Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Flock on the Fleet!

Some of the best moments for cruisers are when we get to experience natural wonders up close. ASA Member Whitney Garner submitted an intriguing photograph to the Photo of the Month competition, in which a sailboat lay calmly at anchor, bathed in a purple sunset and surrounded by hundreds of small birds in flight. I asked her to tell me more about this unusual scene and place, and her story tells of a sailing spot most of us haven’t been to:

We headed out for a sunset sail on a warm summer evening on beautiful Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Arkansas aboard s/v Slomotion. The sunset was unbelievable that evening with lots of yellow and pink in the sky. I started taking photos as fast as I could to capture the sunset as my husband and our friend Rod sailed the boat.

As we approached a small island (really only a few partially submerged trees), several hundred birds started circling our sailboat. The birds continued to follow us as we sailed into the sunset, and more and more of them continued to join us on our sail as we approached the island. Our friends, Tim and Tammy Welch on s/v Cabo Wabo, approached us with their sails down; the birds were landing on their rigging. After some time (and many pictures!) the birds finally broke away and headed for the island. When the sun set, the birds were all over the trees on the island and the sound was absolutely incredible. There must have been thousands of birds in the trees around us. My husband and I have been sailing on Lake Ouachita for ten years and I have never seen this phenomenon.

After sharing our story with several of our sailor friends and researching on the internet, I found an article about the birds. Apparently, they are Purple Martins; “Bird Island” is Arkansas’ largest known Purple Martin roost. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission estimates that 8,000 – 50,000 Purple Martins use the area between late July and early August, and we were lucky enough to have been there during that time. You can read more about the birds here.

August Photo of the Month

We had our first Photo of the Month competition on Facebook last week. The above photo of the grand yacht Whisper, submitted by George Bekris, won with the most “likes” from fans. Fans voted on their favorites, and the race was close; the following three tied for second place with only one vote less than the winner:

I find it telling that all four of these top photos showcase similar aspects of sailing–sleek lines, grand beauty, movement. The winner will be showcased as the Photo of the Month in this month’s Sailing With Style e-newsletter, and next month we’ll be hosting another competition with a different theme. It could be photos of pets on boats, it could be the best anchorages, it could be small boats–I’m open to suggestions! What do you want to see as the theme for our next sailing Photo of the Month competition?

Managing Weather

In this guest post, Captain Tony Wall of Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy recounts delivering a 46′ sloop–while managing the effects of a nearby hurricane.

As a professional sailing instructor and USCG captain, I was contracted to sea trial a 46′ Bruce Roberts sloop named Harmony. Everything went satisfactorily, the deal went through, and the new owner, Veli-Matti Alho, asked me if I would be interested in delivering the yacht from Port Everglades to Galveston, Texas, crossing the Gulf of Mexico. My work schedule did not permit this, but I offered to teach him the ASA certifications Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Cruising, with extensive practical offshore and advanced passage-making, during a trip from Port Everglades down to Key West.

Beautiful weather accompanied our trip south to Miami, and we sailed into Biscayne Bay for a night of rest on the dock. Engine/charging problems meant we could not re-start the engine, so we were required to sail through the Biscayne Ship Channel in the dark without auxiliary power–a daunting prospect, but successfully accomplished. Several days of repairs followed, during which Veli and I tracked the weather closely.

A late season tropical storm was developing into Hurricane Ida and heading rapidly west of Cuba heading for the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm hurtled up the gulf, Miami experienced gale force winds from the east–a good direction but not for us! Harmony strained the docklines, safely tied up at Dinner Key Marina. The third day brought 20-25 knots from the south, and rather than heading straight into it, we waited for a better window. Day four’s forecast was 20-25 knots north-west–there was our chance!

We left Biscayne Bay around 10:00am with full sail–a conventional mainsail and a 150% genoa. By late afternoon approaching Key Largo, I suggested we put on the heavy-air staysail and put a single reef in the mainsail to reduce the overall sail area in a balanced way.

Since our draft was 6ft 8ins, our strategy was to head south and south west outside the reef, rather than going inside the Hawk Channel, which would require too much concentration (especially considering we were hand steering). Overnight, as expected, the wind accelerated to 20 plus knots with gusts into the upper 20s. We were able to progressively take in the large furling genoa from the cockpit to reduce the force on the rig. Flying the staysail only in a situation like this is a great example of the offshore flexibility of the cutter rig.

We were running on the ocean side of the barrier reef that extends all the way down the keys, from near Key Biscayne to Key West, a total of 150 miles. Dawn came slowly–all night we were sailing at hull speed or above, pushing towards 9 knots of speed. It was an exhilarating sail, but definitely hard work and not conducive to sleep! When dawn finally came, I took this video of the boiling sea to starboard (north and north west) and encouraging light from golden-red sunrise off our port quarter.

As we approached Key West, we realized that we had covered 154 nautical miles in 22 hours–certainly the fastest voyage I had ever made. The moral of the story is to choose your weather window carefully to ensure favorable winds, and to be ready for deteriorating conditions by reefing down early. With a prepared boat and crew, you can manage strong weather and use it to your advantage.

Captain Tony Wall
Lead Instructor, Biscayne Bay Sailing Academy
Tel 954 243 4078

Sailing with Whales

I assume by now you’ve all seen this:

But it’s so completely insane I had to repost the picture. (And have you seen the video of it?? I can’t decide if it’s fake or real or what…)

Whale run-ins are the only thing I can think of that a sailor can’t do anything to prepare for. Poor visibility, no problem. Light winds, fine. Even storms are manageable, with the right sails, ground tackle, self-steering, drogues. Shoot–we have tactics for lightning strikes. But hitting a whale? (Or in this case, a whale hitting you??) Completely unpredictable, and not a dang thing you can do about it.

For how many yachts sink from hitting whales at night (snapping off the keel, thudding a whole in the hull), it’s amazing that the whale jumping on top of this boat didn’t sink it.

Being a cruiser myself, I’ve had many a night watch on the Pacific Coast to fret about hitting a migrating whale. On the most extravagant end of my wish list is one of those new FLIR thermal imagers that can detect things underwater like radar…but they start at around $5,000. Instead, I learned a thing or two about whales to help minimize the chances of hitting one.

1. When you spot a whale, it’s easy to let the wheel drift towards it. But make sure you stay at least 300 feet away from them, because the closer you get, the more curious they become about you.
2. Whales have poor eyesight and trouble hearing sailboats, so it’s a good idea to turn on the engine when you know whales are nearby. If they can hear you, they’re less likely to surface blindly underneath you–or jump on top of your boat.
3. Whale watching guides recommend keeping yourself behind the whale and always maintaining a constant speed. Rapid changes in direction or speed may trigger defensive action from the whale, (although jumping on top of your boat is not normally one of these!).
4. Keep in mind that the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the US have passed laws regarding whale watching practices for private boaters. Here is a link to NOAA’s guidelines and regulations.

It’s important for sailors’ safety as well as for consideration of the whales that you follow these safe whale watching guidelines. At night, a healthy dose of telepathy–“stay away from our keel, whales”–is the most effective method I’ve found. So far, it’s working for me.

U.S. National Ocean Policy

In 2009, President Obama declared June National Oceans Month, recognizing that “From the abyssal plains of the Pacific to the shallow coral reefs and seagrass beds of the Florida Keys, oceans support an incredible diversity of marine life and ecosystems.” He also created the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to write recommendations for promoting conservation of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.

I assume that the–ahem–little oil spill put a fire under that Task Force, so on July 19, 2010, they released their final recommendations. The recommendations are beautiful and Utopian, and the hopeful part of me pushes aside cynical thoughts of budget constraints and antagonists. The final recommendations set forth the first ever National Policy for Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes. And although it hasn’t yet passed into law, it’s trilling to read: “It is the POLICY of the United States to: Improve the resiliency of….Support sustainable, safe, secure, and productive access to and uses of….Respect and preserve our Nation’s maritime heritage, including our social, cultural, recreational, and historical values….Improve our understanding and awareness of changing environmental conditions, trends, and their causes….Foster a public understanding of the value of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes to build a foundation for improved stewardship.”

Furthermore, the task force unanimously supports the United States accession to the Law of the Sea Convention (which I was shocked to learn we hadn’t adopted yet). The Law of the Sea Convention “sets forth the rights and responsibilities of nations to prevent, reduce, and control pollution of the marine environment and to protect and preserve resources off their shores.” Hm. Now that might have been a good thing to have in place before millions of barrels of oil were floating around our coasts.

Although our National Ocean Policy may be horrifically late in coming, it’s better late than never. If they can accomplish what’s set forth in these recommendations, the world could be a better, bluer place.

Thou Shalt Not Dump Oil

Boaters are well aware that it is strictly illegal to dump oil at sea. We’re all required to have “Discharge of Oil Prohibited” placards in our boats and receptacles for containing any oily waste. We know that the fine for dumping oil is in the neighborhood of $10,000 and perhaps some jail time. It’s at the top of our commandments, right up there with Thou Shalt Not Dump Plastics.

It makes sense that so many boaters are involved with the cleanup efforts in the wake of the BP disaster. With somewhere between 94 and 184 MILLION GALLONS of oil now swirling around the Gulf of Mexico, I’m a bit dumbfounded. BP should owe in the vicinity of one to two trillion dollars (assuming they’re charged $10,000 per gallon). Jailtime is clearly in order, according to our oil discharge placards. Now that there’s (FINALLY) a cap on the busted rig, which appears to have stemmed the leak, we can start to make progress on getting rid of the oil for good.

Courtesy of Frank Trigg
Frank, a professional captain based out of Los Angeles/Long Beach, is currently working in Louisiana on oil spill cleanup. Captain Frank was looking for work in the beginning of June and mentioned as much to a former employer, one of the many maritime businesses supporting the efforts in Louisana and Mississippi; within three days Frank was hired as a temporary captain in the Gulf and flew down on the 24th of June.

Captain Frank is based in Belle Chasse, just south of New Orleans, and his work site is approximately 70 miles from the oil spill. He is captain of an 80-foot Shallow Barge Skimmer, which consists of a 35-foot push boat and two 45-foot barges that carry their equipment. There is no protection from the elements other than a small canopy–and their greatest daily concern is hydration. With temperatures in the 90s and humidity just as high, the crew is urged to drink half a quart of water hourly plus three bottles of Power Aid over each twelve-hour period.

So far, Frank says, “We have not seen any oil. Boom has been deployed around the marshes as a preventive measure, and the three barges are there to scoop and skim any oil that may be present. So far we have gone out and anchored all day.”

With troops like Frank’s fencing in all unharmed areas with hundreds of miles of booms, and the cap on the Deepwater Horizon rig in place and holding, there is cause for optimism. But the Gulf is far from stabilized. We will all be waiting with bated breath for the permanent relief wells to be dug, the cap cemented in place, and the beaches slowly combed clean.

Meanwhile, please consider how you can support the Gulf’s coastline economies. Aside from the environmental disaster, the oil spill has wreaked economic havoc. Reports from ASA schools all along the coastline are quite varied, but one thing is common–even when there is no oil present in an area, people’s incorrect perceptions cause them to avoid the Gulf altogether. Don’t let geographic ignorance be the reason you decide not to sign up for that sailing class. Who knew something as fun as going sailing could be a means of supporting the restoration?!

If you would like to get elbow-deep in the physical restoration efforts, please find a cleanup volunteer opportunity here.

Sailing With Style

The first edition of ASA’s brand new monthly e-newsletter, Sailing With Style, was sent out last week. Did you get it? Don’t miss out: you can sign up on our homepage.

Sailing With Style is full of new content that you won’t find in the American Sailing Journal–and it’s delivered straight to your inbox. This month’s issue kicked things off with how to book a great bareboat charter, an introduction to galley-friendly “container foods” (no dishes required!), and “The Cockpit Lounge,” an invitation to discover ASA on social media.

We’re exited to continue to develop the newsletter’s features, and over the coming months as the newsletter gets rolling, we’ll be introducing a number of cool perks and links. Future issues will contain nautical trivia and humor, opportunities to “ask an expert”, and of course as a lifestyle publication, we’re compelled to include some yacht fashion dos and don’ts (all in good fun, of course).

One of the most exciting new features will be a Member Promo Deals Map, which collects all the promotions offered by ASA schools on a continuously updated map. You can peruse current discounts on classes in your area, or look for a deal on a “destination class” in another part of the country. This visual, geographic search tool will make it easy to find great deals on ASA schools and classes near you–and it provides a one-stop site to browse numerous sailing schools’ promotions.

Lastly, I believe all good newsletters begin with a killer photo–and we want Sailing With Style to feature your boats! We are currently collecting photo submissions for the first ASA Photo of the Month, so email your best shot to me at I’ll be posting an album of each month’s submissions on our Facebook page too, but the winner will be featured in the newsletter that goes out to over 20,000 sailors. Photos will be judged based on how well they capture the feel of “sailing lifestyle” …and I’m leaving that open to your interpretation!

So email me your photos:
And go here to sign up for Sailing With Style. We hope you enjoy it!

“Hrvatski Voda Flotile”

(That’s what the shirts from our Croatia Flotilla will read!)

As ASA staff members return from attending the recent San Juan Islands and Gulf Islands flotillas, photos collect on Flickr and stories float around the office. I booked my tickets for the Croatia flotilla yesterday, and with the flotilla atmosphere all around me, I am eagerly counting the days till we take off on September 2nd.

There are only two berths left on the Croatia boats–one double and one single. What’s great about this arrangement is that you don’t have to worry about skippering your own boat; you can just join the fun on someone else’s! Plus, these short-handed crew are going to need someone to hang on to the Slivovitz while underway… There are twenty people on five boats right now–big enough for a party, small enough to get to know one another over the course of the week.

I’ve received a couple of emails from ASA members just gushing about the place. Listen to this:

“I am presently vacationing in Croatia. It is one of the best kept secrets in the world. It is a sailors paradise. I have traveled worldwide, but must admit that the Adriatic is one of the best, be it sailing, relaxing, swimming, sun bathing, etc. It is the next to the Riviera. ASA made a wise choice this year and I suggest scheduling future Croatia Flotillas!”

This was an unsolicited comment–and I have no doubt that Croatia will be paradise. July 15th is the cutoff for registration, so hop on those berths and grab the Slivovitz!


Rescue Responsibility

The French government is poised to enact a bill that would require mariners to pay for their own rescues. In the wake of the world’s anger over Abby Sunderland’s expensive rescue in the Indian Ocean, they may have the bill timed just right.

But what does this mean for responsible cruisers? Accidents happen at sea, hurricanes are not confined to their weather “box,” and piracy occurs even in unexpected places. Calamity can befall even the most prepared and prudent cruisers, so where does this bill leave them? On the other hand, it seems to make sense to put limits on the extent to which the government will support any rash adventure. Consider’s article about this stirring legislation.

I’m curious what everyone thinks about all this. Is there a solution that restricts unnecessary spending without penalizing those who are prudent in their undertakings? Being both sailors and citizens, we just might have the most balanced opinions out there–so let’s hear what you think!

J-Boats Sponsorship

We’re excited to announce that ASA is embarking on the production of a series of high-definition instructional videos, drawing from our new Sailing Made Easy textbook. J-Boats has come aboard as our official sponsor, and the videos will be feature the sleek J-Boat owned by ASA’s founder and chairman, Lenny Shabes, and his wife, Cindy (ASA’s President). The couple recently attended ASA’s San Juan Islands flotilla in the Puget Sound; when asked if they spotted any Orca whales, Cindy replied, “We did, but they were rather far away… now, if we’d been our J-Boat, we could have zipped right over there!”

Known for their speed and popular in regattas, J-Boats are also a great choice for sailing instruction. Fast and tender, they react quickly to changes a sailor might try, but they also have a low center of gravity for smooth stability. Of his own J-Boat, Lenny says, “I love my boat. It’s the most fun I’ve had sailing a boat, ever. We love it on daysails, we love it racing–it’s the best all-around boat money can buy.”

J-Boats describes the experience of sailing one: “[J-boats] instill a sense of confidence, freeing one from anxieties. Even when planing at 10+ knots, one feels in total control. There’s less work. Guests aren’t pressured into unfamiliar tasks. Fewer orders are needed. It’s more fun. . . like a good sports-car, turning as if it were part of you. Not with sluggish delay, but with a smooth, even response–around crests, down waves, and through crowded harbors.”

Perfect boats for beginners to accomplished racers–we’re thrilled to be featuring them in our videos. Catch the videos on Latitudes & Attitudes TV (on the Versus network) Wednesdays at 9:30am EST/6:30am PST through the end of September. You can also find individual tips posted on ASA’s Facebook fan page.

For more information about J-Boats, visit