THE SEA IS SO BIG AND MY SHIP IS SO SMALL
The last time I visited the Miami boat show, I heard a prominent sailing magazine editor say that catamarans are only seaworthy if they are more than forty feet in length.
That came as a big surprise to me, because I had already sailed Exit Only half way around the world, and we were only thirty-nine and a half feet long.
According to his gospel, we were circumnavigating the world in a barely seaworthy vessel.
I have more than 50,000 miles of offshore sailing under my belt, and I can unequivocally say that size has little to do with seaworthiness.
A sturdy small yacht that's sailed well is far more seaworthy than a large vessel sailed poorly by an inexperienced crew.
I know of a 32 foot catamaran that rounded Cape Horn, and I met sailors in Thailand who were completing a circumnavigation on a 35 foot catamaran with a crew of three.
So what's the difference between maxi cats and small cats like Exit Only?
It doesn't have much to do with seaworthiness; it's more about speed and the ability to carry weight.
Big cats go faster, sometimes a lot faster, and they can carry more weight.
Fast is good, but usually not that important.
If you're really into speed, you should be flying in a 747, after all, nothing goes to windward like a 747.
High speed is a mixed blessing.
Sailing at fifteen to twenty knots is exciting and may give you the ability to get out of harms way when you're running from a storm. But the speed that can save you can also be your undoing.
What do I mean by that?
When I sail Exit Only at six knots, my margin for error is infinitely large, but when I am sailing at twenty knots the margin for error is razor thin.
I once saw our speedometer max out at eighteen knots during an Atlantic storm as we sailed from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, and I was more than a little concerned.
If the autopilot failed or any significant problem happened at that speed, my catamaran could capsize or suffer structural damage. There was no margin for error, and it was mandatory that I decrease our speed to safe levels.
I trailed two warps behind Exit Only bringing our speed down to four and a half knots, and immediately smiles broke out among the crew.
In spite of the twenty foot seas, Exit Only was sailing at a safe speed with a comfortable motion, and we knew that we would be ok.
We spent the next two days running off in thirty five to forty knots of wind without a problem. We were out of the danger zone and into the "No Worries Mate" zone.
No matter what the size of your cat, you can't maintain high speeds for long periods without incurring structural damage. It's simply a matter of physics.
The hull structure simply can't safely dissipate all the kinetic energy associated with high speeds for an unlimited period of time.
If you push a large high tech cat too fast for too long in large seas, a demolition derby begins.
I've seen fast cats sitting high and dry in boatyards around the world awaiting repairs. If you want to discover the structural weakness in your cat, just sail it fast in big seas, and it won't be long before you find the weakest link in your speed machine.
Seaworthiness isn't about size; its about seamanship.
You must know the sea, and know your vessel, and sail it in a manner that it makes it possible to survive.
I sail my catamaran at five to six knots around the clock when I am offshore. I move at those speeds so that my crew is comfortable, and the boat has a reasonable motion.
At six knots my autopilot effortlessly handles the wind and seas, and everyone knows they are safe. When boat speed goes above ten knots, everyone becomes uneasy, because we are sailing closer to the edge.
Our perfect boat speed is 6.25 knots.
At that speed Exit Only is able to click off one-hundred fifty miles per day and do it in comfort without risk. Equally important, the autopilot is happy, and a happy autopilot means a happy crew.
When you're sailing fast in big seas, the load on the autopilot increases substantially.
That's not a problem until you strip the gears on the autopilot or burn out its motor. Then you have a real problem, because suddenly you must hand steer in bad weather, and if you are crossing an ocean, you might be hand steering for several weeks.
When the wind and sea state increase, I sail in damage control mode to protect my autopilot, because I want my autopilot to live long and prosper.
Yacht designers and salesman worship at the altar of speed, while most cruisers worship at the altar of safety and comfort.
If you are a mariner versed in the ways of the sea, you know the truth about seaworthiness. It's not the size of the vessel that matters; it's how you sail it that really counts.
So don't let anyone tell you that your vessel is unseaworthy because of it's size. Just look them in the eye, and wave good-bye as you start your voyage around the world.
Although the sea is big, and my ship is small, life is still good.
Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.
Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.
If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.
Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.
Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.
Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.
After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.
Join Team Maxingout as they sail through Pirate Alley and up the Red Sea
See what it's like to cruise on a catamaran before you spend a bazillion dollars purchasing one
After watching the Red Sea Chronicles you will be able to see yourself sailing on the ocean of your dreams
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