Questions about the passage – part I

We covered a variety of aspects of the passage on our blog as we crossed from Mexico to the Marquesas. Wondering what we might have missed, we put out a call for other questions. Questions came along a few similar themes, which I’ve blended below with our responses. This is the first of two posts to answer questions, and of course, they are all just our opinions. If you have differences or something to add, post a comment!

You had a crew member. Would you have gone on the passage without a third adult on board?

We would have gone without an additional crew member, but it wouldn’t have been as fun or as safe, and I would have been much more nervous in the time prior to our departure. We had a great experience with our crew member, Ty- a truly wonderful person, with great depth of experience. I know not every boat out there had as great an experience as we did. I think it’s good to know the person you bring on board – it’s not a big space to share for several weeks! Also, understand expectations on all sides. Not everyone had as great an experience with their crew as we did, and I think that makes a big difference.

What is your water capacity, and how did you use water on the passage?

We have two tanks for water storage: our primary (stainless) is 60 gallons, and the secondary (bladder) is another 40 gallons. Tanks are filled with a lower volume (6-7 gallons per hour) water maker, which we run every 5 days and whenever we have excess power.

We use about two gallons per person per day for cooking, drinking, and bathing. We hit on this usage rate while we were hanging out in the Sea of Cortez during the 2009 hurricane season. It was a little light for our freshwater rinse after showering, but we weren’t swimming every day on the passage like we were in the Sea. We do all our cleaning (bodies and dishes) with salt water and add a fresh water rinse as needed. Dishes and most cookware are washed entirely in saltwater; drinking glasses and cutlery get a freshwater rinse. We don’t have a saltwater pump inside yet (that is high on the list of desired projects!) so this means schlepping a bucket down below, or bathing on deck. I have used saltwater to some extent for cooking, although I’m usually too lazy to bother getting it since it’s never more than a cup or two at a time.

What weather information did you use on a daily basis during the passage and from where? Were the reports accurate? Any prefs on text vs. grib or just “both”?

Our primary weather sources during the passage were 1) grib files, requested through our Airmail application 2) NOAA text forecasts for our region, also requested through the catalog on Saildocs and 3) reports from boats around us on SSB radio nets, which we tuned in for twice daily.

If I had to pick one source for information.well, I’m not sure we could. You can’t rely too much on one source, and it helps to have a few to work with- and then make your own choices. Gribs were great for the big picture, although they tend to underestimate wind speeds. Near the equator, they also lacked accuracy and information sea state and current. The text files gave us the best picture of where the ITCZ was at a given time; it moves, of course, but we could plot it with each update and get a sense for the shifts. The reality is that what you have is what is around you, and in an area as unsettled as the ITCZ- your weather may be entirely different than what someone 20 miles away is experiencing.

We didn’t think as much about general sea state before we left. We ended up with seas coming from 2 or three different directions: there were two definite swell directions, and the wind direction and wind waves did not necessarily correspond with either of them. This made things pretty uncomfortable at times. We had better information on the sea state from the text forecast but it wasn’t perfect either. Current was the other major factor we didn’t get a good picture of from the forecasts (and believe me, it was nothing like the expected charted current); we are not aware of a free resource available which includes up to date information about currents.

Reports from individual boats are extremely useful: we could get a better idea of weather coming our way based on their information. This was particularly useful in anticipating currents, which proved to be a significant factor during our crossing and of course, isn’t reflected in the weather reports.

The biggest weather information challenge we had is that all of our sources relied on a functioning SSB. About 2/3 across the Pacific, our SSB stopped transmitting. We were no longer able to send requests for these resources. We could, however, still listen into the daily radio nets. Hearing the reports from boats around us suddenly became very, very important as our sole source of weather information between the mainland and French Polynesia. It was far from complete information, but enough to get us by.

We are hoping to buy and outfit a boat in the mid-40s for less than $200k- any suggestions?

People cruise on all manner of boats, and what works for you is such a personal choice, it’s hard to give general feedback on a selection. I think it’s prudent to be aware of all the costs that are involved in any boat that seems to be a good deal. Almost everyone we have this conversation with has significantly underestimated their final cost at getting a boat ready to depart. While shopping for Totem, we saw a lot of boats that were billed as “cruise-ready” but very few that actually lived up to the marketing. The more you are able to evaluate the boat and rigging yourself before making an offer and hiring a surveyor, the better.