Can My Boat Cross an Ocean?
By Gord Kerr
The issue of crossing big oceans in small boats becomes a very intriguing question. I refer to vessels in the 34 to 50 foot range as small.
Time and time again I receive emails with regard to the capability of various vessels built by different manufacturers and the ability of those same products to cross large oceans. The reality is there simply is no single good answer.
Some people’s sailing habits are really more of an issue than the vessel they are sailing on. Are you a conservative sailor or a hell bent for leather go fast racer? Pushing boats hard offshore is fine for racers with bank accounts loaded by corporate sponsors but when it comes to cruising on your own vessel hap-hazard sailing skills and poor seamanship will drastically deflate your budget in a hurry as well as have a negative effect on the safety factor.
It is apparent there are a lot of boats that are built that have no right in attempting long distance offshore voyages. And needless to say that most manufactures do not build these vessels with that intent. Truth being, offshore boats are not mainstream volume in their market and so why should they address that kind of a build? As a result a lot of these vessels are simply just not up to the task at hand. That task of course is long term ocean crossings. That’s not to say they haven’t done it. The problem is influenced by many factors. The integrity of the yacht to start with, from the hull laminate structure, keel bolts, and the mast and rigging, to the weather windows that any particular boat and crew has had available to do a long crossing in.
From experience we can state we have had crossings that with every wave we were kept wondering what might break, not because of the type of boat, but because of how severe the sea state was. We have also had crossings that were so mundane that boredom had become a more stressful factor on our mental health than dangerous sea conditions.
We feel our personal success to date is maintenance related. We don’t leave things open to chance. Before every crossing we do complete inspections of every critical fitting from under the keel to the top of the mast with the intention of finding the weak link in the chain before it breaks, and that’s not to say we haven’t had to deal with issues that developed in spite of our policy. And having said that even in some extreme conditions we never had any doubt in our yachts ability to take the abuse.
It’s been said before, “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” In other words a strongly built boat can withstand a lot, and in most instances the boat can take more than the crew can. Even if the vessel never needs to deal with bad or dangerous conditions at least you have some level of confidence and protection.
One of the biggest lessons in yachting history can be learned from the Fastnet tragedy, many sailors died in storm conditions by abandoning perfectly fine boats and getting into life rafts, only for rescue teams to find many of the distressed vessels to be floating safely, completely crewless for days, after the storm. This speaks of perception and ability to cope.
It used to be that people that were going offshore on long distance cruises selected boats that were extremely heavily built and were generally not very fast, often unresponsive in certain conditions. Tactics on these boats were somewhat different than the engineered boats in today’s market. These older era boats would be forced to heave to or lay a hull in extreme conditions. The crew would close everything up and go below and wait it out. Sometimes this was successful, sometimes it wasn’t.
Fortunately the world of engineering has changed a lot in respect to the heavier built boats of yesteryear. Today’s boats are lighter, faster, and stronger than we have ever seen before. But of course this calls for more active tactics on the crews behalf.
We sailed across the Pacific in 2004 and prior to that crossing I had studied and read everything I could with regard to Ocean passages.
Time and time again I read that you should never go off shore in a multi hull catamaran or trimaran as they are too dangerous. We sailed into Hiva Oa in the Marquises only to see a large number of catamarans that had made the same crossing we had just completed, sitting and waiting comfortably in the anchorage as we arrived. I was dumbfounded! How did they get here? I wondered. They successfully crossed the same ocean we did and they made the trip unscathed and most of them did it much faster than we did.
The only thing I can state with some certainty is that the amount of wear and tear and fatigue on any vessel out here cruising and crossing vast areas of bluewater far exceeds the general average of most boats at home. As an estimate, I would claim that one year cruising and crossing oceans is probably equal to the wear and tear of ten years use of a boat in most home dock coastal cruising areas. This brings us back to maintenance issue again.
And also, keep in mind that the faster boats don’t need to look for as long a weather window to get somewhere as the heavier boats. This lessens the exposure time that they have at sea. Often some of the very large fast boats have the ability to stay well ahead of weather systems that are going to run over top of slower boats. So it begs the question can my boat cross oceans?
Well it would appear that it becomes a matrix of crew skills, the understanding of meteorology and resulting effects, vessel integrity, speed, safety and preventative maintenance and mostly a lot of common sense.
Do your homework and see if you can find owners of similar vessels that have logged some major passages an sea miles, learn from them. They may be able to shed light on weaknesses and strengths of those models. Ask people that you know out there cruising as to what boats they see in remote anchorages! If there are specific models that never seem to be around there may be a good reason. And it might not be that they are rare! Common sense, the ability to research and build knowledge will help you select the boat that suits your personality as well as needs. The internet is an amazing source of information but always seek real advice from experienced cruisers they can tell you what works and what won’t.
Gord Kerr has been crossing oceans for over seven years now for a closer look at their adventures go to http://www.ascensionatsea.com
Gord has been sailing and crossing oceans for more than seven years now with over twenty years of local cruising and racing in their home waters. Aboard their production boat Ascension, they are still out there doing it and still having fun.
To see more of their worldly adventures click on http://www.ascensionatsea.com
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