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  Topic Review (Newest First)
12-30-2006 05:58 PM
longwaterline Below is an article that I wrote about the trip. It gives a little more detail about the heavy weather conditions in the North Atlantic that we encountered. It also includes a response from Captain Hank Schmitt that answers some question about our situation.

Les Shapiro who sailed aboard the Swan 48 Caribe in the 2002 NARC
The following story was written by OPO member Les Shapiro who sailed aboard the Swan 48 Caribe in the 2002 NARC. It was also printed in the January Issue of SpinSheet Magazine.

By Les Shapiro

What happens when a longtime Chesapeake Bay Sailor decides to do some blue water sailing? One awesome experience.

Through Offshore Passage Opportunities (“OPO”) an organization run by Hank Schmitt, I secured a crew position on a Swan 48. The Swan delivery, part of the North American Rally to the Caribbean (“NARC”), was participating in the trip south from Newport, RI to St. Martin with a stop in Bermuda.

On Sunday morning November 3, eighteen boats left Newport. Caribe, a Swan 48 that was captained by Hank Schmitt and six crew including myself, was part of the fleet that left the Newport Yachting Center in calm conditions. That morning Sue, the NARC fleet weather router, held a weather briefing. She advised the boats heading south to avoid sailing directly to Bermuda (the rhumb line) because of a large weather system that would greet the fleet just as it would be crossing the Gulf Stream. The combination of north cold air and south warm air coming together can cause extremely undesirable weather conditions.

I soon learned about the impact of opposing forces in the Gulf Stream on sailboats and how warm eddies and cold eddies and meanders could add or detract from boat speed. Blue water sailing requires skills way beyond those required for Chesapeake Bay sailing. We were advised about the weather conditions, and the decision was made to head southwest and cross the Gulf Stream at one of the narrowest points to minimize our time in the dreaded Stream before we headed directly to Bermuda. The winds were light as we crossed the Gulf Stream.

About a day out of Newport, Herb, an amateur weather router in Canada for sailboats in the North Atlantic, was advising (by HAM radio) boats headed to Bermuda to take cover for several days in Cape May, NJ. Herb warned of a weather system developing to the north and heading south. Also, combined with a hurricane in the North Atlantic near Canada, this system could have a severe impact on our fleet. Several boats decided to take cover in Cape May. However, Caribe and most of the NARC fleet continued on to Bermuda.

Three days out of Newport the cold frontal system coming down from the north hit us with a vengeance. We clocked sustained winds from 40 to 60 knots and seas of 15 to 20 feet for a 36-hour period, gale conditions of Force 10. Steering the boat while on watch in those wind and sea conditions was exhilarating. The ocean was humbling. In the aft cockpit the boat appeared to be climbing a mountain of water and when the Swan reached the crest of a wave it would come surfing or slamming down with such force that at times I was concerned the boat would break apart. The Swan 48 did not break apart. The Swan was tremendous as it cut through the turbulence like a knife and moved forward with great boat speed. On a close reach with a triple reefed main and a handkerchief of jib we reeled off 200 miles in one 24-hour period with lots of seasick sailors. To make matters more interesting for Caribe, the heavy seas caused our life raft to break loose from its lashings on the the deck somewhere between Newport and Bermuda. Down below life for the crew was difficult. Doing basic tasks that required moving about the cabin took more energy and time than similar tasks on land. At the boats constant 15 to 20 degree angle of heel, you were operating against additional gravitational forces and stuff was flying or shifting around in the cabin. You constantly needed to brace yourself when moving about in anticipation of another lurch of the boat.

We arrived in Bermuda Friday Morning November 8. We discovered there were many equipment failures throughout the NARC fleet from the heavy weather on the first leg. An assessment of damage as the boats arrived revealed a Swan 46 with a snapped boom, bent stanchions; travelers ripped from decks, and autopilot and steering systems failures from the extreme forces. And there were a number of bruised sailors from the pounding and severe motion.

After a needed rest in Bermuda we sailed out of St. George’s harbor on Tuesday November 12 and arrived in St. Martin on Sunday November 17. We dropped the hook in St. Martin’s Marigot Bay at 2:00am after sailing in at night under a full moon. The sail from Bermuda to St. Martin was mostly in 15-20 knot winds and 5-foot seas. After the heavy weather sailing on the first leg 15-20 knots seemed like calm conditions.

The approximately 1500 ocean miles that we covered in the 15 days including a three-day stop in Bermuda was a grand experience. I made the trip to find out how ocean sailing in small boats works. Through OPO’s program I found out how the watch system works, how food is prepared and eaten underway (sometimes it can’t be prepared and eaten), how a sailboat operates in heavy ocean weather, how a crew in a small space relates to each other, how important weather routing is to an ocean passage, and how ocean navigation works. My thanks to our very able crew that also included Emil, John, Robert and Bianca, Julian on the Bermuda leg and Richard on the St. Martin leg.

I’m hooked on blue water sailing. Over the winter I will consider the possibility of selling my 36-foot S2 11.0A coastal cruiser to buy a heavy displacement blue water cruiser or continue to look for blue water crewing opportunities. On the other side there are plenty of sailing challenges on the Chesapeake Bay.

Answers from Bill and Renee

Answers from Bill and Renee who participated in the NARC Rally for the start of their one- year honeymoon cruise aboard a J-46 named “Vanish”. However they did take OPO members as extra crew for the trip south.

All is well with us. After a brief, cold trip up north we're back on Vanish getting ready to explore the windwards and the leewards.

Below are answers to your questions. Also our website has lots of photos, video's and info. Feel free to use our names and let us know if you have any other questions.

Bill & Renee

Hi Bill,
I hope you are well and enjoying the tropical sailing.

Nim asked me to do a little piece on why equipment broke on some boats and not others in the NARC rally. I am contacting all the boat captains.

Would you please tell me:
1) Why did you go the route you chose?
The Sunday weather briefing left me a bit confused. All I've learned about deliveries is get the boat from point A to point B as quick as possible. If the weather doesn't look good, don't go. The concept of heading southwest as a delay instead of just waiting in Newport didn't sound right, but with group dynamics and schedules we went along.

As we reviewed the weather data, we discarded the rhumbline route thinking we didn't want an extra 100 miles of gulf stream. We also were not too pleased with heading to the waypoint off of Cape May. This called for heading west of a warm eddie then heading southeast once we were passed it. Again to go over a 100 nm in the wrong direction and pass on the wrong side of an eddie because of a forecast four days away didn't make much sense to us. Instead we decided to split the difference, trying to pick up the east side of the warm eddie and hit the stream at a narrow point where it had a favorable direction. In general this plan worked. We did gain about a knot and a half from the warm eddie, and another two knots from the 40 nm of stream we went through.

2) What was the highest wind speeds you saw?
52 kts.

3) What sail combinations did you use at the worst of the weather?
(see attached email I sent from offshore on Thursday 11/7/02.) It goes through our whole sail progression and a rundown of our conditions.

4) Did you set an inner forestay?
5) Did you use a stay sail?
We keep an inner forestay set whenever we go offshore. In any kind of wind or seas we quickly switch to a hanked on staysail and a reefed main. This combination works very well on the J/46. The boat is balanced and not overpowered, until the wind really starts to blow.

6) What storm tactics did you use?
Our biggest challenge was setting the storm trysail. We had never taken the sail out of the bag before and nobody cherished the idea of figuring out how to rig it in 35+ knot winds. It was mid afternoon. I pulled the sail out of the locker and put it the cockpit. We stared at it a bit and then Bill Lowsteader and I talked about how to rig it. At the 4 PM watch change, with all hands on deck, the call was made to set the sail. Renee was on the wheel, Bill L. and myself were on the foredeck, Dave Sipes was on the halyards, and John De Rochemont was on the sheets.

In case we had a problem with the trysail we decided to rig it in its separate track before we took our double reefed main down (we don't have a third reef). We took the sail out of the bag tied it to the deck and slowly put the cars in the track. All was going well except the third car didn't fit, it was too small. Luckily it was the only one.

Sail in track, it was time to get the main down. I recall heading to the leeward side of the boat and getting hit with a wave that lifted me clear off the deck. Tethered in, holding on to the shrowd, and adrenaline was all that kept me on the boat. The main came down no problem. Just as it did, Renee said she started seeing 40-45 kt winds. Just in time!

Bill L. hung on the boom to derig the first reefing line which we used as the trysail outhaul. I climbed up the base of the mast to switch the main halyard to the trysail. We checked our work and hoisted the sail. All looked great!

Start to finish it took two hours, but it was the best call we made. The boat settled down as we cruised along at 7+ kts.

7) Did you jibe at any time?
8) What damage did your boat suffer?
The day after the storm we had a problem with a new preventor - it wouldn't prevent us from jibing. About 50 miles out of Bermuda we bent two stanchions due to the faulty preventor.

During the storm we took some heavy waves. One broke the zipper on the starboard corner of our dodger causing a basket full of stuff (flashlights, handheld VHF, etc.) to get launched. Our bad for keeping the basket that up there.

Also, in port we found that the shackle from the storm trysail halyard chafed away part of the main sail track. I should have had the pin for the shackle facing outboard.

Finally - the brand new reef line we used as a trysail outhaul was almost completely chafed through. Nim has a good picture of this.

9) Would you do anything differently?
I would have waited it out in Newport.

Answers from Hank Schmitt

Answers from Hank Schmitt aboard the Swan 48 “Caribe” NARC Rally fall 2002.

1) Why did you go the route you chose?
A: I wanted to stay with the main body of the fleet since Sue had them going south and staying along the coast. I ended up splitting the difference and being the next boat west of you but cutting the corner and being inside the main body of the fleet.

2) What was the highest wind speeds you saw?
A: 57 knot gust. We had mostly 40 to 45 for about 18 to 24 hours.

3) What sail combinations did you use at the worst of the weather?
We had a double reef set before it got dark the 2nd night for the first minor blow before the stream. Crossed the stream as a non-event and then had a triple reef in Tuesday afternoon before it got dark again. We were then able to reef the jib as much as needed, which was about 80% to 90%, during the worst, and adjusted the furling line every 3 or 4 hours so as not to start a chafing problem in the line.

4) Did you set an inner forestay?
Yes we had it set from Newport, but did not rig the storm sail, which would have been a better sail than the rolled up jib.

5) Did you use a staysail?

6) What storm tactics did you use?
Personal experience has lead me to prefer keeping an active approach in weather up to 50 knots, keeping speed up and steering the boat around waves. We had and kept the wind forward of the beam for most of the heavy weather and had no near jibes or death experiences.

7) Did you jibe at any time?

8) What damage did your boat suffer?
We lost the liferaft with one wave, but were below making the 1800 radio check and did not even feel it go. The lashing did not break, the liferaft just worked itself out of the lashings under the cover. The lashings were from beam to beam rather than tied for and aft as well.

9) Would you do anything differently?
I think the direct route sailing with reduced sail was probably the best route. The stream was a non-issue for the boats that got through early. As the leader of the group I think at times it may have been better to delay the start, but it would have been difficult to do since the weather was so nice the first 2 days and we would not have left until Thursday or Friday otherwise. All the private boats were very adult about what damages they had and about their experiences and I did not get any complaints other than a couple of boats that did not think much of the weather routing. I disagree in that the weather report was right, but we did not all do the right route based on the information we had.

12-29-2006 09:14 PM
camaraderie longwater... my instant reaction was "what kind of captain would find himself in 50 knot winds and 20 foot waves?" Given your obvious respect for him... I'd be interested in the full story of that one if you have the time to post it.
12-29-2006 05:35 PM
longwaterline A sound boat is important, but the skills of the Captain are 75% and the boat is 25%. Webb Chiles goes to sea on any thing available. And he does fine. None of his boats are on any of these lists. The boat won't save you in 50 knots of wind and 20 foot seas. I was in these conditions on a Swan 48 on route to Bermuda and our competent Captain got us through 36 hours of that kind of weather. Other boats sought shelter.
12-29-2006 01:42 PM
camaraderie Kalmia...those posts were way back in 2003. Just FYI...check dates before responding.
12-29-2006 12:31 PM
Kalmia41 someone mentioned the hinckley 45, but you also might want to considert he 41 or the b40, which are both great boats. They are sturdy, and if you are looking for speed, the 41 comp is a great boat!
02-20-2003 07:26 AM
Blue water cruising boats

Don''t overlook the Bristol 41.1. She''s a great center cockpit cruiser with a shoal draft and centerboard. They list for 150 - 225k. But, watch the tanks and look for leaking ports.
02-08-2003 12:38 PM
Blue water cruising boats

Check out
The Caliber featured on it may be what you have been looking for
08-02-2002 03:47 AM
Blue water cruising boats

Add a Cabo Rico 38 to 45 into the equation. Sail Magazine called them the ultimate bluewater boat, and they are. Very stable, seakindly and track true with easy motion. Interior and deck appointments top notch and the boat is built. Will sail to 35 degrees. Spendy, but well worth it. Cutter rig with attention to detail. Not to mention beautiful.
07-22-2002 06:00 PM
Blue water cruising boats

having put 10,000 miles on my tartan 37 in the last 2 1/2 years i think this is a fine blue water boat.
07-22-2002 04:11 PM
Blue water cruising boats


Might add to that list:

Saga 43
Hinckley 45
Nordic 44
Baba 35 and 40
Tatoosh 42

All of these are proven bluewater cruisers.

I was especially impressed by the Saga. That boat is solid, well outfitted for cruising, and _fast_. Did a test run here in Puget Sound, 12-15 kt. SW''erlies. Maxed out at 8.5kt upwind, 8kt broad-reach.

Very impressive. Expensive, yes - but impressive.
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