21 April 2017 | Manhasset Bay, New York
07 February 2017
22 December 2016
06 November 2016
12 July 2016
22 June 2016
18 June 2016
14 June 2016
08 June 2016
28 May 2016
25 May 2016
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13 May 2016
05 May 2016
28 April 2016
16 April 2016

Building an Oar to get Ashore

21 April 2017 | Manhasset Bay, New York
The plan was simple. Move Issuma from the marina in Jersey City that she wintered in, to anchor in Port Washington (the winter docking contract was ending).

I invited a few people, who invited more people, and suddenly I had nine crew. The plan was to motor off the dock in Jersey City, take the East River to Long Island Sound, do a bit of sailing, and then anchor. I was hoping the Water Taxi would then take my crew off, but it hadn't started up yet this season. The forecast was moderately windy, dying down in the evening. I warned everyone before leaving the dock that it might be a long time before they could get off the boat, as the Water Taxi wasn't running and it was windy enough to make dinghying difficult.

The trip was pleasant, and, other than some technical issues, uneventful. The tide was falling, and I wasn't comfortable approaching any shallow docks to drop the crew off. I temporarily anchored within a few hundred metres of the beach, intending on making it a shorter row to dinghy people ashore.

There were whitecaps in the bay, and conditions for ferrying people with my (hard) rowing dinghy were marginal. We put the dinghy in the water and prepared it while monitoring the conditions, which were slowly improving. That's when I discovered that one of the oars was broken!

Phil went to work on splinting the broken oar back together.

I considered inflating the inflatable dinghy, which has an outboard motor which would handle those conditions well. But the motor not been run since it had been winterized, and it wasn't a good time to be relying on the motor, as if it failed, the inflatable dinghy would not row in those conditions (it has its own oars, which are not compatible with the hard dinghy), leaving no choice but to anchor and sit out in the cold wind until it moderated enough that rowing would be possible.

I had bought a couple of pieces of Okoume (an African hardwood) in South Africa for making another pair of oars, so, not sure the repaired oar would be strong enough, I got Stephen to work on a new oar. Stephen (mostly), I and Phil hand-sawed the oar out from the wood, then rounded the shaft enough with a rasp to make it functional as an oar.

By that time, the wind had died down, so rowing everyone ashore was much easier.

Later, I finished the oar with a sandpaper disc on an angle grinder, and built a second oar from the other piece of okume. Now the dinghy has a matched pair of sturdy oars.

When the weather warms up, I will paint the oars white so they can be seen better at night (and perhaps paint the dinghy, also :) ).

Upcoming Presentations

07 February 2017
I'm giving two public presentations in Toronto in March:

Presentation: Sailing the Northwest Passage
Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 1215
Location: The Shellbacks Club, meeting at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club downtown clubhouse, 141 St George St, Toronto, near St George subway station. Open to public, free admission, but you must buy lunch, which is about $24. Aim to arrive about noon, presentation starts about 1245.

Presentation:The Cold South
Date: Thursday, March 23, 2017 7:00PM
Location: World Cruising Club of Toronto, meeting at the upstairs bar in Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club, Ashbridges Bay Park Road, Toronto. Admission is $5 for non-members. Bar serves food and drinks.


22 December 2016
I've made many changes to Issuma in the nine years that I've owned her. The change that I liked the most was replacing the lifelines with a higher liferail. I'm a tall guy, 188cm/6'2", so my center of gravity is higher than most people's. Taller people need higher lifelines.

Forward of the pilothouse, Issuma is flush-decked, with a lot of camber (curvature) in the deck. With no trunk cabin, when one is forward of the pilothouse, there is little to hold onto except for the liferails.

When I bought Issuma, it had typical yacht lifelines--two wires going through too-short stanchions. Going forward of the pilothouse at sea was scary--all there was to hang onto was the thin lifeline wire, which wasn't far enough off the deck.

Issuma's lifeline stanchions were made of pipe, welded to the steel bulwarks. In Argentina, I had the stanchions sleeved and extended, and then tubing was welded to the top of the stanchions instead of using wire.

A continuous liferail around the boat, welded to every stanchion is vastly stiffer than wire lifelines (it distributes the load among multiple stanchions), and the larger diamter of the liferail's tubing hurts much less when one falls onto it.

People get aboard Issuma by climbing over or under the liferail. I considered, but did not install, a gate (opening section to allow easier access from the dock). The lack of a gate may not be yachty, but it is very functional--the continuous liferail, welded to all stanchions, is stronger, stiffer and simpler than one having a gate would be.

The lower lifeline wire was replaced by 8mm rope, tied with clove hitches or round-turn-and-two-half-hitches to the stanchions. Amidships on either side, there is a section of rope that I untie when at a dock to make it easy for people to climb under the rail (tall people climb over the rail). The rope requires occasional retightening.

The result:

I've sailed Issuma about 50,000 miles after replacing the lifelines with the liferail. The liferail makes a great handhold, feels much safer, and takes much of the apprehension out of going forward of the pilothouse at sea. Unlike wire lifelines, which require periodic replacement, a liferail requires no maintenance.

Higher liferails or lifelines result in more chafe on sheets. On Issuma, the mainsheet, jib sheets and spinnaker sheets all rub against the liferail. The smooth surface of the tubing results in very little chafe--the mainsheets have about 100,000 miles on them and are still going strong, the other sheets show no signs of chafe. Chafe would be greater if I was using wire lifelines (thinner diameter, not as smooth as tubing) instead of stanchions.

I got the idea for the liferails from two books, Brent Swain's Origami Metal Boatbuilding, and William G. Van Dorn's classic Oceanography and Seamanship.


I made the mistake of painting the liferail and stanchions. I used two-part epoxy followed by two-part polyurethane, but rails are pretty difficult to avoid scratches, and once the paint gets a scratch, moisture gets in. Moisture freezes, expands, and then lifts large areas of paint. Without frequent repainting, painted rails look awful. I am letting the paint fall off and one day will have nice, unpainted rails with no maintenance.

I increased the height from the original lifelines, so the liferail is 90cm / 35" from the deck. I did a lot of thinking about this, wondering if I was making it too high, as the normal ones are much lower. After sailing extensively with it, I think that higher would be even better, and if I was to do it again, I'd make the liferail 1m / 39" from the deck.


06 November 2016
David Anderson of The Sailing Podcast interviewed me last week. The interview is online at

The End

12 July 2016
After almost two months at sea and more than 5,000 miles, Issuma reached Norfolk, Virginia. This was both my longest passage and my longest singlehanded passage.

The trip started with great winds, and was very easy up to the ITCZ (Doldrums). The ITCZ was not difficult, just a little less than very easy. The last third of the trip, when the wind went light while near the Bermuda high, was much more exercise. Light winds made self-steering more difficult, and slowed the boat down in the hot, sunny weather. I put aluminum foil inside the pilothouse windows to lower the inside temperature (lots of clear windows are nice for bringing in warmth in Antarctica, but not so nice in the tropics).

The jib furler bearings seized up about half-way thru the trip. I had spare bearings, but replacing those bearings involves disconnecting the jibstay, which I did not want to do at sea. I considered stopping in Bermuda to replace the bearings, but, since it was hurricane season, I thought it best to just hurry up and get to Norfolk. So I raised and lowered the jib as needed, and each time thought about how great roller furling is when it is working :).

I spent a few days SE of Cape Hatteras, waiting for some cold fronts to pass before crossing the Gulf Stream. This gave me a great opportunity to fix a few things and get some rest. Thanks to George, Victor and Rick for helping out with Gulf Stream current and weather information by email.

In light, pleasant, winds, I sailed towards Chesapeake Bay. As the winds died, I lowered sails and began motoring. As I approached the opening in the Bay Bridge/Tunnel, I decided to put some more fuel in the daytank to ensure the engine would not run out of fuel at a bad time. Unfortunately, I also transferred some water to the day tank--when I saw that, I quickly drained the water from the water separators, got out of the channel and anchored.

Anchoring took about 25 minutes because I had not anchored for three months and a lot of warm salt water had washed across the deck, rusting up the safety turnbuckle that holds the anchor in place when offshore, and waves had confused the chain pile so the chain did not want to feed out.

After anchoring, I got all the water out of the fuel tank, but then the engine would not start. This was due to discharged starting batteries, but I did not realize that (I was tired) until after cleaning up all the connections between the starting batteries and starter solenoid. Tried starting the portable generator to charge the batteries, but the generator sounded like it had thrown its connecting rod and it would not charge. Booster cables from one house battery to the starting batteries got the motor running and then I motored past the bridge/tunnel in time to anchor in a thunderstorm just after dark.

After a night of peaceful sleep, I motored into Willoughby Bay and docked at the ever-helpful Rebel Marina in Willoughby.

Though towards the end I was usually very busy, this was my most enjoyable passage to date. The weather was good, there were no major problems (and the minor ones were all dealt with) and there was a kind of serenity involved with this passage that is hard to describe, but enjoyable.

Picture was taken relatively near Bermuda, by the sloop Meridian, which was returning to Boston after the Newport-Bermuda Race.

Light Wind

22 June 2016
Light, but better, winds have been a great improvement after the calms.

No Wind

18 June 2016
The light winds that have been around for over a week got lighter. The picture is from a couple of days ago, when there was no wind. Motored all that night to get 60 miles north to where the GRIB forecast indicated there would be some wind in the morning.

In the morning, there was a little wind, enough to fill the spinnaker, so turned off the motor and started sailing again. Since then, the wind has very slowly increased, and the gusts are now over 10 knots most of the time.

Riding Sail

14 June 2016
From the heat of the Tropical Atlantic, at 22N, 51W, my thoughts have drifted back to Antarctica.

We anchored off Elephant Island (61 08S, 54 40W) to wait out a storm. There are no good anchorages at Elephant Island, so we spent a day motoring around to various places, looking for a reasonable place to anchor for the coming storm.

The best anchoring spot seemed to be a a shallow indentation off the beach on the NE (leeward) side of the island. The closest cliffs were not really high, so the gusts coming off them would be less than at several other places we looked at.

There was a sticky, mud bottom 25m down. The bottom fell off rapidly, so if we dragged anchor, the depth would increase quickly, so our effective scope would be reduced and the anchor might not reset, so we would be blown to sea to face the storm there. In the expected winds, motoring back to re-anchor would not be possible. We set and tested the anchor, and put the snubber on.

The storm built gradually. As the wind increased, Issuma charged back and forth on her anchor more and more. The windage of the roller-furled jib caused her to turn away from the wind, and move until the anchor chain tigntened, which turned the boat around and pulled the boat towards the anchor until it was close enough that the chain slackened and the bow blew off in the other direction to start the cycle again. This was putting a big, intermittent load on the anchor, and I was concerned that it might drag.

I set the mainsail with the fourth reef (love that fourth reef!) in, and sheeted it tight amidships. The motion of the boat immediately changed. No longer did it charge back and forth. Now the boat put a steady, lesser (than the peaks) load on the anchor, and swung very little.

It was exciting to watch the gusts coming off the cliffs, traveling down at a ferocious speed, hitting the water and causing clouds of spray to rise before they pushed out horizontally away from the cliff, raised waves, and made their way to where we were anchored. It was delightful to feel securely anchored while the storm howled all around us.

Light Winds

08 June 2016
Winds have lightened considerably over the last few days. I had the mainsail, both staysails, fisherman and spinnaker up yesterday. For many hours I couldn't get the boat to go faster than 3.5 knots, but late in the day, the wind picked up, and we began sailing at 5 to 6 knots. That was when I noticed that the spinnaker had a 2m long rip along one edge! So now the spinnaker is on deck, being repaired, and we are moving along fine at 4 to 5 knots with all other sails in pleasant, Force 2 winds.


28 May 2016
This is the first fish that I have caught since leaving South Africa. I believe it is called a needlefish. Another fish took a bite out of the needlefish while it was being dragged by the boat, so it was already dead when I brought it aboard. Not much meat on this fis, but it was quite nice ceviche-cooked with lemon juice & onion bits.
Vessel Name: Issuma
Vessel Make/Model: Damien II, 15m/50' steel staysail schooner with lifting keel
Extra: Designed for Antarctica. Built in France by META in 1981. Draft 1.3m/4.5' with keel up, 3.2m/10.5' with keel down. More details at
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Issuma's Photos - Main
Survey pictures taken of Shekin V
14 Photos
Created 29 April 2008