Why aren’t there more young people out here?

Fort Jefferson sunset
One of the best ways to see the Dry Tortugas is by cruising sailboat. The cruising sailor can stay for an entire week for less than the cost of a day trip on the ferry from Key West.

While speaking with a friend a couple of days ago the subject of the average age of cruising sailors came up.  He had the idea to start a “young cruiser’s club”.  It would be a place to meet other cruisers and encourage more people to get out there.  My first question was, “Well, what qualifies as young?”.  Who should we focus on?  After a couple of numbers were tossed out there I finally said that we should admit anyone who isn’t yet eligible to collect Social Security benefits.  That really thins the crowd these days.

The fact is that I don’t meet very many people out cruising who are not fully retired and out enjoying their golden years afloat.  I immensely enjoy meeting other cruisers and rarely focus on the fact that they may be a few (or more) decades my elder.  I have made some wonderful friends who are old enough to be my grandparents, but I can’t help but feel just a little bit removed from their social circle.  There is more than just a generation gap between me and the average cruiser that I meet.  It’s more like an immense, yawning canyon with a tiny little river and some trees waaay down there in the shadows at the bottom.  We can laugh together for a few hours at a potluck on the beach, but there isn’t usually much shared experience beyond the fact that we are all out cruising.

The fellow who brought up the idea of some sort of club for younger cruisers is in his 40’s.  He sails a Bristol 30 that he bought on the cheap.  He is a new cruiser and told me that he often feels that he is the only “young” person out sailing!  He was floored by the fact that he seldom sees anyone under the age of 50 out cruising.  I am in my early 30’s and should probably feel even more removed from most of the cruising crowd than he does, but I have been cognizant of the demographics of this group of people for years because I have spent a lot of my spare time in boatyards and in anchorages where cruisers gather ever since I was a teenager.  I had stopped giving it much thought except for the times when someone near my own age would call me an old man because the average age of the people that I hang around with is about the same as that of my grandparents.  This time hearing from someone who was looking at the cruising lifestyle with fresh eyes got me thinking about what is keeping younger people off of the water.

Cost is the obvious answer, but a summer cruise could easily be done on a modest boat for less than a summer cross-country road trip or similar, and there are many people who undertake trips like that in any given year.  There is a minimum knowledge that needs to be acquired before setting out so that the cruise can be made safely, but that can be had at one of the many Coast Guard Auxiliary or sailing school training courses available throughout the country.  It would be great to hear from others about what is keeping people in their 20’s and 30’s from taking to the water.

I would like to see more people take a “gap year” cruising vacation before going to college or before starting work or before starting a family.  These are natural transition periods for young people.  Those transition periods work well for providing the time necessary to have a grand adventure.  Going on an extended cruise can be fantastic way to hone decision-making skills, take the time to decide what to do next, unwind, get fit, meet new people, and visit new places.  All of this can be done at a very reasonable cost, especially with the very low price of some quality used boats out there right now.  If more people begin to make these sorts of cruises, then there will be an even better market of inexpensive but adequately outfitted boats as people enter and leave the cruising lifestyle.

I hope that there is a new wave of young cruising sailors about to take to the waters in small but seaworthy craft.  They should be ready to spread their sails to a fair wind and discover the exhilarating feeling  of true freedom that is still available to anyone on their own boat on the wide rolling sea.  They will discover the peace of a snug, deserted anchorage, and the wonder of a sky full of bright stars on a dark night.  They will feel the excitement of new landfalls and learn of the satisfaction of successfully navigating their small ships safely to their intended destinations.  They will benefit from learning the art of self-sufficiency and from having their personal horizons broadened by meeting new people in new places.

See you out there!

Autumn Gales

The weather has certainly been keeping things interesting for me the past couple of weeks.  We have had two extended periods of southwest gales that really stirred things up around Cape Cod and the Islands, so I decided that I needed to move Sirocco to a more sheltered bay.  This move had to take place after I had finished my regular daytime obligations, so I missed the afternoon tide and had to move the boat at midnight, as the entrance to the little bay where I planned to shelter Sirocco from the forecast strong winds is too shallow to pass at low tide.  Luckily, there was a full moon to make the move easier.
I arrived at the boat ramp nearest to where Sirocco was anchored at about 2200–just in time for it to start pouring.  When I left the house it had been clear.  Now bands of rain and thunderstorms were rolling through.  I waited a few minutes for the rain to taper off before launching my dinghy from the beach next to the boat ramp.  The wind was already blowing at 20 knots out of the SW, which caused an uncomfortable chop in the harbor and made rowing more challenging.  As soon as I shoved off the rain came in again, and hard.  I rowed the half-mile to Sirocco through the dark and rain with a sailbag containing my pillow and some clean, recently dry bedding on my lap to keep it out of the rising water in the bottom of the dinghy.  The oars occasionally caught on my cargo, causing the blades to strike the surface of the water on the return stroke, which slowed progress and showered me with salty spray.
I made it to the boat, hauled the dinghy on deck because the anchorage was too rough to leave it snatching at its’ painter, and went below to shelter and stow my sopping bedding by the light of lightning strobing through the portholes.  Luckily, the wind and rain slacked off in advance of the front that was to bring the first round of gales, which made it much easier to begin hauling up the anchors.  Just as I finished hauling the first anchor the wind came up all at once to 35 knots.  I worked quickly to haul the other anchor.  I was only able to make progress between gusts because of the pressure of the wind pushing on Sirocco.
Once the anchors were both on deck I secured them and started motoring upwind against a rapidly building chop.  I was very glad that I had taken the dinghy on deck, as the wind began to gust ever higher, and the chop in Phinney’s harbor was soon up to about two feet high, with the occasional higher wave pitching Sirocco enough to cause her propeller to suck air and lose all drive.  After those waves it would take what seemed like ages before the prop would bite again and Sirocco would begin to regain momentum.  At least while we were stopped dead in the water there would be no spray blowing back from the bow to cover my glasses.  That gave me a chance to lick them dry enough to see for a few seconds to get my bearings relative to the channel markers before Sirocco built a little speed and sent the top of the next wave showering over the cockpit.
It took an entire hour to force the boat to windward two miles to the new anchorage.  I was thankful for the light of the full moon that shone down in between low, racing clouds that moved across the sky so quickly that they reminded me of some movies where the scene is an entire day that has been sped up to fit into a couple of minutes.  Only the angle of the moon’s light didn’t change quickly enough to complete the effect.  When possible, my attention was focused on following an electronic trail that I had previously plotted in calm weather to lead me into the sheltered bay behind Toby’s Island through a very narrow, unmarked channel.  I only had one shot at it because the wind made the island and gravel bar that guard the bay into a lee shore that night.  I was thankful that I had taken the time to commit the entrance to my memory as well, because I don’t like to be overly dependent on the electronics, but I needed the GPS trail to show me exactly where to turn into the bay, as the small buoys that normally mark the entrance had already been removed for the winter.
I made it through the entrance without incident and drifted downwind about one quarter of the length of the bay before turning up and dropping anchor.  I set one anchor and let out plenty of scope.  I wanted that anchor to dig in deep, as the overnight wind would blow to about 40 knots, according to the forecast.  I reasoned that if the single anchor held, then when I set an additional anchor later on the boat would be secure enough to ride safely without me having to stay aboard.  It was almost 0300 before I went to sleep to the sounds of the wind howling in the rigging.  The anchor was holding fast, though, and the bay very sheltered from waves, so it was a relatively peaceful night.
After I awoke in the light of day I set a second anchor so that it also held the bow to the strong SW wind.  The boat lay very quietly to the two anchors, as they worked together to keep her bow from falling off very far to either side.  It was good to have the insurance of two good anchors down because that day the wind blew at up to 47 knots–a test for any boat’s gear.  Once I was satisfied that the boat was holding I got in the dinghy to return to the car.  Within one minute of leaving the boat on a fast downwind ride to the boat  ramp a very heavy shower passed over and threatened to completely obscure the shoreline only two hundred yards on either side of my course.  The deluge was short-lived, thankfully, as it also threatened to burden the dinghy with a load of rainwater.  My mile-long dinghy trip back to the boat ramp was powered by the strong wind.  I had only to correct my course by occasionally dragging an oar.
I contacted the town’s harbormaster during the week for permission to stay anchored in that bay for the rest of my visit here.  He granted me permission to stay, so now I don’t have to worry about where I will keep the boat for the next couple of weeks until I start my trip south.  The bay where Sirocco is anchored now is protected from all directions, so I don’t have to worry so much about each new wind that comes through.  That is doing very good things for my peace of mind!

Surviving Hurricane Irene

Sirocco on mooring in Irene
Riding out Irene

I sailed to Massachusetts this summer to try to avoid the worst hurricane season.  I was counting on the fact that Cape Cod hadn’t been hit by a hurricane in twenty years, and the storms are usually considerably weakened if they do hit there.

The last hurricane to hit the area was hurricane Bob, back in 1991.  I was at the Beverly Yacht Club junior regatta for that storm and vividly remember many boats breaking loose from their moorings in Marion Harbor.  The boats that got free were washed high up onto the lawns of the ostentatious homes around the harbor.  They crashed up on breakwaters and were blown onto the grounds of Tabor Academy.  Some of the boats that stayed securely moored through the storm were heavily damaged when other boats dragged down on them.  Even the yards weren’t safe–I remember one row of boats toppled like dominoes after one large sailboat blew over and took out its’ neighbor, starting a chain reaction.  The memories of that hurricane and the resulting aftermath have made me always very cautious about properly preparing my boat for storm season.

Since I had acquired Sirocco just before hurricane season I hadn’t yet had time to outfit her with all of the heavy anchors and rodes that I feel are necessary to feel safe riding out a storm on my own gear.  My best gear was stuff that I had bought for my previous boat, a Contessa 26, which was 1/3 the displacement of Sirocco.  My two bower anchors are a 33-lb Rocna anchor with its’ 90 feet of 5/16″ high-test chain and 15/16″ plaited rode; and a 35-lb CQR on about 65 feet of 1/2″ BBB chain and a 3/4″ 3-strand rode–perfectly adequate for Sirocco in normal weather and even normal bad weather (up to about 40 knots), but I didn’t feel that the gear was up to holding the boat against a hurricane, even when I figured in my extra rodes, Fortress FX-23 anchor, two additional 22-lb Rocna anchors that could be used in tandem or all separately.  What was missing was at least one truly honking big anchor and rode that I could rely on as a strong-point for my storm mooring setup.

Now keep in mind that all of this gear is on a relatively low-windage 28′ boat, which may sound like a lot of gear to some.  But, I actually bought those anchors (except for the CQR, which came with Sirocco) for my previous 26-foot, 6,000-pound boat, and felt that my ground tackle was comfortably sized.  You could say that I am pretty close to being obsessed with anchors.  The reason for my obsession is simple–anchors are what let me sleep when I am not underway at night and I do so enjoy actually being able to sleep.  It makes me shiver when I see other boats out cruising, even if just for the weekend, with tiny, single anchors because I know that they might someday be anchored to windward of me and start dragging.

I want the heaviest anchoring gear that I can reasonably store and handle.  I want redundancy in case of breakage, loss, or tricky situations that require multiple anchors.  I want, no, need heavy ground tackle because when a front comes through in the middle of the night I want to be able to look around, see that the boat is holding fast, and then go back to sleep without worrying that I am going to wake up to the sensation of the boat sideways to the seas and drifting downwind because the anchor is not holding.  I sail alone quite a lot and need to be able to count on a good night’s rest if I am in an anchorage in order to be able to make good, safe decisions on the water the next day.

Anyway, with hurricane Irene bearing down on the Buzzard’s Bay area I felt woefully under prepared with the gear that I had on board.  I first tried anchoring in a small, closed bay next to Phinney’s harbor that offered good holding and limited 360-degree protection, but in a 30-knot southwest wind I could see that the waves were going to be a factor.  My next thought was to run north to Maine, where I could reasonably expect the winds to stay under 45 knots.  The problem with that plan was that I didn’t really know Maine that well and didn’t want to sail all of that distance north only to discover that I had chosen an anchorage that had a bad bottom, or was choked with moorings, or filled with other boats there running from the storm.  There wouldn’t be enough time to explore and find a good harbor if I didn’t get lucky with some good advice found through a guide or acquaintance.  With the hurricane only 48 hours away I decided to stay and secure Sirocco as best I could to a 5000+ pound mooring that was offered to me to use if I wanted.

I finally decided on using the mooring because I felt confident that Sirocco could survive the wind and wave action if properly secured to sufficiently heavy gear even though the mooring was located in an area more exposed than I would have liked, with a fetch of up to 3/4 of a mile depending on the wind direction.  Eve and I removed everything from the deck including the dodger, sails, boom, spinnaker pole, and even the dorade cowls.  I taped the chain pipes and hatches shut.
The next task was to secure the boat to the mooring.  New 3/4″ 3-strand nylon line was used to make two new 25′ mooring pennants.  With Eve’s help the ends were spliced with 12″ eyes on one end and thimbles on the other and the lines were protected with lengths of fire hose and reinforced vinyl tubing.  The eyes were dropped over the mooring bitts and tied down so they couldn’t come loose.  The thimbles were attached to the mooring with a 3/4″ shackle.  That was my primary connection.  As a backup I took 5/8″ braided nylon dock lines and led them from the forward mooring cleats to the mooring.  They were several feet longer than the pennants so as not to take a load unless a pennant broke.  A final safety measure consisted of two 35′ lengths of 5/16″ high-test chain shackled from the mooring to the bobstay fitting.  If all of the lines broke then the  boat would still be chained to the mooring.  Sirocco would have to drag the mooring ashore or else she would suffer major structural failure before breaking free.

The chain was purposely longer than all of the other pennants to allow the lines to stretch to absorb the shock of waves slamming into the boat.  If the load came to be on the chains I was relying on the 36″ mooring ball to absorb shock with its’ buoyancy–it would sink as more and more load was placed on the mooring system.  If I had planned on staying on the boat I would have attached the chain in some way that would have allowed it to have been released under load, but since I was not going to be aboard during the hurricane I opted for seized shackles since I would not be there to release it anyway.

As the wind built it became apparent that Sirocco was still mostly riding to the current rather than to the wind.  This was causing her to ride over her pennants at times.  I was glad that I had protected the bobstay with vinyl hose and duct tape, and made the chafing gear on the mooring pennants as long as the bowsprit.  Chafe is always the biggest enemy during a hurricane.  When the wind starts getting up over 60 knots even a very small harbor can build a nasty chop that will cause the boat to pitch.  The resulting motion will saw through the loaded mooring lines if proper precautions are not taken.  Sirocco‘s chocks are large enough for her oversized mooring lines to be protected with many layers of chafing gear.  I used vinyl hose and two layers of fire hose this time.  I believe that reinforced neoprene hose would have been better than the first layer of vinyl that I used.

Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Buzzard’s Bay.  There were still some gusts of hurricane force recorded by nearby Massachusetts Maritime Academy, with some gusts up to 85 mph.  I recorded winds over 70 mph with a handheld anemometer while standing on shore near where Sirocco was moored.  Even during the height of the storm Sirocco rode quietly–not sailing about excessively or heeling very far in the gusts.   Sirocco is a low boat by modern standards, and that helps reduce windage, which keeps the loads lower on her moorings.  I didn’t once observe her put enough load on the mooring to sink the mooring ball.

The next day we went out to inspect Sirocco and were greeted by nothing worse than a lot of bird calling cards and some seaweed on deck.  Everything else was as it had been left before the storm.  On closer inspection there was some minimal chafe on the fire hoses, and a little chafe on the bobstay chafe gear, and some wear on the bottom paint at the bow where Sirocco had over-rode her mooring due to the current.  There was a noticeable settling of the splices in the new mooring pennants, which showed that they had come under heavy load at some point.  I was happy that all of the preparation had paid off.  Sirocco had come through unscathed.

I am currently shopping around for that big honking storm anchor in case I am not lucky enough to have access to a heavy mooring next time.