The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Choosing a Liveaboard Sailboat and Scratching the Wrong Itch

"Choose your life's mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90 percent of all your happiness or misery. ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
 [edited on October 28]


Part 1: You have some bucks and you want to live aboard (and hopefully cruise near or far)

I've wanted a sailboat since I was a teenager, and a boat like the Hans Christian 43 is what I lusted for. It has the capacity and looks to take you to exotic far-away places safely and in style. In fact, it's sad to see a Hans Christian floating idly at your local marina or mooring field begging to be sailed over the horizon.


Then the French invented this!!

It looks more like a motorboat or a fancy swimming pool deck. It's more likely to induce daydreams of parties and cocktails than the romantic urge to sail to Tahiti.

"What's that? You don't want to sail to Tahiti, not even to Mexico. Really, are you sure?

I must admit that I've never been aboard a Hans Christian, but I do own a Corbin 39 - a canoe-stern go anywhere sailboat that is a poor sailor's version of a Hans Christian, sort of.

But I do have friends with boats similar to the Oceanis 45 shown above; some bigger, some smaller, with either sugar-scoop or fold-out transoms.

I've been on their boats, both sailing and socializing, and I can tell you this: there's no comparison. Not only that, I've found that almost unfailingly they'll dinghy over to my boat or call to invite me to their boat and hardly ever come aboard mine. This includes Manuel on his Beneteau 26.

Could it be I have no fridge and thus no cold beer? No, because I also have good wine. I've concluded that they've become spoiled by the ease of simply stepping aboard into a spacious cockpit and aren't too enthusiastic about climbing a ladder into a gopher hole.

Hans Christian cockpit
Charming, but a bit crowded for sundowners with friends. Forget dinner parties.
If you haven't experienced both setups, think about situations such as:

  • boarding / unboarding from the dinghy, specially for older or less agile people, and I have a friend who can't come aboard because he has a leg problem
  • bringing groceries aboard (not to mention an outboard engine or gas bottles), all the more difficult when alone
  • eating in the cockpit, and there's nothing like it in good weather
  • Sailing with more than 3 crew is too crowded
  • I could go on, but why be tedious


The interiors and deck are basically a matter of taste. I personally prefer the Hans Christian's interior, it makes me feel like I'm in a real boat and not in a swanky apartment. Being at home may be more convenient, but not as much fun. That's why you bought a boat.

I truly believe that a sailboat's cockpit can really make a huge difference when living aboard and for coastal cruising.

Part 2: You have some bucks and you want a blue-water cruising boat

Some people may argue that almost all boats are safe for blue-water cruising, it's the crew that counts. There may be some truth to that, but if I were to cross the Atlantic again I'd do it in my Corbin. Even in a storm I always felt safe in that little cockpit. Besides, we never invited anybody aboard, never had dinner parties, didn't go shopping and never used the boarding ladder, thank God. I genuinely think I'd feel scared sailing in the cockpit of the Oceanis 45 shown above being thrown around in 25-foot waves.

If you're crossing oceans, maybe it's not a bad idea to trade off a luxurious setup for a smaller, safer cockpit.

Don't scratch the wrong itch.

Before you rush out to buy a sailboat, maybe you should read How to Buy a Sailboat - Do the Math.

Sorry, gotta go. I can see a bunch of angry sailors running toward me wielding boat hooks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Purpose of Sailing

Without purpose there's no motivation, and without motivation there's not much worth doing.

A friendly club regatta is a good way for lazy sailors to hone their sailing skills. I'm a "lazy sailor" (somebody who doesn't bother to tweak sails), but I also detest motoring. I'm happy to be going somewhere in no hurry, preferably under sail. Going half a knot faster does not make me any happier.

Corbin 39
The club asked us to motor by this spot for a photograph session. We were a crew of seven, but only two of us knew that lines are placed on winches in a clockwise direction.
But in a regatta, this lazy sailor is like a hound focused on squeezing an extra tenth of a knot out of his cruising boat's sails. Although it may seem a bit silly to get excited about racing in a group of starkly contrasting vessels, the excitement is nonetheless very real. The exhilaration is not so much about winning but, rather, about learning to sail as fast as you can - even if pathetically slow - by tweaking the sails.

So, it seems that sailing with a purpose is more fun and rewarding than, let's say, taking the boat out for a spin. At the moment I can think of only four purposes of sailing, listed by order of decreasing fulfillment/excitement:

  1. Cruising 
  2. Sailing to a nearby destination and back
  3. Racing 
  4. Taking the boat out for a relaxing sail

I rated "relaxing sail" last because it's obvious - or it should be to anyone who has owned a sailboat for a while - that sailing is not so much about relaxation as it is about action...and work. Not only that, sailing 5 miles to nowhere and back becomes somewhat tedious after a few outings. Visit just about any marina and see how many sailboats have gone out for a sail on a sunny summer weekend.

You need a purpose. Has anybody ever sailed non-stop half-way across an ocean to the middle of nowhere and then returned home just for the fun of it? Without purpose there's no motivation, and without motivation there's not much worth doing.

Have I digressed? As I was saying, regattas are a good way to improve my sailing skills. And what's really good about it is that next time I sail to a destination, I'll naturally set the sails better and then forget about them out of laziness.

Upwind sailing
Doing about 4 knots on a close reach in light winds. Not bad for a boat that hasn't had its bottom cleaned in over three years.
We started in last place - as usual and at least by 10 boat lengths - maybe because I have 3 sails to handle. On the other hand, that extra sail may also have helped me finish in third place. Although there were only six boats competing this year, we fulfilled the purpose of not coming last. That honor went to a motorsailer shaped like a pumpkin whose skipper was smiling like mad because he finally had an excuse to hoist his sails and shut off the engine.

Me and my first mate at the dinner party receiving the trophy (which, being made of glass, is not visible and which, in a way is a metaphor for its importance in the whole scheme of things).

Friday, October 9, 2015

Avoiding Ships and Obstacles

After 13 years of part-time ocean cruising, ships still make me nervous - but mainly at night.

But I'm no hero like the skipper in the clip below.



During the day in open water, I assume ships will respect a sailboat's right of way - if sailing - and I also have a clearer picture of where they're heading. If I'm motoring, I assume I can avoid them fairly easy. 
On my way home this year, when I first saw this ship, prior to this picture, I thought it was going to pass in front of me.
In the end, after a few course changes, it steamed past my stern. To think of it, the exact same thing happened last year.
Imagine if this had happened at nigh. I'd be a little nervous to say the least. It makes sense to assume that ships will monitor their radar screens more carefully near land. But then it also makes sense to trust a pit-bull's owner when he tells you that his snarling dog doesn't bite...at least not yet! 


The truth is, just about anything makes me nervous at night, especially when sailing the Portuguese coast which, except for pirates, is mined with a variety of hazards: ships, fishing boats, many lobster pot markers, debris and sleeping skippers on automatic pilot. I'm not kidding. Some years ago while sailing with another 3 boats, we had to dodge a large sailboat that sailed right through us without a soul on deck, nobody, and all sail up.

Then there's a fishing system called "palangre". You see it only when it's right in front of you, if the ocean is calm. Otherwise you don't see it at all. It looks something like the diagram below, except the floats are cork rings about the size of a big doughnut.
The floats fishermen use around here are tiny and laid out at about 20-meter intervals. I don't know how long the surface line is because I never see where they start or end.
Although it's just fishing lines, hooks and small floats, you'd have a hell of a mess if you ever got one rolling in your propeller. Last year I dove down in open water to cut myself free from a thick line leading to a bottom net, but I don't think I'd be too enthusiastic about diving down into a mess of hooks. They're called hooks for a good reason. But you could always sail to the next anchorage, careen the boat on a sand bank and sell the fish.

That's enough pessimism for today. I guess next year I'll be sailing to the Algarve solo again.