Sunday, November 30, 2008

What worked!

[Maryanne]Warning - this post is LONG and really intended for boaters, especially Gemini Owners, others would be completely disinterested - so don't blame me if you keep reading....

Ok - after our post What Failed, and on special request from our good friend PY, I promised to make a more positive post on what worked... So here are all the things we could think of to mention.

We had a lot worse weather and seas than we expected so the boat and us took some pounding (the boat is low and the seas are big, AND we spent some time sailing into the wind). It is easy to miss things that work because they simply didn’t draw attention to themselves by breaking.. but here is my list for what it’s worth:

  • Sat phone and data kit, along with the Yotreps position reporting and Sailnet weather /grib subscriptions! This was a HUGE emotional help to us aboard and those on shore following our progress. It never failed us (although sometimes we had to go into the cockpit for a good enough signal).
  • Harness (built into life jacket) & Jacklines – worked well, we had no problems using them for a many forays to the foredeck and elsewhere.
  • Foul weather gear. We really didn’t expect to need this for more than a couple of days of the journey but we ended up wearing it much more than that - it did the job (boots, jackets, and trousers, along with fleece hats and socks). I have the ladies trousers and that makes restroom stops a WHOLE lot easier!
  • Fleece hat with baseball cap style sun visor and fleece ear warmers – I know, I’m a wimp but this makes things so much more bearable when it’s cold and wet out there.
  • Pocket warmers – we had a stash of these on the boat and Kyle particularly (who had early hours watch appreciated them).
  • Check lists – preparing the boat before we left was made easier with our check lists
  • Boat Log – keeping details of position, conditions, etc was made easy (and helped break up the watch) with the log we had prepared and had printed in advance. We also kept a note of failures (and any items we noticed needed addressing at a later date) and have referred back to it often.
  • Twice daily Rig Checks – we discovered a few missing/deformed / chafed items that we were able to resolve before they became an issue.
  • Galley sink foot pump (factory option) and Head sink manual pump installed by us - this enabled us to not use the pressure water and keep batteries for more important needs
  • Small Cooking timer - I use this on my watches to "remind" myself to take a good 360 degree look around - every 5 or 10 minutes. This way I know I won't get too engrossed in my book, or even nod off! Kyle doesn't use it, he's constantly tweaking things.
  • Radar reflector - We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection.
  • LED nav lights – again saved on battery power. We witnessed ships alter course for us, but can’t say if due to lights or a radar detection. Our tricolor light broke, but we are putting that down to our sail issues, and not blaming the light (for now)
  • Solar and wind generator – for the most part kept up without our power needs
  • Headlamp – my favorite and constant companion on night watches. The one I have has red or white light, and a brightness adjuster. I could check sail trim, safely go forward to reef/un-reef the mail, read, or just poke around for a snack all really easily, and without disturbing the sleeping off-watch. Kyle stresses that this would be #1 on his list.
  • Shelf stowage security. Even though it is a catamaran, the boat still heels, and waves often lurch the boat and convince things to fly off the shelves or tables. We installed lines to keep things in place on the shelving behind the sofas (galley and nav area) and also in the master bedroom (shelving above the “draws”). All this stuff kept in place. Need to consider adding similar protection for the small shelving under the side windows in the galley and the nav area, as these items regularly tumbled.
  • Pressure cooker: Nice hot food, cooked quickly and safely with no chance of spilling.
  • Helm Seat. This is an option on the boat and although more of a 1.5 than a double it was nice for the little time we had together each day to be able to hang out on the seat. With the noise of the seas it was otherwise difficult to communicate easily if sitting either side of the cockpit. The helm seat also provides a stable place to grab / lean against in the otherwise large cockpit..
  • GPS/Chartplotter with pre-input route – we used it constantly. It occasionally hiccupped but we would not be without it. Although it does sometimes make you feel you are playing a computer game and not really sailing in the middle of the ocean!
  • Autopilot (we only used the wheel autopilot about half the time, but use it and abuse it we did!). Our autopilot and chartplotter are linked and we used the track feature from time to time (although mostly we were on wind or course settings)
  • Radar (to track occasional storms and other traffic) – we found the rare boats we did see would not engage in any radio communication and it was often hard to visually determine what speed or direction they were doing (big seas!). On the one occasion where we came close, the yawing of our boat again made it difficult to tell if we were on a collision course and which was the best way to steer to avoid the other boat having to worry about us – the radar made that decision clear.

Some of you have noted that we didn’t use our enclosure… Hmm. Yes. We really thought the weather would be poor for only a couple of days, and once it was clear it had lasted longer, we still kept thinking “soon!”. The enclosure was buried under things and we kept determining it was not worth the effort to recover and install it. We made a mistake. Also with the enclosure fitted, the access to much of the running rigging is complicated/restricted, and we were uncertain what extra windage the enclosure might add to the boat. Next time we’ll have it installed I think, even if we only expect to need it for a couple of days.

Kind of related was our safety on the boat - here are a few comments on that too..

Safety At Sea

Keeping us aboard
  • We installed tread-master for extra grip. In the odd patches where we tended to walk / put our feet, but found no non-skid installed – this makes wondering around on deck a heck of a lot safer.
  • Tethers, Life jackets with built in harness. Jackline running from each back corner of the boat to the (centered) anchor cleat – and line running high between the inner cockpit roof supports to clip onto. We installed a small pad eye by the door from cabin to cockpit to stow the tether so we can clip in as we leave the cabin.
  • Love seat. We hardly use this for its intended purpose (no view) but this option is good for keeping us aboard if we have to venture out of the cockpit at the back of the boat.

Other safety (rig) items
  • Mainsheet track – line controlled, and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out!).
  • Genoa track – car is line controlled and adjustable from inside the cockpit (so we don’t have to step out).
  • Preventer Rigged. Since our head is rarely anywhere near the boom – this is primarily a good item to prevent boom/mast damage due to uncontrolled gybe.
  • Twice daily rig checks – our scheduled time to leave the cockpit – always when we are BOTH up and donned with our safety gear. We often found some worrying lose or missing item, point of chafe etc that we were able to rectify so it would NOT become an issue.

Recognized Rig Safety Danger areas!
  • Reefing and unreefing the main – as factory setup we have to exit the cockpit, which makes us more likely to delay reefing and to “hope” that increasing winds are just temporary – not good. We kept clipped in and used the jack lines, but would often need to reef / un-reef several times in a watch – and generally we did not disturb the sleeping crew!
  • Furling lines for genoa and screacher, and screacher track control lines. To get a decent purchase and angle we find ourselves leaning far out of the cockpit (or in my case straddling the combing) to get a decent purchase on these lines – a potential danger point (but always clipped in!).
  • If the enclosure is on, access to the winches and the furling lines becomes a little more complex - the wall needs to be unzipped and held clear to give access here – not a perfect solution.

  • EPIRB – to be activated if needed (luckily not!)
  • FLOAT PLAN - Before we leave we generate an extensive “float plan” we post this to the web (the URL referenced on our EPIRB registration), and also send copies to our 2 on shore watchers. This includes expected arrival dates, and details about us and the boat. Hopefully never needed, but if it is needed, we think (hope) it is very thorough. (I'm happy to give the URL to any boating friends).
  • Daily communication underway - Using iridium sat phone, data kit and lap top in our case to send and receive emails. Others may consider SSB rather than the Sat phone (after initial setup costs, it is free communication – unlike the sat phone!). Data speed is limited so we restricted communications to Critical and/or very short emails for the most part (we have a separate email account for this purpose)
  • Weather updates daily (reports subscribed to before we left using saildocs services)
  • Daily Grib file forecasts for up to 10 day ahead (again using saildocs services to download the grib file, and purchased OCENS software on PC to view file)
  • Position reports to Yotreps and family daily
  • email update to family daily (and occasional Yotreps postcard)
  • Occasional Blog updates via email too

Note Yotreps and saildocs services are free and deserve a huge THANK YOU from us.
Note also – all this warm feeling about the great communications must be tempered with the fact it could all fail so easily. We do have 2 laptops, but only one sat phone and data kit – I can imagine many scenarios where something breaks and that is the end of our communications. We tell our on-shore support that if they don’t hear from us (provided the EPIRB is not activated) then we are most likely fine and not to raise any alarms until we miss our “overdue” date – provided in our float plan.

  • We didn’t invest in a harness or strap at the cooker – I cook to one side and the galley is really narrow enough to wedge myself in place – even in an unexpected lurch, the narrow galley at least keeps me from flying too far.
  • I do have a PVC apron which I use when cooking on the stove top “just in case” I drop anything on myself (shame I wasn’t wearing it when eating the hot soup at the table that time!).

First Aid Kit
We did a LOT of research over several years into what we might need. This included many web sites, emails and books, and a couple of trips to our amazing Dr to discuss prescription and other medications we might need. We really didn’t need any of it – but we were ready! Kyle and I also studied for became qualified as and practiced as EMTs (true, Kyle's was years ago, but he doesn't forget ANYTHING); this didn't make us paramedics or anything, but certainly gave us the lingo, so if we needed external medical support we could at least communicate and take any required vital signs, etc.

Life Boat & Grab bag
Again, an item we didn’t need – but we put a lot of thought into it. Our dingy is a Portland Pudgy with the lifeboat options. It hangs on the davits (well strapped in) in case of need (there is so little space on the Gemini to place a traditional life raft AND we felt a life raft that we could practice with would be better than a mystery white box on deck). Before stowing the dinghy it was loaded with water and provisions, along with a host of safety gear. The Grab bag would complement that. Again a lot of research went into the grab bag contents. Actually we didn’t do a very good job of having the grab bag to hand and at the ready – we need to do better here.

Other safety odds and ends

  • I can't stress it enough - A HEADLAMP was really useful in all kinds of sail changes and trim, and to navigate my way to the mast or the foredeck at night – while keeping my hands free for more critical jobs (like holding on!). It also makes it easy to read, check charts, or search for tools or snacks on the night watch without disturbing the sleeping off watch
  • Tool and spares Aplenty

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