A dicussion with British sailor John Driscoll

In 1995 John and Pat Driscoll departed the U.K. aboard their Camper and Nicholson 35, Moonlight of Down, for what proved to be a 41,000-mile circumnavigation. Driscoll, a former telecommunications engineer, has been a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club since 1962 and has held a British Yachtmaster certificate since 1978. An experienced voyager, he has amassed more than 100,000 offshore miles via racing and deliveries. Pat Driscoll has been voyaging since 1968.

Built in 1972, Moonlight of Down was purchased by the Driscolls in 1993 and refitted for extended voyaging. Deck gear includes a furling headsail, short battened mainsail with Dutchman singleline lazy jacks and slab reefing, autopilot, Hydrovane, and electric anchor windlass. Auxiliary engine is a rebuilt Perkins 4108. Electrical gear includes a 100A alternator, smart regulator, 270AH (2x135AH) gel-cell service battery, 1x90AH sealed engine-start battery, small static inverter 240 V, shore charger 110/240 V.

Communications and navigation gear includes B&G speed-depth-wind instruments; B&G GPS, radar, VHF, HF SSB (dual-rated for ham bands); and a combined NAVTEX/weatherfax printer. Handheld GPS and VHF are also carried. Safety equipment includes a life raft and 406MHz EPIRB.

John and Pat feel they’ve achieved the optimum setup for a 35-foot voyaging yacht. However, they find Moonlight a little small to live on after five years, and they are thinking of purchasing a 40- to 42-footer with a separate seagoing/in-port sleeping cabin.

OV:Do you like to equip your boat with all the latest gear, or do you prefer to take a minimalist approach? Why does this approach seem right for you?

JD: We do not agree with the minimalist approach, both from the safety aspect and the comfort/convenience point of view. It is far safer to know your position by GPS, know the depth of water and have the eyes of the radar, than to be without these aids. One has only to view the casualty boards in a U.K. lifeboat house to appreciate the huge losses of ketches/brigs in the late 19th century to understand the problems of operating sailing vessels in conditions that we would now term minimalistic.

Nevertheless, we are in a position to revert to basics at any time as we carry a Walker log, a spare steering compass, and a lead line. We also carry two sextants and almanac/tables, and we maintain two watches rated on radio time signals. An emergency battery-powered SW radio is carried in case the main 12 V system fails. We maintain a DR plot with celestial LOPs when on ocean passages. This retains the skills required to use celestial navigation, and it’s also interesting.

Regarding comfort/convenience, we definitely do not subscribe to a well-publicized “bucket and chuck-it” approach to voyaging. Whilst not aspiring to a luxury yacht, we appreciate the comforts and convenience of a toilet, electric light, a gas stove, hot/cold water on tap, heating, a fridge, TV, video, and audio. They have made our extended voyage so much more enjoyable than being without. This approach of enjoying the comfort and facilities but at the same time being able to fall back to the basics of a minimalist approach has given us the voyaging enjoyment and the security we seek.

OV: Do you try to learn exact workings of your systems in order to be as self-sufficient as possible, or do you rely more on shore-based repair services?

JD: In general I try to be as self-sufficient as possible. However, I rely on shore-based repair services quite heavily for some things. With regard to electronics, I have the following opinion: When I worked as a communications engineer in the vacuum-tube era, we understood the exact working of all systems, down to component level – e.g., the electron flow and potentials on each plate of each tube. In the chip and microprocessor era, however, that has changed. Even electrical engineers no longer know the exact workings of many systems. We understand the function of the system down to each sub-unit but are unable to diagnose to component level. If a sub-unit is faulty, the unit is replaced and the faulty sub-unit returned to the factory for replacement.

It’s the same with yacht electronics. For example, B&G instruments are hermetically sealed in the factory and are not even serviceable in the field. Some other units, such as voltage regulators and refrigerator control units, are encapsulated and are unrepairable if faulty. For larger equipment, circuit diagrams and workshop manuals are not always available, and if so are very bulky to carry on a 35-footer. It is not practicable for us to carry the range of test equipment and spares to deal with electronic faults down to component level let alone obtain the training necessary to do so. Therefore, these days, virtually all yachts are dependent on shore-based repair services for electronic equipment.

With regard to mechanical work – frankly, at my age, apart from oil changes, I prefer to employ an engineer to maintain the engine, etc., rather than go through the contortions and discomfort of doing it myself. However, I have previous work experience, from diesel generator maintenance to complete rebuild level, and therefore can oversee that any work is carried out to my satisfaction. I maintain pumps, toilets, winches, rigging, and sails but employ skilled joiners for any woodwork.

OV: How extensive a set of tools and spares do you carry on board?

JD: We carry a reasonably extensive set of hand tools. These are enhanced by the purchase of any additional tool that is found to be required – e.g., socket extension bars, second wrenches for lock nuts, etc. One highly useful tool is a cordless drill, rechargeable from the inverter. At the moment there are no known jobs we do not have tools for.

The only electronic spare unit we carry is a refrigerator controller. Apart from spare oil and fuel filters, the only engine spare we carry is a Jabsco raw-water pump and a set of refurbishment spares for this. We carry a complete spare electric water pressure pump, refrigerator circulating pump and galley hand pump.

We have spare kits for all hand pumps and deck winches. A double set of spare bulbs is carried with wire, terminations and connection strips. A 12 V soldering iron and a multimeter facilitate electrical repairs. With regard to rigging, we carry a spare pair of lower shrouds and a spare length of 8mm rigging wire for forestay/backstay/cap shrouds. Spare Norseman terminals and a spare rigging screw of each type are carried, together with a set of steering wires. A comprehensive sail repair kit and a collection of thimbles, D-rings, shackles, blocks, etc., are also on board, together with fasteners, adhesives, and general repair materials. The stowage space required for this collection is probably disproportionately large for the size of boat.

OV: How do you get the training you need to maintain and repair your boat’s systems?

JD: I was initially trained as a telegraph instrument maker and worked as a telecommunications engineer on overseas submarine cable relay stations for 38 years.

Most of my knowledge comes from my 50 years of experience with boats. Apart from the Professional Yachtmaster courses and a few manufacturers’ engine courses, there are no known training courses applicable to the maintenance and repair of voyaging yachts in the U.K. It is a question of reading the appropriate books, asking your friends for advice or help, and then getting on with it.

Yachtsmen who venture offshore are generally a self-motivated group. They learn as much as they can because self reliance is part of ocean voyaging.

By Ocean Navigator