I am prepping for our fourth circumnavigation differently from my first, not because I’ve changed my cruising philosophy but because technology continues to evolve. For example, I used to carry a spare set of injectors, gaskets (including a head gasket), an alternator and a starter motor for our diesel engine. Now, with the advent of worldwide airfreight, I merely ship them in as needed. This not only saves weight and upfront expenses, but it’s economical and practical because it eliminates the chance of my spares being water-damaged prior to use.
These days, I only carry such consumables as fan belts, filters and lubricants. Filters, by the way, are a special problem because some of them have metal housings that need to be kept rust free. I store them in an airtight Pelican case with a 110-volt rechargeable closet dehumidifier. (I also stow my 12 external hard drives in such cases, and ditto my extensive camera gear.)
I attempt not to think in terms of new or traditional technology, and instead, only consider what actually works offshore on a moonless night in 30-plus knots of breeze. Thus, the boat that I grew up aboard in the 1950s and my first boat in the ’60s had kerosene running lights because they were the best, most dependable way for a small yacht to stay lit up prior to the advent of solar cells. On our ketch Carlotta, during the ’70s and ’80s, we had Perko hybrid running lights (with thick glass Fresnel lenses) that featured both electric bulbs and kerosene lamps. In the 1990s, on Wild Card, I used incandescent bulbs powered by the increasingly dependable solar cells. Now I use extremely reliable LED running lights that are sealed in epoxy and burn almost nothing. Hooray!
Our first two circumnavigations were without refrigeration. We went to great lengths to preserve food. Meat, mostly. However, our third circ, aboard our new-to-us (40-year-old) Wauquiez Amphitrite 43 ketch, Ganesh, included 12-volt solar-powered refrigeration. Nonetheless, Carolyn continues to use our pressure cooker to can beef, pork, chicken, veal, lamb and turkey prior to leaving port, and then fish, beans and veggies on passage.
Why go to all this trouble? Because we are making fewer stops now than ever before, and hence, sailing longer distances because of our modest pocket- book. The sad truth: International clearance and agent fees have skyrocketed. One Pacific nation charged us $4, $40 and $400, respectively, each time we stopped. Lord knows what they’ll demand on this great circle!
Our first transit of the Panama Canal cost a couple hundred bucks; recently, friends of ours transited to the tune of $2,000, all inclusive.
On our last circumnavigation, in 2013, we sailed from the canal to Ecuador but refused to clear in because of excessive ($800) bribery demands. Instead, we continued on to the Galápagos, where they wanted even more to stop for three days and refuel. A month or so of nonstop sailing days later, we were hove-to off the Gambiers, and they closed the port because of heavy weather! Finally, we pulled into Tahiti 48 days after Panama.
No, circumnavigating on a Top-Sider string isn’t easy! As a consequence, we always arrive in any port with enough food and water for another month at sea, just in case.
On Ganesh, we carry 100 pint and half-pint canning jars at the onset of a Pacific crossing. Once we’re down 20 or so jars of food, Carolyn waits for a calm day or protected anchorage and cans dry-stored and time-consuming-to-cook beans spiced with different sauces for fast and tasty prepared meals underway. While anchored in paradise, we also experiment with drying fruits, but we leave drying fish and meats to the South African cruisers who adore their biltong.
In the Pacific, many of the deserted islands we tuck behind were formerly coconut plantations, so they have tens of thousands of palm trees from one end to the other. These islands shift and slowly silt and erode with tides and currents. Often we’re anchored near a palm tree that starts tilting more and more, and then suddenly flops into the water from natural seashore erosion. We’re instantly all over that palm with our machetes, chopping out the heart of palm both to consume on the spot and preserve for later. When we’re hungry for fresh food, I swear fresh heart of palm tastes like chilled heaven soaked in Dom Pérignon champagne.
Part of the problem with provisioning while circumnavigating is that every time you discover a truly great new product, you can only buy more of it 2,000 miles to windward.
But enough about food. We begin our next long voyage knowing that, regrettably, the great age of marine single-sideband radio is over. We used to know very cruising sailor in the Caribbean or, say, the western Pacific or Southeast Asia because of the wonderful communities of SSB nets. All that has now been replaced with the use of Iridium Go and other satellite devices.
Each to his own, but I need to talk to the vessels in the ocean all around me, not my Wall Street broker. We don’t have a satellite phone because keeping ourselves bill-free from the land sharks ashore is exactly why we’re approaching our sixth decade of offshore cruising.
On Ganesh, we continue to migrate all our electronics belowdecks. Alas, the engine instrumentation and autopilot control head are still in the cockpit, but only because their extensive wiring is loomed under our headliner. On our previous boat, Wild Card, which we sailed offshore for over two decades and on which we completed two circumnavigations, I’m proud to say there was not one single piece of electronics in the cockpit. I sail to get away from screens, not to have a bright electro-glow in the cockpit obscuring my view forward while destroying my night vision.
All of the above is only important if you sail a lot. We average 6,000-plus ocean miles a year on a modest budget, so we can’t replace water-damaged devices after every major blow. Plus, we don’t want to sign up with any one family of electronic instruments; we feel it increases cost and decreases options. So, by design, our electronics don’t talk to each other because the only thing we’ve heard them say is “Wow, are we expensive!”
Having nonintegrated electronic doodads has another safety feature: Your depth meter, GPS, AIS and radar will never all blink out at the same instant — on a dark night coming into a shallow harbor with crosscurrent — if they aren’t chatting to each other in the same box.
Do I sound like a Luddite and curmudgeon? Perhaps so. But my informal research shows that all the instruments in the world can’t replace commonsense seamanship. Just ask the professional sailors aboard Vestas Wind, who in the last Volvo Ocean Race piled the boat into Cargados Carajos Shoal. Or check with any of the face-aglow amateur sailors who missed the entrance to Chagos at night by the exact distance their C-Map charts were out.
I am all in favor of modern advances in marine gear that actually make us safer, but not all do. Many a Perkins 4-107 diesel engine has lasted for more than six decades now, some even after getting a dunking or two. Will a new half-aluminum Perkins with electronic injectors and electric fuel pump last as long or be as dependable? I doubt it.
When we sail, we continue to stock consumable goods to trade and gift. School supplies, fishhooks, perfume, fillet knives and small Harbor Freight tools are popular. But the outer isles of paradise now go truly nuts for Luci lights and solar iPhone rechargers.
Since Ganesh has a walk-in tool room — and I know that the less money you have, the more tools you’ll need — I am bringing a new set of 18-volt portable power tools for this circ. These are useful aboard our vessel and our friends’ boats, plus we can use them ashore helping the locals. (A major reason that we cruise internationally is to become part of the fabric of the society in countries often disparaged by the fearful and ignorant.)
Is it possible to separate philosophy from sailing? Perhaps. Desirable? I think not. On the eve of our fourth circumnavigation, I realize more than ever that my incessant chasing of the horizon is steeped in my deep-seated desire to continuously self-educate. World cruising has opened my eyes to many realities I didn’t even know existed, and now my eyes can’t be shut. Sailing has ruined me. I can never return to my Midwestern roots; never put the red, white and blue blinders back on. My culture, the moral world I grew up in, is just one of many. After a lifetime of travel, I am only sure of this: Every culture in the world has something to teach me if I am but willing to learn.
One marine industry advance that I’m extremely positive about is sailmaking. Properly built Dacron sails are amazingly robust. We’re careful about chafe with ours. We purchased a new full-batten mizzen in Cape Town, South Africa, and just took it off in the Caribbean to sew patches on all the dirty spots where it touches the spreaders and shrouds while sailing off the wind in the trades.
And speaking of sails, perhaps my wife, Carolyn, and I, at 66, know a tad more about ourselves than we did as 18-year-olds aboard our 22-foot Corina. We carry two spinnakers, but merely as trophies from our youth. On our last circumnavigation, we hoisted one once in the middle of a 38-day passage, looked at it for a couple of minutes, took it down, huffed and puffed re-stowing it and then both took extra long naps. Our racing days are over. All we want to do now is race into each other’s arms.
One electronic bit that Carolyn loves is her iPad, loaded with offline Wikipedia text. This has allowed her to win our past 20,000 arguments. Damn, it is ego-bruising to marry a smart woman!
Counterfeiting — not money, but high-end products — is an increasing problem for the cruising sailor. For example, the diesel lube oil in India is delightfully cheap but not terribly effective. So, I paid more than twice the stateside price for high-quality 15-40 Shell-branded lubricant and was careful to inspect the seals on each container. Imagine my disgust in the Maldives when I went to change my oil and discovered sand, rocks and thin oil in the perfect but fake plastic jugs! Duracell batteries are also widely counterfeited. The problem isn’t merely that the fakes don’t hold a charge for long; they leak acid all over the electronics. (To its credit, Duracell is extremely proactive about getting these defective products off the market.)
And lastly, I’ve made sure our four debit cards, issued in four countries, to four different addresses, are all up to date. And I’ve made certain they can be accessed from foreign shores without a mobile code from a cellphone number we no longer have access to. Cyber two-step verification is a total bummer offshore.
The good news is that the wind is still free. And my Monitor windvane has 50,000 ocean miles on it and is in perfect shape despite the fact my only preventive maintenance has been to allow it to be rained on with fresh water. If that isn’t good value, I have no idea what is.
Fatty and Carolyn should be midway across the Pacific by the time this issue of CW is delivered, and continuously practicing what they preach.