Saturday, April 7, 2012

Advantages over Slocum - Day 18

The ARC rally has just left the Marquesas en route to Tahiti. These sailors are part of an organized, 'guided' cirmcumnavigation that they will complete in less than a year and a half. This got me thinking about all the people like us who are out here cruising on small boats. Sailing boats across oceans used to be reserved for professionals and the occasional publicity or thrill seeking adventurer. This is clearly not the case any more. What has changed to allow an average couple to sail a small boat across the Pacific or around the world?

When Joshua Slocum became the first person to sail alone around the world at the end of the 19th century, he did so using tools and techniques that were hundreds, if not thousands of years old. He navigated via sextant and clock, used kerosene to light the interior and for running lights, and sailed in a boat that was built by hand of wood and iron. The radio had yet to be invented, let alone, navigation assisting satellites. He carried water and salted food in barrels and jugs. His sails were made of cotton canvas (or possibly flax) and needed constant care.

Here is a short list of technological changes that have made what we are doing feasible:

* Beginning in the 1950's Fibreglass and polyester resin enabled the mass production of sturdy cruising boats. Polyester and nylon also replaced cotton in sails and natural cordage in lines.
* Reliable small diesels made getting in and out of harbour or crossing the doldrums far less challenging.
* Wind vane self-steering, first widely used in the 1960's made short handed cruising infinitely more pleasant, reducing the need to stand at the helm staring at a compass for hours. Electric autopilots provided similar benefits.
* Radio and satellite communications made it feasible to obtain up to date weather information and stay in touch with other sailors and those who remain at home.
* Radar allowed us to 'see' over the horizon to avoid being run down, to move with more confidence in fog and poor visibility, and to enter strange harbours.
* Satellite navigation (GPS) removed the need to learn celestial navigation (although some still argue against over-reliance on this technology).
* Solar panels - another product of the space age provided silent 'free' power. Small wind and gas or diesel generators also provided power for the comforts of life that many of us take for granted.
* Refrigeration, propane stoves, and water makers brought the comforts of home on board.

These technologies are enablers - taking much of the risk and discomfort out of long distance cruising. I am sure it is no coincidence that dozens of people now complete circumnavigations each year compared to the handful who had done so before 1950.

Our position today at 14:30 zulu was N 00 41 W 131 16. We sailed only 93 miles (with 1 of those under motor this morning). Winds have varied from 1 knot to about 12 mostly out of the east and we had a decent spinnaker run in the afternoon. We also fixed a problem with the fridge thermostat by relocating it from the cockpit locker to the inside of the fridge. We hope to cross the equator sometime today, being only about 40 miles from it now! The champagne is chilling.

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