The Monitor bravely stays on course
"How lucky to have you guys lying next to me." Our neighbor Jim is still excited. Here in the small village of Camden, in the middle of North Carolina, a yacht suddenly lies next to him, which has sailed across the Atlantic. "Every morning when I get off the boat, I look at yours and think about what else I have to change so that I can go out to the Atlantic." Yesterday, in the Captains Lounge (an air-conditioned lounge next to the laundry), Jim finally asked me a question that had preoccupied him for a long time: "John, tell me … What do I have to change about my boat in order to go on the high seas?"
Hmm … not an easy question. The boat is a Cape Dory 28. Small, but really nice and sturdy built. The rig is solid, the sails good, the engine more than adequate. What can I say? "You have an autopilot, you have a stable dinghy that can be used as a lifeboat. A GPS, sea charts?" The ship is actually ready to sail. At least if you compare it with the boats of the early circumnavigators, the Kochs, Schenks, Gebhards or Erdmänner.
The "Kairos" was just over nine meters long and had no autopilot whatsoever. When Elgund Ernst-Jürgen Koch didn't want to steer themselves, they tried to get the ship to steer itself with perfect trim and line braids. Likewise Wilfried Erdmann and Rollo Gebhard, whose ships were only seven and a half meters long. Most circumnavigators at that time did not have a life raft with them, but at most a dinghy that they could inflate at a somewhat faster rate with a compressed air pump. "Strictly speaking, your boat already meets the minimum requirements for ocean sailing." An answer he probably wouldn't have expected.
Stretch lines on deck are absolutely necessary
But there are many things that make life on board easier and safer - things that should be included. A life raft is definitely better than a fixed dinghy. The capsize protection bags and the roof alone. An Epirb too. Ideally one with GPS, which makes it much easier for the rescue workers - because they get a new position, no signal to aim at. Tiller pilots and bike pilots may work just fine for a while. We have met several yachts that have crossed entire oceans using only these self-steering systems, which are actually designed for operation in the Baltic Sea.
But at some point they reach their limits. Usually when you can't use it. A solid self-steering system is essential for long ocean voyages with a small crew. Either a wind vane that does not need electricity, or an electric autopilot that is installed below deck and is thus protected from water and salty air. These things are so robust and reliable today that about 50 percent of the ships we hit en route can only be controlled electrically. Provided, however, that the power supply works. Some yachts have sailed across the Atlantic and run diesel engines or generators every day to make up for electricity consumption. If they fail, however, there is no backup. Better to base the electricity budget on wind and solar and keep the machine as a backup power supply.
American blue-water sailor Gary "Cap’n Fatty" Goodlander may have a surprising nickname, but he is one of the most experienced American blue-water sailors. From his 63 years he lived 55 on ships and gained so much experience that he has his own column in almost every American and Caribbean blue water magazine. Yesterday I was sitting with a coffee in the small gas station, grabbed a new edition of "All at sea", which is available everywhere free of charge - and read a amazed three-page article by Cap'n Fatty, which answered exactly the question of when a yacht is blue water ripe. I quote:
It doesn't all have to happen automatically
"What do you REALLY need on a small sailing boat? Nothing that JoshuSlocum would not have had. The hull has to be solid, the rig has to point upwards and the keel downwards. The yacht has to be steerable. And it calms you down when you have penetrated seawater But apart from the hull, keel, rig, rudder and bilge pump - what else should you need? Most of them are reliefs. You should keep an eye on that. If the generator breaks, so does the three-color lantern and the battery of the Epirb leaks, that's stupid, but it doesn't endanger the safety of the ship at this moment. Of course everything should be repaired, as soon as possible. But it doesn't prevent the ship from sailing."
A topic that can fill entire evenings at the regulars' get-together: What does it all have to include? I remember one evening on the Hanseboot. Back then, old blue water sailors talked, which is better: that the dinghy has 10 or 25 hp. I had just returned from my first trip in the 6,000 euro Ebay boat and was glad that I had a motor with me and didn't have to row.
The demands in old age may increase when planning a blue water trip. I notice it myself, even though I'm not yet 30. I have often asked myself what 19-year-old Johannes would have said if we had met him in the Caribbean and invited him on board. In contrast to the first "Maverick", the "Maverick too" has a refrigerator. It would have been an incredible luxury for the 19-year-old to have cold drinks. The technology is more advanced than it was then. In the current YACHT 17/2015 you can find an article about the use of LED lamps on board. I haven't counted them yet, but I'll bet we installed more than 300 LED bulbs on board. Indirect lamps, direct lamps, spotlights, … On the first "Maverick" there was a single LED lamp with six small LEDs in the salon. The other lamps were ordinary light bulbs that I only used when I rarely had shore power. Using a battery monitor, we always see exactly how much electricity is being fed into the batteries and how much is going out. At that time I only had a simple voltmeter, which usually displayed 11.7 volts, fed by a 20-watt solar panel that I borrowed from Uwe Röttgering. Until I was able to buy a half-broken wind generator cheaply in the Caribbean. Instead of 200 liters of water, I only had 70 in the tank.
Against "Maverick 1", "Maverick too" is really well equipped. But did I feel worse then without all the stuff? Not really. I felt smelly (even if I sometimes really smelled because of the small water reserves;-)).
LED technology below deck
"Go small, go simple - but go now", the blue water icons Lin and Larry Pardey once said. I think that was 30 years ago. And the two are still sailing. Robin Lee Graham, 16-year-old circumnavigator when he started out, once coined the phrase: "At sea you don't learn how much you need, but how little."
And indeed: on our Atlantic crossing we needed a stove to make our food and a wind control system to keep the course. A couple of books against the boredom, a GPS to know where we are, and a bit of light on and below deck at night. And of course a good set of sails and a reliable engine. That's all.
For that matter, our "Maverick too" is completely overarmed. But I'm not 19 anymore either, and as I get older, a little more comfort becomes more fun.
Sailing a spartan ship, on the other hand, has nothing to do with poor seamanship. Just because you don't have everything on board that the catalog and the fair have to offer, you are not a worse sailor. Again and again I have to quote Wilfried Erdmann, who equipped his "Kathennui" really simply, "but of good quality". One of the most seaworthy yachts in Germany. Now it has an engine - but otherwise no new equipment.
Breaking waves, downwind course across the Atlantic
More important than many gadgets is that the skipper knows how to handle the ship and the challenges ahead. "Be prepared," says Goodlander, "be prepared." The storm will come. Critical pieces of equipment will break. And then it is important to know where the tool is and which parts can be used to build a temporary solution. "Confidence at sea is not created by the thought that nothing is going to happen," says Goodlander. And by that means false security through all kinds of equipment. "But rather through the knowledge that you yourself have the necessary skills and experience to find the right solutions."
That means at sea: keep calm. Clearly and logically think about ways of solving the problem. What also helps is a saying that appears at the very front of the operating instructions for our life raft. Even if the ship goes down, "keep your sense of humor".
On my first trip across the Atlantic, the deck under the mast sagged because a laminated wood core had become soft. Because there was no hardware store on LGomer (Canary Islands) and no other way of repairing it, I put a thick stainless steel pipe under the mast. "Compression post" is what the Americans call what you see on many small cruisers to direct the pressure of the mast onto the keel. Without a source of wood, I had to be inventive, sawed up a couple of old fine wood coat hangers and built a very solid fixation for the pipe. With that the deck was intercepted and nothing more could happen. That lasted 5,000 miles. Then I sold the boat.
In the following years a lot of jokes were made about it: "He patched his boat with hangers and sailed across the Atlantic." But would it have been better if the wood hadn't come in the form of a coat hanger, but from the hardware store? The solution was the best one could tinker at the location. To put it in the words of a car mechanic: "A good temporary solution is also quality."
Arrived in the Caribbean
It is important to sail with your eyes open. To be prepared that something can go wrong. "That happens even with very good and extensive equipment," says Goodlander. And it is always important to heed: "The difference between a painful crossing and a great adventure lies in the attitude. Safe journeys on the high seas do not depend on nothing going wrong, but on dealing with the unexpected with confidence."
Further information about the trip: www.zu-zweit-auf-see.de