A Four-part series
One of the most common mistakes that voyaging sailors make is committing themselves to finite departure dates.
This imperative is often created by the requirements of crew departure from the intended arrival point and date, but it must be avoided where at all possible, as sailing vessels run to tide tables NOT time tables.
I have been coerced into accepting that a crew ‘just has to be back by XYZ date’, but all it will do is tempt Zeus* to throw problems in your way to ruin your carefully calculated passage plan.
If you can induce your crew to sail on the basis of ‘I’ll see you when I see you’ so much the better.
*Zeus, the god of screw-ups at sea.
It’s important that all crew know what is expected of them and those specific duties are appointed before leaving port.
By sharing out duties everyone has a role, feels valued and becomes part of the team. More on crew in the next edition.
The skipper should make sure all crew members have good, sound heavy weather waterproofs with them. This should be checked several days before departure, so you’ve got time to get them sorted if they haven’t. Many people greatly underestimate how cold it turns at night at sea, so it is equally important everyone on board has warm clothing despite the tropical latitude you may be sailing in.
The skipper should also inform the crew of the footwear they are expected to use on deck: hobnail boots and heeled shoes are the enemy of laid teak, even worse are Flip-Flops or ‘Thongs’ as Aussies call them, Zeus watches over their wearers covetously, hoping for a trip up and a MOB.
I don’t allow bare feet on deck, nasty injuries can be caused to unprotected feet by blocks, cleats, tracks and stanchion bases and it takes ages to get blood out of teak!
Safety Equipment Briefing
It’s vital that all crew are fully briefed on where the life-raft, lifejackets, flares and emergency grab bag are before leaving port. It’s also very good practice to discuss with all the crew how the life-raft may be launched if needed. It’s important that everyone on board understands the plan before you’re in an emergency situation.
Get out, fit and test your emergency steering system. Then re-stow it where you can easily access it! It won’t be fun trying to dig it out from the bottom of a lazarette that’s crammed with ropes, fenders, BBQ’s and all the paraphernalia a cruising yacht must carry. On Kraken Yachts, one of our latest innovations is a dedicated storage area which is directly accessible from the transom deck, for both the emergency steering system and the life-raft (see Fig 1).
Before leaving port crew should be familiarised with the life jackets and select their own LJ having adjusted it to fit. It’s a good idea to tag each LJ with a different coloured cable tie.
Ask the crew if they have any particular dietary requirements. On one trip, one of the crew informed me as I served a White Dragon chicken curry on the first night of a 10-day passage, that they would only eat free-range chicken, which wasn’t so easy to source in the Philippines, and that they preferred not to eat pork or beef either.
After losing a bit of weight during the first couple of days, hunger overcame this moral dilemma. Sailing is hungry work!
Before you go shopping, work out how many meals you must cook and how many cups of tea or coffee will be drunk.
Crossing the Atlantic from The Canaries to Antigua on a 50ft yacht can reasonably be expected to take 18-21 days, add three more for contingencies and with a crew of only four, you’ll need provisions for almost 300 meals!
Don’t forget you’re sailing with a crew on watch 24 hours a day, so night time snacks will also be needed on top of the daily requirement.
That’s a lot of food and a lot of space is required to stow it.
Wide-open apartment-style accommodation looks very nice but on a cruising yacht you need lots and lots of cupboards, lockers and draws, not open spaces.
It’s better to split your provisioning into at least three sections, and only buy half the meat and fish at a time so that you can:
A) Get it frozen down efficiently whilst on shore power before you leave.
B) Evaluate how much space you have left in the fridge or freezer before it’s too late and it doesn’t fit in.
If you don’t have enough freezer space you’ll need to supplement fresh provisions with a canned product.
The same thing applies to fruit and veg: buy half then go again. You will need ‘veg hammocks’ made of netting to keep the produce well aired, otherwise it quickly rots.
Carrying enough bread for an ocean crossing isn’t really going to work. 20 loaves will take up your whole freezer space, so get into baking your own bread while on passage. There are two choices, either use a bread maker, which is a pretty bulky item or go the whole 9 yards and create a sourdough starter and bake by hand. The former is easier perhaps but the latter is far more satisfying.
You’ll need 5-7 days to get the sourdough starter going, so you need to put it down well before you leave port.
One tip here; put the bread maker or proving bowl on the gimballed cooker hob, otherwise with the motion of the yacht the dough will keep being knocked back and won’t rise properly.
Most of the Kraken Team have been making their own bread whilst in lockdown, Fil Sochaj’s recipes have been pretty successful so we’ve included his basic sourdough bread recipe further below.
Get used to long-life milk and buy 5 more cartons than you think. When you discover that two of the crew prefer muesli or cornflakes for breakfast the milk store will rapidly deplete.
Just another side note here, don’t take cardboard boxes onboard. Cockroaches lay their eggs in the fluting. It’s also a good idea to immerse fruit and veg overboard in the sea to wash off bugs which do not, as a rule, like saltwater.
Lastly, fill and stow at least 20 litres of drinking water in containers, so you have an emergency water supply in case your tank water is fouled or lost. That won’t be enough for more than 7-10 days but you are bound to have other fluids on board too, eh !?
Prepping the Yacht
I won’t go through the exhaustive list of points that determine whether your yacht is suitable and seaworthy for the passage intended, but there are a few issues that should be checked on every yacht before leaving port:
- Turn off each bilge, if you can, and flood each bilge with a hose, then pump out, ensuring all floats, pumps and manual pumps are fully operational.
- Run every system, engine, gearbox, generator, water maker, air-con autopilot, navigation equipment and refrigeration. Technicians are in short supply 500nm out.
- Check the state of your antifoul and particularly check and scrape the prop. If you can dive yourself, great, but otherwise get a diver to clean the hull. Make sure he shows you the photos of the work he’s done. Just a little fouling can seriously reduce your speed and efficiency. A 20-day crossing can easily be increased to 25 or even 30 days if the hull and prop is fouled.
- Check the steering, if it’s cable steering take up the slack in the wire.
- Go up the mast and do a rig check, or get a rigger to do it for you. A careful check of your rigging will give you great comfort if its a long passage.
Start at the bow of the yacht, both on deck and below deck, and check that you have the type and size of tool that is needed for every single fitting. This will take a lot of time, but you only need to do this once and it’s the only way to go. Knowledge of your yacht and its equipment is paramount, but you need the right tools.
Once you have all the tools needed, put them into several toolboxes that can be carried to the problem area rather than into lockers that need hunting through.
Then clearly label each toolbox with the type of tool that’s in it, so that everyone can see what tools are in what box without opening and hunting through each box.
Again this is laborious work, but it will make it so much easier for the crew, who aren’t familiar with the yacht, to locate the correct box containing the required tool quickly. Remember, it’s highly likely that you may need the tool you want fast.
You should draft a daily check-list and have it printed out. It should include, oil level checks for engine and generator, coolant level, fan belt tightness and condition, fuel filter check, bilge water level check, sea chest/strainer check of debris.
The general rule is you can’t have enough spares, and that whatever you have, it won’t be the thing that’s broken. Remember Zeus is watching.
You should have at least four spare water pump impellers for the engine and the generator, three spare fan belts for each fan belt in use, 12 of every size of jubilee clamp from 1cm to 6cm diameter but also check for all the larger sizes you have too.
You need spare oil, fuel and air filters for both engine and generators. Check over your engine and generator and keep a spare for every sensor.
Carry enough oil for two oil changes and lots of coolant.
Check every flexible pipe/tube diameter and buy a metre of each size going from the largest to the smallest diameter pipe, such that each pipe fits inside the next one up. This will mean that whatever pipe bursts, even if it’s a shaped engine pipe with different diameters, you’ll be able to configure a pipe to fit it (see Fig 2).
Buy every size and length of cable ties and at least two big rolls of gaffer tape and make sure you have a multi-size set of wooden bungs.
- Check that your chart chip covers the area you will sail in.
- Carry hard copy charts for the whole trip but ensure you have large scale detailed charts for the places you may arrive in.
- Put a handheld GPS in the grab bag with plenty of extra long-life batteries.
- Whatever communication systems you have onboard I suggest you carry a hand-held satellite phone which can be carried on a life-raft.
Check the weather, clear out and go, but tell the local coastguard (if there is one) where you’re headed and, very conservatively, when you expect to arrive.