Always Have A Way To Rest

There is so much about this story (originally reported in Cruising Compass but no longer available) that worries me that it is hard to know where to start: A single-handed sailor abandoned his boat because he was totally exhausted from three days of hand steering, not because there was anything wrong with the boat.

“On May 8th, I left Little Creek, Norfolk en route to Scotland. The wind and general conditions were much stronger than expected. So for the next three days, I stayed at the helm. No water, no food and no sleep! After three days I called my wife on the satellite phone and was hallucinating, seeing things that were not there. From my conversation with my wife she determined that I was in trouble and called the U.S. Coast Guard.”

The key take away is that when going to sea, particularly short-handed, you must have a tried and proven way to leave the boat safely to herself in heavy weather while you rest.

See our heavy weather series for how we have rigged and equipped Morgan’s Cloud to make sure that we can always take a break.

Please leave a comment on any system that you have used successfully to take a break at sea.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

9 comments… add one
  • RLW Aug 26, 2010, 10:22 am

    While I’d hardly class the press release-advertisement in Cruising Compass as an article, I certainly agree that it waves all sorts of danger danger Will Robinson flags… The worst part is it makes doing the wrong thing seem right.

    The availability of so many options to keep one from being in such a situation (autopilot/self steering system, being able to hove to, a drouge or parachute sea anchor) makes one wonder about simple basic seamanship.

    Then again, hey, an EPIRB is a lot easier…Right?

  • Robert Aug 26, 2010, 11:17 pm

    The world is fortunate to have amongst the populations people willing to risk their lives to fight natural selection 🙂

    (but in this case, if the article details are correct, I think that guy should be billed for the pick up)

  • Ernie Aug 27, 2010, 1:28 pm

    The Cruising Campass and ACR will now sensationalize this guy as as a hero. Yes….and what about the boat…is it still floating around out there for someone else to run into?

    • John Aug 27, 2010, 4:03 pm

      Now there’s a cheerful thought. As if containers weren’t bad enough.

      I have to agree that I was surprised that Cruising Compass just printed the story verbatim, or in fact as an advertisement for EPIRBs, without pointing out the fundamental seamanship issues that it raises.

  • bill sherwood Aug 28, 2010, 1:39 am

    There are several solutions to this much discussed problem, that I have found works for me. I set my radar to wake up for me, every 10mins, to do a scan, then go back to sleep..If it picks up anything a repeater speaker goes off right by my head. I also run 2 alarm clocks, to wake me every 2 hrs, check the weather, wind, sails, etc…I do this in a sort of dream state..then zzzzz. In high traffic areas, I sail at night and take cat naps during the day…Around coasts I find a port and go to sleep..I think that lad a bloody fool!..yup he should pay to be picked up..


  • bill sherwood Aug 28, 2010, 1:41 am food, no water..this guy should stay on land.

  • Andrew Ritchie Aug 28, 2010, 6:31 am

    I think this man did the right thing going back. We don’t want his like over here in Scotland!!

    Andrew Ritchie

  • Matt Marsh Aug 28, 2010, 11:33 pm

    I’m also a bit surprised that the advertising release wasn’t backed up with any commentary on the seamanship.

    Perhaps all our modern technology- cheap autopilots, cheap epirbs, cheap communications- is helping people do things with less thinking than before. Or perhaps it’s just that there are so many more boats out there, and so many more people watching what happens. Still, it’s hard to hide that going out solo, unprepared for the conditions you should know are coming, is a long way from prudent seamanship.

    I know solo sailors like to hide the fact, but it is impossible to do a solo voyage of more than about a day without violating the COLREGS. A radar alarm is not a watchkeeper, an AIS/plotter/GPS/autopilot/toaster is not a watchkeeper, and frankly, a skipper who hasn’t slept in 36 hours is not a watchkeeper either. I’m not saying “don’t go out solo”, but I do think those who do need to be very conscious of the risk they are taking. Most are. Now and then, we get one who is not.

    Personal experience: Hey, I cruise in something that has a fifty-mile range and has to run for shore in a Force 5. Solo? Sure. Out for long enough for that to matter? Nope, and I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable doing so, no matter how big the boat or how sophisticated the systems are.

  • pete Oct 7, 2010, 5:55 pm

    Having done some 40 years solo sailing, I developed a system that worked for me. Egg timer set to 10 mins kip, wake up look 360degs, all ok, back to sleep. On ocean passages I stay away from shipping routes and go to bed at sundown and get up about 6 hrs later then cat nap in the day. After 58 years total of sailing all the oceans in the world I am still here. Also one of the best bits of kit is the C.A.R.D-works great and the alarm WILL wake you. Servo pendulum absolutely necessary…second crew.

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