Techniques & Tactics

SEASICKNESS: To Puke And Puke Not

Seasick sailor

THE FIRST TIME I almost lost it on a boat was during my first job with a boat magazine more than 25 years ago. Soon after I was hired, I was sent out to test a Grand Banks trawler on Block Island Sound, and on the run back from Block Island to Mystic, Connecticut, I made the mistake of helping myself to some Pringles potato chips I found on the flybridge. I also made the mistake of eating the whole can. Those familiar with Pringles, and with the motion of a Grand Banks trawler in a beam sea, will appreciate the consequences.

The first time I actually did lose it was on an Alden schooner in the Gulf Stream off southern Florida. We had taken on diesel fuel that morning and managed to spill quite a bit of it all over the floor of the main saloon. The whole boat thus reeked of fuel, and this, combined with a nasty chop in the Stream, got me feeling queasy. What blew me over the edge was when a shipmate, sensing my dilemma, suddenly plopped down beside me and began whispering in my ear, describing a greasy breakfast in pornographic detail. He then cackled with glee as my own breakfast suddenly exploded out my nose.

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FISHING FROM SAILBOATS: For Whom The Bait Trolls

Landing fish

A LOT OF BLUEWATER SAILORS I know complain that they never catch fish while on passage. I once had this problem, too, but since perfecting my technique I've never once been skunked on a passage during which I have tried to catch fish. It's really not very hard and is a great way to vary your diet at sea.

Some hardcore "veggie-lantes" I know do like to argue that it is immoral to catch and eat fish. But the way I see it you have to look at things from the fish's perspective. A fish that is bigger than you normally will not hesitate to eat you if it is hungry. But it also probably won't kill you for sport and prominently display your remains in its home. Thus, rule number one in my guide to ethical fishing: never kill a fish for fun.

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EYEBALL NAVIGATION: The Heart of the Art

Lighthouse in binoculars

QUIZ ANY CURMUDGEON these days on the subject of proper wayfinding and you'll soon find yourself reefed down in a gale of conventional wisdom about the importance of paper charts, compass bearings, dead reckoning, sextants, and the like. But what curmudgeons tend to forget, as they rail on about how modern nav tools are corrupting us, is that many of their sacred cows are also just tools. They are more primitive, simpler, hence more reliable in one sense (if not more accurate), but still they are not the organic root of navigation.

Reduced to its purest form, human navigation (as opposed to more advanced forms used by migratory cetaceans, birds, and fish) is simply a matter of being able to look at something from a distance and say what it is. In a state of nature we can travel knowingly only as far as we can see.

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REMEMBERING BILL KING: Hot Damage Control Tips From a Dead Golden Globe Sailor

Bill King on Galway Blazer II

I WAS AMAZED TO LEARN that Bill King, one of the nine sailors who in 1968 joined in the famous Golden Globe Race, the very first singlehanded non-stop race around the world, died late last week. I had assumed he must have died many years ago, but no... he's been alive and kicking all this while, working his organic farm at Oranmore Castle in County Galway in Ireland. In the end he made it all the way to 102 years before finally passing on to whatever comes next last Friday.

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MOTORSAILING: Making the Most of Your Iron Genny

Dowlings fuel dock

THIS IS A COMMON SIGHT at Dowling's fuel dock in St. Georges, Bermuda, both in the spring and the fall when the seasonal stampede of migrating yachts passes through. It never fails to amaze me how many jerry jugs of fuel some bluewater sailors are willing to carry. In this particular case I counted 16 jugs open on the quay waiting to be filled and another four on deck. At five gallons a pop that's an extra 100 gallons of fuel this crew will somehow lash down on the deck of their 40-foot sailboat. At 7.3 pounds per gallon (the most generally accepted average weight for diesel fuel) that's an extra 730 pounds this boat will be carrying well above its center of gravity. Or to look at it another way: that's like sailing around with over 900 feet of quarter-inch high-test anchor chain stored on deck.

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AUTOPILOT BACK-UP: She's Gotta Have It

Aries windvane in action

WHEN IT COMES TO AUTOPILOTS it is always best to divide your affections. No sense in being monogamously faithful to just one unit, giving it names and all, only to have it crap out on you in some less than sanguine circumstance. One reason I fell for Lunacy was because she came equipped with three different self-steering systems, each quite a bit different from the other two.

First, there is the Aries windvane in pure windvane mode (see photo up top), its air blade waving above its head, seeking the direction of the wind.

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FITTING UNDER BRIDGES: View From the Masthead

Sailboat under bridge

FUNNY THING ABOUT SAILBOAT MASTS and bridges: no matter how much clearance you actually have, when you're standing in your cockpit looking up it always looks like you're not going to make it. Of course, the people who think to put bridges in our way do try to provide information on how much space is under them, even at various states of the tide. But still every so often the situation is ambiguous, and you're not quite sure your mast will fit.

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SUICIDE OCEAN TOW: Drake Roberts on YouTube

Many moons ago I blogged about a fellow I met in Bermuda, Rich Littauer, who was aboard a derelict 52-foot steel boat, Cha Cha, that had been towed into St. Georges after losing her engine and sails during a rough passage from Newport, Rhode Island. More recently I've been in touch with Drake Roberts, the singlehander who found Rich and his crew, Gail Alexander, adrift and towed them most of the way to Bermuda with his Westsail 42, Paragon. Drake has launched a YouTube channel and has posted a complete video account of his own voyage to Bermuda that year (2009), in which Rich and Cha Cha (not surprisingly) are prominently featured. The viddy you see up top is Episode 4, where Drake first makes contact with Cha Cha.

If you remember my previous post (or have clicked through to it), you'll know the tow ended in disaster. The situation became untenable after the weather deteriorated, and the two boats twice collided and suffered serious damage. Drake was forced to cast Rich adrift again, but he did stick around until a superyacht showed up and (somewhat reluctantly) towed Cha Cha the last 30 miles or so to Bermuda.

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FEAR OF DRAGGING: Anchoring Tips for Scope Nazis and Other Scaredy Cats

Anchoring a sailboat

If you're paranoid, anchoring out can be a validating experience. On the one hand, it seems rather simple. You walk up to the bow of your boat, drop a lump of metal overboard, let out some rode, and secure it somehow. Then you stroll back to your cockpit and admire your surroundings while enjoying a libation or two.

On the other hand, it can often seem fraught with danger. The closest equivalent I can think of, in terms of destroying a good night's sleep with raw anxiety, are those guys who sleep out on mountains they are climbing in sacks they hang from tiny pins driven into cliff faces. The immediate result in the event of a mishap may not be quite as dramatic, but the ultimate worst-case consequences (loss of life and putative home) can be just as severe.

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