1. Rough water
2. Matt Layden letter
3. Flat Bottom boats
4. Value of little boats
6. Sea anchors
7. Real dangers
8. More flat bottom
9. Problems in paradise
10. Remote islands
Rough water handling
We've been meaning to write an article about Little Cruiser's rough water performance, and the various techniques to deal with those conditions. However, for now we'd like to point out that LC is a heavy displacement cruising boat, and she does not behave the same way a light displacement boat does. Years ago, when we went weekending in our lightweight Blue Jay class boat (13'6"), and it was always a white knuckled affair if the winds got much above 20 knots. You had to be quick to release the sheets if you didn't want to risk a knock down in heavy gusts. In LC 20 knots is a nice breeze, and we don't really start worrying until the winds get over 30 knots.
Little Cruiser is pretty darn stable with all her ballast down low, and at 1600+ pounds things don't happen real quickly. However, if you are reaching in a good breeze in 8 -10+ seas, she can start surfing at 7 -10 knots so you have to be more alert on the tiller. Generally, we just reef down and go slower, traveling at a more comfortable 5 knots. In really large breaking seas the hatch is usually kept closed in case of a knockdown or for the possibility of getting pooped, though this has never happened. Matt says that he ran inlets in LC when there were up to 10 foot breakers, and he recounts that in one instance LC was covered in foam up to her windows as she surfed in! Mindy and I have personally come into inlets on 10 -12 foot waves, though there wasn't a strong ebb tide like in Matt's case and the waves weren't breaking heavily. Needless to say, LC is a tough little boat, but like any boat, the right wave could roll her. We imagine the "right" wave to be a 15 footer, breaking just on the beam, and then LC might go over. On the other hand, she just might slide sideways instead. We don't think we will test this idea out though.
Matt Layden sent us a letter reporting the results of a series of tests he did to determine if any performance improvements were gained by extending the port chine runner about 16-18 inches forward. This note also answers questions about Paradox' windward performance. He wrote:
I took Paradox out to a part of the Indian River ... where there is practically no current, uniformly deep water and little boat traffic, and did a series of timed runs to try to quantify her windward performance and determine if the modified chine runner on the port side was an improvement.
I tried to do what I reasonably could to keep inaccuracy from accumulating, but I don't really know how good the results are. I laid out a triangular course with legs over a mile long, using fixed channel markers and a point of land that were all on my chart, but I don't know for sure how accurately they are plotted on the chart. I took compass bearings and did some timed runs to other charted features nearby; everything checked out reasonably well, so I'll use the data as they stand, but I would really like to double check the mark positions by GPS or survey from shore some time.
I did 3 circuits
of the triangle, timing the downwind leg as well as the 2 upwind
ones, as a control for changing wind strength, etc. At the end of
each leg I measured (by timing the run) any offset distance to
windward or leeward of the finshing mark, to use in calculating
distance made good to windward. I dipped the standing lug sail to
leeward of the mast at each tack (which I don't ever
normally do) to reduce any error from the otherwise asymmetric rig. I had no way to accurately measure wind direction (compass bearings are not accurate enough to be meaningful at this level), so I used half of the total angle between the windward legs as sailed in calculating VMGW. This may not be a true representation if there was a difference in leeway between the new and old chine runner, but any difference should be very small and anyway it was the best I could do with the instruments at hand.
The data all seemed okay, but there were fluctuations of several percent from one run to the next on each leg, and the last 2 legs were complicated by the arrival of a short raain squall that made the wind a little uneven for about 30 minutes, so I would say that there is a margin of error of at least 1/10 knot in the results, I think doing much better would probably require a towing tank.I will include a copy of the raw data in case you are interested, but the short results, averaging the 3 runs for each leg, go like this:
Downwind leg VMG:
Starboard tack VMG: 3.63 kt.
Starboard tack angle made good to wind: 51 deg.
Starboard tack VMGW: 2.29 kt.
Port tack VMG: 3.49 kt.
Port tack angle made good to wind: 51 deg.
Port tack VMGW: 2.21 kt.
(VMG = Velocity Made Good along course; VMGW = Velocity Made Good to
These results pretty much bear out what I have observed before, so I'm willing to believe them. There may be a slight improvement in the modifcation to the port runner (the difference if any is within the margin of error so I can't say for sure) What this mostly does is tell me in numerical terms that yes, she really does go to windward passably well without a centerboard, and no, the as-built chine runners are not dismally bad though they may be susceptible to improvement. It supports my experience that in real world conditions, the rare few times Paradox has been near other small shallow-draft cruising boats, she has usually sailed right past them, upwind or downwind. This of course isn't because Paradox is a particularly fast boat but because, by and large, other other small shoal cruisers are not particularly fast either.
Below is a copy of a comment David made on the Smallboats forum regarding the seaworthiness of flat bottomed sailboats.
I've been following with some interest the subject of whether a flat bottom boat is seaworthy and it kind of reminds me of the not-too-old discussions about whether multihulls were seaworthy or not. In the end it all boiled down to whether they were designed well and if they were sailed properly. Personally, I think the shape of the bottom of a monohull has little to do with it seaworthiness. If you look at ocean going cargo ships, you will see that most of them have a flat or an arc bottom. I think there are several other factors that are more important such as the boat's overall design and to some degree it's size. If a monohull sailboat is not too extreme (not too narrow and not too wide), sturdy and water tight, and sufficiently ballasted to be self-righting, it will prove to be a reasonably safe ocean boat. Now as for size, it is well known that a larger boat can keep sailing and generally handle rougher ocean conditions more easily than a smaller boat. Scale has it's advantages, and this has been well documented in offshore races. The biggest boats always seem to finish in conditions that stop the smaller boats. Of course there are some exceptions, but this may be due to the toughness of the crew or an unusually superb design. However, it doesn't mean that a smaller boat will not survive, it probably will be lying to a drogue while the bigger boat carries on. Since I cannot afford nor maintain a 60 footer, I will probably never benefit from this advantage. Therefore if foul whether is approaching I will run for shelter in my smaller craft if I am coastal cruising or shorten sail earlier if I am on the open ocean. As for keels, I generally don't like them because they tend to hit underwater obstacles too frequently, and I've seen too many "well founded" blue water cruisers meet their demise on reefs when their keels became wedged between the coral heads. I would much prefer having an ocean capable sharpie like "HOGFISH", "HOFISH MAXIMUS", "LOOSE MOOSE" or "ROMP". (Incidentally, "ROMP" is a Bolger designed ocean going sharpie (30' x 8'4" x 1'6") that was used by her owner to cruise the Pacific. So in the end it is really a matter of choosing a good design and learning good seamanship.
The value of tiny ocean going boats and their skippers
What I like about the tiny ocean going boats is that they inspire me and they make me think. The skippers of these diminuative craft try to push the envelope on what is possible, practical and even sane. I love looking at how certain problems like steering, food storage, sail handling, and boat design are solved. They give me ideas to use on my own larger boat. Though most people would consider them crazy, somehow these micro-nauts appear like modern day adventurers to me. I remember meeting Matt Layden in 1992, and he seemed really out there. He was cruising full-time in these little dinky home-built boats, and he was having a blast doing it. I had a business of my own back then that kept me very busy, but I hoped someday that I would be able to afford a "proper" 40 footer to go cruising in. In the meantime, I bought Little Cruiser for some weekend sailing. However, as fate would have it, my business went under, my wife left her job, and we found ourselves with more time than money, so we gave micro cruising a try. Now, six Bahama trips later, we have to thank Matt and all those other intrepid little boat skippers who made the impossible seem possible. It's important to remember, that it wasn't that long ago that only rich folks with big boats and paid crews went sailing for pleasure. Now we can do the same in our micro boats.
A fellow Paradox owner received a letter a while back from another boater stating that he felt that Paradox was not suited to making the Gulf Stream crossing, and that it would take only a "4' breaking crest" to turn Paradox over. After reading these comments for myself I wrote the following.
The truth is that Paradox and Little Cruiser easily deal with seas that small. Personally I have sailed in 8 foot plus breaking seas offshore with Matt and the boats always handled beautifully. Little Cruiser has been out sailing in 10 - 12 foot seas when the average cruiser stayed in port. This includes our first trip to the Bahamas at the tail end of a strong Norther when the waves were higher than the mast. This year we beat dead to windward in the Tongue of the Ocean in 22 - 27 knots of wind and up to eight foot seas from Morgan's Bluff, Andros to West Bay, New Providence. LC averaged over 4 knots and encountered some really confused breaking seas right off the Southern tip of New Providence where there was a strong contrary current and nearby reefs. Of course we never saw another boat out that day as a cold front had just passed through that morning. With a broken motor, we decided to take advantage of the windy conditions to make our crossing. On our return trip we sailed from Red Bays, Andros to Bimini for close to 70 miles in winds of over 30 knots. The waves got up to seven feet and broke frequently on the transom. I've heard it said that we only sail during perfect conditions, but the truth is that we also sail in windy conditions if it suits us. LC can handle it, but we don't
always like pushing the gear and ourselves that hard. In reality it doesn't really matter what people think. I guess we'll just keep sailing, and everyone else will keep making excuses of why they stayed in port or had to SPEND SO MUCH MORE MONEY to go cruising. I've figured that Little Cruiser has about 10,000 miles under her flat bottom hull, many of those deep water miles; and in all those miles she has never once given us or Matt reason to worry. The original Paradox, which is probably a little more seaworthy that LC, probably has 3 thousand miles on her with no mishaps. I guess those miles count for something.
(Note: I am not endorsing Paradox or Little Cruiser as offshore sailing craft, but I want to simply pointing out that they are tough coastal cruisers that can handle their share of bad weather.)
My recommendation for deploying an anchor from the stern is for normal anchoring. Sitting with the anchor tied to the stern is for protected anchorages only, like in a creek or something. As for sitting to a drogue or parachute anchor in open water, we've conducted some informal tests of our own over the years in the Bahamas.
Our first test was with a 9' parachute anchor in about 6 foot seas and 30 knots of wind in the Exuma Sound. We tied the anchor to the bow with about 150 feet of 3/8 inch line along with a large swivel at the anchor end. What we found was that the boat drifted very little according to our GPS. However we weren't exactly pointed dead into the wind and the waves, but rather at an angle of around 20 degrees. This was with our centerboard and rudder all the way up. Putting the centerboard down improve things only a few degrees. Maybe a bridle would improve things. We've also done the same test in about 25 knots of wind with our tiny 3 foot parachute anchor. Here we found that we drifted considerably more, and again we didn't head directly into the wind but rather at an angle. Finally, we've experimented with a small drogue off the front. This proved to be the worst performer of the lot, and
it might be better suited to trailing off the stern to slow the boat down while running in big seas.
As I mentioned in the Micro Cruising article, Mindy and I have never been in conditions where we absolutely needed a sea anchor, but we do carry one in case we want to rest or we get caught out in something really ugly. The 9 footer is complete overkill, and the one we have is identical to that used by the Pardeys on Serrafyn. The 3 footer is probably too small in our opinion, but it was army surplus and cheap. I think the ideal size would be a 5 - 6 footer. I think this would be a fun project to make out of heavy nylon. The other option would be to make a series drogue, if you don't mind sewing up a zillion cones.
Maybe the question, one might ask oneself is whether you should be out sailing when conditions are that rough. I can't imagine sailing Little Cruiser in 20 foot seas and 45 knot winds off the Columbia river in the winter time. Paradox, Swamp Thing and Little Cruiser are coastal cruisers, and they probably should be snuggled up some creek when it's blowing that hard out there.
I have to agree with Glen that some of the real dangers while making long passages are often other ships and unseen obstructions. I've personally heard numerous stories by quite a few cruisers of being run down by other boats and of sinking after hitting a submerged object. Chris Morejohn, a very experienced sailor and builder of the "Hogfish" sharpies has had the unfortunate experience of sinking in the Gulf Stream and of being run down by a ship. In the first case he was sailing in a small lightweight sailboat when he hit something in the middle of the night, sinking quickly thereafter. His story about his long swim in the Gulf Stream would be a fitting tale for the movies. Later on he built "Hogfish Lips" using the "NORTHE" system, NO Other Route Thought Heavy Enough. (I believe that is what it stands for). Anyway, HogFish was built super-strong and she survived being hit by a fast moving military ship during another night crossing in the Gulf Stream.
You would think that it would be hard to hit one of the really tiny record-breaking sailboats. Nonetheless, a ferry collided with Tom McNally's 5' 4 1/2" "Vera Hugh" off the coast in Portugal. I can't imagine how hard it was to keep pumping for the next few weeks until he reached the Canary Island. Even Hugo Vihlen had problems in his Atlantic crossing in "Father's Day" when he almost got scooped up in some fishing nets off the Grand Banks. It's a good thing he got his engine started in time or he would have ended up as part of the day's catch.
Yeah, it took me even a long time to get used to flat bottom boats. In the beginning Mindy and I were sailing around in Little Cruiser thinking that those "v" bottom boats were actually better. Then, after we sailed Little Cruiser for several years in all kinds of conditions we realized that the sharpie had a lot going for it- shallow draft, tremendous load carrying capacity, seaworthiness,
ruggedness and good performance. I was FINALLY convinced when I visited the Maritime Museum at Mystic Seaport and I looked at LOTS of models of ocean going commercial vessles with their flat or shallow arc bottoms. Now after 9 years of sailing in Little Cruiser, I too am a believer. I guess like everyone else, I was brainwashed into believing that there was only one way of designing boats. In fact there are many possibilities available for creating seaworthy boats, both large and small. There are good multihulls, deep draft cutter types, light displacement cruisers and racers and a myriad of others in between. I'm just happy that Sharpies are one of them.
I just recently read a great article at islandhopping(dot)
has changed) which sums up the topic of piracy and smuggling in the
Bahamas, especially as it relates to the cruising yachtsman. I agree
with practically everything the author has to say in this excellent
piece except for the last statement in which he remarks that "you'll
never even know they're around."
On each and every one of the six trips that we have made to the Bahamas, we have been aware of the often present drug smuggling activity around us. Admittedly, some years have been busier than others. We have seen lots of "suspicious" cigarette-type boats coming and going on many islands, along with the smaller "whaler" type craft headed out on "fishing trips" for possible "square grouper". If you take a look around most Bahamian islands you will see a few fast boats with large engines at the ready. Oftentimes, the locals will even tell you if something big is about to go down on their island; though it isn't hard to tell something is amiss because everyone is tense and nervous. Interestingly enough, on our last trip the locals were talking about the newest trade, "smuggling" Haitian refugees to the United States. Finally, you can never forget the routine "black" helicopter flights over the Exumas, the frequent DEA jet flights over the Florida Straits, the Coast Guard helicopter patrols , the C130's overflights and the Coast Guard Cutters patrols in the Gulf Stream. I would definitely say that you are aware that something is going on.
Over the years we have come to accept these happenings as part of the "flavor and color" of the islands. We've spoken to other cruisers about this, and we've been advised to just look the other way when something suspicious is going on. So far this advice has served us well despite being close to some obvious smuggling. I guess in the real scope of things, a small boat like Little Cruiser doesn't pose much of a threat or a prize to a would-be smuggler or a spur-of-the-moment pirate.
I remember once being anchored off an island a few miles South of Bimini during a strong Norther several years ago, when out of the blue a Cigarette boat pulled into our anchorage at full speed to drop off three men. After about half an hour, the men returned from their "excursion" to the interior of this uninhabited island with some "goods". Two returned to the boat immediately, but one walked over to me as I sat on the beach to ask me if I had seen a "package." I told him that I had seen "nothing" and he rejoined the others and left. Needless to say, we did not sleep well that night.
On an another occasion, we unwittingly tied up next up to a "fast boat" that was getting ready to make a run to the United States. We made sure we weren't around when he made his delivery. Then there was our last trip to the Andros when we arrived at our destination at the same time a drug boat was making it's drop off. Fortunately, some local fishermen told us to stay away until the delivery had taken place.
These are but a few examples of the many encounters we have had while traveling in the Bahamas. Though we have never come to any grief, we have nonetheless been aware of what was happening around us; and there have been times when we have been nervous and even a little afraid. Some have suggested carrying firearms for defense, but I doubt we would fare well in a firefight against heavily armed thugs. So far our policy of minding our own business has served us well, and we hope to continue traveling safely to these incredibly beautiful islands for years to come. Finally, I'd like to make clear that this illegal activity is being done by a small minority of people, and as a whole, most Bahamians are law abiding citizens and friendly people.
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is densely populated, and it is certainly different in many ways than the rest of the Bahamas. The resorts are primarily designed to fleece the tourists of their money while providing them with a nice time. The locals tend to be less friendly and more in a hurry, but Mindy and I still manage to bump into nice people every trip. Of course there are beggars and theives about, so it is wise to lock your boat and your dinghy while in the capital. We have never had anything stolen,
but then we rarely leave Little Cruiser unattended. Generally we anchor with the other fishermen in Potter's Cay eventhough all the other cruisers anchor in the main harbor or they tie up at the various marinas. Because Little Cruiser is so small we seem to go unnoticed by most, and we are generally left alone. Of course this past year, Dennis Connor's keen eyes spotted our unusual little boat while he was on vacation, and he came over to us to ask some questions. You might think that some big shot racer type
would look down on our low tech boat, but he admired the fact that we were able to cruise comfortably for 3 months in Little Cruiser. However, what impressed him the most was how well we ate while on our trip. Most people think we must be eating backpacking foods or MRE rations, but we pretty much eat like we are at home or even better. At the time I was making a huge bowl of conch salad, a local delicacy, and Dennis wanted to know the recipe. (Incidently, the recipe begins with freshly diced conch, onions, garlic, green peppers, goat peppers (hot) and key lime juice. Next add a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste, and stir everything up good. Enjoy it with crackers or just eat it plain. Yummy!) Anyway, getting back to Nassau. Every year we hear of someone having a dinghy stolen or an outboard taken in the capital, so it is wise to keep your possessions secured. I don't think
that I have heard of any cruisers being assaulted, but I'm sure it has happened. I would say that Nassau is like any other big city, probably not as dangerous as New York or Miami, but you should still be on your guard.
Now the less populated and more remote islands are a different matter, and the people seem to be nicer as a rule. Oftentimes they will take the time to talk to you, give you a ride, or even offer you a drink. I was really surprised by an old Bahamian man this past trip when we went to Cat Island. I had just stepped off Little Cruiser with my gas cans, when this perfect stranger walked up to me with his bicycle and he told me to hop on. He didn't tell me his name nor did he ask for anything in return. He just pointed in the direction of the filling station which was two miles away. Then he slowly walked back into his tiny home. When I got back I gave him a beer to thank him for his generosity. We've noticed that hitchhiking is common place in the Bahamas (excluding Nassau). We've received rides in the Abacos, the Exumas, Andros and in Bimini by both natives and foreignors alike . Of course, Mindy and I would never even consider doing this in the United States. I guess you just feel safer because everyone is doing it. I know one American women who hitchhikes with her young daughter on a daily basis while the family spends their winter living in Georgetown, Exumas. Since they have no car and the little girl needs to attend school, the two of them stand with other Bahamians at a particular corner near their home, and people just pick them up. I don't know if I would feel comfortable doing this as a women, but I guess she knows the local people who give them
I guess Mindy and I prefer the less visited islands because nearly everyone is friendly and life takes place at a slower pace. Though the grocery stores tend to be less well stocked and you need to be more self sufficient, the people more than make up for any material shortages. Oftentimes, we make friends right away. This past trip, a fisherman in Red Bays, Andros, invited us out for a drink at his local bar. Unfortunately, the bar was closed at the time; but he was undetered and he just walked over to the
owner's home and asked him to open up just for us! This made us feel special. I remember another time in Sandy Point, Abacos when we were invited out fishing by a stranger, and then afterwards, he took us home to enjoy a wonderful meal with his wife and two children. The next day they even insisted that we use their washing machine to wash our stained and salty clothing. Some people might think that people are nice to Mindy and I because they feel sorry for us for traveling in such a small boat, but I think it is because the average Bahamian can relate to what we are doing since they do most of their own fishing in boats not much larger than our own. Also, I believe that they just are friendly people who enjoy talking to a new face.