The Plan

Transatlantic Passage
Chesapeake Bay to Ireland
May/June, 2005


“Voyage Plan, Atlantic Circle, Outbound Leg”

[This memorandum from Kestrel skipper John Atkisson to crew Rupert Knowles served as a preparation checklist before departure]



A May-June window is indicated by pilot charts and various ocean route planners as optimum for avoiding winter gales (the infamous Nor’easters), ice below the Grand Banks, uncomfortably cold temperatures, and summer hurricanes. A full moon arises May 21, 2005, which makes that week attractive for departure – from Cape May, New Jersey.


Routing guides recommend going due East on the 39th parallel to longitude 50°-to-55° West (1000 to 1150 nautical miles), followed by the Great Circle route to the Southwestern tip of Ireland (another 2000 miles). This puts us well south of possible ice conditions just below the Grand Banks and optimizes winds and currents. The Gulf Stream, as it veers Northeast, changes its name to the North Atlantic Current, which should give us a half-knot boost for much of the passage. We will follow this route generally, subject to weather patterns as they develop.

Should weather or emergencies dictate, we will be prepared to divert south to the Azores, at least up until we reach about 30° West, or to more southerly points in Europe thereafter. What we cannot reasonably do is go back the way we came, beating into Force 5 westerly winds.

Like most sailboats, Kestrel averages 100 miles a day at sea, probably a little more on this essentially fair-winds route. So the trip will take just under a month – call it 28 days. Or 38, if winds are not fair.


Home port to Cape May will require a day or two. We will take a slip at a marina in Cape May, at least for the last day before departure, in order to take on water and fuel, and tend to last-minute stowage and preparation details.

The value of optimum weather will trump our desire for ambient moonlight. So we will try to leave soon after the passage of a low pressure system cold front, full moon or not (“on the back side of a low”), and hope that a high will fill in and give us several days of strong westerlies.

The first 150 miles will be full of fishing traffic; winds might be adverse or non-existent until we are well away from the New Jersey shore; and we will likely be tense with anticipation. So engine time may be required (but not more than 8 hours should be allowed), sleep will come hard, and things will be a touch awkward until we get into the rhythm of the passage.

Because daylight lessens the stress of traffic, we will plan to leave at first light. Traffic should be nearly nil by nightfall, which in any event may be filled with a full or nearly full moon.

Cape May is about 100 nautical miles from the 100-fathom-line, which marks the beginning of the continental shelf slope, and thus the beginning of the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Current. The slope itself takes up another 100 miles or so. So we will not be truly in the full strength of the current and completely off the shelf for 250-plus miles after departure – two days – when water temperature and color and cloud cover will change dramatically.


It will be important to get the latest stream charts off the web in Cape May, and by ham radio thereafter, and carefully plot warm eddies (clockwise) on the North edge of the stream. They can hurt or help, depending on where they are and we are.


Due East from Cape May for roughly 260-275 miles, until we are in favorable current – staying on latitude 39° N all the way to about 66-69° W, then a choice of either staying on 39° N or gently turning northward, depending on current and weather conditions, to the waypoint – 39-40° N by 50-55° W. Probably 39° N x 55° W will do it. Winds will dictate. If they are good, stay south, if not, go up, being wary of ice and weather predictions.

Winds & Seas

Predominantly westerly winds (evenly spread from SW to W to NW) should be in the Force 4 and 5 range – ie., 11 to 20 knots – with a few periods of lighter winds, some periods of heavier winds (25-28 knots), and statistically at least, one Force 7 light gale (27 to 33 knots). Overall, the winds should be fair, over one quarter or the other (broad reach), with white caps on 6-to-8-foot seas. (Bear in mind that waves in open ocean are much further apart than the short square variety we experience in coastal waters.)

Adverse easterly winds will almost certainly occur, but rarely, and not for long. No real choice but to heave-to and wait them out. Low Force 8 winds (33-36 knots true) will just as certainly come up for short periods on occasions, but they should be with us.

Temperatures will be high starting out (80's), then drop to a day/night range of 60°/50° as we head North. We should not be surprised by some 45-degree nights, made worse by wind chill, in the final thousand miles or so.

Watch Systems

Choices for a crew of only two are limited: 6's & 3's, all 3's, or all 4's. The default watch of choice is tentatively 6's and 3's – ie., two long 6-hour watches during daylight and four 3-hour watches at night. In heavy weather conditions some or all of these numbers can be halved – eg., all 4's become all 2's.

Schedules will be advanced one hour every thousand miles or so, as we will be sailing against the sun, finally ending up in real time UTC.

We agree that if one of us becomes uncomfortable under the watch system in effect, we will change it until both of us are reasonably content. The only criterion is for skipper John to be able to do scheduled weather radio work with Herb Hilgenberg (1930 zulu to 2100 zulu) on his watch, and not when he should be sleeping off watch.

Watch Duties

Log. Each log page will have a checklist with virtually all watch duties included – eg. checking bilges and battery voltages, recording position, course, speed, and weather conditions, noting barometer readings, cumulative engine time, what steering system is being used, and so on. But most important of all is to note the exact time and record the boat’s exact position at that time. Once a day we will plot our position on a paper ocean chart.

Inspection. Constantly look for trouble! There will be a checklist in the log book.

Wake the other guy up! At sighting another vessel, whenever there is an unnerving sound, any time the watch keeper feels he has to go forward for a sail change, or the sky looks ominous, or the barometer has plunged, wake the other guy up!

Catnaps, tea time, head calls. No problem leaving the helm, or for that matter allowing yourself to doze off for a short nap. But here’s some arithmetic:

Line of sight to horizon in nautical miles is 1.17 x the square root of the height of eye (in feet) together with height of the object sighted. Thus, when eyes are at 8 feet above sea level (standing in cockpit), looking at ship’s lights 20 feet above the water (to be conservative, more time leeway if they are higher), the ship is about 6 nautical miles away. A ship doing 20 knots will close the 6 miles in 18 minutes, if it is dead on you. But let’s call it 15 minutes to be safe, and give ourselves a couple of minutes for our eyes to adjust. So the rule is the watchkeeper may not leave deck or take a catnap for more than 12 minutes at a time.

Set the Watch Commander accordingly. This device will sound an alarm a prescribed number of minutes after its button is pushed. If there is no response after one minute, the sounder from hell goes off, sufficient to wake the other crew down below. Thus, it serves as a man-overboard device as well as watchman’s egg timer.

Collision Avoidance

Radar. Will be used chiefly at night, when it will be set for “timed transmit” – 20 scans every 10 minutes – with a guard zone of 6 miles. This is the maximum practical range of a small radome that is, like ours, only about 11 feet above the water. An audible sounder will beep if anything comes up in the guard zone.

Nb: We will have to experiment with the sensitivity control to insure that ordinary sea clutter (waves) does not set off the alarm. Also, in really heavy weather the guard zone feature is likely to be unreliable – too much sea clutter – unless sensitivity is set near the bottom, which has its own problems

Anytime a target does appear in the guard zone, and the alarm sounds, we will immediately switch the radar to full transmit until the risk of collision has passed. This radar is equipped with MARPA (Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), which acquires a target and quickly calculates its true motion, direction, and speed, and tells us when the closest point of approach will be, and just how close that will be. As with most things electronic, we will be wise not to trust this feature more than our own eyes.

During daylight hours, the radar will be idle except when a target we want to track is sighted. (Close to shore, both leaving and arriving, it will be on full transmit all the time.)

Sea Me Radar Target Enhancer. This unit will be on 24/7. When its masthead sensor is painted by radar from another vessel (because of its height, up to 15 miles away), it automatically begins transmitting a greatly enhanced radar image back to the far away vessel. It also blinks red on its control panel and sets off an audible sounder if desired. (The sounder may be turned off in congested areas.) Thus, during the day, any time we hear the sounder, we will know there’s a radar scanner within 15 miles.

At night we have to give up on the audible sounder IF we have our own radar on, for the good and simple reason that our own radar will set it off, and it will drive us crazy every ten minutes when timed transmit does its 20 sweeps. No matter, with the Sea Me sounder switch off, the Sea Me still transmits an enhanced image to any ship using its radar. And, of course, our radar’s audible sounder will still operate anytime a target appears within its guard zone. In sum: daytime, SeaMe audible alarm; night time radar audible alarm.

Conventional radar reflector will be at the spreaders.

Course change. Any time a possible collision course is perceived to exist, and absent direct contact with the helm of the other vessel, we should change course – radically and obviously so as not to confuse the other vessel. Engine power on if necessary.

VHF Radio. The “Command Microphone” in the cockpit allows control of the radio from the helm. We should try to make contact on channel 16, then on 13. We will rehearse what to say and how to say it before we leave. In addition, two hand held VHF radios will be nearby, one clipped on to the helmsman, one just inside the companionway.

Signals. Our store of signals includes several white flares for collision avoidance. If an approach starts to get too close for comfort, we will not hesitate to use these flares, along with every other attention getting measure we can think of – flashing spreader lights on the mainsail, aiming a big search light at the bridge of the oncoming vessel, firing a rocket flare at the bridge.

Nb: Stories abound about big ships roaring around oceans with no one on the bridge, no radar on, no lookout. And we should assume they are true and act accordingly. But our own experience is otherwise. On our 2001 Bermuda voyage, we chatted up several passing ships on VHF, and found their skippers to be very accommodating. Commercial fisherman, however, never respond to a VHF call, and rely on their own lights to warn others away.

Horns are useless for commercial ships, but they might wake up a sleeping helmsman on a passing yacht. We have an air horn at the helm station.

Weather Forecasting

Expected weather pattern. Force 4 most of the time (11-16 knot winds true), mostly at our back, punctuated by a series of lows marching across the North Atlantic every 5 or 6 days, each with a cold front whipping across the area, advanced by squalls. These will be followed by stronger winds, veering from SW to W then to NW – Force 5 to 6. One of these lows will likely produce a gale, but only of Force 7 (25-30 knots). These lows start out as upper atmosphere troughs over the Great Lakes.

Forecasting resources. First and foremost, our own eyes, keeping them on the sky and our own instruments.

• Barometers. We have two, one mechanical and one digital. We will read and log both, once each watch, more often if need be.

• Herb Hilgenberg will be with us every day – check-in at 1940 UTC, conversation when called between 2000 and 2100 – via SSB radio. (An article on Herb appears in the books at the weather tab.) We will have a weather chart printed out and marked up before contact with Herb. We will tape record the conversation for later reference.

Nb: Herb is a wonderful resource, but can be a stern taskmaster. He is sometimes heard to express irritation at skippers who don’t strictly follow his advice, or who fail to check in every day at the appointed hour. In the end, we make our own decisions.

• Weatherfax. We have two ways of obtaining weather charts.

(1) By far the clearest and easiest is through high frequency ham radio – the Winlink Pactor III digital data system. A request for 4 or 5 different types of charts will be transmitted late at night, maybe 1 a.m. local time, and received a couple of hours later. The downloading requires about 20 minutes of radio time.

(2) If for any reason the Winlink system is down, or we simply cannot tune it in, we can receive non-digital weatherfax SSB transmissions out of either Boston, or Northwood, England. These are much slower to receive and less clear because of atmospheric static, but they will do in a pinch.

• SSB High Seas Forecast. We will listen at least once a day to offshore and high seas forecasts. These feature a canned computerized recorded voice, known popularly as “Perfect Paul,” who speaks so fast that tape recording for later playback is recommended. We will have two small recorders handy.

• Backup radios. Kestrel now has two complete SSB radios, an SGC 2000 marine transceiver (150 watts), and an Icom 718 ham transceiver (100 watts) which has been “opened up” to include all of the marine bands as well as ham bands. The only thing they use in common is the back-stay antenna and tuner. A third all-band “Yacht Boy” portable receiver is on board, which can also receive weatherfaxes and forecasts.

• Computers. These systems – weather fax and Winlink – require a computer. We will have two laptops, both Dells (a cpi and a C-610), both fully pre-programmed. One of them will spend the trip in a sealed waterproof case, waiting for the inevitable moment when the first one crashes. A portable printer (Canon BJC) completes the setup, at least until it too crashes.

• Pilot charts for the North Atlantic.

Weather Tactics – In General

Sailing a pressure line. Depending on other forecasting inputs, we will sail the pressure line, by which is meant watch the barometer closely, ignoring diurnal shifts, and keep a course which holds the pressure reasonably steady. When the barometer goes down (a millibar in 3 hours or so, say), sail SOUTH; when it goes up, sail NORTH – until the barometer settles at the preferred constant. Barometers must be given time to settle, so a true trend isn’t established in a flash. But one millibar per hour for 8 to 10 hours is damn sure a trend!

Comfort. When going three thousand miles, the rhumb line is not very important. So footing off to achieve a better and more comfortable point of sail, will be the rule. Besides, very little time, if any, is lost by course changes of under 20 degrees or so. (See the “Secants” data attached.

Outrunning a system. The Dashews (Steve & Linda) tout simply running away from low pressure systems. But they are in Beowulf, which does 15 knots on its worst day. We do 6 on our best day. So we are not likely to outrun a fast moving system. That said, movement of as little as 25 miles further south, for example, could have a marginal effect on conditions, and we will certainly do it, on advice of Herb or our own predictions.

Heavy Weather Tactics

Our weather will be reasonably predictable, and so we should be prepared. If rough stuff is coming, we should have a full 10 hours or so before it arrives. In that time we can go through the Heavy Weather Checklist. That checklist chiefly reminds us of all the items to lock down and seal up, both above decks and below.

To that end, every drawer, door, floor insert, and top-load lid has a latch or other lock-down device, which we will review early in the voyage. Loose items, like a hand-held radio, similarly have shock-cord straps over their containers. The check list will remind us also to clear away silverware, pots, pans, cups – anything which in a knockdown can become a lethal flying missile.

The checklist also enumerates above-deck apertures to be sealed with deck plates, cork or rubber stoppers, or modeling clay, all of which materials are on board. Rubber gaskets have been applied to locker lids, the engine control panel lid, and storm shutters are on hand for hatches and ports. Short fast-pins are used for cockpit locker lid latches, as well as the main companionway sliding hatch. The latter can be reached from inside the boat, through an opening port mounted in the middle washboard. Hawse pipes will already have been sealed with wood plugs. There is a soft wood plug for the engine exhaust stem pipe.

Options: The trick will be in knowing when to keep running with reduced sail, balanced to please the self-steering mechanisms; when to keep running but with the drogue deployed; when to bite the bullet and round up to heave-to; when ultimately to set the sea anchor.

Running off is not an option if we cannot make the self-steering devices work smoothly. Either the Cape Horn or the Alpha simply must be able to handle the conditions, or there is no choice but to round up and heave-to. Hand steering in an exhilarating run may be attractive for an hour or two, but as the winds stiffen and fatigue sets in, it is a killer.

Thus, if we find ourselves running before increasingly strong air, we must first try to please the self-steerers with sail changes and different configurations. This includes footing off in order to get a better angle of attack (a broad reach instead of a run, say), trying various headsail and reef (or storm trysail) combinations to achieve helm balance and yet maintain directional control, which may be helped by a drogue.

Delta Drogue. For running off in strong winds, we have a 48-inch Delta drogue (made by ParaTech), shackled to 200 feet of 5/8-inch single braid nylon rode, which is to be shackled in turn to a bridle (same single-braid nylon), each 30-foot side of which goes directly to the primary Andersen winches.

Heaving-to in bad weather to get some rest is always an option. Fatigue is a worse enemy than bad weather. The heave-to sail combination of choice: storm jib backed on inner stay and triple reefed main or storm trysail. We can heave-to with any head sail, but all except the storm jib have clews which overlap the shrouds. In heavy conditions an overlapped sail aback will chafe badly.

In heaving-to, the trick is to keep the bow high (30 to 60 degrees off the wind). With Kestrel’s cut-away forefoot, the bow wants to blow off. Therefore more sail pressure aft and less forward may be required in some conditions – eg., a less reefed main, or perhaps no jib at all. Each situation will be unique to the conditions at hand.

Sea anchor is the next option if conditions deteriorate, and the boat is already hove-to. We carry a Fiorentino parachute sea anchor, 9 feet in diameter, with 400 feet of 5/8-inch single braid nylon rode. One of the two sides of the drogue bridle, 30 feet long, is used to form a “Pardey bridle,” with a snatch block on the primary rode, and the line brought back to the cockpit area. This is to cock the boat just slightly off the wind to one side when lying to the sea anchor. It is not essential, but increases comfort and stops the boat from “sailing” back and forth.

Sail Plan

We anticipate being down wind for most of the passage, and in fairly stiff air. Our objective therefore will be to maximize comfort by (1) keeping the self steerers happy, and (2) avoiding yawing from side to side in quartering seas.

Note that Kestrel has no roller furling. Her inventory includes 6 foresails plus a star-cut spinnaker.

Probable sail combinations (off the wind):

• In 12 to 15 knots apparent (15-18 true), 125 to leeward, sheeted to boom end; staysail (poled to windward if desired); one-two reefs in the main to suit.

• In 16 to 20 knots apparent (20-24 true), 90 or 100 to leeward, sheeted to boom end; staysail (poled to windward if desired); 2-3 reefs in the main.

• For both above, the deeply reefed main can be sheeted in hard to stabilize rolling.

• At 22+ apparent (27+ knots true), staysail & triple reef.
• At 25 to 30 knots apparent (30 to 35 true), if continue running, switch staysail to storm jib on inner stay, to leeward, sheeted to rail; deploy drogue.

• If the decision is to round up and heave-to, storm trysail, with storm jib aback.

• In light air, less than 12 knots apparent over the stern, spinnaker poled to windward, with triple reefed main or no main at all, and possibly staysail to leeward, or 100 or 125 on headstay to leward. This rig must be doused before nightfall. A light 150 is also available.

• For beating or close reaching in light to moderate winds, any of the head sails is fair game – 150, 125, 100, staysail, storm jib – depending on the wind force. If the apparent wind gets to 25 over the bow, and we are obliged to stay close to the wind, then the staysail sheeted inside the cap shroud and to an inboard fairlead, coupled with the triple reefed main, will function well up into the 35-knot range. But we simply will not beat into really heavy air unless our safety depends on it (eg., having to claw off a lee shore).

Again, it is a question of self-steering ability. Anytime the self-steerers are not comfortable, we are obliged to hand steer or round up and heave-to.


For the short handed ship, self-steering is a vital system, which is why we have four to choose from:

(1) Cape Horn wind vane – servo-pendulum system, completely mechanical, requires some skill to deploy and adjust; needs tweaking for 10 minutes or so after it is first set up; is very strong, tireless, has no electrics to burn out, and requires no shipboard energy. This is the default system of choice, not only because it uses no stored energy, but also because it is the least likely to fail, since the others are electronic.

(2) Alpha below decks pilot – very powerful electric motor driven ram, with intuitive analog control panel (no digital menus). Consumes an average of 1½ to 2 amps (call it 1.75 amps), depending on sea state and trim settings. No interface whatever with other electronics, such as GPS. Simple and, as electrical gizmos go, nearly bullet proof.

(3) Hybrid: ST 1000 & Cape Horn – also very powerful and energy efficient, an ST 1000 Ray Marine tiller pilot, in the lazarette where it is protected from the weather, operates on a short-thrust lever, which in turn controls the Cape Horn wind vane. In other words, the tiller pilot controls direction instead of the wind. But all of the power required to turn the boat comes from the vane’s servo-pendulum oar, which is why the system, like the Alpha, does not draw more than 1½ to 2 amps. This one is also a little tricky to set up initially. The ST 1000 does interface with other electronics if desired.

(4) Ray Marine ST-4000 wheel pilot – easy to deploy, not meant for heavy seas for any length of time, not as energy efficient, very sophisticated electronics interface. Used chiefly for motoring in flat seas.

The ST 4000 control head, out in the cockpit, serves a much broader function than merely telling the wheel pilot what to do. It is the electronics repeater for the GPS, the radar, and the fluxgate compass. The person on watch will most likely use this screen in the cockpit, rather than going below, to see speed over ground (SOG), heading, course over ground (COG), distance to waypoint (if we have one entered), even water temperature. So regardless of which steering system is actually in use, the ST 4000 will be on 24/7.

Caveat: one drawback of having so many steering systems installed is the disastrous possibility of deploying more than one at a time. If, for example, both the vane and the Alpha are engaged, major breakage in one of them is certain. Practice drills are in order before departure.

Watchman’s rule: It is strictly the helmsman’s choice which system to use at any moment. Especially so in a tense situation when the man on watch may not want to be bothered with “tweaking” the vane, he may decide that either the Alpha, or even the very vulnerable wheel pilot, is the answer. He will want to bear in mind that the wheel pilot simply cannot take heavy seas for more than a few moments, and will likely burn out if used that way. But if one is hand steering and merely needs a brief respite, the wheel pilot is clearly the way to go – quick and easy to engage. In heavy air, in steady conditions, the Cape Horn vane is at its best, but will require some adjustments after it is engaged. In light air down wind, the vane’s directional ability becomes unreliable, so the hybrid, which uses an electronic compass course but still utilizes the free energy derived from the boat’s motion through the water (servo-pendulum) is perfect. When energy is not a concern (eg., the water generator is deployed and we are doing 6½ knots), the Alpha is ideal.

Reassuring note: the mechanical linkages of these systems are easily accessed for inspection and repair, as is the entire primary (Edson) quadrant and cable system, and the rudder stock itself. Inspection ports have been cut into the cockpit sole for that purpose.


GPS. Three units aboard: (1) a fixed Garmin 152, which sends data to both RayMarine autopilots, as well as the radar, the VHF radio (for automatic DSC location), and the laptop computer for both the CAP’N electronic navigation program, and Winlink, the amateur radio communications system, which will automatically post our position on its APRS web site; (2) a Garmin 72 hand-held, and (3) a Garmin 12. One hand-held should be stowed in the Abandon Ship bag, with the life raft, and another in lightening proof “Farraday box.”

The CAP’N. This is the trade name for the electronic charting system in the laptop computers. It relies on raster rather than vector charts (be happy to go into this on a long night watch), and so is an exact duplication of NOAA and British Admiralty paper charts.
It also contains a celestial sight reduction program, complete with astronomical almanac, tide data for both sides of the Atlantic, and a host of planning functions.

We have this system for fun and convenience. It has a key advantage in that if we have to suddenly redesign our route because of weather conditions, it will take only a moment to try out the several alternatives and let the computer fill in all the details. BUT!!!!!! It is folly to rely on this gizmo to get anywhere. We will maintain constant, traditional, on-paper dead reckoning positions (albeit that the DR information is taken from GPS) for that inevitable moment when the electronic systems fail. This is essential for celestial to be able to pick up where the electronics left off.

Celestial. We have one sextant aboard, along with a current almanac, HO 249 tables, and several method books of varying detail. As matter of safety it is extremely important to plot our DR position on a paper chart throughout the voyage. As to exact time, time ticks are available on SSB radio, and GPS units. A stop watch is aboard for marking time during sights.

Charts. Both electronic and paper charts for the entire course and all possible landfalls, are on board, as well as customary charting tools – dividers, parallel rules, and the like.

On-Board Resources Management

Batteries & Electrical Power. Kestrel has a 325 amp-hour modular wet-cell house bank (6 cells of 2 volts each, Rolls, new 2003), and a 55 amp-hour glass mat starter battery (Optima, new 2004). The alternator is a 105-amp Hehr Powerline. There are two separate regulators hard wired in the system (with slightly different charging curves), plus a backup drop-in regulator should both of the others fail.

Average daily consumption should be about 85 amp-hours. To replenish this amount, the general plan is to run the engine twice each day, fifteen minutes at a time, and deploy a water generator, and/or solar panels.

Why only 15 minutes of engine time? Because charging efficiency is greatest in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the charging cycle, when the batteries are low and will absorb charge at a rate of 75 to 80 amps. Only 20 minutes later the rate is down to 20 amps or so, and falls fast after that. So running the engine for short bursts several times daily is much more efficient than running it for an hour all at once. Moreover, the Sea Frost refrigeration plate needs only about 15 minutes to completely refreeze – it will stay frozen for half a day or more – after which compressor energy is wasted.

Diesel Fuel. The Universal M 30 (25 hp) burns just over ½ gallon per hour at a moderate (2100) RPM. (Cruising RPM is 2700.) We will start out with 39 gallons. This affords us 40 hours of daily charging time (we will probably use half that), 8 hours at departure from Cape May, 15 hours off the Irish coast (or wherever) upon arrival, and 10 or more hours of reserve for emergencies.

The water generator spinner may well be taken by a shark. But if it operates as hoped, we will arrive in Ireland with half of our fuel.

Water. Kestrel’s normal capacity is 73 gallons in two tanks. We will carry an additional 15 gallons in auxiliary jugs, for a total of 88 gallons, which is just enough. A manual water maker will be aboard, packed with the Abandon Ship bag. And finally, the Winslow life raft is packed with emergency water rations – 3½ gallons.

The most reliable conservation measure is to use a day tank, a one-gallon jug filled twice a day, and dispense water for all purposes from this jug – cooking, personal hygiene, rinsing, etc.

If ever we find that because of rain and conservation, we are ahead of the game, sparse showers will be allowed.

Propane. One 6-lb bottle should be enough for the entire month’s trip. But we will carry a 2nd 6-lb bottle on the stern rail. In the unlikely event we run out, back-up Coleman 1-lb bottles (with an adaptor to operate the main system) will give us a few extra days.

Heater fuel (butane). Two cases of 12 canisters (about 4 hours each) are on board for a small space heater. This heater requires ventilation in the cabin, as it has no flue.

Waste Management. No plastic overboard, period. Two trash bags will be used – one for garbage that may legally be put overboard (without the plastic bag of course), such as paper, breakable glass, food, flattened cans; the other for plastic. Full bags which cannot be put overboard will be dropped down underneath the galley area for disposal in port.

Stores. Two men will likely consume about 300 pounds of food in 30 days, and we must plan for 40 as a matter of safety. Moreover, cooking must be done with a minimum of fresh water, and a maximum of tasty variety. We dare not depend on (even though we appreciate having) refrigeration. We agree to agree on a basic set of menus. Fishing is encouraged.

Crew Comfort

Useable sea berths include port and starboard settees, and some space wedged in between sails in the forepeak. We will leave the back cushions in on the port side, thus allowing a perfect 24 inch-wide surface. We will take them out on the starboard side, which then also provides 24 inches. Lee cloths are installed. Atkisson to port, Knowles to starboard. If seas are flat and someone wants the privacy of the forepeak, he is welcome to crawl up among the sail bags. But it is very bouncy up there in normal conditions.

The lower bin behind each settee berth, and one lower drawer, are reserved exclusively for that berth’s personal gear. The hanging locker will be converted from a closet style hanging bar to breathable fishnet shelves, useful for stowing vacuum packed clothes, linens, towels, and the like. There will be room in the heads for personal toiletries.

Kestrel does not have an adequate wet locker. Hooks have been added all around the saloon areas for hanging up foul weather gear and boots – not a great solution, but the only one we have. We should resolve to keep the cabin sole clear – ie., hang boots up.

Sleep will be enhanced by use of hatch shades and sleep masks. It can be ruined by wet salt water. Bunks will be wrapped in plastic, with a terry cloth cover on top, so if we get soaked, we will have something dry underneath. Sailing writer Herb Payson recommends warm milk or herbal tea before hitting the sack.

Salt water sores can ruin an entire passage. On board are several large chamois cloths for each of us and a supply of talcum powder. Fresh water spray bottles too. If you are wet and are on your way to bed, spray on some fresh water, chamois yourself dry and talc up every crevice.

We each should put several complete sets of dry clothes in freezer bags, vacuum packed, and stow same out of harm’s way.

Sun burn. A short awning which trails off the aft edge of the dodger, but interferes with the main sheet when close on the wind, may be deployed off the wind in mild conditions. In any event, please protect yourself from sun. Do not underestimate the sun’s powers at sea, or the discomfort it can cause if you are burned, especially on overcast days (most). Use sun-block every day, and wear a hat.

Entertainment, reading lights, etc. We have lots of battery power, so play the stereo, burn the lights, run the inverter if you want an electric shave or have to cut a piece of wood with the electric saw. Be comfortable and enjoy.


SSB Marine Radio. Kestrel’s marine call sign is WYQ6055 (also for VHF). Universal distress high seas calling frequency is 2182 KHz. The Coast Guard by its own admission rarely listens. Bermuda Harbour Radio, in range for about 2/3 of our route, does listen. Main value of the Marine bands, so far as I am concerned, is to converse with Herb Hilgenberg about weather, and receive weather faxes and broadcasts.

Ham Bands. My amateur call sign is KB3FQQ. This is where the action is. In a true emergency we tune to 14,300 KHz, the Marine Mobile Service Net, where hundreds of hams around the world will hear us instantly. This band rarely sleeps.

E-Mail & Winlink. We can send and receive e-mails to and from any address in the world via the ham bands, as well as a more limited commercial band. Those we receive should be short, plain text, no binary executable attachments and the like, and if replying to one of ours, people should be asked NOT to include our original text in the reply message.

People interested in contacting us should read the rules at the Winlink web site,, and note our e-mail addresses, as follows: ham, non commercial messages only, [address]; commercial messages allowed, [address] (case not important). We will check for mail daily.

Caveat: these e-mail addresses must remain spam free, and therefore should not be put out on the web or otherwise spread around in cyberspace. Give them only to people you know and ask them in turn to be very careful about forwarding mail from us to others. If spam starts to clog the system, the servers will automatically drop us from the access lists. So be careful!

Position Reports. Interested friends and family may go to either the Winlink web site above, or to Marine Mobile Service Net’s ShipTrak site, to find out where we are, or at least where we were the last time we checked in. Positions are available in graphic and text lat/lon. Follow the instructions at the web sites, and use call sign KB3FQQ. We will make it our business to post our position once a day. (Tell people not to panic if we fail to post for a day or so; heavy weather could keep us too busy, or sun spots could wipe out propagation.)


Rule One is stay on the damn boat! There is almost no chance of retrieving you once you’ve gone over the side. Notwithstanding, we will try. Here is the equipment on board:

Jack lines are fitted stem to stern. Always hook on when going forward. There are also back-plated pad eyes in the cockpit for hooking on there. Hooking on to the lifelines should be avoided.

MOB marker. On the back stay, tethered to the horseshoe buoy and a strobe light, with a drogue to keep it all in place once it has been thrown over the side by – whom? That’s the problem isn’t it. You are most likely to go over when no one is around to notice. So don’t fall overboard, period.

Crew lights & whistles. We got really good ones, with small strobes on top, and a really handy flashlight pointing down. Suggest we wear these near a breast pocket. We both should also carry a small flashlight (there is a “Mighty Lyte” halogen for each of us, with red lens cap for night vision) in a handy pocket. Each of us should wear a whistle around his neck at all times, and don’t be afraid to use it on deck to signal immediate need for all hands.

VHF portable for the MOB. The man on watch should have a submersible Vhf radio clipped to his person at all times. The ship’s main Vhf radio is to be kept 24/7 on standby, tuned to channel 16, with the volume turned up high. Speaking into this radio is the MOB’s first line of defense.

Harnesses are to be worn topside at all times, period. On board are two conventional harnesses, and two inflatable vests with built in harnesses, and two Wichard tethers.

Conventional Type I Life Vests. Four in the aft section of the starboard coaming locker.

System alarms. Bilge high water – a high piercing beep emanating from the galley area, automatically turns on the pump – deactivate beeper by switching from “Auto” to “Manual.” LPG sniffer will sound a rapid high pitched peeper if it detects a gas leak, and automatically shut down the gas flow at the tank.

Nb: This amounts to four alarms with high pitched beeper sounders – these two plus the SeaMe radar alarm, and the RayMarine radar guard zone alarm – which, however do sound different from one another, and are in differing locations. We will practice distinguishing sounds from each other.

Abandon Ship

Life Raft. We will practice deploying the Winslow raft, which is the lightest one made, but still weighs 65 lbs with food and water rations and other emergency gear packed inside. The raft will be stowed in the starboard coaming locker, standing on end, along with the Abandon Ship bag and an EPIRB.

406 Hz EPIRB, is registered with the Coast Guard, with update information for this particular voyage. A float plan will also have been e-mailed to the Coast Guard. The EPIRB must be stowed at least 3 feet away from the SSB radio, so it is with the Abandon Ship gear in the starboard coaming locker.

Abandon-Ship Bag. Stowed in the starboard coaming locker with the raft, this big orange bag will contain our passports (and our wallets and other essential personal effects), the ship’s papers, the medical kit, a hand-held VHF and GPS (with waypoints programmed in) and lots of batteries for same, some spare eye glasses. A label on the bag reminds us to grab the log book.


“We’re sinking!” The margin line is marked with tape on the forward bulkhead (about 3 inches below the saloon table top). This is the level of water that must be reached inside the boat for it to sink (according to a complicated formula). This line is higher than you’d think. So the message is, don’t panic yet. Instead. . .

First Find the Leak. There is virtually no area of the interior hull below the waterline which is not now accessible, in order to find, and then temporarily abate a leak, even a big one.

Second, Fix the Leak. We have a multitude of damage control items aboard to first temporarily, and then more permanently stop up a hole. These include (stowage locations will be posted):

-The Subrella – a clever British device for stopping holes up to 2 feet wide;
-plywood squares, neoprene for forming gaskets, & lengths of 2x4, wedges, large self-tapping bolts;
-underwater epoxy kit
-a small sail, such as the storm jib, may be stretched on the outside of the hull over a leak

Third, emergency pumps. Our emergency pumps are the following (stowage locations will be posted):

Whale 30. This double thrust diaphragm manual pump is mounted on a piece of plywood cut exactly to bolt into the floor insert closest to the companionway. It uses 1½-inch flexible hose – one piece down into the bilge, a long piece up out of the companionway and over the side. It is configured so that a crew member may pump away while being able to see down into the sump area and at the same time sit down on the saloon settee. With its plywood base, it can be used on any surface in or on the boat. 30 gallons a minute nominal, 20 practical.

Engine Seawater Intake Diverter. This is a hose with a special fitting that bayonet mounts into the engine’s seawater intake stem. The intake seacock is closed, then the engine uses bilge water in place of sea water for cooling. It is important, of course, not to allow the engine to keep running after the bilge water is gone. Ships about 6 gallons a minute.

Seawater Washdown Diverter. This hose is coiled and stowed under the head sink. It has an ordinary garden hose fitting which fits directly on the washdown pump under the head sink (after the toilet/washdown intake seacock is closed), and is long enough to reach aft down into the bilge. 6 gallons a minute.

Whale 10 is located in the cockpit, starboard of the helm – standard double thrust diaphragm hand pump. 5 gallons a minute.

Electric Bilge Pump. The Whale Gulper diaphragm pump – this one is slow, but gets the last few drops. 3 gallons a minute.

Man overboard. Hit the GPS MOB button and immediately STOP THE BOAT! Get the sails down and drift. Do NOT start motoring all over the ocean when the MOB is probably trying to swim to the boat. He can see you when you cannot see him. Make sure the VHF radio is on and volume turned up. Call him to remind him that he has a radio on his person, and can tell you where he is. Listen for a whistle and watch for a strobe light. Pray.

If you are the MOB, don’t waste energy trying to swim until after you have tried everything else: (1) your VHF, (2) your strobe light, (3) your whistle

Retrieval of the MOB: use double fiddle block vang on the boom to hook onto harness, vang line to either mast winch.

Rigging failure. On board are (1) a replacement backstay, complete with end fittings, (2) a coil of Spectra 1/4-inch line, suitable for replacing a stay, (3) Stay Lok fittings, (4) cable cutters (for shortening stays, or cutting the mast away), (5) Nicro-presser with sleaves and thimbles, (6) a spare halyard, and (7) a collection of shackles and other standard rigging hardware.

Radio “may day.” And Ton Ton Medico or Securite’ We will review radio mechanics and on-air procedures early in the trip. The sailing magazines have been full of stories about the Coast Guard abandoning its monitoring functions on the international distress frequency of 2182 KHz. Still, it should be tried, then abandoned if no one is at home. The ham net at 14,300 KHz (or try 14,313 in the wee hours of the morning) is nearly always alive with activity. One jumps in with “Break break” then “Mayday, mayday, mayday” and states his business. Don’t worry about call signs at that point; just follow instructions. If asked, state the ham call sign and indicate that it is my sign and that I am in extremis, or whatever.

Nb: If we are dismasted, thus losing our SSB backstay antenna, the outgoing cable from the tuner in the lazarette may be wrapped tightly onto any metal, held with a hose clamp. The most suitable candidate is a lifeline. We have a length of thick white GTO15 wire on board for this emergency purpose.

Medical. With Dr [name]’s help, we have a full kit aboard. See the tab for details. The SSB radio is also available for shoreside advice if needed. Again, the ham nets are most useful here.

Each of our medical histories will be in the medical kit, so the other may convey same over the radio in an emergency.

Caveat: PLEASE DO NOT BE COY ABOUT WHAT AILS YOU! It is extremely important for both our safety that each of us complain to the other, early and often, about any discomfort. Do not put off discussing with your fellow crew how you feel. This gives the other more time to deal with the situation.

Arrival – Rest & Recon – Checklist

A most common mistake in passage making is allowing oneself to be swept up in the euphoria of arrival and then crack up on the rocks because of fatigue. We will stop, heave to, rest, study the approaches, look at the charts carefully, and go over a detailed Arrival Checklist, a day or so before landfall. This will include retrieving a working anchor from stowage, along with fenders, mooring lines, and the like, as well as getting into a coast-closing mode. Above all, we must both be rested and ready.

Customs and immigration requirements are detailed elsewhere. We will likely crash at Crookhaven, but not clear in there, then go the 60-mile distance to Cork Harbor, where we will clear into the Republic of Ireland.


We are well prepared. The boat is sound in all the fundamental ways, and has a bunch of exotic toys to boot. The toys are overkill, but for me part of the fun is engineering and using the systems, finding out what is useful and what is not. We must be fully prepared to have all of the exotics fail and not depend on any of them. Just ignore me if you find me crying over some digital thingamajig on the blink.

I insist that we enjoy ourselves. So no heavy lifting unless there is no alternative. If we are on the bad side of a weather system, we heave-to and have a cup of tea. Fatigue is dangerous, and I am determined to avoid it.

Non-electric gear can fail too. Something will break, or not work. Or simply turn out to be unsuitable. We’ll be ready for that too, with backup or the ability to do without. Almost certainly there will be something I will have completely missed, utterly failed to think of or predict. For that, in advance, I apologize.


Cardinal Rules

The attached Cardinal Rules of Passage will keep us safe and happy.


  • Time. GPS, computers, main visible clock, all on Universal Time Coordinated (UTC or zulu). One visible clock, or personal wrist watches on local as desired.
  • Water conservation. Water pressure off between uses. Use day tank. Dishes washed in salt water only; and paper plates/bowls preferred. Cooking with combination sea water and fresh when possible. Spray bottles for each of us, with chamois cloth.
  • Preventer. Rig it anytime wind is aft of the beam, which will be pretty much all the time.
  • Harnesses. Clip on always, even in cockpit. Most accidents happen in fairly light conditions.
  • Knife. Wear one. This is an important safety precaution. Even better, one with a marlin spike for undoing frozen shackles.
  • The 12-minute rule. Someone must scan the horizon every 12 minutes.
  • 12-minute rule corollary. Use the Watch Commander 24/7.
  • Wake him up! Any time you can use a pair of eyes, or a hand, or need a radar check or to confirm or deny the existence of a fire breathing dragon, wake up the other guy. For sail change or reef – ie., you gotta leave the cockpit – wake up the other guy.
  • Shorten sail at dusk. No spinnaker runs at night.
  • Heavy weather prep when barometer, already below 1010, falls more than 1 mb in 3 hrs.
  • Gut instincts. Listen to your gut. If you suddenly wake up with a gnawing feeling of insecurity, your instincts are trying to tell you something. Do not be embarrassed to raise a problem you can’t quite explain.
  • Mention the little things. Don’t assume that some niggling little thing that is out of whack is not worth mentioning. If anything sounds different, acts different, or appears to be not functioning, please bring it up.
  • Personal comfort. Please complain! The ships engineer can’t fix it if he doesn’t know about it. Absolutely intolerable item: a drip onto a bunk. As owner/skipper, there are many things John has become used to, which things might be driving Rup crazy. Rup must speak up and get it corrected, even if it is a personal trait. More likely, it might be a noise – like an undampened sliding bin door, which can easily be quieted with a piece of foam or clay.
  • Too tired to tango. If either one of us is too tired to comfortably take a watch, he should speak up, and we will heave to for a rest, or lie ahull, or whatever. There is no shame in this.
  • Submersible VHF radio for on-watch crew, must be worn at all times.
  • VHF below: always on 24/7, volume loud, channel 16.