Monthly Archives: January 2018

AIS for the win

I recently received an email with a host of questions about outfitting a boat for offshore sailing and my opinions on a wide variety of related topics. While I’m mostly reluctant to give hard-and-fast “this is what you should do or have” type answers, the last question on the list piqued my interest because it didn’t ask whether something was needed or not (which isn’t at all for me to decide). It simply asked what my practical knowledge was.

The question: “What is your experience with AIS systems?”

Yahtzee’s AIS system.

The reason the query drew my attention is because it immediately brought to mind several poignant experiences I’ve had with AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard. While I’m certainly not the tech guru or authority on AIS systems, I do have a large number of sea stories to share about using the system and what I’ve found to be the benefits associated with it. Off the top of my head popped multiple experiences I’ve had using AIS just in the past year or two alone. Here is one from a delivery Jill and I did. 

Collision Course in the North Atlantic

It’s the middle of the night in the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. Scanning the horizon, all I see is black — probably the darkest night I’ve experienced at sea. Wind howls from the northeast at 30 to 33 knots, gusting to 40. Rain is pouring down in sheets. Wave heights — at their smallest — are in the low teens. Some of the waves seem monstrous, others are breaking on our stern and we’re sailing the well-suited Garcia Exploration 45 at a “conservative” 9 to 11 knots with surfs up to 15. Woohoo! 

When Jill relieves me from watch, I show her a commercial fishing trawler on AIS running at a similar speed a little over 2 miles off our port side. Though we can barely make it out on the horizon, we know it’s there. In the moment, we seem to be parallel to one another and staying clear, but are actually angling towards a collision course. I express to Jill that my hope is for the vessel to alter course just enough to pass behind us, and we talk about our options before I hit my bunk for some much needed sleep.

There were a couple problems that we identified during our brief chat. First and foremost was that the seas were so large and rain so heavy that, even though the trawler was relatively close, it was nearly impossible to keep a visual on. Its running lights were virtually useless, making AIS and radar key assets.

The second problem was that we were sailing on a deep broad reach with a triple reefed mainsail on a preventer. In order to avoid a collision, if one became imminent, we’d have to jibe. Rounding up in these seas is not an option. And the issue with jibing is that the maneuver will take a long time to execute and, in the conditions given, would have been hazardous to the boat and us. Plus, we would then need to jibe back onto our original course once we cleared the trawler. Basically, we are pinned down and virtually blind — save for the AIS and radar. 

With the AIS, we know the vessel’s name, course and speed, among other things, and are constantly monitoring its movements relative to ours. Plus, it has the same information about us. In a sort of a dazed half state of sleep from my bunk, I eventually hear Jill call the trawler by name on the radio, briefly explain our situation and arrange for it to pass behind us. Easy as that. I fell asleep.

After the situation was resolved, and many times since, I was extremely glad to have had the benefit of AIS. Yes, without it there is a chance we still would have seen the fishing boat. But in my estimation, there is also a good chance that we wouldn’t have. And the fact that we could both “see” each other and knew, at the very least, boatspeed, course and range, meant that we could monitor the situation accurately and then make a call to avoid colliding or having to do a difficult course change hundreds of miles offshore in a fall gale.

AIS for the win!

This same scenario actually occurred numerous other times on that delivery in similar conditions. 

Come say hi at the Seattle Boat Show!

I’m happy to announce that I will once again be presenting seminars at the Seattle Boat Show, which runs from January 26 to February 3. If you’re planning to be at this year’s show, come on by for a listen or to say hi!

Here are the topics I’ll be presenting:

An Unconventional Route to SE Alaska and Beyond

Friday, February 2nd, 6:00 p.m. Stage #2 North Hall 

When we set out for Southeast Alaska in 2017, it was with a unique route in mind — and with an open-ended schedule to explore as we saw fit. What transpired was a 700-mile sail up the west coast of Vancouver Island in early spring, followed by two months in SE Alaska before jumping 500-miles across the Gulf of Alaska to explore Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. In this informative and entertaining seminar, I’ll take you along on the voyage and offer tips on how to do Alaska a bit different than straight up the Inside Passage and back.

Living the Dream: How to Get Your Boating and Cruising Stories Published

Saturday, February 3rd, 2:15 p.m. Stage #5 Club Level

I’ll delve into how I became a maritime writer and editor and will offer tips and guidance for aspiring writers. Topics will include realities of the industry, what magazine editors are looking for, everyday steps to achieving the larger goal of publishing, creating polished content, turning your passion into stories, pitching ideas and what to expect when submitting your work.

For more information on the Seattle Boat Show visit seattleboatshow.com.

Cruising truths, Part 2: Plotting a course for 2018 and beyond

With a fresh blanket of snow covering our cozy cabin in the woods, Jill and I sat inside crunching numbers. Plotting a course to set sail.

She rattled off expenses, I typed them into a calculator and then read her back the totals. On we went through our financials from the past three months living in Seward. It felt like a good thing to be doing on the last day of the year. Sure, it wasn’t nearly the wildest New Year’s Eve we’ve ever had, but it was by far the most focused.

After an amazing 2017, we’re determined to do everything we can in 2018 to get our family back out cruising … whenever that may be.

The overarching goal of the exercise was to obtain an idea of where we’re at and to set ourselves onto a smooth course for the new year. We need to know what it will realistically take to get us going again, and doing a thorough assessment of our finances is the only way to put our feet on solid ground.

The good news? We’re on the right track. The not so good? We’ve got a long way to go. 

Stopping cruising and moving back ashore obviously wasn’t what we’d hoped to do in 2017. Not at all. (See part 1). But we knew we had to if we wanted to keep going, which we definitely do. The thing is, moving ashore to “save” money isn’t — as we knew — all that easy. That’s not how the world works.

Even though we’re a dual income family, and Jill’s position is granting her valuable work experience, we now have bills that we haven’t had in many years including moorage, a car and all its associated fees, rent and utilities, and other incidentals that come from living on land for part of the year. What we figured out on New Year’s Eve, though, is that after all of our monthly expenses are covered, we don’t actually have very much extra left over. It wasn’t a comforting realization.

Our current situation is that the goal in stopping is to work on Yahtzee and to pay off a sizable amount of debt in the process. And while we’re doing both, we now know that we need to focus more on the debt in 2018 and less on the boat and other expenditures. In the interest of being straight up here, the debt we accrued while fixing Yahtzee’s skeg and rudder late in 2016 is like a massive anchor that continues to not only weigh us down but is in jeopardy of dragging us farther under water if we don’t cast it free. That’s what we’re going to do.

We’re comforted in the fact that Yahtzee was ready to cross oceans when we pulled into Seward in August — heck, we were even planning to sail to California that very month! She just needed a few tweaks and if we could lavish some gifts on her such as new sails in the process, great. Well, once we’re done with the projects that we’ve started, this round of gift giving is over. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves tied to the dock for years spending money on the boat and putting a little bit here and there towards our debt. That won’t cut it.

We’re not the type of sailors to comfortably sit at the dock and ramble on about someday getting out there while constantly working to sail away on a boat that never will be perfect. Never have been, never will be. Our family has been out there before and we all want it back in the worst way. So we’ll work to make it happen.

And while we love Seward and Alaska immensely, it isn’t time to settle somewhere yet and it may never be. That is reality for us. Wandering this big old world under sail is what we’re after — and life’s too short not to do what we love with the people we love.