A Voyager's Guide to Spare Parts
Rules by Which to Sail
I wish it went without saying, but for all the marvels of C-Map, we stock a complete list of traditional paper charts for our intended destinations, and we fix our position on them regularly.
A chart plotter can be an amazingly accurate way to retrace one's steps in the event of a crew-overboard situation. Nevertheless, below is the last place I want to be if someone's in the water. In my calmest state, I'm just competent at entering new waypoints and routing instructions. How would I fare when absolutely frantic and in need of the COB function? We'll use these new tools, but we'll never rely upon them solely.
Instead, first and foremost, we always wear our harnesses with a strobe light attached. Next, we continue to enter our position, course, and speed hourly in our logbook. Should one of us wake up to an empty cockpit, that last entry in the book becomes vital information that the electronic system doesn't provide. Our plan is to shout out loud our course, then its reciprocal-and we practice this-because this etches it accurately in our overly anxious minds. Next, we plan to throw overboard such floating visual aids as cushions, the flagpole, and a light to help us jibe or tack accurately onto that reciprocal.
The theory of redundancy runs from such critical actions down to the most mundane of details, such as ventilation. Electric fans are a real comfort in the doldrums, but don't replace dorades or opening hatch covers. We still carry hand fans and mist bottles on board.
To add to the lengthening list of backups, I added a set of battery-operated navigation lights should the masthead tricolor fail or in the event of cataclysmic dismasting.
I could go on. The point of this exercise was to identify every single electrical function on board, assess how I'd end-run a failure with duplicating or parallel equipment, or compensate for the loss of that function in an entirely different way. I decided it was better to play the game of "What If?" beforehand than "I Wish I Had" after the fact.
At the end of my exercise, I concluded that I needn't have worried. I began my sailing career in a 26-foot Belizean sloop made with hand-hewn mahogany planks and sporting a mangrove mast, a bamboo boom, and cotton sails. I can remember when my brother and I decided to upgrade from candles to kerosene lamps. It was a big day.
Since then, I've owned and circumnavigated in a simple yet rugged plywood sloop, and I've sailed our far more modern French steel cutter all over the world. Because of a paltry budget, at every level I've been forced to learn how to get by without the latest and greatest technology before somehow finding a way eventually to acquire it.
Whatever I thought of my condition at the time, I can see now that this process forced me to learn the basics of sound seamanship, added levels of competency, and fostered contingent thinking. More important, I learned that with those skills and the right attitude, I can be healthy and happy wandering our world's oceans with or without the modern marvels, and perhaps that's the most important backup plan of all.
Alvah and Diana Simon, sailing on board Roger Henry, are crossing the Pacific, headed for an eventual visit to the wilds of Siberia. Read Alvah's weekly blog at the Cruising World website (www.cruisingworld.com).