Prepping the Aventura
13 March 2015 | Ft. Lauderdale
We are currently prepping the boat in Ft. Lauderdale, which is one of the three main yachting centers in world in addition to Antibes and Palma on Mallorca. This is the less glamorous side of the yachting lifestyle that is often overlooked: heavy lifting, maintenance, cleaning, provisioning.
Marinas are like hostels, they are all the same basic format, but with their own character.
Dunbar Lewis is originally from South Africa. He worked as an accountant for 12 years and transitioned to the boating world a year ago, needing a change from the corporate world. He and I are the "crew" of the Aventura, which means our job is essentially to do what the captain says.
The main job of the crew is standing watch; since the boat is moving 24 hours a day, there must always be somebody who is in charge of keeping the boat moving forwards as quickly as possible. With three people on board, that works out to 8 hours a day per person. We break up the shifts to maintain a higher level of alertness, for example a 5 hour watch in the day and 3 hours at night. This way no single person is stuck with the whole night shift.
You might think that standing watch means steering the boat, kind of like driving a car. Can you imagine doing a nonstop road trip across the U.S., the car never stopping? That would be a long three days. But it takes 30 days to cross an ocean. So as long as people have been sailing, they have been devising ways to make the boat steer itself, thus relieving the crew from "the tyranny of the helm". This means that while on watch, the crew has free hands to do maintenance, go inside to grab a layer and make a cup of tea, change sails alone without waking others and thus disturbing their sleep.
Self-steering was originally done with a "wind vane", a secondary rudder that works only if the sails are properly adjusted. Setting a vane is like tuning a guitar; it is easy if you are good at it, but very difficult for many people. If the vane is not properly adjusted, the boat is out of tune and goes off course. Vanes require adjustment every 15 minutes or 6 hours, depending on conditions.
A fully modernized boat has an electrically powered steering arm (autohelm) that will hold a course with the push of a button. If the sails are not adjusted properly, the boat goes slow or something breaks, depending on conditions.
Some people think that having the boat steer itself is cheating. I thought that myself the first time I heard about self steering mechanisms. But self steering is more like a cruise control on a car than an actual autopilot. If the wind comes up, you need reduce the amount of sail you have up. If it drops, you need to put more sail up to keep the boat moving. Sometimes the wind changes every 30 minutes, sometimes it holds for days. Changing sails can really be a lot of work, and it requires a blend of muscle, balance and finesse.
Besides watchkeeping, we split up meal preparation, cleaning, and maintenance tasks.
The two most harrowing jobs that might arise for the crew are going up the mast or going in the water. Both these things are quite fun while near shore or in port, but in the open ocean it can be a very intense experience.
The final challenge of crewing a boat on a distance sail is finding some sort of peaceful state of contentment with the situation you are in. Reading, movies, watching the wake of the boat, looking at stars, viewing wildlife and phosphorescence are my favorite activities. As the old adage goes, it can be heaven or hell. Are you on a glorious adventure or trapped in a prison with no escape? It all depends on your mental state.
We will depart on the 16th or 17th if the weather looks good, sailing nonstop to the Panama Canal. Our course takes us past the Bahamas and around Cuba.