Title photograph : Mylor UK. Oyster dredgers.
Recently i made several attempts, and some failed drafts, to cover the Donald Crowhurst story in light of the new film about him in the Golden Globe race. While researching and writing those posts i read through the various books about him, the race and some of the other competitors. One thing that i made note of while reading the story is that Crowhurst seemed to have a low opinion of what he called ‘sailorizing’. As i chose to understand it he was referring to all the basic tasks of the sailor that get boat and crew from one place to another. At times he seems to have almost contempt for those basic things, i was thinking recently that as an example he didn’t seem to look after the boat or himself very well. I on the other hand really enjoy the whole process of sailorizing, from sail-trimming and navigating to marlinspike seamanship and just keeping the boat in good order. Sailorizing…..to me is the total routine of being at sea and there are several sides to that : keeping watch for example or the day’s work of the ocean navigator.
In this post i am going to talk about the routine daily tasks of the sailor on a long voyage. The post will be similar to some other posts i did very early on in the life of the blog where, with work colleagues in mind, i did posts along the lines of ‘what’s it like’….to be at sea for long periods for example. Unlike Crowhurst i find sailorizing very satisfying and mostly i am fulfilled and happy at sea. Initially i was thinking about this post in terms of describing a day at sea during a typical ocean passage, nothing dramatic along the lines of hurtling downwind on the edge of control down in the big chilly-bin….just an ordinary day on passage in the trades.
For about 3 century’s western sailors have been sailing what are now known as the trade-wind passages, mainly sailing with or across favourable wind directions and with the prevailing ocean currents. One such trade wind route is the commonly sailed one in the southern portion of the north Atlantic from the Canary Islands, Madeira or the Azores across to the Windward or Leeward islands of the Caribbean. Working aboard a sailing ship had a distinct routine based around ‘watches’ for some ‘the day’s work’ for the navigator and ‘day-work’ for the idlers. Yes, the routine even has a language. Today i am planning my own solo trade-wind ocean passage and my daily routine will have to take from each of the aforementioned categories.
Most of my time at sea so far on long passages has been as a member of a watch or a mate whom runs a watch. The watch ‘on’ sails the boat, and on a well run boat attends to all the other work that has to be done. Meanwhile the ‘off’ watch sleeps and sometimes there is a 3rd watch just doing the domestic jobs on larger boats. The classic watch pattern on big boats has often been 4-on and 4-off which translates as 4 hours on watch and 4 hours off watch. Its a poor system as most people who do that run into a lack of low quality recovery sleep. I always found that a different system of two 6 hour day watches and then three 4 hour night watches is much better as the 6 hours of gave me much better sleep. On a solo passage there can only be me on-watch or off-watch so watch keeping is inevitably a bit random and it is one of the primary problems of the singlehanded sailor that he can’t maintain a 24 hr watch. The implications of this are for example not being able to get any sleep in the busy English channel or in areas where there is lots of shipping. Today it is tempting to have something like AIS which ships use often because they don’t keep proper watch from the bridge. During short passages, for example a channel crossing i have a strict routine…..stand up and look around the entire horizon every 15 minutes, every hour check course and speed and make a log entry. My solo ocean voyage will be different in that i mainly won’t have a strict watch routine of just observing the horizon as mostly i will have too much else to do.
So, what exactly will i be doing all day on my ocean voyage ? Well another thing i won’t be doing is steering the boat, unlike my offshore and ocean racing, where i would have to take regular tricks at the wheel. While it’s a pretty special experience at first to be at the wheel of a big powerful sailing boat, especially in a blow downwind, it gets pretty old pretty quickly on a long and slow light wind passage. On my voyage i shouldn’t be hand steering at all after leaving port as either the wind-vane self steering or the electric autohelm will be doing that job. The windvane by the way will be one of my largest single expenses and one of the most difficult jobs to fit as i will first have to build a copy of the back of the boat for the stainless steel bloke to work from.
The windvane on my Frances 26…lots and lots of work to fit.
So : with the boat steering itself hopefully in the right direction what else will i not be doing other than not keeping much of a watch and not steering the boat ? Well i will be keeping watch as much as possible when i’m not doing anything else, for eaxample when i am doing something else on a boat i know that i automatically have a good look around the boat regularly and frequently. My routine though won’t be based around helming or watch-keeping but will have more to do with what used to be called the ‘days work’ and that is principally the pattern of work of the traditional navigator.
My Frieburger sextant, been up and down the atlantic with that and a chronometer.
Essentially my days work will be based around traditional ‘astro’ navigation with sextant, chonometer and sight tables. It might seem strange that in the era of GPS that i would want to do my navigation using observations and a theoretical model which is almost entirely untrue (but it works) but i don’t. Any idiot can stare at a screen and transpose numbers onto a chart….or not even a chart nowadays. It takes some degree o skill for one thing but most importantly it takes mental agility and concentration to do the basic maths involved and i have always found that by doing that i don’t just mentally ‘drop-out’ at sea as many landlubbers actually do.
The days work then starts just before dawn at twilight when there is just a visible horizon but still some of the brighter stars and , if i am lucky, one of the larger planets. The first task of the day, after hauling down the night-lantern is to shoot the early morning sights. I probably won’t ‘reduce’ (compute) the raw angles and times at that stage but just record the numbers and the log reading and then go back below for my first coffee of the day. If things are going steady and we are still going in the right direction, and the rigs are still up !, then i may get another hour’s sleep as that is often my favourite time of day to get some sleep. I am often awake at night on passage , in fact i have found that i don’t normally have a diurnal sleep pattern but a quadriurnal one with periods of wakefulness and times when i want to rest scattered through the day and night.
La Luz, sistership of WABI” and bound for the Pacific ocean.
The day then restarts a couple of hours later with breakfast and another brew. After that i do the formal look-around of the whole boat. At only 22 feet that won’t take long but will involve me in getting into a safety harness and going forward to check the front rig. On big boats my deck and rig inspection used to take around 20 minutes and from that i could decide if any essential work needed doing…..chafe for example is a continuous problem . The work of sailorizing then is to review the course that i have bee making and see how that compares with the sailing plan, it is unlikely that i will be getting advanced weather information as by then i should be long out of wi-fi range. Sometimes trade wind passages are so steady that sails don’t get touched for days on end and sometimes its necasary to ‘wiggle’ the downwind route, tacking downwind. Once i am happy with the boat’s course and speed and that nothing is falling apart i will reduce or compute the pre-dawn sights and it will soon be time to take the mid morning sights for longitude. Usually i then plot the position lines ready to ‘cross’ my lines at mid-day with the noon fix for latitude. That point completes one cycle that started at noon on the day before and from that and the log reading i will record the days run.
Naviguessing on passage without a chart table.
During the morning ‘watch’ also attend to the jobs list and quite a bit of this is what sailors call ‘make-work’ , jobs that aren’t immediately necasary but have some secondary or routine value. I always keep a D&O (defects list) but also a ‘routine’ list for example one day i will empty, inspect and clean out the forward locker where the mast bolt comes through the bulkhead. Another day it will be to inspect and turn the vegetables. At this stage in the voyage i will be making water with my desalinator so i will spend at least an hour in the cockpit just doing that. One hours work should give me 2 days drinking water or drinking water for the day plus some spare for a soogee wash. After the noon sight i make sure that the navigation is all done and then have lunch.
The afternoon i try and make different except that i will do the afternoon longitude sight just as in the morning. If the morning watch is about looking after the boat then the afternoon is about looking after myself and entertaining myself. Thus in the afternoon i will usually strip off and have a thorough wash in the cockpit, usually with seawater but finishing with some fresh water to get the salt off. What i should have said about the pre-dawn jobs and didn’t is that i wipe the condensation off the cockpit seats with a sponge and squeeze that out….that gets rid of the salt crystals that i would otherwise get on my skin and which can cause ‘gunnel-bum’ …..which is painful. In a separate post i will talk about hygiene on a long voyage but most of it is dealt with by the daily wash anyway. In the afternoon i make sure i relax for a while, read maybe, hopefully write up my journal and work for the blog and think about the main meal of the day. I eat quite late , clean up , by which time it should be twilight again and time for the evening sights, after that it’s up with the night lantern and into my night routine. I very rarely sleep that early, more often read quite a bit. Late at night i might do more sights especially if the pole star is high enough above the horizon. I do try to get some proper sleep in the early hours and then reset the alarm for the pre-dawn wake up.