COMPREHENDING REID STOWE: His Various Purposes

Reid Stowe aboard Anne

Preparations for the return of marathon solo sailor Reid Stowe and the schooner Anne are proceeding apace. You can see a detailed float plan for Reid's June 17 re-entry into New York City at his 1,000 Days at Sea website. If you have a boat at your disposal and are in the area I urge you to join the welcoming flotilla. I suspect it will be an unusual experience. My current plan is to survey the madness with Hank Schmitt (of Offshore Passage Opportunities) and Tania Aebi (ex teen sailing prodigy) from onboard Avocation, Hank's Swan 48. I will, of course, file a full report here for your perusal.

Meanwhile, let's continue our perusal of Reid and his voyage. In our last episode I hoped to give you some sense of where he's coming from by describing his early career as an ocean sailor. This time I think we need to confront the big question head on. As in: WTF is the point of all this? Why spend more than three years at sea without once touching shore?

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A Very Maritime Memorial Day

HMS Bounty and Privateer Lynx at Portsmouth, NH

What the heck is it about a yard arm that sets the public to salivating so? Over the holiday weekend we had a Tall Ship invasion just around the corner here from where I live in the South End of Portsmouth, NH, and, per usual, hordes of people turned out to wait in line forever just to walk the deck of a traditional square-rigger for a few minutes. We had two guests, actually, who both parked on the local fishing dock across from Prescott Park. The one on the left is HMS Bounty, a replica of the ship that Capt. William Bligh led to infamy back in the 18th century; the other is Lynx, an "interpretation" of an American privateer from the War of 1812. (And, yes, Lynx does carry square sails, on her foremast, but you can't see the yard arms here as they are end-on to the camera.)

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FIBERGLASS BOATBUILDING: You Start With a Mold

Modern boatbuilding plant
Over the millenia people have built boats out of all kinds of stuff. Bamboo, leather, paper, concrete. You name it, someone somehwere has tried it. But by far the most popular contemporary boatbuilding material is a strange substance known as fiberglass. Once derided by traditionalists as being nothing more than “frozen snot,” it now absolutely dominates recreational boatbuilding.

The term fiberglass is itself somewhat misleading, as it describes just one component of what is actually a composite material. The other component is a plastic resin, usually polyester, although vinylester and sometimes epoxy are increasingly used these days. Thus the more accurate term is fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) or glass-reinforced plastic (GRP).

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DASS: Next Generation SAR Technology

DASS SAR system at work

Ever since they start selling 406 MHz EPIRBs with built-in GPS units (the so-called G-PIRB) just a few years ago I've been thinking search-and-rescue (SAR) technology is just about as nifty as can be. Turns out I was wrong. NASA just announced this week it is developing and testing a new technology, called the Distress Alerting Satellite System (or DASS), that will greatly improve SAR response times in emergency situations.

Does this mean we'll have to all go out and purchase new EPIRBs (just like when they switched from 121.5 MHz distress signals to 406 signals several years ago)??? Apparently not. Indeed, it seems DASS provides a positive disincentive to upgrade to a G-PIRB.

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CELESTIAL REASONING: Quick & Dirty Noon Sights

Taking a noon sight

You may recall I threatened to abuse you with knowledge of celestial navigation back when they shut down the Loran system in February. I have long preached the wisdom of learning and practicing a bit of celestial nav, and once upon a time I actually practiced what I preached (as you can see in the photo up top, which is of me shooting the sun on Crazy Horse while en route from the Cape Verdes to Antigua in 1997). I still keep a sextant onboard, but I realized when I sat down to compose a celestial diatribe to share with you that it actually has been many years since I ever used it. Before lecturing you, therefore, I figured I best brush up a bit and so liberated my old Plath Navistar Pro from its tomb aboard Lunacy while sailing from Tortola to Bermuda last week.

I was amazed at how much I had forgotten. Fortunately, too, I was amazed at how much I remembered again after I pondered over my sextant, my old celestial nav workbook, and the Nautical Almanac for a while. In the end, it was reassuring to know I could still more or less figure out where I was without any help from satellites.

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IKAROS: Sailing Thru Space

IKAROS space yacht

Sorry to inflict more space news on you guys, but this is truly noteworthy. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) succeeded today in launching the first spacecraft to be propelled by solar sails. Described by the Japanese as a "space yacht," the craft, called IKAROS (for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun), will deploy a polymide membrane with a thickness of just 7.5 micrometers (or 0.0075 millimeters, about one-tenth the thickness of a human hair) that will both generate propulsive force as light photons bounce off it and electricity, thanks to the thin-film solar panels embedded on it. IKAROS both costs and weighs much less than conventional spacecraft and if successful promises to revolutionize deep-space exploration.

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RADAR LOVE: Random Tips for Singlehanders

Charlie Doane loves his radar

Lunacy is the first boat I've ever had that is equipped with radar. Initially I didn't use it much. I know some curmudgeons who still swear it's their first choice when it comes to navigation electronics, but in the age of GPS this just seems perverse to me. Interpreting glowing globular clusters for clues as to my whereabouts has never been one of my special talents. I'm also not much good at reading chicken entrails.

During solo offshore passages, however, I've come to worhsip my radar. It solves the biggest problem any singlehander must face, which is SLEEP. As in how to get some without just rolling the dice on whether some huge freighter is going to run you down like a bug.

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  • Boats & Gear

    Evaluations of both new and older sailboats (primarily cruising sailboats) and of boat gear.

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    Longer articles by me that treat sailing and the sea in a more literary manner, short reviews of nautical books I think readers might enjoy reading, plus occasional excerpts from nautical books that I’d like to share with readers.

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    Tips and diatribes regarding boathandling, sailhandling, seamanship, navigation, and other realms of nautical expertise.

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