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Sailing Notes

Table of Contents

Sailing downwind


Racha Sapphire at Brecknock To the left, you can see the effect of one of the milder rachas we experienced in the Chilean channels. These winds are one of the main reasons why sailors have to use shore lines so often in this area. The Argentine pilot gives an effective description of the phenomenon:

Their action is stronger in the coves and the waters lying under steep mountainsides. Gusts descend from the valleys in a roar of shaken trees and whistling whirlwind on rocks. Small twisters of foam and water appear on the sea, rushing at incredible speed on the surface accompanied by curtains of rain or hail that hide the coast to the eye.

The British Admiralty pilot gives the following explanation:

Unlike the majority of gusty winds of more tropical and temperate areas (vendavais), williwaws depend greatly, if not entirely, on the existence of strong winds blowing from the sea on lands of high elevation. When these streams reach the coast of the Chilean archipelago, they generate whirlwinds of different strength and kind. During the most violent williwaws observed west of Cabo Froward and along the continental coast, in one of the stormiest and heaviest sea, gusts may exceed the speed of 100 knots.

Unusual Gear

To equip Sapphire for a voyage which would take her from the Tropics to the sub-Antarctic, we needed to add about three tons of sailing gear. Below is a sample of some of the more unusual or interesting items:

Samson Nylite Connector Although by far the most common type, the open, teardrop-shaped thimble is not an ideal design when subjected to heavy loads. The eye can stretch and the thimble tip, allowing the sharp ends of it to contact and, possibly, sever the rode. By contrast, the Samson Nylite Connector (shown left) uses a spool made of a high strength composite nylon with a flexible shield of tough urethane and a special, high strength shackle to transfer the rope load. It can be used with either braided or twisted synthetic rope. They are expensive, so we bought one as a trial and used it on one of shore lines. Our only complaint is that it is heavy and bulky, but otherwise we were impressed.

Devil's Claw hook The greatest disadvantage of an all-chain anchor rode is the lack of elasticity when the chain is drawn taut in a heavy wind. This can be corrected by the addition of an elastic riding stopper, a length of suitably strong nylon rope, attached between a strong deck fitting and the chain forward of the bow. The common grab hook weakens the chain to about 80% of its normal strength because of the eccentric grasp it takes on the chain. The Devil's claw hook (pictured left) is a better solution and is also less likely to drop off under intermittent loading. We found it by accident at a small chandlers in Mooloolaba, Queensland.

Baja fuel filter Dirty fuel is the leading cause of engine failure on yachts. This three stage Baja filter does an excellent job of removing both dirt and water. We searched for a long time before finding ours at www.sailnet.com in the USA.

Rocker Stoppers Rolly anchorages are a perennial concern in certain parts of the world. The problem occurs when an anchorage is not fully protected from the ocean swell. Then, when the wind either goes light or blows from a different direction to the swell, the boat lies beam on to the swells and rolls from side to side, driving her occupants to distraction! The most common solution is to deploy a stern anchor to hold the boat bows on to the swells (the resultant pitching motion being much less of a problem). However, this can put a lot of strain on the mooring system if a strong wind blows up from abeam. Since we were expecting many rolly anchorages in the Pacific, we purchased these roll dampers (called Rocker Stoppers) at the Southampton Boat Show. We use six on each side, weighted down with our two chums. We finally tried them out in northern Chile, where exposed anchorages are the norm. I am happy to report that they have been a great success, significantly reducing the motion. They would be even more effective if rigged from the main boom and spinnaker pole to give them greater leverage. However, this would take much more time to rig up and we have not yet considered it worthwhile.

Watch System

Theresa and I prefer standing watches (any system where the watches stood are the same from day to day) as this allows the body to adjust. Our normal routine is as follows:

0000 - 0300 Kevin
0300 - 0600 Theresa
0600 - 1200 Kevin
1200 - 1800 Theresa
1800 - 2100 Kevin
2100 - 0000 Theresa

In other words, six on and six off during the day; three on and three off at night. During heavy weather, we revert to three on and three off during the day as well.

We have two happy hours, 1130 - 1230 and 1730 - 1830, when we both stand watch in order to eat lunch and dinner together.


Whole books have been written about anchoring (including Earl Hinz' excellent The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring) and it is certainly not my place to lecture on the subject. However, conditions in the Falkland Islands and Patagonia provided a fairly severe examination of our technique and the following notes may be of interest:

Anchors We carry four anchors on board (not including the tender anchor): 60lb CQR bower, 50lb Luke (a Fisherman which disassembles into three pieces) and two Fortresses of different sizes. We also carry 80m of chain and a few hundred metres of rope which can serve as anchor rode. We have only ever lain to one rode, but frequently anchor to two anchors in tandem. The CQR is always used. In soft mud, we sometimes add a Fortress; in kelp or rock, the Luke.

We always use a nylon snubber, to add elasticity when the chain's catenary is lost in high wind. We protect the snubber from chafe with armoured hose, which is held in place by drilling holes in each end and threading some small line through to tie to the rope. Since we do not have a dedicated chain stopper, we also take the chain off the windlass and lead it to a cleat (in case the snubber fails or falls off the chain).

We have two 13.6kg chums or angels (weights added to the chain to improve the catenary effect). One of these takes rope or chain, the other only rope. I have only ever used the chain version, which has worked very well and is particularly useful when I cannot deploy the desired scope of chain for some reason. Ours are called Anchor Buddy and are made in New Zealand by Guardian Marine.

You can see most of this kit in the photograph to the left.

Reel We have three 100m reels of floating line for taking ashore, plus a further 100m in a bag. The latter is always the first to be used (since I row it ashore in the tender). Two of the three reels were semi-permanently mounted in Patagonia by lashing them to the port and starboard gates. The third reel is mounted at the bow when required.

The use of shore lines in itself could provide a severe challenge. The difficulty lies in securing enough lines to be safe before being blown out of position by the gusts. Typically, I would row ashore with the first line, make one end fast to a tree (with a boat lifting strop) or a rock (with a length of chain) then row the rest back to the boat. Theresa would then drop the anchor, while I steered the boat back towards the shore and simultaneously hauled in the slack in the line. We would then attach further lines as quickly as possible. Rowing through kelp, slippery rocks, thorny bushes, lines fouled by ice from glaciers, but most of all poor holding and strong gusts, combined to render this a somewhat traumatic experience at times.

Astro Navigation

Sapphire' sextant and accessories We practised astro navigation both for safety reasons and as a hobby. The photograph to the left shows the various accessories we used. Working clockwise from the top left, you can see:

Star sights can only be taken during morning and evening twilight (unless there is sufficient moon light for the horizon to be observed). However, they have some advantages which caused us to use them more often than any other sight. First, being a point of light, they are easier to shoot accurately than the Sun. Secondly, because multiple sights can be shot in one session, a position can be plotted without needing to transfer position lines. Finally, the use of volume 1 of the Sight Reduction Tables allows stars to be chosen in advance which provide a good angle of cut and also simplifies reduction.

We checked the accuracy of each sight by using an assumed position taken from the GPS. (This cannot be done with the tables but can with software.) After some practice, we were pleased to note that the majority of our fixes were less than a mile out.

Observing the transit of Venus The sextant was useful in other ways than for navigating. For example, on 8 June, 2004, we both used the sextant to observe Venus' transit across the sun. It was very clear and appeared as a little black disk just above the bottom limb. This is the first time this transit has been seen in over 120 years. Mapping the transit of Venus across the sun was one of Captain James Cook's main responsibilities before he was allowed to look for the great Southern Continent.


The domestic running of the boat has been successful largely through trial and error. (We don't talk about the lasagna food poisoning episode any more..)

Food Victualling has become easier through time as we have learned which foods last longest. Naturally we eat a lot of rice and pasta and the pressure cooker has paid for itself many times over in the gas it has saved. A real bonus since our arrival in South America and especially in Argentina has been a ready supply of vacuum packed meat. This is not expensive, is entirely delicious and lasts for months. (This is especially important as I believe that we are both the worst fishermen in the world.)

We have found that fruit and vegetables last much longer if kept in the "green bags" and additionally I have discovered that potatoes last much longer when stowed in a dedicated heavy cloth bag. (Both obtained from Lakeland Plastics, UK)

As a rule we tend not to carry bottles of wine on the boat unless we are in harbour. Instead we ensure that we have a plentiful supply of boxed wine. Again in Argentina and Chile this is of very fine quality and is a fraction of the price of the UK.

When the weather is rough often neither of us feel like eating much though this is precisely when calories are very important. Luckily I have a great recipe (courtesy of my mum) for "Dutch Ginger Cake". This is not only delicious and (fortunately or unfortunately) high in calories but has the added advantage that ginger is an anti-emetic. We always make sure that we have our supply of Dutch Ginger Cake ready for a potentially rough passage.

Mum's Dutch Ginger Cake Ingredients 1 3/4 Cups Plain Flour 1 Cup Castor Sugar 125 g Ginger 1 Egg 185 g Butter (melted) Almonds (optional but very good!) Method Mix flour, sugar and ginger together and then add the egg. Add the melted butter and mix. Press into a cake tin and arrange almonds on top. Bake for 40 mins in moderate oven.

Wonder Washer One little item we found in Ipswich before we left was our Wonder Washer. When we bought this we suspected that it might be a bit of a gimmick and did not know whether it would last or even work. It has been a real asset as it has enabled us always to have a supply of clean clothes. It uses no power (other than arm power) though does require some room for stowage.

With the Benefit of Hindsight

During our voyage we have come to realise that some of the decisions we made prior to leaving the UK were not the best ones. If we had our time again we would of course do some things differently. A selection of these ideas follow.