Boats of a certain age have history, but not always a history as interesting as Gjoa’s. I’ve written previously about the two-year Northwest Passage just completed by Gjoa’s most recent owners, Ann and Glenn Bainbridge. It was on this passage and a waylay in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, that I first met them both.
The Bainbridges remained the winter in the Arctic. They put Gjoa on the hard in Cambridge Bay in the fall of 2014 and moved aboard a tug, Tandberg Polar, which they maintained until spring when the Norwegian crew returned, and then they, in Gjoa, continued on to Nome and eventually Homer.
For most boats that would be history enough. But not this boat.
Gjoa was built in Germany in 1989 for journalist, photographer, adventurer, Clark Stede, who, with Delius Klasing sailed then-named Asma around the Americas (west through the Northwest Passage, east about the Horn) between 1990 and 1993. Their book, Rund Amerika, is aboard, and is simply full of boat construction details, outfitting details, route details, weather details … all in German. I can’t read a word.
Gjoa’s next owners were at least as adventurous, maybe more so. Tony and Coryn Gooch bought Asma in 1994, renamed her Taonui and took off. They had been cruising for a number of years in smaller, fiberglass boats, but were keen to explore the high latitudes, for whose demanding conditions a stronger vessel was needed. For 16 years they crisscrossed the globe every which way, sailing summers and putting Taonui on the hard in winter, such that a map of their travels looks like a game of cat’s cradle approaching its maturity.
In 2002, Tony set out from Victoria, BC to solo the globe via the southern ocean because, “I wanted to get down there one last time while I was still fit and healthy enough to handle hard sailing and enjoy it all.” He was in his sixties. Tony made the loop in 177 days. Distance: 24,000 miles. Average speed: 137 miles a day.
This brief history of Gjoa / Taonui / Asma may go some way to explaining my initial and continued attraction.
Mako vertical windlass
1. 30kg S140 Spade anchor (primary)/120m G70 Certified 8mm hot dip galvanized chain with pear shaped end links
2. 33kg Bruce (secondary)/70m 16mm Liros Anchorplait/10m DIN766 chain,
3. Fortress FX-23 kedge
Whisper large-case, dual belt, 130 amp alternator on engine
Whisper house batteries, 4 x 145amphour Gel
separate start battery
Whisper Isolation transformer
Whisper 12v60amp battery charger
Whisper Sine wave inverter 12v/2000 watt
Whisper shore power
Loncin portable generator
Standard Horizon Matrix GX2150 VHF with built-in AIS receiver (and handheld backups)
Standard Horizon CP590 GPS Chartplotter, 12″ display
Echopilot Bronze forward looking sonar (and handheld depth backup)
Kenwood SSB/pactor modem
Iridium satellite phone
Simrad/Robertson HLD2000 electric/hydraulic autopilot that connects directly to the rudderstock.
em-trak B100 AIS transceiver
em-trak S100 AIS/VHF splitter
- Wheel steering
- Hot water
- Pressure water
- Solar or wind generation
- A painted hull
- Powered winches or sails
- Deadlights in the hull
- Any instrumentation in the cockpit
- A warm, dry doghouse to keep watch in
- Three watertight bulkheads
- Water tanks integral to hull create a double wall for puncture protection
- An aperture-protected prop
- Standpipes instead of through-hulls
Homer for the first time to see her sitting there on the hard like a bird awaiting spring. That was November. The snow fell wet and heavy and quickly turned to mud. Then back to San Francisco for a month of brooding. Then Homer again to buy her. And just like that The Figure 8 project has sprouted wings.
None too soon.
The process of procuring the Figure 8 vessel had drug its heels so long that its boots fell off and then it wore holes in its socks; its toes got frost bite and threatened to turn gangrenous, and still it drug on.
It was without humor that my wife said, “Watching you buy a boat is like water torture.”
Two years ago came the idea, and early on I was all excitement.
I found many boats with potential and more with the help of my sailor friends who forwarded listings.
Florida, Seattle, San Diego, Victoria, Grenada, Florida again; Cambridge Bay, and Port Townsend were just some of the places visited.
But none of the boats quite worked out. One was too small; another too big; another too old.
No need to be hasty, I told myself. The Figure 8 was a demanding course, and I was learning the requirements.
Obligingly, over time the requirements ballooned, and I found myself seeking a flush deck, pilot house, split rig, lifting keel, fat tanked, amply powered, speed demon with iron scantlings and insulation Eskimo approved … that I could afford.
I’d become Goldilocks, for whom no boat could be just right.
Two years of searching and so many boats nearly bought, commitments made and then retracted. I couldn’t tie the knot much less finish off with a round turn.
Finally I wondered if the boats I rejected were, in fact, deficient, or had I lost my courage?
Then Homer called.
Actually, Ann and Glenn Bainbridge called. They had completed their two-year Northwest Passage and were moving on to other projects. Their aluminum sloop, Gjoa, was available if I was interested.
I remember first seeing her anchored against the hills of Arctic Bay, Nunavut. This was early in the Northwest Passage I crewed aboard Arctic Tern. It was the summer of 2014. Now that was the boat, I thought. Except that she was taken. Except that she was happily plying to her purpose with a couple happy to be seeing her at it. I made an offer anyway. The Bainbridges smiled and declined.
I had no intention of waiting for this boat. But that is how it has worked out. Today, sitting snugged next to her diesel heater and typing this as a light, dry snow falls, I know that when the sky clears, I’ll go on deck and admire the white and craggy Kenai Range to the east and search again for wind on the waters of the bay. Because the Figure 8 project has wings.
At last year’s Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Oakland, I found myself shooting the breeze with the guys at the Monitor Windvane booth when a gaffe overtook me. I try to stay ahead of thoughtless remarks by keeping my mouth shut, but even then I was talking about the Figure 8.
It was a natural-enough question that tripped me up: “What’s your strategy for handling the big winds and seas of the Southern Ocean by yourself?”
My unfortunate reply: “Down there is just more sailing. It’s the north that’s going to be difficult.”
Like many sailors, I’ve read endlessly of adventures below the great capes such that, in imagination, I’ve been there many times. But I’d not read the literature of polar explorers, not to mention the Arctic Pilot. I knew only that arctic routes were shoaly, icy, bitterly cold and infrequently passable. I’d get only one shot. It worried me.
Like most gaffes, my remark contained some truth. The Southern Ocean is, after all, sailing…if not just sailing. But what the remark failed to acknowledge was the difficulty of this sailing—managing a vessel, any vessel, in the kind of big winds and heavy seas that the south routinely offers-up.
So, it was with some gratitude, and trepidation, that I bumped into an article by Captain Eric Forsyth of Fiona by way of reminder that none of the legs of the Figure 8 can be thought of as just doable. Each will take careful preparation … and some luck.
Forsyth’s report is understated and matter-of-fact, and obscures that his experience includes 250,000 sea miles on Fiona.
Aug 28, 2014
Gear failures sabotage a planned Antarctic circumnavigation
Eric Forsyth’s Westsail 42 Fiona nestled amongst other voyaging boats in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.
When I departed Long Island, N.Y., on July 5, 2013, I was making my fourth attempt to cruise Antarctica aboard Fiona, my well-traveled Westsail 42. My plan was ambitious: a westward-bound circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent.
I had successfully made it to Antarctica twice. On my one previous unsuccessful attempt I suffered a broken rib due to a knock-down just north of the Falkland Islands.
This Antarctic circumnavigation cruise did not start auspiciously: one crewmember did not show up in time for departure. I double-handed across the Atlantic from Long Island with the remaining crew, Wade. As we neared the Canaries, Wade learned his son was seriously ill and flew home from Tenerife. It was important that I stick to a schedule as the window for the Antarctic leg was only about eight weeks long, so I single-handed across the Atlantic to meet a cruising couple, John and Helena in Brazil who sailed with me as far as Santos. There I met David who had signed up for the Antarctic leg. We double-handed to Punta del Este, Uruguay, to pick up the remaining crew for the Antarctic, Simon and Bob. We refueled and loaded on tons of food before leaving for Port Stanley in the Falklands. There we prepared the boat for a crossing of the Scotia Sea: we installed deadlights on the main cabin windows, wooden cover on the aft hatch, double lashings on the rigid dinghy on the foredeck and we shipped a 65-pound fisherman’s anchor.
A 65-pound fisherman anchor was lashed to the bow pulpit for use in Antarctica.
The forecast for the day we left was 30 knots from the west, which was okay as this would give us a beam reach. Our destination was King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, which lay almost due south of the Falklands. We left with the storm mainsail bent on, this is smaller than the working mainsail and has two reefs, the second being very deep, leaving almost a trysail when set. In Port William Sound before we encountered the offshore wind we tied in the first reef.
Pegging the wind needle
Offshore the wind was blowing hard with gusts to 50 knots, so we furled the jib and sailed with the reefed main and staysail. We tied the second reef in the mainsail. It was good timing; I watched with amazement and some trepidation as the anemometer climbed above 60 knots, the needle vibrating madly on the end-peg. That night we plowed south with shortened rig in rising seas. As the gloomy scene lightened with sunrise the wind dropped into the 30-knot range. The boat was taking a battering from huge waves. We shook out the second reef with foredeck gang wearing harnesses. The sea conditions were very rough.
I had just retired to my bunk in the aft cabin for a post lunch nap when Simon called out that the forward bilge pump wasn’t working and the head was flooding. I worked my way forward. There was a lot more water than just a stuck pump would account for. Even as we watched, the water level rose rapidly — we were sinking by the bow. By the time we had assembled a couple of pumps, the water was over the cabin sole. We got a bucket brigade going and I went into the water, sloshing around in the forward head to find the leak. A stream of water was running down the inside of the hull on the port side from somewhere behind a locker. The only thing up there, out of sight, was the gooseneck for the head, I shut the main thru-hull valve for the toilet and the stream slowed considerably.
After departing Port Stanley, Forsyth and crew encountered heavy weather leading to a series of gear failures. At 53° S, 59° W, Forsyth made the decision to turn away from Antarctica and head for Cape Town.
Alfred Wood/Ocean Navigator illustration
When we got the water down to a manageable level I peered behind the panel in front of the gooseneck, the hose from the thru-hull valve was detached from the plastic “U,” almost certainly caused by excessive pressure as the huge waves slammed into the bow. Water had been pouring into the boat through an inch and a half hose open to the sea, I figure we were minutes away from sinking, or, at least, shipping enough water to cause a capsize. The problem in reassembling the gooseneck was that the white sanitary hose used in marine toilets hardens like steel when it is cold. To get the thing back together, David and I had to put the ends of the hose in boiling water to soften the plastic so it would slide over the barbs on the thru-hull valve and the U-fitting. Working in the pitching bow with sea water and the contents of the discharge hose sloshing about was tough and for the first time in more than 30 years was I seasick. Later we found the forward bilge pump was completely clogged by debris, which always happens when the water rises to new levels.
The interior of the boat was saturated; besides the water splashing about from what was left in the bilge, the pounding seas found every crack in the caulking and forced water in. On the starboard side of the main cabin the pressure of the waves thudding on the sides forced the rubber gasket out from between the movable port and its frame. The result was that water gushed onto Simon’s bunk every time we hit a wave. All the other bunks were also soaked. As evening fell on the second day we retied the second reef in the mainsail in a wind that gusted to 45 knots. The wind slowly veered to the southwest and Fiona began to sail east of the rhumb line as she slogged to the south. After a few hours we gybed onto port tack and headed west, this produced a whole new set of leaks as the waves crashed against the port side. The navigation table was flooded and my laptop computer went the way of all flesh. Also, the inverter in the engine room failed along with many other victims of the flood. Two five-gallon jerry jugs filled with diesel disappeared from the aft deck.
To prepare for the expected heavy boarding seas of the Southern Ocean, the crew installed deadlights on the main cabin windows to protect them from breaking.
In due course I decided we had sailed far enough to the west and asked Simon, who was on watch at the time, to gybe onto starboard tack. When Simon grabbed the wheel, which had been locked to the wind vane, he found it spun freely; the steering chain was broken! It is testimony to Fiona’s sailing ability that for some time she had been holding a good course in tremendous seas and strong winds without any rudder control.
A quick look under the pedestal revealed the failure; the master link fastening the chain which passes over the wheel sprocket to the wire rope leading to the quadrant had snapped under the tension needed to swing the rudder in the heavy seas we were enduring. Fitting a new master link took only a few moments and I noted in passing that there was only one other master link left in the spares kit. The problem was that the wire rope leading to the quadrant had come off the sheaves and the grooves in the quadrant, which was swinging violently as the rudder oscillated in the heavy seas. Getting the wire back was not going to be easy; the quadrant, which is a heavy bronze casting, fitted neatly in the quadrant box with little room to spare. With Bob helping, I lashed the quadrant to the end stop with rope and slipped my fingers between the quadrant and the sides of the box to get the wire back in the grooves. If the quadrant slipped its moorings to the stop I was going to be short a few digits. Bob guided the rope into sheaves under the aft cabin sole at the same time. Eventually we got everything in place and tightened up.
Appearing out of the gloom
As we went on deck to try the wheel, Simon gasped and pointed ahead; looming out of the gloom and spray were the rocky cliffs of lonely Beauchene Island only a couple of miles ahead, the most southerly outpost of the Falkland archipelago. We had got the steering fixed just in time to gybe over and head southeast again. The wind was 40 to 50 knots with occasional gusts that hit 60 knots.
Fiona’s rudder quadrant with tight clearances to the surrounding box.
A few minutes later I was below when I heard violent sail flogging and Bob poked his head through the companionway hatch to say the staysail boom had broken! I rushed on deck to view a scene of devastation on the foredeck: shreds of Dacron lashed by the wind flew from the forestay and a port shroud. Bob and Simon struggled to get the staysail halyard down; the sail had split in half. When we got things a little more under control, it was possible to figure out what had happened; the swivel on the staysail outhaul block had sheared and the adjacent cleat had been wrenched out of the staysail boom. With this mess attached to the staysail clew, the sail had rapidly flogged itself to destruction. Although the boom had fallen to the deck it was not actually broken. I now faced a difficult situation; although I carried spares for the jib and mainsail, I did not have a second staysail. Without the staysail Fiona’s ability to sail to windward — particularly in winds of more than 25 to 30 knots when we weren’t using the jib — was seriously compromised. Most of the other failures already mentioned could be dealt with and Antarctica was still within reach, but the loss of the staysail forced a reappraisal of the cruise objectives. I knew there was nowhere nearby that could provide another sail. Probably Santos in Brazil was the best bet, but if we sailed to Santos there would be no time to head south again in the 2013/14 season, so Antarctica was out.
I was bitterly disappointed. The cruise had been in preparation for nearly a year, and, of course, David, Simon and Bob had signed up specifically to visit the Antarctic continent. Standing in the heaving cockpit with the spray flying in the howling wind, my heart was heavy; it looked like this was as close as we were going to get to Antarctica. I told the crew that I thought we had done our best, we had been very unlucky to run into weather like this and we had to consider how to get ourselves home in one piece. I felt our best strategy was to head to Cape Town, all the facilities were there that we needed — it was a long way, but it was downwind!
Accordingly, at 53° south and 59° west we turned the boat around and headed northeast. Sometimes turning around when the destination is so close is the hardest decision one can make. The trip to Cape Town would be no picnic; it was about 3,500 nautical miles away, mostly sailed in the Furious Fifties and Roaring Forties. As it turned out, the decision was the smartest thing I could have done; we later discovered the main water tank had shifted in the melee and cracked; half the fresh water had leaked out. Later I compared notes with a crewmember of a cruise ship navigating the same area; he said they were hove-to with a wind of 75 knots.
Broken chainlink from Fiona’s steering system.
During the next couple of days we rolled downwind, cleaned up the boat and tried to dry out our clothing and bedding. David rescued the hard drive from my flooded computer and pronounced the data could be retrieved. He managed to transfer the program used for SailMail to his own laptop so we again had limited e-mail capability, a major feat in the soggy, bouncing boat. One of the first e-mail messages I received was that the Antarctic pack ice was the farthest north it had been for 34 years, confirming that even if we had made it to the peninsula my original plan of an Antarctic circumnavigation would not have been feasible. The wind was variable and at times fell to 10 knots, but mostly the log mentions relative winds of 20 knots with swells rolling past the stern. I decided we would visit Tristan da Cunha Island, it was almost on the direct path to Cape Town. I had sailed there once before, 12 years earlier. I felt the crew would enjoy the chance to visit this isolated community. It was a leg of 2,000 nautical miles.
Second steering failure
Four days later, after enjoying typical 50s sailing, that is, frequent swells washing into the cockpit, what I dreaded occurred: the steering failed again. Fortunately the wind was in the 15-knot range and we hove-to under the reefed mainsail. On inspection I again found that wire rope was dangling from the quadrant and at first I just assumed the wire had stretched and dropped out of the grooves.
In order to keep the quadrant from shifting, we rigged the emergency tiller to the rudder post extension and Simon sat on deck holding the tiller over. Although the wind was not strong there was a heavy sea running and he had to work hard to hold the rudder in position. As Bob and I toiled in the aft cabin the boat rolled quite violently. Suddenly there was a bang like a gunshot and the quadrant crashed to the other side, fortunately our fingers were not in the way.
Simon was still holding the tiller in the original position; the substantial cast iron universal joint between the rudder post and the extension had fractured, this entirely due to the force of a wave hitting the rudder. As we had done on the previous failure, Bob and I tied the quadrant down with rope and finished repositioning the wire rope. When this was done it was obvious that the problem was not the wire stretching; something was broken. By this time we were all exhausted, the motion of the boat was fatiguing, night had fallen so we let Fiona lie hove-to while we ate a simple supper and caught some sleep.
The torn staysail stretched out on the dock at Cape Town.
I lay in my bunk with dark thoughts; without the emergency tiller there was no way of steering the boat if we could not fix the original system. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest land — South Georgia Island — which was hardly a haven. I had no idea how we would steer if we could not fix the failure.
In the morning I discovered that the chain had broken inside the steering wheel pedestal; to get at it, the compass and engine controls had to be removed. We all gathered in the cockpit and carefully stored each part as I removed them so that they would not get lost in the pitching, rolling boat. We fished out the chain from the sprocket attached to the wheel and I removed the broken link using a grinder on the universally versatile Dremel tool. I inserted the last master link in the spares kit to join the chain together.
This was the last major failure, although I felt the sword of Damocles was hanging over us each time I saw the wheel working hard. Running down the 40s we had the usual minor problems; chafe of the Aries lines, whisker pole topping lift breaking, etc., but basically the boat held together and as we worked to the ENE the weather moderated and it got perceptively warmer.
Tristan da Cunha
Three weeks after leaving Port Stanley, the misty outline of Tristan da Cunha came into view. We had sailed about 2,500 nautical miles. There is a settlement on the north coast called Edinburgh, where a few hundred souls scratch a living by fishing. When we arrived the wind was quite light and we anchored, with some difficulty caused by thick beds of kelp, a few hundred yards off the shore. Being an open roadstead with no lee, it was rolly. The person on the marine radio told us we could not land as the place was shut down for a public holiday.
Eric Forsyth aboard Fiona following arrival in South Africa.
The next day Simon, David and Bob dinghied over to the jetty while I stood by on Fiona. The harbor master assessed the conditions at the jetty and waved them away. So they returned to the boat, we put the inflatable away and upped anchor in a rising wind. Simon, on the bow, had to pull masses of kelp off the chain as it came up. We bore away for Cape Town, 1,500 miles to the east.
The weather north of 40° south was pleasant and we enjoyed wonderful sailing with favorable winds. Six days after leaving Tristan it was Christmas; out came our traditional tree and to no one’s surprise Santa Claus managed to leave us a few small presents. Cape Town was not far away and early on the morning of Jan. 2, 2014, the distinctive outline of Table Mountain welcomed us to South Africa. We had sailed 4,090 nautical miles from Port Stanley.
The weather after we left the Falklands was atrocious, and bore little resemblance to the forecast. It wasn’t the worst weather I have ever been in, but close. I felt particularly chagrined that I had exposed the crew to this rough treatment by Mother Nature when nothing in their previous sailing had prepared them for it. But they bore up wonderfully; David, Bob and Simon were great crew. As for myself, it is almost impossible to express the disappointment I felt when I made the prudent decision to turn away from Antarctica. When we swung Fiona’s heading to the northeast on that stormy night, I knew I might never get that way again, which some might consider a blessing. But for me it seemed like the end of a chapter of my cruising life.
Contributing editor Eric Forsyth has sailed his Westsail 42 Fiona nearly 250,000 miles, including two circumnavigations. He is a past winner of the CCA’s Blue Water Medal.
February 2016 Update. Murre has sold.
March 2015 Update
New Photos Added
Included in this repost of my November, 2014 description of Murre are a number of current interior and detail photographs. These shots were taken March 7, 2015 and can be found by scrolling to the bottom of this article.
November 18, 2014
This post announces that my current boat, referenced in a previous post, is for sale.
My tough cruising ketch and my sole companion for over 12,000 miles of Pacific Ocean passage-making, Murre, is for sale.
I bought Murre in 2001 and spent many summer weekends, and even some work nights, sailing her to the far corners of the San Francisco Bay. For years, the favorite activity of my wife and I was to high-tail it to Murre on a Friday evening and be anchored at Paradise Cove or China Camp before nightfall. In the winters I often put Murre in a covered berth where I slowly rebuilt and readied her for more challenging waters outside the Golden Gate.
In 2010 Murre and I took off. Over two years we made three long ocean passages; we explored Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, the tropical paradises of French Polynesia and Hawaii and even Alaska’s glaciers and the Inside Passage (map). Our course covered thousands of miles of open water; we passed through the trades three times and over the equator twice; survived calms and gales; saw seabirds and dolphins and flying fishes and the vast Pacific from 20 south latitude to nearly 60 degrees north. Without doubt it was the grandest adventure I could have imagined.
We returned under the Golden Gate late in 2012, and I’ve since been organizing the Figure 8 Voyage, a different kind of exploit requiring a much different boat.
So, my capable cruiser awaits her next departure with a new owner.
Murre is a Far East Mariner 31 built in Japan in 1972 and restored in California between 2003 and 2010. She is ketch rigged and has a full keel with cut-away forefoot and big, strong rudder controlled by a robust worm gear of bronze. Her hull is solid fiberglass, insulated between the deck and waterline, and her ballast is encapsulated. Her deck and cabin construction is glass and wood sandwich, replaced and heavily reinforced during the rebuild.
LOA: 31′ — LWL: 25′ 8″ — Beam: 9′ 9″ — Displacement: 11,500lbs — Ballast: 5,000lbs — Sail Area: 468 sq. ft.
Theoretical hull speed: 6.8 knots — Displacement to Length Ratio: 300 — Ballast to Displacement Ratio: 43% — Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 13.97 — Capsize Ratio: 1.71 — Comfort Ratio: 32.51.
Engine: Perkins 4108 — 50hp; 70 amp alternator and new spare; Racor fuel filter; large Grocco bronze raw water strainer.
Tanks: Fuel, 40 gallons in one tank (plus 20 in Jerries in a locker); Water, 60 gallons in three tanks.
Electronics: Lowrance 7″ Chart Plotter (full Pacific chart cards) with HD Radar; Standard Horizon Matrix GX 2150 VHF Radio with AIS receiver; Hand Held VHF; ICOM M710 Single Sideband Radio with PTC III-USB Pactor Modem; Tactics wireless depth and knot meter.
Electrical: House Bank is 3 Group 31 AGMs of 315 amphrs; separate start battery. Banks are isolated by separate Blue Sea battery switches and combined for charging with a Blue Sea Automatic Charging Relay switch. Charging is via 70 amp engine alternator and 200 watts solar power in 4 panels.
Sails: Schafer roller furling system holds a 115% Hood jib; removeable inner stay for hank on storm jib; fully battened main and mizzen; mizzen staysail, mule sail, and “racing” spinnaker.
Dodger: Custom made companionway hatch cover and small dodger.
Rigging: Standing rigging beefed up and increased in size before passage making. Spinnaker pole customized for downwind cruising on headsail; removable inner forestay with running backs for storm jib; running backs for mizzen.
Galley: three burner propane stove and propane in two 20# tanks; single stainless steel sink with electric pump for fresh water and foot pumps for fresh and sea water; large ice box.
Lighting: LED cabin lights; LED running lights.
Heating: Force 10 Propane.
Steering: Edson bronze worm gear; Monitor wind vane; Raymarine tiller pilot
Ground Tackle: 35 lb CQR on the bow; small danforth as kedge on stern; 200 ft 5/16ths chain and 300 feet 1/2″ rode; manual windlass.
Emergency: Flares, ACR Aqualink PLB; Switlik 4 person life raft.
Tender: Inflatable “Avon”-type rowable.
Accommodations: Galley to port of companionway; small navigation station to starboard; two settee berths in main salon and fold-out dining table. Single head forward to starboard and hanging storage locker to port; large v-berth plus ample lockers both in the boat and in the cockpit.
CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF UPGRADES
2003 — Rebuilt and reinforced deck and cabin sides; stripped all bottom paint and applied barrier coat. Read about it.
2008 — Rebuilt aft cabin bulkhead. Read about it.
2009 — Fashioned and installed new bowsprit and spreaders. Read about it.
2010 — Replaced all stainless chainplates with new, nearly doubling thickness; replaced all standing rigging with new wire and turnbuckles and increased wire diameter by one size. Replaced all running rigging with new. Shot hull and decks with Awlgrip. Added Tactics knot and depth meter; Garmin chart plotter; Standard Horizon VHF and AIS; Icom M710 SSB and Pactor. Installed solar panels; new Blue Sea electrical switches; new Blue Sea battery switches; new Blue Sea ACR and volt meter. Installed Monitor windvane. Added new HOOD 115% headsail.
2011 — Replaced house bank with new 3 AGM 105s (Group 31) of 315 amphrs.
2012 — Added Lowrance 7″ Chart Plotter and HD Radar. Built custom hard dodger over companionway. Added Switlik 4 person liferaft.
MORE PHOTOS OF MURRE
Icom M710 SSB Radio.
——–THE BELOW PHOTOGRAPHS OF MURRE WERE TAKEN ON MARCH 7, 2015.——–
No one died. And yet, that time immediately after rejecting Steal Away felt like mourning.
During the survey, I spent the better part of five days discovering, thinking and planning aboard my new craft. I would eat here; I would sleep there; tools on that shelf. A dash to the mast for a reef would start by a grab at the rail here, my right foot there. Sit here to grind in the jib; there to adjust the main sheet. I’d begun to learn the boat and in so doing had grown attached. Vessel in hand, my imagination shifted; my mind moved to the Figure 8 course, wind, spray, an Albatross, that infinite undulation called ocean.
With the purchase, the project would finally manifest, the idea would have bones made of steel to hold its beating heart and onto which I could form the flesh. Now, and at last, there would be things that needed doing. Amen!
Without the purchase, all reverted again to the abstract, the hypothetical—pretty pictures and imperfectly rendered thoughts free floating in the Cloud.
Then my wife pointed to the tally of readers and friends who shared my disappointment. The sum came to exactly zero, the refrain, “wait for the right boat.”
The right boat! What on earth is that? Slocum did not choose Spray for her perfections; rather, she was free and could do the job. Likewise, Matt Rutherford’s St. Brendan, nearly as ancient as he and not much bigger, was all he could afford. At some point, said Phil Hogg in one of his emails, it’s more about the man than the boat.
In my ear Sir Ernest Shackleton’s whisper, “Go. Go now. To wait risks failure.”
Lately I have been reading Roland Huntford’s biography of Ernest Shackleton and have been amazed to discover that Sir Ernest, this intensely driven man of action, a hero by many measures and a giant among polar explorers, had a rather intuitive and haphazard approach to planning. For example, he never learned to ski, though Nansen and others had already demonstrated skiing’s advantages over traveling ice and snow on foot. Scott’s party, of which Shackleton was a member, made its first attempt at the South Pole with skis; that is, they carried them tied to the sledges that they man-hauled, and one could argue that Shackleton’s inept use of these skis on the long return—when he was ill, feeble and unable to walk—saved his life. Yet he did not incorporate skiing into either of his polar expeditions, a decision that probably cost him the prize.
Just so, dogs. Eskimo’s had been speeding over northern wastes with dog teams almost since the time of the first freeze, and Scott had sledge dogs in company, but none of the party knew how to drive them. Shackleton’s try at managing a dog team was a dismal failure and convinced him that dogs were not a polar solution. Instead Shackleton chose ponies, thinly furred, pointy-hooved animals, to pull the sledges on his first expedition, and the antarctic cold and crevices simply gobbled them up.
In stark contrast is Shackleton’s peer and competitor, Roald Amundsen, who studied the science of high latitude travel from a young age, poured immense amounts of energy into planning, and who bettered, with skis and dogs, Shackleton’s best, heroic efforts with an easy and dull efficiency.
So, when Sir Ernest swears to me that action is everything, I will quote him back with this:
“The … secret of [Roald Amundsen’s] success … was that … he acquired knowledge … and then bought his ship, instead of doing what most … explorers had done, bought the ship first and then acquired the requisite information.” (Shackleton, Roland Huntford, P. 159.)
Finding the right boat—that is, clearly defining scope, working through, in advance, the problems surely to be encountered, imagining every conceivable contingency—is at least as creative a part of this project as that which is to come.
The phone rang but once before Kevin, the broker, picked up. “Of course, no one is pleased with this decision,” he said.
Two trips to Florida, a Figure 8 boat found, offer accepted, deposit wired, a sloshy sea trial and a thorough survey. Then two days at home entirely at my desk, working and reworking the sums of those sheets I’d come to hate: “Cost to Departure” and “Refit Manhours.” A long meeting with the wife.
Then I declined to accept the boat.
Kevin was correct. No one was happy.
Steal Away, a Roberts Norfolk 43, presented well. A clean, flush-deck, full keel cutter with glossy topsides and a yacht-finish below, she was a simple, robustly-built and promising craft. What’s more, a famous (to me) sister ship had history in the Arctic.
In 2004/5, Phil Hogg and his partner, Liz Thompson, who run Fine Line Boat Plans & Designs from Australia, took their Roberts Norfolk Fine Tolerance through the Northwest Passage and had an exciting time of it. On the approach, a fishing net fouled their propellor and removal required lifting the transom from the water while at sea; ice blockages forced a retreat and an unplanned overwinter in Cambridge Bay, and then there was the below video of Fine Tolerance being towed through pack-ice by a Canadian Icebreaker. All of this the yacht survived, if not unscathed. (Phil and Liz tell their story here.)
I wrote to Phil an email bursting with questions. Would this Roberts I’d found be fast enough, capacious enough, seaworthy enough, and easily handled by one guy on a Figure 8? “Typing is not my strong point,” replied Phil before answering each of my queries in long and glorious detail. “We’ve 100,000 miles of cruising with Fine Tolerance much of it in the south. She’s a comfortable seaboat.”
This boosted my confidence in Steal Away, and Phil’s insights gave my learning of her a head start.
Hull welded up in 1986 then shipped to Little Harbor Marine of Rhode Island where her interior was fitted. She was launched in 1998.
Steel, center cockpit cutter, hard chined, full keel, spade rudder, fully enclosed propellor.
LOA: 43; LWL: 37; Beam: 13; Draft: 6.9.
Displacement: 29,850 lbs (per design specs, but likely well over 30,000 lbs); Ballast: 9,000 lbs; Sail Area: 1082 square feet.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 242. Ballast to Displacement Ratio (after personal increment): 25%. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 18. Capsize Ratio: 1.78.
Sails: furling foresail, hank-on staysail; a Hood Stow-away furling main. Unused stormsail, trysail, and genekker.
Plating: keel, 1/4″; hull, 3/16″; deck, 10 gauge.
Insulation: Sprayed to the waterline between 1 1/2″ and 2 1/2″ thick depending on location.
Tankage: (to the best I could surmise) 100 gallons fuel, or a little less, in two mild steel tanks on either side of the engine room; 120 gallons water in two tanks in same locations. (For a time I thought there were two water tanks in the bilge.)
Engine: 56 hp Yanmar 4JH3E installed in 2000 (ratio of HP to designed displacement in tons, 3.6; assuming a more realistic weight of 17.5 tons/35,000 lbs, her ratio slips to just over 3).
Steering: wheel to quadrant.
Power: three 8D gel cells for about 640 in house amps.
Positives from the Figure 8 Perspective
- Steal Away was the best kept yacht I’ve inspected for the Figure 8, and it was evident that much care had gone into both her construction and subsequent maintenance. Her topsides, deck paint and stainless fittings sparkled as did freshly painted bilges and an eat-in engine room. Below, first-class interior joinery was matched by a seagoing system of stainless latches for both cupboards and floorboards. Wiring ran with professional orderliness into her electrical cabinet and flowed into purpose-built raceways when moving fore or aft. Even her odd, built-for-two layout had been well conceived.
- Her uncluttered flush deck allowed for an easy dash to the mast, and a deep, narrow cockpit would be a safe center from which to singlehand.
- A small companionway hatch, an entire lack of deck or cockpit lockers (inconvenient) and few opening ports added to her safety and meant she would be dry below, even in extreme conditions.
- Her hull was robustly built and a full keel that held the propellor captive added safety when in the company of ice.
- Living spaces were conveniently amidships. Dropping down the companionway put one in the galley with a navigation station just forward and a sea berth just aft.
- Hood Stowaway to one side, there was a simplicity, even minimalism, to Steal Away’s design and layout that appealed to me.
Why I Haven’t Bought Steal Away
Steal Away’s attractive simplicity indicated, in part, her intended service area–the tropics. She lacked a hard dodger, a heater, hefty ground tackle; her roller furling main was unfit (hats off to Dodge Morgan) for serious ocean work; her numerous solar panels would need augmenting with a generator. Though long, the list of upgrades was not daunting and most were indicated by a careful review of the broker’s photos even before the initial inspection.
But two things caught me off guard during the survey and sea trial. On my first visit I’d found the main fuel and water tanks opposite the engine room. Though their actual capacity was unknown to the current owner, some quick measuring suggested they held 120 gallons of water and 100 gallons of fuel. My fuel capacity goal for the Figure 8 is 250 gallons in tanks, so I was happy to discover what appeared to be two, large, in-hull water tanks lining the bilge. Having these would allow me to convert the other water tanks to fuel and put me very near the fuel tankage target.
However, upon inspection during survey, these “tanks” turned out to be … the hull! The plumbing that exited the tank to port and which I had supposed filled with freshwater intended for the galley actually transported seawater to the refrigeration cooling system. I was agog at my miscalculation, and much of the day’s remainder was spent measuring the boat’s bilge spaces for extra tankage (sadly, there wasn’t much).
The second gotcha was engine power. In the Fort Lauderdale canals Steal Away came up to near hull speed, but only after a time, and she backed down with the stateliness of a ship. For any cruising grounds other than those I intend, this would hardly be considered a problem. However, given Arctic conditions, Steal Away would have to be run at expensively high RPMs much of the time with precious little in reserve for making way in ice or headwinds.
Neither of these discoveries alone was the end of the world. Since this summer’s Northwest Passage on Arctic Tern, I’ve retreated from the Figure 8 as a “non-stop” endeavor. Without the need to depart San Francisco with all fuel aboard, I could carry jerry cans on deck. And I could repower. Steal Away’s Yanmar was both immaculate and on the new side. Her resale price would be high.
But these new costs, when added to the expected others, led to a big number. More importantly, they added significantly to the preparation timeline. Suddenly the Figure 8 boat would not be ready for her shakedown cruise until late July. And how much could I learn about sailing my vessel in those six weeks prior to a September first departure? The more I refined my estimates, the less they made sense.
Late one night and over a glass of wine I took Joanna through the logic. I had restarted the Figure 8 boat search in November of 2014, this after a return from the Arctic. I’d flown to Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans, and twice to Florida, and now it was February. Six months out, Steal Away was the only hope of a 2015 departure, and even that looked incredibly tight. “I get it,” she said. “Let’s keep looking for the right boat. Go next year. The Figure 8 will still be there.”
On Valentine’s Day, Joanna Bloor, my wife and Chief Belief Officer for the Figure 8 Voyage, presented me with the following, inaugural guest post, this by way of answering the question posed in the title.
It’s probably the most common question I get. “How are you OK with ‘letting’ your husband go to sea? Without you? Alone?” I now laugh when I hear it, as does Randall, for whom the reverse question–“Your wife is OK with this?”– is also usual. And we’re getting good at the answers, too. Randall just looks at the puzzled face and says, “I have the best wife in the world.”
My answer is a little more complicated.
The conversation started on our second date back in late 2000. We were at dinner on Polk Street, San Francisco, and were reminiscing about our first date and how much fun we’d had sailing Surprise, Randall’s old, 24 foot Columbia sloop. Yes, a boat and going for a sail was what initially brought us together.
It was one of those wonderfully hopeful conversations you have when you’re first getting to know someone. Over glasses of wine we shared our histories and our wishes for the future. I remember Randall talking about how much he wanted to do blue water cruising. Like the tides, the world’s oceans were pulling him out to sea. He was passionate, poetic, hopeful. It was unbelievably romantic. I was smitten immediately.
To me Randall’s dreams were big and quite unusual. I thought they sounded nuts, but I was equally energized by this person who wanted to do something brave. Be brave: it’s the first rule, I believe, to a wonderful life. What Randall didn’t entirely know at the time was that I too had a history with boats. I was a bit of a water baby.
I spent much of my childhood sailing with my family on the rivers of South East England and have vivid memories of spending summer weekends with salty spray in my face. At night my sisters and I were tucked in the v-berth together, and here we had those wild dreams you can only have when sleeping on a rocking boat. The smell of salt, mud and diesel was the smell of laughter and summertime fun.
And tales of sailing adventure were common in our house. Stories of sand bar groundings, capsizing, terrible storms were normal dinner table fare. And anecdotes of invigorating distress didn’t only come from my parents. My grandparents, god-parents, honorary aunts and uncles were all sailors. This meant countless retellings of navigating around dangerous river entrances and battening down the hatches against a gale.
I even had my own stories, many embarrassing. I once ended up alone, cold and scared after falling out of my little sailing dinghy in the middle of a fairly major shipping channel. Maybe one of these days I’ll share that story. Not one of my finer moments.
So do you believe that two people are supposed to meet? Do you believe in fate?
There I was a young woman whose glorious memories of childhood had been wrapped up with images of leaping off a dock onto the salty, slippery deck of some boat. And here was Randall, sitting across from me telling me he wanted to have a big adventure at sea. Fate? Maybe.
I’ve believed in Randall’s dream since the first time I heard it. The idea of discouraging him seemed unfathomable to me, then and now. And in return I get an exciting and interesting partner in life. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?
I am proud of what Randall is doing. There are moments when it scares me, but we can’t hold ourselves back just because we’re scared, right?
Be brave, be curious and I promise you, amazing things will happen.
I’m sure you’re now wondering why I’m not going with Randall. That’s question number two – you’ll have to wait for the next installment to find out.
In the previous post I mentioned extending my Figure 8 boat search range beyond the west coast of the US and Canada. Just so, this week finds me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
There are three boats here that hold promise but that are different from one another: two are steel, one is aluminum; two are cutters, one is a ketch; two are full keel, one is fin; two would be slow and stable, one, zippy.
They are, in order of viewing, a Roberts Norfolk 43, an Antarctic 45, and a Joshua 40.
More as it happens…
In September I promised the Figure 8 Voyage Board of Directors—a body ably chaired by my wife and comprised of her as well—that a Figure 8 vessel would be secured by year’s end. Now it is January 9, and I remain like Ishmael upon the strand searching the horizon for a ship.
Except I don’t get to the strand much. Instead I spend hours in front of the computer sifting through ads, peering deeply into grainy photos, computing ratios, sending notes to designers asking for their boat’s scantlings and whether another fuel tank can be slipped into the bilge.
It is not unimportant work, but it doesn’t feel much like progress.
I won’t say things are desperate when they aren’t, but things are urgent. Launch day is but seven months away. For those unfamiliar with projects of this kind, that may seem buckets of time. It isn’t. There is a vast amount of work to be done, and finding the boat is but the beginning.
Having examined most of the worthy metal boats that the western US and Canada are currently offering, I now feel constrained to extend my search range. To New Zealand, for example, and because I have a friend there, Chris Bennett (my co-inspector of the Fastwater 44) whose opinion I trust and who expressed a willingness to do leg work for free.
I asked for this favor because I knew in Whangarei floated a Waterline 48 of sound reputation; in photos she appeared in good nick and thoroughly up to the task. But after a morning aboard, Chris found her too fussy and with windows too large (we all have our peccadilloes, and big windows in a voyager are atop Chris’s list), but his conversation with the broker unearthed a more promising craft, a Pacemaker 40 designed by Kiwi Denis Ganley of Ganley Yachts.
The Pacemaker held immediate appeal because of its similarity to the Freya 39, a Randall favorite famous for seaworthiness and speed. (More on the Freya design here. That they are high-latitude worthy is clear in this article.) For an all-too-brief time back in the 80s Freya’s were built in glass by Gannon Yachts not far from my San Francisco home, and I nearly purchased one just prior to crewing the Northwest Passage this summer. Once back the focus turned to metal boats, and the Freya was out.
Thus this Pacemaker in steel struck a chord. While he was at it, the ever-resourceful Chris happened upon a Pacemaker owner, Richard, who had been soloing all over the south for years.
Basic Stats for the Pacemaker 40 in New Zealand
Steel, aft cockpit cutter, soft chined (?), extended fin keel with skeg hung rudder (propeller unprotected).
LOA: 39.4; LWL 34; Beam: 13; Draft: 6.5.
Displacement: 20,000 lbs; Ballast: 5,510 lbs; Sail Area: 746 sq. ft.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 227. Ballast to Displacement Ratio: 22% (after personal increment). Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 16.26. Capsize Ratio: 1.92.
Sails: foresail furling; staysail hank on; main on track.
Plating: (reported by Richard of the other Pacemaker) Keel, 3/8ths; hull, 1/4; deck 1/8 with extra framing. Denis Ganley’s philosophy regarding scantlings, plate thickness for his many steel boats, and many other things: “STEEL, the Strongest Material.”
Tankage: 70 gallons fuel; water unknown.
Insulation: Laid in rather than sprayed, but thickness unknown.
Engine: 36 (ratio of horsepower to displacement in tons, 3.6)
Steering: wheel to quadrant.
Power: four wet cell batteries for 480 amps in the house bank.
An Apt Comparison?
It could be that the similarities between the Freya and the Pacemaker are all in my head. Certainly the differences go well beyond just hull material. For example, the Freya is nearly two feet narrower. The canoe stern of the Freya is in the Pacemaker a powerful reverse transom; the Freya’s keel is cut-away full but the Pacemaker’s is fin, and ballast in the former is a whopping 11,000 pounds to its 26,000 pound displacement, whereas in the latter it’s but 5,500 pounds to 20,000.
Still the sameness of length, general hull shape, deck house, layout and rig stand out. So too do her sailing characteristics. The original Freya was a three-time Sydney-Hobart race winner, and in the 1980s Jim Gannon of Gannon Yachts won a second and then a first overall in the single-handed Transpac’s big boat division. Less illustrious, perhaps, but nonetheless impressive was that Pacemaker-owner Richard had reportedly won an “informal race off the Great Barrier Reef for five consecutive years.”
Another similarity gleaned from my correspondence with Richard was that Pacemakers, like Freyas, are highly responsive, but with a tendency toward weather helm and tenderness. Last summer, Neil Thomson of Sausalito invited me for a day of sailing aboard his Freya, Fitzroy. Winds were a typical 10 – 15, increasing in the afternoon. We began the day with a reef in the main and never took it out.
Just so the Pacemaker. Richard attributes these characteristics in his boat to her being too lightly ballasted. He corrected much of this, he says, by removing the steel punchings in the keel, replacing them with lead and adding to her ballast by 1,000 pounds. Then, in the space he recaptured by switching to much denser lead, he added a 700 liter fuel tank. Now she is plenty stiff, he reports.
“I would definitely take my Pacemaker around the Horn,” says Richard.
Pacemaker Fitness from the Figure 8 Perspective
The Pacemaker 40 is built for singlehanding. She’s simple on deck and efficiently laid out below, and though one of the smaller yacht’s I’ve investigated, she has a reputation for speed. That her distant berth in New Zealand would require a two month sea trial ending in San Francisco Bay was not unattractive, though time consuming. More difficult was the extensive refit and modifications that would be required here or there. These included such exotic items as extending the skeg forward to protect the propellor from ice, replacing and adding ballast, fitting a hard dodger, and slipping in a new engine and more fuel tankage.
All doable. None optimal.
The experiences of last summer’s Northwest Passage and especially our adventures at Fury Beach (encountering polar bears, being torn off our anchor by ice flow, finding barrel staves from the 1800s) have left me more curious than ever about the Arctic, its explorers, its people.
Especially fascinating are the strategies for survival in a supremely survival-challenged area of the planet, the problems presented and the novel solutions that arise.
Here’s but one example…
Among the many books now beside the chair is Fury Beach by Ray Edinger, a chronicle of the unlucky but eventually successful 1829 – 1833 British expedition of Captain John Ross, whose crew wintered near and then on Fury Beach four years running. Here they survived, in part, due to the supplies left by Captain William Edward Parry in 1825 when his ship, Fury, foundered.
Given the repeated strandings, Ross and company had plenty of opportunity to befriend and learn from local Inuits and thoroughly explore the surroundings.
The below paragraph is a snippet from a foray up the Neitchillee River, then thought to be a strait. This overland/overice trek was lead by Ross’s nephew, Commander James Clark Ross, whose party are currently hunkered down in an impromptu igloo waiting out a blizzard:
The four dead-tired men had just fallen asleep when a ruckus bolted them wide awake. Outside, the sledge dogs had broken loose and were fighting among themselves over Awack’s sledge. His sledge, like many Inuit wintertime sledges, had been constructed entirely of frozen fish and deer [emphasis mine]. To build it, Awack had formed the two seven-foot-long runners from narrow cylinders of salmon wrapped in skins and tied with thongs. He then plated the surface of the runners with a two-inch-thick layer of mossy earth and water, which he polished to a slick finish with a bearskin rag moistened with water and saliva. The crossbars were constructed from loins of deer. The method provided a wonderfully efficient way to carry emergency provisions…and made a tempting feast for the dogs. Fortunately, the men awoke in time to stop the dogs, and Awack was able to salvage his edible sledge.*
What is so lovely about this solution is that it’s emblematic of survival in the north, which requires a paradigm shift for southerners. In a perpetually frozen land without trees and where food is scarce an edible sledge is startlingly obvious … once imagined at all.
*Fury Beach, The Four-Year Odyssey of Captain John Ross and the Victory, Ray Edinger, Berkley Books, New York, 2003, P. 96.
The holidays. Five airports, four families, three American states, two babies but oodles of kiddos, dogs and cats and hikes and boomerang lessons and Shrek reruns and bike rides and obligatory feasting, and one all-out good time.
A nice break from planning an expedition.
But am now back at my desk. The rain that pummeled the bay area most of December has moved on. The sky is blue and the today is such an imitation of summer that I’ve opened the doors and windows while I write. Varied thrushes are passing through the neighborhood. In the garden, a misguided rosebush attempts a bloom.
During our holiday tour, I made but one water-directed sidetrip. Specifically, I spent an afternoon in Marina Del Rey, California, aboard Lola, a renovated Sparkman and Stephens ketch in steel being offered for sale.
What a classic yacht is Lola! Her lines, lithe and understated, her overhangs, long, her sheer, graceful, and all evocative of the wooden yacht whose age was fast closing when she was welded-up in 1972. Though she has become an “antique” (if you believe the classification on YachtWorld.com), she presents beautifully as a serious cruiser.
Actually, I call her Sparkman and Stephens out of convenience, as her lineage is complicated. It goes something like this: her original owner, during a business trip to New York, requested that Messrs. Sparkman and Stephens design for him a sturdy cruising yacht, but as they were too busy, he took plans for one of their racers back with him to his Holland home. There he had yacht architect D. Koopmans rework her lines, adding a deeper keel, skeg hung rudder, etc., after which Maasdam-Deckker welded the hull and the builders at the Royal Huisman yard did the rest.
And it could be that she has already been to the Antarctic. In her records is retained a 1985 project plan titled “The Voyage of Hero, II,” which was to be a recreation of Captain Nathaniel Palmer’s southern ocean sealing expedition of 1820. Hero, Palmer’s 40 ton sloop, was pushing toward unexplored seal rookeries south of Cape Horn that summer when the skipper picked out ahead the faint loom of coastline and thus became the first American ever to sight Antarctica.
Quoting from the project plan:
The entries from Captain Palmer’s log of this voyage, which are on file in the United States Library of Congress, provide the basis for the United States’ claim to have discovered Antarctica. While this claim has been contested by Russia and England, it certainly serves to preserve the international status of this global frontier.
In addition to retracing Hero’s track, the crew of Ariane (Lola’s name then) wished to plot their course according to the daily dead-reckoning records left by the Palmer. No log of Ariane’s southern voyage has been found.
Lola’s current owner has been busy nonetheless, and in recent years has had the boat entirely rebuilt–masts, rigging, sails, deck hardware, interior configuration, galley, tankage, electronics, wiring, battery pack and gallons of sparkling paint have been added to Lola such that the only original items remaining are her hull and beefy Perkins, and even that has been overhauled.
Steel, center cockpit ketch, round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.
LOA: 48; LWL 34.4 (due to overhangs); Beam: 13; Draft: 7.2.
Displacement: 34,400 lbs; Ballast: 12,000 lbs; Sail Area: 1,350 sq. ft. (racing configuration = 1,717 sq. ft.).
Displacement to Length Ratio: 377 (overstated due to overhangs). Ballast to Displacement Ratio (after personal increment): 30%. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 20.5. Capsize Ratio: 1.6.
Sails: foresail furling; staysail hank on; main and mizzen fully battened with nice roach, cruising spinnaker.
Plating: keel, 8 mm (5/16th”) and 6 mm (1/4″); hull under water, 5 mm (3/16″); hull above water and deck 4 mm (5/32″).
Tankage: 100 gallons fuel in two stainless steel tanks in the bilge; 100 gallons black water (?) in two stainless steel tanks in the bilge; 50 gallons water in plastic tanks.
Insulation: 40 mm (1.5″) glass wool mat, laid against hull from deck to waterline.
Engine: 85 hp (ratio to displacement in tons: 4.94). Other stats show engine at 72 hp.
Steering: wheel to quadrant.
Power: eight 6 volt, wet cell batteries for 800 amps in the house bank.
Positives from the Figure 8 Perspective
- If I’m reading the stats correctly, Lola is both a heavy boat and quite a goer. At a displacement to length ratio of 377, she’s heavy indeed, but that number is exaggerated by her long overhangs, especially aft. If, for example, we assume an underway waterline of 39 feet, the ratio drops to a respectable 258, making her a moderate displacement boat at anything like speed. When you factor in her sail area to displacement ratio of 20.5 (and this is her smaller “cruising rig”) and a slippery bum, Lola begins to look both tough and fast. What’s exciting is that with a ballast to displacement ratio of 30% (and this after adding in my personal increment of some 6,000 pounds) she could also be quite stiff. The only other boat with similar numbers has been the recently inspected Brewer, also a ketch, with a D/L ratio of 235, SA/D ratio of 20, and B/D ratio after PI of 26%. One key difference is that the Brewer, though only two feet longer, feels positively massive. She carries an inordinate amount of her sail area in a very large main, a sail I can’t even reach over, and too little in a tiny mizzen. Compared to her Lola has a sensible distribution of sail area between main and mizzen and feels much more manageable.
- Lola has a large, comfortable cockpit easily accessed from either cabin. Because she is missing a pilot house, she would need to have some portion of this cockpit covered with a hard dodger, but the cockpit size suggests such a dodger would also be roomy.
- Lola’s engine room, amidships and entered via a watertight door, is reminiscent of a ship. Not only can one give the Big Bertha Perkins a bear hug, but access to the two inch (!) diameter shaft and packing gland is … well, right there. Other systems and hoses in the engine room are logically laid-out, easily cared for and mostly new.
- Though her engine is now quite old, the Perkins horsepower to displacement ratio of 4.94 indicates she’d have good push for the Arctic bash-and-dash.
- Her current fuel capacity of 100 gallons is too small for the Northwest Passage, but the black water tanks could be converted to fuel and black water moved elsewhere.
- The aft cabin could function ideally as a shop.
- Her aft locker could easily be retrofitted to hold the required four 20# propane tanks.
Concerns from the Figure 8 Perspective
- Lola’s hull is over 40 years old. Though it appears to have been very well constructed and has received extraordinary care, one should expect surprises.
- Her insulation is minimal and of an unusual material.
- Though the current rebuild has been done to a high degree of quality, the aim has been to return Lola to her yachting form, along the lines of those imagined by her original owner, rather than that of an expedition boat.
- And too, I worry about the wisdom of her stern configuration in extreme seas. Does she present to a breaking wave far too much reserve buoyancy in her long aft overhangs? Or is her rather narrow entry (compare the blunt buoyancy of most sterns nowadays) fine enough to allow the wave to pass over?
That said, Lola is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of work.
Then the unexpected happened. A steel yacht came for sale in my neighborhood, which is to say, Sausalito.
From the beginning, serious contenders for the Figure 8 have been in short supply, and even extending my scope to the entirety of North America’s western coast has netted only the boats discussed here. Not a large field and none nearby. So, to have a prospect appear forty-five minutes from the house got my attention.
Better still, being a chronic dock walker, I was familiar with this yacht, a beefy, all-business, workhorse of a ketch by the (fitting to my project) name of Reliance.
On Tuesday I met the owner, Sven, for a tour. Sven is a retired building engineer, tall, gray, and pale; affable and army-tough, but suffering from cancer and its barrage of medications this last decade. “I’d never sell if it wasn’t for the damned … problem,” he says, opening his palms to the sky. Signs of his condition were only telltale: he perspired heavily as we poked inside lockers and raised the great lids that hid the engine; sometimes he leaned against a bulkhead to rest. But even during pauses he talked, spinning-out stories of Reliance and her adventures, and one could hear in these the power of the younger man.
A power that would have been necessary, for Reliance, which he built in the then bustling San Francisco dockyards south of the Bay Bridge, is a big boat. She’s based on the Brewer design adopted by Kanter Marine and marketed by them as the Atlantic 45. But Sven wanted a cruiser capacious enough for his growing family of girls, and so he had the hull stretched to 50 feet. For the seven years prior to her 1989 launch, his pattern was to have a quick bite of supper after work and then spend the night constructing his go-anywhere vessel.
Here are some of her features. Two 75 pound anchors on half inch chain extend from hawse pipes at the bows. These are operated by a massive hydraulic windlass. The keel stepped, aluminum mainmast is the diameter of a respectably ancient tree, extends over 60 feet off the deck and carries in its one sail more square feet than all of Murre’s combined. Turnbuckles are green bronze and the size of Coke bottles; thick stainless makes the bulwarks; custom-built bits are of stainless and the teak decks are as thick as my thumb. Below, the low doghouse is rimmed with heavy ABS opening ports and heavy teak panelling; there are three private cabins; amidships is a galley reminiscent of an industrial kitchen, and in the bows is a full shop. All of which lend to one’s first impression of this as a serious boat.
After a time, Sven and I sit in the main cabin as he works through every page of the Reliance photo album. Pictures of the hull in construction, the water tanks being laid into the bilge, the stainless bar welded around every port hole and hatch opening (“You’ll find no corrosion there.”); the two steering rams; the 100 horsepower engine going in, the deck going on.
And the stories keep coming. “That teak,” he says, pointing to a bulkhead, “that’s all from Bank of America.” For a time Sven was the chief building engineer for the Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco’s tallest skyscraper; then he moved to manage the much larger, if nominally shorter, Bank of America building. One winter the teak lobby of the latter was ripped out and replaced with white marble. After some cajoling, the job foreman allowed Sven to recycle the wood if he could “make it disappear after hours.” So, for several nights running, Sven double parked by the lobby doors, hazard lights flashing, and filled his car to capacity with free and typically expensive wood, wood that found its way aboard Reliance as paneling, the inlay for the cabin sole, even the deck.
What happened after the build-out is a little murky. Sven and family did go cruising, made it as far as the Galapagos and explored several tropical rivers to their source. But how long Reliance had been back in her slip was unclear. The blackened decks and mouldy lines suggested it had been many years.
Launched 1989 (seven years in build).
Steel, pilothouse ketch, round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder, captive propeller.
LOA: 50; LWL: 43 (estimated); Beam: 13.9; Draft: 6.3.
Displacement: 42,000 lbs; Ballast: 12,187 lbs; Sail Area: 1,517 (including a very large genoa).
Displacement to Length Ratio: 235. Ballast to Displacement (after personal increment): 26% . Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 20. Capsize Ratio: 1.6.
Sails: two headsails on Profurl; main and mizzen hank on. Main and mizzen by Sutter Sails and estimated at 11 ounces weight.
Plating: hull, 3/16ths inch welded steel plate; 1/4 to 1/2 inch keel face plating; doghouse is 10 gauge. Hull welded up by Kanter Marine.
Tankage: 380 gallons in three mild steel tanks integral to the hull; 300 gallons water in seven stainless tanks in the bilges below the cabin sole.
Insulation: 2 inch styrofoam from waterline to deck and 1 1/2 inch foam under deck. Foam fits into spaces between framing.
Engine: 100 hp (ratio to displacement in tons: 2.5); with 5.5kW diesel auxiliary generator.
Steering: hydraulic. Inside and outside steering operated by separate rams.
Power: six Lifeline 12v AGM house batteries at 225 amp hours each for a total of 1350 amp hours.
Underbody work done in 2010 included cutting out and replacing section of rudder and sandblasting the hull.
Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:
- Robustly built yacht in all ways and in all areas. Owner’s remarks: “I wanted a strong boat that I only had to build once.” One example, the anchor hawse pipes were cut and shaped so that a standard size PVC pipe would fit snuggly inside. When the chain has worn away the PVC, simply slide it out and slide in another.
- Pulpit and lifeline stanchions are bolted to the rail rather than welded so that if damaged, they can be easily removed and replaced.
- Wheel placement just behind the mizzen means that all sail controls are within reach of the helmsman save the main halyard.
- Spool of line at the stern rail allows for easily sending warps ashore.
- Wide, clean, unobstructed decks.
- ABS opening hatches of half inch glass surround the doghouse.
- Visibility forward and to either side good if standing.
- Bench in doghouse could serve as cot.
- Full shop in the bows.
- Open engine, generator, shaft and gland access with floorboards removed.
- Open access to stern post and steering rams through crawl space aft.
- Open access to inside of hull and underside of deck by removing foam panels.
- Ample fuel and water tankage.
- Ample battery power.
The week after my visit with Sven I spent an hour aboard with a surveyor famous locally for his scepticism and love of facts. I had called upon him to inject a dose of reality into what had become, over the previous week, my infatuation with Reliance.
“Put to one side the boat’s actual condition,” said the surveyor after an inspection during which he noted every flaw I had ignored, “and consider this. You and I are of similar builds, but I’m stronger than you are. I’m a rock climber and I’ve singlehanded and this boat scares me. Can you really handle that mainsail? Imagine you’re in a southern ocean gale. Imagine it’s your fifth such gale in two weeks. Can you take the punishment? Add to that the maintenance of a number of big, complicated systems. Can you master them such that you could repair this boat anywhere in the world?”
Just so, concerns for this boat from a Figure 8 perspective come back to its size. In truth, I think I can handle the very large main and already have a couple approaches to taming its wildness on the high seas, and in truth, I think I can master the boat’s systems in time for next fall’s departure. And that the boat is here gives the added advantage of being able to start work on both issues now.
But “can” and “should” do not necessarily follow. With size and complexity come risk I must add to an already risky venture. Moreover the boat’s age likely hides issues (under the teak decks, inside the integral fuel tanks, for example) that await her next owner.
The sum up: I haven’t bought this boat.
“When will you be done with those boring boat reviews?” asked my wife over Thanksgiving dinner.
Not yet…is the short answer. But clearly a diversion is in order.
Thus this intermission: a few shots of the trip from Friday Harbor back to Seattle on a De Havilland Otter Seaplane. The passenger windows bubbled out, allowing my iPhone a super view of the float and the water below.
A refreshing change from boat bilges is flying, like jumping from the sauna into the cold pool, a fittingly romantic end to a week dedicated to exploring water transport.
Kenmore Air says if its De Havilland Otter:
Following the success of the de Havilland Beaver, the Turbine Single ten-passenger de Havilland Otter is one of the most versatile and dependable seaplanes operating today. Originally designated the “King Beaver”, this aircraft eventually became known as the DHC-3 Otter as it’s bigger in every dimension than its older sibling. The single engine de Havilland Turbine Otter is the largest, most powerful aircraft in our fleet with a range of 500 miles at a normal cruise speed of 134 mph.
The description fails to capture any of the cool smoothness of going airborne or the effortless descent. I’ll let the images handle that.
Taking off from the Friday Harbor Marina
Landing in Seattle’s Lake Union (Note Space Needle stays in frame–excellent planning on the part of the cinematographer.)
The hero of our adventure…
Back to serious business next post.
After a lovely evening with Chris and Rani, I caught the next-day ferry to Friday Harbor, here to see an actual Amazon 44.
I first became aware of this Amazon, named Nomadness, while researching the Fastwater, and once found, I was taken in by her subtle lines and the vast amount I could learn about her without leaving my office. Typically, getting more than surface detail of a boat on offer is difficult. Online blurbs, even the good ones, only go so far; brokers are reticent to release surveys to yahoos like me before a face-to-face meeting, and if, by chance, some previous owner kept a blog, it is likely long on the glory of adventure and short on the kind of information the next owner might wish to know. Not so Nomadness, for whom the present owner has spared no words, all of which are available online and most of which are technical.
Meet Steven K. Roberts, a self-described gonzo engineer who has successfully blended his passion for technology and travel since the early 80s. A struggling freelancer then, living a suburban lifestyle and hating it, Steven decided to make a change. He listed the things he loved, ranked their importance and pondered the possibilities, and then “abandoning all rational thought” he lept to the obvious solution: “to equip a recumbent bicycle with ham radio and computer gear, establish a virtual home in the nascent online networks, and travel full-time while writing and consulting for a living.”
This was 1983. Over the next eleven years, Steven criss-crossed the continent, riding 17,000 miles on three increasingly geeked-out bikes (Winnebiko I, Winnebiko II and BEHEMOTH). He became a media sensation, appearing on networks ranging from CNN to the BBC and in publications like USA Today and Wired Magazine. And he authored a popular book, Computing Across America, all while happily pioneering what he called the “technomadic lifestyle.”
As the year’s progressed, Steven’s passion for wheeled transport waned and was replaced with dreams of waterborne adventure. Thus came to be the intricate and engaging solar, sail and pedal-powered, amphibian micro-trimaran, Microship and the solar-paneled, location-tracking kayak, Bubba. But what if one really wants to go places? To explore the ocean requires a vessel with some heft.
Which brings us back to Nomadness, the Amazon 44, that Steven acquired in 2007 and has been kitting-out and documenting with his usual thoroughness on the Nomadness site and in the 196 page (and counting) Nomadness Report.
Built 1987; extensive refit, 2002.
Steel, pilothouse sloop (staysail-ready), round bilged, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.
Head sail on Harken Furler; Hood Stowaway in-mast furling main.
LOA: 44; LWL: 36.75; Beam: 13.08; Draft: 6.
Displacement: 30,600 lbs; Ballast: 9,300 lbs (estimated). Sail Area: 899.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 275. Ballast to Displacement (after personal increment): 25% . Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 15. Capsize Ratio: 1.75.
Plating: hull, 3/16ths inch welded steel plate; 3/8ths inch keel face plating and 3/4 inch keel bottom and top plating; superstructure, 3/16ths inch.
Tankage: 285 gallons fuel in three stainless steel tanks; 90 gallons water in two stainless steel tanks.
Insulation: spray foam to waterline, thickness unknown (in lockers, foam is covered with a layer of molded fiberglass, presumably to protect the insulation from what is put in the locker).
Engine: 77 hp with 7.5kW diesel auxiliary generator.
Major items from the 2002 refit include: new Awlgrip on hull, new treadmaster on deck, engine removal and servicing, mast and boom removed and painted, two Bomar hatches installed, hydraulic steering serviced, Websto heating installed, Lighthouse 1501 electric windlass installed, bottom stripped to base layer or bare metal and painted (2005), new batteries (8, AGM) installed (2009), and all electronics updated.
Though from the same pen as the Fastwater 44, the Amazon 44 is strikingly different, and where the former looked and felt like a brute of a boat, the latter impresses as being an elegant workhorse. She too is strongly built, but her moderate freeboard with nearly no sheer, slight overhangs and lower pilothouse make her proportionally understated. Even 27 years on she has a modern, spare, no-nonsense feel about her suggestive of the kind of boat Hemingway might have designed if he’d followed in the footsteps of Tillman.
Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:
- Small but adequate anchor locker forward with watertight bulkhead aft of it.
- Open, uncluttered deck, but secure passage to the mast via stanchions and handrails on the pilothouse.
- Folding mast steps to the truck.
- Double pane pilothouse windows (!) with a large exterior lip onto which one could customize storm windows.
- A large but secure cockpit (slightly less open aft than the other two Shannon boats) with a wheel in easy reach of the winches and ample passage around it.
- Aft cockpit locker large enough for four propane tanks (though that would use all the space).
- Massively strong aft rack for radar and solar panels.
- Galley, pilot station, and navigation station on main salon level. The area is also large enough to rig a pilot berth if needed.
- Simply superb visibility forward and to the sides from anywhere in the main salon. Good visibility when seated at the starboard side pilot station.
- Sensibly laid out galley whose counters have nice high fiddle rails (it surprises me how often this is not the case).
- Easy access to engine and generator, transmission and packing gland, all under main salon sole. (Dual Racor fuel filters also available here, each with its own pressure gauge, one of many details that indicate a well thought out boat).
- Ample fuel tankage, at last!
- All access hatches in the cabin sole secured in place with bronze dogs–someone has already thought “inverted.”
- 690 amp house bank, well secured in place, plus a dedicated start battery for main engine and another for the generator.
- Beautifully laid-out and easily accessible electrics control panel.
- Sit-down navigation station large enough for a full-sized chart also serves as the second lid to a deeply insulated freezer.
The above fails to capture some of what Steven has added during his tenure, like
- Updated electronics such as the Vesper WatchMate AIS transponder; Simrad AP24 autopilot with wireless remote; Maretron DSM250 multifunction color displays.
- A complete power management system by Outback, including inverter/charger, the FLEXmax Solar charge controller (this unit logs system performance for up to 128 days and can be remotely programmed), and the Outback Mate3 system display and controller mounted at pilot station.
- A Little Cod Wood Stove.
Steven’s layering on of electronics and his focus on the boat’s electronics backbone has been headed toward the realization of an idea he calls Datawake. Imagine the usefulness of an onboard database that could collect information about Nomadness’ many systems, from compass heading to fuel tank levels to the temperature of the refrigerator and the amount of water in the bilge, and make that information readily available to the skipper from the con while building an overall status history, a “wake of data streaming behind the boat.”
Nomadness has been a grand project, interrupted by what Steven calls his passage to “the Dark Side,” and now this strong, well-outfitted boat is looking for a new adventure. It could be that adventure is the Figure 8 Voyage.
The day after viewing the Amazon 39 saw me early aboard the Clipper Ferry for Victoria. Rain and heavy wind in Puget Sound. The purser urged us to expect “strong motion” as we entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca. “Sea sickness tablets are available at the counter,” she said, “25 cents a packet.” For me these waters have never been anything but a lake. I looked forward to a pounding hull and water over the bow, but our powerful cat outran the gale in an hour. We entered the strait to find warm sun and flat water.
This day’s target, a Fastwater 44, sat in Oak Bay, just blocks from the stately Empress Hotel.
It should be noted that I had expected what was advertised, an Amazon 44, but what I got was a Fastwater. Prior to the trip I reached out to the designer, Graham Shannon, with some questions about his boat’s appropriateness for the Figure 8. He responded, “I don’t know why they’re calling it an Amazon.” All the Amazons, he stated, were built of steel at the SP Metalcraft yard and were round bilged. This aluminum, hard chined hull was done by Fastwater Marine. “I did design it though,” wrote Shannon, “It’s a well-made origami hull, and it should be suitable for your voyage.”
Once on the dock, first impressions of this boat went something like this: “Big boat, wow, great hull paint, nice open decks, new treadmaster nonskid, BIG!, looks brand new, BIG, beefy, strong, wow–BIG boat.” From stem to stern her size and sense of strength were most impressive.
Aluminum, cutter-rigged sloop, pilot house, hard chine below the waterline, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.
Head sails on Harken furlers; Leisure boom-furling, fully battened main.
LOA: 44; LWL: 36.75; Beam: 13.66; Draft: 6.
Displacement: 27,000lb; Ballast: 9300. Sail Area: 899.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 243. Ballast to Displacement: 34% . Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 16. Capsize Ratio: 1.82.
Hull Plating: 1/4 inch aluminum for the “bottom, topsides and superstructure,” per the survey. 3/16ths inch on deck.
Tankage: 100 gallons fuel in 1 tank; 120 gallons water in 2 tanks. All aluminum and integrated into the hull.
Engine: 77 hp.
Joining me on this inspection was my friend Chris Bennet, an experienced sailor who, with his wife Rani, has cruised a Coast 34 named Ladybug from BC to New Zealand via all the beautiful spots in between. Neither of us are big boat sailors, so it took us several minutes to get the lay of the land. And while I gravitated toward the fancy furling boom and the great forward locker, Chris stood to ponder the vast pilothouse windows. “Think inverted in the Southern Ocean,” he kept saying. I would point to the bull-nosing ready made for storm windows, but he just shook his head.
Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:
- The large cockpit felt exposed aft but had the advantage of draining well if pooped. There was a huge locker under the starboard settee and another purpose-built for two propane tanks. Lifting a seat cover behind the wheel gave easy access to the rudder post in case of emergency.
- The boat sported a watertight companionway hatch made of aluminum and complete with inside/outside dogs.
- New sails on quality furlers and the first boat I’ve seen with the inner headsail already rigged.
- Large windows bull nosed with aluminum ready for storm windows.
- Large forward anchor locker with bulkhead aft.
- Beefy anchor roller and chock integrated into the hull.
- Well installed nonskid everywhere on deck.
- Upper salon complete with galley, pilot station, and berth meant all major functions were as near as possible to the cockpit.
- For a guy used to low boats with no forward-facing windows, the view from the salon/pilot station was extraordinary. One could look straight out without any sense of straining to see over the bow.
- Ample insulation had been sprayed on and well below waterline.
- Engine could be easily accessed below salon sole, and the area was still fairly roomy.
Digging around inside lockers and bilges revealed a boat of immense strength. That combined with her very light use, new rig, simple layout, and well protected pilot house suggested her fitness for the Figure 8 voyage. My concerns included a lack of familiarity with in-boom furling and its fitness for long distance cruising (granted this device could likely be removed and replaced with a standard hank on sail), worry regarding the safety of such large windows, even with storm protection, and a general discomfort with the interior design, the quality of carpentry and system installation.
What defines an able high latitude boat varies by what one defines as his high latitude area. A vessel that is ideal for Alaska’s Inside Passage might not be what one would choose upon departing the Falklands for South Georgia. Such is the case with the beautiful, sturdy and capable Amazon 39 I inspected in Port Townsend.
Built in 1985, this Graham Shannon-designed sloop was entirely rebuilt in 2000 under the direction of the current owners. Such phrases as “entirely rebuilt” can be misleading; so to be clear, she was gutted, taken down to a hull bare even of insulation and then professionally refitted with entirely new systems and furnishings. Fourteen years later, she still looks brand new.
Steel sloop, full cabin and pilot house, hard chined, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.
LOA: 39; LWL: 36 (estimated); Beam: 12.5; Draft: 7.5.
Displacement: 33,000lb; Ballast: unknown. Sail Area: unknown.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 316. Ballast to Displacement: unknown. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: unknown. Capsize Ratio: 1.64.
Hull Plating: Not available.
Tankage: 120 gallons fuel in 2 tank; 90 gallons water in 2 tanks.
Engine: 30 hp.
From inside, this Amazon feels like a newly remodeled loft. Her open, airy salon includes a chart table to port of the inside steering station and a dining table and settee to starboard. Forward and down one step is the new galley and a small guest berth that converts into a large desk. In the bows is storage and an open chain locker. Sleeping quarters are but one queen berth aft, and the one head is adjacent, but the space to port of the berth is a large pathway to the stern systems, including the hydraulic steering gear. The engine lives beneath the cockpit sole and is easily accessible from the top and both sides.
The cockpit is small with high combings to each side but feels scarily unprotected aft. Note the steering column looks to be a section of recycled aluminum mast (clever). Also note the unique Monitor wind vane install (see photos). Decks are uncluttered and the high raised cabin provides great hand-holds while making a run forward.
I won’t get into the pros and cons of the Amazon 39 as a Figure 8 vessel; in my view, such a passage is beyond her design parameters. She’s too high sided and too heavy to be a smart sailor, underpowered for the Northwest Passage, and below she’s far too open to be a safe place to live in a seaway. That said, this vessel is beautifully detailed and well maintained and if my adventure took me only to Alaska’s Inside Passage, or similar high latitude environments, she would be a strong contender.
Next day saw me on the Bainbridge Ferry again, this time with a car headed for Poulsbo to see a Waterline 38.
One word describes first impressions of this boat: unremarkable. To my eye, her lines were common, thick and high-sided as if drawn with a dull pencil (sorry Ed).
But first impressions are unreliable, and the more I tore into this boat, the more logical and thoroughly considered her design appeared to be.
Steel, cutter-rigged sloop (inner forestay not rigged), full deck-house, round chined, extended fin keel with skeg-hung rudder.
LOA: 38; LWL: 29.8; Beam: 11.5; Draft: 5.
Displacement: 22,000lb; Ballast: unknown. Sail Area: unknown.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 371 (!). Ballast to Displacement: unknown. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: unknown. Capsize Ratio: 1.64.
Hull Plating: Not available.
Tankage: 100 gallons fuel in 1 tank; 105 gallons water in 3 tanks.
Engine: 44 hp.
One of the older yachts on the list, this Waterline showed her age, and the to-do list would be quite long. However, below the surface she was quite a well thought-out, well-built boat.
Positives from the Figure 8 perspective:
- The small, high-railed cockpit felt safe. It allowed for easy movement around the wheel and easy reach of the winches.
- Ample deck lockers were located fore and aft. In the cockpit, a smallish locker under the stern seat was ventilated and ready for propane. A huge anchor locker forward was backed by a watertight bulkhead and had space enough for extra rode and several large fenders.
- “Sissy bars” surrounded the mast and the three winches there were self-tailing and ran cleanly.
- Strong stainless gallows cradled the boom and a rack aft, for communications and solar panels, was integrated into the aft rail system.
- Though numerous, portlights were small and fixed (a positive in high latitudes).
- The layout of living accommodations was thoroughly traditional and efficient. The U-shaped galley was close to the cockpit and countertops boasted 2 inch fiddles! The head was just to starboard; immediately to port there was a cozy quarter berth.
- Center-island galley sinks covered the engine, allowing access from either side.
- Locker covers were battens (breathable), hinged and could be secured in place (important in a boat that could go inverted). Spaces under the port and starboard settee were vacant, squarish and could take extra tankage without much customization.
- House Batteries, two 8-Ds, were located forward of the galley, amidships and below the waterline but above the cabin sole.
- The boat’s electrical infrastructure, wiring, switch box location and accessibility, was all quality work.
Concerns for this boat included:
- Her published displacement of 22,000 pounds (dry?) gives here a heavy displacement ratio of 371 before I move aboard and suggests the boat would be slow. (Sail area statistics were unavailable).
- The depth of refit required–topsides paint and hull, re-rigging, new sails, hard dodger, all-new electronics, etc.–was not insignificant given my current time frame.
- Lack of inside watch station (remedied with hard dodger or sight bubble).
- Minimal horsepower of existing, potentially tired engine.
All told this Waterline 38 was solid, an intelligently designed and a well-built boat, but could be too small for my needs and take too much time to ready.
Last week I flew north to inspect potential Figure 8 boats. Over four days I saw five steel and aluminum boats in yards that took me to Seattle, Poulsbo, Port Townsend, Victoria and Friday Harbor.
If I’d had the good sense to live nearer the Netherlands, I could have conducted this entire search without ever leaving the sales docks of De Valk, and fortune would have smiled similarly if I lived in France. But on the west coast of North America, metal boats are downright rare, except for one tiny pocket of manufacturing madness near Victoria, British Columbia. Here are (or were) the shops of Waterline Yachts, SP Metal Craft and Fastwater Marine, and all the boats I saw could be traced to one of these.
The next few posts will contain a quick review of the boats seen this trip, their basic specifications, brief thoughts on their suitability for the Figure 8 Voyage and some photos.
By way of reminder, in the previous post I defined the characteristics of “the right boat” as:
- Bullet-proof hull (i.e. steel or aluminum).
- About 40 feet in length.
- Capacious enough for a year’s supplies.
- Simply laid out and rigged for singlehanding (or easily made so).
One could argue that these parameters are so general as to be unhelpful. So, to be a little more specific, I was also looking for boats with:
- Good sailing characteristics (sensible sail area to displacement ratios).
- A pilot house or some kind of raised cabin that would allow for standing watch from below.
- Watertight bulkheads forward.
- Ample hull insulation above the waterline. (One metal boat owner friend of mine argues for it below waterline as well. Still thinking that one through).
- A strong power plant.
- Tankage for 200 gallons of fuel or room to add that in tankage below-deck.
- Serviceable electrical wiring and switchboxes.
- A history of (or evidence of) good upkeep such that a total, tear-it-to-the-bone refit is not required.
Simple as it may sound, the above represents a tall order when the field is so sparsely populated, and in the end my target boats for this trip comprised what was available rather than what fit the criteria.
The first boat inspected, the SK-42, was in Bainbridge, a pleasant 20 minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.
Steel pilot-house sloop, nearly flush deck, extended fin keel with skeg hung rudder.
LOA: 42; LWL: 36; Beam: 12.5; Draft: 6.5.
Displacement: 26,000lb; Ballast: 8,000lbs. Sail Area: 900 sq ft.
Displacement to Length Ratio: 250. Ballast to Displacement (after personal increment of 5,500lbs): 25%. Sail Area to Displacement Ratio: 16. Capsize Ratio: 1.69.
Tankage: 115 gallons fuel; 105 water.
Engine: 70 hp.
Neither in photos nor in person does this boat impress as being a high latitude work-horse. This is largely due to her deeply transverse transom and overlarge cockpit, which give her a racey feel. That said, her lower freeboard and robust construction suggest a boat that can charge on in may weathers. Add to this her newness and, upon inspection, immaculate upkeep–cleaner bilges I have never seen–made her a boat worth consideration.
Positives where the Figure 8 are concerned:
- Big wheel in the big cockpit allowed easy access to winches while steering.
- Open, uncluttered foredeck.
- Ample storage locker forward with watertight bulkhead
- Stainless chainplates and standing rigging in good condition.
- Fairly low profile house for added safety at sea.
- Inner forestay could easily be rigged.
- A well designed chart table and bench allowed for good, all-around view while seated, even though the windows were narrow. Bench hooked around for comfort in rougher weather.
- Super-well maintained systems if cleanliness is an indicator, and her electronics, though not new, were all appropriate to my needs.
- High quality hardware. Stainless Steel through-hull valves, for example.
- Her lower house and freeboard also reduced the boat’s internal volume, but this made her cozy for a singlehander and safe (handholds were always but an arm’s length away).
Though a solid contender, concerns included a lack of below decks storage for such a long passage as the Figure 8 and no obvious locker-space for additional diesel tankage. The boat also felt too lightly ballasted and too powerfully rigged for a circuit of the Southern Ocean. Still, she showed extremely well, was strongly built and clearly blue-water able, having made two transits to Hilo and back with her current owner.
Next up, a Waterline 38…
In a few hours I fly to the Pacific Northwest to inspect five prospective Figure 8 Voyage boats. This article describes the search to date, including how my thoughts have evolved since this summer’s Northwest Passage.
“The best boat is the one you have,” is often quoted to illustrate a basic truth about voyaging: as vital as dreams are to adventure, too much dreaming, planning, revising, and perfecting can kill a cruise. At some point improvement is nothing but delay, and one must get going or risk not going at all.
In my case, however, the old saw is wrong. I have a boat, a much adored, 31 foot, full-keel ketch, named Murre. She has proven her abilities by safely transporting me over large reaches of the open Pacific (see Murre and the Pacific, one boat, one guy, two years on a big ocean). But the differences between a mostly middle latitude voyage of 15,000 miles and a 40,000 mile voyage that will spend half its time in high latitudes is vast. Compare the physical requirements on a plane flying from San Francisco to New York to a space ship’s flight to the moon. Both are technically difficult feats, but one is orders of magnitude more so. Murre is the jumbo jet in this analogy; she’s just not designed for the rigors of the Figure 8 course.
Much of my focus in recent months has been on defining the characteristics of the right boat.
And what are those?
Succinctly put, the vessel must be:
- Fast: able to maintain enough speed to get me around the Figure 8 course in one season.
- Capacious: have carrying capacity for a year’s supplies and lots of fuel.
- Simple: laid-out and rigged so as to be handled easily by one person.
- Maximally Seaworthy: capable of weathering extreme ocean and ice environments.
While these are interrelated requirements, the last is far and away the most important and has been the cause of the much recent contemplation.
Here are two visual examples of the extremes a Figure 8 boat must survive:
And how I’ve thought about these characteristics has changed dramatically of late. It may be helpful to know that the idea for the Figure 8 came to me while reading of Matt Rutherford’s solo of the Americas in 2011. His impressive passage was accomplished in an unlikely vessel, an old, fiberglass Albin Vega that survived both the Arctic and the Horn. Murre is also made of fiberglass; it’s a material I’ve worked with extensively during her restoration. Thus, until recently, my Figure 8 focus has been on a range of vintage, heavy-displacement, fiberglass boats, like the Westsail 32.
This is a design I’ve admired for years. Built throughout the 1970s in Costa Mesa, California, Westsails are legendary for their heft, their robustness and ability to survive even the most ridiculous of dirty weather. One now famous example is that of Sartori, the boat caught in The Perfect Storm of 1991 (you’ve probably seen the movie or read the book), which survived being rolled and abandoned only to wash up on a New Jersey beach intact.
And boats like this are not unheard of in the Arctic. Cloud Nine, Fiona, Saint Brenden, Belzebub, Dodo, and Gitana are different boats of different sizes but have two things in common: they’ve all completed the Northwest Passage since 2009, and they are all made of fiberglass.
So, during the spring of this year I researched a number of stout fiberglass designs. I combed marinas in my area, flew to San Diego and Florida, and inspected vessels like the Westsail 32, 39 and 42; the Valiant 40, the Corbin 39, the Lafitte 44, the Noresman 447.
This search was interrupted by the summer’s Northwest Passage adventure with Les and Ali on Arctic Tern, and here I learned first-hand that one year in the Arctic is not like the other. In 2011, when Matt Rutherford completed his Northwest Passage, ice extents along the route were at historic minimums, and this allowed Matt to work through with relative ease. Ditto for yachts in 2012. But in 2013 the course was choked with ice much of the season, and all fiberglass yachts starting in 2014 turned back, their skippers judging conditions to be too dangerous for their vessels’ design.
Seeing the Arctic in person and feeling the immense force of ice against hull convinced me to shift gears. Since my return, I’ve been exploring only boats with hulls of steel or aluminum.
But how big? Of what design?
Let’s go back and explore the four requirements.
To complete the Figure 8 course in one season will require that I maintain an average speed of 115 miles a day. (More on the course and mileages here.) This may not seem fast to you (it is, after all, only 4.79 miles an hour), but it does to me. Keeping up solid daily runs over time can be hard work. By way of comparison, Murre has made three, month-long Pacific crossings, and her average speed over the total of those 8,000 miles was 110 miles a day. The emphasis here is on average speed over weeks and months, as with wind-ships one day is rarely like the next.
For keel boats, speed’s limiting factor is boat size. Given similar conditions of wind and wave, larger boats can go faster than smaller ones, and size, where speed is concerned, is usually expressed as the boat’s length at the water line. This isn’t the place to get into the calculation, so let me jump to the result: the Figure 8 needs a boat whose minimum waterline is 33 feet, plus or minus, and this equates to a boat of about 40 feet in length overall.
We’re not talking cupboard space here, but rather the balance between the overall weight of provisions (the payload) and the boat’s ability to safely carry weight (carrying capacity).
These numbers add up quickly. For ship’s stores (food, beverage, galley supplies, etc.), I’ve used Niger Calder’s “Personal Increment” calculation (See Cruising Handbook, p. 13), which provides, among other things, an estimation of the weight of supplies one person requires per day of voyaging. This number, plus 100 gallons of water and 300 gallons of fuel (a range of 1000 miles under power in the Northwest Passage is not unreasonable), brings my payload to around 5,500 pounds for a year’s voyaging.
It’s not just any boat that can carry so much weight and be safe on the high seas. Again, I’ll forgo the details of ballast, displacement and their ratios and say here that this payload requires a moderate to heavy displacement boat of around 40 feet overall, and bigger would be better.
Though smaller boats are often easier to manage, simplicity is more a function of how the boat is arranged and outfitted. Here are just a few examples:
- The rig must be designed or adaptable to singlehanding. This does not mean she must be a ketch, though I have a preference for that rig, but it does mean that the larger sails of a cutter or sloop must be engineered for solo work. Headsails will be roller furling, for example, as could be the main.
- Line arrangements (sheet, halyard, reefing) should be as short as possible. Halyards and reefing lines should stay at the mast rather than be run to the cockpit.
- Cockpit winches must be within reach of the wheel or be movable to such a position.
Below decks, the layout must allow for comfortable and efficient living. Where soloing is concerned, these two terms are almost synonymous and, for me, include features like:
- The ability to stand watch from below via a cupola or raised cabin.
- Easy access to the galley and a pilot berth from the cockpit (galleys well forward and king sized beds make for a poor experience at sea).
Mechanical systems must be easy to access and reparable anywhere. This excludes boats with devices like saildrives and dedicated hydraulic steering.
This is a can of worms. Don’t believe me? Then I’d recommend you retrieve from your local library Seaworthiness, The Forgotten Factor by C. A. Marchaj. It’s a serious work, as indicated by the header quote to Chapter 1, “The Nature of the Problem.”
“I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account there of in the day of judgement. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by they words thou shalt be condemned.”
This book is 372 pages of no foolin’ around, but before Marachaj gets into the mind-boggling math, he lays out the definition simply and clearly:
“Seaworthiness–strong durable and watertight construction, structurally sound rig, good survival characteristics in extreme weather conditions.”
Given my destination (see graphics at the top of this article), this means two specific things:
1. Stays upright: the ballast, displacement, and capsize ratios yield a boat with maximum stability in large seas. If capsize occurs (far from impossible), the boat does not stay inverted. Why is this important? Here’s a good reason.
2. Survives collision: hull construction must withstand heavy ice impacts and severe groundings; better if it has watertight bulkheads fore and aft. Overhangs should be minimal; bow sprits and aft hung rudders (easily damaged by ice) are to be avoided.
Clearly there’s much more to seaworthiness, but for the Figure 8, these are the core design characteristics.
So, to summarize, the Figure 8 boat will be of steel or aluminum, about 40 feet long, medium to heavy displacement, bullet-proof, simply laid out and rigged for single handing.
Well that was easy.
Except for one thing.
In the States, the market for boats like this is small. Relative to production glass boats, few are made, and fewer still are available used. Thus far my internet research has taken me to such disparate places as Malaysia and the Netherlands, Cape Town and Turkey. I’ve looked into designs with names like Amazon, Atlantis, Boreal, Damien, Dix, Garcia, Koopmans, Kanter, Offshore, and Van de Stadt.
The cluster of boats to be inspected next week in Washington and British Columbia are the nearest to home I’ve found and include two Amazon 44s, a Waterline 38, and a Kanter.
Wish me luck!
Here are two of my favorite designs to date:
The Amazon 44
Forgive me, but I’ve always thought of UGGs as girlie boots. Where I’m from they are a fashion statement preferred by teens at the mall, and consequently nine tenths of the downtown UGG shop is dedicated to such pink and frilly footware that a high latitude adventurer would be embarrassed to enter.
Knowing that, I was amazed when Les and Ali of Arctic Tern recommended them. Because my time to Northwest Passage departure was too short to allow any research at all, I simply swallowed my pride, went to the above mentioned shop, and bought the only pair of men’s boots I could find, the UGG Classic Short.
The UGG Classic Short is a sheepskin boot whose leather shell and wool lining are a single piece of material. The shell is a light-weight suede of medium height with a lining is 17mm grade “A” Twinface sheepskin to which is attached a sole of flexible, molded foam. According to UGG, sheepskin is a naturally thermostatic material and will regulate foot temperature to body temperature in a range between -30 Fahrenheit and 80 Fahrenheit, which is quite a claim. Though “naturally high tech,” nothing about the boot feels the least bit rugged or outdoorsy. In fact, its sensation going on is more that of a bedroom slipper.
- Surprisingly warm: for the most part I reserved these boots for the cabin and as something comforting to change into after a watch in cold, clammy rubber boots. For this purpose they worked extremely well. Donning these boots when coming below quickly produced warm feet. On dry days I’d sometimes wear the UGGs on deck for a watch and found that in these conditions they could be warmer than the Xtratufs (though feet still got cold after extended periods for reasons having more to do with inactivity than insulation).
- Supremely comfortable: the plush sheepskin bootie and fully lined calf was a little bit of luxury (like a hot tub for the feet) and so thick that I never wore socks with UGGs.
- Breathable: Even after hours of wear, and even in a warm cabin where boots like this were not required, the UGG never became perceptibly damp.
- Not for walking: while great for huffing around the boat (I even climbed the mast in them), the few times I wore the UGG on hikes to the grocery store or coffee shop it failed to keep its shape or provide much support.
- Not waterproof: OK, this UGG is not designed to be, so such is hardly a fair criticism. That said, summer in the arctic is often slushy, and any time the weather turned convincingly wet, these boots were put away.
- Sole crushing: with time, the sheepskin in the soles became compressed and lost some of its insulative properties.
- Difficult to dry: because the shell and lining are all of a piece, the lining would have been very difficult to dry if soaked by rain or sea water.
Two points in defense of UGGs
1) During the passage it struck me how similar these UGGs are to traditional Eskimo Muk Luks, which are made of soft sealskin. Like Muk Luks, the UGG is much more suited to the very cold (i.e. dry) conditions of an Arctic winter than the more typically muddy summer conditions.
2) The UGGs my hosts wore were not the Classic Short, but rather a much more rugged boot similar to the UGG Polson. Given their tougher shell and sole, they were more versatile than my boot by far and could take wet days on deck and muddy days on shore with ease. Still, they suffered from having a boot top just that much too short (jumping from the dinghy to the beach had to be done with care) and the permanent liner whose insulation couldn’t be dried properly once wet.
In the final analysis the UGG boot’s warmth meant it had potential, and a common refrain aboard Arctic Tern was that we wished UGG made sea boots.
The previous post lays out a few options for hand protection while on a boat plying northern waters. Now, on to feet.
And I must admit up front that I didn’t quite solve the riddle of keeping feet warm and dry. I knew I wasn’t alone. Take, for example, Mike Johnson. Mike is an explorer who has sailed his large schooner, Gitana, to most places a boat can go on this globe, including Cambridge Bay, where she overwintered on the hard last year. During a visit to our house prior to this year’s Northwest Passage, Mike laconically summarized his polar gear’s successes and failures with one sentence: “It’s all ok, except I get cold feet.”
And no wonder. On a high latitude boat making stops in the Arctic, one’s feet must be prepared for three environments: the extreme cold and wet on deck, the relative comfort of life below, and tromps ashore in mud and ice.
It may be that one boot could handle all this, but I didn’t find that one boot. Instead I chose three very different solutions:
1. Xtratuf Insulated boots for on deck.
2. The Ugg Classic Short for below.
3. Columbia Bugaboot for trekking ashore.
Here I’ll review the Xtratuf boot, and move on to the others in subsequent posts.
Xtratufs for On Deck
These brown rubber boots are the de rigeur footwear in Southeast Alaska. Developed in the 1960s for west coast commercial fishermen, they are the brand-standard for anyone on the water in a region where everyone is on the water. Loyalty to this boot is such that Xtratufs have gone beyond that of work boot and can now be found at weddings, donning the feet of toddlers too young to walk, and hanging as ornaments from the boughs of Christmas trees.
Compare these two images to get a sense of how this boot’s popularity has radiated:
Pretty photos (and an outsourcing problem that has been remedied, according to locals) to one side, these boots just work. Several styles are available, but for this year’s Northwest Passage I chose the Xtratuf Legacy Insulated boot for maximum protection. The shell of this boot is made from a tripple-dipped, seamless neoprene that is both strong and flexible down to subfreezing temperatures. The high cut helps keep water out even in the sloshiest of environments, and the chevron-patterned sole provides ample traction on a wide range of surfaces. For heat retention, a layer of foam insulation surrounds the foot of the boot (top and bottom, but not the calf). Note: much like the Atlas gloves in the previous post, this boot is designed to take inserts in the form of warming insoles and “Sokkets.” I used the Servus 3/8ths inch felt insole (see “Layering Options” below).
Cost: Boot-$120.00. Insole-$7.00
- Tough as advertised: The shell is highly puncture resistant and durable, and unlike other materials, doesn’t break down (get sticky) in the sun or when stored for long periods in a boat locker. I have a well-used pair (uninsulated) bought in Hawaii in 2011 that have seen heavy use since, and the only sign of wear is a split in the rubber between the cuff and boot, easily repaired using several methods.
- Unquestionably waterproof: the seamless neoprene construction is simple and a reassuringly “no fail” solution. With foul weather gear pulled down over the high tops, I found my feet stayed dry in even the wettest weather.
- Layering Options: I bought boots a full size larger than my normal footware. This allowed me to put in not just one but two insoles or to double up on thick socks when conditions were especially cold. Additionally, insoles and socks that had become damp and clammy could be easily changed for a fresh, dry pair. I took three pairs of insoles and six pair of Smartwool Mountaineering socks.
- Not warm: that “rubber” boots are not warm is a common lament among high latitude sailors, but I’m not sure this is entirely the fault of the boot. Granted, the neoprene always “feels” cold going on, but I think the main culprit is our inactivity. Much of standing watch is just that, standing, and with little to keep the blood circulating, it’s no wonder our feet freeze. To be fair, I attempted to get blood moving by shifting my stance and walking in place while on watch but with little success. And it’s important to note that my feet got cold in other boots too.
- Not breathable: again, this is a qualified criticism as the boot makes no pretense toward breathability. That said, because boots are worn for such long periods, moisture does tend to build up inside and lend to the feeling of cold.
- Not good for walking: all that insulation (including the insoles and thick socks) make this boot too chunky (and hot!) for anything but short walks ashore, but that’s a function of this boot. I’ve hiked many a Southeast Alaskan town in uninsulated Xtratufs in relative comfort.
What I Opted Against
- Bama Sokkets (by Honeywell for Xtratuf): these are removable, insulated boot liners made to wick moisture from the feet to the boot wall. Great idea, but in my experience they are a fiddle to get on and off, and my feet exit the Sokket after a long watch as damp as ever.
- Permanent “sheep skin” linings: the Viking Trysil with pile liner is one of several brands I chose against because of the difficulty of drying the insides once wet.
- Gore-Tex insulated boots: the Durbarry of Ireland line is the hot, new thing in sailing boots, but in addition to a gob-smacking price tag ($399 a pair), I’m hard pressed to see how Gore-Tex could wick moisture out of a non breathable, leather shell. Also, feedback I’ve received from other Arctic sailors suggests they are not a warm boot for the north.
Though the Xtratuf Legacy Insulated boot failed to keep my feet toasty-warm, the boot’s durable, seamless, high-top construction, its good grip, and options for layering in extra warmth make it a superior boot for high latitude deck work.
Up next: boots for inside the boat…
The breadth of selection is mind-boggling. Take, for example, the types of gloves available to cold-weather commercial fishermen. Even in this market subset, the sheer number of options and materials warrants its own junior college introductory course. Add to this the mountaineering brands, the sailing brands, and trying to find the best piece of kit can appear a futilely complex exercise.
I chose to try two very different glove solutions for deck work in the Arctic, low-tech commercial fishermen’s “rubber” gloves and high-tech Sealskinz. Also noteworthy are the NRS Titanium kayaker’s gloves mentioned below.
Fishermen’s Rubber Gloves
For deck work I primarily used the orange “rubber” gloves so ubiquitous among commercial fishermen, specifically, the Atlas 465 gloves with separate liner. The Atlas outer glove is a double-dipped PVC material that is cut and puncture resistant and remains flexible down to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) and has a roughened grip for handling slippery objects. The yellow liner is made of a seamless, plush acrylic.
In preparation for very cold work, I bought the extra-large size in these gloves and then purchased two sets of liners, large and medium–one to go inside the other, with the intention of having three layers of protection.
Cost: $16.00 for the glove; $7.00 for the liner.
- Worry-free waterproof-ness: unlike my seamed, high-tech mitts or the below mentioned high-tech gloves, their ability to protect was not in question.
- Easy-dry liner: though I only took one set of outer gloves, I brought multiples of inserts (5 sets), which meant I could quickly trade wet for dry, and wet liners dried quickly.
- Active warmth: because I wore these only for active jobs like handling anchor chain, dock lines, tacking, reefing, etc., I never found I needed more than one insert. As long as I was using my hands, they stayed warm in this protection. (These were not warm gloves for low-exertion tasks like steering and just standing watch, nor did I wear them for that purpose.)
- Triple layer protection: the idea of putting on two sets of inserts inside the rubber shell never became reality. It was too time consuming, and because I reserved this glove for active work, unnecessary in the kind of cold I experienced on the Northwest Passage this year.
- A size too big: because I was using only the one insert, the extra-large out glove size was too big for “fine” work. When reefing or tacking, the fingers frequently got caught in the line or made the work of finishing a knot or cleating a sheet too cumbersome.
- Difficult to put on quickly: having two layers (shell and liner) made these gloves a fiddle to get on, especially if one’s hands were damp or sticky. I experimented with leaving the liner inside the glove (as with the Alti Mitt) but found fingers rarely made it in without bunching up the liner material. Typically the liner and glove had to be donned separately.
- Cuff size: the cuff was of medium length but too short and narrow to fit over foul weather gear and too large to fit under. I suspect the cuff is designed to go under the large sleeve of a commercial fisherman’s “rubber” jacket, like those made by Grunden.
The Atlas 465 gloves are a low tech, no-nonsense, cheap, and nearly indestructible solution. Even if one opts for carrying a more cutting edge solution, having a pair or two of these gloves in the locker as backup is enthusiastically recommended.
What I Opted Against
- Permanently insulated gloves, like the Atlas 460 series or the Atlas 282 Temres series. I’ve used the 460s on ocean passages and find that though this glove solves the problem caused by having separate pieces, it can be difficult to dry if the attached liner gets wet (and it will get wet) because it’s surprisingly tough to turn fully inside out.
- Partially “rubberized” gloves, like the Atlas Fit series. I find they get wet too easily and are slow to dry.
I also brought a pair of Sealskinz Ultra Grip. These are designed to be close-fitting and are advertised as waterproof, windproof and breathable. The out shell is mostly Nylon with a “hydrophilic” membrane and an inner liner of merino wool. Dotted palms assist with grip.
- Great for fine work: because the Sealkinz were so close-fitting, they were excellent for jobs that required tying knots, cleating-off lines, handling tools, etc. With some practice, I found I could accomplish tasks in these gloves almost as quickly as if I were working with bare hands.
- Delaying cold: these gloves slowed the invasion of cold that can come from handling cold objects, and in this way were far superior to working with bare hands. However, unlike my experience of Atlas gloves, hands in Sealskinz never felt warm. It could be that I bought a size too small and that there was simply too much pressure on my fingers to allow ample circulation. Delaying cold is not a bad trade for the ability to do fine work on deck.
- Quick-drying: The glove dried rapidly when hung over the stove.
- Not entirely waterproof: either they weren’t waterproof or they weren’t breathable. Either way my hands often came out of these gloves feeling wet.
- Not entirely warm: delaying the onset of real cold is a good thing, but not the same as having warm hands.
This high-tech solution bought me more time to do “fine” tasks on deck than bare hands, but did not effectively keep hands warm or dry.
What Didn’t Get Tested
I brought but failed to try the NRS Maverick Glove with Hydrocuff. This is a cold-water kayaker’s solution made of 2mm neoprene. It has liquid sealed seams and an arm-gripping cuff, so its warmth should compete with that of Sealskinz while being entirely waterproof (and non-breathable). The fingers aren’t as close-fitting, so dexterity may be minimally reduced. The pair I have (size: large) are very tight going on, especially with already-wet hands, and it’s this difficulty which left them in the bottom of my duffel bag for the year’s Northwest Passage.
Remembering the three basic criteria, that the item must be 1) waterproof; 2) easy to don; 3) easy to dry, the clear winner in this post is the simple and rugged Atlas 465. These have the additional advantage of allowing working hands to be feel warm in very cold conditions for about half the price of the competition.
In a sense, I got lucky. A mere nine shopping days separated my landing the berth on Arctic Tern and my expected arrival in Nuuk. Time was short, investigations rushed. I just happened to be passing through Seattle on the way home from a Vancouver delivery and took that opportunity to visit the world’s largest REI and the Outdoor Research factory store. In June, I found, only Outdoor Research had anything like a selection of Arctic-ready mittens.
I chose the Outdoor Research Alti Mitt for when needed warmth trumped that of dexterity. According to the manufacturer this mitt is “built for 8,000 meter peaks and Arctic expeditions,” and though I wouldn’t know about the former, it served well in the latter.
The Alti Mitt is actually two in one, an outer shell with an inner liner. The shell is made of a waterproof Gore-Tex with a leather palm. It has Prima Loft One insulation on top with fleece on the underside. Large, long cuffs allow easy fit over the sleeves of foul weather gear and gaskets can be cinched to reduce the intrusion of wet stuff. The liner mitt employs the same insulation strategy as the shell, but there’s more of it. The two pieces can be worn separately or together.
- I have a hand of average size but bought the large mitt to ensure ample room inside to trap warm air and reduce any pressure from material on the skin (pressure reduces circulation). I could comfortably put the thumb in with the other fingers and even make a fist of my hand, all within the mitt. This, combined with the insulation, made the mitt very warm under most circumstances.
- The long, large cuff extended easily and without much fuss over the sleeve of my foul weather gear. The lengthy overlap between foulie cuff and that of the mitt ensured “seamless” warmth between hand and arm.
- Even though the cuffs fit over the foul weather gear, I found that rain did not easily make its way inside. On two occasions I stood a rainy watch at the wheel in these mitts and in neither case did the liner get wet. (I can’t explain this.)
- The leather palm remained waterproof, even in the wettest weather. (See below re Gore-Tex palms.)
- A velcro tab attaches the liner to the shell, securing one to the other and making the mitt easy to get in and out of.
- Even after weeks of use, the mitt had a plush, warm, luxurious feeling, and was a joy to put on.
- The fleece insulation on the palm-side of the mitt (both shell and liner) was insufficient to block the intrusion of cold when gripping cold surfaces for long periods. This is the Alti Mitt’s single biggest drawback.
- With rough use, the liner slid around inside of the shell. The two Velcro tabs at the base of the liner were not enough to stop this.
- Outdoor Research would not sell additional liners. This meant I had to be extra careful not to wet or lose the one pair I had. That liners are not sold separately seems a miss-step on the part of the company.
- The liner felt too lightly built to be worn on its own, and because I had only the one pair, I chose never to do this.
- With prolonged wetting, the grip of the leather palm became slick and slippery (though it remained waterproof). This result was not unexpected and was preferable to Gore-Tex (see below) while being far from ideal.
The Outdoor Research Alti Mitt is an excellent piece of kit for light duty work in cold temperatures but could do with extra insulation in the palms and a more secure connection between the shell and the liner. I intended to experiment with inserting another, light fleece mitten inside the liner for added warmth, but never found such an item for sale in the Arctic hamlets we visited.
What I Opted Against
- Mitts with Gore-Tex palms. In my experience water can be forced through Gore-Tex given the right amount of pressure (after a few rainy sits, the seats of Gore-Tex foul weather bibs, for example, seem to leave me with a damp bum).
- Mitts with a separated index finger. The reduction of space in the mitt’s main compartment make for cramped quarters when all four or five attempt to snuggle together and seemed a poor trade for minimal added dexterity.
- Glove Liners. A few manufacturers and one salesperson recommended a glove liner to go inside the mitt shell. Such seemed to defeat the purpose of a mitt, which is to create a single warm compartment where naked fingers can warm themselves.
Looking back now I can’t imagine attacking the Arctic without a large, waterproof, well insulated, long-cuffed mitt and was amazed at the number of cruisers in the north who only had gloves.
Next, Fishermen’s “rubber” gloves vs a High Tech solution…