The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

John’s Thoughts & Photos, June 2015

A few thoughts, voyaging and otherwise, from our recent holiday…and a couple of links to sobering news:

Lee Shores

Much of our walking tour was along what must be one of the most fearsome lee shores in the world, the west coast of Ireland; a shore that’s battered by relentless west winds raising waves over a fetch stretching to Newfoundland.

We who live, and mostly cruise, on the relatively benign east coast of the North American continent often, I think, forget how lucky we are to be sailing along a shore where the prevailing winds predominantly blow offshore—a weather shore.

I will long remember approaching this edge of Europe under sail for the first time—the Scottish west coast in that case—at the end of a long and gruelling September passage from Iceland, in near gale conditions with storm force winds threatening. I spent hours pouring over the charts to figure out a safe approach with plenty of distance under our lee in case of a problem.

There is just no forgiveness on a lee shore like this.

No wonder the Irish developed light boats covered with skin. With your best option a “harbour” like the one above, you want to get your boat out of the water and up the shore as quickly as you can when you are done with it.

This Struck a Cord

All we can assume is that the owner of this pub in Ireland that we stayed at during our recent walking holiday must have been a cruiser at some time in his life.

A Great Read

Ever since my childhood I have been fascinated by The Heroic Age of Exploration, and Phyllis and I have a huge library of books on the subject.

Our walking holiday was on the Dingle Peninsula, where Tom Crean was born and brought up.

Crean went south on both Scott expeditions and then with Shackleton on the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition that ended with one of the greatest small boat journeys of all time, from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

Crean has not received a lot of credit compared to the expedition leaders and those participants who wrote books or diaries, but he may have been the toughest of all the hard men that came to the fore on those expeditions.

We missed stopping at his pub, but our friends did not, and while savouring a Guinness they picked up a copy of Michael Smith’s excellent biography of Crean, An Unsung Heroand gave it to Phyllis and me. (Friends who really know you, are a treasure.)

I’m two-thirds of the way through the book and have found it absolutely riveting—I highly recommend it.

Looks Like Fun

Given the above thoughts on lee shores, this might be the best sailing option on the Dingle Peninsula!

Drowning by Dragging

Two years ago, Phyllis and I, with the help of excellent comments from our readers, wrote about a risk that many (probably most) offshore sailors simply have our heads in the sand about: drowning by being dragged on our harness tethers.

I know I have beaten the heck out of this drum, but even so, recent news makes it worth revisiting. Here is a really sobering article from Yachting World with a chilling list of fatalities, and near fatalities, from dragging. And a couple of months after that was published we heard about this terrible tragedy.

We are working on a solution to this on our boat and will be publishing more as we test our new gear and procedures over the summer.

And to reiterate, if you think that your tight low-stretch, or high rigged, jacklines are keeping you safe from dragging, you are probably kidding yourself (as we were).

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I don’t recall whether I mentioned it or not, but Randy Hooton, who died after going overboard from the bow (SW of Key West), was the brother of one of my wife’s life-long best friends and wedding attendant in 1971. She has shared the unpublished details with us, which had to be revised several times as the trauma for his wife made telling the story episodic. As we have read through these accounts, while it is obvious Randy died, a dream died, a marriage died, and a family was brought to its knees. We may never know whether he drowned, but from what we read, there is at least an equal chance the boat bludgeoned him to incapacity first. The seas were running seven feet where the Gulf and Yucatan Currents come together over a sharpy rising Jordan Knoll to form the Florida Current. It was wind against tide, so we imagine the wave periods were quite short. We know the boat motion was ugly. It all comes back to stay on the boat, stay on the boat, stay on the boat.

Nick Kats

Totally with you on your assessment NE US coast vs west Ireland. This is the path my life took. I did most of my sailing in New England – mild weather, lots of harbors & nav aids. Never had to face a gale. 14 yrs ago I moved to Clifden, on the west coast of Ireland. I wanted to get a sailboat but was shocked by the far stronger winds (frequent gales in summer, frequent storms & occasional hurricane force in winter), rockbound coast, few harbors, almost nonexistent nav aids. After pondering 5 years I decided on either a small shoal draft like a Drascombe (9″ draft) to run & hide, or haulout by trailer… OR a heavy full keel traditional cutter that could beat upwind in a gale in mixed seas (coastal conditions, getting off a lee shore). The latter would be a big challenge as it would take me way beyond my prior experience. I finally brought a Colin Archer-related ketch, and have found that she easily meets the above requirements. I grew rapidly to meet the challenge. I am now comfortable with ranging far out into the Northeast Atlantic without electronic weather data, just eyeballing the sky & using the barometer, knowing the boat is good for the endless lows that pass through here. I am very much at home on this spectacular coast of western Galway & Mayo.
Currently an American sailor is visiting nearby on his full keel heavy ketch. His boat is perfectly capable, but he is used to the US East coast conditions, and I can feel his shock at local conditions. Given time he will adapt quickly & emerge a far more capable sailor.

Ed Finn

Re: MOB Prevention
Clipping in to a spare halyard before leaving the cockpit to go forward, makes a lot of sense to me , but one doesn’t read much about it.
Clipped into a halyard would make it close to impossible to go overboard,
And retrieval ,if necessary, much easier.

Marc Dacey

John and Phyllis,

You have walked in an area I know quite well, having cycled through that part of Ireland several times in the ’90s. I would say that it is perhaps our favourite part of Ireland, although because of the very reasons you cite, I am not sure we wish to make landfall there after an Atlantic crossing. Maybe around the “corner” at Kinsale!


I’ve been reading recently the accounts of the 1998 Sydney Hobart Race disaster. The conditions were truly horrendous with yachts being thrown off the face of hugh waves (one helicopter radiometer recorded a wave of over 140′) and free falling into the approaching trough. The first sailor to perish was at the helm and was thrown into the sea, his safety line snapping. It seems to me that under storm and worse conditions, the only safe place, is inside a solid, fully enclosed dodger with a steering station. Helming in the open with waves breaking over the boat or with the boat under threat of knockdown is madness. Bernard Moitessier had the perspicacity to have an inside steering position on his Joshua.