A tall ship, and a star to sail her by...
November 28, 2009 2:34 PM   Subscribe

So... I'm going to sail around the world in the most dangerous race...

The thunderbolt struck me today. I have always wanted to learn to sail. Come Hell or high water, I will be entering the the 2018 Around Alone / VELUX 5 Oceans Race. I've got nine years to acquire an Open 60 Yacht, Learn to sail, and become the greatest sailor to ever live. Oh, and I may just have to become a brilliant naval architect to design and build said yacht. Sailing MeFites, Your words of wisdom and your advise please. Any good books that you recommend? Any ideas on acquiring a racing yacht? Any one willing to take a young pup under arm?
posted by PROD_TPSL to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to sail first, then worry about getting the boat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:57 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Where do you live and how much money do you plan to dedicate to this endeavor?
posted by decathecting at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2009

I've got nine years to acquire an Open 60 Yacht, Learn to sail, and become the greatest sailor to ever live.

You forgot the 'networking with billionaires and asking for their sponsorship' part.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:09 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in the Southeastern United States. I think that I am willing to give every last penny I can scrape together to make this happen. I might be able to network with that executive clients at my employer... and I am the tech support dude. They do seem to like me.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 3:15 PM on November 28, 2009

These past few months, there have been several stories in the news about two young girls, one Australian and one Dutch, wanting to break records by becoming the youngest person sailing around the world singlehandedly. Both already were excellent sailors, both already had boats. Yet, that didn't count for much.

Solo sailing requires a lot more than just having a ship. It requires having to deal with failing technology, becoming your own McGyver when necessary, learning how to sleep in batches of just 15 minutes for days, and still keep sane, dealing with loneliness, dealing with stress, dealing with constant bad weather for weeks, and having only noodle soup to eat, because you're in a race and better foods needs refrigeration and weighs too much.

If you know you will be capable of all this, good luck. If you even have the slightest hesitation; there are a lot of other ways to have fun with the money an adventure like this will cost you.
posted by ijsbrand at 3:20 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would recommend that you try and get a crewing position on a yacht. It is a good way to see how you feel about being at sea. I did this with no previous sailing experience and sailed from Panama to Australia (stopping enroute) for six months. It cost me only shared expenses (perhaps $70-100/week for food, fuel, port charges etc etc). Sometimes it is free and sometimes people want you to pay a daily amount rather than worry about tallying everything up.

You may like to try both some racing and cruising crewing, and then some longer distance racing/rally crewing (eg there are Atlanta crossing rallies, or Australia - Vanuatu). I say this because actually when sailing long distances, there is not always so much action, so you don't necessarily get a lot of practice. Sure, we had some weeks where the weather was terrible and the whole thing was a lot more effort. But other weeks, we would have the yacht on the same tack for days at a time.

I think as well as sailing, it is important to try and learn a lot about fixing stuff. Everything. Because every time we stopped at a port, there would be things that had broken. Sometimes we had to fix things at sea, sometimes the parts were not available and we would need to improvise. This sort of thing is what I worry about when I see people like 16 year old Jessica Watson sailing around the world. And it is not such a problem if out for a day sail/race, but is a problem if you are at sea for a few weeks.

I would read Peter Goss' "Close to the Wind", if you haven't already.

So once you have some experience, then perhaps get a yacht and do some extended solo sails.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:21 PM on November 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Learn to sail...

You're in Jacksonville, FL. I suggest taking courses at the Windward Sailing School (Fernandina Beach, FL). It "has consistently ranked in the top five sailing schools nationwide, year after year." You'll get a great education and will be able to learn from many an "old salt" and competitive sailor.

BTW -- I think you'll enjoy the documentary film Deep Water,"...the stunning true story of the first solo, non-stop, round-the-world boat race...the much-ballyhooed event attracted a field of nine, including amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who [like you learned to sail and built his own boat] set out to circumnavigate the globe in late 1968"* in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. That race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world race. Yours will be sailed in stages.
posted by ericb at 3:26 PM on November 28, 2009

First step I would recommend would be to find your local community boating organization and join up. There is generally one in any decent sized city which has access to a body of water, and there will be a bunch of people there with experience and similar interest. They also offer classes and lessons and have boats you can use. Learn your way around a smaller vessel such as a Sunfish, Laser, or Mercury. You will need to learn to tie proper knots, read the wind, learn how the wind interacts with the sail to get you where you want to go, how to put up and take down the mainsail and the jib, and generally become in control of the situation when you out on the water. Sailing can be great fun.

I have my doubts regarding your stated goal to sail in the VELUX 5, although I applaud your audacity. From their website:

This pastime is frequently described as the maritime equivalent of scaling Everest. In fact, while more than 15,000 people have climbed Everest, only 163 people have sailed around the world singlehanded, around one third the number of people who have been into space.

Let that sink in for a few minutes. Keep in mind that around half a dozen people sail in this race, and often more than one drops out. These people are professional sailors with a lifetime of experience. If you did manage to get a sponsor and obtain your license, the first thing you need a boat is a boat . You are looking at an open class monohull, certified by IMOCA, 50' or 60', which is going to run a few hundred thousand dollars minimum plus the customizations you will need to add to make it feasibly run single-handed around the world. Total cost for the boat, race and support from scratch I would estimate at between 500k to million dollars. You will need to become an expert on sailing the open ocean, of course, particularly in bad weather, as well as the many techniques particular to sailing single-handed. You will need to prepare yourself mentally for not only the extended and absolute isolation, but also the constant, grueling work of keeping a boat working and together, by yourself, in the middle of the ocean. Death is a very real possibility is you get careless. There are, of course, many other practical concerns around a 100+ day voyage regarding food and safety, but if you can manage the rest they really shouldn't be too much of a problem.
posted by sophist at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2009

I would recommend that you try and get a crewing position on a yacht.

Great advice. After you've learned the basics (and, maybe more) you should consider offering yourself up for a crew position for such races as the Newport Bermuda Race, etc. If not participating in the races, often times there are folks looking for crews afterwards to sail the vessels back to their home ports. One of my sailing buddies crewed on a 42' boat that needed to be returned from St. Barths to Southampton, England this past spring.
posted by ericb at 3:42 PM on November 28, 2009

I second ericb's suggestion re: the sailing lessons. Once you start to meet people, you can get crewing experience as well.

A couple of books come to mind:
Sailing Alone Around the World A classic
and Maiden Voyage
posted by Gusaroo at 4:03 PM on November 28, 2009

You should join your local sailing club and start learning to sail on the smallest boat you can find. A laser or any other person-and-a-half boat is too big. Taking lessons at the start is a good idea, but make sure that you are clocking as many solo hours as humanly possible. Once you are competent with the basics, learn how to sail a laser. Start racing them, and eventually you will want to be at a point where you are winning. When you really have the solo sailing down, move to keelboats. Get all of the certifications possible, and make sure that you know all of the sailing theory you come across back to front. At this point you can do what you like - crew other people's big boats, buy or rent your own, etc. Just remember that in the next nine years you will need to be sailing twice as much as anyone you'll meet.

Good luck, and hopefully there can be a post on the blue in nine years talking about Mefi's own world class sailor winning the Velux 5 Oceans!
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2009

Nthing the 'learn to sail first' advice. I was gung-ho about learning to sail; it was a long-standing desire. After the first lesson, I started talking about circumnavigation. After the fourth, I really didn't find it all that engaging anymore. Too bad, it seems romantic as all get out, but it's actually pretty repetitive.
posted by bricoleur at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Learn the Rules. Make your peace with Rule 5 before going off on any kind of solo trip where you won't be able to be awake the whole time (make a will, too). Learn Rule 18, and understand when, where and why big ships consider themselves to be in confined waters when you have miles of water around you.

Learn chartwork and navigation. Learn what to do when you're in the middle of nowhere and suddenly don't have GPS any more. Learn meteorology.

Have fun!

[Some people are known to use the phrase 'steam gives way to sail'. I first came across that in the Swallows and Amazons books, which are lovely and everything, but don't have a sufficient level of detail to cover all situations. That's what Rule 18 is for, supported by Rule 3 for the definitions. Some other people have been known to use the phrase 'steam gives way to sail, but fibreglass gives way to steel'. Those people would clearly be locked up and have the keys thrown away if they were caught saying that anywhere near an incident, but that still doesn't stop them thinking it.]
posted by Lebannen at 5:59 PM on November 28, 2009

posted by Lebannen at 6:08 PM on November 28, 2009

You've got a lot to do in the next few years. Lot's of good advice, I'd add: win a few national and world championship yacht races. Get a couple thousand mile single handed non-stop cruises out of the way (totally required for entry). Get a 100 Ton Masters License just for the experience, no seriously, there's a lot more out on the ocean than the sailboat racing rules and if you gain the experience to sail that race, getting the license will almost be pro forma.

Hey go for it, the best advice above is crewing, if you're near any racing fleets, the PHRF captains are always looking for dedicated crew. Great experience.

Get out there, start spending hours looking up in the rain at a slight ripple on the luff. Get a great sunburn for more hours *barely* moving a muscle while racing in light air. Get into some heavy weather, discover one can become soaked in an instant. Find out the excitement of the starting line and being on the foredeck at the leward mark between a half dozen other aggressive multi-ton machines all aiming for the same tiny point on the water. How ever it turns out it will change your life in amazing ways. Go for it!
posted by sammyo at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2009

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is a great story - and perhaps cautionary tale - about sailing and obsession.

"In the autumn of 1968, Donald Crowhurst set out from England in an improbable-looking plywood trimaran to compete in the first singlehanded nonstop round-the-world sailboat race. Although his previous sailing experience was limited, his boat unready, and the electronic gadgetry of his own design unfinished and untested, Crowhurst had managed to persuade first an affluent backer, then the contest judges, and, finally, England's media to regard him as a serious contender. Sailing south through the Atlantic, he radioed reports of record-breaking sailing performances. In the South Atlantic he announced that low battery power would require him to maintain radio silence through the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Eleven weeks later he broke his silence to tell the world he had rounded Cape Horn and was sailing north for England, the elapsed-time leader of the race. Then tragedy struck. Eight months after his departure, Crowhurst's "Teignmouth Electron" was discovered adrift in an eerie mid-Atlantic calm, intact but without her skipper. In this tour de force of investigative journalism, Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall tell the story of Donald Crowhurst's ill-fated voyage.. ."
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 2:05 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

first, learn to sail. if you can sail a little sunfish built-like-a-beer-cooler kind of small sailboat, you're more than halfway to being able to sail something bigger, say, more than 16' but still less than 30'. it is possible, in fact, get a free sailboat. and it's far more likely in FL than in, say, the Boston, MA, area. pick up a piece-of-shit sailboat, something with a mainsail and a jib and spinnaker (so bigger than a sunfish) and spent every afternoon or evening or morning that you can out on the water fucking around and learning to handle wind and getting a feel for things. learn to watch way over there to figure out when the wind is about to shift so you don't get hit on the head by the aptly named boom when your boat goes thru an accidental jibe. people can and do sail around the world in boats around 30' long.

Fiasco da Gama posted a question on the green about boatbuilding, so you might ping him if he doesn't show up in this thread.

besides carpentry, you'll also need to learn small diesel engine repair. there's probably an adult education or night-time trade school near you that can start you off on a course of study for that. also, learn to deal with the plumbing and electrical systems on a boat. get a ham radio license, at least a general license (no, you don't need to know morse code) so you not only can operate a radio on more than just the marine vhf frequencies, but also so you get the knowledge of antennae and radio systems and RF safety. oh, and navigation beyond "the gps says i'm here".

you may be able to find a lot of people leaving FL for longer trips - see if you can get a slot as crew on someone's boat. if you're spending a lot of time around the marina or around other boaters working on their boats, you'll get to know some folks who are either doing this or who know people who do this. before you work on racing around the world singlehanded, i'd suggest working on doing a long solo trek. The Water in Between is a good book about a guy who did this.

also, realize that at 9 years' experience, you'll be the newbie among folks in the VELUX.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:01 AM on November 29, 2009

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is a great story - and perhaps cautionary tale - about sailing and obsession.

BTW -- he is profiled (and much of the focus) in the film Deep Water which I mentioned above.
posted by ericb at 2:29 PM on November 29, 2009

Bruce Schwab was the first American to finish the Vendée Globe (the non-stop around-the-world "most dangerous race" for which the Around Alone is just a warm-up) in 2005. He had been a sailor all his life, and a rigger all his adult life, and had won the singlehanded Farallones and Transpac among many other races — and he was still considered a scrappy self-starter because he had raised money himself without a major corporate sponsor. (He came in 9th.)

I've crewed delivery of his Open 60 Ocean Planet (right into a rock, as it turned out — short trip but a good story) and it's a hell of a boat. (I've been sailing and racing since I was 13 and I know I couldn't single-hand her.) Bruce was taking on paid passengers this year, to raise money for his next boat, which would have been a good way to get IMOCA experience — but I think he's sold her and I don't think there are any other Open 50/60s you can get on (Spirit of Weymouth can be chartered for racing for some huge sum).

I'm not going to say this is an impossible dream — you can buy an Open 60 and mount a campaign for a million bucks. If you're going to do this on your own money, you need that much, plus enough to live on for a few years while you do little else but sail. There are many people who are way ahead of you and have been working single-mindedly toward this their whole lives, so if you're going to find a sponsor, you'll be competing against much better and more credible sailors. Or, if you're going to raise grass-roots money like Bruce did, you'll have to inspire thousands of sailing fans to donate — and sailing fans are mostly sailors, and only respect other serious sailors.
posted by nicwolff at 6:03 PM on November 29, 2009

MeFites, thank you so much for the input, anecdotes, information and criticisms. It's been eye opening as I've started to expand me research. I may not ever race the VELUX 5... but hey... a boy can dream. I know I come to the game rather late... I had different dreams earlier... simpler dreams.

Sometimes we don't have the luxury of simple. Sometimes it all falls apart.

I have come to understand the risks. I know that death is a real danger when committing to competition with the sea. Know that I will not be careless as I take the safety of others very seriously... more so than my own.

In closing, I like this new chapter in my life. Challenging... you bet. Considering all things... I know that I can and will do well.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 12:56 PM on December 10, 2009

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