Sue and Adrian Payne and their sons George and Oliver left Britain six years ago aboard their 38-foot 1997 Westerly Ocean Ranger, Pagos.They had decided to sail around the world before even learning to sail. Departing in July 2003, they took a different approach from the usual well-worn path to the Caribbean. They sailed to Portugal and then Morrocco then went east to Algeria and Tunisia before returning to Gibraltar. From the Rock the Paynes crossed to Senegal and Gambia before calling at the Cape Verde Islands and the northeast coast of Brazil. They spent six months in the Amazon. To these destinations they added Trinidad and Tobago, Greneda and Venezeula. Next was a passage through the Panama Canal and the trip west to the Galápagos. They crossed the Pacific, spending Christmas 2008 at sea, en route to New Zealand where Pagos will get some refitting before the Paynes head toward Japan.
OV:How do you approach the subject of safety? Has your experience of sailing offshore influenced your thinking on safety?
S&AP: We bought our boat Pagos in 2002. We had never owned a boat or had any experience of even going on anything smaller than a cross channel ferry. Our two children were then 2 and 5, so we not only had ourselves to think about. Our first job was to rig safety netting around the deck and to instill into George and Oliver that no one was to leave the cockpit at any time without express permission. I think it sank in as even now, seven years later they still ask before they leave the cockpit when underway!
Sailing offshore has definitely shaped the way we approach safety issues. After our first offshore passage we invested in an SSB marine radio, which we use for weather, contact via e-mail and as a long range radio for nets when passage making. When passage making you have to rely on your vessel and each other, there is no one else to help you if you get into difficulty. But it should be said that it is far safer on passage across an ocean than a short trip from one bay to another. Miles of endless ocean, masses of sea room, no tides, rocks or leeward shores. We feel far safer on a 25-day passage than a 60-mile trip.
OV: How do you plan for medical emergencies. Have you received any medical training before you began voyaging?
S&AP: The thought of being in a situation where the life of a loved one was in my hands terrified me. I had a pretty good idea of how to use a band aid, but that was about it. I decided to enroll in an intensive seven day medical course, dealing with medical care aboard ship. As most of the participants were potential cruisers, the course was angled towards the specific problems which may present themselves on a yacht. Making readily available items useful for emergencies such as life jackets for splints and magazines or newspapers for neck braces were useful and pertinent for cruisers who neither have the space or the money to completely fit out their yacht as a doctors surgery. Adrian completed the basic three-day first aid course as well. Our family physician helped to make up our medical kit, amending drugs and dosages for our two children.
OV: What type of life raft do you have? How often do you have it serviced? What’s in your abandon ship bag?
S&AP: We have a four-man plastimo offshore life-raft, which was one of the first items of safety gear we purchased. Originally it was stored in our capacious cockpit locker, until we had an “emergency” day where we tried out all our safety gear. It took two of us 20 minutes to get the life-raft out of the locker, then we were too tired to do anything else for the rest of the day. We soon traded the valise for a cannister and now have the life-raft on the stern, easily accessible but out of the way of the everyday running of Pagos. We have had the life raft serviced twice in the last seven years. The first time when we changed the container and the last time whilst in Chile. Upon opening the life-raft we found that there was no safety equipment in there at all. (We were not present at the last service). We upgraded to Solas B level as it was the most we could afford to do at the time.
Our grab bag is bright yellow and sits on a shelf in the companionway. We have a hand-held GPS, plus spare batteries, a torch, fishing equipment, a hand held water maker bought off another cruiser for $50.00 which had never been used. There is also a compass, rocket flares, parachute flares and a welding glove to ensure no burns when setting them off. We have small in date prescription medicines we take and spare pairs of glasses. Water cannisters are filled and strapped to the stern rail next to the life raft.
OV: Do you have an EPIRB? What type of communications/signaling devices do you have in your life raft?
S&AP: We have a Pains Wessex 406 EPIRB. We keep it on the wall next to our SSB and VHF radios by the navigation table. Both George and Oliver know how to set off the EPIRB and how to make a distress call over the VHF and the SSB. For visitors on Pagos we have check lists by the radios, â€¢just in case.’ We have just replaced the flares in our life raft and have a parachute signal, two hand flares and a smoke signal. These are in addition to those in the grab bag. We also have a signalling mirror and a mouth operated signal horn. We believe that you should step up from your yacht into the raft, a boat is a far more safe, warm place to be than in a rubber raft with no creature comforts. We hear so many times of crews taking to a life raft, only to have their boat spotted days later, still afloat.
OV: What is your policy on wearing life jackets and or harnesses while underway? Do you normally rig jack lines on deck?
S&AP: We have a centre cockpit with really high sides and all of our reefing can be done from there. If we do need to leave the cockpit when under way we always wear harnesses and life jackets. When we started our voyage, George was 6 and Oliver 3 years of age so they were always harnessed into the cockpit, but now we have a more relaxed attitude. Pagos was fitted with stainless steel rigging wire jack lines when we bought her; other than checking them on a regular basis, we have never removed them. We can clip our safety lines onto them from the cockpit. Our safety lines have two clips on one end so we can swap to the opposite side of Pagos without being unhooked at any time.
OV: What type of weather information do you use when making an offshore passage? How do you gather the information?
S&AP: We are one of those strange breeds of sailor that never uses the engine unless absolutely necessary and therefore will not leave unless we have a good weather window. When on land with access to the internet we download files from NOAA and buoy weather. We also supplement this information with GRIB files via our Sailmail account on our SSB and weather faxes, which load onto our laptop. On passage we continue with the synoptic charts on weather fax and the GRIB files on a daily basis. If we have a long crossing to make we usually contact weather â€¢gurus’ such as Herb who runs a weather net throughout the Atlantic and Don Anderson who does the same in the Pacific. It’s nice to chat with someone and get a second opinion each day.
OV: Do you try to do weather routing and avoid bad weather at all costs?
S&AP: We do have routing charts on board for our long passages, such as the 2,500 miles from Easter Island to Chile, and our crossing from West Africa to Brazil. There are better months to cross oceans than others. Personally, we feel it would be foolish to make a long Pacific crossing in the typhoon season. We never set unrealistic time-scales, we are cruisers, not racers. For example, in 2007 we lost our forestay on passage from the Galápagos Archipelago to Easter Island. We had to wait four months for spare parts which meant, for us, September was too late to consider completing our Pacific crossing. So we went to Chile for five months and set off to cross the Pacific the following year.
Whilst on passage if we are aware of bad weather coming, we prepare ourselves and the boat and get on with it. We have now sailed over 30,000 miles with only one rough time, 50 knots of wind and 30-foot seas in the variables on the way to Chile. We couldn’t outrun the weather system, so we spent the time prior to its onset clearing the decks, removing anything with too much windage such as the cockpit dodgers and the bimini and set up the storm gib. We had lots of sleep, made sure we could cook easy meals and waited for it to hit. We hove to for 48 hours and rode it out.
OV: What types of safety gear do you plan to purchase and why?
S&AP: We have discussed buying a flare gun to supplement our array of flares and we do need to purchase new strobes for our lifebuoys as ours are waterlogged, but they would be the only things we feel we would need. All our safety equipment is in good working order and checked on a regular basis. We feel we have enough safety equipment on board Pagos for any emergency we may encounter.