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Bad Marine Trends: Here, There and Everywhere

Copyright 2005 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander

The Good News is that 99% of what my wife Carolyn and I experienced during our recent trip around the world was good news! The world is a nice place, populated by mostly nice people, and you can have a good time almost anywhere if you bring the right attitude. Very few things we encountered turned us off or made us sad.

Let’s put it another way: we believe in accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative.

However, that said, we did experience a wide variety of customs, trends and experiences, and, of course, not all of these experiences were completely positive.

Since I’m often accused of ‘…only telling the good parts of sailing offshore,’ I’ll take this literary opportunity to mention some of the things, mostly fairly minor, which turned us off.

GUNS: The saddest thing we experienced during our circumnavigation was arriving back in the Lesser Antilles and listening to American yachtsmen endlessly discussing guns.

Guns, guns, guns!

We don’t carry a gun. We don’t like guns. And we certainly don’t want to spend the rest of our lives talking about them.

If you carry a gun aboard your boat, fine. I don’t begrudge you your choice at all. I respect it.

However, how in the HELL did guns and piracy become the main topic of conversation on Hog Island, in Chagaramus or at Foxy’s?

The most ironic aspect of ‘the gun issue’ is that few circumnavigators in the Malacca Straits, South China Sea, Madagascar or Africa ever talk about guns.

WEATHER GURUS: We love our local weather men and regional weather routers. The late David Jones routed us most of the way around the world—-and it was amazing how accurate his long range predictions were, despite that he was in Tortola and I was in the Tasi Sea between New Zealand and Oz!

Southbound Herb, St. John George and Alistair of Africa have all helped us at various times. We subscribe to Buoy weather (computer-generated day-by-day, advanced position-by-position, week-long email forecasts—-and we regularly get GRIB files via email over our PACTOR III modem.

The bottom line is: we get more weather information and advice than we know what to do with.

All that is the good news. What is NOT good news is the growing belief that if you are careful and pay attention to this data that you can sail around the world without getting into bad weather.

We think this is wrong. We believe, instead, that if you are in the right ocean at the right time AND carefully consider your weather data, this increases your chances of a fair passage considerably. But it does not eliminate it.

Basically we spent a solid year at sea in the four years it took us to complete the Big Fat Circle. That’s 365 days or 8,760 hours.

We believe during such a long period of time it is reasonable to expect being whacked by a major system offshore.

Here’s our actually experience: we were hove-to about forty times during our circumnavigation. This is no big deal. If the wind stays above 35 knots for more than a couple of hours and the seas have built to decent size, we heave-to. It only takes a couple of minutes. Then we relax. Smooch. Dig out the blender. Read. Laugh. Sleep.

Carolyn often makes bread during gales. And then we just wait it out. In fact, some of our best moments have been those ‘snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug’ days while storm-bound in the Indian Ocean.

Three times during our circumnavigation we were in severe weather. (In the Tasi, off Madagascar and coming into Cape Town). I define severe weather as a storm in which I’m truly concerned about the structural integrity of my craft.

The Madagascar blow was the only time in my life I was convinced that the slightest mistake at the helm would cause my vessel to pitch-pole or broach. (Conditions were a constant 44 knots with higher gusts, and very steep ‘opposing current’ breaking waves of 30 feet).

The bottom line is this: all the weather forecasts and weather routers in the world can’t help you survive a storm once it is upon you.

THE HERD INSTINCT: we don’t sail in packs for a number of reasons. 1.) I’m not a joiner. 2.) I hate waiting. 3.) Group decisions are often late, wrong and/or political. 4.) Packs tend to stay together and not meet the local folks—-and thus miss those wonderful, quirky adventures solitary couples often have. 5.) It offers a false sense of security. Take the Fastnet or Queen’s Birthday storms as example: were boats able to help each other or was the ‘safety’ of their proximity just an illusion?

Finally, when I’m in St. Barts and I hear a vessel come on Channel 16 to ask for a ‘buddy boat’ to travel in company with to Sint Maarten… I can’t help but smile. I mean, really!

THE SAILING OFFICE: I’m guilty of this. Since I make my living as a marine writer, I have very sophisticated communication systems aboard Wild Card: VHF, marine SSB, ham, email—-even a pricey SatPhone!

The plus side is I can always make my living anywhere in the world and the down side is everywhere I go in the world I have to make my living!

The worst part is that now my bosses can get in touch with me—-almost instantly. (This makes being stoned on kava in Tonga slightly less fun!)

If I missed a deadline before I used to say, “Well, I’m sure I mailed it… if you don’t get it within another ten days… I’ll send it again!”

This would give me plenty of time to actually write the damn thing.

Now my editor says, “Send it,” and if I don’t do so immediately, via the Internet, there is trouble. (“The reason we call it a deadline is because if you miss it… as far as we’re concerned, YOU’RE DEAD!” an editor told me early in my career and I’ve never forgotten his words).

The danger here is that we eventually won’t be able to ‘get away from it all’ while getting away from it all!

RELIANCE ON GEAR: people are beginning to think if their gear breaks it is defective or badly engineered. Not so. If a piece of sailing gear breaks, it is THE CAPTAIN’S fault for 1.) not having the proper gear, 2.) not maintaining it, and/or 3.) for having too much sail up.

Again and again sailors show me broken blocks, bent travelers and deformed tracks while saying, “Look what happened to this piece of junk! And I paid good money for it, too!”

…while I think silently to myself, “I wonder why the idiot didn’t reef?”

High winds usually aren’t a problem at sea IF you have the right sail up (or down).

People who talk about all the gear they broke during a gale are really telling you they didn’t reef early and well.

You wouldn’t drive a car with a sticky gas pedal, would you? Then why would you sail into a squall without reducing canvas?

ALL THE TOYS SYNDROME: There is a growing trend to think you can have it all, all the conveniences of your Aspen condo, on your yacht.

This isn’t true unless your pocket book is nearly limitless and you don’t live year-round on your boat (because so much time annually will be required to fix it).

Example: when we left South Africa we left behind a very wealthy friend and his mega-yacht. “I can’t leave yet because my radar and watermaker are down—-and my bow-thruster’s shaft seals are leaking…oh, and my refrigeration is on the blink too!”

“…sorry to hear it,” I said as we left, wisely not having any of that stuff aboard Wild Card.

OVER RELIANCE ON EXPERTS: again and again new boat owners complain about ‘the experts’ and how they ain’t. These well-heeled, trusting boat owners foolishly believe that 1.) expensive marine gear doesn’t fail, and 2.) If it does, you can hire someone to fix it.

Often, this is not true. While Europe, the States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the Lesser Antilles have a wide variety of skilled marine repairmen, most of the world does not.

OLD RICH FOLKS ON LARGE BOATS: we’ve actually meet couples in their late 60s or early 70s attempting to circumnavigate on very expensive, hi-tech sailboats longer than their age, 80 footers!

The idea here is that with the advent of electric sheet and halyard winches, in-mast and roller furling, twin engines and gen-set, and bow-and-stern thrusters… and hydraulic anchor windlasses… well, that the size and strength of crew doesn’t matter.

And big boats have an easier motion—-and can carry more Depends or whatever.

This is crazy. I feel sorry for these terrified old fogies as they helplessly drag sideways through the anchorage, regularly run aground and often crash into docks.

This trend has to stop somewhere. What’s a good rule: if you can’t dead-lift the anchor, don’t take it to sea?

Big boats aren’t just big money—-they require a higher level of expertise to run. You have to really plan ahead on a large vessel because by the time you realize you are in trouble it can already be too late.

Many of these couples would be perfectly happy on a 40 footer and would save five or ten million bucks in the process.

SPEED CIRCS: some hi-powered CEOs want to work full time AND sail around the world. They hire a ‘shore team’ to meet the boat so they can fly out the same day. The shore team then ‘does the heavy lifting’ of getting the vessel completely provisioned and ready for the next leg so the CEO can fly back in for sundowners at the yacht club and leave the next morning.

True, you CAN circumnavigate this way—-but you miss the people ashore, your fellow boaters, the countries… in essence, the entire cruising experience gets turned into something resembling… well, work!

Of course, everyone is different. If you happen to carry a gun, have all the toys, work profitably from your paperless web-connected nav table, love weather routers and sail a mammoth boat longer than you are old… more power to you IF you are having a good time. If you aren’t, I have three tried-and-true suggestions: simplify, simplify, simplify! (End) Cap’n Fatty is the author of Chasing the Horizon by American Paradise Publishing.

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.” For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com

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