Sunday 15 July 2012

Preparation for a long Voyage and Shakespeare

Well folks, the time has finally arrived to put all my experiments into practice. I am the first mate (Second in charge) on a boat for delivery from Cape Town, South Africa to Fort Lauderdale, USA. The boat is a Leopard 39 built by Robertson & Caine in Cape Town.

The voyage is quite long, almost 8000 nautical miles. We shall be leaving Cape Town in the middle of the winter, with all the associated stormy weather, then crossing the Atlantic and the equator, to arrive at our destination in the middle of the hurricane season. But, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, present fears are less than horrible imaginings.

One is quite nervous at the start of the final preparations. Lots of things to keep in mind and lots to remember. I guess the psychologists will call it a stressful time.

Firstly, there is the boat. Does she have all her fittings? Is all the safety equipment on board? Where did we stow it? And so on. We have long check lists, so it becomes reasonably easy. But this boat does not come with a barometer. Is it significant?

Well, we will be arriving in the Caribbean in the middle of the hurricane season. And the only means of weather forecast at our disposal is the cloud patterns, the wind and the atmospheric pressure. We do not have internet access on the boat out at sea, hence the requirement for a barometer.

The next aspect to consider is the food. The boat has an auto-helm, so the work load of steering the boat is negligible. However, there is the aspect of crew morale to keep in mind. The boat is quite cramped, even for a catamaran. The skipper is a man of six foot four (about 2 meters). He can barely stand upright on the aft deck and needs to bend a bit to stand in the saloon. The rest of the crew, being the other two of us, are both in the region of 185 cm (six foot). The saloon does not have room for the three of us to be standing at the same time. So one can imagine that one needs some creature comforts on board.

The only practical measure is to have proper food at least once a day. Now one needs to understand that fancy food may be very expensive. Also, we do not have sufficient storage to keep fresh food forever. So we experiment.

This time it is with baking bread and growing sprouts aboard. Flour and dried seeds are easy to store. The sourdough perhaps more tricky, but we do have a refrigerator / freezer.

And we have to supplement our diet with fresh fish. These we have to catch along the way. So there is some risk there. But normally the fish that you catch are quite large and one fish will provide at least four to six meals.

Then there is the navigation, the navigation backup and so on. The sea is interesting from that point of view. One sails for a long time on a sapphire blue sea without any trace of land. In the middle of the Atlantic you don't really see birds any more. It is only when you get near land again that you start to see birds. About a hundred sea miles from the shore. That's your first indication that you are nearing land. Past the Amazon delta the sea changes colour. But to understand where you are and what direction to sail is still a major undertaking. GPS nowadays makes it simple, but for safety's sake one needs to keep a backup system in place and running. So we use a sextant. Quite a lot of fun with no electricity or satellites involved. Lots of paper, though. And the paper charts give you a perspective of where you are on the earth, unlike the GPS that only gives a co-ordinate. You have no idea where that is in relation to the land and reefs.

So life is interesting. We also worry about the weather, so we make sure that we can get weather info. In the event that we see bad weather coming, we also have a satellite phone that we can use to phone a friend to search the internet for weather info for us.

But still there is a niggling little voice in the back of your head that tells you that you have not prepared properly. And the closer you get to the date of departure, the louder this voice gets.

We are now sitting at the dock on a weather hold due to bad visibility. This makes things a bit heavier. We are chomping at the bit, but then things happen that prevents you from getting on with the job. Lots of patience required. I have the barometer calibrated and the clock set up with UT (GMT). The charts are all packed at the ready, the other instruments calibrated, my own GPS antenna installed and working. The boat is all prepared, the upholstery covered, the working surfaces covered, water tanks full and diesel aboard.

Time for writing this blog post.

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

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