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  #1  
Old 09-17-2013
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21st Century Seamanship?

I was reading another thread about a person considering different boats for blue water cruising on a light budget. It got me thinking about the real requirements for offshore voyaging- it seems we have two sets now a day.

In the past it did not much matter if your sailboat was 25' or 45' except for having a smoother motion in seas. Before radar, auto pilots, water makers, gps- it was the skippers at the helm that led to a voyages success or disaster.

Now we have two groups. We have the group that can afford the new boats with self steering systems, radar, chart plotters, gps, ect ect. who have to only input coordinates and motor sail and they go many places. I am a bit skeptical as to many of there true capabilities of seamanship. If they were struck by lighting 200 miles off Bermuda and lost power how many could plot a last known fix and dead reckon to Bermuda without loss of life or boat? How many "sailors," today know how to use a pair of dividers and parallel rulers let alone bearing compasses and sextants? Do many of the new age sailors know the difference in flashing light sequences or when to fly an inverted black cone- do they even have one?

I feel like a lot of this crowd is too reliant on modern technology and really have not much real seamanship so far as bowditch or voyaging by sail is concerned. They do have a lot of resources to buy technology that does it all for them- yet if this goes kablunk then what? You suddenly have a 350,000 boat with a skipper who cannot sail her?

Then you have the second group of sailors. The ones on a budget with lofty dreams and hard ambition. I myself have only been sailing offshore in my own real sailboat (not counting dinghy's off MOW as a child) for 3 months. However I am very keen on seamanship. Many people here can easily point to my gross lack of seamanship throughout my last 2 1/2 years posting here- yet rest assured the leaps I have made have been many.

See- in my situation, a solo sailor living aboard a 2,000 dollar boat (what I paid- over 14k put in) I have to rely on seamanship of old. I use a knot stick and analog wind gauge to make my SOG and VMGs so I can more accurately dead reckon my courses. I use my charts often and account for magnetic variation of different areas as well as current set and drift via maneuvering tables. I tally my amp hours to my current usage, set up self steering, practice all manner of sail trim and read constantly on piloting and navigation. Im getting pretty handy with a sextant as well. Just have to learn the constellations but noon fixes are becoming faster and more accurate. I can take my boat out on an ebb sail solo in 20 knots for 8 hours and ride the flood back in to dock- next two weeks will be my first offshore trip overnight. Sail out dead reckoning, hove to during night, and try to dead reckon and get fixes to make my way back- of course GPS will be near by if I fail. This is what I think all this technology SHOULD be for- a backup- not a primary. We have people buying boats and relying on their gadgets to traverse thousands of miles of oceans without incident- risky at best IMO.

All this is to say that for the second group who does not have an island packet or rassey its not so much the boat and equipment but the mind and the abilities of the skipper that make all the difference. Offshore sailing is no joke- it should not be taken lightly. So while I love crewing on my friends Oceanis 352 with the latest gadgets and gizmos I use them all as a secondary assurance. Our forefathers made voyages of discovery with nothing more than magnetic compasses using bearings, fixes, and dead reckoning. Wind and sail trim. 1/2 a knot on a 1000 mile trip is huge. If your a few degrees off on a long trip suddenly your on reef heads when you expected 10 fathoms of sandy bottom with good holding.

I love the art ofg navigation- I love seamanship- its a never ending skill and one that can pay for its self over and over again. I think it we sailors would do very well to not forget the past when formulating the future. I think most boats made today can travel the world- the bigger problem is most the skippers are not up to the task- myself included.

Yet 2-3 years from now? Yea- Ill do my best to be ready. I already feel so much more confident about solo passage making to the Bahamas. Seamanship gives you that confidence. Plotting your own courses and understanding how it all works is so much more comforting then looking at a small screen telling you that your not heading onto shoals.

Enough ranting- really just wanted tot alk about the current model for seamanship and how many of you address is or forego it.
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Old 09-17-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Quote:
Enough ranting- really just wanted tot alk about the current model for seamanship and how many of you address is or forego it.
I dont think you do want to really address modern "seamanship" I think you just want to vent. And I'm not being rude in saying it, just my perception.

If you have a certain type of sailing that you like then go for it. But I dont think you should slag off another type of sailing that you know little about.

If you think "seamanship" is about Bowditch and learning 27 different type of knots then, as I say, go for it. My thoughts are about learning as few knots as possible and making better use of those very few knots. Also I question the very basics of what some call 'seamanship' - I stopped calling Port and Starboard and started saying Left and Right. My jury is still out on that one because there is a very few places where it is really imposable not to use port and starboard in a modern context (when dealing with other vessels.. see the point below). The point is I am constantly challenging what the old "seamanship" was to help transition of the new "seamanship".

Here is an example of new "seamanship":
In the old days it was fine to know your own position. Nowadays its important to make sure everyone else knows our position.

In the old days your Bermuda example may have been fine. But in new seamanship I couldn't give a rats bum if I couldn't find some isolated island if some weird UFO thing my electronics fail. Its such an unusual occurrence that I would be quite happy to head west till I can see land... can't miss that! And drop in to West Marine to re-equip.

Its doesn't mean I can't sail as well as you. Not at all. I have plenty tin mugs.

Technology changes. But only in one way ----> it advances.

Sailing is far safer now than it ever has been and is getting safer far quicker than ever before. The old "seamanship" was with the heightened danger, the new "seamanship" is safer... and more enjoyable.




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Old 09-17-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

It sounds to me like two maybe three different topics. They've all been covered here pretty extensively. You seem to be talking about navigation...paper vs electronics. Which has been discussed often here. I think you'll find that most of us know how to use both paper and electronics. Paper being the back-up in many cases. It doesn't mean we don't use it, or know how. What's wrong with having more tools?

To me, seamanship covers the entire gamet of vessel management at sea of which navigation is only a part.

Then there's piloting..which I consider most inland and coastal sailing, in essence, to be.

I'd be a little careful about heading out to sea from jacksonville and heaving-to to sleep? Last time through, there was a fair amount of shipping. Then there's the gulf stream, you could wake up closer to Charleston..than Jacksonville when it comes time to head West again.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Having done a circumnavigation with the "old seamanship" equipment, a compass, a taffrail log, a few bits of yarn as telltales, a sextant, parallel rules (or equivalent) & dividers, a whole bunch of paper charts in many languages, accurate time, a couple of stopwatches, and a bunch of heavy books, with an RDF as my only concession to "modern" electronic navigation, I love my 10" chartplotter, wind/speed instruments, autopliot and radar. It's not that I need them, it's that now I have so much more time to read, sleep, cook and just relax on a crossing, or even an inter island sail, because navigating takes a great deal of time and attention, especially if you are tired and only if the weather cooperates. Six days with overcast skies and not one LOP before I had already passed through the Great Barrier Reef on a voyage from New Caledonia, was not a very restful or relaxing sail.
As to finding Bermuda in a day or two, versus sailing six to ten days "west" to the US mainland after an unforecasted storm in the Gulfstream (that area produces it's own weather), that can and does disable many a well found boat, would seem infinitely preferable to me.
I don't carry my sextants aboard anymore, only a few small scale large area charts, and a few books, but if I have accurate time I can find latitude at noon, make a few plotting sheets and find my way successfully anywhere I need to, as did the sailors of old.
I also believe as harborless states, that everyone who ventures beyond the sight of land should have a basic understanding of how to survive without the gadgets most love and prefer to depend on. Paper charts, even corrected and up to date, are not infallible. We must understand that most charts are produced for commercial vessels and that their accuracy inside the ten fathom line is limited at best, unless it is on a route used by commercial shipping. Even ICW charts were not made for pleasure craft, but rather a tug pushing a barge. The deepest water is (was, when it was maintained) not necessarily in center channel, but rather where a tug drawing 10' would be to push a 200' barge around that corner. And certainly not near the marks, which were protected from the barges by heaping the spoil around them.
There are so many things to be learned from the sailors of old, and not just the Europeans. The Polynesians made 3000 mile crossings from Hawaii to and from Tahiti, regularly, without even a compass, which I doubt many could do today, myself included.
Noticing the green clouds that hover over the lagoon of a coral atoll, blowing a horn in the fog and counting the time of the return echo to establish your distance offshore and feeling the change in the seas as you approach an unseen island; these are all things a cruiser should be able to do. Not that many of us wants to sail as the Polynesians or early European explorers did, just in case we need to.
Lastly. Frankly I couldn't care less who sees me when I am sailing; it is my responsibility to make sure my vessel and those aboard are safe and I would never allow another vessel to approach my vessel, relying on that vessel's captain or watch stander for our safety, even if I was in communication with them. That is my job!
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Last edited by capta; 09-18-2013 at 12:27 AM.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Harborless,

You have it upside down and back-to-front.

How do you think my wife and I earned the money to have the fancy boat?

We were both very competent high level professionals who approach sailing the same way...70,000 sea miles, professional qualifications and skills. Our next little trip is Caribbean to New Zealand and I am sitting next to our sextant.

My wife commanded the air fleet that deployed and supported an airborne division in the Gulf War do you think that because she can afford a radar and AIS that she suddenly became less competent?

A night sail in 20 knots! My wife ran our 55 ft boat by herself, at night, in 45 gusting 55 knots and 25 ft seas!

We have crew with trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacifics under their belt that have trouble meeting my wife's exacting standards of seamanship.

Once you get away from Florida, the Bahamas and the charter-boat-islands you find that the people with nice well equipped boats are highly competent and in a previous life had 'little' jobs like running off-shore oil fields.

Last edited by Yorksailor; 09-18-2013 at 03:32 AM.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yorksailor View Post
Once you get away from Florida, the Bahamas and the charter-boat-islands you find that the people with nice well equipped boats are highly competent and in a previous life had 'little' jobs like running off-shore oil fields.
Yes I'm inclined to agree with that. There are seemingly many reports about people who screw up due to a lack of skill. But that's no different to the reports of motor accidents in the local paper.

Just because there are some people who have motor accidents doesn't mean that they have notable representation amongst the other millions of motorists who get it right. And just because a handful of people get into trouble at sea doesn't mean that half the sailors out there are uneducated lunatics. In fact many of those who do get in trouble at sea have simply exhausted all their skills and were still overwhelmed. I know of a boat that was crewed by no less than six accomplished sailors all of which held Ocean Yachtmaster certs, the vessel was lost at sea with all hands.

I have met many sailors in my years in the sport and the vast majority of them are consumate seamen who rarely make errors and never have a scary incident. In fact, I consider myself quite good at this stuff and I have probably made more mistakes than most. And the vast majority (including me) have come to appreciate the ease and accuracy of "new age" seamanship.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Complicated topic, as technology has the ability to make a sailor safer, if used correctly. It has the ability to make the less capable sailor become over confident.

As for the generalization that pre-tech seamanship was superior, their are several regions of the world that refer to themselves as the "graveyard of the xxxxx" There are 2000+ wrecks off the coast of the Carolinas, in what they refer to as the graveyard of the Atlantic. Most of them went down before modern technology was available.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

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Originally Posted by Minnewaska View Post
the "graveyard of the xxxxx" There are 2000+ wrecks off the coast of the Carolinas, in what they refer to as the graveyard of the Atlantic. Most of them went down before modern technology was available.
Elizabeth and Middleton reefs off the east coast of Australia 29 27.5343 S 159 06.3540 E in the middle of nowhere but also on the intersection of just about every sailing ship route from Autralia or New Zealand and Asia, Indian ocean etc. Its one of our graveyards but the last wreck was: "The yacht Sospan Fach was wrecked on Middleton Reef in 1974 and its crew of five were rescued after being stranded for six weeks."
Funny thats when SatNav was being used by all ships but not by sailing boats... now with GPS theres been.... wait for it.... no wrecks!

As the whole reef is so small that you playing with your sextant your position will always be inside your margin of error... so you are not being safe at all by using it at all.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Great to hear you are perfecting your traditional navigation skills, but have you figured out how to use your GPS yet? :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Harborless View Post

So basically I have a chart and I have a garmin handheld gps which I have no idea how to operate properly. I want to know what I need to do in EXCRUCIATING detail to complete this trip. I know its not much more than sailing 5-7 miles offshore and hugging the coast down but how do you know your position? I have a compass, the GPS, and some charts with a VHF radio for navigation. How would I be able to know I was at the New Smyrna inlet and not the Daytona? How do I chart my course to account for wind and current to make sure I am where I am supposed to be? I will be single handing so please be very specific and add anything you feel is pertinent. I will check back to reply often.
I think once you actually start going places, you might notice there are actually quite a few sailors out there with big, expensive boats, who actually have a pretty good idea of what they're doing...

Last edited by JonEisberg; 09-18-2013 at 08:08 AM.
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Old 09-18-2013
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Re: 21st Century Seamanship?

Harbourless, I also think you've got it backwards. You suggest using modern electronic navigation equipment as a backup to traditional methods. That's crazy. Navigation has never been safer, easier or CHEAPER (look a the price of a chartplotter and chip today!). By all means, practice with your sextant if it gives you pleasure, but packing a spare handheld GPS and batteries in a tin box is probably a better "fall-back" option if you get hit by lightening and lose power aboard. However, I do agree with you about the need to know basic navigation with a paper chart, compass, dividers etc for coastal plotting.
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