A Four-part series
Start your voyage by choosing a weather window that offers at least two days of easy sailing with wind strengths of 10-15kts if at all possible. If a big blow has just gone through, allow a couple of days for the swell to die down. The first consideration should be ensuring the crew settle into an ‘at sea’ pattern, overcoming seasickness, eschewing the nine-to-five routine and acclimatizing to cooler temperatures, all problems that one should expect with a crew that haven’t regularly been to sea. I’ve been told many times ‘Don’t worry I never suffer from seasickness’ only to discover that person hanging over the rail on the first day. Most people that aren’t regularly at sea suffer varying degrees of mal de mer during their first two days or so at sea and virtually all people get over it after a couple of nights at sea. It isn’t a competition.
I’ll cover this further in a follow up article on the ‘Psychology of Crew on Ocean Passages’ in next month’s Ocean Sailor.
It’s a good idea to stock up with a couple of days’ worth of pre-made meals for each of the crew, and put them in the freezer, along with some sandwiches and quick snacks, minimising time spent below in the galley.
There will be plenty of time for cooking once everyone has got their sea-legs.
It’s important for a novice crew to experience their first day at sea in daylight to familiarise themselves with the boat and her systems, so as you make your final port clearances, if the departure time starts to slide, leave port by all means, but look for a nearby anchorage to spend the night. Then muster at first light and head out. Such a procedure will build confidence and reassurance. Spending the first night gently rocking in an anchorage will find the crew fully rested, raring to go with 12 hours of daylight ahead.
It’s also essential the crew know that as skipper you are on call 24/7 and that they must not hesitate to call you about anything they are uncertain or concerned about.
Try not to swear and curse under your breath when you get the call, having just crawled into your bunk tired and exhausted, only to find the crew are concerned about a ship which has appeared on the radar that has already crossed your track and is 20 miles away. It goes with the territory.
On a passage across the Bay of Biscay after 24 hours in the cockpit I was called up on deck every 20 to 30 minutes, right through my off watch, by a crew who insisted he had seen a lighthouse to the west of us. I explained patiently the nearest lighthouse was Cape Cod in the USA 4,000nm miles away. Eventually I too saw the ‘lighthouse’: lightning generated from a thunderstorm in the far distance. I admit I might have uttered a silent curse.
So now you’re off with the freedom of the open ocean ahead of you.
Hopefully all crew have had some tuition from the skipper to familiarise them with the navigation electronics before setting off, so all crew members can be given a watch.
The first issue the skipper needs to decide is the best watch system to suit the strengths or weaknesses of his crew.
The watch system must be tailored according to the crew’s sailing experience and knowledge of the yacht and her systems.
Whilst a Kraken yacht is designed to enable one crew on watch to set, trim and reef all sails from the cockpit, with ease, most yachts will require one or more extra crew to be called on deck for a sail change or reef.
If you have, say, four crew, two of which are experienced but two who are not I suggest using a rolling or ‘Swedish’ watch system.
This works like this:
1st watch. (Skipper)
Two hours on the helm, next two hours on standby resting or sleeping in the cockpit, then four hours off watch.
2nd watch (Inexperienced crew)
Two hours on the helm (with the Skipper resting on hand in the cockpit ) two hours on standby in the cockpit, then four hours off watch below deck.
3rd watch (experienced crew)
Two hours on the helm (with an inexperienced crew on standby in the cockpit ) two hours on standby in the cockpit, then four hours off watch.
4th watch (inexperienced crew)
Two hours on helm (with experienced crew on standby ) two hours on standby, then four hours off watch.
For many years I have introduced a ‘free hour’ into this system at dinner time, where the watch system is suspended to allow all crew to eat, chat and meet once a day. Then all are involved in clearing up the galley and washing up. This works very well, allowing everyone to talk about their experiences together. It also breaks the rhythm of the watches to alleviate monotony. With this system all watches step forward an hour each day so all crew members experience get the dawn watch every fourth day. Dolphins alongside the yacht under sail at first light is a memory no one ever forgets.
If the crew is, or becomes, experienced, the rolling watch system may not be necessary and you may change to a one-crew watch system. I strongly suggest only running three hours during the night time. If you are just two-handed it means your maximum continuous sleep time will be around two and a half hours, which will be hard at first, but crew fully adjust in about three days.
(More about watches in the Psychology of Crew article next month)
With experienced crew I run four-hour watches during daylight changing to three-hour watches at a prescribed time after evening dinner through the night.
It’s important that the skipper lays out the lifejacket procedures that he is comfortable with and makes it clear that this regime must be adhered to.
Of course we all know that the rule book will say all crew must wear a lifejacket all the time they are on deck, but in my experience this is very rarely adhered to especially in the tropics.
I’ll weather the storm of criticism that I raise in revealing my own rules, but I only insist LJ’s are worn in winds over 20 kts during daylight hours if the crew are in the security of the cockpit, but must wear LJ’s at all times during the night or if leaving the cockpit. Each skipper will have his or her own rules.
With the advent of electronic navigation systems that do not require a paper chart position fix to be marked up, many contemporary cruising skippers do not keep an hourly log. This is a mistake because, if properly run, the hourly log update can be very useful for several reasons:
Should your electronics fail, you’ll know where you were just one hour previously. I know plenty of skippers that complete a log every twenty-four hours or so, but in that time you could have sailed more than 200nm and will have created a wide error factor into your estimated position.
Aboard modern yachts great reliance is placed upon electric and diesel power so it’s really important that all crew, not just the skipper, understand they must monitor battery and fuel levels and take appropriate actions when circumstances require it.
As a result of all crew recording the data revolving around the management of the yacht, the whole crew is brought together to understand all elements of the voyage in a way briefings never can.
A log should include the recording of the wind strength and direction, so the skipper, or next watch, can see if the wind strength has been building, weakening, backing or veering, enabling the helm or skipper to be considering what sail changes may be required soon.
The log should be kept and completed below deck. This means that at least once an hour the crew must get up from the helm seat, go below, check the data required in the log, fill the log in and consider what actions if any are required. This keeps the crew awake and alert.
Ship’s Log Key
COG – Course across the ground
AutoCours – Autopilot course
COMP – Compass course magnetic
SOG – Speed across the ground
XTE – Cross track error (how far we are off the prescribed course)
DIST-GO – Distance to next waypoint
AWA – Apparent wind angle
TWS – True wind speed
BATT – House battery bank level
ENGINE – Engine hours
DAYTANK – Level of fuel in day tank
Note: This is my own log that I have drafted, you won’t find it in any chandlery.
Checks at Sea
Prevention will always be better than cure, the only way to prevent a problem before it happens is by carrying out daily, weekly and monthly checks on the critical systems of the vessel and then maintaining the yacht’s equipment while you are using it, and when you are not.
This can be accommodated much more easily if the yacht has been designed with easy direct access to all the system’s ‘vital organs’ including fuel filters, sea chest or strainers, bilge pumps, engine coolant, engine and generator dip-sticks and fan belts, stern gland and sea-cocks.
Most yacht designs look to shoe-horn in as many berths as possible, because that’s what works at boat shows but having to dismantle a berth to check a generator or any equipment that requires servicing can be a real nightmare at sea. In my view a true blue water yacht must have a dedicated equipment and engine room and at Kraken, no yacht is built without one.
If it is a quest to check these vital service areas it will get overlooked and the problem will surface only when the system breaks down, potentially damaging the equipment.
One of our Kraken followers recently told us that whilst chartering a Jeanneau 54 the generator packed up. The yacht charter company told them to drop the dinghy garage platform and access the generator through the transom garage. Even where that is possible, it would be a dangerous action to try to perform at sea. Sadly this type of problem is becoming more common as boats become more like caravans and are estranged from their proper seagoing environment.
I suggest you elect one crew member to do all the daily ‘at sea’ checks.
Once they are familiar with the checks it shouldn’t take them much more than 30 minutes to complete them.
As you can see the engine bilge was discovered to be oily and oil was also later discovered in the main bilge. We discovered an inverted oil container with a slightly loose cap.
It’s important that all actions undertaken are noted with the measurements of how much was topped up or whatever action was taken so one can see a pattern building up. Any variation from that pattern then indicates a problem.
Re-routing on passage
Get into the habit of downloading a weather grib file and weather charts for five days ahead, or less as you approach the destination. Accessing weather on route is a giant leap forward to mariners safety at sea because, even though you may not be able to avoid getting some heavy weather completely, you will be able to mitigate it and sail more productively.
It’s a good idea to tell the all crew how you’re progressing and what to expect in the coming days, so if there is heavy weather ahead you can be well prepared with no surprises. It makes a big difference to confidence. Choose a wide area for the download so you can see the whole weather picture developing, such as the weather chart below.
Downloaded Weather charts for 750 nm passage Gibraltar to Santa Cruz Tenerife
1st August 2020
Good time to go, winds will be force 2 or less through the Gibraltar Straits which is good as the Straits are very very busy so being under motor is fine.
As we get away from the Straits the wind will gradually fill in at around 160 deg. Whilst under motor I would head to the east of my direct route, this will allow us to sail more westerly later on the passage therefore keeping the wind at around 140-160 deg, however if I am carrying the dual headsail rig with a Code K, I would head more easterly to turn and run dead down wind with the Code K and Genoa set Butterfly rigged with no mainsail.
2nd August 2020
We would now start to curve our course more westerly to benefit from the predicted 20-25kt wind that will be at around 150 degrees to the course.
3rd August 2020
Continue with our planned course curving west with the expected North North East wind steady around 25 kts and still well behind the beam.
4th August 2020
Last 150nm or so to run into Tenerife, ETA 05:00 5th August. Therefore arriving Santa Cruz early morning.
Note: planning a passage to arrive at early morning gives 12 hours of daylight to accommodate slower than expected daily run distances.
This route plan was based on 170nm per 24 hour day which we would generally expect to achieve in a Kraken 50 with reasonable wind.
Re-routing on passage
As you begin to approach your final destination, start to plan your arrival two or three days out to allow arrival in daylight. Ideally arrive in port early in the morning. If that’s not looking feasible, slow down so that it is, or look for a quiet anchorage nearby where you can drop the hook in daylight and go in the following morning. Don’t allow anyone to go ashore, tempting as it might be, and take out a broken piece of equipment, a clamp, a burst piece of pipe or an old fan belt and leave it to hand, so if you are unlucky enough to get a Coastguard visit you can explain you needed to fix it before proceeding into port on engine. Don’t pull this stroke in Australia however, Aus Customs and Immigration are very strict and are likely to arrest you!
Call customs on channel 16 VHF as soon as you are 20nm out. If they don’t answer, call them every hour as you get closer. If still no answer, call the port control before you enter port. You should know their channel, but if not try channel 12 or 14, most are on one or other. Although in the UK it is not mandatory to have a VHF radio, very few yachts today are not fitted with the device and harbour controls assume all vessels have them aboard.
Many people worry about the demands of an Ocean Passage, but without doubt, it’s easier sailing than when coastal sailing as there is no lee shore to worry about, the winds are steadier and generally there’s only deep water ahead for many days.
Next month the Psychology of Crew on Passage.