Offshore Preparations, Part Two - SailNet Community

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Old 09-16-2003
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Liza Copeland is on a distinguished road
Offshore Preparations, Part Two

If you've missed Liza's Copeland previous article, click here: Preparing to Sail Offshore


Organizing a boat for an offshore passage is best done before the land astern fades to a distant sliver.
We just completed an Atlantic crossing from Norfolk, VA to Menorca in Spain. This was no run-of-the-mill trip. We left the East Coast of the US in late April expecting a similar, and typical, crossing to one we completed after we were married in 1973. Back then, calms predominated and we had to motor much of the time through the Azores High. But this time the high was late in consolidating and low-pressure systems spawned at random across the Atlantic, making a mockery of the 96-hour (and often the 24-hour) weatherfax pictures. In all, the experience set the stage for a better understanding of why it's important to thoroughly prepare for going to sea.

Ironically, the additional fuel we loaded on board to motor through the expected windless conditions was consumed running from the strong winds in the approaching lows! When we did find ourselves caught in these winds, they were frequently forward of the beam. Fortunately Bagheera is very comfortable down below on any point of sail (although few of us choose to cruise over on our ear) as well as at anchor, but these conditions certainly reinforced why we give comfort a high priority, along with the reliability of equipment and safety.


Shake-rattle-and-roll conditions on the outside mean the same for occupants and stores down below. In a seaway pots, pans, and other items spring to life with an energy of their own. Careful stowage keeps such items from flying across the cabin.
In our experience, roughly 70 percent of our time at sea has been pretty comfortable, 28 percent has varied from mildly disturbing to miserable, and only during a tiny two percent of that time have we been soundly battered by the elements, wishing fervently that we were elsewhere! Rough weather depends largely on one's route and time frame. Sailors should never have a deadline like we did this time with my nephew's wedding in Menorca scheduled for early June. For the most part, our miles aboard Bagheera have been logged in the tropics, much of them downwind, west-about, in season, and around the world when we had the luxury to wait for good weather. Sailors who sail the high latitudes or voyage out of season may find life a lot harder.

For those sailors particularly, organization below decks is critical before heading out on the high seas. If you're simply weekending or taking short vacations on board, it is easy to live out of a bag and stow the odd item before setting out—not so on the oceans. A cruise away from supplies and services means that the huge amount of cargo that is carried that has to be stored safely, with consideration to priority of use. Not just food and water, fuel and clothing, but also large numbers of charts, reference books and guides, spare parts, additional safety gear, an expanded medical kit, and items of entertainment for the crew.

Self-sufficiency in electrical power generally means additional batteries, especially with the ever-increasing numbers of desirable electronics. Watermakers also take up more of the valuable space below. One soon learns to use every square inch on board and to become very possessive about holes, never allowing a space to become empty so it can be sneakily grabbed by a fellow crew.

"At some point, all sailors will  experience rough seas. Some will also suffer the occasional knockdown, and we've even met a few that have been rolled over. Proper pre-voyage preparation should take all possibilities into account. "
At some point, all voyagers experience bouncy conditions. Some will also suffer the occasional knockdown, and we have met few that have even been rolled completely. Proper pre-voyage preparation should take all possibilities into account. All floorboards, bin lids, bunk-boards and anything else that can come loose should be either screwed down or secured with safe catches or barrel bolts. Check that your water and fuel tanks are installed well enough to survive a roll-over, keeping in mind that 100 gallons of water weighs roughly 833 pounds, and diesel weighs just slightly less. Batteries are also heavy and need to be bolted down securely. What about the gimbaled stove? Are there ‘stops' above the gimbals to prevent the stove ending up on top of you? And check the drawers and lockers to see that they have turn-buttons or barrel-bolts for security; spring-loaded ‘finger' catches may release in rough conditions. 

Few production boats come with enough storage and most do not have enough storm-proof bookshelves. Opening up all available space has to be balanced by not compromising structural parts of the boat. Bookshelves with secure fiddles and enclosed above are needed. Extra shelves constructed in the galley and head, such as under the sink, can make a significant difference in both extra stowage and easy retrieval.


There's not much that beats a snug sea berth when the going gets rough, and that means having lee cloths like the one above—a sea-going essential. 
Sea berths, ideally located amidships, need strong lee cloths. Double berths are quite large on modern designs, so we had our aft mattresses split fore and aft and fashioned lee cloths down the middle. Think of the heaviest crew member being on the windward side when installing these, especially in the main cabin. On this last trip it was my husband Andy's lot to be frequently in this position and to get good rest he needed to know he would not go flying across the cabin when we slammed down on the next wave.

As it is with almost any lifestyle, considerable time is spent in the galley and this area needs to be made as user-friendly as possible. We've fashioned high fiddles to hold mugs or bowls while pouring hot liquids. We also have non-slip mats, two deep sinks with a fitted cutting board, sturdy retainers to keep pots on the stove, a spice rack, hooks so that oven mits are easily accessible, a bar type paper towel holder that will take the varying roll sizes around the world, a bolt to hold the fridge/freezer door up in case the spring hinge gives way, and bungy cord across lockers to stop jars falling out. All these after-market adaptations have helped to make our galley functional in all conditions.

A variety of other improvements can be made to enhance comfort on board. While coastal cruisers often have spartan boats, long-term cruisers make their boat a home. They hang pictures on the bulkheads (securely fastened), and display souvenirs to personalize the interior. In the Azores we were invited on board an American yacht to view the various locker doors that had been carved by local woodworkers during their world travels. We have a plant hanging by the mast, (all have been named ‘Fred'!), and when cruising long term enjoy being entertained by a parakeet in our Tunisian birdcage.


Cooking offshore needn't be a challenge. A well-laid galley is more than half the battle in keeping the crew fed and happy as the miles roll by.
Most offshore cruisers use sheets and quilts instead of sleeping bags. Extra pillows provide additional cushioning when heeled over, and although our main cabin berths with lee cloths are quite narrow, cocooned in bedding we are usually snug whatever the angle and turbulence of the seas. Materials with some polyester are preferable as 100-percent cotton tends to retain moisture and stay damp.

The ability to move easily below decks is essential to preventing injury while underway. In jerky seas that can emanate from three directions like they did for us on this last trip, it is easy to be thrown around down below. A well-found vessel should have grab handles within easy grasp for all crew, and they should be available from the companionway all the way forward to the V-berth. Handrails are particularly important on beamy boats where one can be tossed across the cabin. In the galley, the stove should also be guarded by a stronger stainless bar so crew members are not thrown onto it, and a retainer harness should be installed if the galley is an open plan.

While you're looking around down below, check the fire extinguishers. There should be one in the engine room and one close to the galley. A fire blanket is also very effective for galley flare-ups. A coverall apron is a useful tool if you have people cooking in bathing suits (or less!) because it can help you avoid burns from hot splatters. Rig retainer lines to hold hot thermoses of coffee and tea on the counter.


The nav station is the nerve center of any crusing boat. Make sure yours is comfortable as you'll no doubt spend lots of time here on a passage.
The chart table is another well-used area that should be as large as possible, especially as it is now commonly shared by the laptop and possibly a printer. Charts are a major item in all cruising budgets, and you need a sufficient supply to cover both the planned route and also possible diversions. We do not feel that chart plotters are safe by themselves as, like any piece of electronics, they are prone to failure in a saltwater environment, so we always carry paper charts. A computer charting program that can print out large-scale port charts ahead of time can bring some savings. Charts take up a large amount of room, so we categorize into area and store them in labeled garbage bags under the berths in the order of expected use. Almanacs, light lists, radio signal and weather station lists, routing charts, pilots and cruising guides, reference books on wildlife, travel books, and novels—all these take up space and need secure stowage.

On Bagheera a log book is faithfully filled in hourly when we are at sea. We are on book number five with Bagheera and of the several types we have used, we find bookkeeping journals work well with their pre-ruled lines for the various categories of information (lat., lon., COG. SOG, wind, log, barometer, etc.). The ‘comments' section also gives us an opportunity to record our feelings and some observations put down in the middle of a storm are classic, but the main purpose of writing hourly is always to be ready to go on to Dead Reckoning and celestial navigation should there be a loss of electronics.

"Although weary, we arrived in the Azores little worse for the wear after a turbulent, 12-day run. Other sailors we met weren't so fortunate."
We also use the log book for other records, engine service dates and hours, pertinent radio frequencies for local nets and weather faxes. On the front page of the log is the outline for our crew briefing including safety, watchkeeping, and domestic issues. While on the subject of books, make sure to have enough entertaining reading material to keep the crew happy on the passage, including some games–cards and backgammon are our favorites–and purchase a visitor's book before departure, it will be a wonderful record of friends made along the way.

For this most recent passage, it was fantastic to have our eldest son, Duncan, on board, both for his enthusiasm and muscle power. Later our two other sons joined us and the memories were flying as we cruised again en famille. Although weary, we and Bagheera arrived in the Azores little worse for wear after a turbulent, 12-day run through the Bermuda to the Azores. Other sailors we met were not so fortunate. Several had blown out sails and many a woeful tale. On Herb's radio net we heard transmissions from cruisers who had been overwhelmed and blown off track, with more than one suffering a broken mast. For all involved the crossing was good reality check that one can never ignore the possibility of unexpected ocean storms, and never be complacent in preparing for a passage that is renowned for its calms.

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