buddy in the middle of it adds another level of awesome. The screen grabs above are from the USCG video and that’s Charlie just about to jump off the stern with the encouragement of rescue swimmer John Knight. Note from their 36° 10′N, 71° 32′W position that they are about 300 lonely miles off Virginia. Besides the Jayhawk helicopter, the CG also deployed a C-130 aircraft and made helo refueling arrangements with a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, as described in this release.

As explained in that release and also in Charlie’s account, the helo transfer wasn’t done in desperation. The folks on Be Good Too were just hoping for a ride to land from a passing AMVER ship, and the CG waited overnight before sending the Jayhawk, but surely its four-person crew were thinking of the Navy helicopter crew that crashed off Virginia just a few days before. Nonetheless, Charlie told me that they were super calm and professional, if not downright charming, and he also let me publish these photographs taken inside the helicopter.

These two images of swimmer Knight and hoist operator Brian Light slinging up the catamaran’s owners — Charlie thinks himself lucky to get the basket — are particularly worth clicking on to see at greater resolution. Try to imagine the ferocious noise and vibration of the Jayhawk, along with the fact that they pulled off four boat-to-helo transitions like this. The USCG seems to have a remarkable success rate with this process, but I hope that doesn’t mask all the technology, training and courage that makes it possible.

Another thing to consider is that the Coast Guard is arguably not an easy service to be part of. I’ve heard similar thoughts many times, as in the words of this writer: ”A strong sense of tradition, an underdog mentality and a ‘make do with less’ attitude are the hallmarks ­of the U.S. Coast G­uard. Unique among U.S. armed forces, the Coast Guard is perpetually on active duty, chronically underfunded, entrusted with a vast array of responsibilities, but often overlooked.”

That’s why I think we should all take in the look of relief and justifiable pride on the face of AST2 John Knight — Aviation Survival Technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer — and ask ourselves what we can do to improve the lives of the 35,000 active duty Coasties. Fortunately, there’s an excellent organization dedicated to just that task. Don’t be put off by the black tie dinners you may notice at the Coast Guard Foundation site; their good work extends throughout the chain of command (and, besides, those benefits raise a lot of money).
In fact the foundation makes its financial statements readily available, so you can verify that a large portion of any dollars you contribute will support sail training at the academy, recreational equipment on the cutters, relief for families in need, and many other items large and small. A few years ago I shared a meal with President Anne Brengle and was very impressed with what I heard, but it was a later incident that made me a true believer…

In the fall of 2012 I enjoyed the fairly famous Annapolis Boat Show evening chaos when all the sailboats exit their show so that the powerboats can get into theirs. I realized that a couple of the friendly guys keeping enthusiasts from falling off the floats were Coasties moonlighting as show security, and I asked about the foundation with no expectation that they would even know what this stranger in the dark was talking about. But one of them got quite serious and said something like “The Coast Guard Foundation helps every one of us every day in some way or other.” It couldn’t have been a stronger endorsement.

I’m closing with two photos taken by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert at the Elizabeth City CG station where the crew of Be Good Too were reunited with terra firma. Charlie told me that one of the personnel there volunteered an hour ride to the airport and wouldn’t even accept gas money when they stopped to fill his truck. He also expressed appreciation and sorrow for the owners who just saw their cruising dreams shattered. I think that the image of them below could be a poster for the sort of deep relief the Coast Guard often delivers when things go badly wrong, and it might also give pause to those who jump to blame.
That said, there are interesting Sailing Anarchy and CruisersForum discussions about the incident, and I’m glad that Charlie is willing to confront the critics. (Note that both our blogs also appear in the nifty SailFeed blog garden, though potentially with different comments than what’s on our own sites).  I’m going to follow the discussions myself, and I’m tentatively hoping that the Alpha 42 concept, which Charlie still thinks of as a good design, survives what may have been poor initial execution. I doubt I’ll be dissuaded from thinking of multihulls as reasonable for prudent bluewater cruising, either, though I will listen to the arguments against.
Today, though, I also donated more money to the Coast Guard Foundation and I hope you will too, even if you don’t care that Charlie Doane lives to sail another day (I kid, I kid). After all, it might be your ass in a sling eventually! (Honest, I never realized how appropriate that saying is until just now.)

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

BE GOOD TOO: Answering Critics

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-01-19 09:23

Silly me. I thought publishing my account of abandoning Be Good Too would decrease rather than increase speculative and critical commentary among the baying dogs of the Internet. I suppose I should have known better. Unlike some folks out there, I don’t have the free time to write multiple screeds on all the sailing forums, so I thought I’d address some issues that have been raised here.

1. The most substantive point that has been raised is that it was not wise of us to attempt a non-stop passage from New York to St. John in January in an untried prototype boat. This certainly bears discussing. Gunther and Doris had been waiting for the boat for some time and were eager to get south ASAP. I am sure they are now second-guessing their decision in retrospect. They did hire Hank to help them do the passage, and that at least was a smart move.

As for Hank’s perspective, he’s a professional delivery skipper. Taking brand new lightly equipped boats into shitty weather is a big part of that job, at least if you really want to make a living at it. Some have suggested he should have tried to persuade Gunther and Doris to hop down the coast to the Bahamas instead, but in doing that he would effectively be talking them out of hiring him. I would guess that he now might be a bit more careful about accepting hull no. 1 prototype jobs.

As for me, I have some experience crewing off-season deliveries, including in brand new boats, and I knew what to expect. I knew we’d be in a gale or two and expected some things might break. I would never have done this trip with a skipper I didn’t know and trust. In retrospect I can certainly say I will be more careful in the future about doing off-season passages in prototype boats.

One interesting question to be asked is whether a mid-winter passage south is in fact more difficult than a fall passage. Winter weather is harsh, but it is more predictable. In the fall you are dancing between late-season hurricanes and early-season winter storms. In the winter, at least, you won’t have some squirrely tropical system doing something entirely unexpected (like Mitch in 1998).

There is an argument to be made that experienced sailors taking a boat south in winter are behaving more responsibly than inexperienced sailors who try to go south in the fall without professional help.

2. Many people have suggested we should have tried to do more to get the boat to shore. Most of the discussion has been about dropping the bent rudder and steering the boat without it. In this case, however, the rudders had positive buoyancy and only a couple of inches of clearance over the tops of their stocks. We did not have a 10-ton hydraulic jack (thanks for that tip, Evans), and I doubt it would have been useful if we had. We had no long levers. It never occurred to us to cut a hole in the deck over the rudder stock or to destroy the bearing tube–this, I submit, would have been a bad idea given the high likelihood of encountering another gale.

We also never discussed getting in the water to saw off the rudder. I would hope most people would understand that this idea is simply idiotic. We had no tool capable of doing it, and even if we had it would be impossible to accomplish working in the water under the hull in the open ocean.

The one interesting suggestion that has been made is that we might have removed the starboard engine’s starter when the engine was running and put it on the port engine to start it, too. Gunther actually suggested this, and Hank and I thought it sounded crazy. None of us are really diesel mechanics.

I now seriously would like to know: is this really possible? Has anyone done it? If so, please contact me. If it is possible, I’d like publish a story in the magazine on what’s involved and how to do it.

3. I have been most surprised by the comments made by Jon Eisberg, an experienced bluewater sailor I previously had some respect for. He has stated that the “deal-breaker” for him was the loss of electrical power, and that he would have aborted and headed for shore at that point. But, as I stated clearly in my account, we first became aware we were losing power after 0700 hrs on Saturday. We got hit by the wave and lost steering at about 1130 hrs the same day.

We weren’t that concerned about the loss of power in any event and spent little or no time trying to solve that problem. It may surprise Jon to learn this, but it is possible to sail long distances without any engines or electrical power. Some people even go out in boats that don’t have engines or electrical systems in the first place. All we needed to get to shore were sails and an operable steering system, so we focussed our attention on solving the rudder problem.

Jon has also criticized me personally and has suggested that our abandoning Be Good Too is very analogous to the abandonment last year of Wolfhound, about which I wrote at some length. But the two situations are obviously quite different. Wolfhound had sails and a working rudder and was getting close to Bermuda. Her immediate problem was that she had no electrical power, and her crew couldn’t navigate without it. All they had was an iPad with a low battery. We had a handheld GPS and plenty of double-A batteries and navigation wasn’t an issue. Our only serious problem, as I thought I made clear, was that we had no working rudders.

No Place Like Home

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-01-17 17:50

There’s nothing like a story on the best places to sail to start a bit of a debate. Last time we ran one, some SAIL writers weren’t too happy that their own home waters were not included. Doubtless a lot of readers will feel the same way. You’d think that predictable breezes, ample sunshine, plentiful and attractive anchorages, and interesting topography would comprise irrefutable proof of one region’s superiority over another, but sailors mostly being independently minded, stubborn people, that would be too easy. Of all the elements that shape a total sailing experience, these are only the tangible ones.

I once shared a charter boat with a crusty old-timer who lived near the Bristol Channel on England’s west coast. There, the tide sluices out at eight knots to unveil hungry mudbanks and the clouds bunch up like huge dark fists trying to fend off the remorseless cold fronts marching in from the west; not what most of us call a dream destination. “It’s okay here,” he said, staring out over our sunlit anchorage in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, “but you know, if I had to choose, I’d rather sail back home.”

Most sensible non-sailors would find a statement like this somewhat perverse, but I knew where he was coming from. If you sail the same stretch of water year in, year out, be it a bay, a lake, an estuary or a few miles of coastline, you tune into its moods. You learn where the current flows strongest, where the shallow patches are in the marina access channel, and which is the best anchorage for any given wind direction. You know which restaurants serve the best bar snacks at happy hour, and when you have to arrive at a harbor in order to be sure of a mooring. You have a good idea of where the fish bite, and the height of tide needed before you can sneak into that secluded cove. You know where the best launch ramps are, and maybe you’re on first-name terms with the harbormaster.

I’ve sailed in some fairly exotic places but oddly enough most of my fondest memories involve the murky waters, fast-running tides and often lousy weather of the place I called home for many years. There is much to be said for the comforting embrace of familiarity, even if it often seems that on the other side of the fence the water is always warmer and the sky always bluer.

Podcast: Matt Rutherford Sails for Japan

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-01-17 14:46

Matt and Andy sat down again on Burnside Street in Annapolis to discuss the Ocean Research Project’s upcoming expedition to Japan. Matt and NIcole Trenholm, his scientific partner, will set out from California in a newly built Harbor 29 to do a plastics research voyage in the Pacific. It’ll be the longest-ever research trip of that nature (6,500 nautical miles nonstop), in the smallest-ever boat used for such a purpose. Nicole call it their ‘vessel of opportunity’ – far from ideal, but good enough to do the work that needs to be done. Matt and Andy also discussed the Kiwi Spirit failures towards the end, so listen through for that. Check out oceanresearchproject.org to get involved with Matt’s project.

Stanley Paris Email from Kiwi Spirit to Explain Failures

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-01-17 11:34

This might be the last of this I post for a while, but it’s pretty interesting. I wish it was more detailed, but then Dr. Paris certainly had more important things to tend to. I’m thankful (and frankly surprised), he was able to send me anything at all.

I emailed his shore team a few days ago after speaking with Patrick from Farr, and they forwarded along a few questions I had for Dr. Paris to try and clear up some of the misinformation that’s been going around the web. These are those questions and his reply, unedited, plus some commentary from myself in brackets:

1. How, and how many times did the boat crash gybe?


2. Was there a preventer rigged when it did so?


[Still unclear why he wouldn't have had a preventer rigged, but there might be a good reason, so let's wait and see...]

3. What caused the staysail fitting at deck level to fail, and why did the extrusion get so damaged?


[Furling wraps can really eff your day up. I saw one once before the Carib1500 that unscrewed the Sta-lok terminal on the headstay and brought down the whole thing. They were lucky the mast didn't fall down with it (it had an inner forestay, so some support). Furling systems work great, but you have to be really careful with them, because the consequences of a failure can be severe. I imagine Dr. Paris has some regrets about this one, as it MIGHT have been avoidable.]

4. What broke during the gybe, and is that the reason for the boom-end  failure? Did the gybe cause the most damage, or was it something else?


[That must have been a hell of a gybe!]

5. Generally, we’re you happy with the design and layout of the boat and it’s sailing systems? Would you have changed anything now in hindsight?


[Good on Dr. Paris for taking the responsibility onto himself. It will be fun to see what changes he has in mind for the boat, if nothing else than as a learning experience for anyone heading offshore. I'll be rooting for him if he does indeed decide to restart. He's almost in Cape Town, so good luck on the last bit of his journey.]


Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-01-17 09:35

“I can say for certain that was the best helicopter ride of my life. It was also the best shower.” –statement by Gunther Rodatz to U.S. Coast Guard airbase personnel; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Jan. 14, 2014

THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN a lot of buzz about what happened Tuesday morning approximately 300 miles off the Virginia coast, when owners Gunther and Doris Rodatz, together with delivery skipper Hank Schmitt and myself, abandoned the 42-foot catamaran Be Good Too courtesy of a U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew. As is usually the case, much of it has been speculative, and some people have complained that we need not have left the boat. True facts have been a little hard to come by. Here on my own blog, at least, I can do what I can to correct that.

We departed Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, bound for St. John, USVI, at about 1430 hrs on Wednesday, January 8. It was bone cold outside, and the boat had been frozen into her berth by thin ice. The marina’s pump-out boat came around to act as an ice-breaker and helped bust us loose, and after a brief stop at the marina’s fuel dock, we headed down New York Harbor under power. We unrolled the solent jib after passing through the Verrazano Narrows, but Hank didn’t want anyone on deck handling the mainsail in the bitter cold. We motorsailed south all through the first night under the jib alone, staying inside the heated interior as much as possible, as the decks outside were soon coated in a skin of ice from the light freezing spray.

Frozen in Jersey City

By the following morning after breakfast it was warm enough that the deck was clear of ice and Gunther and I raised the mainsail, taking care to stay clear of the big chunks of ice that came toppling out of the sail as it was hoisted. We shut down the engines briefly and tried proceeding under sail alone, but the wind was getting weaker and soon we started up one engine and started motorsailing again so as to keep our speed up.

We motorsailed all through the rest of Thursday, until very early Friday morning, when the wind increased enough to shut down the engine. By sunrise we were close-reaching at 6-plus knots in 17-20 knots of southeast breeze. Not long afterward, however, the wind decreased and shifted to due south, and we spent much of the day motorsailing again, tacking back and forth, to make progress southward. After sunset the wind started building and we were able to proceed to the southeast under sail alone.

This was our best sailing during the entire trip. During my evening watch I had the boat running at 8-9 knots with spikes over 10 in 22-26 knots of apparent wind. Shortly before handing over to Gunther at 2130 hrs I took one reef in the main. It was also clear we had entered the Gulf Stream, as the water temperature had risen dramatically.

After midnight on Saturday, January 11, I noted from my berth that the boat’s motion had increased quite a bit. Coming on deck at 0400 hrs to relieve Hank I found the wind was blowing over 30 knots. There were two reefs in the main, and the jib had been roller-reefed to about half size. Waves were now occasionally falling on the center and starboard-side forward windows and some minor leaks had appeared around the edges of the window frames.

Heavy weather, as viewed from inside

Very shortly after Gunther came up to relieve me at 0700 hrs an autopilot alarm sounded indicating power was low. Gunther started up the generator, but found it was not charging the batteries. We started up the starboard-side engine, but it also was not charging the batteries. In the middle of all this, the single-line sheet to the self-tacking jib suddenly parted. We knew the sheet lead for this sail was not ideal and probably should have already rolled it up by now, given the conditions. I now immediately furled the sail, while Gunther did something, I’m not sure what, that got the batteries receiving a charge from the engine. I woke up Hank at this point and informed him we were starting to have “adventures.”

We now set up the boat to motorsail itself in a fore-reaching configuration under just the double-reefed main (there was no third reef). We locked the helm off hard to port to keep her from rounding up and were making progress eastwards at 4-5 knots. This seemed stable, though we were still getting whacked occasionally by waves on the starboard bow.

At about 1130 hrs we took a huge direct hit all across our front windows. The wave that hit us seemed much larger than the rest and was running at a different angle, such that it hit us from directly ahead instead of on the starboard quarter. Hank and I were in the saloon right behind the windows at the time. A fair amount of water squirted in all around the edges of the window panes and one large piece of trim was blown right off one vertical frame. The windows themselves, thankfully, held up fine. The wave stopped us dead in our tracks and even seemed to back us up a bit. A large amount of water surged up our stern and blew a large teak step right off its mounts.

The missing teak step

Immediately after the hit we found we had trouble controlling the boat. It seemed at the time that our loss of forward momentum had made it hard to steer, and the boat started spinning in circles, tacking and then jibing. We started up the other engine, and even with both engines running hard we could not regain control. After our second uncontrolled jibe, Hank ordered that we should drop the mainsail and lie ahull to the waves. The wind by now was blowing over 40 knots from the south and seas were running about 18-20 feet.

Frankly, this was the one point in our whole adventure where I was most nervous. I have sailed in 40 knots or more several times, but I had never before just laid to the wind and let a boat drift broadside to waves in conditions like this. I had always believed this was a bad idea and that it is best to adopt more active tactics. But the boat was very happy. The beam of the Alpha 42 (we were aboard hull no. 1, which had just been delivered to Gunther and Doris) is very wide for a cruising cat of this size, with an unusually high bridgedeck, and we had remarked earlier that the hull was very stiff and its motion was remarkably comfortable. We now were amazed at how stable it seemed lying to these large seas. The rolling was not very pronounced and only rarely did waves slap the boat or land on deck.

That afternoon we contacted our weather-router, Ken McKinley, by sat-phone and he advised that we were now south of the Gulf Stream and that we could expect the wind to increase to 45 knots before switching to the west. We continued lying to the waves through the rest of the afternoon and all of the night, during which the wind did indeed increase into the mid-40s, with gusts to over 50. Gunther later insisted he saw one hit 60.The boat, however, was still quite comfortable, and we bided our time standing watches, reading, and sleeping.

Chilling during the gale. Yes, we were very comfortable!

On relieving Hank at 0430 hrs early Sunday morning, he informed me we now had no electrical power. He had started the port-side engine shortly after midnight and found it was not charging the batteries. Meanwhile, the wind had also shifted west and was beginning to subside.

After sunrise we took stock of our situation. We first tried our engines: the port-side engine now would not start; the starboard engine would start, but wasn’t charging the batteries; the generator would not start. So we tried sailing, as the wind was now only blowing about 25 knots and seemed much more manageable. We rigged a new sheeting system for the jib, with one centerline sheet and barber-haulers on either side, and tried but failed to get the boat sailing off the wind to the southeast toward Bermuda, which now seemed like our best destination. The best we could do was effectively heave to, with the bow cocked toward the southwest as the boat drifted slowly southeast.

Our jury-rigged sheeting system. It worked very well

We did discuss raising the mainsail, but decided against it, as we had discovered that the top two full battens had become detached from their batt-cars when we dropped the sail earlier. There seemed to be no easy way to repair them, so we decided to wait for less wind before raising the sail again.

By 1100 hrs the wind, however, was increasing again, blowing over 30 knots I estimated, and curiously as it increased we found we had a little more luck getting the boat to sail. We first found we could sail on a close reach to the south-southwest at 4-5 knots. Later we managed to run off for a while on a broad reach to the southeast at higher speeds. Still, the boat was hard to control. It would periodically bear off or round up uncontrollably, do a spin, settle into a straight-line course for a while, do a spin, etc.

Through the afternoon the wind started diminishing again, and as it did the boat started spinning more and more. By early Monday morning, before daybreak, it was doing nothing but spinning in circles, so we rolled up the jib and decided to wait for daylight to see if we could figure out exactly what was wrong with the steering system.

Through all of this, too, we were now having to pump out the moist sections of the boat by hand. Water had been coming aboard continually in certain compartments for some time and now with no electric bilge pumps we had to attend to the chore ourselves. We weren’t sure where the water was coming from, and though the rate of ingress wasn’t at all alarming, it was annoying, as we had to pump for several minutes every one-and-a-half hours or so.

Come 0700 hrs conditions had become quite calm, with the wind from the south now at less than 10 knots, and at last we were able to embark on a deliberate examination of our problem. Inspecting all the steering gear, we found the port-side rudder stock was no longer connected to its tiller arm. Instead of being secured with a pin all the way through the stock, there was only one small set screw, the tip of which had broken off. There was, however, a hole through the stock for a proper pin, and after a long bit of head scratching, jury-rigging, and tiller-arm wrestling, we finally managed to pull the tiller arm up off the retaining ring on to which it had collapsed, line up the tiller’s hole with the rudder stock’s hole, and drive in an Allen wrench with a hammer.

The starboard side rudder stock and tiller arm, with intact connection between the two

Port-side rudder stock and tiller arm, before repairs

And after repairs. We had to remove the angle sensor and the connecting rod between the two tillers to do our thing. Afterwards, of course, we reinstalled the rod. With the tiller arm swinging back and forth in the swell with some force, this all took some care and patience

As you can imagine, we felt pretty proud of ourselves at this point and were confident we had solved our most important problem. Unfortunately, after we started up our one engine to see if we could steer, the boat still would only drive in circles, to port, no matter what we did with the wheel.

So now it was time to visually inspect the rudders to see what the hell was really going on down there. Gunther insisted he should be the one to go into the water to do this and soon reported that the starboard rudder blade was just spinning in place around its stock and that the port rudder blade was bent inward toward the boat’s centerline at a very large angle.

Gunther goes for a swim

In retrospect, it is hard to imagine how all this might have happened. I think it is likely that most cats would have suffered some sort of steering or rudder damage from the hit we took, but our damage seemed bizarre. Securing the tiller arms to the rudder stocks with small set screws may not be a good practice, but in this case those screws should have acted as sacrificial fuses. Confronted with the huge force of the wave stopping the boat and thrusting it backwards, you’d think the screws would break off, leaving the stocks to rotate freely so the rudder blades would be saved. Instead the starboard set screw held and the welds securing the frame armature inside the rudder to the stock had apparently failed. Meanwhile, the port set screw had failed, yet the frame somehow bent anyway.

Thinking we might still be able to steer the boat with its engines if we had both of them running, we next spent some time examining the port engine to see if we could get it started. This emitted a burning odor whenever we lit up the ignition, and we soon figured out that the starter had shorted out.

Unwilling to admit defeat, we thought we might have better luck sailing the boat now that we understood exactly what was wrong with the rudders. We were also now willing to raise the mainsail again in the much calmer conditions. So up went the main, and we tried every possible combination we could think of, playing the sails against each other and the bent rudder, playing the engine against the rudder in both forward and reverse, but no matter what we tried the essential dynamic remained the same: with no sails up the starboard engine ruled, and the boat just turned to port; with sails up and drawing, in whatever configuration, the bent rudder ruled and the boat would only turn to starboard.

We were now about 300 miles from anywhere, equidistant from Bermuda, the Chesapeake, and New York, and reluctantly concluded that we weren’t going to be able to get the boat to shore without outside assistance. We discussed the prospect of organizing a tow at some length and called Alpha Yachts by sat-phone to see if they could arrange something. Hank, an eternal optimist, thought this was a real possibility, but I was more skeptical. Thinking out how it might proceed, we realized that, even if we could get an appropriate vessel to come to us, it would take days before we could rendezvous. The tow would then have to proceed quite slowly, at say 3 knots at most, due to the bent rudder. Meanwhile, there would be a continuing barrage of routine winter gales, and during each of these–we figured one or two at least–the tow would have to be dropped and the boats would have to lie ahull separately, waiting for the wind and seas to subside again before proceeding onward.

Finally, after listening to us bat this around for a while, Gunther reluctantly decided the only really viable option was to abandon the boat. He placed a sat-phone call to the Coast Guard in the late afternoon, and the evacuation wheels started grinding.

We assumed, of course, that we would be taken off by an AMVER vessel, as normally happens during evacuations far from shore. Hank had the audacity to suggest that we request a westbound vessel, so that we would arrive somewhere in the U.S. rather than in Europe, and the Coast Guard, to my surprise, readily assented to this, telling us that we could have a westbound ship pick us up at 0800 hrs the following morning. They also gave us a weather forecast: the wind that night would increase to 25 knots, hold at that strength through daylight hours on Tuesday, then increase to 35 knots with gusts to over 40 during Tuesday night.

Having made our arrangements, we treated ourselves to a little pre-abandonment party shortly after sunset, broke our dry-ship rule, and opened up some fine red wine. The mood was subdued, but upbeat. Gunther and Doris, in spite of the bitter disappointment of having to give up this boat they’d been looking forward to taking possession of for two years, were very philosophical about their situation, were very grateful no lives were at stake, and together we all laughed about the problems we’d confronted during our passage.

Also, at one point in the evening, a ship came to us from the west and announced via VHF radio that they were ready to bring us aboard and take us to Israel. We politely declined, insisting we had a ride west in the morning, and they went on their way. Later it occurred to us that the Coast Guard, who had seemed more worried about Tuesday’s weather than we were, had sent this ship to us hoping to get us out of there sooner rather than later. We had arranged to maintain a sat-phone call schedule with them, but initially asked for a longer interval than they wanted–eight hours instead of four–to save our phone’s battery. It may be that if we had been in contact more regularly they might have insisted, or have strongly urged, that we join the ship bound for Israel.

In any event, during our scheduled call at 0200 hrs they informed us they would be taking us off by helicopter at 0900 hrs. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from North Carolina would rendezvous with a U.S. Navy warship en route to us to refuel, and then again on the way back. We would be allowed to bring with us one small bag each.

Promptly at 0900 hrs the next morning we spotted a USCG C-130 search plane heading straight toward us at low altitude, followed five minutes later by the helicopter. I can’t speak to how Gunther and Doris were feeling at this point, but Hank and I were both looking forward to finding out how this would go. Hank has thrashed his way through an awful lot of trouble on the water–two dismastings and five different loss-of-steering incidents–but had always managed to get his boats home and had never before abandoned one. As for me, I had once before abandoned a boat, but in much more sanguine circumstances, in a river in Spain to a nearby dock.

You’ll have seen the video the Coasties have posted. If not, you can watch right here:


Hank asked me to be the guinea pig and go first, so Gunther and Doris could see what would be happening to them. This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I got to go up in the basket, all dignified and comfortable. After that first hoist, the helo crew decided to speed things up by bringing the others up in a sling, which to me looked decidedly inferior. Hank, as skipper, originally planned to go up last, but Gunther in the end insisted that he should go last instead. That cooler you see him carrying up in the video is not filled with beer, as some have suggested, but with personal possessions. I was very surprised the Coasties let him bring it along.

Doris comes aboard

Be Good Too as viewed from the chopper

Gunther on left. Rescue swimmer John Knight on right

Really the worst part of the experience was having to sit through the three-hour long helo ride to shore in soaking wet clothes. This was broken by the fuel stop aboard the U.S. Navy missile destroyer Ross, during which someone threw a garbage bag full of beef-and-onion hoagies into the back of the chopper for us to eat. They looked disgusting, but in fact were very tasty.

Navy personnel look pretty in purple

Authentic Navy chow

On arrival at the airbase in Elizabeth City we were greeted by a swarm of people, including two Red Cross workers, who were eager to take care of us. From their perspective we must have seemed like disappointing survivors, as we were perfectly healthy, entirely untraumatized, and in generally good spirits. All we really wanted was a hot shower and some dry clothes.

Disembarking in Elizabeth City. Rescue swimmer John Knight on left, hoist operator Brian Light in the center, Gunther’s back on the right

Gunther after his shower

Like Gunther, I can honestly say it was the best shower of my life. He really is an amazing guy. Shortly after he finished his shower he got a call from someone at home in Bloomington, Indiana, telling him the water pipes in his house had frozen and burst. And both he and Doris were just as chilled out about that as they were about losing the boat.

SPECIAL THANKS: Words cannot express how grateful we are to our helicopter flight crew. At a minimum, we can recognize them individually:

Lt. David Birky–pilot

Lt. John Poley–pilot

AST2 John Knight–aviation survival technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer

AMT2 Brian Light–aviation maintenance technician, 2nd class; hoist operator

Thanks, guys! You were great!

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