Guest Column  
by Charlie Whipple - Hamilton, New Zealand

Some things cruisers might want to think about

Any season is cruising season somewhere. I was doodling a little checklist for Resolution and thought maybe readers on Duckworks might be interested. I made the list as I thought of things, so there’s little rhyme or reason to them. Just necessity. Or conv

click to enlarge

One can imagine Charlie thinking about these things while working on his around the world cruiser, Resolution.


1) Hardwood blocks that jam under the ends of your cleats will keep sheets and other lines from hanging up on them. A hole through the blocks lets you put a lanyard through and tie them to the cleats so they don’t get lost when you pull them off and belay a line to the cleat.

2) Make yourself a cruising checklist. You can add things to it as you wish, and eliminate items that no longer require a check-off. Once you’ve used the checklist for several cruises, it will have morphed into something really useful.

3) Plan to take four days for a three-day cruise. In other words, add about 25% to the amount of time you plan to spend on the cruise. That’s your safety margin. The extra time let’s you wait out the weather or whatever might delay you while you’re away from home.

4) Equip the dinghy. Some countries have laws concerning dinghies. Japan’s one. If you go out in a dinghy, you must have at least one anchor and anchor rode, a pair of oars, a container you can bail with, PFDs for everyone aboard, a spark plug and tools for the outboard – yeah, in the dinghy. I think it’s a good idea. Especially when I hear news in New Zealand of people going out on the ocean in 10-foot boats without a single floatation device.

5) Take a hand compass. Coastwise or offshore, you must navigate. Taking bearings to landmarks with a hand compass is one of the easiest ways to pinpoint your position on that chart on your lap.
6) Navigation tools.When you’re entering a strange bay or port, be ready to navigate. Have the right chart close at hand. Binoculars. Writing instruments. Compass. GPS. Cell phone. VHF radio. Whatever you ordinarily use when navigating.

7) Interior jack lines. In rough weather, the careful skipper rigs jack lines on the deck for the crew to hook safety tethers to. Use the same concept below if there are not ample handholds built into your boat. Lead webbing from each side of the companionway hatch forward to a center point such as the mast compression post.

8) Distances. Know what you can see from how far away. I know that sounds funny, but think of it this way. An island that is 150 meters (about 500 feet) above sea level can be seen from 25 miles away on a clear day. If you can see trees sticking up from the horizon, figure that you’re 10 miles away from them. And if you can see a white sand beach, you’re three miles away. But don’t take my word for it, do some rangefinding so you’ll have your own set of indicators.

9) Fender clips. Life line clips for the fenders mean even inexperienced crew has no trouble putting out fenders before you sidle up to the dock. If you’ve done it right, just clip the fender line to the upper life line and it will be in exactly the right position outboard.

10) Be quiet. How many times have you wanted to sleep in and someone anchored next to you takes off at five in the morning, clanking chains and hollering to the helmsman. Quiet is one of the satisfying things about being close to nature. Play your part.

11) Make friends with fishermen. Maybe that doesn’t mean much in a place like New Zealand, but in Japan, anywhere you go ashore is likely to be a fishing port. Getting to know the commercial fishermen who work out of those ports gives you a great source of information. Probably true world over. I stopped over at Morro Bay, California, one late summer day in 2000. Thinking back, I could have spent my time better talking to the fishermen moored there.

12) Carry a fender board. Especially if you’re in an area with large differences in high and low tides. Sometimes fenders just aren’t enough to keep your boat from bumping the wharf. A 2 x 6 about six feet long lowered outboard of the fenders can save your topsides.

13) Consider the weight. Resolution is a heavy little boat. Still, I’ll be carrying something like 300 liters of water, mostly in PET bottles (I’ve been saving my 2 liter milk bottles since I came to NZ). Of the ton of stores I’ll have aboard, water alone will account for some 300 kg, 30%. So I’ll have to watch where I store the water, putting it low and inboard to help keep the boat in trim. In little boats like Pathfinders and Navigators, think about where you’re going to put stores and crew, and your cruise will go a lot better.

14) Watch the weather. Japan has many websites that cater to cell phones. One of them is a nationwide weather site. Lots of yachtsmen have signed up for these weather channels for a couple of dollars a month. When I sailed from Olympia, Washington, to La Paz, Mexico, I listened to the weather forecast regularly on VHF radio. Those of you with laptops and email capabilities can get weather information that way. And give yourself plenty of time (see No. 3).

15) Mark your anchor rode and chain. There’s a right way to mark the fathoms, but if you prefer meters or feet, use plastic ties to do the job. Make up your own system. Just make sure the crew knows what it is.

16) Use a laundry basket for the anchor, chain, and rode. Anchors often get in the way. Keep yours under control by putting a large plastic laundry basket right forward and flaking the rode and chain into it as you bring it aboard. Put the anchor in last, and the whole thing can easily be put somewhere out of the way. And when you get home, you can put the basket out on the deck and wash the whole system down with fresh water to clean away the salt, mud, and other gunk stuck to the anchor and rode.

17) Switch ends. Over time, the outboard end of your anchor rode will begin to show wear and tear. Watch it, and when the time comes, switch ends and get years more use out of your rode.

18) Take more than one anchor. I have three anchors on Resolution. The plow anchor rides in place on the bow, shackled to 50 meters of 6 mm chain with 50 meters of 12mm nylon rode spliced to it. The splice allows the rode to wind in on my windlass and the chain to fit on the gypsy right after it. Both rode and chain slide down into the chain locker. A fisherman pick anchor with 10 meters of chain and 50 meters of rode acts as the forward lunch hook. The rode and chain live in the forward cordage locker next to the inflatable dinghy, to be brought out just before use. A big Danforth-type anchor hangs on the pushpit rail with chain and rode flaked around two horns on the after deck. Never go out with just one anchor. Take three if you can. Oh, counting the collapsible anchor for the dinghy, I have four.

19) Use the anchor watch function. I have three handheld GPS units. If one or two crash, I still have one. Two are just simple units, but one gives me several functions besides the position and waypoints. The one I plan on using every time I put down the hook for the night is the anchor drag alarm. I don’t want to end up on a rocky shore because I slept on while Resolution dragged her anchor through the mud.

20) Overlap your watches. I’ll be sailing Resolution alone, but when I sailed to Mexico, there were three of us aboard. I set four hour watches so each crewmember would have four hours on and eight off. Here’s where the overlap comes in. The person on watch woke his relief 10 minutes before takeover time. Then he stayed on deck for 10 minutes after he turned the watch over to his relief. That gives the watch time to get information on condition of the ship, weather, sea state, etc. Some say overlap for 30 minutes, but I found 10 minutes worked well for us.

21) Can you repair it? We were crossing the mouth of Tokyo Bay when the crew hauled the spinnaker down. They were a motley bunch, not used to working together, and the chute caught on a spreader and ripped. There are any number of reasons why something aboard rips, parts, collapses, or breaks. Think about it. Do you have the wherewithal aboard to fix the problem? One rule I have with Resolution. If I can’t fix it or do without it, it doesn’t come aboard.

22) Think about consumables. That doesn’t mean food. It means the kind of things you tend to use and dispose. Do you have a change of oil for your engine? Filters? Water pump impellers? How about a jerry can of extra fuel? Extra rope? Shackles? Sister hooks? Sail ties? Wire? Tape? The list goes on, but it would do well to sit down and think about what consumables you should carry on board.

23) Boarding ladder. On Resolution, I’ll have a boarding ladder built into the rudder. But if your boat doesn’t have a boarding ladder, get one. Or make one. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get someone who has fallen overboard back into the boat. If the person doesn’t have the strength to climb the boarding ladder, hope that your boat is big enough to use the mainsail boom as a crane.

24) Pick a safe harbor. We left Yokohama Yacht Club just after 8 am on a clear morning. Little patches of fog hung on the water, but we had no idea that the warm waters of the Black Current had blanketed the mouth of Tokyo Bay with pea soup fog. We turned the corner at Kannon Point, expecting to see Oshima island dead ahead. Visibility seemed to be about two miles, but beyond that, a wall of white. We struck the sails and fired up the engine. Our destination was Misaki Harbor, at the end of the Miura peninsula, but edging into the fog, we were soon blind and almost deaf. Uraga Yacht Harbor lay off to starboard so we plotted a course in that direction and proceeded ahead at dead slow. About three miles from the harbor, the fog lifted and we had no trouble entering, along with half a hundred other yachts. Point is, always know where you can find a safe harbor along the way to your destination.

25) Keep a log. I’m a slacker on this point. For little cruises in the past, I didn’t keep a log. I should have. It’s a legal document and you may have need for it. My logs of cruises from Olympia to San Diego and from San Diego to La Paz, Mexico, saved me several thousand dollars in taxes. Besides that, your log tells the condition and hours of your engine, and on the way, if you are writing down your GPS coordinates every hour, you’re never more that five or six miles from a known position if you have to call for help. Don’t know about you dinghy cruisers, but I’d be inclined to keep a log on one of them, too.

26) Safety at night. If you’re going to be sailing at night, stop and think about nighttime crew safety. Every crewmember on deck at night should have foul weather gear with reflective tape on the shoulders. They should also carry water-activated strobes attached to safety harnesses. Each should have a knife and a small flashlight. And they should always be clipped to the ship.

27) Food and stores. There’s a formula for stocking up for a cruise. No. of meals x no. of crewmembers x 1.5. Always take 50% more than what you think you’re going to need. This is especially true with water. And if you don’t eat all your stores, you can always use the packaged food for your next cruise.

28) Fresh foods in hammocks. Lots of fresh foods come in plastic bags. Get them out of those condensation-breeding bags and put them in web hammocks hanging around your boat. You can put hammocks above the quarterberths, over the double berth forward, and in lots of nooks and crannies. Fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, and so on, always last better in those string hammocks.

29) Go for a tiller. It’s a matter of KISS – keep it simple stupid. Wheels, whether they use chains or cables, are much more complex than tillers. When I went to meet Minoru Saito as he finished his seventh solo circumnavigation, he sailed his 50-foot yacht past the finish line, then had to ask for a tow in. His engine was dead. His wheel steering was out of order and he was steering with the emergency tiller. And all his batteries were dead. He’d navigated with sun sights, saving his handheld GPS batteries for the final approach. If you have a choice, choose a tiller instead of a wheel.

30) Conveniences. Your life might not depend on certain things, but it certainly is more convenient to have them. Things like toilet paper. Paper towels. Garbage bags. Can openers. Long-necked butane lighters. Sponges. Bottle openers. And there’s lots more, I’m sure. Just think about it for a minute.

31) Polarized sunglasses. Summer or winter, any time you go sailing, you should wear a pair of polarized sunglasses. In fact, you should probably keep a pair on board just in case you forget to bring your regular pair. I’m not much of a sunglass wearer. I’ll have to get into the habit.

32) Man overboard equipment. Of course the Coast Guard tells you what man overboard equipment you should have, but can you use it? How long does it take you to throw the horseshoe buoy overboard. Is the throw rope right at hand? In Japan, you have to carry a man overboard flag, a pole buoy with a flag on it, that is the first thing you toss in after the life buoy. It guides you back to where the crewmember is because it’s easier to see than a head bobbing among the waves.

33) UV protection. I live in New Zealand. Probably directly beneath the hole in the ozone layer. UV rays are strong here, and sunscreen is a daily consumable. In Japan, both radio and TV broadcast UV warnings, advising people not to go outside on days when UV rays are expected to be especially strong. Sunscreen and UV screening lip balm will be high on my stores list for the circumnavigation, but anyone going out on the ocean should use sunscreen, especially if they are Caucasian or other light-skinned race.

34) Strings and rags. Seems you can never have enough bits of nylon cord to lash things with or too many rags, used for cleanup and so many other things I just can’t list them all. Put one locker aside for rags, and loop lashing cord over the life lines and other places you’re likely to need them.

35) Practice makes perfect. Why not set aside a day or two at the beginning of the season to run through the man overboard drill? If your crew is willing, have someone jump over without warning. See how fast you can get the life ring overboard, and if you’ve got a man overboard marker, toss that over, too. See how long it takes you to get the boat turned around and back to the crewmember in the water. Do it under power. Then do it under sail. Don’t wait until someone falls overboard to practice. Now me, I’ve got to practice getting back on Resolution by myself. Of course, when I practice, someone else will be aboard.

36) Pump the toilet. If your boat has a marine head aboard, flush it every time you go aboard. If it’s manual, give the pump 30 strokes before you leave your mooring. Flushing often will help keep the plumbing fresh and unsmelly.

37) Name cards. Japanese sometimes get ragged about how they always hold out a business card when they meet someone for the first time. But it’s not a bad idea. How about making up some cards with your boat’s name, your own name, your radio call sign, and your home address? Name cards can help you network.

38) It’s easier to take off than put on. That is, it’s easier to take stuff off on a moving boat than it is to put it on. If you think you might need foul weather gear, put it on before you leave the mooring so you don’t have to worry about operating the boat and putting on foul weather gear at the same time. Out past the breakwater, if you find you don’t need the oilies, strip ‘em off. Of course, you should have your PFD on before leaving the pier.

39) Hanging pockets. One such is the slipper hanger you sometimes see on closet doors. One of those is good in the boat, too. Extra deck shoes can fit right in. If you’ve ever seen the inside of John Guzzwell’s yacht Trekka, you’ll know what I’m talking about. A piece of canvas with pockets sewn into it and hung from a bulkhead can take many small items that would just rattle around otherwise.

40) Stores map. Make a drawing of your boat’s accommodations and list what’s stowed in each locker. Put this stores map in a ziplok bag and tape it in a place where the entire crew knows where to look. You may know where everything is, but if something happens to you, the rest of the crew has to rely on your stores map.

That’s my little list. You can probably think of many more, now that I’ve got you started.

Charles T. Whipple