FAQs

Note we do not have any financial arrangements or other interests in any the products mentioned here!

For just about every question, there are almost as many different opinions as there are sailors. And, most of these different opinions are in fact valid for the specific individual with their particular boat and their unique mission.  That said, below are our opinions based on our experiences to date.  We reserve the right to change them, or even admit they are wrong, at any later date :)

70. What do you think of the weather in this video and what sort of tactics would you be using?

71. Have a question... I see you did a lot of high latitude sailing... how do you compare it to the tropics?

72. You seem to use a lot of uncovered spectra line. I understand spectra is slippery stuff, how do you get the knots to hold?

73. How do you feel about Eric Hiscock’s comment that “we (cruisers) have no right when in trouble to call on others”?

74. Do you recommend we install a radar reflector? 

75. Which knots are strongest?

76. Are there places where it is still possible to cruise very inexpensively?

77. How would you compare the two grib viewers viewfax and Ugrib?

78. What have you done regarding LED navigation lights?

79. How much am I going to spend on boat maintenance?

80. Which is the best route - Magellan, Beagle, or Drake - to round S America?

81. How do you rig your jacklines?

82. What's the latest on the pirate situation in the Indian Ocean?

83. What can be learned about seamanship from mountain survival experiences?

84. Latest thinking on sail cloth especially hydranet and 3di.

85. How would you make the NZ/Australia back to USA/Europe decision today given the situation in the Red Sea.

86. What are your thoughts on emergency bilge/dewatering pumps?

87. How do you light your diesel heater?

88. What do you do to specifically prepare for a passage?


MOST RECENT FAQs:

70. What do you think of the weather in this video and what sort of tactics would you be using? Video

This video looks very survivable to me. It's all about wave shape and these waves don't look so bad.

 We were in something pretty close to this south of the falklands and forereached for 30 hours - very comfortable and no trama. We were also in something like this approaching Tasmania (from the west) and then ran with a drogue. We used different tactics because while the wind strength & waves were about the same, other weather pattern factors were different. I try: (1) to move away from the biggest waves/strongest winds, (2) to make the most progress toward our destination, (3) to keep the boat comfortable. For us, the real essence of this subject (storm management) is not tactics but is about being on your boat listening to the sounds and feeling the motion and knowing when it is all OK, and but being ready to get on deck and taking immediate action when you hear or feel something the slightest bit different or odd.

We used slightly different tactics on Silk (our centerboard ketch). She also ran pretty well. Some of you will know that on our first passage we got pasted by an early tropical depression in the gulf stream (I knew much less about weather then than I do now). We tried to heave to but were getting pretty sizable waves from two different directions (about 80 degrees apart) and it felt very uncomfortable and unstable, and so started running (trailing just a warp, no drogue) and that felt much better and safer; and I now realize heading us away from the gulf stream axis and out of the worst waves. But she did not fore-reach well (shallow keel and ketch rig), so we would heave to instead of fore reaching. She normally hove-to very calmly (with just the mizzen up), except for that first time in the gulf stream with the funny waves from two directions. We hove-to in a blow in the Agulhas current and were quite comfortable. I also have much more and better weather information these days, and so would now know which way was best to go to get away from the wind and waves. Back in those Silk days I just had no idea which way to go, so sitting still was often the easiest thing to do.

 Personally I think if you are getting good weather information you are usually better actively sailing (running or forereaching) away from the strongest winds and biggest waves and toward your destination than just sitting in place and waiting. This is quite contrary to the Pardey's recommendations. But Larry does not get much weather while offshore and his boat design is not great for running (short and fat hull with barn door rudder) and not so great forereaching (shallow keel and hollow roach mainsail), so I can understand his different approach.

 Most people agree that heaving-too (or forereaching on boats that don't heave to well) is a great way to get a good rest and be comfortable in difficult but not severe conditions. But we don't actually personally know anyone really experienced who is a big fan of the Pardey's para-anchor tactics (most people do agree with Larry that heaving to is a great technique for getting a rest in difficult but not severe storm conditions).There are three sorts of disagreement: 1. Is a group of people who don't believe there is a 'single silver bullet' storm tactic. That different boats and different conditions require different tactics and that heaving to with a para-anchor is not a 'one size fits all boats/conditions' solution. That a good seaman will have a whole range of tactics ready to go. There is a bias in this group to high latitude experience. 2. Is a group of people who think para-anchors, and in particular the bridled para-anchor approach is worse than other tactics for most boats in most conditions. There is a bias in this group to boats over 40'. 3. Is a group of people who simply think 'storm tactics' are vastly overrated in importance, and the most important thing is for the captain just to keep a calm head. Most boats will simply look after themselves quite well if left alone and if the sailor does not screw things up. If you look at the boats that have been abandoned in big storms, the vast majority (which were not scuttled when abandoned) have later been found floating just fine. There was a boat abandoned down at 47S (right in the path of some of the worst weather in the world), and left alone with the companionway open, and it was tracked as a hazard to navigation for 3 months before it finally disappeared. There is a bias in this group to those with a ton of sea miles.

John Neal probably has more storm miles in a 'normal boat design' (there are people we know with even more experience but they have specialized boat) than anyone else we know and he prefers forereaching first and running second and would never by choice use a para-anchor. And he regularly practices and shows his students all the tactics including para-anchoring so he has experience with it. There is one other modern guy who is interesting - Webb Chiles. He's just this year completed his 6th circumnavigation and 5 were in 'classic plastic' (36' and 37') and I believe two were by the great capes. He's really in my camp number three (the whole 'storm tactics' thing is overrated). He just keeps plugging away.

We definitely at some point switch to a defensive mode and start conserving our energy and protecting the boat. When that happens depends entirely on the waves and on our angle to the wind, but its usually somewhere just above 40kts sustained (with higher gusts). And I would also agree with the comment "The idea of keeping up a bunch of sail area and trying to outrun something is just not what I would be likely to try under normal circumstances." It's pretty much impossible for any of us in 'normal' size/speed boats to outrun a weather system. Only Dashew size boats can 'out run' weather systems, and even they are challenged to do this. But if you study storm systems carefully you will see that almost always the most extreme waves (and wind) are in only a very small zone, so if you can work your way away from that zone even 50 miles you can often cut the wind strength you experience in half. So, just for instance, with a storm jib up and a drogue out, doing 6 kts, we can be entirely defensive but still work our way away from the killing zone in 8 hours.

 I personally am mostly reluctant to give other people advice on specific tactics because I don't consider myself an expert. We may have more storm experience than many but it's still a very small and limited sample. I think the last true experts where back in the age of sail when they came on board as a cabin boy at 9 and had been round the horn a dozen times by 20 and were captain at 30. These guys had enough experience to know. But they were sailing such completely different vessels than we sail it's hard to extract useful lessons even from their writing. The closest you can come to learning from them is to study the small boat voyages (like Shackleton and Bligh).

 My weather primary source is gribs from saildocs. I use viewfax (a free program component of Airmail, but which I run as a stand alone program), to look at the gribs. I used to use Maxsea and it's weather routing module but found it was mostly just extra complexity for no real benefit. We use Iridium rather than SSB. Normally on passage I will only get gribs every other day and I will get a pretty big square with 2 degree arrows. But if I see something coming that looks like trouble I start to get them every 6 hours and switch to 1 degree arrows. Viewfax lets you get all sorts of different gribs from multiple models and stuff like rain and wave heights and 500mb winds, but I pretty much stick with the normal model (GFS) and surface analysis. I do get the wave heights.

We use Viewfax 5.0.41, which is a 'beta' version, but is completely robust. It was built with direct input from Stan Honey, who some of you will know is one of the world's best ocean navigators. It can be run as an Airmail module, but we do not use Airmail (I tested it and it is slightly slower over iridium than xgate), so it can also be used as a completely stand-alone grib viewer. You just download viewfax and run setup and it loads and runs by itself without airmail. It has three neat features compared to the production viewfax and most other grib programs: (1) you can use it with the normal 'gribs by e-mail' approach, but in the file menu it has a 'get data' function, which if you have satcom (iridium or anything faster) allows you to get gribs immediately without the normal 'send an e-mail request and wait for an e-mail back', (2) you can get 7 layers (wind, pressure, waves, rain, etc) in one grib, (3) It gives you a drop down menu of the seven most popular grib models - most grib viewers only allow you to access one model.

 We do listen if there are any good weather nets (like Herb, just to see what other people are saying, but I rely on and make decisions based my own analysis. One of the very best sources is if you can get a couple boats 150 miles to the west of you and scattered N/S on a radio net and listen to what their actual conditions are. That will give you a much more accurate picture than any weather map. But you do have to take barometric readings with a big grain of salt because we have found most boats have never calibrated their barometer and they can be way off.

 I used to get weatherfaxes by ssb and still have the capability but have not actually done so in years.

 We used weather routers for two years (two different services) and in the end concluded they did not offer much value. They were pretty much sending me just what the gribs said and they only had 30% accuracy in the very few times they said something different. There was a psychological benefit to thinking some weather expert ashore was looking out for you, but when we analyzed the information afterwards, we (being on the spot and actually seeing the waves) could almost always make better weather analysis and decisions than them.

 It does take some experience to get good at using gribs. One critical issue is that the gribs are a 'point forecast' and the weather is really probabilistic. Understanding the uncertainty level in the forecast is essential in making good tactical decisions and is not talked about by any of the meteorologists. I get a feel for the uncertainty level by watching how stable the forecast is from one period to the next (and if necessary between different models).

 One thing I have learned about weather analysis is that it is it is a ton more useful on north/south passages than on east/west passages. On North/South passages you have much more leverage on the weather patterns and can choose to speed up and pass in front of one or slow down and pass behind it, so there are decisions to be made and great gains to be had (in both safety and speed) if you do it correctly. While on east/west passages the systems will usually roll over the boat no matter what you try because you usually can't get out of the way fast enough to do anything tactically. So, their only real value is to tell you how bad its going to get and when you should anticipate reefing. But when you get to storm conditions, there is value even on N/S trips telling you where the best exit point is.

 A second thing is that the weather is probabilistic and the forecasting models (and the meteorological professionals) are often lacking in accuracy. I remember in NZ when one of the newspapers went back and compared how the met service did predicting gales vs a Maori 'witch doctor' did, and the Maori had better accuracy. Your aim at sea is to assess the level of uncertainty and develop the appropriate tactics based on that uncertainty - your aim is NOT to try to develop a completely accurate forecast because that's an impossible and futile job. Like someone else mentioned I keep a tracking sheet of graph paper on my nav desk where I track the positions of the lows and highs and any warning zones, using a different color pen each day for 5 days (and then get a new paper). I find that easier than staring at the computer.

 A third thing is that you need to look outside at the clouds and waves and actual wind direction (and barograph). That's information that the forecasters and supercomputers don't have and can give you a real edge in understanding when and how the gribs may be wrong. That's how you get your edge vs the shore forecasters, not by trying to understand the 500mb charts better than they do or getting more computer data than they do. I am a very analytical type and I initially tried to analyze my way to more accurate forecasts but I have found the weather is better viewed in an intuitive almost artistic mode to get a sense for the flow and level of chaos.

  A fourth thing is that there are specific features that don't show up well in the grib wind layer.  In the Atlantic they don't do well with the tropical waves. The best way to see those is by turning on the rain layer, as they don't show up well in the wind layer. That's also true for the doldrums. In the pacific there are a couple n/s slanted convergence zones that are difficult to pick out, and there are often bands of stronger winds embedded in the trade wind field that the gribs don't pick up well.    (Top of Page)   

71. Have a question... I see you did a lot of high latitude sailing... how do you compare it to the tropics?

 When we were crossing the Pacific on our first circumnavigation, we were in Fiji and had spent the past year in the tropics. Evans woke up one morning, looked at me, and said, "If I never see another sandy beach with palm trees in my lifetime, that would be fine."  To me that sums up one of the things we liked least about the tropics: they are much the same all the way around the world. And while warm weather, snorkeling and swimming and tradewind breezes are REALLY nice, we enjoy variety in our cruising.

 When we got back from our first trip and decided we were going again, it was the non-tropical areas we remembered most fondly and most wanted to re-visit: the Azores in the North Atlantic, New Zealand, South Africa.   Four things attracted us.

(1) The diversity of the geography and the wildlife. Colder seas are more productive, so you see a lot more wildlife like seals and whales and dolphins than in most tropical areas (reefs being the exception). You also see a lot more wildlife ashore, especially in South Africa, Australia and any of the polar areas. And the land is so different from place to place. You could never look at a photograph of a place in the temperate latitudes and not know where it was taken. But a tropical beach with gorgeous aquamarine water and palm trees - well, that could be almost anywhere in the tropics.

(2) Generally speaking the people in the temperate/high latitudes have a standard of living similar to ours. That means that we meet on a more equal basis and we find it easier to have meaningful interactions and build long-term friendships. We find it uncomfortable to be anchored off a small village in the Pacific and to be treated like royalty and given gifts when the value of our boat exceeds that of the material possession of the entire village. We also don't enjoy being in places where the economic disparity makes the local people resent the sailboats and see them as a target for theft, as is increasingly the case in Venezuela, Costa Rica and other places.

(3) The cruising community tends to be much more like it was back in the 70s and 80s, in large part because there are fewer boats. This is particularly true in the real high latitudes - Chile, Greenland, South Island of New Zealand. But even in less extreme areas like Newfoundland, Scotland or Tasmania, you are, for the most part, off the beaten track, which means cruisers stick together more and the locals are more welcoming. We have increasingly found that cruisers in the tropics are bringing their suburban picket fences with them and resent intrusions by other cruisers. Instead of rowing over to welcome a new boat with fresh bread, as most people would do in Chile or Greenland, cruisers growl at one another because they are anchored too close. We saw this in the Caribbean last time, but we have heard that the same thing is happening in the more well traveled parts of the Pacific.

(4) Beth is not a hot weather person and if she can't have 70F degrees, She's much happier in 50 than 90. I have ear problems so I can't snorkel, which is one of the best things to do in the tropics. When Evans snorkeled and dived, he preferred the tropics, but Beth has always preferred the cooler weather sailing.   Temperate and higher latitude cruising does tend to be more challenging and demand more of us. That's a plus for us because Evans gets bored if he's not on the steep part of the learning curve, one of the reasons why we have pushed ourselves to increase our skills and visit more remote areas. The tropical circumnavigation on SILK was the perfect way to build our skills for the cruising we have done on HAWK. Of course, even now we do very much enjoy a few months in warm tropical seas with pleasant tradewinds when we've been cold and stressed for months on end! But it always seems like after a little while we're ready to head back above 40 in search of more adventures. (Top of Page)

72. You seem to use a lot of uncovered spectra line. I understand spectra is slippery stuff, how do you get the knots to hold?

There are three ways to attach spectra line to things. In order of preference they are: splice, lashing, and a knot. The splice and lashing are both stronger and less likely to slip.

There are two different splices that can be used. There is a ‘fancy splice’, called the Brummel splice, that is supposed to be the strongest and most slip resistant. But I have noticed that the top French riggers use a much simpler splice, often called a tuck and tail splice. I have used both and never had either break or slip. I do sew back and forth thru both splices just to ensure they are locked in place.

Usually if only one end of a rope is attached to anything (like a shackle or pad eye) you can use a splice and that is best. If you need to tie each end to something, like perhaps life lines (and yes, I know spectra life lines are not Cat 1 approved), then you can splice one end directly to the pulpit, put a simple loop splice in the other end and use a lashing to connect that loop to the pulpit.

To make the lashing, use small diameter spectra cord. What ‘small’ means depends on the application, but you want the breaking strength of the cord to be about 20% (or more) of the strength of the bigger line you are lashing to (because the lashing will consist of 6 strands of the smaller cord). Tie (or, even better, splice - but that is not really necessary here) the cord to the pulpit. Wrap it back and forth, thru the big line loop and the pulpit 3 times (so there are 6 strands of cord). Pull it all tight and get all the strands evenly tensioned.  Then run a row of half hitches covering the splice (runner, jack line, tack). I then wrap it with rubber tape to protect from UV and help hold it in place.

For knots, the stevedores stopper knot is the recommended lowest slip termination knot. You can use all the standard sailing knots but they will reduce the line strength by as much as 75% and they may slip unless you sew or whip the tail.  I have tried using the various knots developed to hold monofilament fishing line - and they seem to be more slip resistant and claim to be stronger. But I have no test data on that and they are mostly bulkier than the normal sailing knots.  (Top of Page)

73. How do you feel about Eric Hiscock’s comment that “we (cruisers) have no right when in trouble to call on others”?

We are extremely pragmatic and practical about these decisions.

1. I believe most experienced cruisers agree on the key point; which is that it remains critical that we maintain the cruising ethic of self reliance and that we communicate that ethic to newcomers. In this aspect, I sympathize with the point that Eric was trying to make. Your mindset when you go offshore needs to be that you will help yourself.

 I say this not for purist reasons but pragmatic reasons. First, in fact, even if you try to call for help, you may well get none (in time). And second, if large numbers of people go to sea expecting to use the shore safety net, then the shore safety net will start regulating and demanding more and more from us. That will change cruising forever and IMHO for the worse. And third, if the reason you go cruising is in even small part to ‘change your life’ or ‘get away’ or ‘look for adventure & challenge’, or ‘have greater freedom and responsibility than ashore’ or anything along those lines, then you are cheating yourself in a very practical sense if you don’t adapt the seaman’s self reliance and hang onto the shore safety net. You will have given up a lot (all the shore conveniences) but not embraced the freedom & responsibility & challenge.

In Eric's day, when you went offshore you left the safety net behind, period, full stop. You had to be an independent self-reliant seaman. And it was essential that 'old salts' make sure new salts really knew and understood that fact of life offshore right down to the bottom of their sea boots. Today there is more of a choice to be made. Today you can choose to go offshore and keep some of the shore safety net. You can for instance choose to keep 24x7 access to doctors & technical verbal help (by sat phone), and in some parts of the world you can choose to keep access to rescue services. BUT . . . when making these choices you do have to (1) understand the dangers of the safety net. They can seduce you into loosing focus and abandoning ship long before you really need to, (2) realize that you may have access to a small part of the safety net but you do not have it all and you may well get no help when you call. And (3) realize by keeping the shore link you may be giving up part of what you were looking for when you dreamed of going cruising (‘getting away from it all’).

2. We do carry comms (Iridium) and I don't expect anyone with comms to not use them in an emergency.  The key point, related to #1 above, is to understand what is "an emergency".  And it's certainly not being seasick or uncomfortable or knocked down, and not even necessarily losing your motor, or your rig, or your rudder.  Getting medical and technical advice has always seemed to me the best possible use of long range comms, and a big benefit of the advancing comms technology. These sorts of ‘consulting’ calls are not a great imposition on shore resources and puts no-one else’s life or assets at risk.

Calling for rescue is an order of magnitude greater request. My experience with various maydays/EPIRB incidents suggest that modern comms make these calls “too easy” and many of us (and I include myself) need a sign on the comms something like: ‘don’t call unless you are surely about to die”.  We all need to be regularly reminded what dire situations previous cruisers (like Tzu Hang) managed to get themselves out of, and what is possible with focus and commitment.  I am certainly NOT saying there is never a proper situation/time to all for rescue. Of course there is/will be. I am only saying we can do more to save our boats than we imagine and rescue is really required only in much more dire circumstances than we could dream of.  If you look at various vessels that were abandoned at sea (And not scuttled), the vast majority of them are later found floating perfectly fine. So even without crew these vessels looked after themselves. Just think what dire situations they could have survived with crew actively/urgently helping/fixing them.

We ourselves balance this line. I have twice seen in myself the dangerous temptation to use our comms for help. In our first storm on Silk we did not have an HF or SSB radio, but if a ship had come into sight we would have called on vhf and probably have tried to get off and it would have been a terrible mistake. In Iceland we got on the rocks and made some (failed) attempts to get us off and heard a forecast for a force 10 storm coming in that would wreck our boat and I called (by sat phone) for a tow and spent several hours preparing for the tow and then realized it would not come in time and got my act focused and got the boat off and around to the next safe harbour. That safety net is a very seductive thing and it often leads one to make the easy but wrong decision.

Many years ago I was approaching Bermuda with a broken engine, broken steering and something wrong with the keel. I made a pan pan call to harbour radio from about 30 miles out (by vhf). We could only make about 2.5kts so it took a while to get in and harbour radio called each hour to get our position and see how things were. To my mind that was a good call and the other two I mention above were/would have been mistakes. We were in Mexico several years ago (on the hard getting a bottom job done in La Paz) and a singlehander made a may day call about 25 miles from La Paz. I am just guessing that there were perhaps 300 cruising boats around La Paz at the time and not one went to help him. There was discussion on the radio about whether he really needed help and a 'safety type' asked him lots of questions and then tried to get the Mexican navy to go out to him (which they finally did 12 hrs later). I was a bit disappointed n my fellow cruiser at that moment. The fact was that the singlehander was really not in significant danger/trouble, he was just dead tired and confused and wanted help and a may day was probably not the right decision. But the fact also is that he did call May Day and I personally don't think that allows any leeway for discussion, the two or three biggest fastest cruising boats should have immediately responded. I have been involved to various degrees in several eprib incidents. One of them worked the way you would hope - the incident truly required a rescue and the rescue happened - I might say only because boat also had an iridium - it would have failed if the boat only had an eprib. One other for sure justified a may day, but the boat sunk and all hands were lost before the rescue got there. In all the others, in retrospect, the maydays/erpirb activations were a mistake. I will never criticize the sailors who made those calls because I have 20/20 hindsight and they did not, but I do think it worth learning from that hindsight.

3. We have taken what some consider an extreme position regarding life rafts (not to carry one), but it is in fact a supremely practical position and not a purist position. After a lot of study and evaluation, I honestly believe that carrying a life raft decreases the likelihood of saving a vessel and decreases crew safety. I honestly believe it distracts the crew from the primary mission of staying with and saving the vessel. A lot of very knowledgeable people disagree with me on this, and that's fine. I very much appreciate the fact that I can make this decision as I see best, and would be sad re: point #1 if the shore safety net made me do something that I think makes me less safe. But we have put our money and our lives where our mouth is – a strong vessel with good tools and repair materials and careful seamanship and a complete commitment and focus on saving the vessel.

Our critical observation is that while proper equipment, experience and preparation can be useful; mental attitude, commitment and the will to survive are THE essential factor in survival. Eric Lee, Secretary of the Naval Lifesaving Committee (UK), summed up his vast experience as “Men with a minimum of equipment, but with a strong will to live, have survived for long periods, whereas other men with ample equipment have succumbed in less.”  I think a cruiser who is focused entirely on saving his vessel is much more likely to be successful than one who's mind is on calling for help.

Commitment is the foundation of success. Not a single football game has ever been won without it. Commitment has been involved in every skyscraper that has ever grown beyond the first floor. Businesses, marriages, and schoolwork all depend on the quality of commitment for their success. By focusing on that one important component, commitment, we can plan our future.

 We can accomplish extraordinary things only when we have planned to accomplish extraordinary things. And we alone can determine how hard we will work, how much we will invest, how late we will stay up, how many miles we will drive, and how much we are willing to endure to realize those extraordinary things.

Great achievement often appears when our backs are up against the wall. Pressure can actually enhance your performance. Your power most fully exerts itself when the heat is on. Who you truly are only surfaces when you place yourself in a position of discomfort and you begin to feel like you're out on the skinny branch. Challenge serves beautifully to introduce you to your best - and most brilliant - self. Please stop and think about that idea for a second or two. Easy times don't make you better. They make you slower and more complacent and sleepy. Staying in the safety zone - and coasting through life - never made anyone bigger.

Commitment takes courage. The ancient Greek warriors understood this idea. These Greeks possessed an unwavering attitude to victory and commitment. When the Grecian armies landed on their enemy’s shore, the first order the commanders gave was “Burn the boats.” These commanders knew the power of motivation and necessity. With no boats to retreat to, the army had to be successful in order to survive. As the soldiers watch the boats burn, they knew there was no turning back – there would be no surrendering. The Greeks didn’t know, for sure, if they would be victorious, but there were extremely motivated because there was no other course; no other way. They didn’t think about the “what ifs.” they only thought about how to prevail and win. (by Andy Andrews)

4. I am personally not a big fan of radios. I don’t like the intrusion of passage nets schedules on our passage life. I don’t like the feeling that someone will declare us missing if we miss a day or two of check in. But again, many knowledgeable people disagree with me, and that’s fine. They can do what they think best and I am free to do what I think best.

In summary, ours is not a purist or macho position.  We believe an extremely strong commitment to self reliance and saving the vessel maximizes both our safety and our personal satisfaction from the cruising life.(Top of Page)

74. Do you recommend we install a radar reflector?

Radar reflectors are recommended by most safety authorities (and required by ORC cat 1), but it is important to have a sound understanding of what is, and is not, happening when you rely on even the best passive reflector on a small vessel. Radar reflector test & Reflector Test 2 provide useful info on the performance (or lack there of) of various radar reflectors. Related reports are the MAIB report on loss of S/V Ouzo, and IALA racon specifications which provides data on radar performance.

1. The 'Equivalent Echoing Area' presented by such devices is very small, by any standards. Various reliable authorities consider that an 'EEA of at least 10sq.m.' is necessary. That's effectively impossible, on a small boat, using a passive reflector at its optimum orientation.

2. The optimum orientation is very rarely presented to the (sweeping ) radar transmissions of an approaching vessel, for your boat will be heeled, pitching, and yawing all the time. So only a little of the Radar Frequency energy hits your device and gets bounced back, and only a little of the time.

3. If you are in lumpy seas or worse, your device may be effectively screened for part of the time, while you are down in the troughs - or the approaching vessel is. Or both.

4. Then there is the issue of sea clutter. This is the display of RF returns from the steep faces of breaking seas. Such reflections can be/are quite large, masking your little reflector's return. They are also intermittent, in that they don't persist in the same place. Many shipping radars' circuitry is designed to suppress returns that do not recur several times in the same place. That includes your weak return, bobbing and weaving and disappearing irregularly.

5. In conditions of strong sea returns ( say, F5 and more ), many operators will deliberately suppress those strong returns so that they have more chance of spotting a small but regular return, such as a <30' vessel fishing, pilots' launches, and such. That 'suppression' is likely to include your weak, intermittent and irregular return just when you want it to be spotted.

6. Many ARPA sets will not even process and display your radar return if it is weaker than the threshold that set is configured for, or it isn't there on X number of consecutive sweeps.

7. It is an act of faith that someone on the approaching vessel will both see, note and do something helpful about your radar return. That's been shown, many times and tragically, to be misguided. We need to consider the 'third-world' bridge watch keeper on a fast container vessel, with purchased Singaporean certificates and the 'sea clutter suppression' turned right up to avoid radar alarms and the need to do anything ( "I didn't see it" is one of the first excuses they learn ). Then there's the exhausted watch keeper who has fallen asleep in his chair, while the autopilot gets on with the job. Radar needs an active, responsible brain to interpret it.

Our conclusion is that while a radar reflector can't hurt, it is unlikely to be much help. We don't have one in our rig. (Top of Page

75. Which knots are strongest?

It is interesting that the normal climbing knots (Figure 8, butterfly & fish) tend to be stronger that the equivelent 'normal' sailing knots (bowline, sheet bend). The 'normal' sailing knots seem to have been chosen more for speed and ease of tieing and untieing.

    Loop knots     Joining Knots       Stopper Knot
  Breaking Strenth (lbs) Bowline Fig 8 Loop Butterfly Sheet Bend Fish knot Double Sheet Bend Double Fish knot Fig 8 stopper
12.5mm Dacron line                  
Mean of 5 breaks 9929.2 6282.0 7691.4 8004.6 5081.0 5275.0 5432.4 7765.6 7477.4
% of breaking strength 100% 63.3% 77.5% 80.6% 51.1% 53.1% 54.7% 78.2% 75.3%
                   
10.5mm Nylon line                  
Mean of 5 breaks 5036.2 3179.0 3523.4 3564.2 2516.2 3037.0 2749.2 3700.6 3493.8
% of breaking strength 100% 63.1% 69.9% 70.8% 49.9% 60.3% 54.6% 73.4% 69.4%
                   
7mm Dacron Cord                  
Mean of 5 breaks 2447.2 1643.0 1829.6 1763.2 1494.6 1461.6 1402.0 1983.4 1793.8
% of breaking strength 100% 67.1% 74.7% 72.0% 61.1% 59.7% 57% 81.0% 73.3%

I don't have identical results for high strength line, but in one series of tests, the figure 8 knot had 53% of breaking strength in spectra line, 48% in vectran, and 40% in Technora. There is an interesting article on knot strength.

(Top of Page

76. Are there places where it is still possible to cruise very inexpensively?

When we were on our Silk trip in the early '90's, the world was opening up, and it was becoming easier and less expensive to clear into countries; but GPS created a whole fleet of new cruisers and the main harbours were becoming more crowded and expensive. Since about 911 (but it really started a few years before 911 so that was not the root cause only an accelerating factor) the clearance process has been getting more complex and more expensive as countries tried to control all the boats entering their waters; and the main harbours have started focusing on serving the superyachts and the cruise ships which has drive the costs to astronomical levels. But if you get even 60 miles off the normal routes you can still find almost empty harbours and inexpensive costs.

 The very simplest and least expensive (except for food) place today is probably Greenland, and if you don't want to go that far, Newfoundland and BC are almost as good. Mexico is can still be pretty cheap if you avoid the harbours with dinghy landing fees (like La Paz). Brazil has an enormously complex clearance system, but the fees are not so bad, and once cleared in, its pretty cheap if you avoid the big cities (like Rio). We actually had two very inexpensive trips thru Polynesia recently by transiting thru in a way that avoided the Society group (Tahiti) - we visited the Gambier, Tuamotu's and Austral group and I believed paid no costs at all. Scotland and Ireland were very simple and inexpensive when we were there, but the US dollar has lost about 40% vs the Euro since then; and that's a problem for Americans worldwide. The most expensive places we have been recently were the British S Atlantic islands (Falklands, S Georgia & St Helena). They have put fees and regulations in place for teh cruise ships and then apply them to the cruisers. They required us to buy local health insurance, and pay daily landing fees, etc.

 The big message is #1 yes the world has gotten more expensive, especially for those with American dollars, but #2 if you go even a little way off the main routes you can still cruise cheaply. (Top of Page

77. How would you compare the two grib viewers viewfax and Ugrib?

These two programs are very similar - both good and free grib viewers (Viewfax & Ugrib). Both allow you to get the grib data via a direct internet connection or by e-mail. In both, to request the grib data, you draw a rectangle on a map and then click on several parameters to sellect the specific data you want inside that rectangle.

 I prefer viewfax for two reasons (a) because it allows me to look/compare several different grib models while ugrib only uses the gfs model.  I do normally use the gfs model, but I like to be able to compare it with other models to see how much uncertainty there is in the forecast. If all the models are saying basically the same thing then we assume the details of the forecast are probably accurate and we can make more detailed plans/routing, while if the different models are showing different forecasts we realize there is uncertainty and are more conservative in our plans/routing. (b) Ugrib gives you wind, pressure, and rain layers; while Viewfax adds 4 more data layers (waves, surface temp, 500mb height and 500mb temp). Offshore we normally get just wind and pressure. When crossing the doldrums we get the rain layer. When heavy weather is comming we like to get the wave data.

Ugrib does have one feature that I like very much. If you right click on a spot on the grib map it will pop up a graph for that location showing wind speed/direction/pressure/rain over time. That's a handy summary of how local conditions will evolve. (Top of Page

78. What have you done regarding LED navigation lights?

When we built Hawk good LED's were not available yet, so we put on the old standard Aqua Signal series 40 nav lights. The deck level (port and starboard bow, and stern lights) Aqua Signals have proven to be NOT waterproof and corrode easily and the fixture has to be replaced about every 3-4 years. This is a PITA, especially because we don't use them much (they are the 'motoring' lights). These I have just replaced with Lopos. Lopos are now the standard 'superyacht' nav light and are well built and well sealed but expensive.
The masthead aqua signal (Tricolor) has been reliable but we use it while sailing and it draws too much power. We have just gotten a replacement led bulb from Cruising Solutions to fit the old Aqua Signal fixture. The anchor light we prefer down at the boom level rather than up at the masthead and I have just bought two Bebi Owl lights for that purpose. We are just installing these lights. So I can't make any first hand comment on their real world reliability or performance, but they have gotten top marks from our circle of cruising friends who have used them. (Top of Page)  

79. How much am I going to spend on boat maintenance?

The normal answer is 5-10% of the value of the boat. This is really just the simple accounting principle of depreciation. Things have a life span, and they wear out and break down. If you spend less on maintenance than the depreciation number you are in theory degrading the condition of the boat and if you spend more you are increasing the condition. The 5-10% number is simply saying that boat stuff has on average a 10-20 year life before it wears out and breaks down and needs to be replaced. For a used boat this generally works pretty well. You can take the 5-10% either of your purchase price (adjusted for inflation) or of current replacement/resale value, depending if your aim is to keep the boat in the condition as it was when you purchased or as it is now.

This rule does break down at the extremes. For a brand new boat, you loose quite a lot of value as you walk out the door, and you should use the week 1 resale value rather than the purchase price. At the other end, you can get a real beater boat for almost nothing. You may have to put some real money into it just to keep it sailing. In this case you need to base the 5-10% on your low beater purchase price plus an initial slug of refit money, enough to get the boat into 'steady state maintainable sailing' condition. 

It's obviously a very general assumption, but is about as good a general answer as anyone can give. And over a long time frame its pretty accurate. It is really difficult to be more precise as it depends completely on the exact boat, and how and where you use it and what sort of condition you want to keep it in. You can spend essentially nothing and fix things yourself only when they break with toothpicks and bubblegum, or you can spend a gazillion dollars and hire professionals to replace things proactively with gold plated electrical terminals and titanium fittings (or of course anywhere in between).  (Top of Page

80. Which is the best route - Magellan, Beagle, or Drake - to round S America?

The short answer is that Beagle is both the most attractive and easiest/safest. It has two towns with safe harbors (Puerto Williams & Ushuaia), dozens of safe anchorages, and very pretty mountains and glaciers.

The Magellan is the big ship channel, but it is not so attractive for sail boats. It is more of a wind funnel than the Beagle, with strong westerly winds much of the time.  It also has stronger currents and nastier waves. And the one town (Punta Arenas) does not have a really safe place for a sailboat - the anchorage is very exposed and the piers are ugly with a lot of trawler traffic. The Magellan could make sense if you are going west to east and only want to get through as fast as possible without stopping or seeing anything.

The Drake is offshore with strong winds and big waves. It's the option for the round the world racers and record breakers and folks going to Antarctica, but not for cruisers looking for the safest and most attractive route. (Top of Page)  

81. How do you rig your jacklines?

Our jacklines are tubular webbing with 6mm spectra cord threaded down the middle. This is a 'belt and suspenders' approach, as when new both the webbing and the cord are strong enough by themselves . . . but after some wear and some chafe and some UV either alone would have to be replaced, but the webbing protects the spectra cord so the combination is good 'forever' (or let's say at least 10 years of hard use). I like the spectra cord because it makes the entire system much lower stretch - making less chance that someone clipped in will go overboard.

Generally you want to run the jacklines as near the centerline as is practical . . . to keep as far away from the deck edge as possible.  Ours run right along the cabin top edge, just inboard of the hand grips.

We have sewn loops on one end of the jacklines.  Those loops I ‘luggage tag hitch’ either to stanchion bases (welded to the hull on Hawk) or on our fiberglass Shannon to the bow cleats. This is ‘bulletproof’ and will never come accidentally undone.

The aft end I have figure eighted to the stern cleats . . . but with this approach the jacklines go loose after a day or two (and after they get wet). I have often thought there is a better solution for the stern end . . . also have a sewn loop on that end of the jackline and then lash it to the stern cleats with a multi-part lashing. With the lashing you have a ‘multi-part purchase’ and you could get the jackline straighter and tighter. However, you would want to make sure you have really STRONG attachment points for the jacklines before going this way . . . making them super tight with super low stretch creates the possibility of super high shock loads.  . . cleats with backing plates should be fine but little padeyes with washers might well not be strong enough.

We have a more complete article of jacklines   (Top of Page)

82. What's the latest on the pirate situation in the Indian Ocean?

The latest NATO threat map shows that the route up the red Sea is VERY dangerous. We figure the odds right now (Spring 2011) of being attacked are about 5%, being captured about 1% and being killed about .5%. For vessels in the Northern Indian ocean there are 5 options. (1) just "going for it" in the normal way up the Red Sea. I personally think this is too dangerous.  But that's an individual risk assessment and there appear to have been about 50 cruising boats that have done it this season. (2) going up the Red Sea with a couple armed Mercs on boat. This will cost about #1000/day and will create some hassles with officials and may make your boat a war zone if you are attacked, but will probably drive off the pirates. Again, it's not an option I would choose. (3)  Shipping your boat to the Med, with the crew flying.  This will cost ballpark $35,000 for a 'typical size' cruising boat. This is the relatively safe and expensive option.  Personally I would hate to do it because it would break the spirit of a circumnavigation, but it is certainly an attractive option for those intent on getting to the MEd as quickly as possible. (4) Sail by the classic  Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, Durban route around S Africa.  This route is out of the pirate zone of operation and S Africa is an attractive destination.  The weather is easily manageable with a typical cruising boat, but it is rougher than the tropics and does need preparation. This would be my personal choice. (5) Sail to the top (north) end of Madagascar and down the Mozambique channel.  This minimizes exposure to most of the rough weather but does graze the pirate operating zone and there have been violent thugs in some of the Mozambique channel harbors.  This is a controversial route, with some knowledgable people saying its safe and others saying its not.  I personally don't have enough information to make a good judgment and would thus personally avoid the route.  (Top of Page)

83. What can be learned about seamanship from mountain survival experiences?

Not too surprisingly there are many similarities and common lessons between good practices in the mountains and out at sea. This document outlines the key lessons learned/stated by the climbers and by the rescuers in a number of dire mountain situations. Also relevant for all offshore skippers are the key points from an examination of Shackleton's leadership experiences  (Top of Page)

 

84. Latest thinking on sail cloth especially hydranet and 3di.

Hydranet:

Hydranet is a bit of a puzzle because every sail maker I have asked says it is a bad deal while all the cruisers we know who actually have it, like it. 

 Factually what I understand is this:

#1 Hydranet has two products – one for radial sail construction and another for cross cut construction.  I am told the cross cut one is worthless (not enough spectra fibers to do any good, expensive and stretchy) and should not be considered and I in fact have seen no sails made from this.  The radial one does have enough spectra fibers to do some good and is worth considering.

But I just recently I just learned that Puma (top Volvo race boat) specified hydranet regular (eg ‘cross cut’)  tapes be used on their mainsail luff.  I am puzzled why that would be given point #1 above. The Puma guys are sail experts and the sails are made by North who know their stuff and don’t make hydranet so would prefer not to use it unless there is a reason.  So this is a puzzle I have to track down.

#2 Hydranet radial sails will be about as stretchy and about the same weight as a plain Dacron cross cut sail at twice the cost.  The actual cloth will be a bit more durable, but on either the stitching is going to always go first and not the cloth so it’s not clear how useful this extra cloth durability is. Hydranet radial is less stretchy than plain Dacron in the ‘zero direction’ (eg the direction the spectra fibers run) but it will be the same stretch in the ’90 direction’ where it has only Dacron fibers and more stretchy in the ’45 direction’ where it cannot be heat shrunk like plain Dacron cloth is (because the spectra fibers will melt). Regarding weight, the hydranet radial sail will be able to use a lighter cloth than a plain Dacron cross cut, but the radial construction apparently has a lot more seam overlap and that adds most of the weight back.

So, the sail makers have told me that I am better off value wise going with a high quality Dacron sail at about half the price of hydranet radial. Now, as I said, the cruisers with hydranet radial like it, and I have seen several and they have looked quite good. And that means you can clearly make a decent sail from it. But they might equally have liked a plain Dacron sail if they had gotten that instead, and saved some money in the process. All the ones I have personally seen have been pretty new, so I don’t have any first hand info on how they age.

You say your vessel is 65’, so probably your sails are even bigger than ours.  That makes the decision even a little more complex.  If you have a powered halyard winch then the weight probably does not make much handling difference, and then it just depends on how ‘performance’ oriented you are.  If you are ‘performance oriented’ then something like Dimension ‘DYS” spectra laminate triradial (or “DVX” – a similar laminate using vectran rather than spectra) is the most common choice, while if you are cruising/durability/value oriented a simple Dacron cross cut is the normal choice.  Our experience is that the laminate cloth’s are twice the price and half the life of a Dacron cross-cut – so for the extra performance you only get ¼ the ‘value’.  That’s clearly a personal decision and depends in part on how responsive your boat is – if she is a speedster then she and you will benefit from the higher performance sails while if she is a cruising tank then probably you will honestly not notice much gain from the performance sails.

So, If I were to summarize/simplify these trade-offs:

High quality Dacron:                       value*= 4 performance = 1

Hydranet radial:                             value = 2 performance = 2

Spectra/vectran laminate                 value = 1 performance = 4

*value = combination of initial price plus longevity

I have not made any decision yet.  We are still looking at all three options – plain cross cut Dacron, a DVX triradial, and an ‘experimental’ North 3di product.  I am a ‘performance sailor’ and have tended toward the performance sails, but the ‘value’ of Dacron is very hard to overlook.

3DI:

I am testing some 3di samples right now. North tells me I am very good at breaking things.

The first thing to realize is that 3di is really a manufacturing process and not a specific sail cloth.  North can and does make some very different types of ‘3di’.  Many of them are high carbon  content sails (like the ‘870’ 3di line) that are good for racing but stupid for cruising.  The 3di line that right now is most appropriate for cruising is the 760 line – which is a composite of spectra and Aramid fibers.  It will be the most durable and least shock loading/boat breaking of the current 3di products.  But it is still under development and will evolve.

3di passed my boiling test (which 3dl fails) and the freezing test last week.

And it passed Beth's flaking test - actually seems easier to get nice flakes than 'regular' sail cloth.

I am working on abrasion and crushing this week. My preconception is that abrasion is going to be its weak point - but that is a locally 'solvable' weakness by adding spectra chafe patches.

There is unfortunately no way for me to do a decent accelerated UV test - but there no reason I can think of that it would be worse than at least 3dl on that.

For the furling jib we have some design work to do on the tack and head, because their 'standard' corner detail is too stiff to bend around a furler. But it looks like we can take out the standard corner 'wad' and replace it with extra spectra tape and get the same strength with more flexibility. They have apparently done that already for a couple French 'vendee' sails.

The racers are having trouble breaking rig/deck stuff because the sails impose higher shock loading on their hardware. That’s been true even with the ‘lower shock loading 760 3di product’. That concerns me a little for my vang but there's not much I can test to learn more about that risk. If it looks like a real problem, one can always add either some elasticity into the system (I already use some relatively stretchy nylon climbing line in the traveler controls exactly for this purpose) or some rope fuses which will break before the expansive hardware.

Right now I am cautiously positive on the functionality.

The 'hand' (feel) of the sails is very 'plasticity' - beth said it felt very like plastic tarp and said to the North guys (jokingly) she assumed it was going to be inexpensive like tarp - I don't think they smiled
:).

We are having a discussion about the white vs grey finish. The 'normal' grey finish protects the fibers from UV better, but I am a little concerned it will get very hot in the tropics.

Unfortunately, currently 3di is significantly more expensive that the other topic cruising solutions (like DP's DYS spectra laminate). Unless it demonstrates much greater durability it can not support that sort of price premium for cruisers. (Top of Page)

85. How would you make the NZ/Australia back to USA/Europe decision today given the situation in the Red Sea.

We have really enjoyed the islands along the southern Indian ocean route – they remind one of what the Caribbean was like in the 1970’s before it got so commercial; and South Africa is a fabulous area/country to visit.  The game parks are just simply unbelievable and to dream of.  So, very honestly, we consider the South Africa to be the preferred route in any case, even if the red sea was open.  The weather around Africa is really not so bad – you will probably get one gale under Madagascar – it will be fast moving and you just heave-to, get some sleep and let it pass, that’s probably it.  Really the only advantage of the red sea route was that it was shorter and I understand is if someone was simply desperate to get back to Europe but if you are still up for the cruising life then the Africa route is and always has been the first choice.

If you go to Alaska, you add the possibility of going back thru the panama canal and across to Europe that way. We loved the Pacific Northwest, and if we were going to keep our boat in one area and cruise it for ‘the rest of our lives’, it would definitely and clearly be the PNW.  So, that would be a tough choice, but I think a world cruising sailor MUST do and see Africa.  It’s just simply so unique and different.  You can then later ‘retire’ to cruising the PNW.(Top of Page)

86. What are your thoughts on emergency bilge/dewatering pumps?

Your first priority is to make sure your thru hulls, hoses, stuffing box and rudder gland and rudder post are 'perfect'. Your second priority is to carry plugs (for thru hulls and rudder post) and covering material for broken ports and hatches.  Then you can start thinking about pumps. Unfortunately, regular marine bilge pumps are pretty worthless except for a trickle of water, and serious pumps are either big or/and require quite a bit of power.  More complete answer here: dewatering pumps. (Top of Page)

87. How do you light your diesel heater?

We originally dropped lit matches or lit paper towels into the diesel in the bottom of the burner pot.  However, that causes carbon build up in the burner pot and is also quite a hit or miss procedure.

We now use an old fashion metal oil can and Methylated Spirits (but almost anything that burns would work – the hotter the better).  Squeeze just a drop of the alcohol to the top of the shout and light.  Then squirt into heater.  It will throw a flame thrower like splash of burning alcohol.  If I am having real trouble getting the thing lit I very occasionally pour a tablespoon of gasoline into the burner pot, before hitting it with the flame thrower.

oil can

 We saw another approach down in chile – take one of the small camping propane canisters and screw a thin long hollow stainless tube on it (apparently they make things like this to burn weeds from sidewalk cracks).  Light the tip of the stainless tube and stick down into heater – ignite the diesel and also pre-heat up the burner pot.(Top of Page)

88. What do you do to specifically prepare for a passage?

We have a passage prep check list.  There is a powerpoint presentation on passage preparation. And chapter 20 in Beth's Voyager's Handbook is all about passage preparation.  (Top of Page)


The Sea Around Us

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

Rachel Carson