you were fainthearted, you probably wouldnīt even get this far on an
Atlantic crossing site, let alone plan on a large ocean voyage in a
small boat. Yet being a risk taker requires applying more than average
measures of security, in order to survive.
We are known not to hesitate to climb a mountain, take
on risky business projects, dangerous expeditions or sail in foul
weather. Still, we would never ride a car without strapping on a
seatbelt. Especially not the yellow cabs of NY City!
every project, we study the dangers and do everything possible to
prepare for them. We have back ups and back ups on the back ups. We are
risk takers but no dare devils. We want to touch the void - and survive.
It is not bold to throw oneself straight out in space with the fingers
crossed. It's wise to bring a parachute.
On an Atlantic voyage there are some serious threats.
Most can be prepared for; although some will be up to Gods will only.
There are many stories of poor sailors, alive at one
second and dead in the next, killed by an unexpected swing of the boom.
A sudden change in the wind, a freak wave, a mistake in the setting of
sails or an autopilot error - all could cause the boom to violently
swivel over the cockpit in an instant.
At long, monotonous ocean voyages it is good to use a
preventor, rigged from the boom end to the bow of the boat. It will keep
the boom from unexpected movements. Ideally, lead it through a snatch
block on the fore deck and bring it aft to a spare winch. You can then
clip it from the safety of the cockpit in an emergency.
Not so unusual. We have several friends that have
suffered this hazard. Freak waves, hard winds and other can cause this
accident. Luckily all our friends survived. The major danger is getting
hit by the mast or thrown overboard. The boat usually keeps afloat.
this accident by correct rigging and be tied into your lifeline as much
as possible. If you have this accident, be prepared to be adrift until
rescue, unless there is a major piece of the mast left standing,
enabeling you to rig some temporary sail.
There is an ongoing debate whether it is better to mount
the mast on top of the deck or to the floor bottom inside the boat. To
have the mast rigged on deck means less damage to the deck in case of
breakage; a floor-mounted mast on the other hand is said to brake less
easily. Our boat came with the mast mounted to the floor - so thatīs
simply our standpoint for now.
(large freak waves)
One friend had a large freak wave, probably caused by an
underwater volcano eruption. It hit the boat at night, in perfectly calm
seas. The wave first appeared as a strange white beach in the dark
distance. Within moments it was over the boat. The boat turned around
360 degrees and came back up with the mast broken. Luckily, this effect
of a freak wave is most common only close to a shore - on an open ocean
it will just pass under the boat and you wonīt even notice it.
Man over board
This is a terror as finding somebody in the large waves
of the Atlantic, when the boat speeds at 7 knots - perhaps at night - is
if not entirely impossible, then almost near impossible.
There is only one way to prevent this - clip in to the
lifeline! Especially when working main sails, moving around deck or at
lonely watches, particularly at night.
GPS has a Man Overboard button. The idea is that you push it and it will
keep the record of the position where the person was lost and direct you
back to it. We have pushed it and it certainly causes an alarming
situation - violently signaling TURN BACK and other orders. Luckily, we
havenīt had to try it out more than that, but the feature seems like a
good idea, providing the button is pushed swiftly enough.
Another good thing is the fluorescent stick commonly
used for scuba diving in case of emergency. You keep it in your
life-west and brake it in the water. The light might make it easier to
Except if you are a single handler of course, in that
case all that remains is a final chat with the sharks.
Some very good sailors refuse to use a lifeline because,
they state, it restricts the freedom of sailing itself.
We know of at least one of them getting killed when
falling of his boat. He actually even had a crew at the time, but they
were not able to find him. Please do use the lifeline.
We had a rule that none of us was to go on deck at night
without awaking the other, and to be tied to the lifeline at all single
night watches. That rule also considerably improved the sleep of the one
with watch off.
We have heard of boats hitting whales sleeping at the
surface, or even getting attacked by whales. It is extremely rare and
cannot really be prevented in any way. Our forward-looking sonar gave so
many false alarms that we had to turn it off. Or else, it occasionally
showed giant mammals under the boat which terrified us - but even when
given the information - what were we supposed to do about it?
There are tales around about sailors painting a large
eye or other, to a whale hopefully scary, images on the hull.
It has not seemed to work and the practice appears to
have been abandoned. If you still decide to try it, you should take into
account a possible embarrassment and explanations at times of hauling.
We had whales visiting and playing with our boat. Whilst
one of us was delighted by this rare experience, the other was
mortified. The whales surfaced suddenly, only about 10 feet away from
the boat - and dove under it. We expected a slam and the sound of
rushing water and glanced for the life raft. Instead of hitting us from
the deep under, the whales resurfaced on the other side of the boat,
came back in a large circle, rode a surf and dove under us again. They
were 5-6 animals, about 30 feet long, dark blue or gray with white
The entertainment lasted for about 30 minutes. As we had
heard that you shouldnīt do anything to irritate the whales, we didnīt
even dare to flush the toilets. We watched the animals in horror and awe
and finally they disappeared as silently as they had occurred. One
revisited once more the next day, but left just after a few minutes.
Again, not much can be done, except having a good life
raft and try to keep a close watch. Radar will probably not be able to
spot a half-sunken container. In the beginning of the voyage, your eyes
will be pinned to the waters, but as time goes by, youīll gradually get
more confident and just check once in a while. It is extremely rare,
itīs Gods will - so relax.
Freighters and boats
with boats and freighters are not that uncommon. The watches on boats,
especially at night, are usually less than adequate, with the crew often
It is very hard to judge a distance to another boat at
night. You could also get run over from the aft by a large freighter,
without it even noticing that you were there.
Radar is very helpful in this situation, especially when
getting closer to landfall at heavily trafficked places. It will warn
you with a signal when a distant, large object is approaching. It will
also estimate the distance. You can choose the settings for an adequate
range for every situation.
Storms, squalls, heavy
is important to schedule a passage according to the weather patterns of
the area. There are frequent hurricanes on the southern Atlantic Ocean
passage between July and November. Other regions have similar weather
patterns to take into account when choosing timing.
Go when your odds are at their bests. You might still
encounter storms and heavy weather, and most certainly sudden squalls.
The latter are single, large clouds carrying in them fast winds and
rain. At all cases it is crucial to choose the right sail settings. Sail
with less sails than necessary when in any doubt, just enough to
maintain good steering if in bad weather.
We had heavy winds and some storms on large parts of our
passage. Our 37 foot old OīDay, comfortable but wide, coastal cruiser
made the crossing subsequently in only 20 days and some hours.
We set the mainsail perhaps 4 times, only to quickly
drop it again. In fact, we did the entire passage using mainly only a
small jib of the Genoa for steering. Still, we often ran at 9-10 knots.
Working only the Genoa was safe and convenient under these
circumstances. But it also proved safer in calmer weather, when sudden
squalls otherwise required fast action in dropping the sails, often in
the middle of the night.
If you fail to drop sails in heavy winds, they might get
ripped or blown out with the boat violently out of control in the
A proper, average steering speed at high winds for a
boat depends on the size of the boat. It is around 7-knot speed for
Santa Maria at her 37 feet. Around 5 knots for a 27 footer, and 9-10
knots for a 50 footer. Lower the speed by taking in sail.
waves on the Atlantic can be huge. Usually, that doesnīt pose a problem
to the boat, as she will just ride them. Occasionally, waves come from
different directions, hitting the boat violently. Even though the noise
is alarming and nerve wrecking, the boat usually hold up well. Ours did.
In a very violent storm, it is better to drop as much
sail as possible, steer with the Genoa and hit the waves head on. This
meaning going of course and then returning back on course after the
storm has passed. Such storms are however almost non-existent at the
middle Atlantic as far as we know, providing you have chosen the right
time for your crossing.
boats are said to possibly burn if hit by lightning, so some sailors
prefer steel or aluminum boats. Some plastic boats have copper wiring
built into the hull, attached to a large plate at the keel. This is said
to be undesirable, because the lightning could blow away the keel. There
are car-battery-starter cables around, to be fastened to the rig in case
Santa Maria came with old copper wiring in the hull, not
attached to any plate however. At a thunderstorm outside of Venezuela,
we un-wrapped our battery cables and clipped them to the rigging, with
the ends towed in the water, as the instructions had said. That was
Then we realized that we had also tied the gasoline
container to one of the rigs - now with a lightning cable attached to
it! We removed the gasoline and waited for what was next.
The thunder passed well away from us and in the morning
we sailed into a quiet anchorage. Except now the sailors present there
gazed startled at us from aboard their boats, as poor Santa Maria
arrived, carrying 8 battery cables dangling all over her hull. We
removed them swiftly and have not used them since.
Fortunately, personal injury is said to be rare at a
lightning hitting a boat. Turn on the Autopilot and go below. Do not
touch any metals. If hit by a lightning, the damage could be great to
electronics. The boat might also need a complete rewiring. You could
keep your handheld GPS in the oven. Some physicist said that that could
save it, due to Faradays cage effect. We donīt know. But we have ours
in the oven. Just in case.
We never encountered thunderstorms on our Atlantic
that could happen. There are some thrilling biographies written by
survivors of sinking at the oceans. Usually, it seems that the actual
sinking takes quite a long time, several hours and often the boat even
keeps afloat even though it seemed to sink. Donīt go for the raft until
It is really important to have a good life raft. The
raft should be geared for off shore cruising. This meaning extra strong
bottom, double insulation, blankets and other. There have been alarming
reports on rafts flipping over in heavy waves, we donīt know, but it is
said that water anchors might help. Rafts have to be serviced within
certain time ranges (2-4 years), make sure that it is done properly and
by certified people.
to the raft, you should have an extra gearbox with additional
necessities, such as sun blocker, watermakers, dry foods, a knife, a
mirror (for signaling), wound care products and first aid medicals,
flashlight, Gebirb, spare batteries, matches, fishing line & hook, a
funnel, a compass and other.
Check the expiry dates on everything on a regular
raft is thrown over board to inflate. Donīt forget to tie it to the boat
If we sank, we would probably follow this procedure:
Release the raft
Bring the additional box
Collect other necessities to bring, especially water
Wait to enter the raft until really sure that the boat
is going to sink
Wait with releasing the flares until other boats well
Call home on the sat phone, release the GEPIRB, mark
the log with position
One survivor (Steve Callahan, "Surviving") spent months
aboard his raft. The raft started leaking after a while. A shark stalked
him, occasionally trying to saw its way through the raft floor. A Gold
Mackerel followed him for weeks; they became quite good friends after a
while. Steve had 3 water makers with him, all broke down, but he managed
to mend them with spare parts of the others. He wasted all his flares
on the first freighter in sight, the freighter never noticing him. Some
time later he had a freighter almost on top of him but couldnīt make
himself noticed due to his flares all being used up.
drifted all over the Ocean, got himself tangled in Sargasso weed for a
while and it all looked pretty bad. Finally though, the locals at some
remote islands picked him up. You can survive sinking, just be well