How do you prepare a cat or tri for a bluewater passage? It’s a question newbies perennially ask before casting off lines, and one that the World Cruising Club (WCC) answers as an integral part of its stock in trade, as it helps sailors get ready for various rallies around the world. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better source of information than the organization’s safety equipment regulations or its ocean cruising forums and seminars.
We decided it would be interesting to go straight to the source—the sailors themselves—to see how they had set about preparing to cast off in the real world, as opposed to just rehashing a bunch of offshore theory. To this end, we put together a survey that the World Cruising Club then distributed among a number of participants in its ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and World ARC rallies, with questions on everything from rig prep to general tips.
The 43 responses were interesting for a number of reasons, among them, that the boats themselves seemed to be pretty well prepared straight out of the box. In fact, almost nobody did any kind of major structural work in anticipation of their impending voyage, with the possible exception of one couple that did some glasswork along the joint between the saloon bridgedeck and hulls to stop some leaks they’d previously experienced in heavy weather.
Bruce Balan, the skipper of the Cross 46 trimaran Migration also said he re-glassed his boat’s hulls below the waterline. However, since Migration was built of polyester and glass over ply in Japan back in 1969, his case represents an exception to the rule.
Another interesting aspect of the responses was their variety and individuality—no great surprise given these are sailors we’re talking about. The folks we heard from may have been united in their opinion that two or three hulls are better than one, but beyond that they were all over the board.
Finally, there were the little things. When most sailors contemplate crossing an ocean, their thoughts inevitably turn to things like reinforcing their standing rigging so it will be up for withstanding hurricane-force winds. But many of the preparations our poll respondents seemed to find most satisfying were the little ones.
Fiona McCormick, for example, aboard the 40-foot homebuilt Hitchhiker catamaran Trojan, said she was happy she stocked up on reading material and made sure to prepare her storm skills well in advance of ever needing them. “[I] loaded up my Kindle with books, and polished up my sextant and calculation skills,” she said. “[Also] practiced deploying the sea anchor. This was a major stress reduction strategy.”
Similarly, John Stiletto, who has lived aboard the 39-foot James Wharram-designed catamaran Kaimalino since 1980, said he takes particular pleasure in his galley’s pressure cooker. “Cook a big meal [in there] and if it goes flying, it’s just the pot you have to dodge, not the food you have to clean up.”
In terms of materials changes or upgrades, the three biggest categories were electrical power, rig upgrades or inspections, and storage.
With regard to storage, the solutions ranged from the substantial to the small. Aboard the Lagoon 450 Emerald Sea, for example, the crew upgraded one of the boat’s three showers with shelving and turned it into a storage locker. Similarly, Chase Jazzborne, aboard the Privilege 45 Sun Catcher, converted an extra cabin to storage space.
“This design catamaran has a fifth center cabin forward,” Jazzborne reported. “We converted this area for bulk storage in order to keep the main cabins free of excess clutter, or unsafe stacking arrangements. Cabinets came from the factory with spring closures, but locking mechanisms were added to cabinet doors to secure them for high seas. The boat can handle seas up to 15 feet without worry, so the cabinets needed to be secured for possible jarring.”
Among the minor changes McCormick made to Trojan were some tweaks to boost the boat’s “effective storage” space by removing some internal divisions from the existing lockers and making some of the hatches to this spaces larger and more accessible. Along these same lines, Henrik Harder, aboard the Outremer 42 Mantra II, added some “plastic stowage boxes and a plastic chest of drawers,” while Philip May aboard the Catana 522 Anastasia purchased “many plastic boxes” to further subdivide his existing storage areas.
Finally, aboard the Lagoon 380 Salila, Peter Ablett added a number of locker doors in one of his boat’s passageways and installed ringbolts in the saloon deckhead from which he then hung various types of provisions in nets.
In terms of electrical power, preparations were varied, depending on how well set up each boat was to begin with and how much battery capacity skippers felt they needed off soundings—13 of the boats did nothing in the way of upgrades; six boats increased battery capacity but did nothing to increase generating power; three boats just added solar panels and/or a wind generator; and the rest did work on both the storage and generating side.
Aboard the Helios 38 Happy, for example, Andreas Mehlin not only put in a new, bigger battery bank that bumped his overall capacity to 520 amp hours, he also added 600 watts of solar panel capacity. Similarly, aboard Mantra II, Harder installed a lightweight, fast-charging lithium ion battery with a 400AH capacity and 330 watts worth of solar panels; while aboard the 42-foot cat Sol Searching, Ken Parsons both increased his existing battery capacity and added a 400-watt wind generator and a 700-watt solar array.
Interestingly, in few if any cases did the addition of air conditioning play a role. Indeed, in the case of Jazzborne’s Sun Catcher, the battery capacity–A/C question actually became an either-or proposition.
“After much debate, room and weight considerations made us choose extra battery capacity over air conditioning,” Jazzborne reported. “Battery capacity is matched to power generation capability of solar arrays, which are capable of generating 400-600 amp hours per day. Battery bank capacity is 4 x 400, or 1600 amp hours.”
Of course, given the tropical destinations that are so much a part of the appeal of the WCC’s rallies, it should come as no surprise that at least some of the boats had air conditioning. Aboard the 40-foot Leopard Rum Tum Tiger, Curt McLees reported: “Added [A/C] in 2013. Love it. An easy install because of the room behind panels.”
Nonetheless, the better part of the fleet still seemed content staying cool the old-fashioned way. “No A/C, thank you,” said Kaimalino’s Stillo. “When the days are that hot, I sleep between the hulls in the dink. It’s cool even on the hottest day.”
In fact, of our respondents, only seven had A/C systems that they used offshore. An eighth had a system that the crew uses when on shore power.
In terms of rig and working sail upgrades, the most prominent feature of our poll results was how little the fleets had done—a true testament to today’s sailmakers and the riggers at boatbuilding companies. In addition to the many “no” responses to our rig upgrade query, were a number of run-of-the-mill responses along the lines of:
“Serviced, chafe patches added. Added 3rd reef.”
“Bought new mainsail. Mine was over 10 years old.”
“Inspect, repair, replace as necessary standing and running rigging; upgraded mainsail track and slides.”
“Bought a new mainsail with a triple reef.”
“New genoa halyard.”
“Sent out for repair.”
Pretty routine stuff, by any standard: indeed, the only category that received a less interesting response was winches. Beyond a boat or two that added an electric halyard winch, there was pretty much nothing—yet another testament to the quality of product produced by the marine industry. (Although you can’t help wondering how those poor winch manufacturers manage to stay in business, with so little need for replacements!)
One rig trend that did stand out was the fact that nine crews added downwind headsails, including screechers, Parasailors and gennakers, in the interest of improving daily runs in the light stuff. Among these was a 1.25-ounce screecher aboard Ablett’s Salila that is known as the “naughty” sail: “It’s very good when the wind is light, but doesn’t want to be put away when the wind is too strong,” Ablett said.
With respect to long-distance communication, fully half of our 42 respondents had satellite phones, which they used anywhere from rarely to every day for everything from phoning home to downloading GRIB files. Another boat relied on an InReach satellite communicator for keeping in touch, while 16 boats carried a single sideband radio onboard.
Interestingly, only 12 of the respondents said they carried any kind of dedicated storm sails—including trysails and a number of ATN Gale Sails—and eight had some kind of emergency rigging on board. However, nearly half of all respondents carried some kind of drogue or sea anchor. Among the latter, Rainer van Beckum said he also carries a spare shroud and set of Norseman terminals aboard his Catana 431, Catrina; and McCormick carries a roll of Dyneema, a set of Stalok fittings and a battery-operated angle grinder to cut away any damaged stainless steel aboard Trojan.
Then there’s Mehlin aboard Happy, who in response to our question about sea anchors said that he carries two tires and some line aboard “just in case.”
Beyond that, the boats’ navigation packages included everything from iPads and iPhones to a variety of different chartplotter brands to multiple handheld GPS backups and paper charts. It was the same thing with general safety gear: many of the boats took on both EPIRBs and life rafts, and Rolf Dahlberg installed an automatic fire extinguisher system in the engine room of his Prout 50, Theresa Marie.
A sizeable group of our respondents also seemed to take both their autopilots and steering gear in general very seriously. Aboard McCormick’s Trojan, for example, the crew “reworked the rudders and re-rove the steering lines,” while Rick Stokes on his 44-foot Fountaine Pajot, Butterflies are Free, adjusted the steering and replaced the bushings on both rudders, and Bruce Belan replaced the steering cables, added an emergency tiller and upgraded the autopilot aboard his old Cross 46 trimaran Migration.
In all, 27 of our respondents mentioned having done some kind of work on their steering systems, their autopilots or both before setting out—smart sailors!
Finally, for those wondering whether a multihull is truly the right boat for an offshore passage, our respondents were universal in their feeling that theirs was the right way to go.
“It was all so easy and comfortable because of it being a big beamy cat,” James Joll said of his experience aboard the Lagoon 421, Happy Cat. “Never any bad moments really. Not rolling from side to side downwind like a mono. Plenty of space keeps the peace with everyone.”
“I hate multihulls in a beam sea! But a stable platform for yoga/dancing/cooking etc. is most enjoyable :-)” agreed Trojan’s McCormick.
“The passage turned out to be quite comfortable,” Mantra II’s Harder said of his boat’s Atlantic crossing. “We were four on board, and we had dinner together daily at a set table with wine in proper glasses. At worst we had to use antislip mats a couple of days. The speed could be kept up thanks to the number of crew, and we had a number of noon-to-noon distances over 200 miles. We were 3rd in class.”
Finally, there’s this from Dave Register, of the Passagemaker 48 Dyad: “Often wondered why a lot of cruising sailors hated passages while we loved them. Then I then did a long passage on a mono and found out why.”
Ed Note: Special thanks to the World Cruising Club’s Sarah Collins for her help in creating and distributing our questionnaire, and to all the sailors who took part for their thoughtful and very useful feedback.
MHS Fall 2014