I received the following Email from a friend cruising the South Pacific:
> Mast broke in two. Managed to get most of rigging in – think we saved> sails – too early to tell. All rigging, incl. roller furling destroyed.
> Dinghy lost at sea during first “rescue” attempt when lost all steering.>> Adventure – she wears many disguises, no?
> PS No serious injuries.
I have always told people that anyone can do it. I sailed around the world on a coastal cruiser to prove it. I’ve always felt that, with the right attitude, anyone could head out cruising and learn what they need to know on the way. After returning from my circumnavigation, I have adjusted that perspective. Because of the structural issues that I had with Low Key, I started telling people that anyone can do it … with the right boat. There are lots of stories about properly built ocean-going boats (I call them real boats) weathering hurricanes on their own while their owners lay below incapacitated. I have learned recently that there is another aspect that should be addressed before setting off on a cruising adventure.
I met my friend Jes on the Lats and Atts Share the Sail New Zealand trip. She was a fun redhead with a passion for life and a dream to go cruising. One evening at anchor, while sitting around the saloon table imbibing the good stuff, we talked about her dream to go. She had a real boat and the desire. The two things holding her back were her aging dog and lack of crew. Neither of these things I considered to be a cruise preventer. Her dog could go along and as far as crew was concerned? She was a cool chick with her own boat and a desire for adventure. I couldn’t imagine crew was going to be a problem.
I gave her my “Forget about everything else. Make a plan, set a date, and stick to it” sermon. She was listening. Jes took off from Washington – the left coast one – with temporary crew and parked the boat in Mexico for the summer. With a different crewman, she set off on the 3000+ mile cruise to the South Pacific paradise of the Marquesas. Just as they were closing with the island chain, things turned bad. The boat, Blessed Be, developed a rudder problem and was dismasted. I don’t have the all details yet but they made it safely to port.
So I’m thinking of adding another concept to my “Just get out there” speech. Along with the strong boat point, mention should be made about keeping tabs on the workings of your vessel. It’s true that rigging can just fail without any warning, and this may be the case in the Blessed Be incident, but as I understand it, this is very rare.
Before departing on a cruise, there are things that can be addressed to make the cruise both more comfortable and safe for crew and captain. What we’re trying to achieve here is to keep the fun factor restrictions (FFRs) to a minimum. For that we need the boat to be able to fair for itself. A boat that has been thoroughly gone through is more likely to take care of her crew instead of vice versa.
My Cal 33 Low Key and I started out on our adventure as owner and boat. When we returned, we were soul mates. No one knows that boat as well as I and, likely, no one ever will. Boats will do amazing things for you but it’s a two way street. You need to be a good partner and listen to her, and as the kiwi’s say, get in amongst it, making sure that your boat’s every need is attended to. Fortunately for me Low Key was set up very simply. The list of potential gear failures was minimal. That being said, with a coastal boat, the gear that I did have was mostly a size or two too small and prone to early retirement.
Learn to be a pessimist regarding your boat‘s health. Could the metafarkal fail? Is the corpaljiber securely fastened? Learn your boat’s sounds. What is that new creak or ticking sound? Play the game. Once out cruising, you no longer have most of the concerns that encumber the landlocked. You will be looking for something to occupy your mind. Look up from that book now and again and let it wander around the boat. You’ll think of something that would appreciate a quick look.
My boat was not designed to be on an unkind sea for extended voyages. With all of the near failures that I had on Low Key, I feel like I became some kind of expert on preventative inspection and maintenance on my voyage. The sea can be distracting but don’t lose site of the objective. It was a game for me, and I considered myself a winner every time I had an uneventful crossing. And my prize? Often my own palm-treed powdered-sand island.
I conducted frequent and thorough boat inspections not because I enjoyed it so much as because I’m cheap. When calculating my cruising expenses, I would consider how many coldies I was going to miss out on because of a potential repair. Also, I usually just wanted to get there. I recognized early on that my boat was not that tough and so I preferred to keep the at-sea portion of my adventure to a minimum. Foreseeing “unforeseen” gear failures accomplished both these goals.
Also on the list of things that should be considered in the pre-departure stage: Do you know where all of your through-hulls are? Are they easily accessible and operate freely? Do you know how your steering works and how to bypass it (emergency tiller)? Is the boom-to-mast connection (gooseneck) a strong one? Do you have a ditch kit with an Epirb and a plan for getting the crew off the boat in a short amount of time? See a fastener sitting on deck? Drop what you are doing and find out where it came from. Is your engine in good shape and do you know how to maintain it. These days, when heading out on any boat, I do a quick 360 look (and listen) of the boat’s engine after start up. I usually get the “What are you looking for?” from the boat’s owner. I say, “Everything”.
A strong boat keeps you alive in severe conditions. A well maintained boat makes for happier cruises.
Jes is in Raiatea, Tahiti and is working on a partial refit of Blessed Be. When done she plans on giving this cruising stuff another go. Interested in cruising with Jes? You can email her at: email@example.com. Stay tuned for her story from her own perspective in an upcoming issue.