How Calm Can The Ocean Be?

When you imagine the ocean, you probably think about endless waves that extend out and beyond the horizon. This may be the case on windy days, but the ocean can vary in surface topography just as much as dry land can. 


While out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we were becalmed for four days in a row. By the second day, the ocean had calmed down and the true beauty of being out there unveiled itself. 


My favorite times during these days were definitely sunrise and sunset. The sun at low angles would create a multitude of colors around you. Any slight ripple would glow with golden hues and the ever-present Portuguese Man-O-Wars around us would illuminate on the water.  

Having an electric motor meant that we didn't move very far on these four days, but had we had a diesel, we would have missed the magic of the ocean as it would have been drowned out by the roar of burning fossil fuels. 

Corssing an ocean should not be something you do in a rush, but instead it should be an experience that you can cherish and remember for a lifetime. 

Ocean Sunsets

Out on the ocean, there is nothing obstructing the horizon. That means that you will have a perfect sunset every afternoon! 


Depending on different air qualities, such as air pressure, humidity, dust, air streams, and cloud cover, you will get a new and exciting sunset every time; best of all, each sunset will be unique.


We make a special effort to eat our dinner in the cockpit while out at sea on a blue water voyage just so that we can watch the sunset.  

There is something magical and magnificent about watching the colors in the sky change as the glowing spot on the horizon disappears beyond the horizon. As the sun fades away, the sky will burst into a painters palate of colors, and then the stars will begin to come out. 

Mars and Jupiter are usually the first of the night lights that come into view after the sun sets, and rather quickly as our eyes adjust, all the stars in the sky light up in a vast wonder above our yacht. 

I have spent many nights starring up at the mast head, watching its silhouette move among the stars. Laying in the cockpit looking up at the night sky as you sit alone on the surface of the ocean with no one else present in your visible disk of the Earth makes you feel just as alone as the invisible planets that orbit the infinite stars out there in the sky. It becomes easy to imagine that someone else might be sitting on their own craft on a distant planet, looking up at their night sky and visualizing our Galaxy as just another star in their own sky.  


Sunrise is a magical time on the ocean. Overnight is not a time for sleep, but a time when your ears do the looking.  

The sun sets and the stars come out, your ability to see diminishes but sound carries incredibly well over water. Sleeping whales breathe loudly in the obscurity of the night, just at the waters surface. They are invisible to your eyes, but not to your ears! 

All night long, your imagination runs wild as you peace together random fragments from your senses; and then dawn comes. The sky to the east begins to glow in preparation for the suns glorious arrival.  


When the sun comes up, you get to change watches and get some sleep. Imagination fades as your eyes squelch out your creativity, showing you what “is” there rather than letting your mind believe it knows what is “to be” there. 

How To Cross an Ocean: "Nice to Have's"

Crossing an ocean is supposed to be a life goal that will be remembered with fondness, not a horrible torture test of existence. No one wants to hand steer their way across an ocean subsisting only on water and with no sleep! This is where "Nice to Have's" come into play.

Some basic things that are nice to have are electronic charts, a refrigerator, and self steering. This lets you sit back, enjoy fresh food that has been in cold storage while you quickly glance at your phone or tablet and sit back while the self steering holds you on course. 

Pretty much, everything that you think you "Need to Have" actually falls onto this list, while the true "Need to Have's" are only five items. With "Nice to Have's" you can head out to sea with them missing or not functioning, because they make your voyage nicer while not being actually critical to the success of the journey.

Ocean crossing is very relaxing. You can look to the sky to figure out your weather and plan your course accordingly, then you can sit back and enjoy a good book! Fishing is another fun pass time on an ocean voyage, as well as baking and cooking. Be sure to surround yourself with people you want to be with, as you will be with them for the entire trip and there is no chance of escape. 

Plan your voyage as an extended "stay-cation" on the boat. Everyday will feel like you haven't moved because the world around you will always look the same (clouds and waves in all directions) until weeks pass by and you suddenly see land again. Be happy and comfortable on your yacht, for this will be your floating world until you make it to the next port. 

Along the way, stuff will break and you will have to fix it or not use it anymore until you make landfall. Carrying the materials to carry out the repairs is imperative as you will not be able to visit a hardware store to buy parts to fix the broken item.  

Cruising is a lifestyle and ocean crossing is a dream. It's time to live your dreams and enjoy your memories instead of imagining your future! 


How To Cross an Ocean: Sails and Rigging

What makes a sailboat different from a powerboat? Sails and Rigging!

A beautiful and comfortable yacht with walk in closets, air conditioning, and every last gadget under the sun with non working sails and rigging is just a floating tomb that can't get you to shore. Eventually, you will run out of resources and die! You need to be able to get back to land, and to do that you will need working sails and rigging. 

It is imperative that you fully inspect all your standing rigging, running rigging, and sails before you head out to sea. If you have any problems, you need to address them before you head out to sea.  

Now, having perfect sails and rigging when you head out to sea doesn't mean that you will make it across safely without complications. While out at sea, problems can begin to occur, and you need to be prepared to manage and repair all issues associated with your sails and rigging.


Lets start with your sails.  

Your sails need to be in good condition. This doesn't mean new, it just means "good". They can be stained, they can be old, but they need to be capable of getting you across the ocean and safely to the other side.  

Sails need to be inspected closely, giving extra attention to the condition of the sail cloth, condition of the stitching, and the condition of every cringle in the sail. 

The cloth should sound "snappy" when you flex it around. If it sounds and feels like a bed sheet or cotton tee shirt, then your sail cloth is old. This doesn't mean that the sail needs to be replaced, but it should raise a red flag in your mind about the condition of the sail. Old sails will still act as giant bags that can pull you down wind and get you across an ocean, as long as the sailcloth is not so old that the cloth will blow out on you. So, your sail sounds and feels like an old bed sheet, but is it ok to cross an ocean on it? Simply take the sail in to a sailmaker and ask them to evaluate the sail. Let them know that you are about to cross an ocean and ask them if they think this sail can make it across! They know sails and can tell you how much time a sail has left just by looking at it. If your sail is in good condition according to the sailmaker, then you should feel safe going out to sea. If your sail is not in good condition according to the sailmaker, then follow their recommendations before you head out to sea!


The stitching should be in good condition. You want to check for chafe and missing stitches. Be sure to inspect any place that running rigging passes near a sail, as the rigging can chafe away the stitching on that part of the sail. If the stitching is laying flat and looks shiny, then you are fine. If the stitching is loose, fraying, or missing, it should be repaired before heading out to sea.

The last place that you should inspect on your sails are all the cringles. Cringles are the little rings in your sails, and each cringle is a stress point and a potential point of failure. The tack, clew, head, reef points, and reefing tie points are all potential points of failure. The reefing tie points are a very weak area, since they are not reinforced to resist stresses, they are very easy to rip if you are shaking out a reef and forgot to untie one of the reefing ties. 

The cringles should be rust free, and all the stitching around the cringle is in good shape. The sailcloth around the cringle should also be in good order, ending neatly inside the cringle without any fraying around the cringle. 


Each cringle is a potential failure point, so reducing the number of cringles is a great way to reduce your exposure to problems.

Reefing tie points are the little ropes that go through your sail that you tie to hold the bottom of your sail neatly when you are reefed. If you have lazy jacks, they will hold your sail when it is reefed. A sail tie at the end of the boom will hold the end of the sail in place without the need of tying the little ropes! If you don't tie the little ropes, you won't have the issue of ripping the sail at these points.

Not putting the little ropes in the sail means that you have reduced a large number of potential failure points! In our mainsail, the first reef has 4 cringles, the second reef has 3 cringles, the third reef has 3 cringles. That's 10 potential failure points that can be removed by simply not using the little ropes.

The second area that can be improved is the tack points for reefing. Cringles in the sail are a potential fail point, while having the tack stitched onto the side of the sail with webbing will mitigate this problem by simply replacing your "hole in the sail" with a stitched on loop.

In our mainsail with three reefs and a Cunningham, the number of cringles was reduced from 20 to 7! The tack, Cunningham, head, clew, 1st reef clew, 2nd reef clew, and 3rd reef clew are the only "holes in our sail" that are loaded.  

Now, having good sails when you set out to sea doesn't guarantee that you will arrive on the other side of the ocean with good sails! You need to be able to check the sails yourself and you should be able to carry out any repairs along the way.

It would behoove you to carry spare sailcloth, sail thread, and a method to sew the sail. You can have a fancy and expensive sewing machine, or you can also have a "Speedy Stitch" hand sewing instrument. Having it is great, but be sure you also know how to use it. Reading the instructions is nice, but be real here: open the thing up and practice with it before you go out to sea! While in shore, you can pull up a YouTube How-To video to answer a question, but you can't do that out at sea when you actually need to do the procedure.

While out at sea, you need to constantly check your sails for chafe! A common problem that will happen when sailing downwind is the mainsail chafing on the shrouds. It will reduce your speed, but simply not easing the mainsheet as far will keep your mainsail off the shrouds and reduce this point of chafe. 

Your headsail's lazy sheet is another point of potential problems. The lazy sheet will lay limply across your deck, rising and falling as you move through the seas. This lazy sheet is just rubbing over and over again, chafing itself, as well as anything else it is touching. This may seem unnecessary to a coastal cruiser, but when crossing an ocean, you will be on the same tack for days, if not weeks! Something that is rubbing a little today will rub constantly until it saws all the way through!

Since you will be on the same tack for so long, it is easy to simply walk the deck and check for potential chafe points and position the lazy sheet in such a way that it doesn't rub. I like to pull enough slack on the sheet that it will lay flat and still on the deck all the way up to the clew, then raising up to reach the clew.


Aside from making sure your sails are in good order, it is important to carry the right kinds of sails. Having your working sails (mainsail and jib) is critical as these are the most commonly used sails for general conditions. You should also carry sails for the extremes! Storm sails and light air sails are a good idea to have with you, but not a "Need to Have" item. 

It might feel like we are berating sails and not going over rigging as much. The reason is sails are big and it's easy to overlook a small problem on such a large sail. The truth is rigging is smaller, but just as important to inspect.

Steel rigging rusts, corrodes, and breaks, but it is quite resistant to chafe from sails and sheets. You want to check for broken or corroded wires, paying extra attention to the ends of the stays (this means the top of the stay way up on the mast too). If you see any signs of corrosion or cracks, it is important to repair or replace the failing component.

Just like with sails, it is important to be able to carry out repairs at sea. With steel rigging, you need to carry the materials to fabricate and install a new replacement stay. To do this, it is wise to carry a length of wire equal to your longest stay. The problem with this plan is if you break two stays, you can only replace one of them! Steel stays are heavy, so carrying a full set of new rigging carries with it a steep weight penalty! Just like with sail repair, having the tools and parts to repair your rigging isn't enough; you need to know how to use them and with rigging, you need to know how to use them very well! Steel rigging HyMod fittings have little cones that crush down on the steel wires of 1x19 rigging cable and are one time use item. If you only have one, you better know how to use it and use it well because you only get one try with it!


With synthetic rigging, you don't have to worry about corrosion, but you do have to worry about chafe. Be sure to inspect your stays for fuzziness and chafe, and be sure that nothing is rubbing on the stays while you are voyaging. It is very important to make sure that the lazy sheet isn't rubbing on the forward lowers or cap shrouds because they will saw through your rigging in the course of the ocean crossing. 

Synthetic rigging is weaker in the form of chafe, but the tradeoff is very little weight. Since there is practically no weight penalty, you can feasibly carry a full spool of rigging allowing you to fabricate all your stays again. This removes the issue of "which stay to replace" if you break two stays, you can easily replace both! 

Keeping an eye on your sails and rigging before you go out to sea is important, but keeping an eye on your sails and rigging while out at sea is critical!  

Your sails and rigging are the powerhouse that will bring you across the sea. Keeping them in proper working order is paramount to making it across the ocean. The fancy coffee maker might be a cool gadget in the galley to show off at the marina, but it is absolutely worthless when it comes to getting your yacht to the other side of the ocean. Sails and rigging are what make your yacht a sailboat, which is why it is critical that you maintain them in working order and know how to work on them yourself. Accidents happen and you will have no outside help on your yacht. You will need to know how to take care of any and all problems that could arise with your sails and rigging as you cross the ocean.