Friday, April 29, 2011

Passage Making

A lot of you wonder what we do when we sail from place to place.  It's not so much what we do when we are sailing, but what we do before we set sail.  A lot of our preparation has to do with the length of the journey (anywhere from 6 to 48 hours, so far) but in general, we adhere to standard procedures that have become almost second nature to us.   Our next passage will, mostly likely, be a long one (48+ hours) - so we will prepare in the following ways:

1.  We check the weather:  Weather is the single most important aspect of passage making.  We learned this lesson the hard way.  It can, literally, make or break your trip.  If you plan on doing a passage that is 24 hours or longer - it becomes even more critical that you find an adequate "weather window", or a few days of decent seas and favorable winds, in which to move.  We get our weather a variety of ways - via websites (when we have internet), and through our SSB (single side band long range radio) where we are able to download detailed weather maps or "Grib" files and interpret them.  Thanks to our latest sponsor, Chris Parker of the Marine Weather Center, this is going to be much easier for us now!

2.  We prepare meals:  Even the slightest wave action can make cooking down below a real chore, so prior to weighing anchor, I create a meal plan and get everything ready.  I chop the vegetables, cook the rice, get snack foods handy and try to get meals arranged to that all I need to do is warm them up over the stove.  Not having to chop, rinse, clean, get ingredients, open cupboards and lift seat cushions makes life at a 20 degree angle while pounding into a head sea much more pleasant.  I boil water and fill our thermos so we always have hot water available for tea and I pull out a few Red Bulls so that they are within arms reach.  Popcorn has become a recent snack of choice, so we'll make this as well.

3.  We spot check the boat:  Prior to leaving on any passage, we go through the entire boat and check the gear.  We check lines for chafe, we inspect our shrouds and chainplates for any cracks or loose cotter pins, our boom vang fittings and shackles for any wear and tear...The sea is an unforgiving place and if you don't monitor your gear it can (and most likely will) fail you when you need it most.  Hearing a "snap" in the middle of the night in the pitch black darkness is not something we want to experience.

4.  We spot check the engine:  After having transmission problems back in the beginning of our trip, Scott and I have become pretty ridiculous about maintaining our engine.  Before every passage we check the transmission fluid and the oil, check the belt tension and coolant and generally, just investigate our pretty iron jenny for anything that looks amiss.  We are sticklers about regularly scheduled maintenance and perform all the required oil and filter changes as needed.  While we are a sailboat, our 53 hp engine is one of our greatest safety features.

5.  We ready the inside of the boat:  Because we are going "the wrong way" south we are, more often than not, pounding into some pretty serious waves that can be anywhere from five to twelve feet.  While our boat can handle this no problem, we need to make sure all her insides can as well.  We are very good about keeping our boat "ship shape" most of the time anyway, but prior to leaving we make sure that nothing below can become a projectile; we stow all our loose gear and make our home nice and tidy so nothing crashes, falls and/or breaks.  Cleaning up a pound of flour that has found its way from the counter to the floor, for example, would be hell underway.

6.  We make sure all our head lamps and spotlights are charged:  As much as I don't enjoy pointing out the blatantly obvious, night sailing is very dark.  Unless there is a full moon, typically you can see nothing beyond the bow of your boat.  Lights are necessary to see what is around you and check the sail trim.  We have two very powerful LED spotlights that we use (one is back-up) and we have learned (also the hard way) that we must make sure they are charged prior to leaving.  I also make sure our personal head lamps have batteries and are good to go.

7.  Lay out all necessary clothing:  You may or may not have gathered that getting items from down below while underway can be difficult.  It is for this reason we try to have everything out that we will need.  We ready our foul weather gear and have a few layers of clothes handy.  Typically, we won't change clothes the entire time we are out - but we will add or remove layers.  This makes the shower upon arrival all the more gratifying.  Sigh.

8.  Prepare the lee cloths:  On our boat we have what are called "lee cloths" or swaths of fabric that you can clip up alongside a bunk so that you don't roll out of bed when the boat is at an angle.  We have several good sea berths on the boat, and depending on our point of sail - I will set up that bunk so that whom ever is "off watch" can easily climb in and hit the hay.

9.  Get out safety gear:  Our jack-lines (webbed lines that run from the front to the back of the boat, on either side, onto which we "clip in" whenever one of us goes forward of the cockpit) are always run, so all we need to do is get out our inflatable PFD's (life jackets) and tethers (we use these).  We wear our PFD's without exception during night sailing.  Each of them have a harness, a whistle, as well as a mini strobe light.

10.  Secure the dinghy and dinghy motor:  Trailing a dinghy behind the boat is not a very wise thing to do when passage making, so we raise ours onto the davits and secure it with a web of ratchet straps and lines for minor passages - for longer passages, however, (like an ocean crossing) - we will deflate it and bring it on deck.  In addition, we remove our outboard and lash it to a motor mount on our push-pit so that it won't go anywhere either.

11.  Get rest:  Long passages can be very, very tiring for two people.  Scott and I maintain a three hour watch schedule at all times, meaning someone is on deck and "on watch" 24 hours a day - for three hours at a time.  This sort of schedule, despite what it might seem, is very exhausting, so Scott and I try to get as much rest as possible before setting off.  We also mentally prepare ourselves for how ever long our passage will be.  There is nothing worse than thinking you are shoving off on a "three hour tour" only to end up bashing to windward for two days.  Ask Gilligan, mental prep is key.

The theme here is preparation.  You must always be ready for anything when heading out to sea.  Making sure we have all of the above taken care of prior to leaving means we are better equipped if and when the unexpected rears it's (usually ugly) head.

Brittany & Scott


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