Use Yourself Up


leaving the center

        Early one Tuesday morning in May 2014 I pushed GANNET, my ultra-light Moore 24, from her slip in San Diego’s Mission Bay and stepped aboard.  No one was around.  Some had inquired about seeing me off, but I wanted to leave quietly.

        I turned the Torqeedo into gear.  The little gray sloop whirred across Quivira Basin and out the Mission Bay channel away from what has been for more than half century as much as any place the center of my shore life.

        If time were not linear I could have seen myself as a teenager spending summers with my grandparents in the1950s walking out to the end of the north jetty watching sailboats with longing; in 1967 I am sailing in that channel from San Francisco completing my first coastal passage, and then I lived aboard there for two years; 1978 I am sailing out in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE to began my open boat voyage; in 1982, after my grandmother died, I lived in what had been her house in adjacent Mission Beach for a while after being locked up as a spy in Saudi Arabia; and now I was beginning what, time and chance permitting, would become my sixth circumnavigation.

        I do not always complete circumnavigations where I begin them.  I looked around and wondered if I would ever be here again.

        I powered all the way out the channel, rather than short tack as usual.  I was eager to be in the ocean, remove the Torqeedo from the transom, and be in full passage mode.

instant failure

        We had good wind for San Diego.  Too good.  Fifteen to eighteen knots from the southwest, heeling GANNET on a close reach 20°-30° and driving sheets of water over the bow, and, distressingly, into the cabin through the closed companionway hatch.

        I had prepared GANNET on the premise that everything below deck would get wet.  Everything that could be damaged by water was in waterproof boxes, cases, bags, which was good because two covers I had made for the companionway, one secured above deck by velcro, one below, proved useless.  As waves sent solid water aft, it hosed below onto the lee pipe berth.  Fortunately I would be sleeping on the windward berth for most of the passage.  And eventually I duct tape trash bags from the overhead as curtains to divert the flow into the bilge.


        GANNET drove south, eventually breaking through the coastal winds to reach the trades and sunshine. 

        I kept the wind on the beam until the bow was pointing toward Hilo, Hawaii, then eased sheets and set the asymmetrical. 

        In never more than twenty-five knots of wind and mostly five and six foot seas, I’ve never seen more speeds registered by GPS of eight and more knots.

        A gust of wind, a lined up wave, and the Velocitek numbers moved from 6s and 7s, to 8s and 9s and 10s.  GANNET ran true, with no tendency to round up.  I could hear as well as feel the acceleration, see the lee bow wave rise.  Love to stand in the companionway and watch her go and go.  12.4 knots was the highest reading I saw. 

        And that was under 110% furling jib and fully battened mainsail for toward the end of our first week at sea I noticed softness in the luff of the asymmetrical that remained even after I tightened the halyard.  I followed the luff with my eye to the head of the sail and found that the head plate attaching it to the gennaker furling gear swivel had pulled away from the sail.  I furled and lowered it.  A new sail improperly made.  Sail changes had been simplified:  there wouldn’t be any.  GANNET was a two sail boat.

holding on

        GANNET’s quickness which makes for such great responsive sailing can also make sailing her hard work.

        When 37’ HAWKE and 36’ RESURGAM heeled to 20°, I reduced sail which made life aboard easier while usually increasing speed.

        I quickly learned that on 2050 pound GANNET, I am going to have to live with 20°, but prolonged 30° is not for me endurable.

        Even at 20°, life on GANNET is an endless isometric exercise, muscles constantly tensed against gravity and thrust.  I could only use two hands when wedged in place, otherwise one hand was always holding on.

There Will Be Blood

        I am 6’1” tall.   Moore 24s are best suited to be sailed by Hobbits.

        With beautifully finished fiberglass, but no liner, the ends of bolts and nuts are exposed in the overhead, which for me is frequently not overhead.

        Certainly I felt the blows, but usually I did not know the consequences until I saw blood stains.

        The first day out of San Diego I noticed them on the left leg of my Levis.  I assume that gash came when I was lifting the Torqeedo from the outboard bracket.

        Blood stains on the pillow case one morning caused me gingerly to explore the top of my head where I found the expected.

        As an effective non-skid I installed Treadmaster in the cockpit.  Underfoot it is excellent.  Under knee it is sandpaper, and often on GANNET I find myself kneeling in the cockpit. Before learning to keep a floatation cushion accessible to kneel on, skin was lost.  And from elbows.

        Hydrogen peroxide.  Neosporin.  BandAid.

        Wipe up stains.



snick, snick

        GANNET’s transom is thin.

        Another Moore 24 owner who installed a self-steering vane found the transom flexed so much he had to reenforce by adding a balsa core.

        I have slithered aft to paint GANNET’s interior, but it is a terrible place to work, constricted and airless.  When I was given a boat yard quote for reenforcing the transom of $5,000, more than half what I paid for the little sloop, I decided a self-steering vane was out. 

        GANNET is very easy on the helm.  Fingertip steering.  The smallest of tiller pilots can easily handle her.  For $5,000 I can buy fourteen tiller pilots.  I did buy three, and GANNET came with one.

        I reduced the rudder gain from factory settings.  Power comes from six 25 watt deck mounted Aurinco solar panels routed through a Blue Sky Solar Boost 2000e regulator.  Having had tiller pilots on bigger boats tossed or washed off the tiller pin, I installed a folding padeye beneath the tiller pilot and lash it securely.  And I bought a handheld wireless remote for the three new Raymarine ST1000s so course can be controlled from GANNET’s Great Cabin without my having to lever myself through the companionway and scramble over the mainsheet traveler bridge to reach the pilot itself.

        If this system fails, my back-up is sheet-to-tiller self-steering which I used successfully in the past on the 37’ cutter EGREGIOUS and the 18’ yawl CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.

        Sound was a concern. 

        I sleep at sea on the starboard pipe quarterberth.  The tiller pilot is above deck at the end of that berth.  I was pleased that in all but the lightest conditions, its sound is lost in the ambient noise of GANNET moving through the water.  Rarely did I hear ‘snick-snick’.

        Despite several overcast days at the beginning of the passage, there was never a problem of the solar panels providing sufficient charging.

        I numbered the three ST1000s with magic marker.  No. 1 has now steered 2500 miles.


        GANNET is a simple boat.  Or so I thought until one day while the miles rolled away, I counted nine GPS chips on board the tiny sloop:  iPad.  iPad mini.  Three Garmin handhelds, one  of which came with the boat and two from THE HAWKE OF TUONELA.  Garmin Quatix watch.  Yellowbrick.  Velocitek ProStart.  Nikon AW1 camera.

        Later I realized that I had forgotten two others:  the Torqeedo has a GPS chip to measure speed and range; and I bought a Dual XPS150 Bluetooth GPS in case the iPads couldn’t get a signal in mid-ocean, which proved unnecessary because they always could.

        Not all of these provide position readouts.  The Yellowbrick,  Torqeedo and Velocitek do not.  And, yes, I can navigate by camera.

        I almost forget, there is also a sextant aboard.

        Of these, the most important is in the iPad mini.  With the iNavX chartplotting app and Navionics charts, it was my means of navigation. 

        I did turn on the GPS function on the Garmin Quatix from time to time, but usually only to read out COG and SOG.


        The place where I sit in a SportASeat on the floorboards facing aft in GANNET’s Great Cabin is designated Central.

        At sea I realized that there is another Central.  Standing in the companionway is Central Vertical.  Standing is good.  Most of a passage on most boats is spent sitting down.  On GANNET there is certainly no place to walk.  At Central Vertical I can reach sheets and halyards, traveller, even the tiller with the extension, and control the tiller pilot with the remote.   I do not sail GANNET.  I wear her.  Her deck comes just above my waist and I become a new mythic creature, a variation centaur—half man, half boat.

        The sea.  The sky.  The wind against my skin.  There is no ugliness out here except me, and I don’t much look in a mirror.

        Old man stands in companionway of small sloop.  One very weathered hand holds lightly onto a halyard stopper.  The other a jib winch.  A big grin is on the old man’s face as he watches a small sloop rush though the ocean, little more than an arm’s length away.  And because he is precisely where he is.

        Use yourself up, old man.  Use yourself up.


        I create a new waypoint in iNavX each noon and measure day’s runs as straight line distance between them, which with any significant course change is less than the actual distance sailed over the bottom.

        By this method, her first week at sea GANNET made 940 miles.  Her second week was the first of what I’m confident will be many thousand mile weeks, long my standard for good passage making.  1002 miles under 110% furling jib and fully battened mainsail in what was perfect asymmetrical weather. 

        Under the same conditions I would not have made more on the bigger and fine sailing RESURGAM and THE HAWKE OF TUONELA.


        Trade wind clouds combined one day to form successive lines of rain. 

        As each approached the wind veered and strengthened to twenty-five knots, threatening an accidental gybe.  Then as each passed, the wind veered and dropped.

        First I rigged a preventer to keep the boom from slamming all the way across.  Then I changed course 20° to the northwest.  Then I put a reef in the mainsail.  Actually because of another mistake by the sailmaker, the equivalent of a second reef.  While I have tied in reefs at the dock, this was the first time I’d reefed GANNET at sea.

        She has the same slab reefing system as did RESURGAM and THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, but here scale is in her favor.  It was so easy.  I could do most of it sitting down.  And had to use a winch handle only to retension  the luff of the main.

power wash

        I eat from a quart size plastic measuring cup.  Uncooked oatmeal and trail mix for breakfast.  Freeze dry food for dinner.  I use a spoon which is easier to clean than a fork.

        On GANNET I lean from the companionway and dip measuring cup then spoon in the ocean.  At more than six knots I hold on tight.

        Instant dishwashing.

a hard boat to slow down

        Before I left San Diego, I predicted the passage to Hilo, Hawaii would take seventeen days.  On the fifteenth day at sea, I knew I would arrive off Hilo just after sunset on the seventeenth day.  Very rarely do I enter harbors after dark, so I tried to slow down to minimize the hours I would have to wait until dawn.

        The trade wind was perfect.  Had I been able to set the asymmetrical, I would have gone for it.  For that matter with the asymmetrical we certainly would have reached Hilo at least a day and maybe two earlier.  But I couldn’t.  So I furled the jib.  GANNET was still making six and seven knots.  So I reefed the mainsail. 

        Under only a scrap of mainsail GANNET’s last two day’s runs were 134 and 131 miles.  And I was still off Hilo most of the night.

illusive mountain

        Manua Kea rises almost 14,000’ above sea level.

        I have seen Tahiti’s Mount Orohena, only half as high, from fifty miles away.  I have seen Cape Town’s 3,500’ Table Mountain at forty miles distance.

        On our last afternoon, as the iPad mini showed the distance to my waypoint off the Hilo breakwater rapidly decreasing, I stood in the companionway and peered ahead.  At 40 miles, nothing.  At 35 miles, nothing.  I began to be worried and realized that I had put full trust in my iPad mini.  Maybe it was lying to me.  I activated the GPS function on the Garmin Quatix and was relieved when a minute later it provided an identical position.

        Finally, sunset silhouetted the lower slopes of the mountain trailing down to the sea twenty-six miles away.

        I unfurled part of the jib, took the tiller from the tiller pilot, swung the bow into the wind, and hove to.

still moving

        You take for granted that when you put an object down it remains in place.  I know this to be a luxury with which on a mooring in Hilo I gradually become reacquainted.

        I’ve never before felt the land move beneath me after a passage, not even after the five months around Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean in EGREGIOUS. 

        I stepped ashore in Hilo and the shore moved.