A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Bluewater cruising in small boats
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2002 Dec 17, 12:06 +1100
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2002 Dec 17, 12:06 +1100
Joe Shields wrote: > PS: anybody ever do any bluewater cruising in a 22'-23' full keel boat? Lots of people (including myself, LWL 6.2m). As far as I know the current record for sailing around the world in a small craft is held by Serge Testa who did it from 1984 to 1987 in an aluminium boat he designed and built himself (and modified as he went along - the way you do) from and to Brisbane (S 27d E 153d) and then wrote about in '500 Days, Around the World in a 12 Foot Yacht' which was 'Self Published by Serge Testa' (! apparently this is one dude who believes in do-it-yourself) ISBN No: 0 7316 4849 8. It measured 11 feet 10 inches until he added a bowsprit later in the trip. I have seen 'Acrohc Australis' close-up, it sits in the museum in Brisbane. Not only did both sails furl from the interior, all controls were accessible from inside while the hatches were battened down. Although others may differ I don't think the size or even the suitability of the boat is really the most important factor. Its something else. Which reminds me of the cruise of the 'Lena' which I heard about in 1999. Of all the tales of the sea I've come across (and there have been a few; beginning, I guess, with Homer) there is one that sticks in my mind, and refuses to be forgotten. Its a true story. The source is a magazine article written by Alan Lucas (who wrote 'Cruising the NSW Coast' and much else) about a chap and his boat he met at Christmas Island, to the north west of Western Australia. This bloke was a Russian, who had the dream, upon retiring, of sailing around the world. For most Russians, for most people, it must remain an impossible dream. But he had a couple of things working in his favour. Firstly, when he retired from being an engineer, it was the mid '90s, the USSR was no more. Secondly, he had a boat on the Black Sea. But what a boat. 16 foot, built of plywood. Its about the smallest sailing boat that has an enclosed cabin. Strictly for sheltered water, it had no keel. I know what it was like because they exist here as 'trailer sailors', just for day-sailing and weekends perhaps, made for a few pleasant hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was the size of a large dingy. Even a 2 man tent is spacious by comparison. Without a keel it could be easily capsized, heavy weather could send it tumbling end over end, like a body surfer making an undignified and out of control trip into shore. Apart from that conventional wisdom has it that a boat for crossing oceans needs to be at least in the mid 30 foot range to have the space to carry the necessary food, water, fuel, spare parts, (books?). As it happened, this lack of carrying capacity wasn't to be his main problem. He had the equivalent of a few thousand dollars saved up to finance his trip. But it proved to be impossible to take his money with him. He was assured that he would be able to withdraw funds as he went. First stop was Istanbul. No money, and his first encounter with an unfriendly foreign bureaucracy (always such a change from an unfriendly domestic bureaucracy!). I forget the details, but he entered the Mediterranean worse off than he'd been in the Black Sea, they ripped him off. And so it went. Nowhere was he able to access his own money, and every port had its own problems. He was probably generally despised; for being Russian, for not understanding the language, for having such a ridiculously small boat, for being poor. He continued, out through the Pillars of Hercules and into the ceaseless swirl of ocean, then across the well worn route to the New World through the Caribbean, while suffering all the classic symptoms of malnutrition and scurvy. He was literally starving, while surrounded by so much wealth and waste, in America's favourite holiday destination. He got through the Panama Canal. Until recently the price of that was related to the vessel's carrying capacity, and calculated for cargo ships. For most sailing yachts it used to be surprisingly reasonable - his bill would have been modest. One has to supply at least 4 rope handlers. Yachties hang around the port, and provide this service for each other. Often they traverse the canal a number of times before taking their own boats through. On the other side, between the Galapagos Islands and the Marquesas, lies a vast stretch of open ocean. About a third of the way across the Pacific, with no land in-between. Most sailing boats take a month or more, it is often their greatest challenge, to carry enough food and water, and to put up with the other people on board, day after week after month, and to keep their vessel in good repair. One has to always be on the lookout for ropes chafing - or have them break, after a few days of rubbing somewhere constantly. If anything fails one has to either fix it or deal with the consequences. Most people try to be as well prepared as possible. A small boat is a slow boat, I don't imagine he broke any records for a speedy passage. He made it from the Marquesas to Tahiti, where the Commodore of the yacht club (who held a similarly elevated rank in the French navy) took him under his wing. This club, I have no doubt, is a seriously exclusive place, dominated by mandarins of the military. Beside all the great gleaming yachts, filled with marvellous gadgets, rarely subjected to anything more moving than a vigorous polish, lay this tiny battered scrap of a sailing boat and its emaciated owner, who had already sailed halfway around the world while running on empty. The mandarins were impressed. With the assistance of the Commodore and his mates, his boat was repaired and furbished ('refurbished' may not be correct), provided with charts, more or less useful bits'n'pieces, and doubtless much good advice. They would have fed him, too. That may have seemed almost surreal, as travelling experiences sometimes are, to go from starving to the cuisine enjoyed (expected) by these aristocratic gentlemen. Being Russian we can only hope he appreciated not least their excellent cognac. And so he continued, threading the necklace of Polynesian then Melanesian islands and reefs. In Brisbane the miracle happened, the Russian banking system came good with $500. I've wondered whether this could have been a delayed result of efforts made, possibly through diplomatic channels, by his French friends. So when Lucas came across him in the Indian Ocean he was happy. Things were going well. There were 2 photos. One was of the boat, with its name LENA in bold cyrillic characters on the hull. One advantage of not having a keel is that instead of worrying about anchoring or finding a mooring one can just pull up the centre-board and sail onto the beach, and this is what the picture showed. Simplicity is its own virtue, and leads to further simplicities - a dingy can thus be done without. The other photo was of the sailor, posed beside about 18 plastic bottles, freshly filled - his water supply. No two bottles were identical. Every time he acquired another ex-juice container he augmented his craft's fresh water capacity. He looked a very ordinary man, in his sixties, somewhat bald. The picture didn't show any hat, but I've since wondered whether he didn't wear one. One of those fur numbers with the flaps that fold down to protect the ears, the sort everyone in Russia sports in winter. It would be, I think, very practical, but may need to be laced under the chin to prevent it blowing off. And then? I'd like to believe, of course, that he made it back home. I suspect there were more trials to come. The Red Sea can be a tricky place to negotiate, headwinds, much traffic, and unfriendly countries on either side. The alternative, around the bottom of Africa, would have its own problems. The Cape of Good Hope used to be known, more accurately, as the Cape of Storms. And I don't know how he could have sailed through the Dardanelles and back into the Black Sea. Its great rivers (the Danube, the Dnester, the Dneper, the Don) provide most of the fresh water that flows into the Mediterranean through the narrow bottleneck of the Bosphorus like a river. Without a motor it would seem impossible, as the strong winds there tend to come from the north. Jason and the Argonauts did it with the greatest of difficulty, all straining at the oars. Quite likely I'm being unnecessarily concerned on his behalf. Along the way he would have come across just about every possible combination of wind and waves; they didn't stop him, neither did anything else. But then who would have believed that he could have made it as far as Christmas Island, in that flimsy little day-sailor without all the machines and technologies we presume are necessary, without lots of money we have no doubt is essential. Being Russian, apart from leading to all his problems, also, perhaps, enabled him to rise above them. Nobody, it seems, can simply endure like them.