Dolphins on my mind. First, this great plague that has visited them. In the past year, over 1,000 dolphins on the U.S. East Coast have been documented as having died of a measles-like morbillivirus (see photo up top). The last time such an epidemic swept the coast, in the late 1980s, it is believed the virus wiped out about half the population of coastal migratory dolphins, and this time it only promises to be worse. Already documented deaths have exceeded the toll in the 1980s, and the epidemic shows no signs of abating.
We stopped at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) on Grassy Key during our ongoing post-Xmas Florida vacation, and the folks there are clearly concerned. I had signed up our girls for a so-called "Dolphin Encounter," and the very first question they asked during the pre-swim orientation was whether anybody had recently been handling dead dolphins on beaches.
News & Views
There seems to be a mild proliferation lately of cool online weather and climate toys to play with. I quite like the Ocean Currents Map I recently mentioned here, and now comes two more visualization gadgets to help hone your procrastination skills. The more alarming one is a Rising Seas interactive map from National Geographic that shows where the land will and won't be once the polar ice caps have finished melting.
Even if you leave out the America's Cup, there's no way you can say sailboat racing is boring these days. The fastest boats are now so powerful and so fragile, you never know what's going to happen. Witness this year's holiday season disaster in which Bernard Stamm and Damien Guillou were rescued off the British coast on Christmas Eve after their Open 60 Cheminees Poujoulat broke in half and sank. Stamm and Guillou, who just finished fourth in the Transat Jaques Vabre, were delivering the boat back to France and were sailing conservatively in a 45-knot gale when the hull slammed off a steep wave and cracked open just forward of its daggerboards.
Here's a bit of holiday inspiration for those of you thinking of blowing off the rat race to go cruising. Nike Steiger, a 32-year-old German woman, recently quit her marketing job, bought a 37-foot aluminum Reinke Super 10, and has been fitting it out for an open-ended adventure that may (or may not) take her to the fjords of Chile. She has been maintaining a well-produced video diary and posts short updates each week on her YouTube channel. So far the plot line has focussed mostly on the process of cleaning up and refitting her boat Karl (and its very recalcitrant engine) and on cutting ties with her old life, but now it seems she's about ready to move on.
Editor's Note: Tis the season. The dreaded materialistic frenzy that is Christmas is nearly upon us, to be immediately followed (thank God) by the big race to Hobart. The early forecast this year is for a downwind sleigh ride, and Bob Oatley's super-maxi Wild Oats XI may have a good chance at breaking her course record, set just last year, of 1 day, 18 hours, and change. Course records aren't that easy to come by in this race, and two in successive years would be a notable achievement. So I'll be watching developments with interest. Meanwhile, I thought I'd share this account of my one-and-only Sydney-Hobart experience, circa year 2000.
MY RIDE, appropriately enough, was named Antipodes. She wasn't a racing boat, but a dedicated cruiser, a Taswell 56, built in 1991 to a design by Bill Dixon. I had first met her in the Canary Islands in 1992 while bumming around the North Atlantic as pick-up crew.
During my tenure aboard, her owner, Geoff Hill, generous to a fault, shared with me his unique Australian essence, taught me the words to several songs whose lyrics cannot be repeated in polite company, and promised he would one day lure me to the Land of Oz. Her skipper, Glenn Belcher, an unreconstructed rebel from South Carolina, took good care of me and learned me a thing or two about sailing as we voyaged across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Bahamas.
When Geoff finally decided to keep his promise eight years later, he cut right to the chase. Just a one-line e-mail flickering at me like pornography from across the Internet: Could you would you should you dare do the 2000 Hobart race with me and Cap'n Ahab Belcher and a motley crew of Aussies on good ship Antipodes?
Back in the early days of singlehanded ocean racing, the winners of races like the Vendee Globe and the BOC Challenge were often the guys who slept the least and steered the most. Autopilots were useful in calm to moderate conditions, but once the waves were up you needed a live body on the wheel or tiller to achieve the fastest, smoothest ride. These days, however, the most sophisticated autopilots have "fuzzy logic" software and three-dimensional motion sensors and can steer in strong conditions just as well as, if not better than, most humans.
This sounds like a great excuse to spend less time on the wheel, assuming your boat has such an autopilot, but in the hairiest situations it's still best to have a person in control. Modern autopilots can learn a boat's handling characteristics and can sense a boat's bow or stern rising to a wave, but they can't perceive what's going on around a boat. Once you're in a big seaway where waves are routinely breaking, it's best to have a helmsperson who can see and hear the rough stuff and steer around it. Also, of course, an autopilot needs electricity to function. If you've lost power, or have little to spare, you need a human on the wheel.
Techniques & Tactics
Page 5 of 92
Offshore Passage Opportunities
Attainable Adventure Cruising
Blue Planet Times
Father & Son Sailing
Cruising Sailor's BB
Good Old Boat
North American Sailor
Liz Clark and the Voyage of Swell
Onboard with Mark Corke
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