Here are some great questions we got from Rusty (first several questions) & Margo (last question).  Wes just setup our big Wi-Fi and antenna and the internet is faster now, so there are now new photos on the Photos link.


Q:  Does the person on the night watch tether themselves to the boat or wear a life vest or a whistle?

A:  Not generally.  We have Revere inflatable PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) with integrated harnesses. Each has a whistle and light although Wes’s was delivered without the CO2 cartridge for inflation (manual inflation is possible).  We also have tethers for connected the harness to the boat or jacklines.  In practice, we tend to only use them in rough weather, or when going forward.

According to multihull designer Chris White, the number one cause of death offshore is man overboard (MOB), as opposed to boats sinking or capsizing, the crew having a medical emergency, etc.  If you’ve ever been on a monohull in rough weather or even moderate seas (4-6 ft), you’ll understand what a challenging task it is to remain in one place, let alone move and work above or below deck.  I’ve seen some pretty large bruises as a result of just one day passages from Florida to the Bahamas.  One of the inherent safety features of a catamaran is that it is much, much easier to move around and remain on the deck than it is in a monohull, even in rough weather because of the reduced heeling angles and generally less pronounced motion.  That safety consideration and the associated reduced seasickness and improved quality of life was one of the big factors in our choosing a catamaran over a monohull.

There’s an old rule on boats — “One hand for you, one hand for the ship” that captures the importance of always holding on to or bracing yourself against something to keep yourself aboard no matter how important the task at hand seems to be.  We follow that rule, try to avoid leaving the cockpit at night when no one else is on board to watch you, and wear our harnesses/PFDs when the seas are rough or we’re doing something more dangerous than reading a book and stopping to look up every 15 minutes.

Q:  Have you fished yet?

A:  We’ve had a line out a couple of times but haven’t caught anything yet.  For those who don’t know, I’m a vegetarian (the only one in the crew) so I’m a little bit indifferent, but I’ve promised to try something if we catch and cook it.  So far no one in the crew has turned out to be a talented or particularly committed fisherperson, but I think things will change once we catch the first fish.

Q:  I read Adrift by Steven Callahan and he mentioned that Dorado followed him for most of his life raft journey. Do any fish schools follow the boat?

A:  We haven’t noticed any schools of fish following us.  There are flying fish everywhere, but they seem to be more interested in getting away from the boat. I have been told by a friend who used to supply helicopters to New Zealand tuna fisherman that large floating objects in the water will attract small fish, which attracts larger fish feeding on them, and so on.  I think because we’re sailing at a reasonable pace instead of drifting that the small fish that would eat off of the bottom or be attracted to the shade of the boat are not able to keep up with us and there’s no reason for the larger fish to follow us.  It would be interesting to research a bit more.

Q:  When did Polaris disappear from your view?

A:  The short answer is we didn’t notice.  I’m slowly working my way into the celestial navigation and hadn’t been paying attention.  We also had a lot of cloudy nights offshore from the western tip of Cuba until we were more than halfway to the Galapagos.  The night we saw the Southern Cross at the beginning of the passage to the Marquesas was one of the first really clear and moonless nights we had seen since we were crossing the Gulfstream from Florida to Cuba.

Q:  Do you bathe in salt water, then rinse with fresh? I imagine with four of you on board, cleanliness is closely monitored.

A:  People work showers at sea in a variety of ways.  We’re currently washing and rinsing in fresh water using a hand-pumped 2 gallon bug sprayer from Lowe’s.  It provides a reasonable amount of water pressure but is very frugal with water as well (seems to be less than 1 gallon for two people to shower).  We spray down, soap up, and then rinse off.  Other people use bucket showers of salt water and then some sort of fresh water to rinse.  We’ve been told by a guy we met in Panama who was on his 5th circumnavigation that you can do without the fresh water as long as you towel off before the salt water evaporates off of your skin.  We don’t shower as frequently as we did on land, but we do shower more than I’ve been told many rural people in our grandparents generation did (weekly warm bath with stove-heated water the day before going to church).

Q:  You mention that the spinnaker can be hard on the boat in heavy seas. Is the main stress on the mast? Is the boat smashing into the upside of the wave?

A:  I’m always worried about the standing rigging whether I should be or not. Everybody has things they worry about offshore and mine is some sort of rigging failure.  The spinnaker is a pretty large sail designed to keep the boat moving in light wind conditions.  Our spinnaker has done really well in moderate wind conditions as well (say around 15 knots), but when the relative wind gusts to more than 25 or 30 knots, you can be sure there’s a lot of strain on the rig.  The way I think of it is that a sailboat like ours has a maximum hull speed because it has a displacement hull.  For us, this is something like 8-9 knots.  Once that speed has been reached, additional force in the sails is just strain on the rig.  There were cases when we were surfing down steep 10-foot seas and reaching speeds of more than 12 knots.  The stern of the boat was being lifted fairly high, and the leeward bow didn’t have a lot of the hull above water.  In conditions like that, we could drop the spinnaker and replace it with just the jib, which has maybe 1/3 the effective sail area or so, and still be moving along at over 6-7 knots, which is more comfortable and lets me sleep better.  We had following or quartering seas (waves coming from directly behind or off of the stern quarter), so we didn’t really smash into them, although occasionally you get a wave at an angle that will slam into the bottom of the bridgedeck or toss you a round a little.

I do have to add here that Ray (our Raymarine autopilot) has done an incredible job steering the boat in all these conditions.  If I remember correctly, we have an ST6002 control unit, an X-30 computer unit, and a Type 2 Long mechanical linear drive unit.  Once we got the installation and calibration sorted out it’s really been incredible.  We take the wheel ourselves to raise and drop the anchor but that’s about it.

Q:  What does “Trimming the sails” mean?

A:  “Trimming the sails” just means adjusting the sails for the best speed.  The sheet is the line tied to the aft corner of a sail that allows you to adjust the sail either farther inboard (sheeting in the sail) or farther outboard (easing the sail).  Generally, sailing into the wind (close-hauled at about a 45 degree angle to the wind) means the sail needs to be as far inboard as it can go and sailing directly downwind means the sail need to be as far outboard (as close to perpendicular to the boat) as possible.  Whenever the wind changes direction or the boat needs to change course, you can adjust the sails in or out to get the maximum possible speed for that relative wind direction.  Sailboat racers are pretty fanatical about an extra quarter knot or less and there’s a lot of physics involved in sail shape, center of effort, etc. but cruisers like us generally aren’t as concerned about having the sails set perfectly.