Q&A – #93

Capt Woody,
It’s long been a dream of mine and my wife to one day sail around the world. We’ve been planning routes forever. We think that the Cape of Good Hope might be something we don’t want to put ourselves through. So we thought we would take the Red Sea/Suez Canal option. But recent rise in Piracy and developments in Mid Eastern Muslim/ American relations are making us question that option. We have friends that recently did the Suez, but they formed up kind of a convoy of sail boats as I understand it. I know you took the Cape route on Low Key and as I remember I think you even were alone at that time. What are your feelings on this? George

That’s a tough call. I love the Med so next time I think I’d run the gauntlet and head up the sea for my first go at the Suez. Weighing everything, I would say that the S. Africa option is a safer one. Dangerous seas are more predictable than dangerous humans.

Along the SE coast of Africa you have powerful lows that sweep up from the south pushing 50+ knot winds up against a southbound six-knot current. This creates monster square waves that fall on boats and crush them. The good news is that these systems are very predictable. Like weather all over the planet the wx systems run on a cycle (three or four days). You usually get a couple days of beautiful weather followed by a day or two of weather that you would prefer that you were in port for, enjoying a brai (bbq) with your SA friends.

One thing the books and locals don’t tell you right off is that the problem-causing current hugs the coast pretty tight. I made landfall at Durban, S. Africa, sailing straight in from offshore. While closing with the coast I simply kept in contact with the weather guys there, via SSB radio, who let me know what my weather windows were looking like. Worst case scenario you would have to tack back out or heave to and wait for a front to move through before crossing the current and making landfall. I got the wx guy’s frequency and schedule from the cruising guide for the area. The other great source of cruising information is to talk to other cruisers who just came from the area in question or listening to cruisers comments who are currently in the area on the SSB nets.

The other South Africa option is to come around the top of Madagascar (world class snorkeling/diving), hit the Comoros and come down the coast from Mozambique. That way you are already on the coast and can hop your way down from port to port avoiding crossing the dangerous area. Once in Durban I waited for a weather window and then made my way around to Cape Town. Search as I did, I never saw 6 knots of current but I did get enough to find Low Key a 212 mile day. We were tossed around some but it was a great ride.

The Red Sea is an honest concern. Boats that attempt to go too close to Somalia are, as a rule, pirated to benefit the rebel faction of the civil war. Is traveling with a group of boats a good idea or are you just a bigger target? Boats I was talking to that had come out of the Sea said they felt reasonably safe because of all the US Navy traffic. Another boat was delayed at the Suez because it was US flagged. That is a common reception now for US vessels all over the world (a fact which won’t deter plans for my next cruise).

Hey Woody,
… I was wondering if you were going to do a second budget circumnavigation would you do it in Low Key again or would you say it is too risky? Just a question I have wondered for awhile. Thanks Woody. Mike

Y’all can refer to my cruising style as being ‘budget’ all you want. The fact is that the way I rig for cruising saves me a ton of time and money that would be spent keeping unnecessary gear (and boat length) operational.

I think another full rounding with Low Key’s current keel design is pushing it. The keel has no ‘floors’ (like mini bulkheads) and is glassed to the hull with very sharp bends at the ‘turn of the bilge’. The result is a keel that flexes from side to side. I’m told that glass will flex only a couple million times before it starts to show weakness and eventually fail. The fact that Low Key made the rounding being sailed hard with thousands of hours of serious keel flexing is a testament to fiberglass’s amazing durability. She would be perfect for me if the keel was wobble-free. I like the design and weight of Low Key for my kind of cruising – faster.

The delivery business is booming and so … I am looking at bringing Low Key up to my own cruising standards (did someone say swimstep?). To reinforce the keel I would bulk up the glass around the forward hull to keel joint. I did the aft end of the keel glassing in Australia when the keel concern first arose. Inside I would add floors in the deep bilge. While I’ve got that part of the floor pan out I’d check on the compression post to hull junction though I’m sure it’s fine. I like all the other design aspects of boats like my Cal 33. Wide aft, flat bottom, skeg hung rudder make for good surfing. The deep fin keel helps her point. The deep fin combined with the wide flat bottom provides stability (the boat has minimal heel) on all points of sail. The hull is solid glass. The trade off to the flat bottom is that it bangs upwind. When Low Key and I cruised, if a cruising area was upwind we would either wait until it wasn’t or choose another destination.

To recap, things that I consider important in an offshore cruiser are: a supported rudder (skeg hung or otherwise), a solid glass hull at least up to the waterline (for impacts with the ocean’s increasing debris), strong rigging (so I can sail as hard as I’d like), glassed deck to hull joint (because I’ve seen a cruising deck in the sand that had been relieved of its hull) and, not usually an issue, no loose keels.

I am writing this from Hawaii. I have arrived in Pearl Harbor to deliver s/v Inconceivable 3400nm to Guam. I enjoy sailing boats to all destinations but I haven’t been to Guam nor have I sailed through these particular waters (through Micronesia) and so I am fired up for the new experience. While we wait for the last crew member (Lloyds requires 4); Tony, Sara and I are prepping the Morgan Out Island 41 for her adventure.

Most of the boat moving jobs I get are upwind, up current, during hurricane season, are boats that are in sketchy condition or are otherwise trips that the owners don’t want to do. This one is different. We are expecting downwind conditions and Tony and Sara have set up this boat very well. I don’t usually have concerns before a delivery but I am a little worried on this one. We are looking at 30 days of reasonably uneventful voyaging. I could get bored (at the top of a short list of things that I fear). I am looking forward to getting caught up on some inventing (just a hobby so far) and some reading (I’ve got Bob B’s newest book King Harbor). I suppose there are worse things to be worried about. Stay tuned for a full report.


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