Enough headroom but no room in the head

Watch a video of my January 2012 sail from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, Bahamas.

A 6’2″ sailor shops for an offshore sailboat.

So, there I was, sitting on a toilet in front of a woman I’d met just 30 minutes ago. I hope your sea stories start out better than mine, but this really happened yesterday in Rock Hall, Maryland, a quiet, beautiful town with craggy fingers of land jutting out into the Chesapeake Bay. But, back to the toilet.

I was with a yacht broker, looking at a Baba 30. Baba boats have a stellar reputation as strong, solid boats that can take you anywhere, in any condition. A Baba won’t win any races, but its full keel, cutter-rig and traditional design feeds a sailor’s wanderlust, my wanderlust. I saw the online listing for the 30 and arranged to have a look.

The boat did not disappoint. Stepping aboard, I found the cockpit comfortable and secure. The cabin is stout luxury, all teak and brass. This boat is no “plastic fantastic.” And, there was 6’5″ of headroom, rare for boats of this length and an absolute necessity for me. I found the galley, navigation station, salon and berth to be snug but accommodating. Then, I saw the head.

The head is triangular. And tiny. Looking at it, I puzzled. How would I fit? The deck provided just enough space for my feet, so in shutting the door, I brought it to within two inches of my nose. Using my military training, I performed an about face to the sink, with its marble countertop, brass fixtures and glass mirror. Nice, but I was nearly able to fog that mirror with my breath. An oblique to the left, and I was facing the toilet. The necessary trajectory appeared achievable, in theory. Another about face, and I attempted to sit, but my knees jammed on the door. With my thighs at about a 45-degree angle, I could proceed no further without opening the door, which I did.  Then, after sliding the remaining distance, I was fully enthroned and looked up to see my broker with her hand on her chin.

“This is a deal breaker, isn’t it?”

Here’s what I don’t understand, and I’m speaking rhetorically to boat designers. Why would you build a boat big enough for a tall sailor to stand, but not, er, sit? I’ve got Scandinavian blood in me. We’re a tall folk. You think my Aunt Linda is going to use the head when her knees are in the salon with the rest of the family?

So, the Baba is off my list. That’s OK. Later in the day I boarded a Tayana 37 and it fit just fine. Even with the door closed. If you’re thinking about getting a boat, get information online, but don’t overlook the value of being on boats. Charter them, sail with classes, sail with friends, or just walk through the boat yards (not advocating trespassing!). The Internet will help narrow your search, but real life will allow you to make the impressions and opinions you need to choose a boat that’s right for you.


Sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Bahamas

Watch a video of this sail here.

“You’ve got to be thinking about sailing.” That was the constant reminder of Bill, our skipper and instructor as we steered a course from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, Bahamas.  This was a week-long course offered by the Blue Water Sailing School.  We were a crew of four aboard a Dufour Gib’Sea 51, a cruiser-racer.

Skipper Bill’s simple reminder is that we need to tune our senses to the boat, the sky and the sea.  There are telltales everywhere.  Lines of seaweed tell us the direction of the current.  Wisps of cirrus clouds help us forecast the weather.  A flutter at the luff of the main tells us it’s getting backwinded by the jib.  The elements around us are speaking, not necessarily to us, but if we care to listen, we can fine tune a boat to find that perfect balance among the wind and the waves.

Bill was a continual source of sailing knowledge and humor.  When we were in pitched seas and asking if the sails were properly trimmed, he said, “Let go of the wheel.”  The boat answered our question by continuing its course, not seeming to need our mits on the wheel.  A big part of a sailor’s education is understanding how to prepare a boat to sail rather than how to sail the boat.  Learning this takes time at sea.  So, we boarded Gitana, slipped her lines and headed for open water via the canals of Fort Lauderdale, a gaudy display of how the One Percent live.  The city’s canals look like Venice if it were designed by the Kardashians.  Three drawbridges later and we made our final turn toward Atlantic.

The Gib’Sea 51 has twin wheels in the cockpit.  This configuration seemed perfect for me and reminded me of driving school.  I thought that if we’re feeling overwhelmed or about to make a ‘chowderhead’ move, no problem, Skipper will take over with the other wheel.  Nope.  He was not about to deprive us of a teachable moment, so he let us learn by our mistakes.

Like oversteering the boat.  We all did it.  Watch the video.  Instead of anticipating the waves, steering into them and allowing the forces to push us back on track, we grabbed at the wheel with bare knuckles.  The harder we worked at steering straight, the wider was our serpentine path.  “Let go of the wheel.”  We were learning how to find that balance with the forces, rather than to fight them.

Shortly after entering the Atlantic, the sun set.  As the Gulf Stream surged north at about two and a half knots. A 20-knot wind from the north pushed up the swells so they looked like a parade of elephants marching across the dusky horizon.  We sailed all night, wearing harnesses that tethered us to the cockpit.  We each took 30-minute shifts at the wheel.  After we’d had a few turns at the wheel, Skipper went below to his bunk.  Occasionally, I’d go below, grabbing a handrail with every step to keep from being hurled across the cabin.  Bill was stretched across his bunk, relaxed and reading from his Kindle.  Later in the evening I hit a beauty of a wave that sent Skipper flying from his bunk to the deck.

We steered by compass and the stars.  No cheater GPS for students.  In spite of the wind, the waves and the current, we arrived exactly where we were headed.  It was a proud accomplishment.  We hoisted the orange Q flag to signify that we had not yet cleared customs and got some sleep.  The next day we sailed into Bimini, where Earnest Hemingway would go to hunt the big fish.  Our passports were stamped, the Q (Quarantine) came down, the Bahaman flag went up, and we went ashore for beer, Cubans, lobster and conch.

Again, the lines were slipped and we were sailing The Bahamas.  Postcard clear water, sapphire, richly infused by tropical sunlight.  We practiced all points of sail, man-overboard drills, the perfection of sail trim, anchoring.  By the end of the week, I expanded my at-sea comfort zone with hours behind the wheel under varied and challenging conditions.  I had earned my American Sailing Association 106, Advanced Coastal Cruising certification.  Through it all, I had the privilege of making some great friends.  We came from Tennessee, Missouri, Colorado and the District of Columbia.  We brought different sailing skills, experiences and goals, yet we gelled as a crew.   We shared a small space for a week without a dip in the humor or the good conversation.  I’d welcome any opportunity to sail with them again.

I would like to thank Blue Water Sailing School for a wonderful week of sailing.  Special thanks to Skipper whose Oklahoma wisdom, good sense and drawl serve him and his crew well.  I’d recommend Blue Water Sailing School to anyone looking to take sailing to the next step.

Met a fellow sailor today at the marina

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Today in History: Magellan Sets Out to Circle the Globe

Today is a special day for those who dream of voyages under sail that take them to new lands.  On this day in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail on the first ever circumnavigation of Earth.

Magellan’s sail around the world is an accomplishment held in high regard by the saltiest of sailors, and for good reason.  It was tough stuff.

For starters, Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, got funding from Spain for his trip.  This steamed the Spanish king who sent his navy after Magellan.  His voyage began by being changed across the ocean.  He managed to lose them around the Canary Islands where he hung a right, and crossed the Atlantic to South America.

He followed the coast of South America to the southern tip.  Here, the waters are the stormiest on the planet.  They’re called the Roaring 40s, named after the latitude of the area.  Today, only the most accomplished sailors attempt these waters.  I have one friend who has sailed these waters.  He said it was the fastest sailing he’s ever done, and he was sailing with bare poles.  He also said that on the first day he was convinced he would die.

Of the sailors who enter the 40s, fewer still Round the Horn.  This is the southern tip of South America, where the Atlantic meets the Pacific Ocean.  The waters are shallow, kicking up the waves until they resemble five-story buildings.  The straights are narrow with rocky shores.  The currents can matching or exceed the speed at which boats are sailing, sometimes forcing sailors back to the Atlantic side of the horn for a second stab at the ordeal.  No wonder that some sailors say “this is our Everest.”

Magellan knows this, or at least has a sketchy understanding that he’s heading into really rough waters.  The crew has no idea.  They’re obviously aware that the waves are dwarfing the ship, and the winds are howling at hurricane force.  His message to the crew was, “Oh, we should be through this in a day or two.”  He was not a maximum disclosure kind of guy.

They rounded the Horn, blazing a trail, earning the right to name the Straights of Magellan.  Before long, the waters went from turmoil to, by comparison, as calm as a country lake.  So, he named it the Pacific.

Now, they are in uncharted waters, and the crew is really anxious.  They ask, “How long before we get to the Spice Islands?”  Magellan, who can be excused because he was, after all, exploring the world, did not know, but said he was certain they’d arrive in just a few days.

A few days turned out to be two months before they reached Sharks’ Island.  By then, the crew was severely weakened by scurvy, so much so that when they entered the harbor of Sharks Island, the lacked the strength to properly lower the sails.  They took hatchets to the lines and let the sails crash to the deck.

Of course, we know that Magellan and his crew recovered and pressed on but Magellan did not make it all the way around the globe.  He died in the Philippines during a misunderstanding with several hundred armed natives.  But, by then his legacy was secure, his accomplishments forever intact.

I have read dozens of travelogues by sailors.  I’ve read all the yarns of Tristan Jones.  I’ve read Sir Francis Chichester’s wonderful account of his circumnavigation aboard Gipsy Moth.  But, Magellan started it all, and he did it under enormously difficult circumstances.  He is a hero to me.

To all who go to sea, to voyage under sail, to cross oceans and reach new lands, you have my deep respect.  Even today, with GPS plotters and a host of other electronics and high-tech gear, to let the land from which you sail disappear over the horizon is an experience that cannot be matched on land.  Sailors have been drawn to this experience and always will.

Any Douglas & McLeod 22 Owners Out There?

Catalinas are everywhere.  There are benefits to this.  There are boat owner groups online and probably near enough to attend their regattas and other social events.  Joining a owners’ group has other benefits.  Can’t find a part?  Ask the tribe; someone knows where to find it.

I own a Douglas & McLeod 22.  This team did produce the Thistle and Highlander and went on to produce Tartans.  Gordon Douglas went on to design the Flying Scott.  All popular boats.  I don’t know how many D&M 22s are out there, but if you own one, I’d like to hear from you.  I would value to the opportunity to swap ideas, advice, concerns and to chat with a fellow owner of a D&M 22.


Douglas & McLeod 22 Boat Data

Hull Type:  Fin Keel
Rig Type:  Masthead Sloop
LOA:  22.00′ / 6.71m
LWL:  18.75′ / 5.72m
Beam:  8.42′ / 2.57m
Listed SA:  254 ft2 / 23.6 m2
Draft (max.)  5.50′ / 1.68m Draft (min.)  
Disp.  2775 lbs./ 1259 kgs.
Ballast:  1000 lbs. / 454 kgs.
Designer:  Sparkman & Stephens
Builder:  Douglas & McCoud (USA)
Construct.:  FG
First Built:  1971 Last Built:   # Built:  

I:  30.50′ / 9.30m
J:  9.25′ / 2.82m
P:  26.50′ / 8.08m
E:  8.50′ / 2.59m
PY:   EY:  
SPL:   ISP:  
SA(Fore.):  141.06 ft2 / 13.10 m2
SA(Main):  112.63 ft2 / 10.46 m2
Total(calc.)SA:   253.69 ft2 / 23.57 m2
SA/Disp:  20.61
Est. Forestay Len.:  31.87′ / 9.71m

Any Spots Left to Paint?

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Honestly, we’re running out of spaces to paint on this boat.  Vania started out paint the outter edge of the storage area beneath the cockpit, and then she just kept going!

That’s been typical of how we have been doing things.  We’d cross off a project as unnecessary or something that can wait for next year, then we hit it full steam.

Because the entire cabin is a wet paint zone, we’ve had to cram three large sail bags into the car and then transfer them to our guest room.  I looked like Santa making a delivery.

Tomorrow, it’s a final coat of paint for the main area in the cabin, then we’re done.  We’ll I did take out the wood trim.  A little sanding, a fresh coat of stain, and they ought to look quite nice.

Our car has become a casualty in this painting escapade.  Paint on the seats, the steering wheel, the door handle.  There’s a car detailing shop in Georgetown, and we’re making an appointment for Oct. 1 to get it back to normal.

Freyja, Back in the Water

Freyja is back in the water after about a week on stands. It was a busy week of sanding, scraping, taping and painting that was interrupted by a tropical storm and even an earthquake - an event so rare that Californians are still giggling over the way we reacted to it.

Because we were painting parts of the boat only hours before it went back in the water, we did not have time to remove the blue painter’s tape from the deck.  No matter.  I was glad to have Freyja back in the water, and once the terrific staff at Washington Sailing Marina cast off my lines, I was off.  In my eagerness to get going, I forgot my auxiliary gas tank on the dock.  With only a quarter tank of gas on the boat, I elected to sail home and reserve the fuel for the docking, which is less of a challenge than a few weeks ago, but not yet done with complete ease or control.

Junk In The Trunk

I told myself I'd never have the typical car trunk of boat owner. Well, that didn't last very long.

We seem to be nearing the end of the restoring phase of our work on Freyja.  The new sails should arrive some time next week, and my intention is for the arrival of the sails to signal the end of all this scraping and sanding and painting and the beginning of sailing, which, I’m told is possible with these watercraft.  Remains to be seen.

No regrets!  It’s been an amazing learning experience.

This evening I returned home from work, went to the boat and removed all the wood trim from the inside of the boat.  We’re painting the interior tomorrow, so am going to see about cleaning up the wood a bit.

Oh, and I have to install the new winches, after I pack the bearings in grease.  Then, I need to drop the mast to replace the anchor light, install a new  VHF whip and wind indicator, replace the 35-year old wiring and re-attach the baby stay.

And, if I keep typing I’ll think of more things to buy and more projects to do, so…

Signs that Sailing is Taking Over My Life

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A rudder is one of the more important parts of a boat.  Simple enough.  So, no shortcuts on this project.  Freyja’s rudder had issues.  It had a nice, long split down the side and was full of water.  Enter Steve Shapiro from Old Town Alexandria, Va.  He opened the rudder, cleaned it out and sealed it closed with resin.  Thank you, Steve.

Next, Ken Staples from Marine Evolutions, also in Alexandria.  Ken is from South Africa with plenty of stories of sailing the southern oceans.  I remember our first meeting.

“Your last’s name is Moody, eh?  Like Moody Yachts?”

“Wow!” I said.  “Most people think of the Moody Bible Institute.”

“Never heard of it.”

I liked him immediately.

Ken fashioned a shaft on which the rudder would hinge.  It runs the length of the rudder.  Which, so far we could tell, was the original design, not the nut-and-bolt arrangement handed down by the previous owner.  It’s beautiful simplicity.  There are no bolts, pins; gravity keeps everything in place.  The shaft extends beyond the bottom gudgeon by a distance greater than the distance between the top gudgeon and the tiller.  In other words, I have to raise the tiller before the rudder can be removed for cleaning for maintenance.  Thanks, Ken.

Painting Freyja

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Take an old boat (or a car or a house) and fix up a bit of it, and the rest of it just screams for attention.  So it was for Frejya.  My intention was to give her a fresh coat of bottom paint.  Done.  Ok, now maybe just a boot stripe along the waterline.  Done.  Well, now the deck, right?  Since we’re looking at it while we sail, it might as well look good.  Might as well do the hull and the rudder.  Now we’re planning on painting the interior.  Right down to the blessed bilge.

There are two ways to paint a boat.  Save the deck for last or start with it.  The hard part about painting the deck isn’t actually the painting.  It’s the taping down all the cleats and teak and rigging and other fittings you don’t want to paint.

Once you’ve done that, the hull is a dream.  A great open stretch of surface.  Fun.

I have other tips, but they’re not really tips.  They are more in the category of, Hey!  I never painted anything in my life, and I’ve suddenly learned what many have known for years!  But, I have to say that foam rollers are better than fabric, which leaves behind little hairs.  I would roll a section then ‘tip’ it with a paint brush to take out the air bubbles and create a uniform surface.

Of course, paint gets everywhere.  Everywhere.  And, since it’s marine paint, it just giggles at the idea that you are going to get rid of it with soap and water.  When you pay $120 for a gallon of the stuff, you have to at least resect its tenacity, even when it’s 30 minutes from meeting friends for dinner and you’re still in the shower trying to scrub away paint that makes you look like a sloppy glam rocker.

And, who is the hand model for these rubber gloves?  My mornings at the boat yard were spent trying to get those mini, latex representations of a hand over mine.  Usually, I’d have it half on and my thumb would tear through.  I started bringing baking soda to the yard to put on my hands to help them slide over my hands.  Baking soda?  Yea, I didn’t have corn starch or talc.

It didn’t matter though, and here’s my other tip.  Most of the paint that you get on you is after you’re done painting.

Here’s a less than hypethetical situation.  I pick up the paint can by the wire strap only to realize that the strap was resting against the side of the can down which the paint was dripping.  Paint on hand.  My phone rings, and without thinking I jam my hand into my pocket to get the phone.  Paint on hands, pocket, phone and keys.  Still not thinking I get into the car to drive home.  Paint on hands, pocket, phone, keys, car door, steering wheel, CD player, car seat and coffee cup.

Ah, but it’s all worth it.  Freyja looks wonderful.