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Navigation Equipment and the Black Sea - Chapter NINE
While we were still cruising on the Black Sea after our adventure in Russia, Barbara and I began to talk seriously about how we could spend more time on the ocean and less time on the land. We wanted to travel around the world on our own boat. We wanted to become yachties. Our children were older now. Our son was in college and lived in a dorm. Our daughter had chosen to go to school in a live-away prep school in Switzerland. We had always been the family that played together and stayed together, but they now wanted independence. If we became yachties, they could meet us at various stops, and spend their vacations with us.
We spent a large percentage of our waking hours discussing how this could be done. The most obvious issue to come to terms with was that we would have to give up working. We had savings and investments, so we could afford to live on a boat without earning money, but we would have to vastly reduce our expenses. We would have to give up our analysts, which made Barbara very nervous. She had been visiting Freddie for sixteen years, and he was now a part of her life. On the other hand, she felt that she didn't really need him any more, so he was a very expensive and non-necessary item in our budget.
The cost of maintaining our condominiums and homes was our largest financial drain. We could not afford to own a yacht, maintain it, and keep all of our homes. Something had to go. At this point there was no serious discussion of selling our home in Tarzana, only the Palm Springs and Vail condominiums. We expected to make a handsome profit on the sale of them.
Being on a ship while having these discussions made us aware of the many details we'd need to cope with. How do you get enough fresh water on a boat to fill your needs? What kind of electronics will we need? And, how large a vessel should we consider? We had no experience with sailboats. We had never sailed, so a sailboat was not even in our considerations. We were talking about a power yacht. We knew that the Roberta was not capable of crossing oceans. How big a boat did we need to be able to do that, and how much would it cost? Both to purchase it, and to maintain it. How big a crew would we need, and what was the cost of the crew? Where do you get experienced sailors and crewmen?
As soon as we began to talk about a crew, we became concerned about safety issues. Do you just go ahead and take a stranger on board your yacht? How much background checking do you do? What if you end up with a criminal or a wacko? The idea of a stranger on board with us made us extremely nervous. But then we would sit on deck and watch the sunset. We so loved the motion of the boat on the water, the sea air, and the vastness of the ocean. We'd suppress the frightening issues and concentrate on ones that we could deal with.
Barbara had a great idea. She said, since we're on a cruise ship, let's talk to the crew and get as much information as we can about how this ship runs, what problems do they have, and how are the problems dealt with.
On every ship we had been on, we were invited to have dinner with the captain. I figured it was because Barbara is an exceptionally attractive woman. A few well-placed smiles and conversations got us our second invitation to dinner on this ship. Barbara sat next to the captain and started asking questions.
She arranged a special tour of the bridge to see the navigation equipment, how they know where they are and where they are going. We spent a couple of hours asking questions about the radar and the satellite navigation systems. The crew on these ships are usually bored and were more than happy to accommodate our inquiries. In fact, they pulled out books and manuals and gave us more information than we could handle. We were not familiar enough with the terminology and details of being on the ocean to grasp all we were told. I took copious notes, writing furiously, trying to get down as much information as I could for later.
How far does the radar cover? How small a ship or object will the radar pick up? Does radar work in the fog, at night, in the rain, etc.? What are its drawbacks, and what does it not do that you would like it to do? We asked the same questions over and over to different members of the crew. It was fascinating how very different their answers were to the same questions.
Navigation was my primary concern. When you are on a large body of water and cannot see the shoreline, or any indication of where you are, how do you know where you are, and how do you know which way to go? In fact, even when you see the land it is usually of no help whatsoever. Most land looks very similar from the ocean unless there is some outstanding landmark, headland, city, or something to tell you where you are. Even cities look very similar from the ocean. I was very interested in the charts. They are the road maps of the ocean. I was surprised at how very little information the charts give you. There are charts of various detail. 1 inch equals 100 miles. 1 inch equals 500 miles. 1 inch equals 2 miles. There are a large variety of scales. Places that are well visited have a greater choice of scales and give more details. The scale you need depends on how close you go to shore and where you're going. It was necessary to have a full complement of these charts, but they are large and take up a lot of room. I could see that one would need lots of charts to go just about anywhere. There are pilot books that give detailed information on ports of entry, harbors, and the regulations for entry into each port and country. They also tell you where you can anchor, if there are moorings available, and lots of necessary and required detailed information. Just for the Black Sea there were dozens of these pilot books.
A major issue seemed to be fuel. This is the greatest problem on all boats. The largest ships are limited by their capacity to carry fuel. This problem is compounded by the fact that the same fuel is needed to generate electrical power as well as to power the engine and drive the propeller. We had not even thought about where the electrical power came from. On shore you just plug into the outlet and you have power. On the ocean you must make your own electricity.
The cruise ship has a bank of large diesel fueled power generators. They are nothing more than a diesel engine where the drive shaft is attached to an electric power generator. That is why it is called a gen set. On board ship they are water-cooled. Sea water is abundant, cold, and great for cooling engines. It is in abundance, always available, and free.
This revelation about the electricity problem led to the next issue which was what type of fuel to use. The answer is diesel, as you must use the same fuel for all engines on board and since generators are mostly diesel, diesel it was for all engines. The amount of fuel used by a cruise ship is awesome. We were starting to get the idea that this entire venture was going to be far more complex and involved than we had first imagined, but we were nevertheless anxious to learn more.
We were far from making a decision about what type of yacht we wanted to buy, but we were more and more enchanted with the entire idea. We wanted to be on the ocean, and we wanted to have the freedom of choice as to how long we would stay in any one place, and where we would go. Cruise ships are very limiting. They have a program which you must follow. They are in a port for a day or two at most, and then they move on. We wanted to be able to stay a couple of weeks if we liked the place. Or maybe even longer.
The cruise ship routine is rather strict and unbending. Breakfast is 8 to 9:30, mid-morning tea is at 11, lunch is 12:30 to 2 p.m. Afternoon tea is at five. Dinner has two seatings, one at 7 p.m. and one at 9 p.m. There is always a midnight buffet. The food was generally good but not great, even on the very best ships, and we were used to great food. Also, we did not like the dinner bell which calls the passengers to eat and which is followed by a stampede of people fighting to get into the dining room. At the end of the cruise, disembarking the ship was very unpleasant. The moment the cruise was over, you were an annoyance. They wanted to be rid of you as quickly as possible, and all semblance of civility and service disappeared. Many times we swore no more cruises because getting off the boat was so irritating, but we loved the ocean, and would sign up again for the next ship. Thinking about the end of the cruise in a few days caused us to redouble our efforts to investigate how this ship was run, and how to do it ourselves.
The next issue we looked into was water. How much fresh water can you carry on board a yacht? How did the cruise ship provide enough water for all those people to shower, drink, wash dishes, etc.? The answer was simple, reverse osmosis desalinization. Our response was reverse what? You take sea water and put it into a series of high-pressure pipes, vessels, membranes, and filters, which take the salt and all minerals out of the water. The water is very pure. Far better than you get out of your water tap at home. It is super soft water, and taking a shower or bath in it leaves your skin feeling silky, soft, and great. It also tastes great.
Obviously the quantity of water that you require determines the size of the reverse osmosis system you must have. As with most yacht equipment, it runs on electrical power, and that is another burden on the generator. The larger the system, the more space it takes up, and the more watts it uses.
When we got home, we would have a lot of investigative work to do. What size and kind of vessel? How would it be equipped? How do we learn all that we need to know? How long would all of this take?
Meanwhile, the ship was going to make a few more stops in Turkey. Istanbul, our next stop is an interesting city with its Topkapi museum. After Istanbul was Kusadasi, where there are the very interesting Roman ruins of Ephasis. These ruins are the best preserved, and in the best condition, of any 2000-year-old ruins. This was the big highlight of the cruise schedule. But the tour arranged by the ship allowed only two hours at the site, not nearly enough to do this place justice. I knew I would not be back to Kusadasi soon, if ever, and I was not happy with the short visit. I would have liked to spend a full day, at least, in Ephasis. Our conversation on board the ship that night made us even more certain that we were going to cruise the world on our own vessel.
The next day we were making another stop in Turkey to visit the Green Mosque. I was less than enthusiastic about this stop. My mind was on our own boat. What was it going to be? I was very anxious to get started with the planning and the details. This was the planning of a major life change. We were going to sell our houses, our cars, and all the years of accumulated furniture, antiques, and stuff.
The ship arrived at a small port and village. The tour buses were dusty, and only marginally acceptable. We drove though the dirty and dusty Turkish town and headed up into the foothills. We climbed for almost an hour, finally arriving at a small hamlet. It was out of the middle ages, or perhaps older. The dress here was typically middle eastern: robes, covered faces, turbans, the works. The bus continued though the town and stopped just on the outskirts. There was a small white building standing on the top of a small round hill. We walked up the cobblestone path to the structure. It was a mosque. Plain, undecorated, and painted white. The Green Mosque?
We walked inside. The room was about 80 feet across and hexagonal in shape. The floor was red tile. The walls were plain and painted white. The few windows had plain clear glass. There was no apparent lighting source. The entire room was bathed in a strange green light. Our hands and faces looked emerald green. The effect was very strange and unexplainable. In our group there were several scientific types, doctors, a physicist, and a couple of university professors. We spent twenty minutes in the room trying to find the source of the green glow and effect. We found no clue. It was indeed very strange and beyond rational explanation.
We walked out of the Green Mosque now understanding its name, and bewildered at the physical effect we had just seen. The buses were not at the foot of the hill. The tour guide explained that they were waiting on the other side of the village and would pick us up there so that we could walk though the marketplace, called the shuk, and shop. This is what all tour guides everywhere do. They direct you into shops to buy the local stuff, sometimes interesting local products, but mostly junk. The tour guides then get a substantial commission on each sale. They do not take you to the best shops for the best stuff or the best prices, but rather to where they get the best kickback.
As our group of cruise-ship passengers walked into the main street of this village, the locals lined the side of the street. They came out of the shops and stood there and watched us. When we were several hundred yards into the place, the men pulled their curved, long knives half way out of their sheaths and rattled them. The women started to make a terrible noise with their tongues. They made them go up and down very rapidly while giving forth a high-pitched wail. It was very unpleasant.
In fact, the scene was altogether frightening. The guide assured us this was just the locals acting up, as they did not like Americans and saw very few tourists in this small and out of the way place. Oh great, then why did you bring us here. To make money of course. We should not have been allowed to go to this isolated village if the ship knew that it was in any way dangerous. The ship was totally irresponsible in failing to advise us of this risk.
The bottom line is that cruise ships are in the tour business. When you get to a port, they sell you a tour of the place. These shore excursions are not cheap, and the ship makes a substantial part of its income from selling shore excursions. They are intent on selling you the tour, and they are not concerned about your personal safety. I complained vociferously when we returned to the ship, to no effect. The ship was going to stop at this same port on their next visit in the area. They would again sell the tour to Americans, despite the obvious danger.
The rattling of the daggers and wails of the women was a scene we would like to forget (but won't ever). The locals hated us and wanted us to know it. Who knows what might set them off, and cause them to actually attack. In my mind it is certain that an attack will come some day. The only question is when it will happen.
We had seen other incidents of the non-caring attitude of the cruise lines. On one such occasion, we went though the Panama Canal with our children. We departed from Los Angeles, went south, and then east through the canal. When we emerged from the canal passage on the Caribbean side, the weather was bad and getting worse. There were hurricane warnings. The ship departed Panama City and sailed directly into the hurricane because they had to keep their schedule no matter what.
They must be in Miami on the exact day and hour they are due to arrive, so that the disembarking passengers can vacate their cabins and make room for the embarking passengers. They have a very tight schedule, and they were going to be in Miami on time, regardless of the sea conditions or the weather. So the passengers got seasick, too bad. Good seamanship dictated that they should have stayed in port in Panama a day or two and not taken a chance with the winds and seas of a hurricane. Now I understand all of this. Had I known and understood the risk the ship was taking, I would have gotten myself and my family off of that ship in Panama and flown home from there. The ships rely on the fact that passengers do not know what is going on, and are not knowledgeable about what is safe and what is dangerous.
On another cruise out of Miami into the Caribbean, we went to the island of St. John as one of the ports of call. We signed up for the shore excursions. I wanted to go scuba diving with David and Tiffany, and Barbara wanted to take a trip around the island. The cruise operator neglected to tell us that the locals were rioting, burning shops, and killing each other. It was not clear at the time what the dispute was about, but there was serious civil unrest. It was not safe to go ashore, let alone go sight seeing with the rioting natives around. The ship said not a word. Nothing was told to us of the danger. There was no warning whatsoever.
While Barbara was on the tour visiting a local country club, a member of the club was killed. The tourists were hustled onto the tour bus whereupon the tour continued on to its next destination. There was never a thought of returning to the ship, which was the obvious move under the circumstances. No way, as then they would have been forced to refund some of, or all of, the price paid for the tour.
Cruise ships emulate the US Postal Department: Neither wind, or sleet or snow shall keep us from our appointed rounds. Not fair, reasonable, or honest, but that's the way it is. After the hurricane experience, we checked on the weather situation ourselves, and did not rely on the tour company or the cruise line. We would not go on a cruise if the time of the year wasn't right. We no longer took cruises into the Caribbean during the hurricane season.
So we were more careful about the weather conditions, and we should have been equally careful as to where the ships stopped, and what we were going to do on those stops. However, it wasn't until the dagger rattlers of Turkey that we learned to watch out for our own safety by checking out the tours as well as the weather.
Another frightening thing we learned about cruise ships was that they are careless about their medical facilities. The "doctors" they have on board are often not licensed physicians, as there are no laws that require they be licensed. The cruise ships often carry medical students, or worse, doctors who have lost their rights to practice for a variety of reasons. The ships are very poorly equipped. Many don't even have a defibrillator. They are not required under the rules of the sea to have anything, and can only be liable for damages if they screw up. They are free of any liability if they do nothing. So often that is exactly what they do, nothing. They wait to get the sick or injured person to a hospital at the next port of call. If someone dies waiting for help, then it's too bad.
Despite all of this, we were going to take a few more cruises after the Black Sea trip so that we could gather more information about how to run a ship and live on the ocean. Barbara and I continued our discussions and investigations aboard ship until we arrived in Piraeus.
There are a few places in Europe that specialize in selling yachts. Athens, and its port of Piraeus, is exceptionally good for this. We decided we would spend the couple of days that we had planned to sight-see and go yacht shopping instead. We changed our plans and stayed in Athens. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, I called yacht brokers and set up appointments. We saw a number of yachts that were for sale.
We were quickly convinced that our initial plans were going to have to be changed. Our main requirement was a boat of adequate size to cross any ocean. We wanted to go around the world, wander, and see everything. That meant being able to cross the largest of all oceans, the Pacific. That in turn meant that the vessel had to have the capacity to go at least four thousand miles without refueling. The yachts built for the Mediterranean simply do not have that kind of range, unless you get into boats of over 125 feet in length. We soon learned that a boat of that size was way out of our financial capabilities. Even if we could afford to buy the ship, we'd need money to operate it and to pay the crew. We had to think smaller.
We were very lucky to stumble into an employment agency for crew for yachts. This was an eye opening experience. On a ship of over 100 feet you need a full-time crew which has to include a licensed captain, a first mate, deck hands, a mechanic, an engineer, a cook, and at least one maid. The cost of this was staggering, and way beyond our means. Even then, you had not yet paid for the fuel, food, maintenance, repairs, taxes, licenses, and all the other expenses.
We were shown a couple of very nice yachts that were for sale for the price of "pay the yard bill" - the boat was yours if you paid the boatyard bill. The previous owner was not willing to pay the costs of the maintenance work done on the boat, and was willing to walk away from the boat instead of paying the outstanding boatyard bill. This was a clear indication of what the repair and maintenance issue was on a large yacht, and it was frightening.
We were out of our depth. We were not going to buy a large powerboat. The next question was, how small a boat could take enough fuel for an ocean crossing? We continued to visit yacht dealers and ask questions with an emphasis on range and how much fuel you can carry. We were getting a wide variety of answers and opinions, and we concluded that very few, if any, of these people knew what they were talking about.
On our arrival back in Los Angeles, I decided that I needed to do some reading in order to find out the real facts. I started at the library and then bought every sailing and yachting magazine I could get my hands on. I was starting to get a grasp of the situation and our requirements.
We were still euphoric over our adventure in Russia, and overwhelmed thinking about what we had actually done. A scene on television or the movies would remind us of the extreme danger we had placed ourselves in, which would bring back all of the emotions. We were spending a lot of time trying to drum up awareness of and support for the plight of the Soviet Jews. We were working, but not as much as we had before. Between the Soviet Jews and our boating plans, there wasn't much time for working or socializing.
We visisted yacht dealers and brokers in the Los Angeles area. We drove up the coast to San Francisco and down to San Diego to visit yacht brokers. This was more or less a repeat of the experience in Greece. These guys were just like used car salesmen; they would tell you whatever you wanted to hear; the truth and facts were pretty much irrelevant. We found many yachts that we could purchase by paying the yard bill. The maintenance issue began to loom large in my calculations.
At the same time we were investigating yacht information, we spoke to real estate brokers about selling our homes. The biggest problem concerned what to do with our furniture and personal property, which was not going to fit on any boat. We decided we would give the bulk of the furniture and stuff to charity. The pieces which were important to us, we would put into storage.
A sailboat was becoming the obvious answer to our needs. We couldn't go with a powerboat due to the limited range imposed by the fuel requirements. In order to cross an ocean it would be necessary to rely on sail power. A sailboat was a major change in direction, however, and we had no idea how to sail.
We went to Marina Del Rey, found a sailing school, and signed up. The lessons were very basic but gave us just enough proficiency to rent a very small boat and sail around the harbor. This, of course, would not be enough, but we managed to learn some of the terminology and the very basic rudiments of sailing. At the same time, I was reading library books about sailing and the different types of sailing vessels. This was all good, but did not provide the specific information we needed in order to make a decision about what boat to buy.
The experts we spoke to said we needed a boat large enough to accommodate a crew member, or even two crew members. At the same time, though, we were talking to people who had crew members onboard and the stories they told were shocking. Every one of them related horror stories about crew members. These were mostly people who were trying to sell boats which required crew. Here they were, telling us why we should not have a crew. When someone is talking against his own best interests, and is talking you out of buying the boat he's trying to sell because of the problems with crew, you must listen. He has no obligation to tell you this stuff and it runs counter to his own interests. It therefore must be accurate and so compelling that he cannot resist talking about it.
The first and largest problem with crew is finding them and hiring them. The supply of people who are willing to go to sea and be crew members on a private yacht is very limited. Most of the people who think they want this type of job are young adults seeking adventure. They don't see themselves as servants. Many of the people seeking these jobs have background problems. A significant percentage have drug problems and criminal records. Many of the young kids are excited about going to places where the drugs are cheaper and more available than in the US. Working on your yacht is not their primary goal. In fact, no one wants to make being a crew member on a yacht his life's work.
Every yacht owner we spoke to about this told us stories of theft. To hear them speak, you could conclude that every crew member is a thief. Some of the stories about what the crew stole were very funny. They'd steal basically anything not nailed down (on a boat it's anything not screwed down). They stole food, boat hardware, clothes, medicine, and of course money. One couple told us to have two safes onboard. One you hide, but not so well that the crew can't discover it, and the second you hide extra well so the crew won't find it. You put the passports and money in the well-hidden safe, because the one which is known to the crew will be broken into regularly.
The stories were not much different from ones told by our very rich friends who had large mansions and many servants. The cook will not clean, because he or she is a "chef." The maid will not cook because she is not a cook. The maid will not help serve at a dinner party, as she is not a waiter. And they steal. And they come in drunk. They drink your liquor and eat your food and they "borrow" your clothes. Going out to dinner with very rich clients always included a story or complaint about the help problem.
So the crew problems already sounded familiar. Barbara and I were not going to get ourselves into this situation. We had always had help since the time we moved into our large home. We always hired young Mexican girls whom we found through Certified or recommendations from friends. The young girls viewed the job as a fantastic opportunity to raise the level of their lives. They came from extreme poverty in Mexico, and this was their chance to get into the US and raise their standard of living. Most of them had never seen a washing machine or many of the appliances we take for granted in the US.
They'd send half of their paychecks back home to Mexico to help support their large families. They watched TV and watched us, and they learned the ropes about America. They would learn to speak English and then move on to a better job. Usually they found their own replacement, often a sister or cousin from Mexico. Most were hard working and lovely girls. Our kids loved them, as they were sweet and kind people. We had very few negative experiences.
One of our first maids, Poche, was a sharp 18-year-old when she came to us. She worked on her English and got a high school diploma. After a couple of years she left and got her younger sister to work for us. Poche married a Beverly Hills surgeon and now lives in a mansion in the hills, with servants of her own.
There is another level of crew member, and that is the professional captain and professional mechanic. These people are usually retired from the US Navy and are skilled people. They command good salaries and benefits. They demand their own cabin and comfortable arrangements. So you'd need a boat big enough to hold two or three crew cabins, and a substantial amount of money for their salaries.
All crew, even professional crew, are prone to jump ship. We heard about this over and over again. You arrive at a foreign port and the crew member packs his or her bags and leaves (often with many of your possessions in his luggage). They leave because the job is too tough for them, or because they like the look of the place you are visiting and decide to stay there. And, if they are very good and professional, they jump ship because they receive a better job offer. Many have a problem with alcohol and you have to get rid of them. A far worse problem is drugs. If the US Coast Guard stops your vessel and finds drugs on board, even though they are not yours but belong to your crew, you are held fully liable and they can, and will, confiscate your yacht. You pay the fine and you go to jail. I saw the movie "Midnight Express" and do not want to be in a third world jail because of a crew member's drugs. I also don't want to police employees and run searches.
If the crew member jumps ship in a strange place, you are in real trouble. Where are you going to get a replacement, which on a larger vessel you absolutely need? You cannot run a large yacht without a competent mechanic to take care of the engines and other systems, or without a licensed captain, or at least one deckhand.
It is almost impossible to find a professional crew person in Mexico or most foreign countries. In Europe they don't speak English, and you run into local regulations on hiring locals, which can be horrific and/or expensive. So you have to call an employment agency and hire someone from the US or England, and pay his or her fare to get to you and your yacht, wherever it is. You then get someone sight unseen who can turn out to be a nightmare. They may last a short time and then you repeat the process. This can get to be incredibly expensive and is tough on the nerves.
The more facts we learned and the more stories we listened to about crew, hiring crew, and dealing with crew, the more adamant we were that we were not going to have any crew members on board. Barbara felt even stronger about this than I did. She grew insistent that we not have any crew on board and that we would have to do everything ourselves.
The question then became: What can we do by ourselves without any crew members on board? This changed the nature of our search for a boat. No more large powerboat, because a couple cannot run one alone. It also put an end to the thought of a large sailing vessel. The physical strength and the amount of work required for a large sailboat could not be handled by two people. Racing yachts have crews of ten to twelve strong husky men, all of whom are needed to sail them.
The boats we now considered were modest sailboats. This changed the entire thrust of our search. We were going to be alone on the ocean, which meant that we would have to be capable of doing everything. Whatever emergency took place, we alone would be there to deal with it. We were not put off or scared by the prospect, which in retrospect, we should have been. It also meant that we had to anticipate any and all problems that were likely to occur, and plan for them in advance. We had to be able to take care of unanticipated problems and emergencies. This was going to be an exercise in being prepared for anything and everything. Since those contingencies were still not within our grasp and understanding, it meant a lot more research.
We had many, many questions at this point. What do you do if there is a fire onboard? What do you do if someone falls overboard? How do you keep from falling overboard? How do you keep busy and amused on a very long passage across an ocean? What do you do if a large ship hits you? What can you do to avoid being hit by a large ship? How do you avoid bad weather and hurricanes? We would find the answers to all these questions sooner or later; sometimes the solutions were good, and other times not very good at all.
This is not anything like preparing for a camping trip, where you make lists of stuff you need and take off for a weekend. If you forget something, probably your life will not be a risk or in danger. At sea it could mean your death. You cannot run down to the corner store to get the item you forgot. There are no stores on the ocean.
Barbara made it very clear that I could not rely on her to help sail the boat. She would certainly pitch in, but I was going to be the sailor. I was going to be completely in charge and responsible for sailing. That meant, for all intents and purposes, that I was going to be a single-handed sailor, one who goes it alone. I had to be able to run the ship fully by myself.
The more I read about single-handed sailing, the smaller our boat became. When you are alone on the ocean, the smaller the boat, the easier it is to sail. Most single round-the-world sailors go in boats of about 25 feet long. A twenty-five footer, however, was not going to make it for two people and for all of the equipment we now knew we wanted on board.
We had given up on the idea that our master cabin was going to be a large, walk-in room, and that our bathroom would have a Jacuzzi tub and marble on the walls. That was not in the cards for the size of the boat we were now contemplating. We knew that we were going to change our life style dramatically. Strangely, that didn't faze us. Perhaps our view of what a person requires had been forever altered by the scenes we had witnessed in Odessa. 22 people lived in a two-room apartment with no private bathroom or kitchen. Streamlining our lives from three homes and five cars to one nice boat didn't seem like such a hardship.
Barbara and I cannot recall a precise moment when we said, fine, let's take the leap, buy the boat, and go for it. The idea had taken form after the experience in Russia, so perhaps that had something to do with it. We had known for a long time that there was no contentment and peace of mind to be found in the accumulation of material riches. The visit to Russia had shown us in a clear if painful way that people's lives in other parts of the world were far different than our own. One idea of sailing around the world was to search and explore. We would search for new things, people, and experiences. We would find out what the whole world was like. But there was definitely another element in our decision. We now believe that the sum total of our lives had reached a crescendo in the experience in Odessa, and now we were starting a new page, a new beginning. We also believe that the new beginning had been decided for us by a force other than ourselves. However, we were not at all conscious of anything like this at the time. We were sort of operating on autopilot. The page turned and the new life was commencing, but at the time it seemed like Odessa was one thing, and now we were simply fulfilling a decades-old desire to live on the ocean. In any event, we did not spend time contemplating what we were about to do or delving into our reasons. Perhaps this was strange, considering all the psychoanalysis. Instead, we spent all of our time contemplating the details of the expedition, i.e., the what-has-to-be-done-next aspects.
We were giving up all of the amenities and homes that we had been accustomed to for all of our lives. We were also giving up the expenses and problems of sustaining that opulent lifestyle. We were simplifying our existence in a substantial way: We were moving from many thousands of square feet of living space into a couple of hundred square feet. We were excited about this prospect and ready to take on the challenge. Of course, as usual, we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves in to. Had we known, I doubt if we would have done it. Had I understood the amount of time I would have to spend in the lazzerette working on the engine, generator, water maker, etc., I never would have bought the boat. Had we understood the enormous physical effort it takes to run and maintain a sailing yacht, we surely wouldn't have proceeded.
My next investigation concerned the question of how large a boat I could properly and safely run by myself. From reading magazines, talking to yacht brokers, and spending many days wandering around marinas and talking to whomever I could talk to, the outside number seemed to be about 45 feet in length. Once the vessel got bigger than that, the size of the sails became too big. The maintenance, cleaning, and polishing would be too much for the two of us to handle. The anchor would be too large and heavy. The lines would be too big in diameter and hence too heavy and difficult to handle. When you have a bigger boat, everything starts to go up in size. Many things onboard go up in size geometrically, and not arithmetically. So when you add a couple of feet in length, the mast goes up four or five feet in height. The keel, that is the part of the boat under the water, goes down further in the water.
I reduced my sights to something under forty feet long, but not less than 35 feet. This meant a boat with a beam, that is, the width of the boat, of about ten to twelve feet, at its widest point.
Boats come in a huge variety of rigging styles. Rigging is the mast and all of the stuff which is above the deck. It includes the heavy wire rope, called stays, which hold the mast in place so that it doesn't move. The more masts you have, the more rigging you have, and the more complex becomes the sailing and maintenance of the boat.
When you hear descriptions of boats such as: cutter, yawl, sloop, brigantine, etc., these are descriptions of how the vessel is rigged, how many masts it has, and what sail plan it has. I was convinced by this time that the simpler the better. In yachting parlance the phrase is: keep it simple, stupid (k.i.s.s.). If someone tells you to kiss it, they are telling you to do it in the simple and easy way. Don't get complicated and involved. When you have to react with speed and certainty, the simpler the vessel is, the better the chance you will survive to tell the tale.
I still did not know enough about the technical requirements of sailing, but I did know that I wanted a single-masted boat. The next decision was what type of material the boat should be. The choices were wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass and concrete.
Concrete boats are very strong, and I considered building one myself. After a couple of months spent looking into the details, however, I decided that I wouldn't be confident crossing an ocean in a homemade boat. The same problem existed with wood. It is a fine material for many things, but not strong enough for a sailboat that is going to cross oceans.
Steel and aluminum boats are strong enough but have problems with electrolysis, which causes all sorts of maintenance problems. They also sweat, which causes dampness and can make them uncomfortable in warm weather. They become freezing cold in the cold weather, and are then very uncomfortable to live in. So steel and aluminum were out.
This left fiberglass by default. It has the fewest drawbacks of any of the materials and it can be fashioned into virtually any shape. The boat would be made of fiberglass.
I started looking at fiberglass boats that would meet our requirements. The biggest problem was that used boats had too much deferred maintenance, and Barbara and I would not feel comfortable knowing that something unseen could go wrong. The more used boats I looked at, the more my concerns grew about anything used.
It was clear we needed a brand-new boat, with a new engine, new rigging and all new equipment. This again changed the direction of our search. We were now looking into boat manufacturers. We went to boat shows and read boating magazines. We looked into every alternative we could find. Finally we decided to buy a boat made in Taiwan by Tayana.
There were a number of reasons for this choice. They made a lot of boats that had sailed around the world. They were flexible and would do almost anything you wanted done. They built pretty and very seaworthy vessels, thus meeting several of our requirements. We insisted on having an attractive boat. That was critical to both of our artistic tastes. The requirement of a good appearance and good line eliminated a number of very fine boats, which just were not good looking.
Many fiberglass boats have thin hulls. They are designed for day sailing, and not for rough seas or crossing oceans. As they are plastic and thin, they are called Tupperware boats. We required a sandwiched construction hull made of many layers. It had to be thick, sturdy and strong. This hull requirement ruled out many other nice boats. Tayana was not a racing boat. You sacrifice speed as you add weight, and a stout hull adds lots of weight to the vessel.
We went to various marinas in the LA. area and spoke with many yacht brokers, all of whom left us uninspired. We were still novices and needed someone who would hold our hands and take care of us. Then one day a "coincidence" took place. We had to go to Ventura to meet someone for lunch. This was something we did not want to do, and we had already put it off several times. This day, however, we dragged ourselves over to Ventura, and had lunch. After lunch, which wasn't so terrible, we had some extra time and decided to visit the Ventura Marina.
We came upon a new yacht-brokerage office that was opening for business on that very day, and we went in. The lovely young couple that owned the place, Steve and Rhonda McGavern, were sharp and very helpful. We hit it off immediately. We like them and what they had to say. The most important part was they were selling Tayana's. They didn't know that we had pretty much already decided on a Tayana and went on and on about its attributes and qualities. Had our luncheon date been just one day earlier we would have not found Steve and Rhonda, which would have changed our experience greatly.
To their great surprise we told them we were going to purchase a boat from them. It was far from a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a boat, but to select the broker on the first visit was a surprise to all of us. They could not believe their good luck in selling a boat just as they were opening their doors for business. We couldn't believe our good luck in finding a young, aggressive, and knowledgeable couple, who we felt would pay attention to us, and take good care of us. We were important to them and that's exactly what we needed.
We spent many hours with them going over details, making decisions about the boat, what we needed in equipment, and the myriad of fine points. They had sailed a couple of years around the Pacific Ocean on a Tayana and were speaking from experience. We felt we could rely on them. We placed our faith in them and listened to them. Everything they said felt perfect and right, and we placed the order without investigating them. It turned out to be an excellent choice. They did far more than they were required to do. Steve took three trips to Taiwan to supervise the construction; instead of the one he had promised us. They stayed up nights worrying about how to make our boat perfect for us.
Tayana made many sizes and configurations of sailboats. We settled on the Tayana 37 foot double ender. That means it is pointed at both ends. It had a deep heavy keel (the underwater portion of the boat). Encapsulated within the fiberglass was a large chuck of lead to give the boat balance. This deep keel gives great stability in heavy seas and big waves, such as the ones we encountered off of the coast of California, and in other situations where without that heavy keel we probably wouldn't have made it. It does cut down a little on speed, but the trade off is well worthwhile. It also meant that we drew some six feet of water, the distance from the water line to the bottom of the keel being six feet. There were places we couldn't visit due to this draft. Many canals in Europe won't allow for a six-foot draft. The added safety that the deep and heavy keel gave to us was more than worth missing a few canals.
We could have a variety of sail plans with this boat. Steve agreed that the single mast was the best for us since I was going to sail the boat by myself. We agreed on a Cutter rig. This configuration has a main sail aft of the mast and two sails in front of the mast. The two forward sails are the jib and the staysail. The jib is a large sail that goes to the very front of the boat. The staysail is smaller and is behind the jib. These three sails give you a wide range of options in various wind and sea conditions. The main advantage is the slot between the two forward sails that gives a huge added lift and speed to the boat.
For me there was the added advantage that the two forward sails can be set, controlled, and taken in from the cockpit, without having to go up on deck. We would have those two sails roller furled. This means they operate just like a window shade. They roll up on a pole, a strong stay, and are controlled by ropes running to the cockpit. We decided not to roller furl the main sail as it allows for more sailing options. This required going up on deck from time to time, but also gave us more speed and more flexibility. I was concerned about this, but was convinced that it was the right way to go, and Steve assured me that I would not have any problems handling this arrangement.
Early on in the planning stages, we arrived at the office of Bluewater Yachts to see Steve and Rhonda with our list of requirements. They were surprised at our list of "minimum" creature comforts. The biggest issue was air conditioning. We argued about this many times. The compressor and equipment took up a lot of space and used a lot of power. Steve and Rhonda felt that the space was needed more for storage of food and other things. We prevailed, though, and got our air conditioning, something we were very happy about many times in the heat and humidity of the South Pacific and Mexico.
We needed refrigeration and a freezer. Again an item of argument. Most boats of this size do with an icebox. We insisted on refrigeration, for which we were later very grateful. Canned goods are nice, but can be dull when they're all you have for weeks and months at a time.
The biggest argument was about the washer and dryer. Barbara insisted that she needed a washing machine and dryer. Unheard of on a 37-foot boat. The amount of space it required was unreasonable, we were told over and over again. Steve finally located an Italian make designed for yachts that was compact and would do the job, and we bought it and shipped it to Taiwan for installation. The incredible hassles we saw most yachts experiencing to get their laundry done in remote, and/or third world places validated this decision. The local laundries would never return all the items you sent them to clean. Many items were damaged beyond use by their cleaning methods. More than one yachtie got to the point where he didn't have many clothes to wear as they had been destroyed, stolen, or lost by the laundry. We could have had a nice business doing laundry for other boats.
Tayana used Perkins Diesel engines, which are British, and are the very best marine engines you can buy. So this was not a tough decision. We also went with a Perkins generator. The problem was where to install the fairly large generator, which we needed to run the air conditioning, the refrigerator, washing machine and other electronic gear.
All of these decisions were made in consultation with the factory in Kaushung, Taiwan where the boat would be built. We were to be hull number 443 (that number again), which was good, as we were dealing with a factory that had produced over four hundred similar ships. They were experienced and knew what they were doing. Most of the boats were day sailors and not designed for ocean crossings, but many had been, and we relied heavily on the expertise of Tayana and Steve.
Many details were important requirements of which we knew nothing, and we relied entirely on the experts. I would question something that didn't look right to us, only to have Steve explain to me why I needed this item and could not leave it out or change it. OK then let's do it. I took many things on blind faith and was pleased that I did. Every item which Steve insisted upon was something I really needed. We increased the size of the winches and made them self-tailing, which means that one person can operate them, and the increased size was to accommodate for our single-handed requirement. This one decision was to add thousands of dollars to the cost of the boat, but I listened, and was happy that I did.
When it came to the decisions about the electronic equipment, I insisted on spending more than everyone recommended. I wanted the best, the latest, and most up to date equipment. At the time, satellite navigation equipment was fairly new for pleasure boats and was very expensive. I would hear of nothing but the best, as navigation was still of primary concern to me. I wanted to know where I was, as accurately as possible, at all times. Again, this turned out to be a very good decision and it saved us on several occasions.
We went for the biggest and most powerful radar which could fit onto the boat. We had a twelve-mile range with a radar alarm in the system. The alarm is a device that allows you to set a perimeter around the boat of whatever distance you desire. If anything comes within that perimeter, land or another ship, an alarm sounds. This was an extremely important item which we used constantly. Depending on where we were, we would set the alarm radius for two miles up to ten miles. This too saved our lives a couple of times.
The major problem you have when you are crossing an ocean is communications. The VHF radio (very high frequency) is used for only short range. It works for ten to fifteen miles, and up to twenty miles in good conditions, but that is about it. This is what you use to talk to other boats, the Coast Guard, Harbormasters, and the like. The very limited range does you no good whatsoever when you go offshore. There you need a ham radio, which is really a short wave radio. These are expensive and require a license to operate. This license is not easy to obtain. That would be one of my first jobs, to get the license to operate the radio. The ham radio has a range of several thousand miles and under the proper atmospheric conditions can reach much farther. This would be our main method of contact with civilization when we were out at sea.
There were many technical requirements for the ham radio. It needed a good antenna, which was a complex problem. The height, and the length of the antenna is critical to its ability to transmit and receive over long distances. The longest thing on the boat was the backstay, which is the wire rope from the stern of the boat to the top of the mast, so that was used as the ham radio antenna. There are also problems with properly grounding the radio so as not to get a shock in a storm. The radio also uses a lot of power, so you must be careful to watch your batteries when transmitting. Running the generator while transmitting can cause static, so it is best not to do so. If you use up the batteries, then you cannot start the generator or the engine, a very serious problem. So watching the status of the several banks of batteries was a critical part of our daily life. We installed extra batteries for the ham radio. We had to charge batteries all the time. If you overcharge you can boil a battery and destroy it. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about batteries, their use and care.
We needed a complex of gauges and measuring instruments for wind direction, wind speed, boat speed, air temperature, depth, and barometric pressure. All of this is an absolute must for sailing the boat, and predicting the weather. I now learned I was also going to become a weatherman. Another course I would take.
This weatherman requirement was frightening, particularly since I knew how poor the weathermen on TV are. Another piece of equipment, which had just become available, was a weatherfax machine. This was a fax machine which was connected to the ham radio and on which I could receive weather maps of anywhere in the world. It was a great idea when it worked, which it often did not due to reception problems with the short wave radio. This is a problem endemic with short wave radios, and one I learned to live with. It took many hours of instruction on how to use the ham radio, how to tune it in, how to tune the antenna, and most importantly how to find the proper frequency you needed to transmit and receive. The weather reports vary from frequency to frequency, on the time of day, and location in the world. All short wave radios have what are known as propagation problems, meaning they just don't work on certain frequencies at certain times. Often I had to try many frequencies before I could receive a fax. In addition, the weather often interferes with the quality of the transmission. Sun spots and solar coronal activity regularly plays havoc with radio waves and the ability to both transmit and receive. A storm can blot out big chunks of the weather map. Sometimes these problems lasted many days, and hence I had no good weather maps during those times.
Being a good ham radio operator is a skill, but also a genetic inborn attribute. Some people are naturally good at it and others must work at it. I had to work hard at it. Those with the inborn skills find it great fun. I found it tough work that was often very frustrating and maddening.
There were many other pieces of equipment which I had to become familiar with after the boat was delivered. The electrical controls of the generator, the systems to charge the batteries, run the lights, the plumbing systems, the waste systems, etc. It was daunting, but I would learn it all.
Finally after many months of planning and of hundreds of blueprints, we were ready to order the boat. We had selected, and in most cases ordered and bought, all of the equipment. Some items would be shipped to Taiwan to be installed at the factory, and other items we would have installed in California.
The experience of planning, decision making, shopping for equipment, and placing orders had been exhausting and at the same time exhilarating. We became very close with Steve and Rhonda. It was going to take four months for the boat to be built, and then another two months to ship it to Los Angeles on a freighter as deck cargo. A large wooden cradle was built to hold and protect it in the shipping.
Barbara and I now had six months to sell our homes, put things in storage and continue our learning process of how to operate the sailboat we had just purchased. We had to arrange our affairs so that we were free of management and decision-making, as one cannot do those things via a ham radio from the middle of an ocean.
Some of those decisions were to be far more complex and difficult than the decisions about the boat. The toughest turned out to be which pictures and mementos we would take aboard. We had thousands of photographs in dozens of albums, and could only take a small number with us. As it was, we took too much useless stuff to satisfy our need of attachment to our family and children.