An­drew Simp­son

Bat­tered or be­calmed... a com­plete lack of weather can be just as bad as too much

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents - An­drew Simp­son Yacht sur­veyor and de­signer An­drew Simp­son cruises with his wife Chele in his own-de­sign 11.9m (39ft) yacht Shindig. Read his blog at www.off­shore-sailor.com

Ask most cruis­ing sailors what their most chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has been and they’re likely to de­scribe a brush with ugly weather: “Strug­gling to claw our way around Port­land Bill against a westerly six and a foul tide.” You know the sort of tale; dra­matic in con­tent and de­signed to elicit both awe and sym­pa­thy from the au­di­ence – par­tic­u­larly non-sailors.

And, yes, of course we have all prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­enced it. There are few cruis­ing sailors that haven’t con­fronted such chal­lenges – some­times ca­pit­u­lat­ing and slip­ping into some cosy an­chor­age, there to wait for bet­ter times.

This is the heroic stuff, of course. But some­times quite the op­po­site con­di­tions can pose frus­trat­ing chal­lenges. Yes, ro­bust weather can make for bruis­ing pas­sages but I’ve come to be­lieve that the ab­sence of wind can be worse. Back in 1978, in com­pany with friends Bruce and Martha, Chele and I were de­liv­er­ing Va­quero, Chele’s some­what elderly Cal 40, from Texas to the Lee­ward Is­lands.

De­signed by Bill Lap­worth in the early 1960s, with a keen eye to­wards per­for­mance, we couldn’t have asked for a more suit­able boat for the pas­sage. Ex­cept that is for a cou­ple of mi­nor flaws: the sails were tired be­yond re­demp­tion and the four-cylin­der petrol en­gine had con­vinced it­self that it was un­seemly to run for more than a few min­utes be­fore over­heat­ing.

We opted for a sim­ple pas­sage strat­egy. It was late Oc­to­ber – the tail end of the hur­ri­cane sea­son with the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal risks re­duc­ing. The pilot chart for that month in­di­cated pre­vail­ing east­erly and north-east­erly winds of no great hos­til­ity, and the dodgy en­gine was a pow­er­ful dis­cour­age­ment from ma­rina hop­ping around the coast. We there­fore de­cided to sail di­rectly from Galve­ston to The Florida Keys – nearly 800NM in a gen­er­ally south-east­erly di­rec­tion. The voy­age started en­cour­ag­ingly. We de­parted Galve­ston and for the first cou­ple of days threaded our way through the in­evitable shrimp boats and oil rigs, there to sail into what was to de­velop into a per­sis­tent calm. It took 12 days to reach Key West; tan­ta­lised by the oc­ca­sional puff that would gain us a few miles.

In our search for wind we courted ev­ery cloud or rain­storm that might have some un­der it. We were con­scious of the anx­i­ety that must be ris­ing among friends and fam­ily back in Texas, not least my mother who was to bring the chil­dren out to us. Given a com­pe­tent crew and a sprightly boat, the ex­pec­ta­tion was that the Gulf cross­ing would take no more than a week!

Just over a decade later found us in the Mediter­ranean – more specif­i­cally in Mal­lorca par­tic­i­pat­ing in a Clas­sic Boat Rally, one of the features of which in­cluded a race around Palma Bay. We were crew­ing with the owner aboard his Lau­rent-Giles de­signed cut­ter Fairlight, built in 1938. We made a poor start but, in very light con­di­tions, we man­aged to claw our way through the fleet only to have the race of­fi­cially aban­doned as the sea sub­sided from a light chop to mir­ror glass. Light winds are great lev­ellers.

The photo here is of Poole Bay, shortly after the start of a race. The boat in the fore­ground is Hope and Glory, a 50-foot Ron Hol­land de­sign and cer­tainly no slouch around the cans. With very lit­tle en­ergy to be har­vested from such tran­quil con­di­tions her size and weight are a hand­i­cap, call­ing on great skill to wring what­ever propul­sion could be gained.

You’ve prob­a­bly ob­served that there’s a to­tal of five boats in the shot. Note fur­ther that al­though Hope and Glory’s spin­naker isn’t draw­ing as lustily as it might, it’s do­ing rather bet­ter than the oth­ers and there’s even a fee­ble wake.

It’s my belief that the great­est and most in­trigu­ing crew chal­lenges arise when the wind is light – not when there’s an ex­cess of it. Yet you rarely hear tales of how peo­ple cope with paucity rather than plenty. I once met a man who in de­creas­ing strengths had spent 60-odd days (he’d lost count!) sail­ing a 20-odd-footer from Ber­muda to the Azores. With food and wa­ter hav­ing run out, he sur­vived by eat­ing the goose bar­na­cles en­crust­ing his hull.

I’m not en­tirely sure about the wis­dom of his de­ci­sion but it beats my own wind starved whinge­ing into a cocked hat.

Ro­bust weather can make for bruis­ing pas­sages – but the ab­sence of wind can be worse

Even rac­ing yachts can strug­gle to make way when breeze is lack­ing

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