2017 Brisbane to Gladstone

As part of the 69th Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race in 2017, the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club made some videos called “From the Helm.”

Trev was asked to speak about the race and about doing it shorthanded.

The Layout and Content of Safety Gear on Our Yacht

At 26, when I first decided to cross the Tasman Sea on my own, I was light on ocean experience but big on fear. So I read books. Not the inspiring travel guides “sell your house and run away aboard a yacht” books. Disaster books. Everyone I could put my hand on.

Accounts of the 1979 Fastnet, Storm in the PacificRed Sky Dawning (now called Adrift after the movie made about it), Once is Enough,and three accounts of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race. Always with a notebook handy; I would write notes (sometimes with a trembling hand) about how I would prepare the boat. I enacted all of the recommendations on my yacht before leaving for that first, solo, ocean voyage.

I don’t think anything I will write in this article is rocket science, however I was shocked when our Cat 1 Safety Inspector told me he thought we had the best layout of safety gear, and the best strategy for dealing with a crisis, that he had seen. This isn’t revolutionary; we have just spent a lot of time thinking about what we would do if we had to step off the yacht, or if we were in a collision, or a near miss, or dismasted.

Everything we do with regards to safety on the yacht we work on the theory, that if we have to do it, then we are going to be under stress. We will probably be fatigued. It will probably be the end to a very bad day. And that is the time when you are likely to forget, or make dud decisions. On this basis I have tried to make the safety plan on the boat as dumbed down as possible, and, where possible, replace an under pressure decision with a practiced process.

From Category 2 up in Yachting Australia safety regulations, you are required to have a diagram of where all your safety gear is located. I have sailed on many yachts with “compliance diagrams” which meet the rule. But in my opinion, there is far too much information to be contained on one diagram; on Apriori we have three. The first is for safety gear above decks, the second is safety gear below decks, and the third is for the through hull fittings. Then there is a fourth, with emergency radio procedures.

Our boat is the only one I have seen with the third diagram. But my logic is simple; if there is a large, sudden ingress of water without an impact, chances are it is a skin fitting that has failed. I imagine that if this happened to me, I would remove the laminated diagram from the navigation table bulkhead, then walk the boat from transom to bow and check each one in order.

As for having above and below decks, I split them out as there is too much information to be on one diagram. While discussing too much information on one diagram, it also means smaller lettering. Both my partner and I need glasses for fine print. At night or under stress, glasses are essential. So why make the print small? (Note: We keep $5 magnifiers all over the boat, including several in the first aid kit and navigation table, just in case).

Our fourth diagram above the navigation table has all the information that you would need to call out on the radio if you have a mayday. But it is also great to have it at hand for less experience crew who we are trying to upskill at using the radio for logging on and logging off with the authorities. It all helps to build confidence and a process that will be useful in the event of a disaster.

Leaving the boat:

We have an area in the boat I call “Evacuation corner”. If you need to leave, and leave fast, everything is in the one place. The first item is the EPIRB’s, of which we have two. One is out of date but the battery still tests positively, the other is in date. They are both still registered and functioning, but the “in compliance” EPIRB is clearly marked TAKE THIS ONE FIRST. But if you have two, why not take them both. During our recent Safety at Sea course, they recommended setting off two in an emergency. From the rescuers point of view, one could be an error. Two going off in the same boat means it is time to scramble.

There are two ditch bags, one with flares and signaling devices, the second with the VHF, spare GPS and batteries, signaling mirror and sea water dye. These are both kept in place with shock-cord, however there is a lanyard attaching them both of them and in the middle is a snapshackle. As standard, the snapshackle is attached to a prominent saddle above both of them. In need, just remove the snapshackle from where it lives on the saddle, attach  it to your harness, grab the EPIRB (two if you have time) and walk on out.

Assuming you have a little more time, there is a 20L jerry jug of water within reach under the navigation table, just to the right. It is strapped in but with a quick release snapshackle. If we are getting on the raft, I would enjoy supplementing our drinking water.

Attracting attention:

Adjacent to the companionway on the starboard side, is “Attracting attention” corner. Within easy reach of the cockpit and without looking, there are three white handflares velcroed in. Just next to it is an air horn (yes, it needs replacing due to rust issues!). We also have a range of cyalume sticks for any occasion you need, but I imagine having them to throw overboard if someone went over at night. They are also good for attaching to small children at night to make sure you know where they are.

Pitchpoling:

Reading Adrift/Red Sky Dawningas well as the classic Smeeton book Once is Enough (their yacht was pitch-poled twice), I became paranoid about weight forward of the mast as well as what would happen to the crew below in a severe capsize. I was explaining to a friend how I would like an aircraft style seatbelt to contain me to my bunk in the event of the worst. Being a diver, he suggested a weightbelt bolted to the pilot berth. That is what we have now. I’ve only used it once, and thankfully then, it wasn’t necessary.

Towing:

We have a towing bridle which we use for both towing or being towed. 

We have had to tow a number of boats, sometimes planned, sometimes unplanned. But when your yacht, which was not designed to be a tug, is being used as one, there are two things to consider.

An effective towing bridle will spread the weight. Ours goes around the primary winches, loops around the secondary winches, then loops around the deck cleats, through the fairleads, spreading the load over six fittings. If we were sailing and towing, then we would omit the leeward primary winch, but we still have five. Secondly, the tow-line is on a bridle which makes steering the tug boat infinitely easier.

If we need to be towed, then again, we do not wish to put all the load on one cleat. We also have a bowsprit, which is very vulnerable to being damaged by a tow rope. For a short tow in good conditions, we can use the bridle around the bow cleats and it will keep the towline clear of and (hopefully) under the bowsprit. For a long tow, or in rougher conditions, we have looped the bridle around the bow cleats, then attached it to mooring lines, which we have wrapped around the mast and then back to the winches on the cabin top, effectively spreading the load across six places.

While we have never used it in anger, we would also use the towing bridle to launch our drogue over the stern, if caught in cyclonic conditions.

Man overboard:

Books could be written about this, but there are a few key issues for us. Firstly, the Lifering, which needs a drogue, and in our case a jonbuoy (inflatable danbuoy) need to be secure enough to not go over, but easy to deploy. We also carry a lifesling and have a heaving line if the person is conscious and nearby. We carry a side opening snapshackle which can convert the spinnaker brace to a crane, when attached to the mainsheet bail, to pull an unconscious person out of the water. We have practiced this and it works. 

My last point on this topic, is just to think it through, and then further to that, actually practice it. We have practiced putting our stormsails up. We have practiced MOB (I have gone overboard and pretended to be unconscious). We have dry runs of launching the liferaft and collecting the gear. When I told a member of my local yacht club that we do all this, he commented “What a waste of time, as you are practicing in good conditions and when you have to do it it will be bad!”. My response was, “When you have to do it in bad conditions, wouldn’t it be better if it wasn’t your first time?”.

Your thoughts?

Taking the emotion out of buying a boat…..

For most of us, buying a yacht will be the second biggest purchase of our lives, next to our home that we live in. But given the gravity of the purchase, I find so many people I know have bought yachts with their hearts rather than their heads, and in the worst case, ended up with a totally inappropriate yacht, or more often, just paying a lot more than they needed to.

I had a small yacht and a trailer sailor in my late teens, but they were “stepping stones” rather than “forever” yachts. At 26 I bought my “forever” yacht, but it only lasted four years before I was looking for something new. But the process of buying and selling yachts is both painful and expensive, as is the process of getting a new yacht up to your standard. I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

My career has been in commercial banking and my decision making tool of choice is MS Excel. I don’t believe there has been a problem I can’t solve with a spreadsheet. While I joke, I think writing the results of the following questions down crystalises your decision making process. It also is vital if there are two of you making the purchase, so you know where each other stand and what they are looking to get out of this transaction. It’s a bit like pre-marriage counseling.

And writing down the plan enabled me to critically evaluate all of the boats that I went to look at. My original plan regarded two cabins as a not-negotiable, as I planned on having guests aboard. When I found a boat that kicked it out of the ballpark for all of my criteria except that it had only one cabin, then I went back to my decision making tool. I decided that, better than expected performance, handling, and pricepoint, was worth trading away what I originally decided was a not negotiable. But the point is I had a decision- making framework to judge each boat.

For my current boat, I established a folder full of sleaves with loose leaf printouts of excel spreadsheets, covering all of the below. Every time I looked at a potential boat I would scribble all of them, then think, and assess. The yacht I bought 13 years ago is the yacht that I will stop sailing when I am in a wheelchair. I got it right.

What are you going to use the boat for?

This sounds ridiculously simplistic, but particularly when it is a couple buying a boat, this seems to rarely be discussed prior to purchase. I have seen people buy a yacht with the intention of offshore racing, yet when they buy the boat, it never even gets used for a SAGS race. So I question, did they buy the best boat for the purpose? Another friend of mine started looking at big, multi chine steel cruising boats to live aboard. She ended up buying a racy Sayer design, which she went on to compete the Solo Tranz Tasman, match racing me for nine and half days, the whole way across the ditch! A fantastic result. I think she will keep that yacht forever too.

At the risk of my corporate background sounding like spin, before buying a boat I think it is a good time to take a hard look at yourself and your relationship. What is my skill level, and how easily can I develop it? Is my partner wiling to endure the long term challenges of living aboard? Are we committed to racing, or is that something I will do on my own and leave my partner behind? How will we manage the deliveries home after an offshore yacht race? Can we afford to keep buying racing sails and paying for the breakages? And if we can afford it, then what are we giving up in lieu? (overseas holidays and early retirement etc).

When it comes to decisions about boats and partners, your first thought may not be the best. One of my female friends was looking at a yacht and was keen on racing. I guided her towards a Lidgard 28; a beautiful fast yacht, but with no double berth and only sitting headroom. Her husband hadn’t sailed, and due to not being able to swim was unlikely to be converted. She instead purchased a significantly roomier Spacesailer 27, and he regularly joins them in the marina at the end of a passage (via car), and has been spending more and more time on the boat bay sailing and at anchor. She made the right decision.

So my decisioning criteria when it comes to use of the boat is based around the following questions. And give some serious thought about whether your next boat is a stepping stone boat, or a forever boat. I consider each in respect to the short, medium and long term, and what will it look like when retired from work?

Racing (occasional or regular):

  • How many days aboard a year will we spend?
  • WAGS and SAGS with no spinnaker
  • Inshore/Club racing with spinnaker
  • Coastal Racing
  • Crossing oceans
  • If crewed racing, where will your crew come from?
  • Who will do the deliveries? How will this be managed?

Cruising:

  • How many days a year will you sleep aboard?
  • Day sailing/picnicking
  • Overnight in sheltered waters
  • Crossing oceans
  • Will we spend time (extended or otherwise) living aboard?
  • Who will be your crew? Do we need crew?

I think the above is fairly straight forward, but I would emphasise the crewing aspect. Many years ago I decided I would sail everywhere single handed, and as such I am not beholden to anyone. I met my partner and that has now converted to short handed. We all know that getting together crew is a challenge, and marinas are full of boats that do not get used due to lack of crew. I think it’s important to have a realistic view of this before buying the boat.

If you are working as an employee, it is important to consider how you will spend your holidays. I only get four weeks a year. Lucas gets five weeks, plus RDO’s due to his shift work. We have an agreement. One year is focused on big trips in the boat, the next we go to Europe to visit his family and only do weekends on the boat.

What’s your style?

The parameters of this heading are endless, but I will try to explain with the words of the great Australian designer, Joe Adams. Joe designed a lot of solid high volume cruising boats. When I was 13 I read an article in a sailing magazine where Joe was interviewed about his new “racing” design, the Adams 13. Ultra lightweight and narrow, he instantly rebutted saying it was a boat he had designed for himself and his wife to go cruising; it was not a racing boat. His idea was lightweight, less use of motor, smaller motor, less diesel, smaller sails, smaller winches, less cost and less drama. The faster you go, the more storms you can outrun.

When I bought my second to last yacht, it was a heavy, ex IOR half tonner of 30 feet. With a distorted waterline, heavy displacement and a pinched in transom, it was lovely upwind but a handful down, and realistically, not that fast or nice to sail.

Our current boat is 40 feet, with the same displacement as the last one. She is a surfboard. She is light on the helm and a pleasure to sail. We can reef deeply and she is a doddle to sail but doesn’t lose any speed. In light airs we don’t have to use the motor, and carry a lot less diesel. However she does slam a lot more to windward, especially under autopilot, but we get there quicker.

If I were in a cyclone, I would still pick my current boat. She surfs free of problems, straight and true. And we have a better chance of not being there in the first place.

At the end of the day its personal preference, but I think you need to come to an educated conclusion on where you sit beforeyou start looking at boats. 

List of equipment and the budget

Once you have decided what you will use the boat for, then you can figure what gear you need to make it happen. If you are racing, this is simple as the races you have chosen to compete in will have a Yachting Australia Category that you will need to comply with. In my folder for my current yacht I had printed out all of the Notices of Races and checked them methodically that the boat I was buying was appropriate for the current requirements.

When it comes to racing or cruising, then storms or crew injuries do not differentiate. When we cruise, I have always made sure that our yacht is equipped to the appropriate racing category for the journey we are undertaking. Is a cruising yacht caught in the same storm as a racing yacht less likely to sink? Of course not. Are the crew less likely to need first aid? No. The Yachting Australia safety categories are comprehensive and not difficult to comply with. As a cruising yachtsman, I can gain leverage from all of the research that has come after yacht racing disasters.

Once decided the Category the boat will be equipped to, you can compile a list of equipment and a budget. When comparing two boats, perhaps of the same design but equipped differently, it will be easy to see how much the upgrades will cost, and which is the best value.

Just refitted, or just needing refit?

The reality is that if you have two yachts of the same model, and one has had a complete refit, and the other hasn’t, they will be listed for the same price. But a full refit is basically the value of the yacht.

After completing your list of equipment, extend it to essential gear like sails, motor and sterngear, standing and running rigging. We recently had a stainless steel rudder stock fail, which was an expensive fix. My insurance company declined the claim, saying that a stainless steel rudder stock has a 20 year lifespan, and ours was 32 years old. Make sure you are comparing the boats in detail, and again update your budget.

What can you afford?

When I bought this boat I made a pact with myself that I would never winge about the cost. A commitment I have generally kept. 

If it’s your first boat, expect the running costs to be double what you first thought. If you are going from 30 feet to 40 feet, expect your running costs to double.

Complete a maintenance budget. Start with the things that are known and fixed, such as marina fees, insurance and registration.  The engine will need servicing. Get a quote from your local yard for antifouling, which will need to be completed at least every 18 months. Standing rigging needs to be replaced every ten years, according to most insurance companies. How long sails last depends on the fabric you choose and how you look after them and use them. 

Then make an allowance for the unknowns. Breakages, electrical and plumbing issues. Don’t be optimistic, and refer back to your list of equipment and your estimated replacement schedule.

Are we going to fit?

One of the biggest mistakes I made in purchasing my penultimate yacht was I didn’t lie in the bunks. The spec sheet said there was a double, I saw the bunk and moved on. It wasn’t until I tried to sleep aboard with my partner, I realized it was just too small. Builders specifications are often optimistic. But this was a deal breaker. We wanted to live aboard but we didn’t have a berth big enough to be comfortable. Sounds simple, but how many people lie in every bunk of the boat before buying? (Don’t forget to take your partner on this journey too).

The decision making process:

My partner and I use the above decision making framework regularly, when we are faced with any major decision in life. We call it a “Board meeting”. It generally involves going out to dinner, a bottle of wine and our Mac laptop with an excel spreadsheet. We usually make the right decisions.

The Apriori Racing Story….

After trucking up and down the Queensland coast, and frolicking off to Lord Howe Island in my old Defiance, I (Trev) wanted to go faster.

Apriori, (Nee Farr Horizons) was a clapped out Farr 11.6 I paid a fortune for before the GFC when boats were really expensive.

I had two investment properties at the time, so I relinquished the lease on my flat, and packed up my aging Daihatsu Charade, filled with an inflatable dinghy, an outboard, flares, liferaft and my work suits, shirts and ties, and drove to Sydney to sail her home, single handed.

I judge my racing performance against one of my best friends and racing rival, Jen Tooth (nee Fitzgibbon) on the formidable Soothsayer. I have raced against her in WAGS, in club racing, in Brisbane to Gladstones, and the Solo Trans Tasman. Like me, when she bought her yacht she was financially stretched and lived aboard to make ends meet. And fulfilled all of her dreams.

Apriori has been retrofitted from a charter yacht to a double handed racing yacht. The details of which you can read here.