I had an email the other day from an old friend who was getting ready to set off across the Pacific. ‘What do you do for a watch system?’ he asked, ‘when there are only two of you.’ A lot of yachts making ocean passages are crewed by just two people, usually a couple and often not youngsters, to put it delicately.
Across the Atlantic and on any overnight passages it all comes down to the crew. On one of our earlier yacht, Tetranora which we took across the Indian Ocean we were initially three though illness forced one to fly home from Yemen. Cousin Frank and I fell into a comfortable three on and three off rhythm for the rest of the trip to SE Asia. Another of our yachts, Seven Tenths sometimes had three crew though often it was just me and Lu, my wife. On our current yacht Skylax, we originally planned for a friend to make the crew numbers up but this all fell through at the last minute. With two onboard we were on three hours on/three hours off rota. On seven-tenths with just one extra person, you get three hours on and a wonderful six hours off. This added rest means you are better prepared for bad weather or any other problems and that you can drive the boat harder. For the two of us, you tend to keep the boat throttled back so that everything is easy and this cuts into your daily runs.
You do of course need a reliable autopilot or wind vane self-steering. On Seven Tenths we had a fairly useless wheel driven autopilot. She would steer herself to windward with the wheel tied off and a bungee on the opposite side to stop any excess movement – in fact, she steered herself like that for five days from the Azores to Gibraltar in the Portuguese Trades.
On Skylax we went around the world and some with a below deck linear drive unit and I still the spare drive unit I bought as a spare. Of course that autopilot has a name often mentioned affectionately by us.
Fear and falling in love again
The psychology of relationships on board is seldom talked about and the fears and shared love of sailing are taboo subjects for those, mostly couples, sailing together. Yet any thinking sailor will experience moments of fear, of imagining ‘what if ’ scenarios. I’m often asked by those on the land whether I get scared at all. Oh yes, even after all these years there are butterflies and more at the beginning of a passage, moments of self-doubt and mild panic when things go wrong at sea, and that sheer hanging on as the boat buckets along under half a gale or more.
On my first foray offshore in the 20ftRoulette I wrote some years ago as follows:
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