The S/V Proteus compared to…

Occasionally, we are asked by people who hear that we live on a sailboat…

“Gosh, that sounds really small…!”

or

“So… how big is it?”

or

“Can you stand up?”

I can rattle off all the data, but since most people in the world have never been on any sailboat – let alone one specifically 42ft 6inches long – the specific size remains acutely nebulous. But, as a thought experiment, it is kind of fun to think: “Well, how big is it, really!?”

Let’s (completely arbitrarily) compare the S/V Proteus to…

…a whale shark.

Male_whale_shark_at_Georgia_AquariumThe average weight of an adult whale shark is around 20,500lbs (or 9300kg). And the whale shark is one pretty serious creature. If you’re a shark aficionado and want to compare sharks, that’s almost three times the size of the average Great White Shark. If you’d rather stick to the whale side of the whale shark, you’re looking at a weight similar to some of the larger male killer whales (orcas) on record. That pales in comparison to the mass of a typical blue whale that average in the 400,000lbs (181,000kg) range.

So, Proteus weighs about a 20th of the weight of a blue whale. (Good grief, that’s huge.)

…a typical American school bus.

You know, the full-length yellow ones? The regular yellow/orange school bus that pick up kids all across the United States averages around 42ft. Some are longer (up to 45ft) and some states require their school buses to be no more than 41ft. But, in general the typical school bus measures just about the same length as Proteus.

Strangely enough, many of the school buses I saw online had a similar curb weight (empty) to Proteus, as well. Where the two comparisons diverge is the fact that a school bus is merely 100 inches (2.5m) or so: the Hunter Passage 42 is just under twice that width.

…a Honda Element.

Yes, the much critiqued original boxy SUV is almost exactly the same length (depending on the model year) as the beam of S/V Proteus at 14 feet (or 4.26m). And everyone knows what the infamous Element looks like, right? Coincidentally, I used to drive one of these strange people-carriers, and we have had more than a few adventures together all over the eastern United States.

If a Honda Element is too tough to wrap your head around, the S/V Proteus is wider than a highway lane in the USA and UK M-roads (measuring 12 feet, or 3.65m). So you couldn’t very well get her down a road without blocking traffic or having a big “WIDE LOAD” across the back. However, you could lay an elephant down inside: the average African elephant is 14ft.

…a Boeing 747.

Who hasn’t been impressed by the uber-massive Boeing 747’s sitting at the gate!? Well, the only real similarity between a 747 and S/V Proteus is the height of the tail off the ground. Our mast is very close to the same height at about 61 feet (18.6m). Granted, that might be reaching a bit, so instead, let’s compare it to something a little more feasible: a six-story building.

That’s pretty tall, but a six-story building is kinda boring! How about the uprights of an NFL regulation American football goal? Actually, Proteus‘ mast is taller by almost 13 feet (3.9m). It is also taller than the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, but it is exactly the height of each of the heads (head only: not the rest of the mountain) of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and is only 4 feet shorter than the Sphinx in Giza. And it is exactly the same height as a regulation cricket pitch is long. (Whatever that is…)

…the fastest Olympic swimmer.

Actually, the Proteus‘ cruising speed is just under double the speed of Michael Phelps’ world-record setting 100m freestyle. Indeed. Michael Phelps averaged 4.4 miles per hour. We do pretty well to average 7 knots (8 mph) under full sail and efficiency. If the bottom is really clean, we can get close to 8.5 or more. Though we have pushed it up to 9 or 10 knots in a blow, we don’t like to break things.

And our maximum speed ever recorded was a *blazing* 12 knots over ground… but that was with a massive tidal stream abeam of The Needles at the Isle of Wight. Yeah, laugh if you want…

Okay, so, double the fastest human swimmer in the world, but is there anything that makes a good 7 or 8 knots on a regular basis? Not the human running speed: believe it or not, Usain Bolt busted out 24 knots, which is faster than most power yachts are able to sustain! Incidentally, Usain Bolt is 6ft 4in, which is about the minimum cabin ceiling height.

The closest I could come to 7 or 8 knots was the casual swimming speed of the average dolphin. (They can do much more than this!) It is a bit of a mystery exactly why dolphins love to play with boats, but maybe it is because they see the boats as just big casual dolphins…?

…an apartment in London.
S/V Proteus in Marina Smir, Morocco
S/V Proteus in Marina Smir, Morocco

According to the Telegraph, the average apartment in London is about 46 square meters these days. That’s a few feet shy of 500 square feet. Actually, that seems pretty small compared to what I’ve seen – and our own apartment in London – but that’s about the usable size of Proteus‘ interior. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it was one of our deciding factors for moving aboard a boat. The apartment where we lived in central London was not quite 30 square meters: that’s just 320 square feet!

Pack all your stuff, a usable bed, a kitchen, the bathroom, and a place to sit, and you’re having trouble getting around! The Proteus has doubled our living space, given us three rooms, two bathrooms, and a bathtub! And we get a freakin’ awesome backyard… aka: anywhere on Earth.

Stay tuned…

 

Regarding the Schengen Visa…

One question – among many – that is easy to misunderstand with international law and diplomacy is the Schengen Visa system implemented in Europe. For people from the USA who have ever traveled for a few days or weeks at a time, this is not a problem. Most people never even come close to 90 days in one region other than their own home. But for those of us who have floating homes and spend significant amounts of time abroad, visas are a huge issue.

The Schengen Area

The Schengen Visa is an agreement among most of the European Union to allow “borderless” travel. This means, for instance, you can drive from Germany into France and you’ll see no more than a road sign that says “Welcome to Germany”… no border or passport checks. This is also pretty awesome for cruising around the Schengen Area. It makes checking in and out of countries easy and relaxed as long as you’re within that 90-day window.

However, there are a LOT of misconceptions about what happens when this 90-day clock starts to run out.

The newest wording of the agreement stands thusly (as of October 2013):
“The maximum duration of authorized stay is defined as 90 days in ANY 180-day period.”

The technical calculation of “90 days in ANY 180 day period” is explained like this, taken word for word from the European Commission Schengen handbook, AND restated to me by a Portuguese immigration officer:
“The notion of ANY implies the application of a ‘moving’ 180-day reference period, looking backward at each day of the stay (be it at the entry or at the day of an actual check), into the last 180-day period, in order to verify if the 90-day/180-day requirement continues to be fulfilled.”

In other terms, there is a rolling 180 day period starting from any day to 180 days back. A non-EU, non-Schengen citizen may only stay in the Schengen area with a “Short Stay Visa” (the normal passport stamp) 90 days during that period.

To explain further: say you are on your first day of staying in the Schengen Area, you just got your passport stamped. You have stayed 1 day in any 180 day period. Day One, looking 180 days back. Then you stay 90 days, and on that day, you leave (not on day 91, that would be overstaying). The next day is day 91 of that 180 day period. On the 181st day, the day you would be eligible to return, the counter does not reset! If you return on day 181, that 180 days is still rolling, but now you’re ticking off time from that first 90 days, meaning you can spend another 90 days. In this situation, the counter would always remain at 90, technically subtracting one and adding one every day.

The important thing to remember is that the days roll on: always 180 days back from the day you are on.

One factor that is commonly misunderstood is that some people believe there is some way to simply “reset” the Schengen Visa clock. Like, go out somewhere, get a stamp, and come back in and the clock resets? Let me restate something that I think people misunderstand:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “RESETTING” A SCHENGEN VISA.

It doesn’t exist. You cannot just leave and come back in and you get another 90 days.

There is only one way to legally stay in the Schengen Area after your 90 day time is up: an official long-stay visa from a Schengen member state would technically supersede the 90-day stamp. But, this process is not easy. It requires a lengthy and relatively expensive application process and almost always includes an interview at the embassy of a Schengen state.

I say “only one way to legally stay in the Schengen Area” but there is one alternative: the Portuguese Extension.

The Portuguese Option

Now, Portugal is a different matter. Yes, it is in the Schengen Area, but they have maintained a simplified visa extension system. It is possible only in Portugal (for the moment), but it requires a rather elaborate process. I have personally talked to one of the officers in charge of making the decision for such visas, and this officer explained that the deciding factor is usually based on need or extenuating circumstances.

IMG_0034I asked this immigration officer: “So, being stuck in Portugal in order to avoid hurricane season?” Their answer, although noticeably noncommittal: “This person would have a good chance to be given an extension.” I asked: “So, if someone just wanted to cruise around another season?” Their answer (after a sigh): “Every other factor would have to be exactly right…” (Referring to the extensive visa application process that includes proof of funds, background check, and etc, etc.)

At the time the visa extension is normally used for one or two 30-day extensions, but I’m not aware of – nor was my immigration contact – any cruisers who have tried to get three extensions. I mean, Portugal isn’t really that big, guys!

But, keep in mind, this particular visa extension gained in Portugal is NOT a Schengen Visa extension for the Schengen Area: the extension is for Portugal ONLY. If you are caught outside of Portugal with the Portugal extension, you will be in violation of the 90-day Schengen Visa.

So, how do you keep cruising after your 90-day in any 180-day is up? The Schengen Exile.

The Schengen Exile

Here’s how we dealt with our Schengen Exile:
We sailed from Ireland (outside Schengen) to France (in Schengen). We entered the Schengen Area in Brest, France. In Brest, we made certain we got our stamp into the Schengen Area stamped in our passports. We sailed down from France, Spain, Portugal, and Spain again. At the end of this time, we were getting pretty close to our 90-day limit, something like 83 days in the Schengen Area.

Then, we came to Gibraltar. (Gibraltar is the same as the UK: six months Visa-free for USA citizens.) We arrived to Gibraltar, and we had to go to the Frontier to have our into Gibraltar stamps put in our passports. This stopped the Schengen Visa clock with one week to go. So, now, we have to stay outside the Schengen Area for 90 days (technically, 90 minus one week because we were one week early). We are staying in Gibraltar for that entire period. (Maybe we bounce down to Morocco a time or two for a little variety, because it is outside Schengen Area, of course.) At the end of our “Schengen exile” we will be able to re-enter the Schengen area by getting a new Schengen Visa stamp in the passport. This will allow another 90 days of time.

Remember that 180 days rolling? We were in 83 days, then we stayed out 90. When we re-enter the Schengen Area, we will be chipping away at that time all the way back in March when we first came to France. And, we’re on our way to the USA, so we only need about 45 days of our second 90 day period to get out of the Canary Islands.

Conclusion

Confused much? Yeah, this stuff is thick. International law is really really complicated, but after looking at this stuff for years and years now, it actually does make sense. At least, it makes sense enough to know how to stay out of trouble.

The moral of the story is just don’t push it. Don’t try to outsmart the system just for a little fun or extra sailing time. The Schengen rules and enforcement of them are quite serious. It can mean your passport could get flagged at borders and denied entry. Some places will literally stamp a big “OVERSTAY” in your passport. The fines are serious. And/or you could be arrested and/or your boat impounded until it all gets straightened out!

Now, I suppose I should state that legal thing where I say, “I’m not a lawyer, so take this at your own risk.” I do hope it helps someone who is confused about how the Schengen Visa system works. And I hope that it will avoid some people getting in trouble in the future!

PS: The Schengen Visa a completely different situation from the EU VAT tax clock. That has nothing to do with you as a person, that has to do with your boat. For people who are interested in that, I can answer a few of those questions, too – email me. We don’t deal with it much because our EU VAT tax is paid. There is a fairly clear explanation here over at Noonsite. Their explanation of the Schengen Visa on the same page is slightly outdated, but it is accurate (practically speaking).

Decisions to change plans…

By: Noah D.

I’m sitting here in Sines, Portugal. It is just after 10am. All the hatches are open and there’s a gentle north-ish breeze. A few minutes ago, two small RIB’s hummed by outside with their crews decked out and loaded up with spearfishing equipment. We spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at a beach bar: it is like something straight out of a spy movie. I don’t think I’ve seen a cloud in about three days. We finally made it to this part of the world.

That being said, not everything happens the way you think. Sometimes it turns out for the absolute best. And by “best” I mean “better than I could have ever planned.”

We will be turning left…

Instead of crossing the Atlantic this summer, we’re going to do the right thing – our insurance company definitely agrees – and stay on this side. We are running up against hurricane season and, rather than cross dodging tropical waves in varying stages of tropical depression/storm development, we might as well put a few more thousand miles under Proteus‘ keel. And that’s where things are going to get interesting…

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We, being USA citizens and such, cannot stay in Europe indefinitely. Visas are serious things… even more so for professional travelers. So, we’ll be hanging out in some of the more obscure and (definitely) more exotic sailing locations of the Mediterranean. (A quick search to find out which countries are “non-Schengen” will give you a hint at our itinerary for the summer.)

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Will it be hot? Freakin’ hot.

Will it be fun? Probably. And frustrating at times, I’m sure. But, mostly just completely different from our first 9 months aboard. We’ve been sailing in the high-latitudes – we JUST crossed below 40º for the first time! – so our learning curve is starting to reverse itself: “What? The tide difference is less than 2 meters!?” or “So, there are going to be other visiting boats in the marina??” not to mention “What do you mean, I have to put my anchor down in the marina and back into the quay…?” Most of all, I think we’re still getting over sitting on the midnight-to-4am watch without five layers and foul weather gear (and usually a wool blanket over all that)…

See what I mean? This is breaking into a new realm of sailing for us. But it will also be ushering in a new realm of living. We have been “moving the boat” since we left Ipswich. Now we are going to be taking it slow, considering time in terms of weeks rather than days. We will actually spend time in the places we are visiting. I’m ready to have a non-rhythm to my life. Furthermore, we will be stretching our budget to its absolute limits: by doing this, we will be forced to wring a budget meant for two or three more months into six… or seven… or eight.

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Proteus in Sines, Portugal.

In late-October or November we will be back in this part of the world (i.e.: Iberian Peninsula) preparing to head south for the Canary Islands and Cape Verdes. I think these couple thousand extra miles have come at just the right time.

Since I began traveling years ago I have lived by the mantra, “Whatever happens, it’s going to be good.” I think this is a great time to say it again…

The scale of the sea…

Now well over 2000 miles since Ipswich, we have seen some crazy stuff: weather, places, people, etc. But something has surprised me… I don’t take THAT many photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I carry a camera of some sort everywhere and I’m taking a lot of photos – even if it is just for a tweet or Instagram. But hours and hours and hours at sea… is there really nothing to photograph out there?

Before our first “out of sight of land” experience crossing the Thames from the River Orwell to Ramsgate back in December, I had been offshore plenty of times. Most people who travel have, for that matter. Ferries – like the ones I’ve taken from Patmos, Greece, to Bari, Italy; or the one from Hollyhead over to Dublin – certainly go “offshore” and they are far out of the sight of land. And most cruise ships (of which I have done one) hug the coast, but there are times that they pass outside of sight of land.

But these big-boat offshore experiences did not prepare me.

What is out there? A whole lot of nothing. In every direction. And, quite often, it isn’t long that you’re out of sight of land that you’re also out of VHF range, too. Only the scratchy high-power bursts from the area coast guard can be heard. Then, after a little while longer, the only thing you’re able to hear is the occasional chatter from fishing boats that might be just at the horizon. And by “occasional chatter” I mean little transmissions of what sounds like gruff mumbling occasionally laced with punctuations of profanity, often the only words that are actually comprehensible.

But, basically, it is incredible how much nothing there is out there.

Perhaps an example might be in order?

On any given hour offshore, I could sit on the side of the cockpit.

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The water directly beside the boat is approximately a four foot drop, but beneath that is anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand meters of water.

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To my right…

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…and to my left…

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…the boat is its own little kingdom. This is all there is. And, if you look really close at the photo of the “to my right” photo above, you’ll actually see the faint darkness in the haze of Cabo Finisterre, the northwest tip of Spain.

But even at a dozen miles offshore, everything is extremely far away. And a “close pass” could be by a mile or more. The AIS warns us of targets within a half-mile radius. But more on that in a moment…

Most of the time, this is what it looks like:

2015_04.28-6655A wide angle shot straight out. Vast openness of sky and sea, water in every direction. The next thing in that direction is the North American continent.

Believe it or not, though, there are actually FIVE fishing vessels “close” in the above photo. Here are three:

2015_04.28-6653Compare the two? See them!? Yeah… it takes a lot of effort out there, too. And, to help you a bit, here is the zoomed in version, overlayed with the wide angle version:

2015_04.28-6655copyOn the map, these boats are within a few miles: I don’t remember exactly, but I’d guess within two or three miles. And these aren’t small boats. They’re, on average, about twice the length of Proteus. The big commercial fishing boats like these weigh in around 80 feet.

Now… just for kicks and giggles, what does a sphincter-puckering close pass look like? This is about a quarter mile pass. (And he’s in the 600 foot range.)

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Still not that close, right? Well… you only think “a quarter mile isn’t that close” until it happens in the middle of the night.

But most of the time, it looks like this…

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…and seeing something as innocuous as foam on the water dozens or hundreds of miles out at sea with absolutely nothing around makes the mind wander: “Maybe there’s a submarine under us!?” “Maybe the Cracken is coming!?” “Maybe there’s a whale!?”

2015_04.28-6667It is probably just the foam from a boat that passed hours ago.

As the quote says on our homepage, the sea is an amazing liberation from human scale. Compared to the sea, we are always children standing on the beach thinking we can see miles and miles and miles and maybe if you squint a little I bet you could just make out the other side… but, in reality, you’re not even able to get to double digit miles.

Can you understand my difficulty in making photographs on passage? There’s so much out there, how can I even make a photo of it: the vast emptiness that covers most of the world is not able to be captured in an image. And perhaps the handicap is made worse because we make cameras to take photos at the perspective of humans. (That’s why people naturally think wide angle photos are naturally “more interesting”: we normally don’t see that way.) So, to capture anything on the ocean is naturally limited to our inability to wrap our minds around incredible immensitudes.

To comprehend the sea, then, I suppose we have to get outside ourselves, outside the limits of human scale, and look at “close” on the scale of “multiple miles.” Then, almost everything visible is close. Perhaps things just beyond the horizon is still pretty close! And, at that scale, when does “far” begin?

I wonder if this is the secret that needs to be unlocked in order to finally get some peace in this world. When everything is close and nothing is really that far, “us” and “them” starts to get really silly, really small-minded.

I prefer to be big-minded. I prefer to be at the scale of the sea.

 

 

 

The departure of l’Hermione…

On journeys like this, one always tends to happen upon things…

2015_04.15-7404There’s a heap of the usual information on the L’Hermione tall ship website (http://www.hermione2015.com/) but she’s out and about right now… so follow her AIS ping on MarineTraffic.

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And, for that matter, follow us, too!

 

“What we need is here…”

 

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
~Wendell Berry

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Ile-d’Yeu, France

Down blind alleyways, or the place at which the sky and the sea switch…

By: Noah D.

Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to go down dark alleyways? You don’t know what could be lurking behind the next corner!?

2015_03.28-6105So much of cruising like this is made up of coming to terms with the unknown. I don’t care what website you look at for the weather, rarely do they agree and they are often accurate only to +/-5kts of windspeed. “Local conditions may differ.” Indeed.

The closest thing to clairvoyance is the Reed’s Almanac. I will rue the day we get out of its blue and gold reach: a day that is fast approaching with every south-facing passage. Without intending to sound like an advertisement, the Reeds Almanac is the best £64 I’ve spent in a long time… the random little ports and the off-path anchorages are hardly a mystery. Couple Reed’s with updated Navionics and, dang, no place is off limits to Proteus.

Or, rather, we know if the place is off limits to Proteus.

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The Raz du Sein (pronounced; “Raah duh Seh”) is one more of those places in the Biscay that imbue it with is alarming reputation. For those who have no knowledge of the Atlantic Coast of France, perhaps it is better that you don’t – especially my friends and family that have misgivings about me sailing 7000 miles – but there is more freaky stuff around here than the Bermuda Triangle. One place, in particular, is the Raz, a tiny strait between the Ile-de-Sein and a promontory on the mainland. The Raz is a boat-eater: one of two, actually, within a few hundred miles of each other off this coast (the other is called the Rochebonne Plateau, a place marked on most charts as “AREA TO BE AVOIDED”).

The lesser of the two scaries is our new friend, The Raz. Less scary, I say, but definitely worthy of respect. The Raz is actually an underwater rock feature in which massive amounts of water bottleneck and run back and forth with each switch of the tide. Occasionally, the tidal current can flow at as much as 6kts to 8kts and throw an extremely confused sea. The ONLY time to cross it safely is the 30 minutes on either side of high or low water: the less-than-one-hour in which the tide is slack. (I should mention, by the way, that it takes about an hour to pass through.) On our first attempt from Brest, the wind was over tide and a swell was running north-south through the gate. Before we got too close, we realized the conditions were horrible and had to turn back east and make for Douarnenez.

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For our next attempt, there was practically no storm swell coming in off the deep Atlantic and the wind was blowing across. We timed it within 15 minutes after sailing 18 miles from Douarnenez, made the gateway as if we were flushed down a drain, and parked ourselves at Audierne for a few hours of sleep before continuing south the next morning.

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Having now done so many many miles in high latitudes, sailing in Force 5 and Force 6 is becoming somewhat of a norm. Even so, we don’t watch the anemometer hit upper-30’s very often. Squall after squall passed us. At the end of the day, we had a max gust hold at 39kts. It made for an exhilarating downwind run to Belle-Ile. Double reefs in both main and jib while running, Proteus held mid-7’s through the water for most of the day, getting us to Belle-Ile and into the locked basin with minutes to spare.

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2015_04.02-6163These are the days that break from any semblance of normalcy the days that – even at sea – are out of the ordinary. Moments when the sky is dark and the sea seems to be illuminating itself from beneath the boat. Moment where 10 foot walls of water approach from behind and gently slide beneath the transom. Moments when birds fly calmly by at eye-level in a perfect V-shape… only this time the wind is sustaining 32kts. Or moments miles out at sea when you can barely make out the top of the sails for all the rain and thick fog: “Is that an engine I hear? Maybe it is the vibration of the hull through the water?” The surreal is only real because it is right there in front of you, but if you were to write it down or interject it into story-time it might seem too fantastic to be true.

The monster of the sea is the sea itself. The stories of beasts in them thar waters, mateee, are cooked because the calm thing you see lapping the warm sand cannot be the same that eats ships without a trace. Of course it must be the Cracken! Of course it must be the Edge of the World! The Raz and its ilk cannot be conquered, only eased by when the monster turns over in his sleep. And upon Mother Earth with all her glorious nesting beasts becoming agitated from time to time, Proteus is making its way quietly along, its presence erased only moments after passing like the dim candle in the hallway held tightly against the draft.

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Around Brest…

So much of sailing is waiting. Waiting for the wind to come down from 35kts. Waiting for the swell to be less than 15 feet. Waiting for a part to come in from somewhere. Waiting for some paperwork to be finished.

And, the shame of it is, when we are waiting on that storm system to pass, the storm system is on top of us. So our “off days” are usually accompanied by howling winds and likely not a small bit of rain.

We would be remiss, though, if we just sat on our hands and did nothing. In some of the more remote, exotic locations in Western Europe, we can find some really fascinating, un-touristy places. When you’re arriving on a boat, you come in through the back door. Tourists, arriving by car or train or plane, arrive to the billboards and manicured shrubbery and freshly planted flowers out of season. The ports are usually in the old section of town that smells of fish or wet wooden decking or nothing at all. Anything that blooms comes up naturally through the cracks in the cobblestones. And, like these old paving stones – and unlike the glass and steel airport architecture – almost everything has rounded edges worn by time and proximity to the sea.

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The allure of The Coast…

We’re headed back to Ireland and Proteus tomorrow. Perhaps needless to say, we are missing our home. It has been a great few weeks of vacation in the States with family, but it’s time to get back and get serious: we have an ocean to cross.

With that, I’ll leave you with a really beautiful video that all coast-wise humans might connect with…

The Coast from NRS Films on Vimeo.

 

…and have a great day! See you in Ireland.

The shakedown of Proteus…

Before simply doing, one cannot know certain things. And beyond any other fear, the fear of the unknown is the Chief of Fears. A shakedown cruise on a new sailboat in new waters as a new sailor… it is a time to dispel fears.

We sailed almost 700 miles of learning. And more was learned in these past few weeks offshore than nearly 15 years of sailing and racing inshore. For that matter, the first day out crossing the Thames Estuary, we almost doubled our mileage that we had previously sailed in a single day with Proteus. And the firsts just kept on coming. Here’s a few things we learned from the shakedown…

Proteus is capable

One of our greatest concerns was not quite knowing how far is “too far.” But after handling gale-force winds (and crazy high gusts) and, on occasion, four meter seas, it is becoming apparent that the Hunter Passage 42 is a well-built yacht. How big of a wave can it handle? How much water comes into the cockpit after breaking through a cresting wave? How high can the winds be before that second reef needs to be put in?

Had we been sailing in a mild winter day in the tropics, I’m not sure we would have known such things. We needed to surf a breaking wave over the bar into Salcombe Harbour. We needed to run before the wind in an Atlantic gale. We needed to sit on a Cowes mooring ball and feel the motion of the crossing tide and the winds against us. And we needed to dodge all those silly crab pots in the cold, clammy darkness and have the dolphins lead us into the harbour. How else would we have known these things?

High-latitude winter sailing sucks

If the theme of this post is “find out by doing”… then I know what I don’t want to do anymore of: sail above 50ºN in the winter. Most of the time it feels like sailing inside of a sock in a broken washing machine. It is wet. It is cold. It is dark. The weather windows are measured in hours rather than days. And the weather can be quite severe for many days on end. The south coast of England is absolutely beautiful, but we did not see much of it beside what was visible during the 7.5 hours of daylight. A 0600 departure time left us with two more hours of total darkness, then about an hour of dawn-ish blur, followed by only about six hours of usable daylight – with the sun skimming along the southern horizon – then a rather lengthy dusk and twilight… to total darkness around 1630 or 1700.

2014_12.04-6547It is no wonder we were the only boat in the harbour and harbour masters kept telling me: “Take any available spot, we’re not busy this time of year.” We were the only crazies out in December moving a boat on the English Channel.

Some people love it. Some people swear that sailing in places like Scotland and Norway is unbeatable. And even though Proteus is built for a certain amount of high-latitude sailing – having so many redundant heating systems on board – there’s only so many layers of pants you can put on while out on deck. Still, there’s a reason why “they” always say of high-latitude anchorages: “We had the place to ourselves!” even in the middle of the summer. It just isn’t enjoyable enough to want to keep submitting ourselves to the bad parts…

…speaking of which:

Seasickness is miserable

Again, I blame the season on this one. I know, it happens to everyone at some point, but a combination of the Atlantic swells and the darkness and the wind direction and the inconsistent motion makes for a perfect storm of conditions to unsettle the most concrete constitution. It hit Lynn the worst, but we both suffered from it at least a few minutes on almost every passage. Particularly around nightfall when everything gets good and disoriented, that Blah Feeling would set in.

Sucking on things like peppermints and Fisherman’s Friend was surprisingly effective. Also, the Dramamine/Bonine pills would hold it at bay. Now we’re moving on to the Scopolamine patches. I really can’t imagine normal seas being so upsetting, though. I can only hope that 40ºN will see those patches in the medicine bag along with our third layer of socks.

Interesting thing we learned, though, is that if you eat easy-peeler clementine oranges while you’re seasick… it makes it far more pleasant when it comes back to visit.

Keep thy waste tank under control

Whether you take the far offshore option and pump overboard or take the far grosser option and pump out, one must – and I stress: must – keep away what we call “The Phantasm.” One night, a certain of our party simply flushed the forward toilet… and the resulting tiny pressure release (burb) actually caused a smell so violent and evil that it literally woke me up… in the aft cabin with the door closed.

What is the reverse of “Batten down the hatches!”?

Now, I don’t mean to be indelicate, but I’ve traveled in some places where I have experienced some wildly disgusting things: a blackwater tank surpasses all.  The next day we took care of the issue and have been very careful about it ever since.

On a similar note, vinegar is amazing for keeping toilets clean. And it keeps away the Phantasm (for the most part). But it is vinegar… it is good for everything.

Things break

And maybe it is not that they “break” as much as they “wear out.” When you purchase a 20 year old boat, you’re also purchasing all its problems along with all the things that are reliable about it. Before our Transatlantic in a few months, I have a multi-page list of things that are going to be fixed, adjusted, updated, replaced, or just slathered in lubricant.

For example: the Hunter Passage 42 was built with no red lights. And, of course, 20 years ago, LEDs weren’t something that could be found on the consumer market. Finally the price is coming down and it is affordable to replace old bulbs with completely new low-amp LED fixtures.

Sailing is ACTUALLY enjoyable

In nearly 700 miles of sailing the entire south coast of England from Ipswich to SE Ireland, we only have had ideal conditions twice for a combined total of less than six or seven hours (or so). Coming out of Brighton, we had beautiful conditions with actual sunlight and full sail. Also for a few hours sailing by the Needles out of the Solent and toward Portland Bill, we actually felt the sun. The rest of the time – weeks worth of time – was conditions that ranged from mildly depressing to literally vomitous.

IMG_1302-2But for those little glimpses of time without full foulies on, it was truly enjoyable. And, not to sound like a fair-weather sailor, but… I mean, come on. When seven foot seas become the average rather than the exception, it makes it difficult to be functional let alone enjoy the ride. Of course, there are going to be good days and bad days on board, but the amount of Suck involved appears to be substantially more profound in the high-latitudes.

It is possible to eat well

I think a common misconception that we have heard put to us many times as a question is: “What do you eat?” On this trip, we regularly had tortellini, fajitas, or any number of pub foods with real fresh fruits and veggies on the side. Our gimbaled stove can handle about 30º of heel before maxing out which should take care of most normal tossing. We do eat quite a bit of soup or cold-cut sandwiches, but I think we do pretty well considering the prevailing conditions.

It is really (REALLY!) hard to see at sea

I’m not necessarily referring to the simple fact that it is dark: it is a profound, deep darkness that crosses into the physical. Not to be dramatic, but I mean it: you can just about feel the darkness. If you see a light, it is anywhere from a few feet to a few miles away. And often, you’ll watch the light for hours and hours as you approach it. Is it a boat? How big is it? Why are two buoys when there should be three; where’s the other one!? Is that the leading light? Is that light green or white? The cruising newbie in me was not fully aware of the amount of awareness it takes to move a 42ft yacht in a straight line from “here” to “there” beyond the horizon. Now I understand.

And don’t even get me started on the fog: 100ft visibility in a seaway is freaky.

Everything takes more effort on passage

There’s nothing inherently difficult about sitting at the dock. But practically everything is more difficult underway. Wanna stand up? Nope! Wanna go to the toilet without falling in the floor? Nope! Wanna get warm? Yeah, right! How about making a sandwich? Get the mustard all over the cockpit! Tie a simple bowline knot? Have some random intense nausea in 3…2…1…

But seriously, if not dealt with or taken into account, passages like this can be frustrating just due to the amount of effort it takes to do simple tasks. The mood onboard can quickly sour when frustration is allowed to fester and overflow. It is worth being careful for more reasons than just avoiding injury.

We miss Proteus… and worry about her

Proteus is not some unorthodox vacation house, it is our home. It has nothing to do with the fact that we have the world’s most comfortable bed and we get gently rocked to sleep every night. Nor is it related to the amazing variety of locations she takes us to. Being away and hearing from the guys taking care of her is like hearing from a child at summer camp. Or maybe it feels like we had to tie our puppy to a tree and leave it for a month. (Yeah… “awww…” is how we feel, too!)

It is a very strange feeling, in all honesty. But how would you feel if you left your house for a month? More than simply, “Oh, did I remember to turn the gas off?” we deal with thoughts of, “Oh, I wonder if a rope will break and she’ll float away?” or, “I wonder if we will return to her with the floorboards floating?” Owning and maintaining and living aboard a big yacht like this requires us to look at the situation as if we are caring for a living thing. She needs to be fed and kept warm and secure. I think some look at owning a yacht is equivalent to owning a car or a pleasure boat typically found on American lakes: it is wildly different.

Conclude…

Sailing is far from moving a boat. But before actually doing it, I had no idea how far from “moving a boat” this stuff actually is. Sailing and passagemaking is an enormous combination of things, both comfortable and uncomfortable. Nobody should be under the impression that it is all easy or relaxing: it is a lot of work.

I cannot wait to get back on the water…