Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Importance of Role Models

When Patrick and I think about setting off for a life of long-distance cruising, that little twinkle of excitement in our eyes rapidly clouds over as a profound lack of confidence sets in.  Neither of us comes from a sailing family and we took up sailing rather late in life.  I started going to sea when I was 18 but not on small sailboats and certainly not in a position of responsibility for the ship or crew.  Over the last 10 years, we have taken sailing courses, passed our coastal and offshore permits, and joined a sailing association that allowed us to log approximately 5000 nautical miles on more than 25 different boats (and more importantly, with more than 25 different skippers).  (For our sailing CV, see "The Crew") We bought our own boat and have skippered her more than 2000 nautical miles in the last 18 months.  But we still seem to be missing some essential ingredient that would allow us to boldly bound over the horizon. 

Recently, I was reading an article about how to get more young women interested in science and engineering careers, and the mantra highlighting the importance of mentoring was “you can’t be what you can’t see.”  I realized that we don’t have many role models in the sailing world that looked like us: a middle-aged couple with no sailing experience trying to cope with a strange new world of sailing and the cruising life. 

This week, a quick spin around the internet turned up new inspiration.

Over the past year, I followed the voyage of the amazing Jeanne Socrates, the 70-year-old British woman who completed a solo, non-stop, unassisted sail around the world this past July. 

Jeanne Socrates on Nereida.
It wasn't until the newspapers covered her story that I learned that Jeanne only started sailing at age 50 with her husband.  When he died, she decided to continue sailing alone and this successful solo circumnavigation was her THIRD attempt after some serious knock-downs.

A lesser-known inspiration is Elizabeth Tyler, who’s blog title says it all:  Sailing on - Single Handed:  A blog about untying knots, releasing lines, weighing anchor and getting under way again after having lost the captain in my life.”  

Elizabeth Tyler on Aquarella.

I have yet to wade through the entire archive of posts, but what I’ve read so far is a very candid and moving documentary of one woman learning to cope with the physical and psychological challenges of cruising.  Elizabeth is also an amazing artist and a visit to her art blog and site will astound you.  Remind yourself that you are looking at paintings, not photographs. 

Patrick has not let me ignore the fact that both of these “so-called” inspirational blogs are about women who have lost their husbands.  I tried to explain that the take-home lesson is that if single elderly women can do it, surely the two of us can manage, but this clearly isn't the inspiration he seeks.  We’ll keep looking for role models that we can both aspire to, but I feel better already.

It also has not escaped my attention that both women are cruising with confidence in Swedish boats ! (See recent musings on Swedish boats). 

Monday, 9 December 2013

The second time around: looking for our dreamboat

We’ve had our first visit by a perspective buyer this week, which makes me realize that it’s time to start thinking seriously about our next boat.  Having been through this before not so long ago, I know that this task is a labyrinth riddled with false starts and wrong turns.  It reminds me of Somerset Maugham’s famous quip about writing:  “There are three rules to good writing.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

But one must be brave and start somewhere and the conventional wisdom says one must start by defining the navigational program, which should help narrow down the boat choices.  Or not. 

The first problem is that our sailing dreams are of the “leasing with an option to buy” sort.  We’d like to sail around the world (trade winds route is good enough for me) but we’re just not courageous enough for that yet.  So the idea is to head down into the Med, gain some experience and confidence with multi-day passages and foreign waters, and if all goes well, buy the dream and head off over the horizon. 

This complicates boat choices, though.  A full-time live-aboard world cruiser is not the same as a fair-weather Mediterranean cruiser.  Should we aim for the low end of the spectrum and work our way up, or go straight for a world cruiser as the better long-term investment?  There are knowledgeable people out there who say that almost any boat rated for offshore cruising is capable of crossing oceans these days, and it is often said (because it’s true) that navigational programs are more limited by the crew than by the boat. 

I’m a firm believer that one shouldn’t make things harder than they have to be, no matter how fun it is, so let me be honest about my dilemma.  I WANT a new 40-foot Hallberg-Rassy or Najad but can’t afford them without selling the house (which I haven’t entirely ruled out.)  

Hallberg Rassy 40
See how clear things can be when you address the root cause?  Now the problem has been reduced to figuring out how to fall in love with a lesser boat. 

If you read our post about boat shopping the first time around, you will no doubt appreciate the maturing process that has taken place since that time.  Earlier, we decided that boat choices should be driven primarily by lust.  Now we know better.  Sort of.   

Because safety is a major concern of ours, I’ve spent the last week calculating capsize ratios for a handful of different boats and reading the available naval architecture blogs, which have now convinced me that the capsize ratios thus calculated are a lot of bunk.  Next, I started going blind staring at the stability index numbers (STIX, SSSN, and AVS) produced by the British Royal Yachting Association for hundreds of boats, and in the end, realized that any boat that meets the Category A criteria is, by definition, safe for offshore sailing.  In saying this, it’s important to know what Category A means:  Unlimited Ocean Cruising, adequate to withstand up to force 10 gale (55 knots, 102 km/hr, 63 MPH) with average waves of 7 meters height and eventual wave heights up to 14 meters.  After having pounded through a long afternoon of 4 meter seas with a force 8 gale last summer, I don’t want to get anywhere close to the maximum for the rating.  This is certainly not to say that all Category A boats are created equal but they all should be safe enough for what we intend to do.

The exercise has been a useful one, however, since I have now convinced myself that I am not going to be able to calculate my way out of a difficult choice.  Putting all our dreams and desires into the magic box and turning the handle has only produced sausage in my mind, not the miracle solution I was looking for.  Compromises must be made. Back to square one. 

What is it about Spray that makes her inappropriate for our future sailing program?  I’ve mentioned these before so I’ll only highlight:  too small to live aboard 6 months of the year comfortably, too physical, too low in the water, too light, too low on tankage.  But after a little reflection, I realized that it’s equally important to list the things we love about her to try not to lose those elements in this process.

  • Robust construction with quality materials.
  • Seaworthiness.
  • Lots of stowage space for her size.
  • Respectability.  Every time we pull into port, people come up to us and tell us what a great boat she is.  It’s become like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day.  “What kind of boat do you have?”  “A Dehler 34.”  “Oh, great boat.”  Same thing, every time.  Nice !
  • Small.  What the ?!  I know, I know - it’s crazy !  We’re selling her because we want to buy a BIGGER boat.  But I like the fact that we can pull into ports and not have to worry about finding a place to park her. I like that I can step down gently from her decks onto the dock and physically coax her svelte four tonnes into place without bow thrusters.  I like that people don’t see us as a bling-bling couple of retirees in a flashy plastic bimbo palace.

This makes one thing clear.  We need a boat that’s small on the outside and big on the inside.   

But wait …seriously now, maybe it means that we could be happy with a boat well under 40 feet if the layout is good, in which case, maybe we could afford an older, smaller version of the HRs or Najads?  To be continued…

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The pro has a go

After our boat hibernation routine last week, we decided to call in a professional to winterize the motor.  We took advantage of his presence to pester the heck out of him about other good practices for preparing the boat for winter.  Almost everything we did last week was good, but we missed a few tricks.

Yanmar 2GM20 motor
Yanmar 2GM20.  Not bad for 21 years, eh?
First of all, our young mechanic complemented us on our clean motor and bilge tray.  I liked him immediately.  While Patrick was laughing, I admitted that I regularly attacked the motor with an old toothbrush and WD-40 I keep the bilge tray spotless not because of any obsessive-compulsive disorder but because it’s very important to know if the motor is dripping from anywhere.

For the motor, all was well.  He changed all the filters, the alternator belt, and the water pump turbine, and filled the motor with anti-freeze for the winter.  He suggested closing the valve between the fuel line and the diesel tank and he put a thick wad of paper towel in the air-intake to cut down on air circulation inside the motor.  He cautioned us that we should write ourselves a BIG VISIBLE REMINDER to remove the wad and open the valve before trying to start the motor the next time.

I had drained the water tank and pumped as much water out of the toilet as possible.  He told us to simply pour some anti-freeze down the toilet, give it a few pumps to get the liquid up into the joint assembly and then leave it.  For the water tank, he said it was best to leave the faucet in the open/on position, open to air, so that any water in the tubes could drain down into the tank and/or move around rather than being blocked by vapour lock.

The big surprise (and embarrassment) came when we asked about the batteries.  We had a mechanic working on our motor last year and we asked if we needed to add distilled de-ionized water to our batteries from time to time.  He looked over the motor battery and said we had water-tight “no-maintenance” batteries that don’t need water. We looked at the two service batteries and couldn’t see any place where one would add water and so we declared that they, too, must be no maintenance. 

Wrong.  While the motor battery was indeed no maintenance, this was not the case with the service batteries.  This mechanic ripped off the sticker label on the top of the two service batteries to reveal water refill holes.  He opened one of them up and gave a whistle, instantly translatable in any language as “this doesn’t look too good”.  The water levels were quite low.  He said there was no harm done, but that they definitely needed a top-up.

We told him we planned to disconnect the batteries and leave them on the boat over the winter.  He informed us that, for a very modest fee (I think it ended up being about $25 total), he would take them off the boat and store them in the workshop and charge them once a month until we reinstalled them next spring.  They do this regularly as part of their winterizing service for customers whose boats are in the Arzal port lot.  This sounded great to us since we were already trying to figure out how often we should come back to the boat to recharge the batteries over the winter.

So now we can truly say that Spray is tucked in for the winter.  We’ve still got to take the sails in for some minor touch-ups but we’ll get on to that later this week and be ready to turn our attention to other endeavours… like shopping for a new boat !