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ASA’s First Regional Meeting Held in Shenzhen, ChinaASA’s First Regional Meeting Held in Shenzhen, China Last week ASA held its first ever regional Asian Affiliate & Instructors meeting in Shenzhen, China.  Over two dozen ASA Instructors and Affiliate representatives...

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Hands Across the Sea Caribbean Getaway SweepstakesHands Across the Sea Caribbean Getaway Sweepstakes Win a caribbean bareboat charter or tropical vacation... and help improve the lives of children in the Caribbean! Join the ASA/Hands Across the Sea Caribbean Getaway...

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ASA Unveils Innovative TextbookASA Unveils Innovative Textbook ASA's brand new textbook, Bareboat Cruising Made Easy, has just been released to national acclaim. The updated manual of ASA’s bareboat cruising standard is designed to...

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Sailing Fun for KidsSailing Fun for Kids Sailing is more fun with family and friends, so why not get your kids on the water on your next Caribbean vacation? The American Sailing Association is excited to debut the...

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What you can do with your ASA sailing credentialsWhat you can do with your ASA sailing credentials Many prospective students ask us why getting certified is so important. Couldn't they pick up the same valuable sailing skills without passing a course and receiving a certificate?...

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Combine Sailing Lessons With an International VacationCombine Sailing Lessons With an International Vacation Vacations are for rejuvenation and exploration, right? So why not one-up all the normal resort-goers and take sailing lessons at your vacation destination this summer! Sailing...

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Sailing is a Great Way to Spend Quality Time with your FamilySailing is a Great Way to Spend Quality Time with your... Whether you have a six-year-old son or a sixteen-year-old daughter, sailing is a wonderful bonding experience that everyone in the family will enjoy. Next time you suggest...

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When it Comes to Your Sailing Education, You're the Boss!When it Comes to Your Sailing Education, You're the... One of the most important parts of beginning your sailing education is finding the right sailing school. Every individual has different strengths, weaknesses, needs, and ideal...

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ASA in Croatia: Medieval Mysteries This is a story about ASA's 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here. Sailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn...

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How to Tie 3 Important Sailing Knots

Category : Equipment

There are as many sailing knots as there are stars in the night sky — or so it seems. But the reality is that most sailors can get along with only knowing a few, as long as they’re the right ones. In this blog I’ll single out three very important sailing knots, explaining what they’re used for and how to tie them. Don’t forget, it’s necessary to practice these in order to get them down. Your fingers need the tactile learning experience in order to develop muscle memory that will allow you to tie them quickly when you need to!

Knowing these basic knots will make you more useful as a sailing companion. Next time you go out sailing with a friend, take a charter, or join a flotilla, you’ll feel more comfortable helping out around the boat when it’s time to put fenders out, tie up to the dock, or make a line fast.

So, read about the knots here, and practice with any old piece of rope you have handy. (A synthetic rope like the ones used on sailboats works best!) Then sign up for an ASA sailing course to get hands-on practice.
how to tie a bowline
1. Bowline

The bowline is the king of sailing knots. It has been in use by sailors continuously for at least 500 years. Simply put, the bowline is way of turning the end of your line into a loop. Why is this useful? You can tie it around a post or other fixed object to make the line fast, or on smaller boats it is used fasten the halyard to the sail. It can also be used to tie two lines together. It has a number of practical uses as well, such as hanging a hammock. Under pressure the bowline tightens, so it won’t give way. However, note that it’s impossible to untie while bearing a load!

HOW TO TIE IT:
Step 1: Form a loop near the end of the line. (How much of the line you leave will depend on how big you want the final knot to be.)
Step 2: Run the end of the line back through that loop.
Step 3: Next, run the line around the standing end and back through the small loop.
Step 4: Now grasp the end and pull the knot tight.
Step 5: You should have a large loop now! Congratulations, you’ve tied a bowline.
how to tie a clove hitch
2. Clove Hitch

A clove hitch is an extremely useful and quick knot. It has the advantage of being very quick to tie and untie, but it doesn’t hold nearly as well as the bowline. On sailboats, one of its most common uses is hanging the fenders over the side as you come in to dock.

HOW TO TIE IT:
Step 1: Wrap the end of the line around the post (or whatever you’re attaching it to).
Step 2: Cross the line over itself and wrap it around the post again.
Step 3: Loosen the last wrap slightly and slip the end under, then pull it taut. This is a way of “locking” the knot.
Step 4: Give it a few tugs to make sure it’s secure, and you’re done!
how to tie a cleat hitch
3. Cleat Hitch

This type of knot is designed especially for one purpose, and I bet you can guess what that is. If you said, “Making the line fast to a cleat,” you were correct. As you might imagine, this is used all the time on a sailboat, whether you’re docking, towing a dinghy, or rigging a preventer. Knowing how to do it will make you a much handier sailing companion!

HOW TO TIE IT:
Step 1: Make a wrap around the base of the cleat. Begin your wrap on the edge furthest away from where the line originates.
Step 2: Make a figure 8 on the cleat. If the line is going to be under a lot of pressure, and the cleat is big enough, repeat this two or three times.
Step 3: Add a hitch to the final turn to lock it. Do this by making a loop with the tail end underneath, hook it around the cleat, and pull taut. The tail end should be pointing away from the line’s origin.

Remember, practice makes perfect! Don’t be surprised or discouraged if these sailing knots don’t come out right the first few dozen times you do them. But enough practice, and they’ll become like second nature. Armed with just these few knots, you’ll make a great addition to any crew, including one of the charter groups on our flotillas to places like Scotland, Croatia, and Tahiti.

Essential sailing gear for the day sailor and cruiser

Category : Equipment

sailing racingThere are many ways to go sailing, from relaxing day sails and low-stakes racing to long-term cruising and adventurous offshore passages, but some things never change. The wind and seas are just as they were thousands of years ago, and still present the same opportunities and challenges. The only difference is that these days we have much better sailing gear to help us along! Just as sailboat technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, so have the personal items that improve the sailing experience.

Here is some essential sailing gear every mariner can use, no matter what their ambition. Like the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!” If you have these items in your personal collection, you’ll be in good shape, whether you own a boat or not.

1. Foul Weather Gear

This is a must, and it’s worth investing in the good stuff. Depending on where you sail, foul weather may be a rare occurrence, or something you deal with every time on the water. Either way, when you need it, you’ll sure be glad you have it. It can make the difference between having a great time (quality foulies will keep you warm and dry even in torrential rain) or being miserable.
using sailing gloves
2. Sailing Gloves

These specialized gloves are made to improve your grip and make hauling lines easier. They come in especially handy on smaller boats with thin lines, or on older boats without advanced winches for handling sail. With padded palms and cut-off fingers, they give you a good balance of comfort and flexibility, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing snow mittens. Pick up a pair at the ASA Store, right here.

3. Knife

Time was, the only question you had to answer in order to crew on a ship was: “Can you tie a bowline, and where’s your knife?” That still holds true in many cases today, as knives are required personal safety equipment for many racers and dinghy sailors. Certainly no sailor should be without at least one quality knife that is designed to cut through the synthetic materials used on boats. There’s a huge variety to choose from, from the basic design to the more advanced models with built-in LED lights.
sailing lifejackets
4. Personal Flotation Device (Lifejacket)

Just as you wouldn’t get into a car without seatbelts, no boat can be without PFDs. You hope you never need them, but if you do, they can save your life. Many of us still have an image of a life jacket as a huge, bulky orange thing that feels like a stockade around your neck. But modern PFDs have come a long way, and are actually quite comfortable and unobstrusive. Often you don’t have to bring your own PFD with you; the boat owner or the charter company will provide them. But if you’re going to be sailing a lot, or buying a boat, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a good one for yourself. This way you’ll have one that you like and trust. Check out the Bluestorm X-Treme, for an example of the latest innovations. It inflates automatically (but is smart enough not to go off just from rain or deck spray), and has comfortable mesh padding, all while being considerably smaller than those orange monstrosities of yesteryear. However, anything that floats will do in a pinch. Never go to sea without your PFD!

Get carried away with sailing books

Category : Equipment

sailor readingMark Twain once said: “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” And so it goes for sailors. In addition to hands-on training and practice, one of the best ways to prepare yourself for life on the water is to read and study great sailing books. So, as an alternative to the rest of the summer reading lists out there, we’ve compiled this one for sailors.

A great place for any aspiring sailor to start is with ASA’s top-of-the-line textbooks, which are expertly written, laid-out, and illustrated with world class photography and diagrams:

Sailing Made Easy (ASA 101–Basic Keelboat Sailing)

Coastal Cruising Made Easy (ASA 103–Basic Coastal Cruising)

These books are included when you register for your sailing class with an ASA affiliated school, and the school will send them to you. Many of our members highly recommend reading the book before you take the class, as it will give you a solid foundation and help you get up to speed once you’re actually on the boat! Your instructor can provide more details.

For the more advanced sailor, classic manuals like Nathaniel Bowditch’s The American Practical Navigator and Chapman Piloting & Seamanship are time-tested and packed with useful information. However, these sailing books are so thorough that they can be a bit overwhelming to the novice.

Don’t forget–there’s more to the sailing lifestyle than practical manuals. There’s also a rich tapestry of lore, culture, and adventure to explore. We’ve compiled a list of some of the great nautical books of all time. These are guaranteed to expand your appreciation for sailing and the open ocean, especially when read under the bimini on a relaxing Caribbean afternoon!

Fiction Books:
The Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall (first volume 1932)
The Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O’Brian (series of 20; first volume 1969)
Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome (series of 12; first volume 1930)
The Horatio Hornblower Novels by C.S. Forester (series of 11; first volume 1937)
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (1990)
John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
Sounding by Hank Searls (1982)
Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne (2008)
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (1929)

Nonfiction Books:
Close to the Wind by Pete Goss (2000)
Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz (2002)
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum (1900)
The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby (1956)
The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat (1969)
Sea Change by Peter Nichols (1998)
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (1840)
Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg (2007)
Looking for a Ship by John McPhee (1990)
Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World’s Most Dangerous Waters by Derek Lundy (1998)

The Evolution of the Sail

Category : Equipment

wing on wing sailingNo one knows quite how sailing began, though it’s certainly been going on for thousands of years. For example, way back in 1200 BC the Greeks launched 1,000 ships and sailed to Troy, and subsequently Odysseus went on one of the worst Mediterranean sailing charters in history trying to get home again.

Like most things, the creation of a sail probably started as an accident–someone somewhere held a piece of cloth up to the wind and noticed that it made their canoe/raft/piece of driftwood move faster. From those humble beginnings, the idea of using a sail to move through the water went on to change the world forever.

So how did it happen?

For at least a thousand years, the primary type of sailing ship was the square-rigger. A square-rigged sail is, not surprisingly, square, and is designed to have the wind push on it from the back and propel the boat forward. A simple and effective idea, and square-rigged ships drove world travel, commerce, and warfare for hundreds of years. But it had its limitations. The main problem was that you could ONLY sail running with the wind at your back, or at a very limited angle to it. Not very convenient if your destination lay in the other direction. The only answer was to start rowing (or in the case of the Romans and Egyptians, have your slaves do it).

As technology improved, sails began to be cut differently, into the more familiar triangular shape we see today. The materials also changed, from natural fabrics like hemp and cotton to nylon and polyester. But it wasn’t actually anything to do with the sail that caused the massive change from square-riggers to modern boats with more points-of-sail. It was the hull design. Shipwrights in the 18th and 19th centuries improved upon their design, taking them from wide, ponderous tubs to sleek and efficient keelboats. So the next time you’re flying along close-hauled, spare a thought for those hardworking ship designers of yesteryear!

It was a long process of incremental changes and innovations that got us where we are today. Of course, an airplane wing works on the same principles as a sail, so all those centuries of messing about in boats laid the groundwork for human flight. Now airplanes are returning the favor: Fans of the America’s Cup look on in awe as AC45 catamarans slice through the water at speeds above 30 knots. The mainsail of an AC45, which resembles a spaceship more than a sailboat, is made of rigid plastic, and is referred to as a “wing sail.” Whether or not these sails have any mainstream future for the average sailor remains to be seen, but it’s proof that there is still plenty of room for innovation.

Sails conquered earth’s watery frontiers, and space could be next. With the field of solar sails growing, who knows where sailing will take us next? Want to know more about the sail and other parts of a sailboat? Enroll in a local, basic sailing course at an ASA sailing school near you!

Zen 24 electric sailboat demonstrations with Yoh Aoki

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Sailboats

zen 24 port tackThe Zen 24, a new electric auxiliary inboard sailboat designed in Japan by legendary circumnavigator Yoh Aoki, will be on display and available for demonstration cruises in California this September, and then will participate in the ASA Southern California Flotilla to Catalina, Dana Point, Newport Beach, and Long Beach.

Come check out this beautiful, environmentally-friendly new boat!

Here are the dates and locations for the demonstrations:

September 8-9: Marina del Rey, CA (Los Angeles)
September 17-19: Marina del Rey, CA (Los Angeles)
September 23-25: Redwood City, CA (Bay Area)

For more information on the boat and the demonstrations, visit the Zen 24 website.

yoh aoki

Yoh Aoki during his circumnavigation.


About Yoh Aoki:

At age 22, Yoh Aoki built a plywood ketch in his backyard and sailed it around the world solo. This boat, Ahodori 2, holds the Guinness World Record for smallest boat ever to circumnavigate, and is currently on display at a museum in Japan.

Yoh is now an ASA instructor and the owner/operator of Aoki Yacht, an ASA affiliate located in Osaka, Japan.

zen 24 stern

The Zen 24 viewed from astern.

Out of Office: Communication Options for Cruisers

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Social Media, Weather

wiring SSB radioWe’ve received a number of reader questions about internet access at sea. This guest blog by ASA cruising expert Meghan Harvey has the answers!

Lots of people preparing to go cruising wonder what their options are to stay connected. Gone are the days of truly intrepid adventurers who simply cast off, never to be heard from for months until they land on some island with a payphone somewhere in the Pacific. Most mothers nowadays—or fathers, girlfriends, siblings, friends, or kids—might be okay with you going cruising, but expect you not to just fall off the face of the continent! Even if you’re the solitary type who would want to sail away to blue nothingness, most people want to have a line back to their loved ones.

Internet technology continues to change, but currently there are several ways that cruisers access the internet while globetrotting.

First, the old-fashioned coffee-shop method. It takes some getting used to not to have the internet at your fingertips right at home, but if you’re going cruising, do consider this option. Especially if you’re cruising internationally, where personal internet connections are less frequent, wifi coffee shops abound in almost every port. I was shocked to find wifi cafes even in the most remote stretches on the Mexican coastline. You will have frequent and inexpensive opportunities to connect to the internet while cruising, even if you don’t purchase any additional gear for your boat.
prescott working remotely
Another popular internet source while cruising is a wireless internet card. Offered by many cell phone providers, this little USB device wirelessly taps into cell phone networks and allows full internet access from your computer. What’s great about these things is that they’re very small—about the size of a flash drive, and they are relatively inexpensive. Most companies charge a fee for the card itself ($75-150, usually), and then either a monthly fee for a set amount of gigabytes, or prepaid chunks of gigs. For example, in the US, we pay about $50/month for internet via Sprint’s “aircard” (with a limit of 5 GB); in Mexico, we purchased a Telcel card and bought 3GB prepaid chunks for about $30USD. If you’re planning to cruise in a single country for awhile, the wireless internet card is a practical purchase, which many cruisers prefer. Note: Since these cards run off of cell networks, you will not get service very far offshore, or even in some remote anchorages. However, we got service at anchor about 70% of the time in the Sea of Cortez and Mainland Mexico. Most companies have coverage charts that you can check out before buying.

A third option, which is quite uncommon in the cruising crowd in our experience, is satellite internet. With virtually worldwide coverage, satellite internet gives you broadband internet anywhere—even in the middle of the Pacific. However, because this option is quite pricey, it’s not a common choice for cruisers. If you are interested in looking into it, try contacting the provider Inmarsat Fleet Broadband.

Other Communication Options
installing ssb through hull
But, do you really want to be checking Facebook while you’re at sea? I can answer that for you—NO, you don’t. (Well, maybe just the ASA page. -Ed.) You’re going off the grid, checking out, sailing away! As soon as you go, your priorities will change, and you’ll have a lot more time for exploring if you aren’t connected to the internet while cruising. Besides, the internet is not the only way to get weather reports and stay in contact at sea. These are both important things to have access to, and right now there are two great solutions available.

An SSB radio, paired with a Pactor Modem, is almost one-stop-shopping for your communication needs onboard. Though the purchase of the equipment and installation is a factor in terms of cost, the service itself is free. The SSB radio is a long-range communication tool, letting you tap in to professional weather nets multiple times daily. The Pactor Modem connects the radio to your laptop computer, allowing you to request and receive weather files to your computer via radio. In addition to weather files, you can send and receive text-based emails (sadly, no photos though) via the downloadable Sailmail program. It’s magic; I don’t really understand how it works, but it’s awesome. Of course, with a long-range radio, you can also keep in close contact with other cruisers as you make passages together, and become involved in the ever-amusing daily cruisers’ social nets. Note: transmitting via radio is verrrrry slow—think dial-up internet from the 90s speed. But thankfully, you’ll have plenty of time.
prescott and nessie wiring
Rather than the installation hassle of an SSB radio, some cruisers choose to purchase a satellite phone and modem. While you can’t get on the cruisers’ and weather nets this way, you can make a phone call to your onshore weather router (or your parents), and you can also use the modem to download weather files to your computer. My understanding is that you can send email via sat phone and modem as well, though I’ve personally never used this setup. While the initial cost is cheaper than an SSB radio (around $1000 for the phone vs. around $3000 for the SSB setup), sat phones charge users by the minute (often around $1.50/minute). Check with providers Iridium or Globalstar for current phone prices and minute rates.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the SPOT Tracker (~$150), which we use on Velella to track our progress via GPS points on an online map. It can’t send email or make phone calls, but it can send a pre-programmed message from anywhere in the world that “All is well aboard” or whatever you want it to say, along with your precise position on a Google map. When you’re at sea, and in the absence of any other form of contact, it may be just what the folks back home need.

Now, go put up your virtual “Gone Cruising” message and cast off already!

Voyaging with Velella: Holidays with a Marine Head

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Sailboats

meghan steering velellaContinuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie have just finished a 6-month cruise in Mexico and are now sailing the Pacific Northwest.

or, “Oh, I thought you said LABOR day!”

We’ve lived aboard for almost two years now, and during that time have fixed almost every single thing on this boat. In the beginning, it was daunting when things would stop working—we invariably would call a professional to come fix it, but after being shocked once or twice by $90/hour invoices, we started teaching ourselves how to repair just about anything on our sailboat. If you’re going to buy a boat, live on it, learn to sail, and cruise the seas, you’re going to have to do some handiwork.

Bilge pump broken? We can replace and rewire that. Barnacles slowing us down? We can replace zincs while we’re down there scraping off the bottom. Masthead light out? No problem. Ripped sails, busted oven thermocouplers, clogged injectors, corroded wires, I feel like we’ve done it all. But the one thing I swore up and down I’d always, always cough up the cash for someone else to deal with was… dun dun dun… the head.

There’s nothing pretty about a marine toilet, so we’ll avoid using any “head-shots” in this blog. And, jammed as it is in a 2-foot-square, poorly ventilated room, doing work on the head is the most distasteful job I can imagine. The people that do that for a living really do deserve my $90/hour. Luckily, the head on Velella is a top-of-the-line Groco manual (a veritable “throne”), so we don’t have many problems with it. That said, I’m pretty sure it was the original head, and this boat was built in 1982, so… It’s as old as I am. When the flushing handle seized up completely this weekend, I called the manufacturer to see if he could help me identify the problem, and he basically told me it was time for a rebuild.

Hm. A rebuild. Like, take it all apart, wash the pieces, replace some gaskets and seals, and put it back together? I asked the manufacturer if maybe I could just spray some WD40 on the external parts…? No. I’m all for self-sufficiency, but this was too much. I just. Couldn’t. Go there.
velella helm
So, I called “The Head Guy” in Seattle, who told me he’d charge $200 to come take it out and put it back in, but that he’d simply take it to the Marine Sanitation store for a rebuild. I could just take it out myself and bring it down there and save myself $200 bucks. You just have to unscrew the whole thing from the floor and disconnect the hoses, he said, it’s quite simple.

Well, it was the last hurdle of boat maintenance that we hadn’t yet tackled, and for some sick reason, I felt challenged. I asked Prescott if he was up for this. He wasn’t really, but he also wasn’t up for spending $200 for something that “simple.” So, I put on my grody old jeans and a T-shirt and started prepping the “workspace.” We agreed that I would scour everything superclean and disconnect everything, and he would carry it out onto the dock.

First, I doused a ton of white vinegar through the lines and closed off all thru-hull valves so water wouldn’t gush in when we disconnected. I scrubbed the whole area clean and laid down disposable towels and rags. I unscrewed the hose clamps holding the saltwater intake and discharge hoses onto the toilet. Then, Prescott came in and muscled the hoses off, I was ready with buckets to catch the gunky mess that fell out of the open lines, and he carried the whole toilet out to the dock. I immediately plugged the hoses, scoured the entire bathroom again, washed my hands about 7 times, then took a very, very long shower. We wrapped the head in a big tarp and drove it over to the shop, then came home and showered again.
velella winch
I’m not gonna lie, it was a thoroughly disgusting job to have to do. It stifled conversation between us for hours afterward. But you know what, I felt pretty dang proud of us for just biting the bullet and getting it done. And it was awesome how sympathetic sailors on the docks practically applauded when we emerged from the boat and loaded the toilet into a dock cart.

So, our head is currently getting rebuilt (by someone else, thankfully), and sanded and repainted bright white, so when we get it back it’ll be like new! In the meantime, we’re headed down to Hood River, Oregon, to get married, but when we come back, we’ll have a shiny new head waiting for us. What an unusual wedding gift to ourselves. Instead of carrying me across the threshold, Prescott will be carrying… that toilet.

Hm.

But with crappy plumbing projects in our rear view, play time ahead is that much more beautiful. We get to honeymoon aboard Velella while sailing the San Juans and Gulf Islands in July—you can’t beat that. And, thanks to this weekend’s DIY project, we have a little extra cash to enjoy!

Bahamas Adventure: The Sea Pearl 21 Sailboat

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Flotillas, Sailboats

This guest post by ASA’s Brenda Wempner is about ASA’s 2011 adventure flotilla in the Exuma Islands (or “Out Islands”) of the Bahamas. Find out more about ASA’s flotillas here.
sea pearl cruising

This was my first boat checkout standing knee deep in water for the briefing.

Most bareboat charter arrangements begin with a chart briefing and boat checkout, but this one was very unique. Dallas, our guide, explained the Sea Pearl 21 to the group.

The front sail is the Main and the back sail is the Mizzen. At the gooseneck there was a locking mechanism. When that mechanism was removed the masts would rotate, allowing the sail to furl around the mast. This is how we would reef and put away the sails.

Most of the boats had leeboards. This was a board on either side of the boat that would be lowered on the downwind side while sailing. The boats were wide open, putting a whole new meaning to the word “bareboating.” Our gear (tents and clothes) were stored in dry sacks aboard the boats.

Beaching the boats on the beautiful white sand beaches and camping at night: This was an amazing adventure.

This video shows the flotilla members gathered around as Dallas explains how this boat’s unusual rigging works!

Voyaging with Velella: Sweetwater, Sweetland

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Sailboats

grasslandsContinuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie have just finished a 6-month cruise in Mexico and are now sailing the Pacific Northwest.

In many other countries, fresh water is referred to as “sweetwater.” In Europe, as in, “Sweet, not carbonated.” In Mexico, as in, “Sweet, we can drink this!” It’s taken us quite a few weeks of being stateside to get used to the fact that we have unlimited fresh water available now, though we are trying not to grow so accustomed that we take it for granted. But it’s nice to not have to keep one ear tuned to the water pump in case the tank runs dry.

Velella is currently enjoying some R&R tucked away in her slip in Seattle, being bathed daily by sweetwater falling from the sky. Meanwhile, Prescott and I have been staying at his parents’ house in the Columbia Gorge, preparing for our upcoming wedding. When I wake up these days, I see 20 acres of rolling golden hillside, and the hulking snowy peak of Mount Adams out our window. Despite all the water flowing out of the Columbia River nearby, the sea feels very far away from “The Land.”
meghan driving velella
But the folks who live out here on The Land exhibit a level of conservation awareness that reminds me a lot of what we found in the cruising community. And in some ways, the cruising community could learn a lot from them. We walked over to the neighbor’s house to borrow something yesterday, and since I’d never been given the tour, I got to have a look around.

The main house was all of 500 square feet, but the design took advantage of that space so well that you’d swear it was twice the square footage. The concrete floors were luxuriously warm under my bare feet, heated by pipes that siphoned hot water directly from the woodburning stove that heated the room. The outdoor living space was three times the size of the indoor space, with beautiful grey-water-fed gardens downhill of the house, an enormous porch roofed with leafy vines, and an awesome cedarplank freshwater hot tub. Oh, and an outdoor brick oven in case you want some perfect woodfire pizzas. The lap of luxury, to be sure, but also quite possibly the greenest living space I’ve ever seen.

al gore roof

This is Al Gore's solar roof--but you get the idea!


Behind the house an enormous 16-panel solar array pumped out three times the energy the owner needed. He simply feeds the excess energy he produces back into the grid (and gets paid for it by the state of Washington!). Next to the solar panels is a set of black glass tubes that essentially use the sun’s heat to passively heat the house’s hot water (to 140 degrees!). The bathroom is a small separate building, a glorified outhouse, and uses a fully compost-based toilet. (Note: It smelled nothing like an outhouse and way better than many normal bathrooms and certainly any ship’s head. Can you imagine how much cleaner the earth might be if we all composted our sewage?!) All the waste water from the house (such as kitchen sink runoff) was fed directly into the garden, where they grow all edible plants and vegetables.

W. O. W.

I mean, wow.
trees and fields
I smiled to learn that the owner of this home spent years of his life aboard a cruising sailboat–-sailing from South Africa through the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard with his family. He took all the best of cruising conservation know-how and applied it to land living in an almost seamless way. Small house, big yard? Solar panel power? Passive water heating? Sounds familiar. I hope very much that someday we too will make such an elegant transition from sea-green to grass-green living.

Voyaging with Velella: Meditation on Teak

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Sailboats, Social Media


Continuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

If you are inclined towards boats in the least, you fall into one party of thought or another. Those in the first party are drawn, often romantically or with “old school” sensibility, to boats bedecked in teak. The other party will perhaps tolerate a bit of brightwork, but other than that, wants nothing to do with wood on their boat. You’re one or the other. People can move from one camp to the other, but you’ve gotta be in one of them.

Perhaps I have not spent enough years pouring elbow grease into my teak decks yet, but I am still firmly stuck in the former camp. My boat is laden with teak inside and out, and I won’t lie about how much work it is. It’s such a large job that I have to tackle it in constant stages–one weekend caulking, another day replacing bungs, another weekend sanding the combings, another day bleaching, another couple days oiling, and on and on. By the time I finish the whole thing, the deck seams need recaulking again.

Velella is a traditional Taiwanese design very similar to the Hans Christians and Tayanas. Unlike most of the boats in our design family, though, our large teak bulwarks (which run around the entire outside of the boat for non-yachtistas) are not varnished or Cetoled–they’re oiled. Lovingly, constantly oiled. It’s a job which takes hours and days to do, and it must be done almost monthly in the tropics, where the sun is strong enough to oxidize the oil almost black in just a few weeks.

Why on earth would one want such a penance? (Well, I was raised Irish Catholic as a kid. But that’s not the issue.) For one thing, well cared-for teak is a stunning sight. It’s surface is deep warm, not unlike a violin. Oiled teak is soft and tactile; it’s rich and handsome next to a light glassy varnish. For me, owning a boat is not just about being able put up the sails and move with the wind; it’s an aesthetically pleasing thing, it’s design and balance achieved, it’s gracefulness in the ever-harsh environment of the sea. So I’m a slave to it’s beauty.

To the man who walks by on the dock and snorts, “You shoulda bought a plastic boat!” I say, “Don’t you know pain is beauty?!?” Then I get back to work. It’s not just because it’s pretty that I do all this.

Velella works awfully hard keeping us safe day and night, so the least I can do is take a loving hand to her. My eyes know all the cracks and crannies and I have a mental log of every spot that will next need caulking. It’s a great way to bond with the boat–doing teak work. Anyway, all that wood has brought us on an incredible journey. And the wood took an equally incredible journey of its own before I ever laid a brush on it.

In a book I have in our onboard library*, the author excerpts a small history of teak, which is fascinating. Teak trees are absolutely enormous–up to 40 feet around and 150 feet tall–and they don’t grow in groves, but are found individually within monsoon rainforests. The wood, which grows in India, Burma, Thailand, and Java, has unique properties that those cultures have long known about (it was only more recently that Western navigators realized its superior benefits). Teak is an extremely dense hardwood that actually sinks in water when freshly felled–in fact it’s so hard that you can’t drive a nail into it (which is why screw holes are pre-bored and fitted with wood plugs.) It’s much stronger than most woods, resistant to mildew, insect attack, fungal decay, and all sorts of other wood-plaguing maladies. The grain will swell when it becomes wet, effectively making it self-sealing.

What’s most amazing to me is that the harvesting process for all this teak is done by elephants who are trained to haul the felled logs to the nearest waterway. They even lift and stack the logs using their trunks. I’m not making this up! Then, the timber is floated downstream, ending up in ports that ship to North America and Europe.

So to those of you in the second camp who say “to he$% with teak work, let’s go sailing already,” I can totally understand that. But for better or worse, I love the maintenance as much as I love the movement–the symphony of function and form that all come together to produce this little world that keeps us safe at sea. Sailing is an undeniably romantic art. So I leave you with a quote. Or perhaps a mantra.

“Art begins with resistance–at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” –Andre Gide

*If you want to learn more about caring for teak from someone really in love with the fine practice of woodworking, read Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood by Rebecca Wittman. The photographs alone are worth it.

Here’s where Velella is now!

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