Voyager interview

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Ken Cripps and Edith Kraus have been traveling aboard their 37-foot sailboat, Zephyrus, in search of new and exciting experiences for 13 years. During the past seven years they have explored Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Southern Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, Antarctica. Designed by Stan Huntingford and built by the owner of Ferro Con Industries for himself, Zephyrus is a ferro-cement sloop drafted from a photo of a wooden 1961 Swedish-built “Kinney” racing sloop. Currently, Zephyrus resides in Ushuaia, Argentina, while Cripps and Kraus are at home in Canada, working and starting a family. Due to the recent addition, they plan on finding a new boat to accommodate their growing family before they continue voyaging.

They have both worked extensively as biological consultants for the native American group, First Nations. Their occupation has taken them into remote locations of British Columbia where they have worked closely with and trained First Nations fisheries technicians to conduct fisheries assessments and successfully manage natural resources. Cripps and Kraus said their lust for working in the field with indigenous cultures inspired them to work with local scientists studying nesting gulls and terns in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico; sea cucumbers in the Galapagos Islands; and albatross and elephant seals in South Georgia, Antarctica.

ON: Why did you decide to go voyaging?

KC & EK: When I [Ken] was 22, I was planning on climbing in Southern Chile for a year. I decided, however, that I could put a down payment on a boat, sail to Chile and stay as long as I wanted. I bought Zephyrus and used her as a mobile home and an office for the consulting work that I was doing up and down the west coast of British Columbia. After six years, one evening I decided it was time to fulfill my dream. Just before my departure, I met my partner Edith, who was hired to replace me as a marine biologist in Northern British Columbia. Caught in the frenzy of leaving, I left without considering my life with Edith. When I arrived in San Francisco after an arduous journey, I called her up. She asked me, “If I had asked you to stay another year and we could sail together, would you have?” After a long silence, I said, “I can always sail back.” So I did. Back in British Columbia, we were able to work together and continue to live on Zephyrus. The following summer I made my second trip to San Francisco with Edith as my mate. Since we are both keen naturalists, the lust for adventure and wildlife dictated our path on a true Darwinian voyage of discovery.

ON: How did you choose your voyaging boat?

KC & EK: I [Ken] had read lots of information on boat design, stability and what constitutes an “ideal cruising boat.” I was obviously reading older literature because in my mind I was looking for a deep draft vessel with a modified full keel, narrow beam and slender stern. This is a perfect description of a classic late-’60s offshore racing sailboat. Being young, price was also an issue. After two years of walking the docks, I found the perfect boat.

ON: What preparations did you make to the boat before departing?

KC & EK: We’re a bit embarrassed to admit that we didn’t do any significant changes before we left for cruising. After six years of living on Zephyrus and using her to work in remote locations in British Columbia, I felt she had all the necessities to travel offshore. However, I did increase the fuel capacity from 18 gallons to 50 gallons.

ON: Did you do any formal training to get ready?

KC & EK: I [Ken] have been rebuilding small boats and outboards since I was 13 years old. My formal training consisted of buying a sail boat then buying a book on sailing. Within a week I sailed Zephyrus from Blaine, Wash., to Northern British Columbia in the middle of winter. I found experience to be the best teacher and, after eight winter trips up and down the B.C. coast, I felt the school of hard knocks prepared me to head offshore. Also, prior to owning our sailboat, in the course of our work we were responsible for maintaining and running boats of all shapes and sizes in various weather conditions and in locations of extreme tides and currents.

ON: What is your primary method of communications while voyaging?

KC & EK: For the first five years all we had was a VHF radio. It was not until we arrived in Southern Chile that we bought an old ICOM 700 and installed it using 10-gauge copper wire as an antenna. With this set up we were able to transmit and receive perfectly. The SSB performed two main functions. The first was to receive weatherfaxes from the local Chilean Armada. The second was to keep in touch with the few voyaging boats that were sailing the endless maze of channels in southern Patagonia. It was not uncommon to sail for three months and not see another boat. Therefore, the SSB allowed us to coordinate rendezvous to take advantage of some of the climbing and hiking opportunities the channels had to offer.

ON: How do you get your weather information?

KC & EK: Prior to arriving in Southern Chile, the barometer and a thorough understanding of the clouds were all we had. It’s amazing how quickly you become an expert on the local weather patterns when you have to. After we installed the SSB in Chile, we were able to receive weatherfaxes from the local armada. This was of minimal benefit due to the multitude of local affects on weather patterns. The best option was to head out and see what the weather was like. If you based your decision on the weatherfax, many times you would never leave the anchorage. While running a 48-foot charter boat on a scientific survey in South Georgia, Antarctica, we had an Iridium satellite phone and were able to download NOAA-generated GRIB files. These GRIB files showed time series information on wind direction, wind speed and barometric pressure. This proved to be invaluable for our survey of three species of albatross, which required us to make more than three circumnavigations of South Georgia. During this survey we were forced to work in some of the roughest and most inaccessible parts of the island. By carefully correlating weather information with local weather effects, we were able to accurately predict the weather in a seemingly unpredictable area of the world.

ON: Have you had any significant gear failures or emergencies while voyaging?

KC & EK: In August of 1997, year of the big “El Nino,�VbCrLf I [Ken] left on my first 700-mile offshore trip to San Francisco. During the southward leg, we beat into a southeast gale to storm force winds for 14 days. After 10 days in San Francisco, I turned around and sailed back to Canada in the same southeast winds. Two days into a six-day return trip, the 1-inch stainless steel shaft on our Hydrovane wind vane sheared. As a result, I stood at the wheel for two days until the winds picked up to 55 knots with gusts to 70. It was time to heave-to with a sea anchor. We sat comfortably in these winds while 30 miles away a 115-foot trawler sank in the storm. After 24 hours, the winds dropped down to 40 knots and, in my lack of wisdom, I decided to continue sailing north. The seas were spreader height and becoming steeper as we approached the ebbing tide running out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Never underestimate the ability of tidal currents to amplify sea state. Surfing down the enormous waves was becoming routine until a rogue wave, almost twice the height of the others, hit us by surprise. As we were careening down the wave face, I looked over my shoulder and saw a wave cresting at least 12 feet above my head. When this wave hit, I was covered in a wall of green and washed out of the cockpit. Clipped in with my chest harness and clinging to the life lines, I saw the spreaders hit the water, the dodger being washed overboard, and the boom and boom traveler hanging in the water. When Zephyrus righted, I quickly secured the boom sheet to a bridal off the stern cleats. This was a typical story, but in hindsight I should have stayed hove-to until the storm had completely passed and the sea state declined. After sailing for seven years down to Chile, Cape Horn and South Georgia, sailing close to home was the worst weather we had experienced.

ON: Do you attempt to do your own repairs or do you rely on boat yards?

KC & EK: As marine biologists living and working in remote locations, we needed to be completely self-reliant. While working in the field, if a boat breaks down we’re losing thousands of dollars a day. This forced us to be efficient at repairing and jury-rigging when necessary. While voyaging, we’ve never hired assistance to make repairs and we’ve done everything from rebuilding engines to re-rigging the boat. Like learning to sail, we found the best sources of information were repair manuals and talking to fellow voyagers. Often people feel the challenges of certain repairs are too great. This is often when people are caught up with work at home and have little time. However, when you’re voyaging, you have the luxury of time, and with time, any repair is possible.

ON: What has been the most significant thing you’ve learned while voyaging?

KC & EK: The best words of wisdom that can be offered to anyone planning on voyaging are to be confident in yourself. All the bells and whistles money can buy will not increase your confidence. Your boat will never be “ready,�VbCrLf so just go. Once under way, you’ll find what the boat really needs to be “ready.�VbCrLf Also, never have a schedule. When at sea, let the tides and winds dictate your schedule. If you don’t get in tune with the pulse of life at sea, it will continually be a challenge.

By Ocean Navigator