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Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

Young circumnavigators

Friday, July 17th, 2009

My son Ryan was 8 when we left, and 14 when we completed our circumnavigation.  He, my wife and I were the only crew for the whole time.  When we returned, Ryan was a very experienced blue-water sailor.  He wanted to go on.  “Dolphin Spirit” was fully set up to be single-handed, completely equipped, proven, loaded with all the right instruments and charts.  Ryan knew the boat intimately, he had experienced three major ocean crossings and had dropped anchor in hundreds of foreign spots, many uncharted.
In all of these ways, and in many others, he and his boat were far more well prepared than were Zac and his boat.  Ryan would have easily been the youngest to solo circumnavigate, but we decided not to for a number of reasons:
1. The circumnavigation Ryan had just completed was fun, the one being contemplated was not going to be that.

2. Sticking to a timetable meant disregarding almost every lesson I had taught him about being weather-wise and cautious.  There is simply no way to circumnavigate in less than 18 months and stay out of problem weather areas and times.

3. Solo long-distance sailors are a danger to themselves and to everyone else on the ocean.  There is simply no way to keep a proper watch and we and almost every solo sailor I know understand that audio alarms do not wake an exhausted person. A solo sailor has to rely on other boats to avoid him, and this is contrary to my teachings to Ryan about being in control of your own destiny to the greatest extent possible. Others certainly do not agree with me on this subject, and that is their right.

4. Ryan had nothing to prove about himself or his skills.

I understand that others don’t share my point of view, but I repeat that I am really concerned that this competition to be the youngest circumnavigator will get out of hand and felt that something had to be said, not to denigrate Zac’s accomplishments in any way, but to put them into a perspective.

My concern is that his exceptional feat be put in proper perspective and that the almost inevitable trend to younger and younger record-seekers that new technology makes possible be staved off.  As Zac has proved, sailing around the world on a timetable, even with all possible personal and technological assistance, is dangerous process and I don’t want to see sailing and cruising tarnished by the death of a child trying to break another child’s record.

I wrote the above before the report in the July 17 LA Times which said that a 15 year old was about to set sail. I rest my case!

Zac’s Circumnavigation

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Zac Sunderland should receive every accolade for his voyage and record setting, but the litany of problems he had should not be taken as typical of a circumnavigation.  The bad weather he encountered was almost completely a direct result of his having to sail to meet a schedule, rather than sailing to suit the conditions.
When my wife, son (eight years old when we left, 14 when we returned) and I completed our almost seven year circumnavigation, we did so without encountering sustained winds at sea of more than 35 knots, and this was not exceptional for most long-term cruising sailors we knew. We did this by simply waiting for the
right weather window, or sitting out hurricane and storm prone months.  Zac did not have this luxury of time.
As a result, we never broke any major gear or equipment, and I stayed married, as my wife gets sea-sick, and therefore calm sailing is almost essential.
Long-term cruising is very safe, much, much safer than living on land, and considerably more pleasant. It really is very nice to be able to say, on any given day, let’s move our house to another place.  If the new place proves to be less than wonderful, we can move again to one that is.
Try doing that on land!


Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Laurence Sunderland advised his 16 year old son Zac (LA Times “Adventure on the high seas” 11/9/08), who is sailing solo around the world, to load his pistol and shoot to kill if threatened by an approaching vessel.

This is seriously bad advice. Assuming the approaching vessel did contain pirates, there would be 20 or so automatic weapons and most probably a 50 caliber machine gun and a couple of RPG’s, all pointing in Zac’s direction. Firing at them would be the fastest way possible of committing suicide.

Fear of pirates can be a bigger problem than the pirates themselves. A solo sailor, asleep in an anchorage on the Venezuelan coast, woke to hear footsteps on his deck. He opened fire with an automatic weapon, and the people on deck returned fire. The boarders then identified themselves as Venezuelan Coast Guard, the sailor was arrested, and his now seriously leaking boat impounded.

The truth about pirates is that they make for great headlines, are a real danger to some vessels, but are not interested in small private yachts. Why should they bother when they can capture a small freighter or tanker with about the same effort, and gain a multi-million dollar return? There was a recent report of a French yacht boarded by pirates off the Somali coast. Research the details and you will find the yacht had a crew of 30, not your typical small sailboat.

I sailed around the world for six and a half years with my wife and son (8 when we left, 14 when we returned) in a small sailboat, traveling more than 40,000 miles and visiting 56 countries. We spent more than six months sailing in Indonesia, mostly in places very few yachts had visited. Not once did we feel threatened. Not once did we feel we had to chain our dinghy to the yacht, as we later had to in the “lock it or lose it” Caribbean. Our dinghy and outboard were left unsecured, simply pulled up in front of many a village, and were always there when we returned hours later. The fishing boats and small inter-island trading vessels often came close to us for a look and a cheerful wave of greeting.

The story was the same in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, some of the poorest countries in the world, and all on the US government Advisory List of countries not to visit.

Pirate attacks are increasing around the world, but most occur in well defined areas, Nigeria, Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, Indonesia (Malacca Straits), and Bangladesh. Regardless of pirate preferences for larger vessels, sailing a yacht in those regions is not to be taken lightly.

The Malacca Straits, between Malaysia and Indonesia, has to be traversed to get from Singapore to Thailand, so we sailed through in company with another yacht, anchoring at night without lights and restricting radio communication. Knowing Socroto Island, in the Gulf of Aden at the bottom of the Red Sea, was a pirate source, we diverted from our direct route to sail no closer than 150 miles from it.

In common with most cruisers, we started out armed, in our case with a shotgun. Almost every country we visited required that we surrender the gun and all ammunition on entry to the country, returning it when we left. That meant most of the theoretical value of having a gun on board was negated. Any non-declared weapons or ammunition, even a single bullet, found during a Customs search, could result in immediate seizure of the yacht, and the certainty of severe penalties.

On arrival in the Cook Islands, when we declared our shotgun I asked if it could be sealed in a locker, instead of being taken off the boat. The Customs official agreed, but had no seals with him, so promised to return the next day. I saw him on the dock a couple of days later, and asked about the seals.

“Can’t find any,” he said. “Promise me you won’t shoot anyone and we will forget about it.”

He was alone in his tolerance in the 56 countries we visited. Soon after, we got rid of the shotgun.

We were not totally naïve about the possibility of personal attacks, so the boat was well stocked with pepper spray and equivalent non-lethal protective materials. I had my wife and very young son on board, so was not about to take any unnecessary chances, or expose them to dangers.

There may be lots of reasons for people not to go sailing around the world, or in parts of it, but the threat of pirates should not be one of them. As with all things, information, precautions and caution are very effective.


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