Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

* Why people take to the sea in small boats – part 2 of 4

Why do people sell up, move aboard a small boat and sail off into the blue?  Some years ago, Cruising World magazine interviewed some of the best known longtime voyagers and liveaboards and asked them what motivated them and what they’d learned along the way.  It makes for fascinating reading.

In Part Two, these voiyagers talk about how they chose the boats they did and what they leared about their homes on the water. “Thirty feet of length with only 8 feet 6 inches of beam makes for a very small home, a size which nonetheless suits us well. Logistically its just at the limit of allowing us to visit our destinations for the length of time we wish. That’s part of the challenge and makes for tight calculations,” reported Thies Matzen, owner of Wanderer III, Eric and Susan Hiscock’s famous boat.

We Just Kept Going: an Oral History of the Cruising Life
By Elaine Lembo and Tim Murphy
(published by Cruising World 10-Sep-2004)


Scott Kuhner: After graduating from college and becoming gainfully employed, I took one of my first paychecks and bought a Sunfish to sail on weekends. Two years later I became engaged to Kitty, and three days after the I-dos, I gave Kitty four books written by Eric and Susan Hiscock: Cruising Under Sail, Voyaging Under Sail , Around the World in Wander III, and Beyond
the West Horizon. After spending two summers cruising from Connecticut to Martha’s Vineyard on our 23-foot O’Day Tempest, and after reading the Hiscocks’ books, Kitty bought into my idea of someday sailing to the south Pacific. But we would need a bigger boat.

That fall of 1970, we found what we thought was the perfect boat for our adventure. There was a pretty little Ketch abandoned on a mooring in City Island. We made an offer of $10,000 to the owner and got a call two days later confirming that we were to become the proud owners of Bebinka, a 30-foot Allied Seawind Ketch. We knew she was sea worthy because Alan Eddy had
already completed a circumnavigation on the sister ship, Apogee, which was the first fiberglass boat to sail around the world. We spent the next year preparing our new boat for a trip to the South Pacific. We installed a new diesel engine, new stainless-steel water tanks, new sails, a Hassler self-steering gear, and enough charts to sail from New York to Sydney, Australia. We also took celestial navigation lessons at the Hayden Planetarium.

We left Long Island Sound in October 1971 and went down the inland waterway as far a Cape Fear. The 12 days it took us to sail from cape Fear to St. Thomas was the first time either Kitty or I had made a major offshore passage or used a sextant in earnest. For a few days the wind blew hard and the seas were big; but Bebinka proved to be as seaworthy as we had hoped.  Every day we worked out our position using the sextant and plotted our position. On the twelfth day , after plotting our position on the chart, I told Kitty that we should see St. Thomas in about two hours. An hour and a half later St. Thomas appeared on the horizon. That was the first time that I knew, I knew where we were. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Lin and Larry Pardey: Our first boat was the 24-foot-4-inch Seraffyn; our second boat was the 29-foot-9-inch Taleisin. We chose both because they were designed to carry a good payload yet be fast in light winds. They each have a wonderful motion at sea and are designed to heave to very well. They’re also really fun to sail; there’s no need for an engine; and we really like the look and feel of each boat, the ability to pack on lots and lots of light air canvas. We might have liked more ballast on Seraffyn, but we would definitely choose the same boats again.

Beth A. Leonard and Evans Starzinger: We did the tropical circumnavigation aboard our first boat, Silk, a Shannon 37 (double headsail ketch) which we picked based on the write up in Ferenc Mate’s book The World’s Best Sailboats. Our second boat is a 47-foot custom aluminum Van de Stadt Samoa sloop which was designed to be much more of an “expedition boat”–strong enough to deal with rocks, ice and trawler docks, able to handle the cold weather and strong upwind conditions found in the higher latitudes and with sufficient interior space and stowage for an open-ended voyage of a year or more to remote areas.

Silk was a great sea boat, easily handled in all conditions and almost impossible to get into trouble with but we had persistent reliability issues with the centerboard. Hawk is incredibly strong and sails almost as well as a flat out racing boat, but keeping paint looking nice on the aluminum coach roof is a continuing challenge.

Ida Little and Michael Walsh: We chose our first boat, a wooden 40-foot English Channel racer converted to cruiser, because it was affordable (cheap) and big enough to take us comfortably to sea for an indefinite length of time. We soon learned that a 12-ton boat with a 6-foot draft didn’t let us safely get close enough to most shorelines. Because we had learned from Sheldrake that deep draft cruising didn’t suit us and that we really didn’t like anchoring out, our next boats were a Hobie Cat and sailing canoe. With these small boats we cruised through the Bahamas, camping ashore each night. This worked so beautifully that we continued for years.

After years of shore camps, we thought about getting a shoal draft boat that would be more comfortable and more seaworthy for the crossings between the island groups. We could not find the boat we wanted in 1979. So we built our own “canoe cruiser,” Dugong, from plans that Phil Bolger drew up for us. On our shakedown cruise with Dugong we happened to meet up with Julius
Wilensky who was working on a cruising guide to the Keys. He convinced us to try the Keys instead of the Bahamas. We not only tried it but continued cruising the Keys and the islets west off Key West for four years.

While cruising in the Keys we began to think about a boat capable of crossing to the Bahamas. We met Beachcomber and her builder, Warren Bailey, in the Key West Yacht Club. He was having a hard time finding someone as eccentric as himself who would want such an unconventional boat. She was perfect for us. At 36 feet with 18 inches of draft, we considered her a bigger version of our Dugong.

Her flat bottom and retractable prop shaft, centerboard, and rudder and made her ideal for the thin water cruising we loved. Though she could move along fine, she couldn’t sail to weather nor push into steep seas as well as a heavy, deep keeled boat. We took this as a sign that whenever possible, we should do our best to broad reach, on gentle seas. This suited us pretty well.

Dave and Jaja Martin: My choice to rebuild a Cal 25 and sail it around the world was financially motivated: It was the only boat I could afford. I wanted to cross oceans and I wasn’t too particular what kind of boat got me out there. Going was all that mattered, and the sooner the better. I was 22. Youth has a lot to do with being able to cope aboard a small boat.

Thies Matzen: I am a wooden boat builder by trade, so it has to be wooden. I know and like wood, the voyages inspiring me to cruise were done on wooden boats. Wooden boats are pleasing in all three stages of their life: one likes to gather around them when built, they charm in their active life, even as wrecks they remain pleasing. Accordingly, more so than boats of other
materials, in each stage they blend well into our flow of being. Our yacht Wanderer III can be called the ‘mother of all cruising yachts’ and had completed three circumnavigations when I bought her. She was an idol I had wanted to build, but never thought of buying. In a way, meeting her at the right place at the right time, I was lucky that she chose me.

Her simpleness is proven. She has done 270,000 miles in five decades and one is hard pressed to come up with another cruising yacht as pelagic as her. She is well built with a high displacement-to-length ratio. Therefore, she doesn’t shine in light conditions, but she stands up well to much wind. We never keep her in flash looks, but under a good coat of paint. Thus we worry little about possible rough treatment by, for example, visiting canoes. I’d rather be comfortable with wooden clogs than to have to unnaturally tip toe for the sake of shininess. Harmony matters more than a shiny and polished boat. If a boat is beautiful, you can dream with it, somebody will care for it, somebody will take over caring.

During my first years with Wanderer the North Atlantic Islands, Scotland, Northern Norway was the cruising ground. Since 1987 we began sailing circles on all other oceans. Though Wanderer has done it often, to me it has never been important to sail around the world, but to sail around in the world. Of importance, though, was to get back to my Samoan family under my own wings.
Similarly, to sail around Cape Horn, for example, had never been an aim and didn’t mean much to me. Records are without meaning. The biggest, highest, fastest are not criteria by which I measure my life. But when somebody who had been at the Horn eight times said that both the Horn and the Wollaston Group are of tremendeous beauty and that we must see them, that was a
criteria that appealed to us. And we went.

30 feet of length with only 8 feet 6 inches of beam makes for a very small home, a size which nonetheless suits us well. Logistically its just at the limit of allowing us to visit our destinations for the length of time we wish. That’s part of the challenge and makes for tight calculations. She could do with a bowsprit and more sail area; with the transom less submerged or more carrying capacity. Yet considering her size very little could be improved for what she does with us. The characteristic I value highly is her standing power in high winds. She’ll hold her ground under sail. She hoves to well. Her drift is minimal, something of underrated importance for a small, underpowered boat.

As small as Wanderer is we have, like marine mammals which molt, to lose our skin every now and then to remind us of the essentials. And that’s not limiting, but healthy.

Kicki Ericson: The boat came with the man- an excellent package deal.  The best about Wanderer III is that she provides for our needs so efficiently, without excess. I do, however, sometimes dream about having a decent-size double bunk

Annie Hill: Most of my sailing has been aboard the 34-foot, plywood, junk-rigged Badger that I built with my former husband, Pete. We chose her for a variety of reasons, low-cost being paramount among them. She proved to be a marvelous boat, far better than such a simple vessel should have been! She gave us so much in comfort and confidence that we ended up sailing her
both to the Arctic and the Antarctic. She left my life when Pete wanted to build another boat. Because I parted so reluctantly with Badger, I suspect it’s impossible for me to be dispassionate about her. Her best features were undoubtedly the rig and deck layout that made it possible to do everything from the protection of a small circular hatch, sheltered by a revolving ‘pram
hood’. I don’t like deck work and I loved being able to sail the boat singlehanded when I was on watch. The accommodation was all that one could have hoped for and the ease and cheapness of maintenance meant that we could live on a very low income and do a lot of sailing. Badger’s drawbacks were that she tended to hunt around at anchor, due to the big foremast and sail, and the lack of forefoot. Her windward performance was nothing to boast about and at times I wished for better, but it was a very small price to pay for the virtues of the rig. In all honesty, I think those are the only criticisms I could make!

My present boat is a 35-foot gaff cutter–a Wylo II designed by Nick Skeates. She was built in Australia by Trevor Robertson, who invited me to join his ship a couple of years ago. Iron Bark is handsome and husky and her steel hull is very reassuring. The rig is powerful and in the right conditions she will make over 7 knots for hour after hour, comfortably and without fuss, but I find the
rig daunting and don’t have what it takes to sail her singlehanded. However, Trevor is happy to do the deck work and as she’s a forgiving vessel, we often carry the same sails for long periods.

Dan and Mimi Dyer: Rabbit is a Hood-designed Black Watch 37–seaworthy, fast and pretty. Her traditional good looks made us new friends wherever we went, but all that brightwork made for high maintenance. (We’re still at it, with no regrets, in her 36th year!)

Joe Minick: Along the way, we chose boats that met the needs of our budget and a family of four. When it came to Southern Cross, we were looking for a long distance cruiser, built heavily enough to take what may come our way and with enough volume to carry tankage for long trips plus all the supplies, spares and equipment we might pack aboard along the way. She is well down on her lines now but carries her load well and with the exception of some speed lost to windward when the seaway is large, retains virtually all the performance exhibited in her lighter days. Many things feed into the equation when selecting a cruising boat but for us, after structural integrity, we needed something that two people could handle with relative ease in all kinds of
conditions. The Mason 43 has fulfilled all of our requirements for shorthanded cruising. We can heave to on just about any combination of sails and have ridden out some minor gales and a Force 8 hove to comfortably. While not the fastest thing on the ocean with her full keel and attached rudder, she points well, is seakindly and comfortable while giving us many a 160- to 180-mile day.

I have long favored a cruising rig that uses a large main and a fore triangle divided into two sails areas. The double headsail rig on Southern Cross is quite similar to that we were familiar with on Altum Mare and has always served us well. The large main drives well in conditions that would require at least a reaching spinnaker with a high aspect rig. We do make use of an asymmetrical spinnaker in light air off shore but rarely carry it into night as this becomes a bit much for one person to handle in the dark. We have the usual complaints centered around the lack of storage space for “more stuff” but when you realize that we carry a sewing machine, a dehumidifier and have two air-conditioners, a watermaker, 150 gallons of diesel and another of water plus a 1,000 amp-hours of batteries below decks you soon realize that we, like everyone cruising, will never have all the storage we would like.

Alvah Simon: I started on board a 26-foot local Belizean sloop (Zenie P.) that had a mangrove mast, bamboo boom, and cotton sails. We would sink the boat to the gunwales to clean it and rid it of cockroaches. It was so simple that you could maintain it with a paintbrush and a machete. This ground level, third world entry helped shape a pragmatic view towards yachting mostly immune to the pressures of prestige and polish. I then purchased a plywood, 31-foot Maurice Griffith Golden Hind.(Zenie P. II). It was in dreadful condition, which was perfect as it forced me to develop a hands-on familiarity with every detail of the boat. This translated directly into autonomy and independence. That leaky little sloop was my home, heart, and soul for 14 powerful years. I cried like a baby the day I sold it. But sell it I had to, for I realized that to increase the challenges of cruising I would have to increase the latitudes.

Diana and I bought a more suitable 36′ steel cutter typical of French designs–hard chines, flush deck, simple and strong. That boat was and still is perfect for our needs, for we remain in the “small is beautiful” camp. The Roger Henry provides us with ample room and comfort, passagemaking prowess, and yet is nimble enough to manhandle up rivers, over reefs, and into the tickles and rattles of remote waterways.

A notable feature of each of these boats is that they were perfect for their specific purpose at the time. One to prepare for the dream, the second to experience the dream, and the third to expand upon the dream. We have grown with our boats in the sense that we have never felt intimidated or overwhelmed by them, physically or financially. My litmus test has always been. “If I have to swim ashore from the wreckage of this boat, will I be able to recover and carry on without crippling debt or regret?”

The best feature of the Roger Henry is that in spite of being only 35 feet 8 inches long, it has two aft cabins. This allows us to occasionally share the experience with friends or family. Also, it gives Diana a private space to retreat to, and a door to slam when a point requires emphasis.

(to be continued)

We Just Kept Going: an Oral History of the Cruising Life
By Elaine Lembo and Tim Murphy
(published by Cruising World 10-Sep-2004)


One comment on “* Why people take to the sea in small boats – part 2 of 4

  1. blackllabpuppies
    February 22, 2010

    I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing.


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This entry was posted on February 1, 2010 by in Sailing and tagged , , , , , .
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