bluewater sailing

  • 2014 SOUTHBOUND LUNACY: Goodness Gracious Great Mats of Weed!

    Wrongway sunrise

    As I had expected, we encountered mostly headwinds after we finally left Bermuda bound for St. Maarten on the morning of Saturday, November 8. Even worse, early on in the passage, when our headwinds were most vigorous, we spent about a day and a half pounding our brains out sailing continuously in the wrong direction. The photo up top says it all. When voyaging south, you do NOT want to see your bow pointed at the sunrise with deep reefs in your mainsail. This never smells like progress and is very bad for crew morale. At first, as skipper, I felt rather virtuous, getting all my easting in early in the game, regardless of the pain, but then later I got nervous. I started wondering: what if we NEVER get a chance to turn south?

  • 2014 SOUTHBOUND LUNACY: Hard On the Wind Forever

    Lunacy under sail

    Sorry I've been AWOL from the blog for so long, but I've been struggling to get Lunacy south to the W'Indies for the winter. This process actually started nearly two weeks ago, on October 20, when Phil "Snake Wake" Cavanaugh and I brought Lunacy down from Portland to Portsmouth during a long daysail, motorsailing into a light, but contrary southerly breeze. Then there was a gale, and after that my brother Peter and I sailed the boat from Portsmouth down to Newport, during which we spent one day reaching and one day beating into vicious headwinds. Then there was a gale, and after that OPO crew-member Richard Holden and I spent five days sailing from Newport here to St. George's, Bermuda, during which we spent one day reaching and four days beating into sometimes rabidly vicious headwinds. Right now I'm sitting in St. George's, riding out a gale at anchor, waiting for the next crew to fly in.

    Perhaps you've noted a pattern here. And yes, looking at the forecast right now, it appears I will again be confronting mostly headwinds when we leave here for St. Maarten later in the week.

  • 2014 SOUTHBOUND LUNACY: Waiting on WX in Bermuda

    Bermuda rainsquall

    Right now I'm sitting out my second gale-force WX feature since arriving here last Saturday morning. I had had some hope of getting out before it arrived and taking off Wednesday afternoon as soon as all my crew were onboard. A few boats left on Monday, bound south for the islands, and one took off Tuesday, but when that one came right back less than 24 hours later, saying their weather-router had threatened to disown them if they didn't turn around, I could see the writing on the wall. No choice but to wait for this gishy low-pressure cell grafted on to a front to move through, and the plan now is to leave tomorrow morning, Saturday, exactly seven days after I arrived here.

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: A Mob Scene and Then Some

    Vendee dock

    About 16 years ago I wrote a story for SAIL Magazine about sailing in the Sydney-Hobart Race and dropped a line about having died and gone to heaven, as at last I’d found a place where ocean sailing was considered a top-tier sport. Well, this week it’s like I’ve died all over again and heaven is even grander than before. It's also very French. Before I left to travel here to Les Sables d’Olonne I told some non-sailing friends of mine I was going to the start of the world’s most popular sailboat race. “Like the America’s Cup?” they asked. “No, this is much bigger than that,” I answered. And it is, and it’s a shame the French get it mostly to themselves.

    I hope I don’t really have to explain this to anyone who reads this blog, but just in case: these guys are racing non-stop around the world all alone. It's a very simple concept, but also a very large one.

  • BERMUDA TO NEW ENGLAND: Solo Passage With Underpants (A Performance Comparison)

    Masthead shot

    Phase Two of this experiment began with a grand round of socializing in the harbor at St. George's, in which I was ably assisted by my bride. Clare also assisted refueling the boat and in spotting me as I ascended the mast to see if I could get the tricolor light interested in being a light again. (You can't see her in that photo there, peering up at me from on deck, because actually she was down below flipping the anchor and tricolor lights on and off countless times at my command.) I spent a good deal of time up there, and that foot you see in the maststep went numb from carrying all my weight for so long, but ultimately I wasn't able to figure out why the light was unhappy.

  • BERNARD MOITESSIER: Sailing Mysticism and The Long Way

    Long Way cover

    It is interesting that our three major monotheistic “revealed” religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--are all the fruit of mystic transmissions received by prophets who isolated themselves in the desert. And in Buddhism, of course, though it is not really theistic, we have a belief system based on the enlightenment of a man who isolated himself beneath a tree. But curiously, though humans (as we have discussed before) have long wandered across the watery part of our world, an inherently isolating experience, from the very beginning of our existence, we have in our history no real prophet of the sea.

    I think most would agree now that the man who most closely fits the description is Bernard Moitessier, the iconoclastic French singlehander who became notorious in 1969 after he abandoned the Golden Globe, the first non-stop solo round-the-world race, so as to “save his soul.” Most sailors probably would also agree that the book Moitessier wrote about his experience, The Long Way (La longue route in the original French, 1971), though it obviously has never spawned any sort of religion, is the closest thing we have to a spiritual text.

  • BOREAL 47: New Lunacy Afloat and Lying (Also Flying) en France

    New Lunacy under sail

    In fact I have been in Treguier here in France for a week now, grappling with the project of getting to know the new Lunacy while simultaneously studying printer’s proofs for the new book. The book now has been irretrievably committed to the press, and just yesterday Jean-Francois Eeman of Boreal Yachts joined me for a maiden sail on Lunacy. We had a broad range of wind to work in, from 8 to 25 knots apparent at various angles, and exercised all the sails, including the spinnaker, which has, as you can see, quite the modest color scheme.

  • COLLISION AVOIDANCE: Ratting Out an Errant Freighter

    Ship too close

    I’ve had some correspondence recently from an old sailing buddy of mine, Patrick Childress, who got a bee in his bonnet a while back after he almost got run down by a freighter while cruising Indonesia with his wife Rebecca aboard their Valiant 40 Brick House. It was a pretty typical situation: an alert cruiser aboard a small sailboat has to take last-minute evasive action after a large commercial vessel on a collision course, apparently with no one on watch, fails to respond to repeated radio calls. In these days of AIS this happens less often than it used to, but in this case the perpetrator wasn’t broadcasting an AIS signal.

  • CRUISE INTERRUPTED: Young Swedes Shipwrecked on Easter Island

    Frivarv wrecked

    Ah, to be young again. That's what I'm wishing after reading this account of two young Swedes, Melvin Svensson and Emil Warme, who were shipwrecked on Easter Island (called Rapa Nui by locals) this past August after their Carter Concubine 33 Frivarv was driven ashore at Ahu Tongariki (see photo up top). I was shipwrecked once in my younger days, but that was in Spain, a very civilized, well populated place. These guys lost their boat literally in the middle of nowhere. Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands on the planet. The nearest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island, with a population of just 50, is almost 1,300 miles away, and the nearest continent, South America, is about 2,220 miles away.

  • DESPERATE VOYAGE: John Caldwell's Catastrophic Introduction to Bluewater Sailing

    Desperate Voyage cover

    I have met several comically unprepared bluewater sailors over the years, both in person and in the pages of classic cruising accounts like this one, but there are none can top John Caldwell. It is tempting to dismiss the title of this book of his as provocative hyperbole, like some Interweb click-bait headline, but really it is not. If anything it is understatement, and a more accurate title might run something like Insanely Desperate and Foolish Voyage.

    Unlike most of us Caldwell did not come to ocean sailing through romantic aspiration, but through rank expediency. Having served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, he found himself stranded in Panama at war’s end with no obvious way to get back to his new wife Mary in Australia, whom he had met and hastily married during his wartime wanderings. And in fact it wasn’t originally his idea to sail across the Pacific in a small boat. He got that from his cell mate after he was arrested for trying to stowaway on a ship bound for Indonesia.

  • GHASTLY REMAINS: Mummified Solo Sailor Discovered Adrift Off Philippines

    Mummy remains

    This is an incredibly grim photograph, but it belies an end-of-life scenario more than a few cruising sailors might actually welcome. These are believed to be the mortal remains of a German cruiser, Manfred Bajorat, age 59, whose boat, a Jeanneau Sun Magic 44 named Sayo, was found about 40 miles off the Philippine coastal town of Barobo by two fishermen over the weekend. The current best guess on a cause of death is a sudden heart attack, and so far no one has any clear idea when this might have happened. According to published reports, Bajorat was last heard from either one or seven years ago, take your pick.

    Me, I’d guess one year is more likely. What I’m really wondering is why the body is so well preserved. Most published reports are citing “dry ocean winds,” but in my experience there really is no such thing. Life on a boat at sea is always moist in some respect, and I would have thought that a dead body in a moist tropical environment would decompose very quickly. But then there’s a lot about corporal decomposition I do not understand. Maybe the condition of the corpse has something to do with a lack of microorganisms in the environment.

  • LUNACY STILL AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE: Price Reduced (Dog Not Included)

    Lunacy under sail

    Given the bad luck I had when we sea-trialed Lunacy during her purchase survey (dead autopilot and massive shaft-seal leak) it’s not too surprising her putative buyers have not purchased her. The story of how the deal has gone since then has been nearly as big a psycho-drama as this year’s presidential election. I will spare you the tedious details. Suffice it to say the sales contract expired a month ago. The boat’s problems have been resolved (indeed she has been upgraded in some particulars) and she is still a simple, strong bluewater cruiser of a type that rarely comes on the market here in the United States. Even better, she did pass her audio-gauge hull survey with flying colors. For more particulars on Lunacy you can check my original “for sale” post. Her asking price is now reduced from my Optimistic Summer Season number to a More Realistic Fall Season number: $118,500. Negotiable, of course.

  • MARINE INSURANCE: Scoring New Coverage for Bluewater Cruising

    Lloyds coffehouse

    As I may have mentioned, I am in the midst of getting Lunacy ready for a run down to the W'Indies. This is always a fraught process, what with the normal anxieties of worrying about whether the boat is truly ready to go offshore, putting together crew, and watching the unruly fall weather unfold. Historically for me this anxiety has always been compounded by my fussy insurance company, ACE, which insists on vetting my crews and making me fill out lots of forms before they'll give me an endorsement for a passage to the Caribbean.

    Marine insurance, of course, is how the whole concept of insurance first got started. Hedging against the potential loss of a vessel and its cargo is a financial game that dates as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans and was institutionalized in its modern form as early as the late 17th century in Edward Lloyd's famous coffee house in London (see image up top), where shipowners, merchants, and skippers all gathered together to mull over the perils of ocean-borne commerce while getting hopped up on caffeine. As such, it is fair to say that marine insurance has played a very important role in the development of our global economy, but in the context of recreational bluewater cruising it is another animal entirely.

  • MUMMIFIED SAILOR: Clipper Race Statement Plus Boarding Video Released

    Sayo adrift

    Clipper Race officials have today released a much more complete statement describing the discovery of the mummified remains of German solo sailor Manfred Bajorat aboard his vessel Sayo by a crew member of the Clipper Race yacht LMAX Exchange. The statement reads in full:

  • MUMMIFIED SAILOR: More Facts = Bigger Mystery

    Bajorat dad

    OK, this is officially getting extremely weird. After conducting an autopsy on the mummified remains of Manfred Bajorat, the German singlehander found by fishermen this past weekend, Philippine authorities have announced that Bajorat died of an acute myocardial infarction (i.e., a heart attack) more or less seven days before his body was recovered. Meanwhile, the folks running the current round-the-world Clipper Race have also announced that the crew one of their boats, LMAX Exchange, found Bajorat adrift and dead aboard his boat back in late January about 600 miles east of the Philippines.

    These baldly contradictory assertions raise some interesting questions.

  • OUT OF AFRICA: Harmattan Days in the Cape Verde Islands

    Carie in cockpit

    [Editor’s Note: After spending most of the winter of 1997 in Senegal and Gambia onCrazy Horse--see earlier posts on this here--I sailed out to explore the Cape Verdes before sailing to the West Indies. An earlier version of this account was published inCruising World.]

    AS WE LEFT the city of Banjul behind us, we could see that the swollen mouth of the Gambia River, a vast grey fairway, was studded with fishing pirogues. Most of the fishermen were tending charcoal fires in their bilges and thus were easily distinguished from a distance, lurking under dark smudges in the sky. They waved their arms as we approached, shouting in Wolof, to warn us away from their unmarked nets.

    Either we’d strayed on to the flats, where one might reasonably expect to find men fishing in small canoes, or a buoy was missing. And yes, I remembered. The previous week while walking the beach at Fajara, Carie and I had found a huge red nun lying like a bloated whale upon the sand. And I thought then: pity the sailor who needs this buoy to find his way. And I was thinking now after studying the chart: it must have gone right there, off our port bow, and these men must be insane, fishing like this with their nets splayed out all across the shipping channel.

    Later that afternoon, after we finally we broke break free of the onshore sea breeze, free from the drift nets and from the continent of Africa, we found the tradewinds had far too much north in them--a discouraging development.

  • PROVINCETOWN MA TO PORTLAND ME: Doublehanded With Underpants

    Bear front

    Lunacy at last, as of early Tuesday morning, is all the way home. I brought along crew for this last mini-leg of the voyage not because it felt necessary, but rather because an old friend, a fellow sailor, Frank "Bear" Gibney, has suddenly reappeared in my life and it seemed the perfect way to reconnect. As you can see in that photo up there, Bear quickly got the hang of Lunacy's helm and became adroit at steering with his (well-underpanted) groin.

  • SEA GYPSY: Early Adventures of Peter Tangvald

    Sea Gypsy cover

    I continue to be fascinated by the Tangvald family: young Thomas, who sailed with his young son and pregnant wife from Puerto Rico to Brazil aboard an engineless 34-foot nativo racing sloop and was subsequently lost at sea off the South American coast sailing the same vessel singlehanded in 2014; and his father Peter, who lost two wives at sea and was himself killed along with a 7-year-old daughter after he piled up on a reef off Bonaire in 1991. So I have purchased and recently finished reading Peter Tangvald’s first book, Sea Gypsy, which was published in 1966 and has long been out of print. This does not document the infancy of Peter’s bluewater cruising career, aboard a 45-foot yawl Windflower that he sailed from England to California in 1957-58, but rather its adolescence, aboard a 32-foot cutter Dorothea on which he circumnavigated from 1959-64.

  • SPOUSE OVERBOARD: Cruising Legend Pete Hill Loses Wife Carly Off Coast of South Africa

    Peter and Carly

    I think everybody who sails has vividly imagined some variation of this nightmare: you leave a crew member alone on deck for a while to catch some sleep below, and when you come back on deck you find your crew is missing. Disappeared, with no clue what happened to them. So it was in reality for poor Pete Hill, who departed Durban, South Africa, bound for Madagascar on Thursday with his wife Carly aboard their 33-foot junk-rigged wood-epoxy catamaran Oryx. Hill reportedly went below for a nap at some point on Friday afternoon, while the boat was still just 6 miles off the South African coast, and when he awoke Carly was gone. After a fruitless two-day search by South African authorities, Carly Hill, age 58, is now presumed to be dead.

  • ST. MARTIN TO BERMUDA: Solo Passage Without Underpants

    Underpants on line

    I think it was Fatty Goodlander who once wrote that he is always so nervous just before starting a passage that he constantly has to pee. I can certainly relate to that. No matter how many times you've done it, no matter how well prepared you are, at least if you're skipper of a vessel there's always a vague element of fear and uncertainty to wrestle with on setting out to sea. Most particularly when you're going alone. When sailing solo the potential consequences of stuff you forgot to attend to and of miscalculations you may have made always seem grossly magnified.

    You can imagine my dismay then when I realized the morning of my solo departure from Oyster Pond aboard Lunacy that I had forgotten to pack any underwear. Not that this in itself must be fatal to the voyage's success. I did have the one pair of underpants I'd worn on the plane down to St. Martin, which I could repeatedly wash by hand en route (see photo up top). I also had two pairs of swimming trunks I could wear. And of course, being alone, I could always just prance around the boat naked if necessary. (Don't worry, I have no photos of this.)

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