Techniques & Tactics

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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BOATHANDLING: Secrets of a Sensuous Sailor

Couple sailing

It wasn't until I first sailed on a boat with an engine that I understood precisely what is most seductive about sailing. Any who have cursed the din of a motor while afloat will know exactly what I mean. We feel it the very instant we switch our engines off, as the awful over-riding sound of internal combustion dies away. I call it the orgasm of silence, that moment in which it seems all of our senses have suddenly been turned on.

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ANCHORING QUIZ: Big Boat Butts in St. Bart's

Gustavia waterfront

From water level it is impossible to capture with a camera the visual cornucopia that is the anchorage at Gustavia, the main town on St. Bart's, when the New Year rolls around. Like a vast army come to camp on the outskirts of a tiny village, yachts of all description plunk down their hooks to await the turn of the calendar. A large proportion are very large yachts. Some are very, very large. At night the cumulative blaze of anchor and cabin lights, each echoed in a wavy scribble in the wake-chopped water beneath it, is like that of a city and dwarfs the wattage of the island itself.

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CRASH TEST BOAT: Onboard Propane Explosion

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In case you had't noticed, the staff at the British sailing comic Yachting Monthly have been having some fun over the past year torturing a 40-foot Jeanneau Sun Fizz to death. The denouement, featured in this BBC news report, came earlier this month when they blew the boat up with propane gas.

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HEAVY-WEATHER SAILING: Remembering Hurricane Mitch

Storm in Bermuda

Editor's note: Later this fall I'll be crewing on a boat in the Caribbean 1500 cruising rally, which departs from Hampton, Virginia, on November 7. The prospect has me recalling the last 1500 I sailed in, way back in 1998, when the rally fleet had a serious run-in with Hurricane Mitch. It was a very educational experience. I thought some of you, particularly those sailing south this fall, might find it interesting.

LATER--AFTER TWO BOATS HAD BEEN ABANDONED, after people had been hospitalized, after we finally (and gratefully) reached the safety of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands--Steve Black, who had organized the rally, held a "debriefing" session. This was attended by most of those who had tangled with the erratic, still destructive remnants of Hurricane Mitch. It was very heady stuff. A tent was erected on the marina lawn, and it quickly filled with sailors. Many had stories to tell. Stories of gale-force winds, broken gear, and enormous seas.

Just a few days earlier several of these same people had been neophytes with little or no offshore sailing experience. But now they were all, without doubt, bluewater veterans, and their pride in this--their sense of accomplishment--was very much a tangible thing.

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COILING ROPE: Figure Eights, Please

Figure-eight rope coil

Perfect O-shaped coils of rope look mighty nice when done up properly, and in many instances this is a perfectly appropriate way to make up and stow an idle line on a sailboat. But rope needs to be trained to do this well, and in some instances the training will inhibit the rope's ability to do its job properly when working.

This happens most often with lines that run through a multi-part tackle. If you take the tail of a line that runs through a tackle and coil it down in perfect ovals when stowing it, you'll soon find the line starts twisting up in the tackle when you're using it. Eventually you must unreeve the whole line from the tackle, untwist it so it runs fair again, then re-reeve it. To avoid this you should coil the line in a figure-eight pattern when stowing it.

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ELECTRIC WINCH: Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Electric winch

I've been trying for a while to figure out exactly what it was that happened in Jolly Harbor, Antigua, back in March. Accounts are vague and somewhat contradictory. As is often the case, Dick Durham, news editor at Yachting Monthly, seems to have developed the best information. The magazine's most recent web post on the subject describes it, in the words of one eyewitness, as a scene from "an abattoir with body parts all over the cockpit." According to YM's current print issue (p.11), the horrific accident was the result of "a complex riding turn on the drum of [a] foot-operated self-tailing winch."

What seems clear is that: a) the boat involved was an Amel Maramu, ranging somewhere in size from 50 to 56 feet; b) the winch was electrically powered, built by Lewmar; c) a woman from Venezuela lost her hand and some part of an arm, and also had her other hand crushed, while trying to hoist her husband up a mast; and d) the good Samaritan who tried to rescue her lost 7 (or was it 8?) fingers for his trouble.

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Bad boat name

A rose is a rose, it is said, and smells just as sweet by any other name. Would that it were true of boats. In fact, it seems many boats these days have perfectly horrible names. Glancing around at transoms in marinas and mooring fields, I must blush and/or wince at half the names I see.

I realize this is a subjective topic and that one mariner’s bon mot is another’s bad joke. But based on my own observations, I’d say many of you boatowners out there have created very dangerous situations with your boat names, wherein your boat’s self esteem may be so threatened it might at any moment, out of sheer embarrassment, cease to be a boat. Needless to say, there could be grave consequences if you and your family happen to be on board when this occurs.

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