November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state remained. With no lee cloths on the bunks, the off-watch was hanging onto the bookshelves to keep from getting tossed out onto the floor and definitely not sleeping. We had also no means of self-steering, so the on-watch was glued to the helm. We had no storm sails, no safety equipment, none of the things a well-found oceangoing boat needs to have for a seamanlike passage. The result was an exhausting trip.
Bunks: Want to see me at my worst? Keep me awake for 48 hours. A good ocean-sailing yacht will have good ocean-sailing bunks, something you can easily arrange. At their simplest, bunks should be narrow and secure. The canvas pipeberths on raceboats may look awful, but in reality, their narrow platform and adjustable tilt make them surprisingly cozy. As a rule, solid leeboards are better than lee cloths (much more secure), though they are both harder to install and make disappear when not in use.
The farther aft you can sleep, the better. We often save the forepeak bunks for use in port only. Crew will be happier sleeping on a sail bag in the saloon than getting tossed around up in the bow. On deliveries I’ve done, the V-berth is typically reserved either for myself (I don’t get seasick) or extra gear.
Double bunks are trickier. On Icebear, our Swan 59, the aft queen is actually made up of two mattresses, and offshore we slot a heavy plywood leeboard between the two to create a pair of very secure singles. (The board stows under the bunk.) I’d highly recommend this for any owner’s cabin where you’re doing a lot of ocean sailing. It’s the best of both worlds: a big double bunk in port, secure singles at sea.
The Galley: Despite her pedigree as a great oceangoing yacht, our Swan 48 Isbjörn has a terrible galley. The stove is to port, and when it’s on the high side, there’s a good 8ft of empty space between the cook and the nav station—a long way down. Galley straps, once de rigueur, I consider unsafe: the last thing you want if a fire breaks out or boiling water spills is to be lashed in place.
To improve things a little we’ve installed a triangular teak foot brace on the cabin sole. When you need two hands while cooking with the stove on the high side, it makes what was once an impossible task merely a difficult one.
Having fiddles on all counter surfaces goes without saying. However, the dirty truth is you can’t ever actually rely on them. When I want to guarantee something won’t spill, even in a calm, it either goes in someone’s hand or in the sink.
The Saloon: Fiddles elsewhere are a nuisance. There’s nothing worse than a nav station with built-in fiddles when you’re trying to plot a course on a paper chart. Where do you put your forearms? Same with the dining table.
You can never have too many handholds. As kids, my sister and I used to pretend the cabin sole on our parents’ boat was lava and try and work our way from the companionway to the V-berth without ever touching it. We could do this quite easily, even as tiny humans. Try this on your boat. If it’s not possible, make it so it is.
Put a fan and handhold in every head and make sure you won’t crash through the door when you lean on it while pulling your pants up. Take the highest-pressure water hose you can find and power wash all your hatch seals and portlights in search of leaks. No matter how secure a bunk, if you’ve got water dripping on your head, you’ll never get any rest.
Summer, 2012: The next time Mia and I doublehanded Arcturus, it was three years and 4,000 miles later, and we were sailing across the North Sea from Scotland to Sweden. Our Cape Horn windvane steered pretty much the entire way; the V-berth was loaded up with the liferaft, sails and any other kind of gear in need of a home; each settee berth was snug with its own lee cloth; and we’d added sufficient extra handholds to kept us off our “lava” cabin sole.
We still managed to flood the otherwise dry saloon with the odd boarding sea, but the boat was so much better suited for ocean sailing it felt like an entirely different animal—despite the fact the underlying design was unchanged. All we’d done is add a few of those things that make ocean sailing not just possible, but fun.
Andy Schell is a veteran delivery captain and co-owner, with his wife, Mia Karlsson, of the adventure-charter company 59 North, which specializes in providing sail-training and offshore passagemaking opportunities. Visit 59-north.com for more information.
Photo courtesy of Andy Schell