Planning the Circumnavigation
30 January 2006
Planning and Itinerary.
We are looking for challenge and adventure, but not looking for trouble. Our general itinerary is designed to expose us to pleasant to moderate weather conditions most of the time with winds aft of the beam most of the time. In particular, we are designing the general course of the voyage to avoid hurricane/typhoon prone areas during the riskier time of the year. We want to avoid the higher latitudes with their wilder "ordinary" weather, but at the same time (and maybe more important) we very much want to avoid the areas where piracy is common (chiefly southeast Asia and the approaches to the Red Sea.) We want to be back to the US around three years after we leave. We want to have enough time to hang out and explore in places where this makes sense, and we'd like to do a fair amount of hiking along the way. We hope that friends and family members will be able to join for passages or for local cruising at various points along the way. We have an adequate budget for the trip, but there won't be room for a lot of extras or luxuries. We think our skill, energy, experience, financial and equipment situations are about average among the varied group of crews and boats that are making similar major voyages these days. We know we have a lot to learn, but think we have an adequate foundation to set out on our big adventure.
In the old days of blue water cruising each crew had to do a great deal of basic research for planning the cruise, as to routes, weather, legal requirements, availability of supplies and many other things, and of course this was long before the Internet! (which has made the limited research we have had to do pretty painless). So much has been published about these general topics in recent years that it is possible to have most of the necessary information at one's fingertips with a few trips to Borders. One cruiser/author in particular deserves special mention: Jimmy Cornell. Jimmy is a Rumanian-born cruiser-adventurer who has dedicated his life (while cruising extensively)to compiling this kind of information for other cruisers. We have made (and will continue to make) great use of both his "World Cruising Routes" which lays out the navigational and planning aspects of all the major cruising routes, and "World Cruising Handbook" which is an encyclopedic reference organized geographically giving the crucial facts concerning basically all countries that can be reached by sea. Cornell also operates a website, Noonsite.com, which gives updated information on all the topics covered by his books. We also belong to the Seven Seas Cruising Association which also has an extensive data base, made up largely of its periodic newletters which contain, among other things, detailed reports by active cruisers on countries and ports they are visiting or have recently visited. The current newletter contains reports on an annual cultural festival in Vanuatu, cruising in South Africa and Brazil, and cruising in Tierra del Fuego (vicinity of Cape Horn). These reports are not quite as sugar-coated as those found in the glossy mags, but get down to the gritty details: just what you want once you have decided actually to take the plunge.
The climate phenomenon that makes recreational voyaging feasible (just as it powered the ocean exploration, whaling and trade of the 1600s to 1900) is the trade winds. These blow generally east to west in the latitude belts around a thousand miles north and south of the equator (not so much right near the equator, where winds tend to be variable with lots of calms and lots of thunderstorm activity (the Doldrums)). The trades are always pretty well established in some areas (as anyone who has been in the Caribbean knows!) but in the Pacific and some other areas they can be less reliable. In strong "El Nino" years they are unreliable (may even blow "backwards") in the South Pacific. Researchers keep close tabs on these large-scale climate matters and we will be keeping abreast of developments and forecasts. The milestones listed below assume reliable trade winds from the east. If we don't get these conditions we'll adjust accordingly. (Keep an eye on the Log as it develops once we are underway.)
Here's the basic plan (note that it gets increasingly vague as it progresses, like any forecast):
September/October, 2006. Leave Woods Hole for Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. We will probably build a few one or two day legs into this run to get a bit more adjusted to the 24 hour routine. If there is an unusually good forecast when we get to the entrance to Chesapeake Bay we might go outside around Cape Hatteras. More likely, we will take the four day (daylight only) run inside the Cape along the Intracoastal. We plan to stay in the Wrightsville Beach (Wilmington) area for four to eight weeks, doing provisioning and other boat-keeping chores while we wait out the end of the hurricane season.
December, '06. We will set out for Panama via the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. This is about 1000 miles and ought to take 7 to 10 days. We hope to do some coastal cruising in Panama and pass through the Panama Canal by mid-January, '07.
January, '07. Through the Canal, possible cruising in the Las Perlas islands of Panama, and eventually (on the best possible weather window) to the Galapagos, about 700 miles. This run is upcurrent and tends also to be upwind, so it can be pretty demanding and may involve some motor-sailing (using more than the usual amount of fuel). We understand that cruisers get to stay in the Galapagos about three weeks.
February, '07. The long run (possibly the longest single run of the entire cruise, 3060 miles) to the Marquesas, the eastermost group in French Polynesia. If we find the trades as expected this should take about 3 weeks, but it could be 5 or more.
March through September, '07. This in many ways is the heart of the cruise. We will be exploring French Polynesia, Kingdom of Tonga, perhaps Vanuatu, and possibly other South Pacific island groups. The inter-island runs are relatively short (mostly 1 to 5 days) and the conditions are tropical. We will try to plan some extended stays near major islands with international airports so that friends and family can visit and share some of the fun.
September, '07. The South Pacific typhoon season will be approaching and we will want to be out of the danger zone. Our plan is to sail south out of the tropics to New Zealand. We expect to hang out in New Zealand with some cruising and some land exploration for about 6 months. Another easy time for family/friend visits.
Spring, '08 and beyond. We figure we'll be in a lot better position to plan Part II once we have arrived in New Zealand. Right now the general plan is to sneak our way around Australia, port to port, along the southern coast. Then, probably leaving from near Perth on the west coast we will cross the Indian Ocean in the tradewind belt, approaching Africa via Madagascar. We will hug the east African shore in the inner edge of the Aghulas current (analagous to the Gulfstream, but running south) ending up in Capetown. We will cross the South Atlantic, stopping perhaps at some of the isolated South Atlantic islands and head for Brazil, where we would like to spend a little time, maybe picking up some Brazilian Portuguese. The final leg, (Spring of '09, avoiding the Caribbean/Atlantic hurricane season) will be up the South American coast , north along the Antilles, and then home, hopping off from Antigua or St. Martin, possibly via Bermuda. This return route exposes us to greater weather challenges (especially around Cape of Good Hope) than the more usual route north around Australia and through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Med, but also nearly eliminates the worrisome piracy and political risks of that route. While the weather and wave size can be scary around South Africa, the weather forecasting is modern and reliable and with care and humility we think we can make this passage safely. Anyway we feel more confident about dealing with these issues than we would in dealing with ruthless men with automatic weapons!
30 January 2006
We hadn't definitely decided to go on a major cruise together by the end of the 2003 sailing season, but it did seem a reasonable possibility. In any case the boat was a little tired and in need of TLC having been in operation at least seasonally since '98 without much in the way of major maintenance except as required by breakdowns, etc. Janet and I agreed after some discussion to haul the boat at the end of the season, place it in the courtyard of her barn and get started on a major rehab, with two general goals: first, to get her looking sharp again; second, to make the modifications, replacements and installations required to get her ready for an extended ocean voyage, up to and including a "coconut run" circumnavigation. We figured this would take the best part of two years and planned to have her in the water again in the summer of '05. What follows is a summary of the work that we have done on the boat since that time and descriptions of the projects which remain (I'm writing this in March of 2006) before we head out in September, six months from now!
Once the boat was on its blocks at the house the first problem was to remove the mainmast (it was transported lying on deck) and pull the engine for its rebuild. I built and tested a fairly funky-looking lifting gantry for these purposes using structural parts I had available (mainly trailer parts) and a new chain hoist for the actual lifting. The weight of the engine and transmission was 1200 pounds and the lifting point needed to be 15 feet above ground--not a trivial problem. It probably would have been smarter to hire a small crane for these jobs (and the engine replacement) but I got caught up in the challenge. There were some hairy moments, but the system worked and it turned out to be one of the most interesting and satisfying aspects of the whole rehab.
With the engine out and the mast off the deck the boat was ready to be covered--I figured for a 7 season rehab a cover would be justified and would make most aspects of the work easier, which proved to be true. I wasn't really sure about the construction details at the outset, but I designed and built a frame mainly using bent frames pre fabricated out of two layers of 1x4 strapping with a third layer of strapping spacers. Once the frame was up (it took almost a month to build) we got a few people together (we had guests around for Christmas) and pulled the 50 by 40 foot green tarp up and over the frame. After a few more weeks of construction (mainly building ends for the enclosure) we were closed in. the enclosure worked out pretty well and did make most things easier. It stood up to some major breezes and snowfalls duruing its 2 winters. We had to take it down pretty quickly (a few weeks before we planned) in the spring of '05 when a major bough broke off a nearby pine tree (I happened to see this occur having been alerted by the thunderous crack of the bough as it broke) in a wind storm. The bough fell across the house and deck forward of the mainmast position. Miraculously, there was only minor damage (a handrail and a piece of gunwhale cap already slated for replacement), but initially I had visions of a really major problem.
First, I pulled out the heavy and balky mechanical refrigeration equipment and other obsolete or worn equipment. I had already decided to replace the steel cable in the steering system, but like many projects this one grew. I determined that the original installation of the push-pull Edson steering system was not optimum. I had known the steering effort was higher than I liked from the first test sail in '98. By rerouting the cable conduits and moving two existing sheaves I was able to reduce friction in the system dramatically so that in ordinary conditions the steering effort now is basically one finger.
I redid the engine fuel system (described in another post). Most people will tell you that the biggest source of problems with diesels is dirt and water in the fuel. I have found this to be a continual headache and I hope that the new modifications will make managing this problem (I don't think it can really be eliminated given the way my fuel tanks are installed) a good deal easier.
I made a better system for draining and cleaning the engine bilge--no more turkey basters!
Engine rebuild: completely dismantle. Take block and head to machine shop for reconditioning. Reassemble with new parts, especially new pistons and rings. The engine rebuild took a fair amount of time, but it really wasn't all that hard. Time will tell how thoroughtly and accurately I did the work. When it was all back together I cobbled up a cooling system and exhaust system--pointed out the barn door and fired her up. Quite a gratifying moment when the engine roared into life. I now have a hundred hours or so on the engine after the first season back in the water and it seems to work fine and have a clean exhaust. This coming summer I will do some careful fuel consumption tests under differing circumstances to get an idea of what the actual range between fuel purchases will be. Long after the engine was replaced I was given a complete engine of the same type (Ford Lehman 2712) which came out of another sailboat which was getting a brand-new Yanmar. This will provide an excellent source of backup parts, not all of which are available for this venerable engine anymore. In particular, this will give me the luxury of a spare starter motor and cooling water pump to bring along on the cruise.
Electrical system. Re-routed and simplifed the high-amperage battery wiring. Installed a Link 10 energy meter, which is really an essential part of high capacity house-battery system.
Heater. I wasn't really sure we needed this, but Janet persuaded me. We bought a Webasto air furnace system. These were really designed for over-the-road trucks to enable drivers to "live aboard" without idling the engine just to provide interior heat. Installed it in the "ceiling" of the cockpit locker and ran heat ducts to the main cabin and the aft cabin, with a little branch outlet in the aft head. Certainly an interesting installation job. Remains to be seen how useful it will be.
Head. The boat has two heads, providing an excess of opportunities for blockages and rebuilds. I had heard about the Lavac marine toilet and its reputation for simplicity and reliability. We installed one in the aft head. It seems to deserve its good press and we may end up putting one in the forward head. Maybe not right away, since it really won't get much use during the coming voyage.
Emergency manual bilge pump. We got one of those big Edsons mounted on a plywood floor plate. Installed a permanent outlet hose into an existing above-waterline throughhull. The pump can be attached to this hose (with quick disconnect system) for use down below. Or, with a slightly different arrangement of hoses it can be used in the cockpit.
Anchor windlass. Bought an Ideal vertical windlass. The motor is below the deck and there is a rope capstan and a chain gypsy on deck. Another interesting, demanding, time-consuming installation, but it worked great in the first season. It can be operated with a portable foot pedal on the foredeck or from the steering station. Also got a new Spade anchor and 275' of new chain to go with it. We ought to be ready for thoses deep Pacific lagoon anchorages now!
You know the drill. Lots and lots of hours removing hardware, grinding, filling, sanding, dusting, taping, painting, repainting, untaping, reinstalling hardware, etc., etc. Don Casey's book was very helpful and we feel like we got a good result. I figure about 90% of the quality of a professional Awlgrip job for about 10% of the price, not counting labor of course. A big part of the labor was installation of a work platform at about waterline height all around the boat, inside the enclosure. The topsides paint application job was an anxious and fast-paced two-person job and Janet really threw herself into this one. Anyway, we got lots of nice compliments on the boat in our first season back in service.
Sails and canvas
I think the sails on the boat were basically original equipment (from '83) although they were in good condition and had been re-stitched fairly recently when we got it in '97. They were looking shabby and obviously not suitable for a major voyage by 2003. With some trepidation, I decided to see if I could build them myself from Sailrite kits. Decided to build the main and working RF jib in the winter of '05. Started with the main. Assembly was (as advertised) surprisingly straightforward. The kits are designed and cut using the same methods and materials that any commercial sailmaker would use. While it is possible to make Sailrite sails from laminates, I stuck with the conventional dacron approach. I think the sails ended up costing about half what they would have cost from a local sailmaker. I'm not really an expert in sail shape, but they seemed to look and work fine the first season and sailing performance was improved. I think in terms of craftsmanship, they are as strong and durable as professional, but there is a definite price to pay in aesthetics: even after four large sails, I never got to the point where I was able to sew a line of zig-zag stitches as straight and even as a professional could. I think this relates to limitations of the machine, working in confined quarters, compared to a sail loft, and limitations of skill. Also, it wasn't possible to keep the sail material as pristine during construction as a professional would be expected to and able to. I think, though, that at the end of the first season, my sails and professional ones would look about the same, so this is not a big issue. The big compensation, aside from price, is that at the end of the process I am feeling pretty confident about my ability to repair or replace sails as needed over the coming years--I really hated paying for canvas repairs and of course professionals are not always available where you need them. Included full-length battens on the main with cars and a dedicated plastic mast track from Dutchman, which worked very well in the first season and was reasonably priced. Also Dutchman flaking systems on main and mizzen and new sail covers on main and mizzen--also Sailrite kits. Since the first two sails seemed to work pretty well decided to build the mizzen and staysail this winter--just finished. I built the staysail with reefpoints, so it can be used as a storm jib--about 120 square feet.
Other canvas projects
When the sails were done in the winter of '05, I took on the replacement of the canvas and clear plastic parts of the bimini and dodger. Again, time consuming, but straightforward with "nearly professional" results.
I have started, and will complete in the next few weeks, a Jordan Series Drogue. The idea here is that sometimes a cruising sailboat encounters big seas that may sometime include overwhelmingly large individual seas. Wave size follows a statistical distribution so that if the average sea height is 20' for example, it is unlikely, but not impossible, that a 40 footer will come along, the so called "rogue wave". Seas that large and larger are likely to be a "breaking seas." If one of these comes along, even after hundreds of smaller and very manageable seas (at least if one is able to run with them) it can grab the stern, force the boat broadside to the wave and basically throw the boat into the trough or back edge of the sea ahead of the breaking wave. This is the mechanism that can cause dismastings and general foundering of even fairly good-sized sailboats, even bigger than our own boat. It's probably what happened to the "Andrea Gail" of "The Perfect Storm" and also the many damaged and sunk boats of the notorious Fastnet Race and Sydney Hobart Race. There's lots of discussion of this problem and methods for dealing with it in the standard cruising books which I will not go into here. I have concluded that the Jordan Series Drogue is for us the best defense against this (not very likely) threat. Basically it involves a long stout rope (3/4" diameter, 300' long) with little parachute-like cones attached coaxially about every 2 feet and a 40 pound sinker at the tail end. . The idea of numerous small parachutes is that each of them only gets a small maximum load (maybe 150 pounds in use) and even if parts of the system pull out of the face of individual waves, lots of the rest will still be in green water doing their job. The whole thing is deployed astern when seas get large enough to be scary, especially when conditions are deteriorating. This keeps the boat speed down to 2 or 3 knots running with any kind of wind or sea and basically pulls the stern of the boat through big breaking waves if and when they come along. The boat gets wet, but stays on its feet, intact and on course. The JSD has been in use for about 20 years now and it apparently generally works as designed, although of course in these matters there are no guarantees.
So I cut the blanks for the little parachute cones out of the old main sail. Each of them (there will be 128 all together) has to have three nylon attachment straps sewed on and then to be attached to the rope with a combination of weaving and sewing. Again, lots of labor, but I think by doing a few of them every night during otherwise unproductive Tv time I'll have it knocked out in a month or two. (This turned out to be true, as of April 15, '06 it is done). I have to give a little thought, practice and planning to the issue of retrieval. I think I will mount a stern anchor roller which will be useful for this purpose and, of course, also for stern anchoring and retrieval, which comes in handy now and then. One nice thing is that it will fit into one of the deck lockers on the aft deck with room to spare. I'll stow docklines and similar easily removed items on top of the drogue.
Like a lot of other sailors before me, I am pleased to discover that I really enjoy and get a great deal of satisfaction from sewing, canvas and rope projects. It's been a nice part of the general rehab and allows me to stay inside feeling productive, but warm, through the cold months.
We're hoping to get launched in the 3rd week of May, but we don't have a promised date yet. In the last few weeks (and the next few) I have cleaned up a few loose ends. I'm replacing some caprail and a handrail damaged in last year's tree-fall incident. While I was at it, I made teak towel racks/grab handles for the 2 heads. The original ones were comically inadequate and often came off in one's hand in a lurching moment. Replacing them has been long procrastinated. The new ones you could do chin ups on! and of course they are nicer looking. I put on another new propeller, this time a "Campbell Sailor" which is claimed to have better thrust and less drag than our conventional 3-blade. Should have an idea about its qualities in a few weeks.