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How to Sail Around The WorldAdvice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail
By Hal Roth
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2004 Hal Roth
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Pleasure and the Freedom
This book is for people who dream of taking small sailing yachts across oceans, who hope to make extended blue-water passages, and who plan to live aboard for long periods. Or said another way: it's for people who want to become high-mileage sailors and to exchange the near and safe for the distant and unknown.
Margaret and I have had a wonderful sailing life for more than thirty-five years. We've crossed all the oceans of the world and have sailed to a thousand foreign ports and anchorages. Yet it seems only yesterday that we elected to sail and earn our way with words and pictures while living aboard a 35-foot yacht.
The people we know in the business world have made far more money, but their riches could never buy the satisfaction that's come to us from all our experiences and the pleasure of making friends in so many places. I think of watching all those sunsets at sea and the excitement of putting together a small shelf of books about our voyages.
On our first trip we traveled across the Pacific from California to Tahiti, Samoa, the Gilbert Islands, and through the four main islands of Japan. Then to the Aleutian Islands, southeast Alaska, Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands, and back to California. Another time we sailed to the GalÃ¡pagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Next we went to Peru, the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, and Cape Horn. Finally to Buenos Aires, Uruguay, a dozen places in Brazil, a stop in Bermuda, and on to Nantucket Island.
Whisper sailing into Attu, the westernmost island of the Aleutians.
On a great voyage in the 1980s, we sailed from Maine to the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal to French Polynesia. We spent a month in the Tuamotu Archipelago, 72 gorgeous palm-clad slivers of coral and sand barely above the sea, where the people seem to be half fish, half human because they live so close to the water. We continued on to Vanuatu in the western Pacific, a place where kinky-haired Melanesian men wore little more than penis sheaths but spoke four languages and knew more about world politics than I did.
Sailing ever westward, we glided along the coast of the immense, rust-colored deserts of Northern Australia. We stopped at Thursday Island and bustling Darwin, where we met Australians and Aborigines. Two months later, on a silky Indian Ocean, we tiptoed along Indonesia's necklace of islands. We took public buses across lovely Bali, an oasis of green hills and oh-so-gentle people, where the driver would stop and worship at a roadside shrine for a few minutes while his passengers sat quietly. Margaret and I stopped at tiny Keeling-Cocos in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Then to the tropical Seychelle Islands off the east coast of Africa and on to Somalia and Yemen, our introduction to the Arab world.
The sail north in the Red Sea was hot, hard, and dusty. We stopped in Port Sudan to fill our water tanks, and 10 days later we passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.
We rested in Cyprus during a mild winter, and the following summer spent a month each sailing along the coasts of Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain. Finally we crossed the Atlantic to Martinique in the Caribbean and headed north to Maine. We had gone entirely around the world in our little yacht, Whisper.
I had long wanted to try sailing single-handed to see if I had enough guts and technical skills to do it by myself. So in 1986–87, I set off and made a voyage east-about around the world by way of the Southern Ocean in a competition called the BOC Challenge. I sailed in an engineless 50-footer, and for the first leg traveled from Newport, Rhode Island, to Cape Town, South Africa. Then around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Southern Ocean to Sydney, Australia. Next past New Zealand and across more of the Southern Ocean until I reached Cape Horn. In the Atlantic once again, I sailed north to Rio de Janeiro, across the equator, and back to the United States. Margaret served as my shore support crew and met me at each of the three stops. I made the same journey in 1990–91, and once more my wife helped me.
In 1995, Margaret was again on board, and we were back to a 35-footer, a boat size we liked better. We sailed from the Chesapeake to Gibraltar and thence to northwest Turkey to begin a project to trace the voyages of Odysseus.
In addition to these six major voyages, Margaret and I have made dozens of shorter cruises: from California to British Columbia; Maine to Rhode Island; Maine to Maryland; and Maine to Florida and the Bahamas. In 2000 and again in 2001, we sailed from Maryland to Canada's Cape Breton Island at the eastern end of Nova Scotia. We circled the big island of Newfoundland twice, and in 2001 we made a long run northward along the coast of Labrador among the great icebergs that drift south from Greenland.
At 5 or 6 knots it takes a good many years to accumulate a significant total of sea miles. It's easy to exaggerate one's sailing or to claim a lot of miles as part of a big crew on a long voyage. It's quite a different game sailing with one or two. Our experiences include 5 trips across the Pacific, 11 runs across the Atlantic, and 3 jaunts past Cape Horn. In all, I have sailed 200,000 miles. Margaret has sailed 120,000 miles.
During our years at sea we've been on the yacht continuously, in winter and in summer, and we've visited parts of the earth that a tourist never sees. We've had moments of sublime pleasure and nerve-jarring agony. We've run before the gentlest of trade winds for a month; other times we've bashed into severe headwinds. Once we blew ashore in a frightful storm; another time we hit a coral reef because of an error on a new chart. But the bad times were few, and the good times were many.
I think back to some of our wonderful anchorages: the ethereal turquoise of tropical lagoons; the charming, butterflylike fishing villages along the southeast coast of Japan; the nose-tingling fragrance of cedars and spruces in the bays of southeast Alaska; the rose-colored flamingos flying overhead in southern Peru; yellow and green parrots chattering in the tropical jungles of Brazil next to the yacht; the chilling immensity of frosty, ice-blue glaciers that loomed above us in Beagle Channel in southern Chile; the storybook village of Bonifacio, hidden among the limestone cliffs of southern Corsica in the Mediterranean.
My mind becomes a kaleidoscope of twisting colors, out-of-focus landscapes, storms and calms, sail changes and anchoring. My ears ring with the babble of strange languages, sea sounds in the night, and the hooting of big ships in distant harbors. I hear the shrill sounds of the crier—the muezzin—who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day in the coastal towns and cities we sailed to in Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen.
I smell the cloying sweetness of drying copra in the tropics. I turn my head to sniff the iodine seashore at low water in the far north. I think of dolphins breathing alongside the yacht at night; of boobies plummeting into the ocean after fish; of frigate birds circling ever higher at the far edge of my eyesight. Of dozens of humpback whales spouting and jumping outside the port of St. Anthony in Newfoundland. I think of pleasant, lingering meals with new friends; the fun of shopping in strange markets with curious money.... All these thoughts make up the essential stuff of a happy lifetime at sea.
But half the magic of voyaging under sail is the wonderful journey itself. Yet when I tell people about being at sea and out of sight of land for a week or a month or even two months, they can't wait to ask questions. "How do you pass the time?" they say. "Aren't you lonely? What happens all day? How do you stand it?"
I stand it very well because I love the sailing. I spend hours in the cockpit or in the main companionway watching the yacht slip through the water. The boat glides across the sea effortlessly, quietly, day after day, while the water murmurs along the hull and the invisible wind and the white sails drive the boat forward.
It's all so easy and beautiful. I cherish the peacefulness and the simplicity.
The sailing is my dream, my goal, everything I want, and I secretly wish that the journey could go on forever.
The sun comes up in the morning, rises high at noon, and slips below the blue of the horizon in the evening. The days pass quickly and I have to look in the ship's logbook to see whether it's Tuesday or Friday.... We eat. We sleep. We fix things. We read. We reef and unreef the sails. We're becalmed. We deal with storms. We look around for ships. We try to keep her going day and night.
This is supposed to be a technical book. Yet I'm already wandering from the mark. You see I am an incorrigible romantic; who else would travel at a snail's pace in an era of speedy air transport?
The birch-bark canoe of the American Indian and the creaking, six-horse stagecoach of 150 years ago belong to another age. The small sailing yacht is hopelessly antiquated, too. These boats are slow, often intolerably uncomfortable, difficult to build, and expensive to maintain. Yet the popularity of sail for long-distance traveling is increasing at a surprising rate. How can we explain this? By any rational analysis, a sailing vessel should be tucked away like a museum replica of an extinct bird. Can you imagine taking three or four weeks to sail from Boston to Gibraltar when a jet plane can do the trip in a few hours and at far less cost?
The answer is that life under sail—especially in your own vessel—is highly appealing because it is simple, basic, and infinitely challenging. Your existence goes back to first principles. At a stroke, you erase 90 percent of the trivia of modern life. You travel to new places at your own pace and can linger as much or as little as you wish. In no other activity except perhaps mountaineering are you so independent and so accountable for your own actions.
View from aloft on a modern sloop-rigged yacht during an Atlantic crossing from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas in 1997. Here Whisper runs easily before the fair trade wind with an eased mainsail and a poled-out headsail. The line at top left is the starboard running backstay. The other line is a trailing fishing line. The standing backstay is hard to see.
You alone put food on board. You alone bend on the sails and adjust them. You alone choose your sailing waters. You alone are responsible for finding your way on the sea. You alone select the anchorages. You alone are in charge of the upkeep of the yacht. If you get into trouble, it's generally you alone who must bail yourself out. The business of solving your own problems, making your own repairs, and looking after yourself is satisfying and grows into nice feelings of independence, confidence, and self-respect.
It was my friend, the late Hawaii-based sailor Bob Griffith, who spoke of "the pleasure and the freedom" inherent in world cruising. What a lovely phrase: the pleasure and the freedom.
However, before we hypnotize ourselves with words, we need to be realistic. Listen to this wise counsel from Guy Cole:
... for every one engaged in long-distance cruising there are probably a thousand others who dream about it. The trouble with many of these dreamers is that they seek to project themselves from an environment which they find completely unsatisfactory, into one which they regard as wholly desirable, without considering the steps which come between. Therein lies many a personal tragedy. Much of this can be laid directly as a charge against the people who write books about long-distance cruises. They make it all sound fatally easy. "The wind had now worked up to Force Eight and we pulled down a couple of reefs in the main...." Impatiently, the reader flips over the page to see what happened next. Yet, concealed within that careless sentence, is half an hour of bitter struggle, wrestling with refractory canvas, in the blackness of a rain-squall, while being thrown around the decks of a small boat pitching and tumbling in an ocean swell.
Worse still are those who write books describing how they simply bought a boat, and sailed away—just like that—without any knowledge of seamanship or navigation, or anything else. It has been done. There is no denying it. But in order to survive for long enough to enable them to acquire the necessary knowledge to carry on with their cruising, these people must have been extraordinarily lucky. And we hear nothing of those who failed miserably, or never got started, through inexperience.
Cruising under sail is a hundredfold more complex than merely buying a suitable yacht. We know this because the marinas and harbors of the world are dotted with private pleasure craft, most of which go nowhere at all. There are tens of thousands of boatowners but very few sailors. Pay attention to this phrase: lots of boat-owners but few sailors. And a sailor you must be if you're going to try ocean voyaging. You need a modicum of sailing aptitude, some ability to fix things, and the willingness to pitch in and work.
Most veteran long-distance small-boat sailors are free spirits who fall into the classification of restless adventurer and who are always looking at distant horizons and trying new things. These spooky engineers usually lack fancy certificates, but they've all served fairly intensive apprenticeships and have learned a good bit about the sea, the care of their vessels, and the management of themselves.
To learn the fundamentals of sailing you need to go to a special school for a few weeks. You will be taken out in a dinghy or small vessel for instruction in sail handling, tacking, gybing, docking, maneuvering in restricted waters, and following safety procedures. Then you must practice as often as possible and serve as crew for friends on their yachts.
In the beginning you will be only a grunt, but little by little it will come to you. Every time you sail on a different vessel you learn a thing or two because each captain has his own way of doing things. You need to practice stitching sails, to find out about anchors and rigging, and to get some notion of sanding and painting and fixing things because life under sail is a never-ending round of maintenance, modifications, and large and small repairs.
To master celestial navigation requires specialized study and practice, although the mysteries of the sextant and related calculations are much exaggerated.
I know that global positioning system (GPS) instruments are far easier to use and more accurate than sextants for keeping track of your position. I use a GPS device and it's wonderful. However, I believe that you should be able to navigate with a sextant as well. Suppose your GPS unit (and the spare) stops working, you have a battery problem, or the system itself is shut down. At least take a sextant, a book of instructions, a small, portable shortwave radio (for time signals), and a current nautical almanac with you.
Celestial navigation is fascinating, and it gives you a good feeling to find your way by measuring the angles of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. When you shoot stars with a sextant, you soon learn to identify some of the constellations; it's fun to sail your way through the night sky by identifying a few pinpricks of white light. (Of course, everybody knows that stars aren't stars. They're tiny openings into the vault of heaven itself....)
You must have patience to learn the craft of sailing, which has set and orderly ways of doing each operation, schemes of success that have been polished and refined for generations. Even the nautical vocabulary is specialized because sailors must be able to describe every part of a vessel and talk about each maneuver and action with unmistakable precision.
You can pick up the fundamentals quickly, but half a lifetime is scarcely enough to perfect your techniques. A good sailor is always studying and learning and asking questions. Fortunately, the people who travel on the sea tend to be literate souls who often write books, and there's an astonishing pile of publications out there. These fall into three categories:
1. Technical books that show you how to tie knots, identify sea-birds, adjust a compass, bake a halibut, or make sense out of a radar screen.
2. Cruising guides—usually with maps and sketches—that tell about Vancouver Island or the Portuguese coast or where to anchor in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
3. Accounts of voyages. Recollections of the joys, triumphs, heartaches, and disasters of small-boat sailors. There are hundreds of these books—some excellent, some middling, some dreadful.
You can hurry along your learning process with selective reading, but in spite of the help and pleasure from books, you must find out about sailing firsthand. You do not become a seaman by reading. You need practice. You need to pry your eyes open at 0200. You need to get your hands dirty.
Excerpted from How to Sail Around The World by Hal Roth Copyright © 2004 by Hal Roth. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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