Sunday, July 20, 2014
From Webb Chiles
How To Escape 2005 I was sitting on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA at a deserted anchorage surrounded by nearly deserted Tongan Islands in the middle of a fine tropical day when a catamaran came around the point, carrying a large tattooed man with a television camera, who asked if he could interview me. Perhaps it is necessary to state at this point that this is true. He asked a good question: What advice would I give to someone young who wanted to sail around the world? I provided a brief television-size answer, but found myself thinking later that the question deserved a better, more considered response. My qualifications for giving such advice? I have sailed around the world four times without being born rich, winning the lottery, or seeking sponsorship. And I have escaped from the system into which most of us are born indentured servants, euphemistically known as in debt consumers, not once but twice. I did so both times by making five year plans. I am assuming that you already have a job. If you don’t, then get one. I held what are called regular jobs in my twenties. That was a long time ago and if it seems like a different lifetime, it was. If there are two of you and you both have jobs, all the better. If you absolutely refuse to work, you can always run for public office. So, assuming an income stream, what next? 1. Find a place where you can live aboard a boat. This precedes actually having a boat because living aboard is essential to the escape plan and finding a place to live aboard is increasingly difficult for reasons that I consider to be mostly specious. The number of boats on the water seems to have increased more rapidly than marina slips, and the number of regulations more rapidly than the number of boats. So scout around, get on waiting lists if necessary, or move. Climate is no excuse. I made my first escape from San Diego, where living aboard is comfortable, but my second from Boston, where it isn’t. 2. Get a boat. I am not going to tell you what kind of boat, because it doesn’t matter as much as many people ashore like endlessly to discuss. There is no one right kind or size of boat, though I think that going too light is probably a mistake in terms of longevity. Having said that, many of my boats, now seen as of moderate displacement, were in their early days thought by traditionalists to be excessively light, and my open boat, in which I sailed 20,000 miles weighed less than 900 pounds. There are some myths about weight, among them that heavier boats have more sea-kindly motion. While this may be true when you get into the maxi range, the difference is not all that great in boats under 45’, where going to windward in 20+ knots is going to be uncomfortable and keeping weight out of the ends of the hull is more important than total displacement. A definite advantage to a boat of moderate displacement that sails well is that it requires less sail area to keep moving, which means less physical effort by the crew and less strain on everything. While I believe that there are some advantages to a cutter rig, with the storm jib set as a staysail, the type of rig isn’t critical either. Schooners with the right proportions are prettiest, and my open boats were yawls, which hove to better than other rigs I have owned, but my present boat remains a sloop. Material? Wood is beautiful and has soul, but most people I know who own wood boats work on them more than they sail them. Steel is strong, but requires special maintenance and probably puts weight in places you don’t want it. I like the French unpainted aluminum boats. But the fact is that you are most likely going to end up with fiberglass, which has no soul but many virtues. I do suggest that if you are buying a used boat, you consider a solid rather than a cored hull. Cores save weight, but over the years can lead to problems. Sooner or later water is likely going to get into the core, as it has into THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s cored deck. I think I’ve fixed it, but am glad the problems are above rather than below the waterline. New or used is not a question if money is limited. I like many new boats, but buy new and you will still be around making boat payments while the person who bought used is on the other side of the world. Size? Bigger is not better. Bigger is more expensive and generally more complicated. I have stopped at 37’, having owned two 37’s, one 36’, and one 35’. This is big enough for two people, and I have almost no experience of sailing with more. One often overlooked advantage to boats of this size is that their gear remains manageable. Even in my old age, I still use a manual windlass because my biggest anchor is 35 pounds and the chain is 5/16’. Price? I have always had cheap boats because that was what I could afford. I paid $22,000 for THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, a Heritage One Ton, in 1993, when she was already 17 years old. I paid $35,000 for RESURGAM, my previous boat, an S&S 36, in 1984, when she was 6 years old. And while I spent a lot of money on upgrades, I look through the boat ads now and think you can still find many good boats in the 30’ to 40’ range that cost no more than a mid-range car. 3. Move aboard. Our slip rent in Boston ran about $5,000 a year, including utilities and an extra fee for winter snow removal. Rent ashore would have been about $1500 a month, which equals $18,000 a year. Save the difference of $13,000 a year for five years and you have $65,000. Not enough to live on forever, but more than enough to make your escape. But money is not the only reason to live aboard. The transition will be much easier when you sail away if you have already lived aboard for several years and adjusted to the limited space than it will if you have been living ashore. You will know your boat better being aboard all the time. See things that need to be changed, make small improvements that make life easier, free yourself of a lot of land possessions you don’t really need, and have the pleasure of hearing the water ripple against the hull at night—unless, of course it has frozen. Living aboard while working ashore is in some ways more difficult than actually cruising. You will have to find space for work clothes and other things you will have the pleasure of throwing away later. But I think that if you can’t live aboard in a marina, you had probably better find a different dream. I am told that golf is a good game. And many people seem to like to watch NASCAR racing on television. 4. Sail the boat. 5. Get yourself in shape. I have listed these two together because they are related and generally overlooked by those planning to go cruising. People work on their boats. They buy equipment for them—often excessively. But they don’t sail them much. And they particularly don’t sail them in bad weather. So when they do finally sail away and run into a storm, things break and/or don’t work, and it is all a big surprise, not to mention scary. Which isn’t improved by being seasick. Repeatedly I have heard people who have circumnavigated say that they had the worst storm of the voyage at either the very beginning or the very end. Considering that most cruisers come from North America or Europe this is not surprising. I don’t like bad weather and I particularly don’t like it close to land. I think that one of the truer litmus tests as to whether a person is a sailor is whether he seeks sea room in a storm. But we as a species are generally afraid of the unfamiliar, and I don’t know any other way to get used to strong winds and rough seas except to sail in them. I am not advocating that you leave your marina slip in the middle of a gale. In fact bad weather may well make the first hundred yards more dangerous than being fifty miles offshore, which is one of the reasons I keep my boat in New Zealand on a mooring instead of in a marina. But during the years of my first escape plan, I did sail as often as possible in such bad weather as Southern California could provide, usually in the winter. If it didn’t fully prepare me for Force 12 off Cape Horn, at least when I did face those conditions they were not a complete surprise. Well, perhaps they were. But you can sail around the world a very long time in the Trades and never see even Force 10. The part of the boat that sailors most frequently neglect to keep in shape is themselves. I have nothing against power windlasses, power winches, autopilots, except that sooner or later they are likely to break, and I think that if you really go sailing, sooner or later it is going to get physical. I have good winches on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA. The primaries are self-tailing Andersen 52’s. But sometimes it still takes considerable effort to trim the jib. And it is sometimes hard work just to move around the boat in heavy weather from hand hold to hand hold. Not to mention having to brace yourself while fixing something while underway. Or set the spinnaker. Or shift the anchor from the bow at the beginning of a passage and put it back in place before landfall. Or actually steer the vessel, which I hardly ever do, but in the past have for as many as 33 hours straight. That great American statesman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in his Mr. Universe days that the human body is a work of art, but most people are walking around in junk. So don’t just work on the boat, work on yourself too, and when something goes wrong, you will better be able to face it. 6. Toward the end of the fourth year of your five-year plan, look at the next year’s calendar and set the exact day you are going to leave. And then, unless it is blowing a gale from the wrong direction, leave that day. This is easier to do in some places than in others. In San Diego in late 1973 I set my departure for a specific Saturday in November, 1974 and even the time: 11:00 a.m. I left my office for the last time at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, and pushed off from the dock the next morning to the minute. In Boston weather kept us in the marina for two days past our set date, but we were ready to go. I see people running around doing things at the last minute before voyages. I see people delaying for months and even years because this, that or the other isn’t done or hasn’t been delivered. Look at the America’s Cup Syndicates, the Tour de France, the New England Patriots. People scrambling around at the last minute are not generally winners. You’ve had five years to prepare. If you are really serious about escaping, set the date a year in advance, do most of your final provisioning a month in advance, fill your fuel and water tanks, buy whatever fresh stuff you want in the last few days. 7. Go.