John’s Thoughts and Photos, February 2011

From time to time our readers point us toward, or we stumble upon, something published on the internet that we learn from and that makes us better offshore sailors. This is the first of a series of posts that we will publish every month or so to share those great resources, as well as the odd thought of our own that is too short for its own post. Oh, and there is quite a bit of shameless self promotion buried (not very deeply) in here to0.

imageA Fellow Simpleton

My recent rant on the the beauty of simplicity was inspired by a long chat I had with Bill Sissons, editor at Soundings Magazine. Here is his take on the subject and our chat.

Bill is a smart guy and his thoughts are well worth reading.

Full Text of Soundings Article Available

imageThe full text of the article that Soundings Magazine published on Phyllis and I, and this web site, is now available on the Soundings site. However, I still recommend that you pick up a copy of the February issue at your local newsstand since my photos are a lot larger in print than on the web site. (How’s that for a shameless plug of a good magazine written by nice people and our stuff in one sentence?)

A Fellow Wimp

Ben Tucker of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, who has done some really serious seafaring, posted a comment to our Taming The Wimp Within Piece that really resonated with us. I think that Ben’s points are so important that I’m going to republish them below:

“…I can be one of the wimpiest sailors I know, fretting and worrying over small and big things.

But then I have also managed to safely sail a small engineless 26 footer singlehanded across the Tasman in winter (Nelson to Sydney), sail my 34 footer from Hobart to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, and run a 60 foot charter boat in the Antarctic peninsula, plus manage numerous dodgy deliveries.

Still the wimp within remains with me, nagging at me and keeping me up to scratch, and, so far, safe (touch wood)…

…It does make me wonder if maybe some of the great sailors of the past may also have a similar degree of wimpiness, and if in fact the very presence of Mr Wimp is what somehow drives us to test ourselves.

When I first got my ticket and became third mate on a 40,000 tonne container ship I started having nightmares about running aground (the real wake up sweating type). When I mentioned this to the chief mate he just laughed and said they were normal “mates mares” and would soon pass as I got used to the responsibility.

By building up my skills and comfort level slowly I have gained an understanding and ability to analyse some of my feelings and know which ones are normal jitters and reactions and can be ignored and which ones signify some subconscious and important concerns that need to be actively dealt with.

However I still envy those happy go lucky sailors that seem to get by with not a care in the world.

Maybe there are 4 stages:

  1. Ignorance is bliss, not even being aware of the dangers.
  2. Knowing the dangers and fearing them, or fear of the unknown.
  3. Confidence that you can deal with the dangers as they arise and any unknowns.
  4. Overconfidence. (Fright can kick you back to stage 2.)

And those fearless sailors are at either at 1 or 4…maybe they just lack any imagination.”

Ben has also started publishing a blog, which we recommend.

John Vigor’s Black Box Theory

In the original of his comment quoted above, Ben recommends John Vigor’s Black Box Theory. I have long suspected this effect, but John has clarified this very important ingredient of safe passage making. Once again, a great read.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

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.

15 comments… add one
  • Paul Mills Feb 17, 2011, 9:44 am

    Hi all

    A happy hour reading through this post and the links attached to them. In a way like reading a Sunday paper…

    Reading the Dashew article brought back a comment that Steve made on his site, namely that running Wind Horse was a third less per mile than a sailboat of the same size … who would have guessed that!

    By the way, I fully agree with Chris’ post on AAC – the only site I keep up with religiously.

  • Kettlewell Feb 17, 2011, 12:39 pm

    Dashew is always entertaining and interesting to read, even though I disagree with him a lot. One of his basic premises seems to always be that if you throw enough money at a problem it will go away. For example, his idea of going for long skinny boats just about guarantees substantially greater cost in everything: dockage, moorage, haulouts, anchors, sails, lines, rigging, etc. Length may be great if you can afford it, but it increases cost faster than just about any other basic choice you can make.

    • John Feb 17, 2011, 7:49 pm

      Hi John K.

      Steve’s boats are not exactly on the affordable end of the spectrum, I grant you. Keep in mind that selling big boats to rich people is how he makes a living. But in his defense, his books are full of useful information for smaller boats and even ways to save money and voyage on a shoe string.

      I really do have to disagree with you on length “increases cost faster than just about any other basic choice you can make”. You are of course right on dockage, moorage, and haulouts. However when it comes to the gear of the boat, the two criteria that will determine cost are weight and righting moment. Steve’s boats are light for their length and being narrow have low initial righting moments. The result is that they can have smaller and cheaper spars, sails, winches and rigging than a beamier heavier boat would require. Long thin boats also require smaller engines and less fuel. Finally, long thin boats are much faster offshore (a big safety factor) and generally more comfortable in a seaway.

      • Kettlewell Feb 17, 2011, 8:21 pm

        I stand by my comment that “length increases cost a lot,” because even though weight is a factor in some gear choices it is not in all. To achieve the same comfort and load carrying capacity you will need a similar displacement in both long and short boats, and the shorter one will be cheaper. I don’t see how a 50-foot boat can be cheaper than a 38-foot boat if they both weigh say 22,000 lbs. Sure you might carry a bit less sail than a shorter heavier boat, but your length requires longer runs of electrical wire, longer lifelines, more running rigging, longer jack lines, probably longer runs of plumbing, probably a deeper keel to keep it all upright, etc. etc. Just the haulout and storage costs would eat up the sail cost difference in a year or two. But the biggest reason cost is greater is that unless you are comparing two custom boats you can buy an off-the-shelf used production boat for a tiny fraction of the cost of a long, skinny, purpose-built cruiser. Boats that are longer just cost more. Price of used boats is directly related to length, and only indirectly related to weight. Plus, heavy does not have to be slow at all. I used to own a 37-foot Aage Nielsen design in wood, that displaced something like 22,000lbs, and we routinely sailed right by much lighter, newer cruisers. A sister design won the Bermuda Race and caused such an uproar amongst the Grand Prix racers that they subsequently changed the rules so that heavy cruisers couldn’t win. Look at what Ted Hood used to do with his heavy displacement Robins. They were pretty short and fat, but you could buy one of those and sail rings around most newer cruising boats. I think Carleton Mitchell with the old, short, fat 38-foot Finisterre still holds the record of winning three Bermuda Races in a row.

        • John Feb 17, 2011, 9:08 pm

          Hi John K.

          I stick by my assertion that weight and righting moment govern cost, not length. And long boats are intrinsically faster, there is no getting away from the old square root of the waterline length law.

          I agree that there are many more short fat boats out there on the second hand market and that does skew the numbers. But there are good used narrow boats out there too: the Sagas, the old Pacific Seacrafts, The MacGregor 65. And at a higher price point, Steve’s own Sundeers, which were an incredible value when they first came out, and the Apogee 50s.

          I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. Having owned a relatively narrow, relatively light, relatively long boat for 20 years, I would not have it any other way. Not only is she comfortable at sea, but we have twice won our class in the Bermuda race and, in fact, had the fastest corrected time in fleet in one race.

          In my opinion, short, wide boats are the product of boatshows and marketing departments, not the sea.

  • Kettlewell Feb 17, 2011, 10:36 pm

    Still disagree strongly about cost of longer boats. There may very well be other reasons to go long, skinny, and lighter displacement, but cost is not one of them. Take two boats of the same displacement so you can have similar accommodations and similar load-carrying capability, which are two critical factors in choosing a cruising boat. However, one boat is 10 feet longer than the other, so it will be costlier to buy, and then costlier to maintain for the life of the boat. Just take one cost, haulouts. I was just looking today at a boatyard near here that charges $35 per foot for hauling and winter storage—on the low end for New England. A boat ten feet longer will be $350 extra every single year. If for some reason you want a dock space for the season, figure $100 per foot and up, meaning an extra $1000 per year minimum, if you can even find a slip big enough. Just those two items right there means someone with a boat ten feet longer is paying $1350 per year extra. Harbor charges in many places like the Med. are by the foot. Registration fees are by the foot. Bottom painting is charged by the foot in many places. It just goes on and on.

    • John Feb 18, 2011, 10:11 am

      Hi John K,
      Yes, I agree, those costs are higher for a longer boat.

      But, on the other hand, fuel will be, when measured on a miles per gallon basis, much cheaper for a long thin boat than a short wide one. As much as 30-50% cheaper. And when you consider that most of us “sailors” motor as much as 50% of the time, that savings can add up to much more than the additional costs you mention.

      Of course this depends on the number of miles you do in your boat a year, as against the time spent in marinas and on moorings. For us on Morgan’s Cloud the fuel savings are way more than those additional costs. In fact I’m now in the process of planning a voyage that would be simply impossible in a shorter, wider, less efficient boat, due to the time and fuel replenishment requirements.

      I guess we have probably come to the “individual truth” point in this discussion, as Paul says so wisely below.

      • Kettlewell Feb 18, 2011, 11:14 am

        We will never be able to resolve this argument because it is impossible to make an apples to apples comparison. But I do believe that for the average cruiser, going to places the average cruiser goes and doing the things an average cruiser does boat length is directly related to cost of ownership.

        Thanks for a great Web site/blog!

        How much fuel do you use in a year and what is your consumption rate? Just for comparison, my 38-foot heavy (22,000 lbs) motorsailor burns about .75 gallons per hour at 6 knots, or around .5 gallon per hour at 5 knots, with an old low-tech Perkins 4.236 diesel. I suspect if I got a more modern Yanmar I could probably reduce that consumption by quite a bit. In any case, I think you probably can make a case if your fuel consumption is 50% of what a shorter boat of the same weight consumes and you burn a lot of fuel. Is a lot of that used for battery charging? You might save a lot more by adding solar panels and a wind generator.

        • John Feb 18, 2011, 1:01 pm

          Hi, John K,

          Great fuel numbers, you must have a very efficient hull and a lot of water line length in comparison to overall length to get that kind of mileage. You might have a longer thinner boat than you give yourself credit for :-).

          By the way, don’t change to a Yanmar to get better fuel consumption, you will almost certainly get worse than the Perkins since the torque curve on the Yanmar will be wrong for your boat. More on that here.

          Adding solar would, of course, save us some fuel, but to make it significant we would need some 1000 watts (yes you read that right). We just don’t have the room for that many panels (say qty 10 of 40″x20″ panels at a cost of nearly $8,000) to be installed in a seamanlike way. Even with that many panels, the fuel savings would be about 1/2 a gallon a day at most.

          Hi again, John K,

          To your comment below (we have run out of levels here). I think you and I are closer in our thinking than the above dialog might indicate. Point being that your boat is actually reasonably thin and long compared to some of the real wide boats that are arriving these days. Your point about weight not necessarily being a problem, is well taken too. I do prefer a lighter boat, but that is as much a matter of taste as anything else. I really like that lighter boats, all else being equal, tend to be more easily driven. And Morgan’s Cloud is certainly no sled!

          To answer your question on fuel burn, which I forgot last time. As close as I can get it with the new engine, we are doing about 6.4 knots at 1 gallon an hour and 7.8 at 2 gallons an hour. With our 290 gallons of tank capacity, this gives us a pretty impressive range for what is primarily a sailboat. That is moving a boat that is about 48,000 pounds in full cruising trim with the tanks pressed (design half load is 42,000 pounds). Just for comparison, a Little Harbor 54 would be about 20,000-25,000 heavier than we are in full cruise trim.

          Thanks for all the thoughts—an interesting discussion.

          • Kettlewell Feb 18, 2011, 1:43 pm

            By the way, we can push consumption up to a gallon an hour or more if we need to do 7 knots or more, but we’re pushing a big wave doing that. We sometimes need to do this on the ICW to catch a bridge or while traveling in company with someone on a trawler for example. We carry about 115 gallons in our main tank, so we have a pretty good range. A big torquey engine with a big three-bladed prop helps. I typically cruise at 1500 rpms or less. Red line is 2200 rpm. Beam is about 11.5 feet, I can’t recall the waterline off the top of my head, but it is fairly long, big long fin keel draws 5.5 feet. Big spade rudder. We’ve found that cruising in company with a 42-foot cat and a 50+ foot monohull we never arrived more than a few hours after the other boats on 2-3 day passages, and sometimes we arrived ahead of one or the other. Relatively heavy, short boats can be efficient too! Take a look again at some of the passages the Pardeys have made in their big little boats.

  • Paul Mills Feb 18, 2011, 8:07 am

    How interesting,

    An article by a guy known for his strong and individual views creates a discussion involving the same… 🙂

    Personally I am happy with the concept of ‘individual truths’ – for example I know I look good in my raybans – whereas Hazel refuses to be seen with me wearing them ….. sometimes I wear them on purpose!

    If I could afford one of his boats I would go for it and stuff the extra cost or not compared to a shorter boat.

  • Ben Feb 19, 2011, 4:53 am

    Hi John, thanks for the recommendation and link to my blog , It means alot to me considering how much I struggled to write anything without a “see me” note attached and lots of red ink scribbled all over it at school.

    The long light vs short heavy argument is interesting, I am not too sure about which way I would go if I was building a boat, but certainly not too light or too heavy (maybe disp/length 200-300). Guess I don’t like the extreme fragility and bouncy ride of a real lightweight boat, but also don’t like paying for all that lead and extra stuff on a real heavy boat. It does seem that I can make suprisingly good passage times on heavy boats, so I guess that is often a frustration heavy boat owners face, is always being labeled as slow, when the speed can be pretty good if they are well canvassed and sailed. The main thing I reckon is to make sure the boat is strong enough to take whatever can be dished out, and plenty of moderately light boats have stood the test of time, with modern materials.

    I like George Buhler’s attitude, that boats are about having fun, so if you want a 16 foot brigantine, get it, as long as you are having fun… see

    • John Feb 20, 2011, 8:58 pm

      Hi Ben,

      Oh you got those notes and all the red ink too. Being dyslexic, I know the feeling of dread when an essay came back to my desk all too well!

      I agree, moderation in all things, and I would certainly not want to own a real light weight sled.

      George’s stuff is great, I agree. His motor boats make a lot of sense to me.

  • Kettlewell Feb 19, 2011, 11:34 am

    Fun discussion here, and it is great that it remains civil, unlike on some other Web sites. Wow, John, you really do have some range in Morgan’s Cloud! That’s really great for high-latitude stuff where I know fuel stops are few and far between. By the way, when I was in college I sailed up to beyond Nain Labrador on a narrow S&S 30 footer with an old Atomic 4 gas engine and very limited tankage for both fuel and water. There were 3 of us onboard and we had a great time. No GPS, no LORAN, no radio, no windlass, and in those days some of the areas weren’t even charted! That trip taught me what small simple boats are capable of.

    • John Feb 20, 2011, 8:36 pm

      Hi John K,

      Sounds like quite a trip. The same area was my first foray north in Morgan’s Cloud, 18 years ago. I was both awed and enchanted. North Labrador is a great and fascinating cruising ground. You would not find that much has changed, although there is a little bit more modern charting around Nain due to the nickel mine in the area. Also, the Torngat Mountains are now a national park—still pretty wild and untouched though. Maybe we will see you up there one day.

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