Cruising Lessons from an Offshore-Racing Veteran
Here's what the Volvo Ocean Race taught Jerry Kirby. A feature from our November 2009 issue
Kirby: I have got to take my hat off to Rick Deppe. He was the media guy on our crew, but he also prepared our meals. He made sure to bring along some plastic bags of tomato paste, and he always had some spices in the rack, which didn't add any weight. Those spices that we could add to whatever freeze-dried meal we had helped us turn it into something we'd eat and say, "Wow, that's great!"
Jobson: I know onboard weight is an issue. How much clothing and personal items were you allowed to take with you?
Kirby: That's always a tough one. I didn't take much because it all comes down to how well you take care of your personal hygiene. If you're good at keeping yourself relatively clean, you don't need as many clothes. My secret is that I bring quite a few spare socks, not because I'm going to need them, but because I know that deep in the Southern Ocean, they're a great trading item-socks for chocolate.
Jobson: I know you aren't taking a nice freshwater shower everyday. How do you guys keep clean?
Kirby: Baby wipes. We have to be careful with our hands because germs can easily spread throughout the boat. Baby wipes are the first thing I use before touching any food in the galley, and as long as we used soap and baby wipes, hygiene was no problem.
Jobson: Did you change the clothes and gear you brought in your small seabag depending on the leg, or did you take the same kit?
Kirby: What was interesting about this Volvo is that we crossed the equator more times than in previous races. Take the 42-day leg from Qingdao, for instance. We started out in the cold of winter in China, then crossed the equator, going from extreme cold to extreme heat. We also experienced huge temperature changes when we sailed from New Zealand back into the extreme cold in the Southern Ocean, then up to Rio de Janeiro, which was extremely hot. I had one set of clothes for the heat and one set for the cold, and I tried to mix and match as best I could. Because my bag never got any bigger, I just had to be smarter about what I filled it with.
Jobson: What do you wear on night watch in the higher latitudes?
Kirby: The night watch-and, honestly, some of the day watches, too-can be brutal. I wore a thin silkweight top and bottom as a base layer, an expedition-weight layer in the middle, and a protective shell as an outer layer. My advice to anyone sailing in cold climates? Get some really good five-millimeter neoprene gloves. The flexible kind. We've gone through every sort of glove there is, but the five-millimeter neoprene gloves seemed to work. And keep an eye out for a Snow Dome hat. It's made of fleece with earflaps and a nylon outer shell. Since Patagonia stopped selling them, it can be hard to find one. Sometimes one comes up on eBay. You can get it soaking wet, shake it out, put it back on, and it'll continue to keep you warm. It's like a magic hat for cold weather.
Jobson: What safety gear did you wear on deck?
Kirby: I found a really good combination chest harness/inflatable life preserver. You won't drown, and it gives the guys on the boat a chance to come back to you if you do fall overboard. This was sort of a different philosophy than in past Volvo Races, in which most guys just wore a light harness with no life preserver.
Jobson: What watch system did you like the best?
Kirby: Our watch system is four hours on/four hours off, with two new guys every two hours-new blood every two hours on deck through the entire 24-hour rotation. Four on/four off gets your crew into a comfortable rhythm.
Gary Jobson is well-known for his on-camera analysis of the Volvo Ocean Race and the America's Cup. He's currently the president of US Sailing.