Archive for 'Misc Topics'


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.

What’s it like to be in the middle of the ocean?

Well, one thing it’s generally not is dangerous. It may be more dangerous than sitting in front of the television, but given diabetes, high blood pressure, and general apathy, etc. it may not be (much can be said about television, but the fact that infomercials are successful and multiplying is perhaps all that needs to be said). Many people assume that the middle of the ocean is the most dangerous place to be on a sailing voyage. This seems to be because they assume that the waves will be bigger, the storms unavoidable, and that you’ll be far from assistance. These things can be true, BUT, being near the shore is generally much more dangerous than being at sea. Near shore, there is quite a bit more shipping traffic, which can collide with you, foul your prop with their fishing nets, destroy your hull with their seismic or tow cables, etc. Although people on boats near shore are almost always friendly and professional, there are also drunk & reckless weekenders and sometimes thieves or pirates. There are shoals, reefs, and tides that provide numerous opportunities to run aground and damage the boat. Waves generally become steeper, closer together, more uncomfortable, and more dangerous in shallow water. Winds, waves, and currents around capes and points are notorious for being uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Anchors can drag and leave you in all sorts of interesting situations and when storms do blow up, you’re often trapped by the land and have a more limited set of options for dealing with the storm (though the option of a protected anchorage can be a nice one). Oh yeah, there are crab and lobster traps that are the equivalent of a minefield just waiting to foul your prop in the middle of the night when they can’t be seen by the helmsman.

In contrast, the middle of the ocean is free of all these things. Aside from birds, fish, and sea mammals, there is only wind and ocean. Passages chosen for appropriate conditions and done at the good times of the year for the local weather generally don’t involve uncomfortably large seas, big winds, or even dangerous storms of the sort we’re used to in the US. There is of course the motion. Even after you’re accustomed to it and not feeling ill, it still makes everything a little slower and more difficult, but there’s usually not that awfully much that has to be done right this instant. When things do go wrong, there’s no hardware store to visit, Internet resource to reference, or expert to call, but you have spare parts, good books written by experts, and your own experience and resourcefulness, which is enough to get most everybody into port, though it’s not always the port they intended when they departed.

In the middle of the ocean there is a lot of blue, gray, and black. In general, the sky and water are blue, blue, blue. There are many different shades of blue, and the sailor sees them all at one point or another. The sea offshore in an afternoon sun has a particular shade of blue that I’ve never seen anywhere else; it is formed by foot after foot of sunlight penetrating down into the clear water and reflecting back up. When thick clouds cover the sky, both the sky and the waves take on a dull gray. At night, a clear sky is a deep black, with more twinkling stars than you can count and the Milky Way draped over them, reminding you of the immense proportions of the universe.

Something definitely has to be said about how you pass the time at sea on a long voyage, as you’re without many of the activities and entertainment that everyone is accustomed to on land. Things take on a different pace at sea, though. There isn’t the rushed everyday work routine. Aside from watches, you sleep when you’re sleepy, eat when you’re hungry, read when and what you want (as long as you brought it along), and have plenty of time to think. Time to really relax and think about what you want to think about at your own speed is one of those things that’s almost impossible to find in “modern life” but is plentiful at sea on a tradewind passage. Productivity is important, but in a vastly different sense. We certainly took advantage of a period of traditional Western productivity to provide ourselves with this opportunity, but once you’re free of that for a while, life is much more about sustaining your day-to-day well being and enjoying yourself and the people around you.

One of the things that gave Wes and I the idea to do something like this back in college was considering our likely life path after college. It seemed like even with the high level of productivity in the US, few people were using their productivity to really alter their life in a qualitative way. By that I mean that it seemed to us that everyone worked until “retirement age”, which seemed to be the age when Social Security or the company felt you weren’t much good for working anymore (at least in terms of your productivity-to-salary ratio), not the age when your boundless health & energy spurs you to explore. In between college and retirement seemed to be a non-stop life of work. Although the lifetime earnings of a college-educated US citizen are many times that of people in poorer countries, few used their earnings to trade standard of living for free time and experience a different lifestyle for a while. Most increased earnings due to advancement, promotion, etc. were spent on more expensive cars (to drive to and from the same work building), bigger houses (used when not working or driving to or from work), bigger TVs (“real life” often leaves the brain too fatigued for real life), and more exotic vacations (still no more than 2 weeks, then back to work). It didn’t add up for us. It seemed like you never get too old to sit behind a desk, but you do get too old to go sailing, so we started saving. It may sound like we just don’t like work, even though we’ve worked hard and filed income taxes since age 7. But who does really like their job that much. How many people can honestly say that if they won the lottery or could have another job of their liking for the same pay that they would actually be at the job they’re at right now? Most people work for the money and the luxuries. Don’t get me wrong on “the luxuries” either, when a country as rich as the US devotes as much of its GDP to consuming as the US does, there are some really enjoyable consumer experiences out there, but watch an infomercial or the makeup over the newscaster’s “facial blemish” on a giant high-def TV as he mentions something about ballooning national debt and then says “And now on to celebrity “news”, Tina, who’s the latest celeb to end a night on the town by smashing up their Mercedes?” and tell me things aren’t just a little out of hand at times.

Anyway, back to sailing. One great thing about sailing is that you actually care about the weather for a reason other than golf or the game. You care about where the wind blows and when, you care about ocean currents, the motion of the sun and planets, annual weather patterns, and the political and economic stability of the numerous countries you’re visiting. You come to care a little more about how nature works and how people work. The weather is just an easy example because it means everything when you’re sailing and next to nothing to the white-collar professional who only golfs once a year (me). Five days a week, I would leave a climate-controlled house, walk less than a block to my car (living to save I didn’t have a garage), drive a climate-controlled car to work, walk no more than a few hundred feet, and spend all day in a climate-controlled building then reverse the process. I was one of the “tough guys” who could walk the 100 feet or so to the car without a coat in the Texas or southern California winter, so I skipped the coat and umbrella, which as far as I can tell is the only reason the state of the weather really mattered during the week for a lot of us.

As you can tell, being at sea gives you time to think, including thoughts about the last time you had a hot shower (eastern Panama 3000+ miles ago), ate a real “American Breakfast” (Key West, 4000+ miles ago — thanks to Freddie & Debbie), enjoyed peanuts & beer at a baseball game (Cubs division clincher last year), or saw friends & family.

Confessions of a Busy-Body

{Lauren on what it’s like to be in the middle of the ocean}

In the days just prior to and following our departure from the Galapagos, I suspect that I intentionally tried not to think too much about the length of this passage. When I did think about it, albeit briefly, I couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. It’s not that I anticipated that we would be in danger; I have yet to feel unsafe out here. No, I think I felt that way due to the high potential for cabin fever. I experienced what this is like on a hot day when the boat was docked in Panama–I literally felt like I had a fever (even though we had the A.C. on) and had to get off the boat ASAP, at which point I immediately felt better. On this passage, however, there would be no opportunities to get off the boat no matter how restless, irritable, or bored any of us were.

It would not be anything like life in the U.S., where we are so fortunate in terms of space. If one is angry with one’s spouse, for example, all one has to do is go to another part of one’s multi-room house, jump in the car and go for a drive, etc. Similarly, if one had a bad day at work, there are several available avenues for which to veg out or forget about it via electronics, restaurants and bars, and shopping malls. Not so on a 40′ boat in the middle of the ocean.

With that said, it only took a few days for me to be freed of that anxiety and get settled in. The first step was to overcome the lethargy that comes with getting one’s sea legs and avail myself of all of the opportunities for leisure that are onboard. No, I don’t mean like being relieved to find out that there will be a lousy movie playing on one’s long flight, (although watching an good film on board is a welcome diversion). I mean the kind of leisure that is self-selected and allows one to use or develop one’s talents and creativity. For example, there are ever-present opportunities for creative cooking, as you have likely read about in other blogs. I am actually not that creative in the galley (I don’t want to take the risk of having 4 hungry crew) but have really enjoyed experimenting with others’ creative yet tried and true recipes and making substitutions based on available ingredients. In addition, I’ve recently started experimenting with sewing and hope to progress from my current project, a tool roll for Dallas’ wrenches, to other useful items for the boat.

At this point, you may be thinking “OK, Martha Stewart, I get it. You’re having fun being domestic.” It’s true, but that’s not the point. For the first several days it was the point…I was focused on miniature goals such as preparing a nice meal or completing a tedious book chapter. But about a week into the passage, something changed. I started to view my activities not as a means to an end (a goal), but as an end in themselves, and began to enjoy them more as a result. For example, I stopped trying to get through book chapters that didn’t appeal to me; now I pick and choose what I want to read depending on the day. I am currently reading four books and getting more out of them than I would otherwise.

But let me take yet another step back. I think that for me to answer the question of what it’s like to be in the middle of the ocean, it’s important to move beyond what I’m doing to talk about what I’m not doing. I am not sitting in traffic or waiting in line (waiting for anything, for that matter). I am not feeling like I’m behind schedule or haven’t met my personal high standards of achievement. I am not feeling locked in to any one activity or problem to be solved.

Instead, I have the rare privilege for a few short weeks to have decisions no more complicated than what we should have for dinner. I get to watch the waves undulating, feeling the wind and sunshine on my skin. I have unprecedented time to enjoy the company of my husband .I have the quietude to reflect on my prior experiences and to laugh while exchanging stories. I get to work on tasks of my own choosing on my own time. Most of all, I get to relax and just BE.

It’s funny, you know, I think that this trip was founded, in large part, on a desire to achieve goals, and I still think that circumavigating the world on one’s own boat is as good as any. But despite that we have only just started and have crossed but a fraction the immense Pacific, I am beginning to understand what our circumnavigator-friend Ken told us: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”


Several people have asked how we do watches or if someone is always awake, etc. International marine law requires that someone always be on watch. Singlehanders obviously don’t do this, and international marine law is often more about assigning fault in the case of an accident than about enforcement in the same way traffic laws are enforced. We always have someone awake and on watch. Since we have four people, there’s really no excuse not to. Three hours is a common watch length, and that’s what we originally started with, but with four people and 24 hours in the days, it meant that we all had the same shift all the time, good or bad. To remedy this problem, we decided to do two and a half hour shifts at night (which we roughly define as 11pm to sunrise). This moves shift times by 1-2 hours every day, which is enough that we all get to experience sunrise, sunset, mid-day, and the pre-dawn shift without having our sleep schedule moved too drastically from day to day. This can all change in bad weather, when one or more people are too sick to take a watch and the people doing watches are not always able to do a full watch (or can do more than a full watch).

There are really only two watch duties that the on-watch person is solely responsible for in all cases. The first is to look around at least every 15 minutes – a full 360 degree sweep that is done to avoid a collision at sea. Yeah, the ocean is a big place, but you’d be surprised how close you come to ships when you’re near land or even out in the middle of the ocean. Given that your closing speed with them could be over 20 knots and you might miss them on one look around, this is an important safety task. Everyone has numerous close-call stories, but one of the best is the ship that showed up at a port in Alaska with remnants of a sailboat’s rigging hanging from their bow. The crew of the ship was unware they’d hit anything. Large ocean-going ships are notorious for not keeping a lookout, not answering the radio, and being oblivious to smaller craft, so it’s really the duty of the smaller craft to keep a sharp lookout. This sounds like a pretty simple task, but the girls met a woman in Ft. Pierce who had crossed the Atlantic on someone else’s boat and was complaining about the overbearing captain, who had insisted that the on-watch person look around every 15 mintues. It’s a pretty laid-back state of affairs when you feel the need to complain that your job, which you only do for 3 hours at a time, requires you to actually sit up and look around 4 times an hour.

The other watch task we have is to make a log entry at the end of the watch noting date, time, position, speed, heading, temperature, barometric pressure, any notes, etc. This ensures that we have a recent known position in case we have some sort of nav problem, makes it easier to keep an eye on barometric pressure trends, and allows the previous watches to leave notes with information that the subsequent watches may find useful.

Tasks like trimming the sails are essentially the task of the person on watch, but someone is generally available to advise or assist when needed. If we’re in an area with shoals or reefs, the person on watch is responsible for ensuring that our position and course maintain a safe distance from hazards. The person on watch is also has the general task of noticing when “something goes wrong” and either responding to the situation or asking for help before things get worse. This can involve anything from an overheating engine, to a fouled prop, to a chafed-through line, etc.

In an area where there are numerous hazards, or the weather is nice, one’s watch is often spent in the cockpit, enjoying the sun and breeze or the stars. In instances like a major ocean crossing or cold weather (which to us is now anything below 75 degrees with a cool breeze — our thermometer is like this: if shorts, bare feet, and no shirt is comfortable then it’s nice, if a T-shirt is needed then it’s cool, if you’re not comfortable once you’ve added a T-shirt then it’s cold), much of the watch may be spent inside the main salon reading or resting with a trip outside to look things over every 15 minutes.


Lauren and I did some more boat work this morning before heading in for sight-seeing.  We worked on re-marking the anchor chain every 25´ (all but the last part that´s in the water now), repairing our main cabin door latch/lock, and checking out the bottom.  The visibility isn´t too great here in Academy Bay, but we were able to clean off some nasty brown algae that has grown above the waterline in the areas that are temprorarily submerged when we´re sailing.  It grew on the way from Panama and we´d never seen it before.  We also cleared the last of the fishing line off of the port prop, where we noticed that the line spinning on the prop abraded a couple spots down to the glass on the rudder — that will be a project for another day.  We checked the zincs on the shafts and they look fine, so we´re good to go in terms of bottom work until the next anchorage.

The internet is really, really slow all over town today, so we´ll catch you up on today´s exciting adventures tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are some answers to questions from the mailbag.  We got a cool e-mail from Dave in Chicago and here are answers to his questions.  Feel free to send us some questions if you have them and we´ll get to them when we get a chance.  If you want to comment on a blog, you can click on the conversation bubble that´s to the left of the blog title.

Q: Have you been able to do any scuba diving?  Also, what certifications (if any) do you have?  How do you refill your tanks?  

A: Not yet.  That´s been disappointing, but hopefully that will change soon.  We all have PADI Open Water certifications, which is the basic SCUBA cert, as well as our own gear.  We have a compressor on-board (Max Air 3500) that Lauren bought because she expecially loves to dive and want to be able to do it when we want to.  Unfortunately, we´ve either been trying to make up time or in places where the diving wasn´t very good.  We´ll definitely post about our first dive.

Q: Do you ever catch your dinner fishing?

A: Lots of cruisers do this, and we´ve heard about a really great book on fishing that was written for cruisers by a marine biologist, but we don´t have a copy.  We´ve picked up tips here and there and have tried a line behind the boat, but haven´t had any luck yet.  Lots of people catch Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Dorado, etc. so we´re looking forward to our first fishing success.

Q: Have you gotten any better at wind-surfing? 

A: Another disappointing no here.  We need to stop being so lazy and drag the board to a place where the seas are reasonable and there´s some wind.  The water was a little nasty in Panama.

Q: And, most of all, how in the hell did you convince the girls to do this???

A: Books have been written on how to pull this off successfully.  Lauren read one called “The Sailing Promise” that was written by a woman who was blackmailed/cajoled/bargained/… into going with promises of marriage before and children after.  First I found a girlfriend then wife that I thought would give me pretty good odds at pulling this off.  It was just hard to imagine myself with someone that wouldn´t be into this sort of thing and I ended up being lucky.  In terms of the specifics, I´d always talked about something like this and we read some sailing books togehter that gave both of us a better idea of what it would be like.  We´d also travelled a fair amount together beforehand and knew that we both enjoyed travel and a basic lifestyle.  BUT, this is really a question that takes two to answer, so here´s Lauren´s take on it…..

Lauren here. I have always loved traveling, and I thought that this trìp sounded like an amazing opportunity. Actually, I know plenty of women who are just as adventurous as men, but like me, they probably have competing priorities such as the desire to have a family. As for me, I feel very fortunate to have the chance to have both experiences, since we are doing this early enough (just barely!) that we can have children when we return.