Note we do not have any financial arrangements or other interests in any of 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 :)

7. How do you handle watch keeping while on passage?

9. Do you use drogues or sea anchors in heavy weather?

9a. How about the bridled para-anchor technique?

17 How do you go up the mast?

30. What sort of life raft do you carry?

33. What courses or instruction should one take before going cruising?

34. What sort of boom preventer setup do you use?

37. What sort of emergency signaling equipment do you carry?

38. What sort of charts do you carry these days?

47. Do we really need four 300' lines on spools to cruise in the high latitudes?

54. Answer to shortest turning radius question in Seamanship Quiz seems wrong?

59. When do you start to motor, when you are on passage and the wind goes light?

65. What sort of anchor chain snubber do you use?

66. How do you clean snow off your decks?

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

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”?

75. Which knots are strongest?

81. How do you rig your jacklines?

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

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


Also see:

Medical Supplies - Voyager's Handbook

Emergency Rudders - 2007, Cruising World

Passage Prep Tips - 2005, Cruising World

Navy First Aid notes

Comments of ORC Category 1 requirements

7. How do you handle watch keeping while on passage?

Collision Regulation 5 says: "Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout . . ." The trick for a double-handed crew is to figure out how to do this without incurring undue fatigue.  Fatigue is the single biggest safety hazard aboard a cruising boat, being a major contributing factor in most unsafe situations and also a major damaging factor to the crew's ability to get themselves out of those situations.  Beyond that, extreme fatigue is simply not enjoyable. Aviation report on Fatigue, agreeing it was a major root cause of many safety incidents, and discussing guidelines and techniques to avoid it. This report on the Finder's Island incident profiles a situation where skipper fatigue was the primary root cause of a deadly cascade of problems.

Adopting the schedule most commonly used on racing boats, many cruising couples follow a 4 hours on/4 hours off schedule, usually shortening the period to 2 or 3 hours in bad or cold weather.  We tried that system but did not like it.  We never seemed to get a long enough period of deep sleep. So, we split the night into two watches.  Evans goes from after dinner to midnight, and Beth from midnight to dawn/breakfast.  Beth will then sleep for a few hours after Evans gets up.  With Hawk's very protected hard dodger we are much more comfortable on watch, and get less fatigued, and keep a better watch than we did on Silk.  We adapt our watch keeping procedure to our location and conditions.  Within about 150 miles of any shore we keep an active continuous watch usually with someone in the cockpit, but if visibility is low with a radar watch.  At the other end of the spectrum, crossing areas like the Southern Indian Ocean where there is essentially no vessel traffic, someone is awake at all times, perhaps reading in the nav station or resting on a settee, alert to weather changes and the resultant need to change sail trim/combination.  Top of Page

9. Do you use drogues or sea anchors in heavy weather?

We separate heavy weather into three distinct categories.  First, is an approaching rotating storm.  It's important to get as far away as possible from the center and the 'dangerous semicircle' of the storm.  Moving even 100 miles in the right direction can lower your winds from 65kts to 30kts.  There are quite clear rules as to which direction to go, depending on which semicircle of the storm you are in. In three of the storm quadrants ('navigable') its best to run and in one ('dangerous') its best to forereach. In none does it make sense to sit hove-to or on a para-anchor.

Second, is strong winds against an ocean current (most often the gulf stream, Agulhas or East Australian).  The waves will be more than twice as high in the current as out of it. These currents are usually only 20 miles wide and no more than 100. So, in this case you want to get out of the current as quickly as possible.  Again, it does not make sense to sit in the current if you can get out of it.

The third is a crush zone, where a low pressure system is pressing up against a large high.  This can create quite a large zone of strong winds.  If you are anywhere near the forecast track of the low, you want to move away, as there is often a very narrow extremely intense band of winds around the low. Moving even 50 miles will make a huge difference in wind strength and wave height. However, if you are not near the low track and the crush zone is too large to sail out of, and your destination is upwind you can sit and wait it out if that seems the best course of action - but these crush zones can sometimes persist for a week or more if the weather patterns are stationary.

So, from a strategic perspective, it is usually best to actively sail away from the worst weather.  That means either forereaching or running (with a drogue if necessary to prevent surfing).  You of course have to be getting good weather information while on passage to be strategic like this, and those recommending heaving-to and para-anchors as the magic solution usually are not using modern weather tools on passage.

We do carry a sea anchor and three different drogues. As suggested above, we prefer the 'forereaching' and 'running with a drogue' techniques and believe the sea anchor is a generally bad heavy weather solution for a vessel Hawk's size - uncomfortable in use, prone to chafed & broken rodes and difficult to retrieve. I can only imagine using it in a case where we were dismasted off a lee shore with the engine also broken, although even then I would try the series drogue first and see if that stabilized the boat and reduced our drift sufficiently.

One important fact to realize is that in severe storms the area with the worst weather and the really major breaking waves is usually quite compact, sometimes only 25 miles wide and rarely more than 100 miles - often along the fastest flow of an ocean current, at the edge of a continental shelf or right near the center of a low.  It makes much more sense to use an active tactic (running with a drogue preferably or forereaching otherwise) to get as far away from this dangerous zone as possible (and secondarily make as much progress toward your destination as possible) than to sit on a para-anchor waiting for it to come smash you.

A second important fact is that storms conditions evolve, and while one tactic may be perfect early in a storm when the waves are short and steep, another tactic may be preferred later in the storm as the waves have matured. Thus it is useful to use tactics that are easy to execute and easy to change.  Para-anchors, even small ones, are quite difficult to retrieve in storm conditions and are the most difficult tactic to change away from (unless you just cut the para-anchor away).

On Hawk, if we are going upwind and the conditions get so bad that we can not continue we will forereach on the double-reefed main or trysail. This technique was well proven with boats like Hawk (and many significantly smaller and less powerful boats) in extreme conditions in the ’98 Sydney to Hobart, and we used it successfully as a 956mb low passed directly overhead while we were off the Falklands.   On Silk we hove-to with just the mizzen up and she sat in the perfect hove-to position - 45 degrees to the wind, no forward motion and just a slow drift downwind. But many fin keel boats will not heave-to in this sort of stable attitude. They want to keep sailing and if you try to stop them they will fall off until beam-to, then accelerate and drive up until then stop again.  This is neither safe nor comfortable.  In ultimate storm conditions, it is also possible that heaving-to and forereaching become unsafe when the bow starts getting knocked off by the waves, leaving the boat's beam exposed to the seas, although this did not happen to the boats forereaching in the extreme '98 Sydney to Hobart conditions.  But if we did encounter that situation we would first try to sail the boat more aggressively to build momentum to punch through the waves.  If our best helming and trimming did not help we would deploy our Series drogue (off the stern) to minimize the distance lost to leeward.  Note: Our downwind drift rate under bare poles conditions (e.g. over 50kts) with the series drogue is about 1.5-2kts, which is not much more than the 1-1.5kts for our big para-anchor in similar conditions.

Running downwind (the other active tactic) in strong conditions short-handed (e.g. with self steering rather than a human at the helm) does require care in three areas. If you make a mistake and broach your forward momentum can be converted into a violent roll. The first area for care is in moving the sail plan forward.  Many people initially make the mistake of trying to run with a deeply reefed main or trysail and no headsail.  This is an unbalanced sail plan which will cause the boat to want to round up and will make the steering quite difficult.  We typically drop the main entirely and sail with a staysail or storm jib.  That causes extra work when we want the main again but provides much better steering control. 

The second is in speed control.  If you go too slow you lose rudder responsiveness and wallow around and could end up beam to the waves and you also take much more water into the cockpit, while if you go to fast you build up a tremendous amount of energy and if you do broach it will be fast and violent and could roll the boat.  In storm conditions, Hawk likes about 6-7kts and Silk liked about 5kts.  We vary the size of our headsail, and put a drogue out when necessary to maintain this speed. 

The third is the best angle to take the waves.  On boats which surf reasonably easily, like Hawk, we typically run square down the waves, taking care to control our speed and use a drogue when necessary to prevent surfing.  On boats which don't surf, there is a theory that it is better to take the waves at a slight angle (about 15 degrees, just enough to prevent sudden acceleration down the wave front) and not use a drogue.  Silk liked this.  However it is more subtle and requires more seamanship than running square.

It should be noted some boat designs are fundamentally difficult to control while running, especially those with short/fat hulls, many late IOR designs and those with inefficient 'barn-door' rudders.  Downwind these boats need to go to drogues much earlier than designs which run with better control.

If we are going downwind in really bad conditions, such as over 40kts blowing against a current, producing big steep waves, we use a drogue and Hawk really likes it. The drogue we have used most is a Galerider, set on a 600' rode (two 300' anchor lines tied together) with a bridle (a spare jib sheet tied to the rode with an icicle hitch, the rode led to a snatch block on one quarter, and the sheet to a snatch block on the other). We then set the autopilot or windvane to steer dead downwind.  We retrieve this drogue by simply putting the rode on a winch or our anchor windlass and cranking it in.

This is very safe and comfortable, however, the Galerider will occasionally pull out of a wave face, allowing Hawk to surf forward until the drogue catches the water again. To solve this problem, we got a second drogue (a Paratech Delta drogue), and modified it by putting a Spectra strop through its center (pic1 & pic2), so I can shackle it in at the 300' point on the rode.  This 'two-element series drogue' eliminates the problem because one of the two drogues is in the water at all times.  We also carry a complete Jordan series drogue with 150 cones, which is the proven, most common, solution among Southern Ocean cruising boats.  However, this drogue is more difficult to recover than my 2-element system because it can not be as easily winched in.  So far we have not been in conditions where we felt unsafe with the Galerider or two-element drogue solution, so we have not yet deployed the Series drogue.

We have extensively experimented with rode length on our drogues in severe storm conditions and usually found two 'sweet spots' at about 100' (where the drogue is in the same wave surface as the boat) and at 500-600' (where the drogue is more than a wave length behind the boat).  In these two sweet spots the drag device sits stably with relatively constant loading. 300' rodes have in our experience been exactly the most unstable length with the biggest slack and shock loading.  However, much of our severe storm experience has been in long fetch Southern Ocean storms, and we know from personal experience that short fetch North Atlantic storms have different wave length dynamics.

There is unfortunately no science or scientific testing on optimal para-anchor rode length. However, it is obvious that no single rode length will be optimal in all storm/wave conditions (perhaps ranging from 100' - 600'). Also, once you put out rode in a storm it is very difficult to bring it back in until the storm winds have abated. So, one approach is to start with the shorter end of the spectrum (e.g. 100’), where our experience suggests the tension on the rode will be the steadiest and the likelihood of excessive slack developing the least, and then if the boat motion feels wrong, lengthen as necessary to find the sweet spot. Lengthening during a storm will be tricky given the enormous loads.  To do this the rode must be properly led to a very strong capstan. (US Coast Guard study on drogues vs. para anchors)

The primary reason such a high percentage of para-anchor rodes break in actual use (perhaps 80% of para-anchors deployed in extreme conditions have broken their rodes) is nylon’s extreme vulnerability to chafe and internal heat damage. The US Coast Guard and New England Ropes both have extensive experience with nylon failure due to internal heat generated by cyclic loading and recommend Dacron as a better alternative for a para-anchor application.  Dacron, while not as stretchy as nylon, is an excellent shock absorber in these 100-600' lengths. However, from a practical standpoint, most people do not have a dedicated rode for their para-anchor and use a spare anchor rode, which is typically nylon.  But we must all be aware that nylon has proven to be very vulnerable to failure in this application.

Regarding rode retrieval - in theory with our primary winches we can crank in 1.25" of rode/turn in slow gear and with a heavily loaded rode we can do 1 turn in 1.4 seconds.  That means we can retrieve 300' of rode in 67 minutes.  Our electric windlass can bring in the rode about 25% faster, or 45 minutes/300' BUT we run the risk of burning it out/damaging it with that sort of continuous load.  Our actual retrieval times have come quite close to these theoretical times.  It takes about 50% longer to retrieve (so 100 minutes/300' of rode) the series drogue or the para-anchor.  With the series drogue, you need to be extra careful guiding the cones in and off the winch to prevent damaging them, and with the para-anchor because of higher cyclic loads over waves/swell and dealing with the para-anchor shrouds when it gets close to the boat.  We have found you can winch the series drogues without damaging the cones but you cannot use a self tailer, so it's best to have someone grinding and someone else tailing (who also makes sure the cones go in and come off smoothly). Notes:

(1) This all assumes you want to bring your rode back in while it is still breezy (say 35kts).  If you wait longer for the wind to drop more, it will of course be easier/faster.

(2) These retrieval speeds generally apply to the typical modern sized cruising boat (say 38'-53').  Above this size you really need either a strong hydraulic winch or to motor up to the rode, below this size the gear and loads are much smaller and you can often retrieve drogues by hand.

(3) The rode loads are quite cyclic. Your boat speed drops as you go up the back side of a wave and you get slack in the rode and can crank in faster, then you speed up as you go down a wave and the loads build and you crank slower.

(4) If you have your drogue on a bridle, you can quite easily take one leg of the bridle off the stern and bring it around to the bow, and then pull the warp in from the bow, perhaps using the motor. We don't do that for two reasons: (a) I much prefer to work in the cockpit than on the foredeck in those sort of conditions (big waves), and (b) I don't fancy trying to motor upwind into those sort of waves. It's quite a bit nicer to retrieve a rode while sitting comfortably and dry in the cockpit, than on a pitching and wet foredeck.

All the available storm tactics have pitfalls.  None is a cure-all magic bullet.  Its simply a matter of picking the best one for the specific conditions (which will evolve) and the specific boat.  If the first one you try feels wrong, then try another.  It is worth noting that all these storm tactics should be reserved for truly ugly conditions with large breaking waves. All of them are quite a bit of work. In a garden variety gale they are not necessary (for a typical cruising boat) and in fact are likely to cause additional trouble.

Here is an article summarizing our thoughts on survival sailing (as distinct from heavy weather sailing).

 Top of Page

9a. How about the bridled para-anchor technique?

As mentioned above, we generally think the para-anchor tactic the least useful because it prevents you from sailing away from the worst weather and is difficult to change/adapt as conditions change.  The bridled para-anchor deployment approach is the most complex possible way to deploy the para-anchor, with the most points of potential failure and human error. Those are bad traits when fatigued in severe storm conditions. Virtually every crew we know who has tried the approach in real storm conditions has considered it a failure.  So, we like this 'bridled' approach even less than the 'over-the bow' approach.

We believe the bridle approach violates three fundamental principles regarding breaking wave tactics.

(1) An essential guiding principle for surviving breaking waves is to keep either the bow or stern pointed into the waves. The bridle technique violates this principle by setting the boat up at about 50 degrees to the waves.

(2) An essential principle of para-anchors is that big ones are needed to keep the boat in place through big breaking waves. The bridle technique again violates this principle by (at least in the Pardey's technique) using a much smaller para-anchor. It is a simple fact of physics that a boat with its head 50 degrees off the waves hanging on a smaller para-anchor is more likely to roll than one with head directly into the waves on a bigger para-anchor  - head off the waves means greater surface area exposed to the wave impact, smaller para-anchor does reduce immediate shock loads but it does so by allowing the bow to move backwards through the water increasing the likelihood of being rolled; the bridle solution spreads some of the para-anchor effort to the aft bridle leg reducing the force keeping the bow up. It can be argued that the extra risk is not a significant factor compared to the extra motion comfort and somewhat reduced shock loads, but in an absolute sense there is some amount of increased risk.

(3) An essential guiding principle of all heavy weather tactics is that they should be simple and easy to execute, difficult to mess up even when it's pitch black and raining, with waves washing over the deck and an extremely fatigued crew, and relatively easy to adapt to changing storm conditions.  The bridled para-anchor approach is none of these things.

A core assumption of the 'bridled small para-achor' approach is that creating a 'slick' (e.g. turbulence in the water upwind of the boat caused by the hull and keel drifting to leeward) is a significant factor in stopping waves from breaking on the boat.  We question this assumption. First it is essentially impossible to hold a vessel with exactly zero forward motion and thus actually directly behind any potential 'slick'. If the boat has even 1/2kt of forward drift, it will be moving 50'/minute. In which case the slick will angle aft and the boat will always be right at the forward edge of the slick. Thus a wave coming from directly downwind or forward of that will be able to reach the boat with minimal interference from the slick.  Second, it is equally clear that the effect dissipates very quickly as it moves away from the hull.  The effect is impossible to discern more than about 10' from the hull. It will certainly not have much effect on the really large breaking waves that are the true danger. John Neil, who likely has more miles and heavy weather experience on a 'modern' cruising boat (a Halberg Rassey 46) than anyone, agrees: "My experience (and it's a fair amount now)  is that the entire 'slick' reducing breaking waves concept is not at all realistic". 

Here is a great video of a real breaking wave (not just the more common breaking crest) that a hull slick would not have any significant effect on. In contrast we would consider most of the action in this video to be breaking crests, still dangerous to a sailboat but not the worst case breaking waves. The hull slick is just too near the boat and too narrow to affect a massive wave like that in the first video clip, which will already be breaking in a huge 30kt landslide of water by the time they hit the hull slick and often come sliding in at an angle different than the hull slick angle.  Further the 'slick' will have zero affect on some of the most dangerous waves - those where two different wave trains become synchronized and form extremely steep pyramid-shaped waves and/or create 'bottomless troughs' - because these dangerous wave shapes are created by wave energy that runs deep underwater and is not affected by any surface 'slick'.  These were the sort of waves identified as most dangerous in the Queen's birthday storm.

If the slick was as valuable a factor as suggested then lying a-hull, which creates an even wider slick than lying hove-to, would be an effective tactic rather than being the most dangerous possible technique. The para-anchor may potentially create turbulence at the right distance from the boat, but only with a shortish rode (e.g. 100' is about right but 300' is too far from the boat) and obviously a bigger para-anchor will create wider more effective turbulence than a smaller one.  Interestingly, the slow speed steady state drift rate of the big and small para-anchor are in the same range (e.g. .5 - 1.5kts) in heavy weather.  The extra drag of the bigger para-anchor comes into effect when a breaking wave actually hits, and prevents the boat from accelerating more effectively than the smaller one.

As a final practical point with the bridle approach - we have never found a chafe-free way to lead the bridle legs in over our toe rails.  We also have concerns about engineering the bridle so it is strong enough for Hawk's expected loads (about 20,000lbs loading in the worst case breaking wave).  The strongest available snatch block is not strong enough, so the bridle legs would have to be spliced and then tied or shackled to the end of the main rode.  That would be strong enough but would make recovery even more difficult because we would have to work the splice/knot/shackle around the recovery winch.

While much controversy exists as to what actual parachute loads are in storm conditions, there is absolutely no question that worst case breaking wave loads are a high fraction of displacement.  There are four ways to estimate these loads, all of which arrive at the same ballpark figure. The only reason there is any debate about how big the loads are, is that big breaking waves are, fortunately, extremely rare.

(1) The physics of a boat falling down a 45-foot near vertical breaking wave are very clear and very impressive.  If you are skeptical about the existence of such waves take a look at the video footage of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart (the link is to a report on the storm; we have yet to find video footage on the web). Don Jordan’s  web site is one of many that provide a good analysis of these loads and also has another great video of 60' ketch getting knocked down.

(2) Commercial vessel design and experience confirms this order of magnitude loading with big waves - in an article on new findings about big waves: "Most modern merchant vessels are designed to withstand about fifteen tons of pressure per square meter, but these unusual waves exert a pressure of about one hundred tons per square meter" and other testing has found common wave loading of about 100,000-170,000 lbs/sq meter for 7 seconds on static structures*.  To return to our own practical experience. There are many many example of actual high wave loading but just to cite one - the 1,000-foot cruise ship Norwegian Dawn encountered a 70-foot wave that broke windows designed for 5 ton/sq meter loads up to the 10th floor.

(3) We have measured the steady-state loads on our smallest Galerider drogue at 3,500lbs (10% of displacement) in a static, non-breaking wave situation.  Para-anchor loads will certainly be much higher and worst case breaking wave loads will additionally be much higher. Scaling this load by frontal surface area produces peak load estimates for our series drogue (150 cones) of approximately 10,700lbs and for a 12' dia. para-anchor (the bridle approach recommendation) of 41,000lbs (e.g. 100% of Hawk's actual cruising displacement). The physics are a bit more complex than a simple scaling, so this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but these are useful ballpark estimates for sizing equipment and attachment points (remember that you need to add a 2x-3x safety factor).

(4) Looking at the wave energy in a storm serious enough to require a drogue or para-anchor is another way to estimate the likely loads. To ballpark the absolute minimum peak load on the para-anchor, in a storm bad enough to make the para-anchor needed, take your 1 degree righting moment (2700ft-lbs for Hawk) x 60 degrees (generally a boat's angle of peak righting moment) / half beam (7' for Hawk) x .5 (nylon rode shock absorbing) = 12,000lbs for Hawk (40% of displacement). This is the minimum loading that you can expect in a storm bad enough it could roll your boat.  It assumes that the boat is caught perfectly beam on to the waves, that the wave delivers only just exactly enough energy to capsize the boat and no more, and that the nylon rode acts as a perfect spring and averages out the entire wave load. If the waves don't have at least this much energy then they can't capsize the boat, even if she is lying ahull, and you really don't need to set the para-anchor. In a bad storm the peak energy will be much higher. An upper limit ballpark can be calculated from the case of a vessel falling off a 60' near vertical wave with a 400' nylon rode (properly sized for 15% stretch at a working load of 15% of breaking strength).  In this case the peak load will be equal to 100% of the vessel's displacement.  These are both rough calculations but they do bound the likely peak para-anchor loads between 40%-100% of vessel displacement, and we use halfway between them (e.g. 70%) in our calculations/equipment sizing.

We would only consider using a para-anchor in one situation: if too close to a lee shore to use our drogue and dismasted so we couldn't forereach and with a broken engine so we couldn't use the trawler tactic of powering into the waves.  In that situation we would first try our series drogue and see if the drift rate is slow enough to keep us off the shore, if not we would put out the largest possible para-anchor off the bow.  This would minimize leeway and be better and easier (in our opinion) than the smaller para-anchor/bridle technique. Honestly, if you are caught way too close to a lee shore, while dismasted and engineless, you have probably lost your boat no matter what technique you use. Top of Page

*(Note: Recent scientific work on big waves is at 

17. How do you go up the mast?

Normally, with two of us on deck, we use the trysail halyard.  It has an extra long tail specifically for this purpose.  It leads down through a clutch on the mast, to a block on deck, and forward to the windlass rope drum.  Beth tails while pushing the up button.  To let me down she comes back to the mast, wraps the halyard around one of the mast winches, opens the clutch, and lets the halyard out, sliding around the winch drum.  If I am alone, I use mountain climbing hardware, specifically one ascender + one gri-gri + 2 foot loops + a climbing harness.  I hoist a low stretch 10mm line on one of the halyards, hook the ascender and gri-gri to the line, hook my harness and foot loops to the ascender and gri-gri, and start climbing.  To come down, I take the ascender off the line and use the gri-gri to rappel. We have an article on this at Mast Climbing - and I have written an update with photos. There is a decent video here of almost the same technique, and some drawings here. And another video here of a slight modification of the technique (this adds a pulley to make pulling the rope thru the grigri a little smother), and yet another here using two ascenders rather than an ascender + a grigri Top of Page

30. What sort of liferaft do you carry?

This is an example of a fundamental disagreement we have with the safety experts' approach to safety.  We do not like to rely on 'single-purpose, untestable, magic boxes' and have not carried a liferaft on either of our voyages/boats. People say, "Well, I may need a raft and there is no harm in putting one on board." I think both elements of that statement reflect poor logic. Having the raft aboard does bring significant downsides and the likelihood the raft will be useful is much smaller than many other very low risks that we all just let go by in our lives without undue concern or special precaution. (note: there is an excellent essay 'The psychology of security", directly useful when considering safety equipment and procedures.) Also useful and related is this article on safety and back-up planning, about the Japanese Nuclear problem, but can be related to our cruising safety and planning. And a third interesting article on safety psychology, particularly in complex systems (And how adding safety equipment might not make you safer).

Downside analysis: The core downside is that if you don't have a raft you will be much more focused and intent on saving the boat, and at least to us, that is important. We are willing to make the trade-off involved, of a higher likelihood of saving the boat with also a higher chance of dying if we fail to save the boat. I think that many people in their hearts don't believe they need to make this trade-off, that they can have it both ways - an initial complete commitment to saving the boat and then the raft as a backup if they fail. However, I think they are fooling themselves - they will in fact give the situation more effort and focus if they feel they have no choice/no raft, and give up more quickly with less effort if they have the raft. In the pre-raft days, people made some pretty impressive repairs when they had no choice - Tzu Hang is perhaps the best documented but there were many many others.

Beyond that the raft may prevent you from saving your boat if the boat starts taking on water. Below I relate one example but we know at least three first hand cases where it was impossible to find the source of incoming water because people took the time to launch their rafts rather than immediately going below to save the boat. It's almost impossible to find the source of inrushing water once there is 2' of water in the boat. Secondarily, you could have taken that money and effort and put in a watertight bulkhead or foam filled crash box or stronger rudder, or fire-proofed your interior or pulled/refit all your thru-hulls and stuffing box, etc. Finally, no matter how often people are coached to 'only get in the raft when you have to step up to it' that's simply not how the psychology of emergencies work. People panic and they are not thinking clearly and history has clearly shown, given the option, they often leave perfectly good boats for the less good raft.

Upside analysis: The real frequency of well-found boats sinking rapidly at sea (hitting whales and containers, etc. and going down so quickly they can not be saved by a diligent crew) are very, very rare (rudders and dagger boards are lost with some frequency but do not usually result in rapid sinking). The likelihood is certainly less than that you will be hit by lightning. Secondly, if you end up in one of those rare cases, our (admittedly small sample) data suggests that only about 1 time out of 3 will the raft actually work (even if it's 50% it's not so good). Finally, if you are in one of those rare cases and the raft does works, much of the time it will not protect you very well (big seas and/or cold water) or it will not help because you are in a part of the ocean with low vessel traffic/no rescue capability. So, it certainly happens occasionally but the odds the thing will actually save your life are really, really low - probably lower than your winning the jackpot lottery. That's the upside.

As one thinks of the few cases where the raft was in fact essential to a well found boat, you should not forget the other cases where people have gotten in the raft when they should not have, and the cases when the boat could have been saved if they had not fussed with the raft first, and the cases where the raft resources and effort would have been better directed elsewhere. You can't have the first cases without the others cases. The important thing is to see if the net balance is positive or negative, and we believe the facts suggest its pretty clearly the latter.

In additional detail:

First, liferafts, like much of the available 'safety equipment', especially the single purpose 'sealed magic boxes' do not work very well.  In NZ about 20 cruising boats got together to get their rafts repacked.  Before repacking they all pulled their inflation cords and about 1/3 did not inflate, 1/3 inflated but promptly deflated and only 1/3 inflated and stayed inflated (this after the rafts were on average only two years at sea). More recently, the Concordia launched 4 rafts and one failed (tube burst).  That's a 25% failure rate for commercial SOLAS grade, annually serviced and inspected, rafts. Even when the rafts inflate properly, they are dangerous at sea.  In each of the well-documented storms - the Fastnet, the Sydney to Hobart, and the Queen's Birthday storm - crew would have been much safer staying with their boats than getting in their rafts.  A high fraction of those getting in rafts were injured or died while 80% of the abandoned boats were later found floating perfectly safely.  Rafts are often hard to deploy. Many are simply too heavy and difficult for a single person to quickly get over the side, and many are mounted near propane tanks and gasoline jugs, which will destroy the raft in case of fire or explosion - one common case for abandoning ship, and the one where the raft is most critical to survival.  Finally, in the cold waters where Hawk has predominately been cruising, we are almost certain to die of hypothermia in a raft before being rescued.

Second we are committed to saving our boat and sailing her home.  We believe that even if the raft works it actually reduces overall vessel safety.  Quite a high fraction of the 20% of boats that are not later found after being abandoned could have been saved if the crew had stayed on board.  A classic example is a boat we knew that was rapidly taking on water - through a blown stuffing box seal but they did not know it at the time.  They looked down below, saw water rising and took time to inflate the raft as a precaution.  By the time they got below to try to find the leak there was so much water they could not locate the inrush and the boat sank, fortunately in shallow water.  It was salvaged and the cause was determined to be the blown stuffing box, which would have been easy to locate and fix if they had done it immediately and not been distracted by the raft.  We feel we are much more likely to be safe and save the boat if we are fully committed to saving the boat than if we have half our attention focusing on a raft.

Third, purely from an 'investment' point of view there are tools with much more bang for the buck in keeping us and the boat safe - bigger anchors, stronger hull, watertight bulkheads fore and aft, tools and materials to effect repair (rigging, rudder and hull skin especially), fire retardant materials in the boat and hull, sealed locker not only for propane but also for outboard and outboard gas and for any paint/solvents, easy to use boom preventers and pole control gear, proper charts of all potential back-up landfalls, extensive medical kit, weather forecasting equipment and knowledge, sat phone, etc. Perhaps most importantly, we believe that multiple ways to minimize fatigue (ranging from a hard dodger for less fatiguing watch keeping to improved sleep cycles practice/knowledge to amphetamines for short intense periods like making landfall after several days of gales) is critical to our safety. Fatigue is the number one contributing factor in bad situations and the number one hindrance in effectively resolving them when they occur.  Even if you do believe a raft will actually be effective, risk-based analysis says you should fully implement all these areas before the raft becomes a priority. (Note there has not ever been a case of any vessel in the history of either the Bermuda or Transpac races sinking and requiring the use of a raft to wait for rescue *footnote below* - so no use in several thousand hard-sailed ocean passages). 

We do carry two dry suits (and an inflatable dinghy), which we primarily use for hull/prop/zinc maintenance and for helming in truly foul weather. But in addition to these uses would also be much more effective for temporarily 'abandoning ship' (say to get to shore from a burning boat in a remote anchorage - which happened to friends of ours in Chile) than a raft.  They require no inflation, offer better protection from hypothermia, and are stowed away from propane and dinghy gas, etc. This sort of dual purpose equipment, which we can regularly use, inspect and maintain is a significantly better approach in our opinion than essentially sealed magic boxes that we can only hope will work when we need them.  I was talking with the skipper of a Transpac race boat about safety issues and stunned to discover that, in order to save weight, the only tools they carried were the bow men's two leathermen (and a required spar banding tool) and they had no spare screws/bolts/plywood.  This inability to repair even small defects seems unseaman-like in the extreme, but I acknowledge it may be necessary to be competitive in that elite racing environment. 

On a related topic, regarding harnesses: It is the case that the vast majority of really experienced bluewater sailors don't wear harnesses/pfd's that much. These folks have well developed 'sealegs' and know how to move and work on the vessel in a stable position.  They also know when they need to clip in (although we all make mistakes, the vastly experienced as well as the inexperienced). If you study the record of MOB situations, the vast majority of MOB have been from #1 situations where the crew was standing working with both hands (usually with his hands over his waist) and knocked by a sail, boom, pole, wave or sudden lurch. Or #2 when at a work station (winching or hiking out) and a solid green wave hits them and washes them overboard.  In both of these situations it makes sense to have a short strop (just long enough to allow the necessary work but not long enough to go overboard) attached to a near centerline deck hard point (padeye), which will simply not allow you to reach overboard at any angle and always there ready to clip on. We are not a big fan of using jacklines for normal movement up and down the deck or for work station use - because (a) in typical designs they don't prevent you from going over the side (too long), (b) we believe a crewman should be able to move up and down the deck safely (in typical conditions) with one hand for the ship and one hand for himself (good non-skid and toerail and handgrips are important elements of vessel design to help this), and (c) it unnecessarily restricts free and fast movement on deck. Being able to speedily move around the deck and quickly resolve potential problems before they become too large will stop the 'cascade of failures' often seen in major incidents. It should be noted that kneeling or sitting is more stable for working than standing, and that crawling up the deck in very bad conditions is always acceptable and seamanlike. Recent Volvo feedback has been that current ORC harnesses are clumsy for practical long duration usage, and too slow to put on when the off-watch needs to come immediately on deck. The important, time-tested seamanship rule is 'one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself'.  The better rule is to clip-in in when you simply cannot hold on: (a) When working with both hands, particularly when standing up (for example at the mast or head stay), then it is good practice to clip-in during unstable conditions because you don't have 'one hand for yourself'. (b) If your work station is being washed with green water, which could dislodge you even while holding on. That is the experienced seaman's practice. 

Regarding lifejackets: it is stunning how ineffective life jackets appear to be in the real world. In the official US Coast Guard statistics for coastal usage there is essentially no statistical difference between the percentage of boaters wearing life jackets and those drowning who were wearing life jackets (The 2006 data shows identical results as does the latest 2008 data) - both are 9.3% for adult boaters excluding PWCs on an 8-year average.  This means that the life jackets have in fact been almost completely useless in actual practice. If life jackets were effective then the first percentage should be many times higher than the second.  This can be at least partially explained by one observation: Virtually no life jacket will hold the users' head out of the water entirely by itself, and so they will not save anyone who is unconscious, extremely fatigued or drunk (drunk while boating study). Article with volvo racer perspective.  This perspective was again reinforced by the recent Flinder's Islet incident. Three people went over the side, one had on PFD and harness and was clipped on, one had on PFD and harness and not clipped, and one had nothing on.  The person clipped on was trapped bashing against the boat and died. The person not clipped on floated free and was recovered safely. The person without tether or harness suffered a head injury while being washed overboard and likely would not have survived no matter what gear he had.  This gear looks like it will save lives but the real world statistics are not very encouraging. In the recent Farallon's incident, seven people went in the water all wearing Pfd's and two survived with five dead.

My summary point on harnesses and PFD's is that they are not cure-all's and it is more important to learn how to move and work safely on deck.  But it (mostly) can't hurt and might help to be wearing a PFD (so long as it does not trap you under rigging or the vessel) or a harness and to clip in when you feel unsteady at all or are sitting stationary or have any risk of solid green waves on deck.

Fourth, we fundamentally accept that life has risks.  We know that all risks cannot be completely eliminated. We know we will die sometime. We do not let this deter us from living our dreams.  We strongly object to the fear based marketing/propaganda efforts, applied to everything from cell phones to water makers, that lead you to believe you will get sick and/or die unless you have one.  Following expert advice, one could spend one's entire life and resources minimizing already low risks.  That is a pale life. A seaman goes to sea with a realistic assessment of the risks and with the sure knowledge that the seaman's life is worth pursuing despite the risks. He has practiced plans to deal with the most likely situations and a foundation of skills and basic tools to tackle the unlikely. He knows that with a hammer, a knife, and a rope he can overcome most situations.

This is a distinctly personal choice, based on our own assessment of the likely true risks and how to most effectively minimize them.  We rarely even mention this decision to others, as we do not want others to base such an important decision on our reasoning and logic.  I do believe the thought process should be undertaken with all safety equipment by evaluating the following questions: How likely is the actual risk compared to other risks?  Is the equipment well made & will it actually work (has it consistently worked well for others)?  Can I personally test it out and see if how it works and refine my procedure or is it essentially a mystery box that I just hope will work?  Does it distract either our attention or money from a better solution?

In case one thinks this is 'only a racing issue' - race rules/mindset and the racing safety committees do clearly slop over into the cruising community and into cruising boat design. I think that the current rescue mindset is being driven from the racing community into the cruising community (typical racers' comments: "100 other fully crewed boats ready to come to your rescue", "never out of helicopter range"). It's a major pain today to get a boat approved for the Bermuda race - with all that effort we should at least focus on the right fundamental things, and it would improve all boats not just racing machines. I simply think the pendulum has swung way, way too far toward the abandon ship/rescue and gizmos and away from boat strength, design, watch keeping, etc. I think, we, the sailors, need to challenge the safety community more about the quality and reliability and actual usefulness of their rules/products. I would like to see more focus on basic structures, fire retardant construction and watch keeping (protection in the cockpit work stations from solid green water, sleep cycles, etc.).

Our safety focus/priorities are:

(1) Primary focus is on avoiding problems in the first place - stronger rudders and keel attachments, better work station protection, and fire avoidance

(2) Second focus on tools, materials and skills to fix problems rather than call for rescue when a problem has happened  - significant inventory of tools and materials and spare parts & avoid safety products/designs produced simply to satisfy racing rules and identify emergency parts designs/jury rigs that have proven they can be installed and actually work in bad conditions (cassette rudders, spring starter motors, boom gooseneck strong enough/wide enough range of vertical motion to allow boom to be pulled vertical and used as quick jerry rig, etc)

(3) General dislike for single purpose, sealed & untestable, ‘safety’ gear  - find multipurpose alternatives that can be used, inspected and tested every day

*footnote* Two boats have been lost in Bermuda Races: ADRIANA to a fire in 1932, and ELDA in 1956 when she ran up on Bermuda’s reef. In the Transpac, in 1975 non-entrant ATTORANTE sank and her crew was rescued by SWIFTSURE. In 1981 Transpac, a racing catamaran broke apart the first night, and her six-man crew was rescued by WESTWARD. MEDICINE MAN sank on the reef 100 yards short of the finish in '89. And in 1999 the crew of DOUBLE BULLET was airlifted off the capsized catamaran by a Coast Guard helicopter. This suggests the priority lesson learned for monohulls should be 'don't hit the land at the end of the passage' (navigation skills, proper charts and fatigue management) and 'stow your combustibles carefully and check your fire extinguishers'; and for multihulls 'in order to win the boat must be strong enough to finish and sailed carefully enough to stay upright'.

Presentation on racing safety regulations, and list/causes of safety incidents

  Top of Page

33. What courses or instruction should one take before going cruising?

We believe foreign languages are clearly the number one priority.  This will make cruising in foreign countries more fun, educational and much easier.  Which languages will depend on your specific cruise plan, but French and Spanish are the most useful for a general world cruise.

From a technical standpoint, weather, diesel engines and emergency medical care would be the top three topics.  The latter two topics are well suited to class room/seminar instruction, but I have found it much easier to learn about the weather while actually out cruising than sitting in a classroom.

Sailing/passagemaking courses are helpful in three regards.  (1) We think it is important that the mate be a full partner in the endeavor, able to handle the boat and get her safely back to port if the skipper becomes injured or incapacitated.  So the mate should take whatever basic sailing and navigation courses are needed to make this a reality and a 'passage course' is a useful 'final exam' in this process.  (2) Even for experienced sailors, it is useful to see how another experienced skipper does things. Typically, cruisers stick to their own boat and crew and rarely sail with other people/boats, unlike racers. (3) The passage course can help build your confidence level by reducing some of the mystery of offshore sailing , but cruising double-handed in your own boat will be such a different experience from a sailing course with a skipper and other crew in a school boat it less relevant in this regard than might be expected.

Round the buoy racing does not seem to have much carry-over value for cruising but point-to-point/passagemaking racing does, especially with a strong/competent captain/crew.  Top of Page

34. What sort of boom preventer setup do you use?

We have a boom preventer set most of the time we are offshore, primarily to stabilize the boom in ocean swell, which helps keep the sail full and minimizes wear on the gooseneck.  We also use it when running to prevent accidental jibes.

We have a tang welded through the boom near the aft end, sticking out both sides, with eyes in both sides (you could also simply through bolt two pad eyes onto the boom).  We have Spectra (10mm single braid) lines spliced to each of these eyes (one line on either side of the boom) with spliced thimbles on the forward end of the lines.  The forward ends stow on cleats on the front end of the boom.  Then on each side deck, we have a line (12mm spectra double braid, with a Dacron cover to allow a clutch to grip it more easily) which runs from a cockpit winch through a clutch on the toerail just outside the cockpit forward to a block on the toerail (just outside the chain plates) and ends in a spliced snap shackle (Tylaska trigger shackle, which can be released under load if necessary).  To set the preventer, we take the line off the cleat on the boom, and clip the snap shackle on the deck line to the thimble on the boom line, and pull tight from the cockpit, closing the clutch so we can then free up the winch.

Some people put the block on the toerail further forward, to get a better angle on the boom.  We don't do that because then the preventer line is led sharply around the stays in an accidental jybe, and because placement by the 'chainplate' works perfectly fine.  And some people put a ‘fuse’ (a lashing of light line designed to be stronger that a jibe shock load but break before the boom breaks) somewhere in the preventer system to save the boom from breaking if it dips into the water.  That works fine if the fuse is the correct strength and inspected frequently, but we don't like the idea the fuse/preventer could let go when we are unaware.

Some people use more elastic line (nylon) in their preventers in order to better soak up the shock of a jibe. We tried that but found first that the elasticity allowed a lot of boom motion in a big swell - creating extra wear and chafe - and second that with low stretch line there was not that big a shock in a jibe because the boom does not move at all and thus does not build up any momentum. So, we prefer low stretch preventers.   Top of Page

37. What sort of emergency signaling equipment do you carry?

Flares are required by the USCG and we carry the minimum required number.  We do carry the more expensive SOLAS flares as they are significantly brighter/more visible than the cheaper USCG approved flares.  However, we have seen both SOLAS parachute and smoke flares from a distance of 3 miles and it is shocking how quickly they burn out and how hard it is to identify where the boat firing them is.  We don't hold much hope that our flares will be seen if we have to use them.

We also carry a 406mhz EPIRB.  It's an older non-GPS unit.  If we bought a new one we would definitely get one with a built in GPS and we would look for one which had easy/inexpensive battery replacement. Many units have to be sent to an 'authorized service center' in order to change the battery - for a world cruiser this can require an international express shipment (both ways) which is expensive and often involves customs hassles.  The beauty of the EPIRB is that (a) it can be activates quickly by flipping one switch, (b) they are (mostly) robustly built and water resistant, and (c) the signal automatically goes directly to the SAR centers. Unfortunately 97% of 406mhz epirb activations are false/accidental alerts, which makes the SAR authorities reluctant to send out SAR assets until the EPIRB signal is confirmed to be a valid emergency.

However, we have been directly involved in three EPIRB incidents and many cruisers vastly overrate how effective EPIRBs are.  EPIRB signals and SARs (Search And Rescue) across country borders (particularly in 3rd world countries where very few people speak English) tend to be very discouraging experiences. The communication barrier almost inevitably fouls things up so the usually very limited SAR resources are not properly deployed. In the one case where the boat in trouble also had a sat phone the incident went smoothly because the skipper could explain the exact situation and continue to communicate as the rescue effort got underway.  In the two situations where there was no communication beyond the EPIRB, there was no effective search and no rescue (one boat was lost with all hands and the other 'self-rescued').  In all three cases, the boat's main electrical system was out so the SSB/HF radio's were not useful . Click here for an overview on the EPIRB/SAR process.

Thus, we believe adding a sat phone (Iridium) with a spare battery to the ditch kit is extremely valuable, and if we could only afford one or the other we would choose the sat phone over the EPIRB. These phones have many other useful functions beyond emergency messages. Also with periodic usage you will know if they are working while the EPIRBs are essentially black boxes. Also with a sat phone, you can maintain contact long after an EPIRB batteries have died. You do need to make sure the phone batteries are fully charged before each passage.

We do have both a fixed DSC VHF and a handheld VHF.  The fixed unit will obviously go out if the ship's electrical system is out.  The handheld does not have much range. Also we have discovered that most Third World fishing boats carry CB radios rather than VHF (CBs are cheaper than marine spec VHF), so are not listening to VHF16.

Finally, we have a Sat C system, which is viewed as obsolete but we like it for three reasons: (a) it produces free weather (Navtext) twice a day, (b) you can make an immediate emergency signal like an EPIRB by pressing two buttons together, but unlike the EPIRB, if you have time you can include a text message to explain the details of your situation and you can stay in touch with the search center, and (c) the units are very robustly made.  However, if the ship's main electrical system is out this system will be inoperative.

If you get into trouble, especially in non-English speaking third world waters:

(1) Stay with the boat and do not get off into the life raft until the boat truly sinks out from under you.

(2) Set off your EPIRB but don't count on an effective search as a result.

(3) If you have a sat-phone, call your home country's SAR center (generally known as "Rescue Coordination Centers" or RCCs) and (if you have it) the local waters SAR center (put them in speed dial before you leave - click here for contact pdfs: USCG contacts, International contacts) and explain your situation, and call a friend (also put in speed dial) ashore who you trust to carry the ball pushing for an effective search. MOST IMPORTANTLY (4) Keeping yourself/getting yourself out of trouble is the only reliable solution.

If you are the shore contact for someone who lets off an EPIRB:

(1) When the EPIRB agency calls you to confirm the boat's general location, you should get from them the exact location (lat/log) and time of the first EPIRB signal fix and the location and time of the last fix (when the EPIRB batteries ran down) or the latest fix (if it is still transmitting).  This will give you some indication of whether the vessel is disabled and drifting or still under power/sail, and help immensely in more precisely defining the optimal search area/pattern.

(2) Getting a cruising boat that is on the scene helps tremendously in coordinating a search and rescue.  The WinLink position map is a very efficient way to identify cruising boats on the scene, who can then potentially be communicated with via e-mail (call sign @ You can also see a map of SailBlogs boat positions at And shows a world map with positions of vessels transmitting AIS

(3) Post messages at and the 'Distress call/missing yacht" section of . This will get the ham nets involved in helping contact/search for the vessel in trouble.

(4) Communications with non-English speaking local SAR people can be difficult. It is useful to involve both your country's embassy and a local yacht club in the country where the SAR is underway. They will both tend to have senior government contacts and be able to communicate in the local language.

(5) Finally, if at all possible, you should get a designated point of contact/communication in both your domestic SAR agency (who will handle the initial EPIRB signals) and the foreign SAR agency (who will manage the actual search and rescue operation).  This helps ensure that new information is communicated and necessary actions are followed through. A helpful site with additional collected information of SAR contacts, procedures and resources is: .

One thing to keep in mind is that in many 3rd World countries you are asking them to do far more to find you than they would to find their own lost citizens! In many cases, doing anything would be unusual.  The imperative is: Stay out of trouble, and get yourself out of trouble.

These recommendations are from someone directly involved in SAR:

"I'm one of the guys who comes to look for you when things go bad, and here's what I like to see.

(1) EPIRBS: GPS-enabled preferred. However the best way to have it is GPS-enabled and have a Sat phone on board. Light your EPIRB, then call the nearest RCC and say, 'Yes, that's my EPIRB at this Lat/Long and this is the nature of my distress' etc. Your visual/radar horizon is only 12-14 miles, RCC might have assistance closer than you realize. Don't be shy, if you're in trouble, get busy!

(2) Have a handheld VHF in your ditchbag on 16 that can last more than 8 hrs talk time. Once I've established comms with you, stay off it until I call you back. I'm talking to everyone under the sun on your behalf on other radios, and you talking to me only uses up your depletable/unrechargable battery.

(3) Flares. If I'm circling you, I see you, don't fire them in my direction. Yep, I did say that.

(4) If I call in a Helicopter for evac, we will not be hoisting you out of your raft/sailboat. Be prepared to jump in the water. Rafts get blown around by rotorwash, and sailboats have masts/rigging to contend with. If you're worried about critters in the sea, Helicopters scare the crap out of them. You'll only be in there for a few minutes anyway.

(5) Do not light off your PLB when you're EPIRB is operating. Confusing signals. Even if your EPIRB is floating 1/2 mile from you, we will generally find you through searching. In addition, if your EPIRB has been running for two days and we've found nothing, generally we'll start to scale back the search. But if, after that time, we see a new PLB light up, that's pretty convincing evidence that there's survivors out there and the search will continue. (Here's a report on PLB's in light aircraft)

(6) 121.5. We're doing away with that frequency. All of our planes are equipped to home it. We're not replacing anything real soon. Nonetheless, 406 is where it's at.

(7) PLB's alone may elicit a coastal (not necessarily airborne) response by regional SAR assets. PLB's were designed for hikers not mariners.

8) Do not plan to be picked up immediately. Plan to survive in the raft for at least 24 hrs. Get training for this, if you're a skipper, your crew has placed their trust in you. Live up to their expectations."  Top of Page

38. What sort of charts do you carry these days?

On the Silk voyage, we had a simple answer - we always carried a full collection of original paper charts. But over the past ten years we have gradually moved away from doing that. Now we do three things:

(1) Buy electronic charts for the route (usually a C-Map chart chip for our chart plotter, but sometimes a MaxSea CD if the coverage/value is better).

(2) I still buy original color paper charts for landfall (usually an approach chart and a detailed chart) so when we are tired and it's dark we can have an easy to read chart on durable paper right in the cockpit.

(3) We do usually buy the Bellingham small size chart kits for the route area. I really don't like using the Bellingham charts (or any B&W copies). They are hard to read at night, it's easy to overlook something and make a mistake, and the Bellingham kits are US only charts which have big holes in foreign coverage. But their value is hard to beat. Top of Page

47. Do we really need four 300' lines on spools to cruise in the high latitudes?

These lines are used to tie into small coves when there is not enough room to swing at anchor in the normal way. Typically you drop a bow anchor, back upwind into the cove while letting out anchor rode and when close to shore, take two stern lines to trees and/or rocks ashore.

This is a technique adapted to the specific conditions in Chile & the Antarctic, where the main harbors are quite deep and exposed to violent winds, but there are often very small but very well-protected coves around the edges of the harbors. It is certainly not necessary to use shore lines in every harbor in Chile, but there are a couple stretches in the canals where your anchorage options will all be uncomfortable and unappealing if you do not have shore lines. This technique is not widely used in the Northern Hemisphere, but if you have the lines and know the technique it can be a useful in specific situations (we shore tied a couple times in Scotland, and it is used on the west coast of Norway and Sweden and in some deep harbors in the Pacific Northwest).

Stern tying can be done with a single shore line if the wind is sure to stay directly over the stern.  But it is safer and more stable to use two stern lines if the wind is shifty and could move to one of the quarters.  If the wind could shift to the beam it is best to then put out a bow line to shore, and if it could shift all the way to the bow it is best to have two bow lines to either shore. We used more than two lines only a handful of times in our last traverse of the Chilean canals but were glad to have the extra lines and slept better when we used them.

We in fact carry a fifth extra long (220m) shore line in case we need to reach a long long way to find something strong to tie to.

So, the bottom line is that one line is pretty essential, two will make you comfortable in most situations and four or five will allow you to be bulletproof in almost all situations.

The boats permanently in Chile tend to have line spools mounted on deck. We do not use spools as we do not want them permanently on deck and they are heavy and difficult to stow.  Instead we use tall, narrow mesh bags with wire hoops sewn into the opening.  The mesh allows the line to dry and the wire hoop holds the mouth open so one person can easily stuff the line in.  The tall/narrow shape with the opening on the top allows the line to run out without tangling (it will often tangle if stowed in the more normal duffle bag configuration with the opening on the side). Pictures of line bags (pic1pic2).

Note: These lines can also be used when going thru the Panama canal (where four long lines are required) and for Med-mooring.  Top of Page

54. Answer to shortest turning radius question in Seamanship Quiz seems wrong?

"I took one of your quizzes on Seamanship and assuming the context of the question is when trying to move forward, the prop walk answer contradicts a few other sources (e.g., Reeds and Wikipedia). They assert that a RH prop will tend to push the stern to starboard and thus the bow to port. And of course the opposite in reverse; the stern moves to port and the bow to starboard. This would suggest that the shortest turning radius when going forward will be to port since the stern will be naturally swinging to starboard."

You are right if you try to do a 'power turn' - that is just put the engine in forward and turn the wheel one way and power around. But that actually creates quite a large turning radius. The shortest turning radius is achieved if you 'back and fill'. You can basically turn 360 with the boat staying in the same spot. You set the wheel hard to starboard, use the prop walk to port in reverse to pivot the boat, and use forward to stop the reverse motion (and the wash against the rudder will kick the stern around even more). (Top of Page)

59. When do you start to motor, when you are on passage and the wind goes light?

We have two typical motoring scenarios - first if we are in low latitude (the tropics) or weather pattern (big stable high pressure) where there are no big lows about to jump on us, we have no minimum speed. We motor when the sails start to slam. This usually happens in about 4kts of true wind in flatish water and 7kts with a bigish swell. In really flat water we will just sit becalmed - we did this for 10 days near the Galápagos Islands even though we knew from the radio net that if we motored 24 hours south we would get wind.  If there is enough wind but it is dead behind our course, we will steer up to 60 degrees off course to get on a jybe with enough wind to fill the sails, hopefully heading toward the direction where the wind will fill in.

However, if we are in stormier latitudes, and on a short enough passage that we have plenty of fuel, we will typically turn the motor on when we drop below 4kts of boat speed, just to try to minimize our exposure to storms. We typically motor at 6kts at relatively low rpms to minimize fuel consumption and noise.

When motor sailing, and the mainsail is still slamming back and forth, we typically will drop the halyard down 2 feet or so. This seems to stabilize the boat while minimizing the shock loading/leach slamming.

There are three main things that can delay when you need to turn on your motor. (1) is an easy to set boom preventer, which will stabilize the boom and mainsail and keep it from slamming back and forth.  We have a preventer set almost all the time we are at sea. (2) Is an easy to use light air sail (spinnaker or Code zero) that you are willing/comfortable flying at night. (3) A willingness to sail off course (to get a wind angle to keep the sails full) and to settle in and enjoy sailing slowly. (Top of Page)

65. What sort of anchor chain snubber do you use?

Cruising boats should carry all chain rode and should use a snubber at all times.  The snubber adds some elasticity to the rode to reduce shock loading and take the load off the anchor windless (reducing wear on an important and expensive piece of gear) and puts it onto a cleat.

There are four common approaches for attaching the snubber line to the chain. We have tried all four approaches and still use three in different situations.

After much experimenting, the approach we like best and normally use is a simple chain hook.  We originally spliced the snubber line directly to the chain hook but discovered that the steel casting process left a sharp casting mold edge along the hook which chafed/cut thru the snubber line over time. With a stainless steel hook you could file that edge down smooth but I have been using galvanized hooks (can't get stainless ones in the remote parts we have been cruising) and they would rust badly if filed.  For a while we shackled the line to the hook but the shackle added weight and bulk and recently we have tied them together with a spectra lashing, which is light and does not seemed to chafe on the sharp casting edge. The chain hook goes on the chain easily and quickly and comes off easily and quickly. In fact it almost comes off too easily as it can potentially drop right off the chain if the wind goes completely dead - but you can prevent that by always hanging a big loop of chain over it (attach the chain hook and the let out a lot of chain so a big loop of chain is hanging on the side away from the load/anchor).

We have just bought a new Wichard designed stainless chain hook that has a spring loaded pin that locks the hook over the chain. It solves the 'hook falling off the chain' problem.  Since we started using it, we have had several reports from other cruisers that their wichard hooks bent in 40kts. Also we have noticed on ours that the little spring loaded pin is easily bent and is now jammed after a couple months use. So, my initial reaction is that the design is a nice idea but too lightly built for real full-time anchoring.

We also have an ABI snubber plate. It has two snubber lines (the same length) shackled to the two plate holes. We take these two snubber lines thru the mooring line fairleads on either side of the bow and to the bow cleats (with the chain running off the centerline roller and between the two lines). Because of the extra strength and reliability of the dual snubber lines, we do occasionally (perhaps 3 times a year) use this snubber, if we are expecting really strong winds (perhaps 50kts or more), but it is more clumsy than the simple chain hook.

Sometimes when expecting strong winds and not wanting to mess with the ABI plate, we use the normal chain hook - attach it and let out the chain and get it all set - and then put a 'back-up' snubber line on the chain by simply rolling hitching a second line to the chain. This is easy and secure because the rolling hitch does not get loaded (unless the main snubber breaks) and so does not jam tight and is thus easy to untie.

The fourth approach, which we do not use is a snap hook thru the chain. Mechanically I do not like these as their working loads are quite low.

This does raise an interesting point, which is that we have been using a 10mm piece of climbing line (about 7000lb breaking strength) on our chain hook and it has never broken or let go. This is much smaller line than normally recommended for anchor line, but it has proven to be more than strong enough. I like the climbing line (static rappelling line)  because it is constructed with a chafe resistant polyester cover and a shock absorbing nylon core - a construction you don't find in the marine market.

The snubber question is related to how much chain you have in your rode.  If you have a short chain and long nylon line then you don't need a snubber as much.  But we prefer to be anchored on all chain. We had a SL555 manual windless on Silk and it had a rope/chain gypsy and it worked pretty well handling the rope/chain splice.  When the splice was on the gypsy you needed to push it around a little but otherwise it worked. The same is true of our Lewmar V4 windless on Hawk - it handles buth the rope and chain great and you just need to pay a little attention when the splice is going around the gypsy. 

On Silk we normally used 75’ of chain and added another 75’ for the pacific for a total of 150’ in the Pacific.  That was enough for that boat – but it was a centerboard drawing 4’ 3” so we could almost always sneak into shallow water and not need much chain out.   We have always (Silk and Hawk) used the Acco Connecting Links.  I do not hammer the pins closed.  I set the two parts in silicone caulk and then wire them shut at the four pins with SS shackle mousing wire (Two round turnings of the wire and then twist tight and then clip the tail short).  This has worked for us, but it is not an ‘approved’ method by the experts.   For total rode length, I think you want 300’ or more. As to how much is chain – for us it's a question of how shallow your boat is and how much work you want to go to sneaking into the shallowest possible water.  If you have a long length of chain you can anchor almost anywhere, but if you have a shorter length you need to pick your spot more carefully.  Just for instance, on Silk I was not comfortable anchoring in the Bora Bora town anchorage because it is 80’ deep with tall coral heads around (the French have sine blown these up so it is now a nice sand and coral rubble bottom) but we found a cove nearby with 8’ of depth and just had a longer walk to town. (Top of Page

66. How do you clean snow off your decks?

Sweeping it off with a broom works very well if the snow is very dry, but will not move wet snow very well. Some other cruisers recommended using a plastic dust pan (as a scoop/shovel)  and that is now our preferred solution for wet snow. The plastic dust pan will not damage deck hardware, is cheap and easy to stow, and works surprising well.  Some friends running a super yacht use real plastic bladed snow shovels but our dust pan actually works better and the bigger shovels are clumsy around the deck hardware.  Its useful to get the snow off the decks as soon as possible, because it becomes very slippery and hard to remove if it melts a little and then refreezes into ice.  (Top of Page

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 were 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 where 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)   

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. We have an article on dyneema life lines here.  (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)

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

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)

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)

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)