Captain Dan’s Passage Planning Tips

Don’t trust whitey!

Planning to leave a place that has everything to make you feel comfortable and safe on 36 feet of floating, rolling, pitching and bobbing existence can be a little daunting to say the least.  I’ve completed a list of passage planning tips that I recommend. As Captain and/or owner responsible for preparing such a vessel for wide open blue water adventuring you need to be certain systems are in the best working order as your budget allows.  Granted there are some things that are not on the critical list of things.  However, not in any particular order, the following were my areas of main consideration.

Vessel Maintenance & Planning

  • Check your boat from stem to stern. That means climbing the mast, checking and cleaning the rigging, pulling the bowsprit for inspection, servicing the engine, water maker, radios, radar, solar and every other piece of equipment on board. If you have storm sails, put them up and check them out. Be sure the crew knows where they are and how to deploy them…. and yes…that means even if the crew is just your partner or spouse. The point here is that you should check every possible thing you can to be absolutely certain your boat is in the best condition possible to make a 3000+ mile passage!
  • Marine Supplies. Marines supplies will be tough to come by until you reach Papeete so be well stocked on oil, fluids and other consumable supplies. Be prepared to have to do some searching around in unusual places to find what you need as well. Just because you find a marine store doesn’t mean they will have what you need. We needed refrigerant for our house refrigerator and we spent the better part of an afternoon searching for a place to buy it in Papeete. We hit every auto parts store we could find.
A bad impeller Captain Dan had to replace underway.
We replaced our impeller on two long passages. Be sure you have few extras!
  • Engines.  Service your auxiliary engine and stock several spare parts and servicing supplies.  Raw water impellers, oil filters, hoses, belts and anything else you don’t want to try to manufacture out of coconuts.  Many islands have basic supplies for their residents.  Maybe.  Do the same for your outboard as well.  Carry enough supplies to perform maintenance services.
Captain Dan performing engine maintenance.
  • Do sea trials in big winds. Do this to be sure your boat is ready to go. If something is going to break in big winds it’s better to have it happen when you are close to shore. You know….before you are 1000 miles offshore! As Dan says, “There’s no gas station you can pull into out there to fix things.” And, these trials also give you experience so you know how to react before you are offshore.
  • Navigation Equipment.  Whatever electronic manufacturer you vessel is equipped with, ensure that all firmware and software is current.  If using electronic charts update those that you will be using for the next year.  Posses the necessary paper charts for the same areas.  Ensure all your equipment is functioning properly.  Replace anything that may not be working properly or that your life may be relying on for completing safe passages.  If so inclined have and know how to use a sextant.
  • Standing Rigging.  Obtain a rigging check if you don’t feel comfortable doing the inspection yourself.  This may be necessary for your insurance anyway.  Replace as needed any and all parts that are damaged or may have served there useful life expectancy.  Exercise and clean all turn buckles and tune your rigging appropriately.  Be mindful to inspect for any flaws during this process and replace as needed.  
  • Running Rigging.  Inspect all running rigging for chafe, worn line or potential damage causing equipment.  Ensuring that lines are not rubbing against equipment or other boat parts will maintain their intended operational purpose and effectiveness.  Have spare line and chafe protection where needed and a spare halyards.  Used line can be a bartering item in some of the remote islands.  Remember, if you think you may need something take it with you.  Double braid is hard to make out of coconut palm fronds.  Ask Gilligan!
Professional rigger checking the rigging on Dazzler
We had a rigging survey done by a professional rigger in La Paz, Mexico. Our insurance required this but it was a nice feeling to know our rigging was in excellent condition before setting sail.
  • Inspect ALL of your sails.  Including the top of the luff that gets exposed to the sun at the top of the track when the sail is furled.  We found UV damage at the top of our staysail where it was exposed and replaced about 18” of luff tape to complete the repair.  The fore jib was inspected and found to be in good condition.  But both are now routinely inspected for UV damage.  Have some spare luff tape for your size furling track.  Have sail tape for any immediate repairs that may arise along the way for all your sails.

    Get out your storm sails and deploy them while in port. Be certain the entire crew knows how to deploy them and when you would use them. Since these sales aren’t used very often it’s a good idea to do this just before leaving to keep it fresh in everyone’s mind.
Dazzler's storm sails are deployed and being checked.
Dazzler’s Storm Sails

  • Tools. What can I say?  Have as many as storage allows.  That being said, there are universal tools and there are specialty tools.  Have tools that will assist you in performing maintenance, as well as fixing things that will break along the way.  The basic tools, metric and SAE, should be on board.  Power tools are very nice too.  Storage availability will be your guide.  A good cordless drill and supply of drill bits are invaluable. 

    Specialty tools are those that you only use occasionally….  Impeller puller, ¼” rivet tool, wire rigging gauge, bearing pullers and internal and external snap ring pliers just to name a few.  For those rare occasions where only that one specialty tool will work and there is water in 360° as far as the eye can see you’ll want them.  It would be very nice to have an entire shop onboard, however that was a dream once upon a time.  Working and fixing things underway or at anchor becomes a way of life.  Conditions are not perfect and the sooner you can adapt, improvise and overcome the sooner you can get back to listening to the wind passing over your sails.  In summary, take the tools you think you will need and pray for the best outcome. 
  • Plumbing.  Inspect all equipment, hoses, hose clamps and related equipment.  Make sure your bilge pump is operating properly.  Have spares as appropriate.  Coconut husks and sea shells have been used to make lots of things.  But they are limited mostly to jewelry items.  A spare bilge pump and switch and head rebuild kits were on our list of spares.  Again, not everything is available throughout the rest of the world.  If you can get it before you depart you will be farther along.  Especially when you are trying to shave and grind a sea shell or coconut shell into a one of a kind part.  
  • Hardware and Fasteners.  What do you need?  My crystal ball didn’t really help me so I’d suggest having a supply of the most common fasteners used on your vessel.  This could include SAE and metric sizes.  Have a supply of block and tackle in the unlikely event one of yours decides to go PING!  Because it happens, having a spare could make the rest of your travels more pleasant.  Being a McGiver will definitely help also.  Not everything that requires to be fixed will be labeled in a box.  Thinking outside of the box will be a valuable asset to develop as soon as possible.
  • Cabin Top.  Fix or repair ANY stainless steel equipment that may have cracks or show signs of fatigue.  Fix or repair ANY annoying little water leaks.    Inspect and replace all port light gaskets as needed.  Be prepared for water ingress.  No you won’t like it when it happens, but it will happen.  If you can make repairs or adjustments before you leave you and crew will be happier during the journey.  Because leaks will occur.  They can sometimes be isolated and fixed along the way.  LOL  However, if they are existing leaks with the newly found leaks your smile may become inverted while trying to sleep. 
Leaking will happen. This is a leak from the chainplate into our lockers.
Even when you’ve checked everything a leak can suddenly appear. This is the result of a leaking chainplate that allowed water in our lockers during a passage from Fiji to New Zealand.
  • Hull and Bottom.  A new coat of bottom anti-foul paint will be nice before departure.  It can be done along the way.  But, the islands don’t make the paint.  It all has to be shipped in thus increasing the cost.  Have your cutlass bearing inspected and replace if needed.  Grease and inspect all thru hull valves and fittings and replace as necessary. 

    At the very least, clean your hull prior to departing as it will help with increased boat speed.  An increase of half a knot an hour is 12 knots a day and 120 knots every 10 days.  That could be a whole day every 10 days.  You will get gooseneck barnacles along your water line.  When we stopped at the equator, I jumped in the water and took a scraper with me.  The longer they are allowed to be attached to your hull their very tough attachment points are more difficult to scrape off.  Have enough bottom cleaning supplies for several months of maintenance. 

Safety & Emergency Planning

  • Have a Liquid Transfer System. Before you leave you should engineer a way to transfer water, fuel or other liquids from one boat to another. You never know when you might need to help someone else or worse yet, need help yourself. This happened to a boat on our crossing. They fowled their fresh water tank by not letting the rain wash the decks down good before they opened up to gather rain water. They ended up needing water so several boats diverted and had to transfer water to them.
  • Bring extra water. Even if you have a water maker on board it’s a good idea to have a couple of jury cans filled with fresh water. If your water maker goes on the fritz you’ll still have water. Yes, you can always make rain catchers but we went for many day in a row without a drop of rain.
  • Get sound advice on repairs and fixes. Make sure any technical advice you are getting about fixing something is sound advice and not a “cheat”. Sometimes you can get advice, follow it and find that you’re creating more problems than you had originally. On our crossing from Mexico a vessel was losing hydraulic steering fluid, couldn’t locate the leak and had gone through their reserves. They were given, what turns out to be very bad advice, to mix oil and diesel fuel and use it as a substitute. While it worked for a short time, ultimately this concoction caused the system to seize up making their situation worse. They were 1000 miles offshore at this point. The results created a waterfall of issues which caused them to take close to two months to reach Nuka Hiva.
  • Have A Drogue Or Sea Anchor. No one wants to think of worst case scenarios but in our world it’s a must. And don’t just purchase one, take the time to figure out where and how you will deploy it. Get the lines and hardware you’ll need and have it in an easy to locate spot on the boat. After all, you may not have a lot of time to get it set up and ready to deploy.
Captain Dan shows the Shark Drogue we have on board for extreme weather conditions.

Communications

Ensure all your devices are working properly before departure.  Clean and inspect all electrical and antenna connections before leaving.  Increase your knowledge of operations with each piece of equipment.  Know how to get weather updates and now how to use ALL of your HF equipment.  Ensure that you have the latest downloads for related equipment software and firmware.  Especially, check and clean all HF antenna connections.  Ensure batteries for EPERB and other equipment are up to date.  

Bring extra charging cables for all of your devices like cell phones, tables, computer and TV. Finding the right cable in remote island nations can be next to impossible.

General Thoughts & Suggestions

  • Don’t be intimidated by weather. Take it one day, one mile at a time. The weather ahead may not always be what you are seeing so panicking isn’t worth it. If you’re following it closely you’ll probably find you can maneuver around it pretty easily.
  • Learn How To Heave To. Being able to “park” in the middle of the ocean can be a huge benefit. We use this when we have mechanical issues at sea to allow us to focus on the problem at hand rather than actually sailing.

    We’ve also grown accustomed to heaving to during evening chow time. It makes cooking in the galley easier for Jilly and gives us a bit of down time together. It’s the one time we spend just relaxing together while underway and it’s nice. Make sure you practice this over and over in all sorts of conditions. You never know what the weather will be when you really need it. We’ve had to heave to in 4+ meter seas and 20 knot winds due to engine issues. Our drills and practice ahead of time made it easy to do.
  • Set a watch schedule. Develop a plan that has flexibility built in.  Your schedule will mould and adapt during the first several days of travel as you settle into a routine. your schedule one that works for you and your crew. Remember that it doesn’t have to be written in stone. On Dazzler there are just two of us. We only have “scheduled” watches from evening until morning. I take the first evening shift from dinner time to 2330. Jilly takes 2330 to 0430. After that it’s all about who needs rest when. We know boats who have “set in stone” schedules and that works for them too. The point is…set a watch schedule that works for you and your crew to be sure everyone is getting the appropriate amount of rest. That can’t be stressed enough! Fatigue results in poor decisions!

    Consider a Watch Commander Alarm. We have one on board that we set when we leave shore. It can be set to go off every 3 minutes up to an hour and a half. We set it at twenty minutes when underway. Why? Well, if the person on watch doesn’t reset it within 30 seconds of it going off it will sound a 130 decibel alarm. That alerts anyone down below that there could be a problem in the cockpit. Either the person is asleep, overboard or there are other issues. It’s also great for single handers because it allows you to take catnaps and still be alerted to wake up and check your surroundings.
  • Sewing Machine.  Not absolutely necessary.  However, we weren’t even three hours out of Punta de Mita when we found a seam separation on our mainsail.  We dropped the sail, brought the machine up on deck and repaired the separation in less than 30 minutes.  Yes, we could have hand stitched the sail, but it would have taken considerably longer.  The same machine was used to repair the luff of the staysail.  In addition to countless other odd jobs we found that having the machine and walking around its storage location is worth it for us.  If you don’t have a sewing machine, have something that will allow you to stitch and or repair your sails when needed.
Captain Dan sews the mainsail on deck while underway.
Getting ready to sew up the separation on the mainsail just a few hours out on the way to the Marquesas.

To summarize all this that is likely overloading your brain a bit and making you question if this it’s all worth it, just remember the old Boy Scout motto, “Always be prepared.” You likely won’t be prepared for every contingency but if you have a sound vessel and a good knowledge of how things work you should be able to handle just about any situation that will arrive and get there safely..