Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting Ready - Part 2: Gaining Experience

Compared to getting the boat prepared, gaining the necessary experience for a longer cruise has been an extended and incremental process. A few of the steps we have taken in this direction are:
  • Building our practical sailing experience by day sailing, short cruises, and a couple of longer ones
  • Learning to live aboard both at the dock and at anchor
  • Learning to live together in confined spaces
  • Sailing overnight
  • Sailing in heavy weather

My longest cruise to date is around Vancouver Island, when in 2005 I sailed Optima, another CAL-29 counter clockwise from Victoria. I cruised with different crews every week or 2 and, interrupted by a bout of double pneumonia and running aground, completed the trip in 3 months. Other notable cruises include 3 weeks in Barclay Sound last summer that included 2 overnight passages, and some extended cruises in Nova Scotia ranging from a week to nearly 3 weeks.

I have lived aboard Ladybug for nearly 18 months, surviving a mild west-coast winter. Most of this time was spent at Hidden Harbour Marina in Victoria - a friendly little place near the mouth of Victoria Harbour. It has been a bit of an adjustment moving from a 1400 square foot house to a boat with about 150 square feet of usable area. Taking a morning shower requires a trip along the docks, up a ramp that can be quite steeply inclined depending on the tide, and across an acre of gravel to the lone shower/bathroom. Usually I am successful, in that no one else is using the facilities at 6:30 am, but I am occassionally foiled and end up sponging off in the boat. Laundry is a similarly distributed affair entailing a kilometer hike up hill to the nearest laundromat.

In the winter the boat becomes a walk-in cooler, so refrigeration is not the issue it becomes in the warmer months. I do not run a refrigerator, nor do I have a TV or phone hookup (I use a cell phone) reasoning that these things will not be available while cruising. I use propane for cooking and an electric space heater and bubble wrap insulation to keep warm (a kerosene bulkhead heater was used during last Christmas's cruise). [Note - I don't wear the bubble wrap - it was taped to various bits of the boat to reduce the conductivity of the thin fibreglass walls]. The boat is a neatly contained bachelor apartment and very easy to clean, but it does require a habit of neatness because your dining room is also your bedroom, living room, storage closet, and kitchen...

Rani and I have been practicing the skills of living and cruising within the confines of a boat during a brief winter cruise and a series of increasingly longer spring and summer trips. We also went winter camping in the mountains, living in a small tent for 3 days - a true test of our togetherness. So far, so good, but we are only up to 4 days in a row on the boat. The 2 week shakedown cruise planned for August 15 will be a good test of compatibility!

I have done a few overnight sails across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (busy shipping lanes) and out to Barclay Sound and back as well as a few nighttime trips in Nova Scotia. We do not have any multi-day bluewater experience. This will have to wait for our shakedown cruise or possibly the initial run down the Washington Coast.

My experience in heavy weather is limited to sailing through a few landsman's gales (30 knots or so), the tale end of a hurricane (downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached us), and a couple of brief gales where the wind hit 40 knots in the gusts (enough to lay over the Cal-29 with a double reefed main and no jib). I have had Leitch McBride make a heavy air jib (reefable) and have tried this out in winds to 30 knots, with great success. It remains to be seen how we and the boat will deal with our first real storm...