Abby Sunderland

This really, really sucks. Teen circumnavigator Abby Sunderland is in serious trouble deep in the Southern Ocean well east of Madagascar. Reportedly her shore team lost sat-phone contact with her very early this morning when they were helping her troubleshoot some engine problems. Shortly afterwards two of her EPIRBs were manually ignited. Evidently she had suffered at least two knockdowns during the night in winds to 60 knots.

SAR authorities are attempting to launch a search, but Abby's boat, a modified Open 40 called Wild Eyes, was reportedly 400 miles from the nearest vessel when its EPIRBs went off. The two closest vessels that might render assistance are said to be 40 to 48 hours away. Her shore team is now scrambling to see if any aerial assets can be deployed.

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WEATHER RULES: Still Stuck in Bermuda


June 10 2010 gale synpotic chart

That ugly thing you see here labelled GALE, right under New England, is why I decided to abort my attempt to bring Lunacy home from Bermuda this week. Back when I lived on the boat I was cruising this wouldn't have been a wrenching decision. There are, after all, worse fates in life than having to wait on weather in Bermuda. Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to do my waiting in Bermuda. So crew member Jeff Bolster and I reluctantly crawled onto a Jet Blue plane and "jetted" back here to the mainland, just two days after we flew in and boarded the boat expecting to immediately cast off and sail north.

What a difference 12 hours can make. Last Saturday night, when I checked the weather, it looked like we'd have a reasonable window to work with. The following morning, after packing to go to the airport, I checked again and saw the first glimmerings, five days out, of this burgeoning knot of wind. Of course, back when I lived on boats they didn't have such things as five-day forecasts, and from time to time I got caught out in nastiness like this. So of course this time there was a small voice in my head telling me I should just go anyway and everything would be fine. I would survive. But it was only a small voice. The louder ones were spouting off about valor and its better parts.

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TARTAN 27: Classic Pocket Cruiser

Tartan 27

The Tartan 27 is sometimes hailed as the first fiberglass boat ever to be designed by Sparkman & Stephens. This, however, is not quite accurate, as a few years prior to its creation S&S designed a similar, but slightly smaller glass boat, the 25-foot New Horizons, for Ray Greene. The introduction of the Tartan 27 in 1961 is said to have ruined the market for the earlier boat, a fact that Greene always resented.

The 27 was the first Tartan ever built, though its builder was originally known as Douglass & McLeod Plastic Corp. and did not reorganize as Tartan Yachts until 1971, after its first plant in Ohio was destroyed in a fire. All told 712 Tartan 27s (including 24 built under license by W.D. Schock in California in the mid-60s) were launched over the course of an 18-year production run, making it one of the more successful fiberglass auxiliary sailboats built during the CCA era.

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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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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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