Trip Reports

Flowery Beds of Ease (23-Jun-2003-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Monday, June 23 (0300 June 24 UTC). 37 58 N 122 31 W. Temp. 64, Humidity 68%, Cloud Cover 0%. At home in San Rafael.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

In my life I like the rush, the buzz, the ecstasies, the raptures, the reveries. Don't you? I try to maximize the time on earth I spend in the pursuit of these, and pay only the most minimal attention possible to the real world, to serve the admittedly pedestrian motive of staying alive. The reveries are why I sailed, unless you count the honorable, age-old ambition of man to spend and re-spend countless thousands of dollars on crap that breaks. I went to find the magic, just in case there was something to be found out there, and nowhere else, that was worth the trouble. I'd traveled some and seen a lot of things, but not the big wide ocean and the landfalls of paradise. I was enthralled by the books by seafarers, but they weren't enough. I wanted to put my own ears and eyes, my own physical presence at the scene of what I thought was waiting for me out in the beyond: truth, or excitement, or beauty, or fear, or life. Kierkegaard tells the parable of the grand banquet where, after the guests arrive and everyone is served, those in attendance speak with eloquence and at great length about the wonderful and sumptuous feast before them. But no one takes a bite. I didn't want to be one of those guys.

Unfortunately for those of my ilk, who were lovingly warned by their mothers that they had "stars in their eyes," sailing a boat for these distances can be an aggravatingly concrete undertaking. The times spent in dreamy contemplation of the power of the sea or the beauty of the landfalls or other deep and weighty matters are more than balanced by the moments spent in gritty grappling with the exigencies of the substantive, intractable, and irritatingly self-important material world. Every time my reveries were interrupted when something on the boat broke, I felt personally insulted, as it appeared that this little insignificant piece of metal had the temerity, and what's more, the wherewithal, to mess with my groove, bum my trip, or as Ziggy Eschliman would say, maul my buzz. I loved this little outrageously expensive item so much I bought it, and have been good to it so it should be good to me, or so I felt. Otherwise, it's just not fair, and fairness is, like, a thing with me.

I'm not quite the only one that feels this way. There's circumnavigator Allen on Celerity who confided to me in Turkey that he wished that he could, just one time, make a landfall and not have some boat problem causing him to focus on the exasperations and not the pleasures of cruising. Or circumnavigator George on Kemo Sabay who, in the middle of an annoying repair, said with a steely smile on his face that he loves sailing, but "this boating sucks." I picked these two because they are both very funny guys who have been doing it for a while, not the grouches, who do exist out here, and maybe I'm one of them. Want to make something of it?

It's the rare skipper you can't get to, after a beer or two and a few provocative questions, go off, and I mean off, on some particularly expensive and exasperating boat problem he faced, like blowing out a sail at a bad time. Then someone else picks it up, and it's like that skit by Monty Python, where it's, "Sails! You had sails? On our boat we had to climb the mast and hold our arms out!" And the next guy says, " Mast! You had a mast? We had to stand naked on the deck and hold our clothes out to catch the wind." And the next says, "Deck! You had a deck?" and so on. It's enough to make one into a Gnostic, that old Greek religion that teaches that the soul is locked in an alien physical world that is really not its true home, which in the case of your Captain is La-La-Land.

Russell on Blue Highway and I discussed it in the Canary Islands. I said that although I'd prefer to meditate on the significance and poetry of the landfalls, I am otherwise occupied with missing the reefs and paying attention to depths, and also thinking, how the heck am I going to get the antenna tuner fixed, to have any poetry running around my poor little overburdened brain. So he says that, while that is how it is, we're building memories that will be enjoyed at our leisure. So I say, Russell, I'm an old man and I'd prefer not to wait, cuz you see, putting off pleasures and packing stuff in the bank so I could do something later is what I did for a long time so I could do what I'm doing now. I was under the impression that that process had now come to fruition and in fact now IS the leisure I looked forward to. I don't want to hear that the cycle has started again and it's fine if I'm not having fun now because I'm scoring points for later. What if it just goes on like that forever and you never get to the good part? Wouldn't that be like medieval Christianity, where you suffer for all you're worth here below, in this vale of tears, just so you can have fun when you're dead? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway I'm not going to, like some others who have written about cruising, try to advise you on what gear to buy or how to go about this or that in outfitting your boat as if I knew what I was talking about. It could not fail to be boring for those readers whose interests do not extend to bilge-diving in a seaway. And also, when I get going I may start yelling like someone with Tourette's syndrome cuz nobody knows the trouble I've seen. So the best you can do is to read Practical Sailor, which is not particularly helpful but do it anyway so you can laugh a hearty and bitter laugh at them later, as no matter how clever they are with their little tests, they just cannot recreate the conditions of long-term use at sea.

To make a brief summary of our experience with major gear from which it is wise not to extrapolate, since whatever happens to you will be completely different: Some of the stuff that stood up best was the stuff that took the worst beating: sails (Hood), blocks and deck gear (Garhauer, Ronstan), winches (Barient, Lewmar), and running rigging (Sta-Set and Sta-Set X). We didn't change sheets or halyards or blow out a sail the whole way around. Some of the bits of electronic gear that caused us no trouble were the radar (Furuno 1622), HF radio (ICOM M710 w/ tuner), GPS (Garmin 128), the camera (Olympus D-460 digital) and the weather instrument/barograph (Speedtech). The last two are not major gear but I'm fond of them. Some of these were damaged by lightning but you can't hold that against them. The head never needed rebuilding, for the perfectly good reason that I had two of all the necessary parts on board, so could easily have done it.

The biggest problems, aside from the hull which isn't really gear, were the engine and transmission (freshly rebuilt Perkins 4-107), the transmission (freshly rebuilt Borg-Warner), the computers (Compaq), the autopilots (Navico), dinghy (West Marine/Zodiac), prop (Martec two-blade folding prop; but it struck a reef so we can't blame it), and outboard (Nissan), which had to be replaced. These are the big money ones, except the dinghy which was more just an ongoing pain in the neck, dealt with by Ship's Inflatable Engineer Terry Shrode, and so qualifies. It seems just about everyone seems to have engine problems, not infrequently major, on this kind of trip. Autopilot problems are also almost universal-those guys that do the Transpac races have been known to have as many as four backups, so little faith have they in their reliability. We had innumerable other problems but they were all less than $750, which does not mean that they weren't complicated and nerve-wracking to deal with. My favorite manufacturer of marine equipment by a large margin is Garhauer. They are one of the most helpful companies I've ever dealt with in any context.

I realize that some of the folks who manufacture boating gear, even with the best of intentions, have a good reason for not making stuff that doesn't break under this type of use and that is that the number of people doing long-distance cruising is entirely insignificant. I figure that substantially less than 100 boats from the US--probably closer to fifty--complete a circumnavigation per year. Compared to the number of sailboats in the US, about 1,600,000 in 2002 according to the Marine Manufacturers Association, this is less than 1/100 of 1%. To say that this segment of the market has a negligible effect on product feedback is to speak euphemistically. No matter what the manufacturers claim, how could it be otherwise? We are really not the people they're selling to. Since they have to use stuff by the same manufacturers, everything breaks even on rich people's boats. Remember Geraldo, not a poor person, who tried to make us believe he did a circumnavigation when all he did was hop aboard for the good stuff? His boat had to be towed from the Galapagos to Ecuador. So when a salesman, bless his little heart cuz he's just following his training although this was not an acceptable defense in the Nuremberg trials, tells you that something is "bulletproof," think "Bulletproof when used as indicated, for the occasional sail on Lake Merritt; or even better, when not used at all, although even this will not prevent failure."

There is another possible explanation, and that is that human beings are after all these thousands of years not yet capable of consistently making things that will stand up to the sea.

I'll give you two points to cogitate, screamingly obvious but always in need of repeating to the prospective cruiser so he can ignore them like everyone else did before he left, including me: One, there is nothing that can't break. Two, there is nothing that can't break. Unless you really, in your heart of hearts, live just to fix things (and I've met two or three out of several hundred cruisers about whom this could truly be said), your patience with fixing things will wear thin. After reading this you probably will tell yourself that the people who have had gear problems, the Captain included, were simply not prepared well enough to begin with, like you yourself WILL be when YOU go. Ah, it is with great fondness that I remember the days when I spoke that very sentiment myself.

But there are solutions! One is to buy a brand new, high-end boat. This doesn't work, as you can prove to yourself by buying one if you like treating yourself to very expensive lessons, like the sad man I met in Greece who had a two-month-old Hallberg-Rassy with a thousand problems, or Peter with his beautiful Oyster 71 "Ocean Free," who put it on a reef after engine failure in the South China Sea. Another solution is purity and simplicity. The Pardeys and the Streets of the world advocate having boats on which nothing is aboard that cannot be fixed by the crew. I respect these folks a lot and their advice, really, really, really makes sense, but: 1) It takes a lifetime of learning to be safe the way they do it. 2) They're not that safe. Can you fix an EPIRB or a GPS? You want a depthsounder? Don Street took Iolaire up the Thames in an adventure reported in, I believe, an edition of Yachting World not too long ago. There were two non-trivial semi-disasters that could have easily been avoided had he an engine, and that's why so few people follow his example. Cook went high-tech for his time and if he did it today he would have forward-scanning sonar, which would have kept him off of Endeavor Reef.

That's my gear knowledge in a nutshell. All the other stuff is just details. Having said that, if someone out there really wants to know how the crew of Maverick chose to outfit the boat, check out the article cleverly entitled "The Boat" on our website, It was written before we left, so it is blissfully free of any knowledge born of experience, and still manages to be dull. Or write to me at and I'd be tickled to answer any question, as it would give me the rare illusion that I know something useful.

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