Colin Firth to Play Donald Crowhurst in Biopic

Clark February 10th, 2015

Talk about a long wait. The book, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, was completely out of print for some years, but a cult favorite and the subject of many late night cockpit ruminations.

It tells the tale of Donald Crowhurst who, along with the likes of Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnson, and Chay Blyth, entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968, the first singlehanded, non-stop round-the-world race. Indebted and under intense pressure to succeed, yet woefully unprepared and inexperienced, Crowhurst never made it farther than the South Atlantic. He faked his positions to appear he was in the lead, then went mad and committed suicide. The story has come back into vogue, just from the passing of time, or somehow reflective of our current fascinations and insecurities.

The excellent documentary, Deep Water, came out in 2006, telling the story with excellent original footage and interviews. I give it my highest recommendation:

But now the story is hitting the big time, a full Hollywood production: blue chip director, blue chip writer, and Oscar winner for best actor, Colin Firth, playing Crowhurst. You’ve got to admit they really look alike:

I can’t wait! I’m very excited to see how Hollywood spins the tale…or completely botches it. Please, please, oh pleeeeeze don’t blow it with the sailing stuff. Hire a simple technical consultant – any one of us will do – to consult on the film so the sailing bits aren’t rendered ridiculous to sailors, like All Is Lost, The Perfect Storm, or pretty much every other movie about sailing or the sea. Please don’t have white squalls materializing out of nowhere, 100-foot waves swallowing boats, vicious sharks chewing on rudders, or people dangling from rigging for no good reason with lit cutting torches with no hoses attached to them.

I wonder who’ll play Sir Robin Knox-Johnson? I’m going with Geoffrey Rush.

Wire Fraud Cruisers Nabbed in Bahamas

Clark February 9th, 2015

The Winberg’s second attempt to flee justice aboard a cruising sailboat has been foiled. The couple faced trial for wire fraud, and decades in prison, if convicted.

The couple and their seven children tried to flee the country in early December, but ended up sinking in Galveston Bay, Texas. Their infant wasn’t breathing, but was revived with CPR. The locals knew something was up when they fled ASAP, and abandoned the boat. It turned out they’d given fake names.

Now, two months later they almost got away with it again…almost. A different boat, a different coast, and they were off to the Bahamas, where American tourists promptly recognized them, and alerted the Bahamian authorities. They are now in Miami and the children are being assessed by Child Protective Services.

The Winbergs obviously didn’t know quite what they were doing when it came to sailing, per the incident in Galveston. I guess when it comes to fleeing the country one doesn’t have a lot of options, if wanted by the law. If you get on a commercial flight you’ll be nabbed. Driving into Mexico, and points beyond, is an option. Sailing off into the sunset is another, but they probably should have gone farther than the Bahamas, and maybe hid out somewhere a little more off the beaten path than the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

More here.

Flyin’ Hawaiian Sinks Off Monterey

Clark February 5th, 2015

This boat was one of the many eyesores dotting Richardson Bay, where about 200 liveaboards anchor with apparent impunity to local, state, and federal laws regarding registration and holding tanks. I always assumed it was built just as a floating home, and had no inkling of the owner’s dream of sailing her to Hawaii. I’d heard about her construction, all from materials purchased at Home Depot. I kayaked around her one day with a friend and deemed her unseaworthy beyond the confines of greater San Francisco Bay, and maybe a stretch within.

More here in the Marin Independent Journal.

Sacrebleu!: French frigate Latouche-Tréville

Clark December 18th, 2014

I filmed these guys during a Sunday sail on Condesa. The radioed to ask about mal de mer, and I suggested ginger candies and those wrist bands.

Man Rescued in Bahamas After 5-Days Adrift in Dinghy

Clark December 17th, 2014

Looks like Larry Sutterfield drifted from Marathon, Florida to Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, on a fishing/camping trip gone wrong.

Engine trouble and an offshore wind? I’ve bloviated about the dangers of such escapades and my close call here.

Full story here.

Vestas Volvo Ocean Race Wreck: Very Naughty Language!

Clark December 16th, 2014

It seems to have escaped the sailing world that Cargados Carajos, the site of the wreck, is not a term to be bandied about in front of children. Google translates it as “loaded f*ck.” Like much profanity in English, it doesn’t make much grammatical sense, but when we’re screaming profanity, are we really trying to make any sense?

I speak Spanish, but when it comes to the finer distinctions of obscene expletives I seek help. One native Spanish-speaker answered my request for clarification thusly: “‘Cargados carajos’ pretty much means loaded f*ck. Holy sh*t would be more like “santísima mierda” o “santos carajos” even. But cargados carajos definitely has some ‘loaded’ in it.”

A Guatemalan guy I work with says this is definitely an expression of Spanish, as in from Spain, profanity, not from the New World. I can find no mention of any Spanish connection with the place. Its first European discovery was by the Portuguese, and cargados carajos doesn’t mean anything in Portuguese.

At any rate, we can imagine some sailor of old (perhaps a Spanish sailor standing watch on a Portuguese ship?) uttering this expression upon sighting crashing waves and a reef awash on what he thought was a wide open sea.

I’m guessing the first reports of the Vestas wreck from this heretofore-unknown-to-most-of-the-world shoal identified it as such, and it stuck for all further reports. Thanks to Team Vestas, it’s finally earned it. They might have used the alternate name, St. Brandon Shoals, which is what I’m guessing the Spanish sailing press is calling it. Tee hee.

Sailor Rescued Off Hawaii After Seach Abandoned

Clark December 11th, 2014

…and he was reunited with his long lost son. Story here as well.

The Money Shot: Getting the Ultimate Cruising Boat Photo

Clark November 20th, 2014

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For a racing boat the ultimate photo captures plumes of whitewater sheering off your bow. In your wake, just out of focus, a famous rival shakes his fists.

For a cruiser the ultimate photo captures your boat in some spectacular anchorage, or at least the photo evokes a sense of place. We all know getting there is half the fun, but the shot of your boat in the perfect destination proves you actually got somewhere. In addition, this photo should accomplish two goals:

1. Elicit immediate recognition and respect from fellow cruisers.
2. Make landlubbers think you’re a freakin’ daredevil.

Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins), on Fatu Hiva, must be one of the most photographed anchorages in cruising:

Photo courtesy of Brian on S/V Delos

Is there anyone who’s ever anchored there who didn’t at least try to get a good photo of their boat? If you can get one with your boat there alone, so much the better. The Bay of Virgins covers our two criteria: Any cruiser will either have fond memories of the place, or be dying to get there someday. After understanding that it takes sailing 3000 miles of open ocean to get there, any landlubber will be duly impressed.

It is arguably the most spectacular anchorage in the South Pacific, and it holds a once-in-a-lifetime shine because a cruiser is unlikely to return…until his next circumnavigation. It’s also usually the first landfall after the long haul. And there’s the story about how it was originally named Baie de Verges (Bay of Penises) because of the rock formations on both sides of the bay, but the missionaries renamed Baie de Vierges (Bay of Virgins) out of modesty. For a story that has been repeated in every travel book, cruising guide, and blog in the world, I wonder if it’s actually true? All of these make it a truly photo-worthy spot, but of course there are many others…

Some are iconic:

ZZZZZ (28.2)

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Phang Nga Bay, Thailand:
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Chatterbox Falls, in British Columbia, seems to be “that place” in the Pacific Northwest, and any cruiser who’s been there knows that to get the photo you must have transited the Malibu Rapids unharmed:
Photo courtesy of Windy and Mike Robertson from S/V Del Viento

For Harry and Jane on Cormorant, Whangamumu, New Zealand, was one of their more memorable anchorages during their 16? year circumnavigation:

Some photos don’t capture a destination, but a mood: the calm anchorage, happy children at play, the captain casually strumming a ukulele…c’mon!:
Photo courtesy of Kristianne Koch Riddle, S/V Pelican

And some photos take the beauty, mix it with a healthy dose of fear, and voila:
Photo courtesy of Jessica Rousseau

Or give us a sense of scale:
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Telefon Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica

Then if you can get a photo like this of your boat, well, gee whiz, what more can you say?: Vlakvark, nee Tantalus, now Sweetwater in Antarctica:
vlakvark ice hires
Photo courtesy of Stuart Sugden and Charmaine Lingard via Dudley Dix at Dudley Dix Yacht Design

My money shot? There’s only one choice. It’s on the bathroom wall; it’s on the business card:

Distributed Power Systems on an Average Cruising Boat: I say no!

Clark November 13th, 2014

Distributed power systems (or digital switching systems, or smart power systems, or intelligent, or multiplexing power systems…the industry is still settling on a name) are going into many new boats. I have a friend in the luxury power boat business, and he says distributed power systems save thousands of dollars, and reduce weight by hundreds of pounds, on every build. For builders it’s definitely the way to go for shipboard electrical systems. But is it right for owners?

If you’re not up on these systems, here’s what they do: Take the bow of your boat, where you might have some navigation lights, a windlass, a couple of reading lights in the forepeak, and a fan over the bunk. In a conventional installation you’d have a big set of cables running up to that windlass, a pair of wires to serve the nav lights, a pair to serve the fan, and a pair to serve the reading lights, but lights are often wired in parallel so that a pair of wires serves several cabin lights. In this conventional system, each circuit would have its own switch and its own fuse or breaker.

In a distributed power system a single pair of cables would run to a central location in the bow and terminate in a node or remote controlled breaker module (again, the industry hasn’t settled on one name). From this node, wires would branch out to the windlass, the nav lights, the fan, and the reading lights, but each device would be turned on and off through computer wizardry. You’d still have on-off switches for your reading lights, but the switches would actuate a breaker/switch within the bow node. All of these devices could also be controlled from a central location aboard.

The advantage of such a system is that instead of running four sets of wires to the bow, you only run one pair of cables and a tiny set of signal wires. Multiply this effect throughout a large boat with a complicated electrical system and it reduces the amount of wiring, and the time to install it, by a lot…by hundreds of pounds of wire, my friend says.

If you want to get fancy with one of these systems, the sky’s the limit. You could have a program, served from the central location, called “Night Sailing.” You press the night sailing button and the nav lights come on, the wind instruments, the electronics, and some very dim red footlights in the main cabin. You could have another program called “party time,” another called “night motoring” (add the steaming light), and one called “at anchor.” The system could tell you when a bulb blew out, or when something was consuming more power than normal, or when a bilge pump was running more than it should, or how cold it is in your freezer.

Manufacturers include Carling, with its Octoplex platform, Swedish company EmpirBus, and Capi2, just to name a few. Ben Ellison has written extensively on the subject on Panbo.

The problem with these systems, or the potential problem, is summed up in one word: Computer. There’s that saying about how to err is human, but to really screw things up it takes a computer, and I think I’d rather not have a computer controlling the juice to my shipboard electronics when I’m trying to thread the needle between a couple of ice bergs in shallow water to get into a tight anchorage before the storm blows in: “Oh yeah, no big deal, just have to re-boot the system and it’ll be fine. Oh wait, it seems to be hanging up. Let’s try de-powering it completely then re-install the configuration file…” You get the idea.

As I’ve said before, marine electricians and marine electronics experts (except those who make distributed electrical systems) seem more apt to quail at the mention of anything “networked,” be it the boat’s whole power system or just the electronics. We like things simple and field repairable.

Hallberg-Rassy uses the EmpirBus system on all of their new builds. The pages in the owner’s manual (section starts on page 20) that refer to the “state of the art distributed power system” scare me out of the whole idea: the recommended spares, troubleshooting, and contacting the EmpirBus dealer in say, Palau. With a conventional electrical system you could get away with a spares kit consisting of spare fuses/breaker, some wire, and some crimp-on lugs and connectors…and any marine electrician, anywhere in the world, could repair your system.

Manufacturers claim these systems are fairly dependable, but bugs, interoperability issues, and vendor reliability are always at play with any technology.

Still, the technology is probably too good to pass up on new builds for larger boats. Distributed power systems have been used on aircraft for decades and very few seem to fall out of the sky. Commercial aircraft have thousands of circuits, and some of these newer yachts may come close, but on an average cruising boat I draw the line. I’m saying there’s a sweet spot – somewhere – and below that it’s just not worth it.

I counted all the circuits on my 40-foot cruising boat, and I’ve got most of the gadgets. Forty circuits. All the lights, all the pumps, all the electronics, all the blowers and fans, and it adds up to forty different electricity-consuming devices. Forty circuits just doesn’t add up to enough complexity to warrant a distributed power system, in my book.

And here’s a second reason to ponder: LED lights. I’ve only changed a few of my shipboard lights to LEDs, but over time, as the old fixtures fail or get uglier, I’ll eventually switch all of my lights to LEDs. LED lights use less power, produce less heat, and thus use smaller wires. If one of the main goals of distributed power is to reduce wire weight, LED lights accomplish much of this same end when you consider that the majority of your onboard circuits service various lights. (Of the forty devices on my boat, half are lights.)

The current ABYC standard says that 16 gauge is the smallest wire you can use aboard a recreational yacht, unless it’s strictly a signal wire. Sixteen gauge is overkill for most LED lights. The pigtails coming off some new LED light fixtures are 20 gauge, maybe 22 (this is very small, like the size of a strand of dental floss). Point being, with wire this small, even at 18 or 16 gauge, you can serve all the lighting needs of an average cruising boat and the weight and complexity will be negligible. The wires feeding LED lights won’t be much bigger than the signal wires in a distributed power system. In other words, with or without distributed power systems, the wiring looms on the boats of the future will be much smaller anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for distributed power systems in the marine world, and there’s no stopping progress, but I think it’s overkill and overcomplicating things for the average cruising boat. By average I mean a boat about like mine with something like forty circuits, and by cruising boat I mean likely to be in a place where parts and expertise may be months away.

Weather Bomb in North Pacific

Clark November 6th, 2014

Super Typhoon Nuri has more to say. Already one of the most powerful cyclones of 2014, Nuri is predicted to become an extratropical cyclone in the Bering sea: “Bomb”…perfect storm…if you’re on a boat, sink it and run for your life.

This monster is predicted to break records, create 50-foot waves, and alter the weather over North America for the next week or two. Weather nerds, get ready.

Here is an excellent analysis.

Just a comment: When there’s a weather forecast like this, this one for tomorrow in the Bering Sea, maybe they should put some parts of it in capital letters, or red, or something. And when you’ve got the first part of it saying what it does, the patchy fog and rain don’t really figure in…kind of like having a sword through your chest and fractured skull, with slight headache, loss of appetite:

Fri S wind 20 to 40 kt becoming SE 50 to 65 kt in the afternoon. Seas 9 to 13 ft building to 15 to 27 ft in the afternoon. Patchy fog. Rain.

Fri Night S wind 40 to 55 kt. Seas 23 to 38 ft.

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