Crossing the Atlantic in a 38ft yacht is no small challenge so we thought it might be helpful (and reassuring to family and friends) to put some notes down about our strategy for the voyage - both on the ARC and beyond. So, whether you are sailing with us or just following our progress, you'll know how we're approaching the trip.
Our order of priority will be: Safe, Happy, Fast.
Safety is our top priority and our approach is a combination of safety by design, safety through training and safety through behaviour.
Safety through design
Fundamentally Maunie is a very safe boat. Her heavy displacement, immensely strong construction, massively over-specced rigging and the shelter offered by her deep cockpit and her pilothouse mean that she'll cope with conditions that we aim to avoid.
Our voyage will predominantly take advantage of favourable trade-winds (so we don't expect to be beating to windward as in the photo above!) and ocean passages will be timed to avoid seasonal bad weather but we’ll still be prepared for the worst. Talking to those who've experienced ocean crossings themselves and to the organisers of the ARC, it's clear that these voyages inflict a lot of pressure on a yacht compared to coastal sailing. In particular, rudders and steering gear do a lot of work in downwind sailing in sometimes large ocean swells. Maunie has a full ‘skeg’ rudder so that the rudder blade is supported by strong bearings top and bottom, unlike a lot of racing-derived boats where the ‘spade’ rudder is only suspended from a top bearing. Maunie also has a second Windpilot self-steering rudder on the stern which will do most of the steering at sea (the main rudder will be locked off in the straight-ahead position) but it also offers emergency back-up capabilities.
We carry a storm staysail (in a fetching shade of orange) and, together with a triple-reefed mainsail, this gives us a gale-proof small-sail rig which will allow us to maintain control of the boat without being over-canvassed. At the other end of the wind-scale a new Parasailor spinnaker has been purchased that will minimise uncomfortable and potentially dangerous rolling down-wind.
A well-designed boat is only as good as its maintenance regime, of course, so over the past 3 years we have been assiduously updating things. The rigging and sails have been replaced, as have the sea-cocks, the gas system, fire extinguishers and life raft. We've added additional safety devices such as an active radar transponder (which makes us look like a very big echo on a ship's radar screen), an AIS transponder (which transmits out position, course and speed to nearby vessels), an EPIRB emergency beacon (linked to satellites), a personal locator beacon (a small EPIRB carried by the person on watch), an AIS man overboard locator and a heavy-weather drogue anchor. Life jackets have been professionally serviced, emergency flares replaced and our first aid packs updated.
Maunie carries a long-range single side band (SSB) radio which has a range of many thousands of miles and we have added an Inmarsat satellite telephone which will allow us to download weather and safety information anywhere in the world.
Safety through training
Dianne and Graham have done many thousands of sea miles in a variety of boats in voyages which include two round-Britain circumnavigations. What’s become clear is that we never stop learning – which is part of the appeal of sailing to us – and, whether it’s learning by experience, mistakes or formal training, we keep adding to our combined knowledge bank.
We have both completed our RYA Yachtmaster Offshore courses, both theoretical and practical, which cover navigation, boat-handling and safety issues in yachts. Graham is a fully-qualified Yachtmaster, Dianne’s exam was cancelled due to bad weather but we’re pretty confident she’d have qualified if it had gone ahead.
Beyond this we’ve both completed the RYA Sea Survival course, the Ocean Safety course and sailing First Aid courses. Dianne has recently gone on to complete the 10-day ship’s medic course of advance first aid, plus second aid, at sea.
Our crew, Fergus and Richard, have also many sea miles to their credit and have both undergone recent training including Sea Survival, Safety at Sea, First Aid and VHF Radio.
Safety through behaviour
We have learnt through experience never to underestimate the power of the sea or to overestimate our own abilities. We therefore adopt a safety-first culture on board at all times. Personal safety is the individual responsibility of each crew member but the collective responsibility for safety of the crew and the yacht is that of the skipper, so this is his one area of absolute rule! One important safety responsibility is to ensure that the crew is properly fed, watered and rested to minimise accidents caused by fatigue, so a watch-keeping regime will allow the boat to be properly managed 24-hours a day whilst giving the crew time to rest.
Aboard Maunie, lifejackets are worn on deck unless conditions are so benign that a decision is given by the skipper not to do so. At night they are always worn on deck and crew members always clip their life harnesses to strong-points; those same harnesses will be used if conditions become challenging during the day and this is again the skipper’s decision.
Running the yacht in challenging sea conditions brings a range of safety risks, from slips, to cuts and rope-burns. A spillage of hot food or liquid in the galley, for example, could cause a substantial scald so don’t be surprised to see photos of the chef wearing a rather fetching bright orange waterproof apron at the cooker! We will be particularly cautious at the start of passages and at watch change-overs to make sure that we can acclimatise to the conditions.
Rest assured, sailing is statistically a safe sport but our crew behaviour will be vital in ensuring that all the ‘just-in-case’ emergency systems that we have in place will never be needed.
This is going to be a voyage of a lifetime and isn’t designed to be some kind of test of mental and physical resilience! There will be a lot of time at sea where there isn’t a huge amount to do, sailing wise, since the self-steering will do the pointing-in-the-right-direction task and the sails, if properly set, should look after themselves. So we’ve put some thought into comfort, wellbeing and entertainment, with a particular reference to sailing in the heat of the Tropics.
Maunie’s a pretty comfortable boat to start with but additions like cushions for the cockpit seats, a large bean-bag for reclining on the foredeck and a bimini sun-shade over the cockpit just add a few important notches of comfort. A reverse-osmosis fresh water-maker will mean that drinking water won’t have to be rationed on voyage and that regular showers and clothes washing will mean we don’t start to smell too badly – we probably wouldn’t notice but anyone meeting us in St Lucia will be pleased.
Food and drink will become important highlights of our days, so two well-stocked fridges will allow us to enjoy fresh food for most of the 3-week Atlantic crossing, hopefully augmented by some freshly-caught fish. We’ll make fresh bread aboard and have upgraded the cooker to a very smart new model which will be more economical on its gas usage and will not add undue heat to an already hot galley.
Off-watch, we’ll have films on the laptop and music on the ipod, linked into the boat’s stereo, plus plenty of reading matter on the Kindle. We just don’t want you worrying that we won’t be having a good time as we sail steadily towards the palm trees and coral sands!
Maunie is no racing boat but we will still sail her to the best of her capabilities – half a knot of consistently lost speed due to poor sail trim could add two days to our crossing time between the Canaries and the Caribbean. The new Parasailor spinnaker should deliver extra speed, safely, compared to just using our white sails so hopefully will give us a couple of days’ advantage and the fancy folding propeller will similarly add about half a knot of speed compared to the original fixed prop. The ARC isn’t a race but there are prizes so there is a natural competitive spirit and we want to get to St Lucia before the rum runs out!
On the ARC we’ll be on the small-side, at 38ft, compared to the average of 50ft and, put simply, increased waterline length delivers greater boat speed. So on the ARC website, you’ll find a tracker which shows the live position of each of the 230 boats taking part. Some of the big, fully crewed racing boats will complete the trip in about 11 days but we expect to be closer to 22 days; so we’ll have more people to cheer us in at the finish line in St Lucia.
We’ll keep you posted on our progress as we cross the Atlantic. We just can’t wait to go!