Is it feasible to take a boat designed for inshore waters offshore or transocean ?.
The Hunter Liberty is a 22 foot, lightweight, centreboard boat originally intended for coastal and inshore sailing. It was designed way before the categorisation of all boats under the dead hand of EU beaurocracy into various classes all dependent on their stability or lack of it. The original design has something like a 25% ballast ratio and boats that have been re-ballasted about 30% and of course don’t have a fixed keel to help right them after a putative knockdown. On the other hand the hull is almost the same size and shape as a modern ships lifeboat….except that it’s got sails !….not much sails i admit and maybe not quite enough for long distance ocean sailing.
Isle De Brehat entrance.
It’s undeniable that the boat is truly in it’s element working it’s way up a shallow creek and settling there for the night…..except that i have also sailed mine in coastal and offshore passages already and some of those in brisk conditions. Not last year, but in 2016, i solo’d the boat across the channel on its very first hundred mile passage across to Roscoff in Brittanny and then later came back via the Channel Islands and a choppy channel crossing. I have also sailed the boat pretty hard just to see what it will put up with. It is limited to windward because of the low ballast ration and small sail-plan yes, but in light downwind conditions it’s an absolute delight….and could be even better.
Off the Brittanny coast.
So this post will be the first of a new series in which i explore the idea of taking a small boat offshore or even ‘ocean’. Not any old boat either but my boat and one that was never intended for that purpose. Lets say that this is actual, for real exercise in which i am genuinely doing the planning for a transocean voyage aboard WABI”’. I have enough confidence in the boat already to have taken it across the Channel, i accept it’s current limitations but also feel that i can stretch the boat envelope and my own, to take in an ocean crossing…..not any and every ocean though. This might seem an ambitious, even audacious plan given that i just had my arse handed to me on a plate locally in Lyme bay but to be honest a lot of ocean sailing isn’t very much to do with hard conditions and lee-shore’s.
For the sake of this exercise lets say that my plan is to take WABI”’ over to the Caribbean via the normal trade-wind route and not the harder, colder and windier northern route. So the passage, or series of passages would be something along the lines of : Uk to northern/western Brittanny to get the busy channel crossing done, North to South Brittanny in coastal/offshore cruise mode. South Brittanny towards Portugal/Spain taking in the Vendee ports. Lets say La Rochelle down to a port in Spain or Southern Portugal to stock up and then the first long passage out to the Canaries, Madeira or the Azores. Broken up into a series of smaller bites it sounds a lot less daunting. The longest passage there would be around 10 days at a reasonable guess and that is the 800 miles ans small change from Lisbon to the Canary’s . Lets say that i can average 4 knots offshore….around 100 miles a day then . Most of those passages so far are day sails and overnighters with the most challenging being the cross-channel and cross shipping-lane problem and that is, in my experience so far just 24 hours of being awake in one go.
The long leg, the actual transatlantic passage is then 3,000 miles which i want to deal with separately as it might be a ‘good enough’ challenge to visit the Atlantic islands : Madeira, the Canaries, even the Cape Verde’s and the Azores and sail back from there….respectable voyaging in the Liberty. In fact, the idea of an Atlantic triangle, visiting the main islands does have a strong appeal because each leg is only about 10 days at worst. The actual problem in considering a full transatlanttic passage is ‘what next’ because what it really then needs is to complete the Atlantic circuit, cruise the eastern seaboard of the US, not a bad plan or to sell the boat in the US with all the problems that would entail.
It’s important then to say what this voyage isn’t….and that it isn’t a hard driving offshore race or a southern ocean passage. In my experience of ocean sailing a lot of it, in the Atlantic to the south of Biscay , is often done in very light conditions and not in heavy weather. I have had one absolutely stomping passage back from the Azores to the UK in fierce downwind conditions in which we ran in a good force 9…..but that was Autumn in a much bigger boat and i wouldn’t have left port in anything less capable. For those unfamiliar with ocean sailing conditions the charts to look at are the Admiralty passage planning charts which give average wind direction and wind speeds month by month.
Something like this .
It’s difficult to read at this size and resolution but the wind arrows around each point show the average wind direction and speed recorded for that month. Biscay for example still has predominantly south-westerlies but further south its mainly nor-easterlies ie running conditions and F2-3 as normal. The likelihood of very heavy weather is very low and that is the main objection against passages in small boats.
I have however specified the ocean passages as solo and that does bring with it an additional problem ie watch-keeping and specifically that it is impossible to maintain a 24 hr watch when sailing alone for longer than say 2 days. I have done that and its horribly tiring after about 40 hours so we do have to consider the additional risk of collision and/or being run down. Although a bit of a contrarian as a sailor i would seriously consider something like AIS which does seem to be standard in ships nowadays…..fishing boats are of course a law unto themselves but slightly easier to bounce off !.
Is navigation a problem ?….hardly….i have GPS but prefer to use a sextant and chronometer as that gives a much more satisfying rythym to the day : up at dawn to shoot the star sights, mid morning and afternnoon timed sights for longitude and the midday fix for latitude. To be honest ocean navigation isn’t a big deal compared with precision rock-hopping around Brittanny : the Atlantic islands are pretty high, the Canary’s for example can be seen from at least 20 miles out at sea. There is a small additional difficulty in using a sextant aboard a very small boat in that the whole thing can be a lot less steady when shooting the sights but i hardly need super-precision. I know i can navigate with a sextant to about half a mile accuracy….the average master-mariner would laugh at that but it’s plenty good enough to find the Atlantic islands.
So that’s the basic idea, in the next post we will start to take a look at some of the potential and actual problems and the set-up of the boat in terms of it’s rig and ocean going equipment.
Lets do this thing !
Treguier river i think 2016.