Monthly Archives: June 2010

Adventurous Mom “Sails Away”

I’m compelled to share this heartwarming guest post by Anne Fulton-Cavett, about her baptism by the sea with Sunshine Coast Adventures in the Florida Keys:

I heard it repeatedly for days leading up to my departure; “I never knew that you wanted to learn how to sail!?”

“I didn’t either,” was my response.

After a couple of more-grueling-than-usual months at the office turned into complete overload between work, children, home and husband, I needed to get away. Alone. Perhaps it was the extremity of the state I was in or that I have finally matured enough to recognize that what I need, for me, is as important as what my family, friends, community and clients need from me. While sheer exhaustion made relaxing beach-side and being served Mai Tais a very attractive prospect, I knew that I needed, at this point in my life, to push myself outside my comfort zone.

Under beautiful blue skies, Tuesday morning found me approaching a marina in the Florida Keys, ready to embark on a five day, women-only, learn to sail adventure. I had no idea what to expect, and for my type-A personality, that in and of itself was a challenge.

I immediately liked our gregarious, 30-something Captain Jenn when I read her t-shirt; “Well behaved women rarely make history.” She was clearly my kind of gal! Our sailing vessel, or “S/V” as I would come to learn, was the 40 foot sloop Coeur Volant. After couple hours of “classroom” instruction (held in the marina tiki hut) on the utterly foreign language of sailing and sailboats, we cast off the dock lines, sailing swiftly into our adventure.

We spent our days sailing under our wonderful Captain’s instruction and in short order, it was clear to me that I had found a new love. I have always loved the water, having spent my summers as a kid at the Jersey shore, but sailing took me to a whole new level. It challenged my brain in a way that I have not experienced in a long time. The physical efforts of trimming sails, jibing and tacking were invigorating. The sunny skies, turquoise water, and intermittent boat-side dolphin visits literally put the wind in my sails. Each night when it was time to anchor, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to sail more and learn more. I was continually amazed at how quickly the daytime hours passed. If only time could have stopped or at least slowed…

Evenings began with our Captain miraculously creating gourmet dinners in a galley so tiny it wouldn’t store my shoe collection. The other student and I spent the evenings on deck studying our sailing texts in preparation for the American Sailing Association certification exams. Though the rocking of a boat has always provided me comfort, I found it difficult to sleep. There was so much to learn and so little time. The night time breezes, abundant stars and nearly full moon provided fodder for hours of reveling in my thoughts. Despite the lack of sleep, mornings found me invigorated and hungry for more than breakfast.

For the first time since becoming a mother, I was not in a hurry to finish the vacation and return to their little arms around my neck. Now THAT, is saying something! For me, being back on land was the bitter end!

Alas, five days of sailing instruction does not a sailor make. I’m afraid the sport is more akin to golf. One must do it repeatedly and consistently to gain, let alone master, the requisite skills. Despite my Sonoran Desert residence, I am determined to find a way to feed my soul on a sailboat as often as possible. Never before has stepping out of my comfort zone felt so good. I am now, finally, back on course. May you too, find yours. Fair winds, my friends.

Rules of the (Liquid) Road

“Bad LA traffic” is a stereotype that holds true even on the water. As a newcomer to Marina del Rey, I’ve been shocked at the throngs of boats that squeeze their way out of the jetties like a dense pack of bicyclists. It’s so crowded they’ve even got a traffic separation scheme inside the breakwall: a large middle lane for boats under sail, and two outer lanes for power-driven vessels. Way too freaked out by the zigzagging hubub to sail my boat out, I stick to the outer lanes under power, but remain constantly alarmed by huge sailboats reaching almost into my lane (and my boat) before turning a tight tack in the other direction.

Just thinking about Marina del Rey boat traffic during Summer Sailstice and Father’s Day weekend is enough to make me head for the hills. (Which I am in fact doing, but it’s for a wedding, not out of paralyzing fear of Marina del Rey.) But for those of you headed out this weekend–where ever you are–here’s a quick refresher on the Rules of the Road. Keep it in mind when you go sailing this weekend!

Safe Speed
Regardless of whether a speed limit is posted or not, Rule 6 of the USCG Navigation Rules states that every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed, meaning one where she can take proper action to avoid collision.

Pecking Order
Sailors are quick to remind motor-yachters that we have the right of way (all too often with a snarly flip of the bird), which is true. However, to be truly holier-than-thou, we must remember these points:
–A sailboat under power is a power-driven vessel. You’ve relinquished your “sailor’s rights” as soon as you turn that motor on.
–Any overtaken vessel has the right of way over anyone overtaking. This means that if you’re a sailboat overtaking a power boat (approaching from within the 135-degree sweep off her stern), you’ve got to make way for the other vessel, regardless of it’s propulsion.
–Ultimately, even if you have the right of way, just don’t hit anybody! the cardinal rule applies to everyone: Every vessel shall use all available means to determine if risk of collision exists, and shall make decisive action with ample time to avoid it (my paraphrase of four pages of legalese)!

The Sailing Subset
Regatta right-of-way intricacies aside, there are really only three rules according to the Navigation Rules when it comes to crossing situations between sailors:
–Starboard stand-on. Always.
–Windward give-way. Always.
–And if a sailboat on a port tack sees a sailboat to windward and can’t determine which tack the other vessel is on (say, perhaps, it’s flying a huge spinnaker out front, obscuring the boom), then she should give way to the windward vessel.

But I repeat, the rule that trumps all others is the common sense rule: Do whatever it takes not to hit anybody!

Sadly, there are times when the rules may fail you (such as when others don’t understand or comply with them). So, have a couple of defensive driving strategies in mind. I like to raise the other boat on the VHF to confirm the plan for the pass. I also make my crew ready to tack if approaching any close crossing situation, just in case. Whatever you do, don’t be pigheaded about the rules–protect your boat and yourself. You can raise any offenders on the radio afterward to give them a curt refresher on the Rules of the watery Road!

Have an excellent Summer Solstice, Summer Sailstice, and Father’s Day Weekend!

Get Your Sailing Fix Here

I got out on the water this past weekend for the first time since Velella contracted “the black lung” over a month ago. The diesel doctors had all but given up on her, but we were obviously far from it. Prescott, my mate, dismantled the motor, bolt by line by bolt, and labeled each meticulously, while I was wrapped up in the Abby Sunderland drama last week. On Friday when I came home from work, he had her humming smoothly in the slip, without a trace of smoke coming from the clean-spitting exhaust.

I realized when we got out on the water again that I’d grown testier the longer we had been landlocked. I didn’t consciously realize it, but, like the dull headache you get at 11am on a day without coffee, having Velella “laid up” for the month had deprived me of a necessary fix. My name is Meghan, and I’m addicted to sailing.

Fortunately for me, I live on my sailboat, so barring any engine problems I can get my sailing fix routinely. But sailing can be a rather inaccessible sport if you don’t own a boat or know someone who does. ASA classes and flotillas are great ways to meet sailors and take advantage of sailing in amazing places, but what about when you get hooked and want to sail weekly? Sailing club membership is often steep for the budget as well, especially if you’re new to the sport.

I am very excited about ASA’s new country-wide Local Sailing Clubs program. The Local Sailing Clubs will provide consistent opportunities for folks to head out on the water near their own homes, bring friends, and meet local sailors. Each club will be different, shaped to the community’s desires by a club leader who facilitates events. Whether it’s a wintertime book club, bringing in a speaker to give a knot-tying or weather workshop, organizing a sailors’ beach cleanup day, or informal weekly regattas, the local club events are up to the members’ imagination.

ASA will connect its network of over 300 schools around the country with local club chapters; many schools are excited to lend boats (for free!) periodically to ASA Local Sailing Clubs. We are are also offering support in the way of printed publicity materials and social media, and we’ll create a dedicated web page for each Local Sailing Club as it launches.

If you have some cool ideas for Local Sailing Club events, perhaps you’d be interested in leading one yourself! Turn your affinity for sailing into a lifestyle by becoming an ASA Local Sailing Club Ambassador. You don’t even have to admit it’s an addiction.

ASA Local Sailing Clubs information page

What Should Abby Do?

(Note for RSS feed subscribers: The blog’s feedburner has a 24-hour delay, so you may be receiving this post on Saturday; please follow our Twitter stream @__ASA__ for up-to-the-minute information on Abby Sunderland)

The world was washed with relief this morning when Australian Qantas flight raised Abby Sunderland on the VHF and snapped a picture of her in one piece aboard Wild Eyes. But Abby’s journey is far from over as she waits in huge rollers for help to come. Imagine how it must have felt to see that plane and then watch it fly away.

Photo courtesy of Australian Search & Rescue, via

As soon as she was spotted, public discussion turned to what the appropriate action for Abby to take next is. She is, no doubt, thinking about the same things.

What troubles me is how a media that so recently celebrated Jessica Watson’s successful circumnavigation could lash out so fast at Abby’s setback. Between interviews with reporters, ASA’s Executive Director Charlie Nobles pointed out in his twitter feed, “Being 16 was not the issue here.”

I do not believe that Abby’s choice to activate her emergency beacons is evidence that she’s too young to “handle” a solo circumnavigation. If she had been within range of anyone hearing her, calling “pahn-pahn” to nearby ships might have been technically more appropriate than “mayday” given the situation (dismasting). But Abby knows distress signaling protocols. She was in the middle of nowhere and short-range communications weren’t cutting it. Neither was the sat phone. An EPIRB makes no distinction as to the type of trouble she’s in, but she needed assistance, and wisely called for it with the only method she had.

I’m quite sure Miss Sunderland will complete her solo circumnavigation. It’s just hard to guess when. The only immature decision now would be to rush it for a record. To have even gotten herself out of Marina del Rey took determination, maturity, and commitment to her dream. I look forward to watching Abby soak in the calm after this storm, pick herself up, and continue sailing someday–however long it takes her.

Join the discussion with other sailors on Twitter @__ASA__, #WSAD (What Should Abby Do?)

Dear Abby: “Lost at Sea”

(Note for RSS feed subscribers: The blog’s feedburner has a 24-hour delay, so you may be receiving this post on Friday; please see more current posts and our Twitter stream @__ASA__ for up-to-the-minute information on Abby Sunderland)

Much of the media has picked up 16-year-old solo circumnavigator Abby Sunderland’s story since she activated emergency distress signals in the middle of the Indian Ocean this morning. Since her satellite phone connection failed about an hour prior, no one has access to much information about Abby’s condition. The internet is full of reports of Abby being “lost at sea.”

We are all scared for Abby because, it’s true, she is in severe distress right now. But offshore sailors can deduce some things about Abby’s condition. The good news is, it is premature and inaccurate at this time to declare her “missing” or “lost.”

Here are the facts: Abby’s equipment includes a dry suit, survival suit, fully-equipped ditch kit, and offshore life raft. Additionally, she has a small personal locator beacon (PLB), a heartier main ship’s EPIRB, and a water-activated EPIRB mounted in the cockpit of WildEyes.

The two distress signals that went off were her PLB and the main ship’s EPIRB, not the water-activated cockpit one (reference: her parents’ update on Abby’s blog). Both of those beacons are manually activated, and they give rescuers Abby’s exact GPS fix. This emphasizes two things: first, that Abby purposely activated both of the two distress signals, and second, that her boat is almost still certainly afloat. If and when the boat goes down, we’ll receive the cockpit EPIRB’s signal. And EVEN THEN, she’s well prepared to wait in her offshore life raft for rescue.

The calling of a distress signal is up to the discretion of the skipper, and may be given for numerous reasons. One is that Abby herself has suffered some kind of personal injury that renders her unable to continue navigating her own vessel. The other is that the vessel has been dealt damage that puts Abby in a life-threatening position.

Either way, we are talking about distress. I am not in any way trying to undermine the severity of what’s happening to Abby. But according to the facts it is most likely that Abby is still hunkered down aboard WildEyes–the safest place for her to wait for rescue; out of the cold water, inside of a hard hull with multiple watertight compartments.

I know less about the intricacies of search and rescue efforts; however, just because Abby’s satellite phone is out of range or quit working does not mean she can’t contact anyone in the area. She has VHF and longer-range HF/SSB communication capacity (with backups), and according to her family, rescuers are diverting ship traffic towards her and sending a plane at first light to attempt contact via radio.

There is good reason to be optimistic. Please spread the word that Abby is not missing, and there is a highly organized search and rescue effort on their way–she just needs to hang on and hope.

Invite others to follow our Twitter stream @__ASA__ to read the updated facts as we learn them.

World Oceans Day


Bottlenose dolphins in Velella’s bow wake, Channel Islands, California.

Top links to explore for World Oceans Day:

NOAA’s State of the Coast Report

The Ocean Project, an organized network of thousands of organizations devoted to restoring the health of our oceans

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s live webcast discussion of ocean science and conservation tonight at 6pm EST

Sailors, ask yourself what you can do to give back to your oceans today!

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

June 8th marks the annual worldwide celebration of World Oceans Day. This year, it’s also the 50th anniversary of Dr. Suess’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Go figure.

As boaters, we have a particular responsibility to care for our oceans. We learned when we were little to clean up after ourselves, put back when we take, and share the sandbox with others. We may have graduated to a bigger playroom, but our obligation is the same: to take care of our toys and keep it clean, so it will continue to be a fun place to play.

It goes without saying that the oceans need care, especially these days with things like–ahem–offshore drilling and other manmade effects wreaking havoc on the natural balance. It’s overwhelming to listen to NPR’s reports on the state of affairs in the Gulf, or see the sailing vessel Plastiki’s pictures of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” (By the way, the size of that monstrosity is so widely reported because scientists can’t determine what “excessive” versus “normal” levels of garbage are in our oceans. What’s wrong with this picture?)

But the marine industry, and each of us as boaters, has real opportunity to affect the state of the world’s oceans. Choosing gentle products to clean our boats, observing dumping laws for trash and waste, avoiding destructive anchoring spots such as coral reefs, and hoisting those sails for clean energy instead of burning fuel are just a few of the ways we act responsibly. First one, then two, the red fish and blue, will continue to flourish under the stewardship of seakindly sailors.

Spread the word about the international celebration of World Oceans Day to help elevate public awareness and begin to change perceptions. Take pictures–both of beauty and destruction. Go snorkeling or sailing to refocus on the stunning, intricate ecosystems you’re responsible for. Thousands of organizations are participating in World Oceans Day celebrations; here’s a list of events around the country you can check out. Then use this international holiday to clean your sailboat with sea-friendly products. Sailors for the Sea compiled this excellent list of effective homemade green cleaning products to try on your boat.

Sailors, you’ve already got a head start on the program by harnessing clean wind for your primary propulsion! It’s a small, sensible step to continue supporting the oceans with sustainable cleaning products and practices. Have a wonderful World Oceans Day, with fair winds and healthy following seas!

Beaches ‘n’ Cream

Continuing “Trekking by Sail: Exuma Islands”

Having spent a second (drier) night on Farmer’s Cay, we were well-rested and ready to spend the day sailing. The wind was head-on–not a great direction for the Sea Pearls that prefer to run or reach–but it was fresh and the waves teasing.

The days that followed almost roll into one in my memory. The trip until that point had been so beautiful, but what followed was so pristine it continually left me speechless. We beat upwind to aptly named White Point, and in the evening let roasty bbq chicken melt in our mouths after showering on shore under a fierce orange sunset. We were progressing further and further into the remote silence of the Exumas, and slept soundly on the edge of the lapping bay.

Exuma Land and Sea park was the next day’s destination, so before the heat of midmorning we sailed around the next bend and began threading our way through a string of tiny islands. The beaches kept getting whiter and finer in each bight. After a quick stop to feed the friendly prehistoric iguanas on Guana Cay, we skimmed up to Sandy Cay for lunch. The spit of sand looked like a cliche ad for a travel brochure, but here we were, devouring hot dogs on it for lunch!

What followed was some amazing sailing across series of wide bays and into the Land and Sea Park for our night camp. I keep failing in my attempts to draft a description of the feeling, but we all know how it is, especially in little boats. The warm fresh breeze tugged filled sails strongly with regular gusts, forcing us to assume the fluid dance of hiking way out, leaning in as it eased, anticipating the ruffle on the water with a perfectly timed hike, and relaxing with ease again. It’s the dance of the sailing sport, felt so acutely in small boats, and it never fails to quicken my pulse to the most pleasurable degree.

When we dropped anchor on Cambridge Cay, I jumped into the waist-deep water that was clean as a pool. The sand was soft like cream of tartar between my toes, and there was not a single growth of anything marring it’s perfect white ripples. Small schools of flashing silver angelfish darted by, and I saw one small purple starfish relaxing in the shallows, but that was it. I asked Ian about the sand–I couldn’t stop talking about it–and he confirmed that he knew of nothing like it anywhere else.

I only wish I could post a texture on this blog. But I urge you not to take my word for it: Go sink your own toes in Exuma’s “beaches ‘n’ cream.”