Death By A Thousand Details


Part of about a gazillion engine parts that we checked were the correct ones for our engine, entered into our parts inventory spreadsheet and finally stowed away.

We are now in the phase of preparation for a high latitude voyage that I call “death by a thousand details”. Make that “death by a million details”. I woke up in the middle of last night in a cold sweat with the absolute certainty that we can’t possibly be ready to head north in just two weeks. There is just too much to do and not enough time.

But then I have felt this way before every voyage we have ever made and we have always left on time without neglecting to do anything that resulted in disastrous consequences. Hopefully it will be the same this time.

Just thought that if you feel the same way before a big voyage, you might like to know that you are not alone.

And if you’re one of those totally organized cool calm and collected people that never feel this way…a pox on you!

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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.

7 comments… add one
  • Ernie May 23, 2011, 10:47 am

    We are as they say ” like a duck”…cool and calm on the surface…paddling like crazy under the water to stay afloat.

  • Chris May 24, 2011, 9:07 am

    Based on my eight years nursing a (16 year old when I bought it) Perkins, I’d say that hat needs to be accompanied by a long rubber apron and foundry gloves.

  • Martin May 24, 2011, 10:57 pm

    But there is also a good angle to being able to bring engine spares. Compare the boat situation with that of a small aircraft – no need to pack spares because if something in the engine fails … well, the presence of spares in the back somewhere is likely irrelevant. (So, just how do private aircraft owners do it? When they depart, they are pretty confident nothing in the engine or drive train will go wrong, at all. Surely they cannot have full redundancy in a single engine ‘plane. Pretty impressive, you’d have to say.)

    Back to the mundane – just out of curiosity John, are those thin tubes I see in your above photo actually extra high pressure fuel lines to the injectors? (I’ve always wondered whether I should buy some; you tend to think, how can a simple, thick-walled piece of metal pipe possibly fail me?)

    • John May 27, 2011, 7:56 am

      Hi Martin,

      I agree that aircraft engine reliability is truly amazing. Having said that, I have a friend who ended up in a farmer’s field last year when his engine seized solid shortly after takeoff.

      And yes, those are high pressure injector fuel lines you see. We carry a full set. I have never had to use one, but people we trust say that they do fail and if so there is no way to cobble something together to fix it.

  • Nick Kats May 27, 2011, 9:08 am

    Hi John

    Guess I’m one of those that is “calm & collected” about prepping – so cuss me with the pox! A better description is that I’m really laid back about preparations.

    Most of my boat is simple & tough – low degree of complexity, high degree of reliability. So I’m relaxed.

    I like her near or at a state of readiness for long trips at all times.

    There are lots of overlapping systems.
    If engine fails so what? she sails. Am indifferent about engine & don’t mind fixing it afterwards.
    Have kero nav lights to back up electric navs.
    If kitchen stove fails, have spare stove & also can cook on the Refleks heater.
    If top half of the mainmast breaks (happened to me last summer), I need a few hours to clean up & rerig for a shortened jib & mainsail/mizzen staysail. Staysail & mizzen were not affected by this breakage.
    If both GPS fail, I can use sextant (not very good at it) to run north or south to the right latitude then turn east or west to land.
    If cabin lights fail have 500 candles!
    Lots spares.
    Can replace entire suit of sails.
    Lots of tools, hardware, wiring, rope.

    It’s not that I’m organized. Not particularly. It’s just pretty much all there. A few bits & bobs to do, and load in food, that’s it.

    In terms of prepping the boat, going on a long trip is not much more than a day sail for me. Mainly an opportunity to finish up a few jobs that I’ve been procrastinating on.


  • John May 27, 2011, 5:15 pm

    Hi Nick,
    There is a lot to be said for simplicity. As for food, a couple of barrels of salt horse and a case of hard tack and you’re, I’m sure, good to go! 🙂

    Oh yes, and a double pox on you.

    • Nick Kats May 28, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Tristan Jones somewhere wrote about burgoo. Boiled oatmeal mixed with bacon & lots of fat, and whiskey. He kept the burgoo in a barrel tied to the main mast of his converted lifeboat. When hungry he opened the barrel, scooped out a pawful & rammed it down his gob. That is what he wrote, if I remember right. I guess it would work, nutritionally solid if a bit inelegant.
      For my trip I have a leg of smoked ham, lots of sausages & jars of pate, got them in Normandy last month, sorry to disappoint.

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