Storm tactics for small vessels

Storm tactics for small vessels

When we leave the safe, predictable environs of our local cruising grounds, we find ourselves learning, sometimes the hard way, how to survive storms at sea. During my 2000-05 circumnavigation on the 1966 Cal 30 sloop Saltaire, that’s how I learned to survive gales, groundings and even a full knockdown, always emerging victorious against the elements. Crossing oceans on a larger yacht certainly offers obvious advantages. We all know a larger craft is more stable in a seaway, cutting through swells smoothly rather than bouncing over their crests, and offering a smoother ride for her crew. In a small harbor,…
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Using Satellites to “Sound” Atmosphere and Ocean

Using Satellites to “Sound” Atmosphere and Ocean

Even when going boating in my home waters where I think I know every stand-alone rock and the boundaries of channels and will only be out for a few hours, I check the weather and carry a navigation chart. Mariners have done this for as long as there have been boats, but the technology for creating forecasts and charts has evolved steadily over time. It’s making big leaps now through changes in the way satellites collect data about the atmosphere and ocean and how it is analyzed. The first U.S. satellite was launched to counter Russia in the space race,…
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Protect Your Boat from Lightning

Protect Your Boat from Lightning

If there is anything equally as scary to an ocean sailor as falling aboard, it is the highly unlikely yet still extant possibility of being struck by lightning at sea. Like a giant battery in the sky, the negative post on that wispy, amorphous blob of a cloud is always looking for the shortest path to ground, which in this case means the highly conductive saltwater on which you are sailing—or the highest conductive point on your boat. So there you are sailing along, listening to Jimmy Buffet on the stereo, blissfully unaware of the big cloud’s intentions as it…
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Feel of the Wheel

Feel of the Wheel

There’s nothing quite like the feel of a tiller or wheel in your hands, that tactile sensation of flesh on wood as you steer the vessel to a distant waypoint. To me, this has always been the most rewarding part of sailing. With gentle movements of your fingers, the boat responds—silent, stealthy, ready to go anywhere there’s wind. Driving a boat is all about the senses, and the skilled sailor learns to use them all. The wind on your face, the angle of heel and the gurgle of water sliding past the hull all play a part in the ballet…
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A Rare Tropical Storm in the South Atlantic

A Rare Tropical Storm in the South Atlantic

On Feb. 18, an area of low pressure just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro was identified by the Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center’s Serviço Meteorológico Marinho as a subtropical depression. Two days later, it became a tropical depression and that evening was named Tropical Storm Akará. This was surprising news. Tropical storms are uncommon in the South Atlantic Ocean, leaving the impression they don’t exist. While there’s no official South Atlantic season, tropical weather does occasionally form between December and May during Southern Hemisphere summer and fall. NOAA’s Office of Satellite and Product Operations makes projections of tropical storm formation and gives positions…
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Sampling the oceans by boat

Sampling the oceans by boat

The top layer of our ocean is called the “Sunlight Zone.” At the surface and down to about 200 meters are live microscopic floating algae called “phytoplankton” that are critical to life. Voyagers on trans-ocean voyages can and do participate in the study of phytoplankton. More data is always better so data gathering by voyagers helps increase our knowledge of what’s happening with the world’s oceans. Now new gear from several companies can make gathering this data easier for voyagers. Plankton, from the Greek word planktos meaning wanderer, defines a lifestyle rather than a specific organism, and includes all water-borne organisms that…
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Schooners, cannons and mermaid

Schooners, cannons and mermaid

By Rob Laymon The three-day Dana Point Maritime Festival takes place every year in September. It’s a good specimen of the thing called a sail festival, that strange waterborne Saturnalia dear to the sailor’s heart. Other festivals take place in California, including in San Diego, sometimes sporadically, sometimes just once or twice. But the Dana Point festival has proved tenacious.  Exy Johnson, the schooner I was captaining, had motor-sailed to the the Dana Point Sail Festival in southern California from San Pedro. We departed with our cannons all aglint and our cartridges packed. Two other boats from the Los Angeles…
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West Penobscot Bay coastal passage in thick fog

West Penobscot Bay coastal passage in thick fog

Fog on the Maine coast is difficult to forecast accurately. If it descends mid-voyage you deal with it; fog that comes while still in harbor throws sailing plans into uncertainty.  Early summer this year was foggy and rainy, but by the time we left for our three-week cruise on our Sabre 30, Ora Kali, the weather was warm and clear. At the end of August we reached our furthest destination west at Tenants Harbor and were departing east for home on Frenchman Bay. The decision to do so was given urgency because I wanted to get Ora Kali out of…
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How robust is your rope?

How robust is your rope?

Having taken us two and a half years to build, we had just launched our 36-foot carvel-planked cutter when the bad news hit: a hurricane had formed and was quickly heading our way, targeting the area where our boat was berthed. Since the marina would have little to no protection from the wind and storm surge, we had to get this engineless boat up river, anchor, and then, with no ands, ifs or buts about it, stay put. We had already purchased our storm anchor, a 70-pound Luke (fisherman-style) anchor, and our main bower, a 50-pound SuperMax anchor, as well…
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A sustainable future for shipping?

A sustainable future for shipping?

A hundred and fifty years ago big ships under sail crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailing south from Europe to cross on the trade winds then up the coast of the Americas to return on the westerlies. With current concerns over climate change driving the need to cut carbon from using fossil fuels, will we once again see fleets of ocean-going trading boats loaded down with flying canvas and no engines?  A recent book, Trade Winds: A voyage to a sustainable future for shipping, by Christiaan de Beukelaer looks at the complex journey the shipping industry is on to cut its…
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