Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010: The Year in American Sailing

2010 has been a year of drama on the high seas, and one of change and excitement for ASA. Here’s a rundown of some of the big news from the past year:


Wild Eyes adrift
Photo courtesy of Australian Search & Rescue, via
Nothing else in the maritime world even came close to equaling the notoriety (and controversy) of this 16-year-old Californian sailor’s odyssey. Sunderland departed from ASA’s home port of Marina Del Rey, CA in January, attempting to become the youngest solo circumnavigator ever (a record previously held by her older brother Zac). She successfully rounded Cape Horn, but on June 10, in the stormy Indian Ocean, she lost radio contact, and shortly afterward activated her emergency beacons. It was widely feared that she was lost at sea. However, she was found alive and well by a search & rescue aircraft and retrieved by a French fishing vessel on June 12. The event sparked a massive debate in the media and among sailors about the wisdom of this, and other, similar, world record attempts, as well as who should be responsible for the cost of the rescue, estimated to be between $200,000 and $300,000. Sunderland has been criticized as reckless by some, and praised for her courage and fortitude by others.

For her part, Sunderland is undeterred and has stated her desire to attempt another circumnavigation in the near future. She also has a book about her experiences due out in 2011, and apparently there is a documentary in the works (just announced today). (ASA’s Meghan Cleary covered the incident as it happened here and here.)

OTHER NOTABLE STORIES: The Gulf Oil Spill, Laura Dekker embarking on circumnavigation at age 14, Jessica Watson completing solo circumnavigation at age 16.

BIGGEST NEWS FOR ASA MEMBERS: Sailing Made Easy and ASA Social Media
sailing made easy
In March, ASA released Sailing Made Easy, the official textbook for ASA 101, the Basic Keelboating course. A great deal of effort and expertise went into creating this book, a full-color introduction to the essential skills and lifestyle of sailing. It’s an indispensable manual for new sailors and a handy reference even for experienced salts, featuring beautiful photography from Bob Grieser and edited by sailing legend Peter Isler. Heck, it even has waterproof covers. (Available through our store.)

2010 also saw the emergence of ASA’s Social Media Gateway. Meghan Cleary was brought on as our first Social Media Coordinator and got us off the ground. In October Meghan moved on to become ASA’s writer-at-large and, more importantly, to cruise the tropics in her 35′ cutter Velella. I (Ben Miller) replaced her and it’s been a blast getting to know ASA members and immersing myself in the sailing lifestyle (even if most of that immersion has taken place in an office). My New Year’s Resolution? To get out on the water with ASA! (You can find my “Introduction” post here.)

NOT TO MENTION: The launch of the ASA iPhone App, flotillas to a number of alluring locales, and our ever-increasing membership, to whom we want to say a huge THANK YOU!


Short answer: Who knows?
sailing away
ASA certainly has a number of exciting projects in the works, including the continued expansion of our Local Sailing Clubs, more fantastic flotillas, and other things I’m not even at liberty to talk about yet! My personal goal is to get as many people as possible press-ganged into our scurrilous crew on Facebook and Twitter, in addition to reading this blog.

However, as all sailors know, the true adventure often lies in the things you can’t plan. So here’s to 2011 and the mysteries it may hold. We’re crowding sail toward the horizon, and very glad you’re with us.

Voyaging with Velella: The Irresistible Horizon Line

red sky at nightContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

I love it when those sayings about weather turn out to be true. Makes me feel like a real old salt. Like how my last sight of the evening sky looked like this, and this morning the lagoon is pure glass. White flocks of egrets’ wings flap across the still water along knotted mangrove forests, tufts of smoke hang in the dense hills, this sky is an almost colorless blue. For the first time in a week, the air has been scrubbed clean of hazy humidity, leaving the sensation that we’ve just showered clean without getting wet.
I’ll be sorry to leave Barra de Navidad. When you anchor somewhere for over a week, it starts to feel like home. We know where the cheapest lavanderia is, which cafes make “real” coffee (as opposed to the ubiquitous cup of Nescafe) and have free internet, and I’ve even found a little hole-in-the-wall craft store. As I type this, I’m listening to the unusual accent of the French Baker on the radio, calling out to cruisers that he’s headed out to the lagoon. Each morning he dings his little bell and pulls alongside each boat with “Bonjour, French Baker this morning?” His canopied panga is lined with warm danishes, croissants, baguettes, fruit tarts, and cookies—the other day we bought cranberry oat cookies with sherry and orange zest. After endless huevos rancheros, a buttery chocolate croissant is worth hanging around for.

For the first time since we started cruising, we’ve gotten to know a place, and it feels right. I was beginning to feel despondent about passing through Mexico like a skipping stone. Though we’ve been in the country for two months, our average time in a single anchorage is, sadly, only one day. My anxiety accelerated every time we picked up the hook again, because the trip—the slow, immersive travel we worked so hard to be able to do—was rushing by and we were missing way too much. The knowledge that the “end” of Mexico is right around the corner has put a hard knot in my stomach for weeks.
When sailors dream of cruising, we aren’t dreaming only of warm remote shores and a self-sustaining little home. I believe that what most people seek when they choose to cruise is a certain pace of living. It is an adventurous pace, but also an exploratory one. I care as much about discovering the cultural pockets we find in tucked-away anchorages as I do about discovering a migrating pod of whales at sea.

Prescott put it eloquently in observing that there’s something irresistible about the horizon that beckons sailors. The landlubber’s equivalent is “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” That horizon always subconsciously represents warmer water, bigger fruit, more colorful flora. Perhaps south of where we are, we would find some of those things. But we are realizing that we could forever haul ourselves over horizon after horizon in search of what we have right here. What we would leave behind is the contented pace we went cruising to achieve.
at anchor
So we’ve decided to rein in our galloping itinerary in favor of savoring Mexico. We’re enrolling in Spanish language classes, studying our birding books, and reading John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” aloud as we make our way North to the Sea of Cortez for spring sailing. We’re writing more, swimming more, and reinstating the daily siesta. Because although we may have started out with vague intentions to land in New York City at the end of all this, we’re not ready to trade in this pace for that—not yet.

As last night’s fiery sunset predicted, it’s time to sail. But this time, we’ve thrown the calendar overboard, and we’re sailing “by the wind.”

Here’s where the wind has taken Velella now:

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

January Photo of the Month: Holiday Edition

Christmas only comes once a year, but our monthly Facebook photo contest is always right around the corner. This time our theme (as chosen by you) was “Holidays on a Boat.” From the many great submissions via Facebook, Twitter and email, one was voted the best by the discerning ASA readership. (You can view the full album of entries here.)

This is the boat that just can’t seem to STOP winning things. This was SailTime Channel Islands’ WINNING entry in the Parade of Lights – Over 30′ sailboat in the commercial division. Not to mention they’ve won 3 years in a row! Photo by STCI member Randy Bush, submitted by Chris Tucker.

This charming scene was captured by Lisa Batchelor Frailey, who describes it thusly: “On the Kent-Avon Canal, Semington, UK. What a cozy place to spend Christmas! The most wonderful pub is just up the path…” Sounds good to me!

One of these pictures was not like the others, so I have to give a nod to our “most magical” entry, from Janet Gunn via her brother Wayne.

We hope you enjoyed these and we’d love for you to come join the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Voyaging with Velella: On Night Sailing

In this blog, ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary answers a question from a reader. Meghan is on a 9-month cruise in the tropics aboard S/V Velella. Got a question you’d like Meghan to answer? Post a comment or email us.

Reader Louis asked for Meghan’s advice on open-ocean mooring and sailing at night. “Do you simply heave to, use a sea anchor, or are basic mooring lights sufficient?”

The winter solstice receives much-deserved celebration from cruising sailors. Finally, our chilly night watches start shrinking as the warm sunny hours push them out minute by minute over the coming weeks. The long-awaited sunrise will now begin to surprise us every morning by a minute or two. Even though we are now well used to sailing overnight (and sometimes even make a habit of it so as to have more daylight hours at our destination), the sight of the sun sinking below the horizon still quickens my pulse every time.

Before we had ever sailed Velella on an overnight passage, night watches were like a legend shrouded in mystery to me. We rarely had use for our navigation lights, because we made sure we were tucked in safely in a harbor before sunset. But in preparation for a trip such as this, where there are often stretches of coast too long to transit during just one day, we had to learn how to make way through the night.

Our first overnight passage was during our ASA 106 certification course in the Puget Sound, with an instructor from San Juan Sailing on board. I was happy to have Chris with us, as I knew that he would be dozing close at hand should we have questions or need help in the middle of the night. I envisioned my night watch in advance, preparing myself by understanding the tools I’d need to navigate with–a radar, chart plotter, the compass, and the knowledge of ship’s lights–rather than my eyes, which did most of the navigating in the daytime.

Perhaps it’s my imagination (and I don’t have meteorologic knowledge to support this), but when the big orange wavering sun sets below the cold ocean, I always notice the wind freshening a bit. We’ve learned now to reef the main before a windy sunset, to avoid scrambling around in the dark. If the reef slows us down a bit, it’s worth the peace of mind that we won’t have any occasion to go on deck at night. We clip our harnesses in to the cockpit so the other can sleep easily knowing their mate won’t fall overboard. We have a comfortable sea berth made up with clean sheets and a lee cloth, which makes for snug sleep in a seaway. We have an iPod and books on tape and snacks and hot drinks for the on-watch. We’ve learned how to make night watches safe, comfortable, and not scary in the least.

But there was a point in time when we didn’t know what it would be like at all, and the thought of sailing through the night was quite daunting. We learned that there’s no need to stop sailing at night–you just flip on your running lights (red/green at the bow, white at the stern), and keep moving right along, just as if it were daylight. If large seas or strong winds are making the motion uncomfortable, you can heave to, which effectively lets the boat drift in a surprisingly comfortable position so the crew can make a decent meal or get some rest. A sea anchor would be reserved for the most dire of storm situations; we have never had occasion to use one, and only rarely even heave to. The boat sails just as beautifully at night as during the day–you just need to keep a good lookout for ships (and study up so you know what their lights mean when you see them).

Sailing at night is a new dimension, to be sure. So doing your first watch with an ASA instructor, like we did, will give you much peace of mind, and teach you the ropes in the dark. Though it’s a challenge to swallow your fear and sail through the night for the first time, it’s a challenge well worth taking. Billions of stars in the dark night sky become a blanket over the cradle of your cockpit, and the glittering, phosphorescent wake your boat leaves will make you wonder whether it’s all a dream. And there is nothing, nothing, on earth as beautiful and welcome as the warm dawn rising after a thrilling night at sea.

Here’s where Meghan, Prescott and Nessie will be cruising under the stars tonight:

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

Voyaging with Velella: Wildlife Highway

Continuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

We sailed into Chacala before sunset, escorted all the way in to our anchoring spot by the most enormous dolphins I’ve ever seen. The anchorage was small, lined with densely forested hills and colorful homes perched on the cliff sides. Dramatic black rocks framed the sinking sun, dark boughs hung over the surf, music from warm palapas drifted out over the water. We split a bottle of wine in the cockpit under a black night full of stars and watched the underwater light show performed by throngs of undulating phosphorescent jellyfish and darting neon schools of fish. Every so often one of our huge dolphins swam by, like an underwater rocket in the bioluminescence.

A couple days later, we spent the entire morning motor-sailing in the glassy water alongside an enormous pod of whales. We got so used to seeing them surface every few minutes that the flip of a 10-foot-wide tail no longer was something to ooooh-ahhh about.

An almost hourly distraction was spotting large sea turtles basking in warm surface water. We could sail right up alongside of their leathery backs, they would raise a wrinkled head and sort of smile a soft hello in our direction, then flap a flipper and descend below the bow with a smooth unhurried breaststroke. A new kind of dolphin (dark grey with golden spots running down their backs), huge kaleidoscopic jellyfish, spotted pufferfish, ocean sunfish—all joined us over a very short distance. We’ve entered a constant state of Sea-World wonder down here.

We were pleased with the blossoming of the marine wildlife in this area, because we were headed to pick up Prescott’s family for a week of cruising between La Cruz and Barra de Navidad. We had promised them great fishing and whale sightings and all sorts of other tropical attractions, and it appeared that we’d chosen the right spot to take them on as guests. But even with all the wildlife we’d seen, we had no idea about just how close we’d come to it.

We spent one beautiful evening overnight sailing—an experience in itself for our guests, who got to sit in the cockpit with us under the millions of stars and participate in our watch-keeping rotation. By morning, we were all a bit tired and ready to arrive at our anchorage. We had just sighted our landfall and started making our way toward the coast when a pair of grey whales surfaced off our port bow, perhaps 500 yards distant. We were running parallel with them, and watched quietly as they rose slow and majestically, blew powerful spouts of steam, slapped their tails with echoing booms across the water. Soon we realized that there were not only two, but several more in their company, and Prescott and I were on full alert as we began to suspect we were running very near an entire pod. We were motoring, but throttled down and tried to stay far away from where we thought they were.

Prescott gave a startled shout to look out to port, and we turned to see a white mass rising no more than 30 feet away from the rail. Nobody moved. A huge grey fin pushed through the surface, white barnacles clinging to its glistening, cloudy skin. Then it arched as if in slow motion, and we saw its light colored underbelly as it plunged below, lifting its tail then slipping beneath. All that was left was a glossy patch on the surface amidst the wind waves, a trail of bubbles following it down.

I’ve always regarded close encounters with marine life a good omen, as if they’re welcoming us to their sea. On our very first sail on Velella, from Tacoma to Seattle, Washington, several small black-and-white Dahl’s porpoises happily played in our bow wake—which I took to be better luck than any amount of good wine poured over the bowsprit. The enormous gentle presence of this whale touched me in the same way. Because sometimes in the middle of the night when the wind is really strong and the salty swell is conspiring to take all the life out of me, I have to wonder if all this is really such a good idea. But when a whale surfaces next to us as if we’re part of the pod, I feel like we’ve truly become creatures of the sea.

Here’s where Velella is now!

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

Voyaging with Velella: Meditation on Teak

Continuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

If you are inclined towards boats in the least, you fall into one party of thought or another. Those in the first party are drawn, often romantically or with “old school” sensibility, to boats bedecked in teak. The other party will perhaps tolerate a bit of brightwork, but other than that, wants nothing to do with wood on their boat. You’re one or the other. People can move from one camp to the other, but you’ve gotta be in one of them.

Perhaps I have not spent enough years pouring elbow grease into my teak decks yet, but I am still firmly stuck in the former camp. My boat is laden with teak inside and out, and I won’t lie about how much work it is. It’s such a large job that I have to tackle it in constant stages–one weekend caulking, another day replacing bungs, another weekend sanding the combings, another day bleaching, another couple days oiling, and on and on. By the time I finish the whole thing, the deck seams need recaulking again.

Velella is a traditional Taiwanese design very similar to the Hans Christians and Tayanas. Unlike most of the boats in our design family, though, our large teak bulwarks (which run around the entire outside of the boat for non-yachtistas) are not varnished or Cetoled–they’re oiled. Lovingly, constantly oiled. It’s a job which takes hours and days to do, and it must be done almost monthly in the tropics, where the sun is strong enough to oxidize the oil almost black in just a few weeks.

Why on earth would one want such a penance? (Well, I was raised Irish Catholic as a kid. But that’s not the issue.) For one thing, well cared-for teak is a stunning sight. It’s surface is deep warm, not unlike a violin. Oiled teak is soft and tactile; it’s rich and handsome next to a light glassy varnish. For me, owning a boat is not just about being able put up the sails and move with the wind; it’s an aesthetically pleasing thing, it’s design and balance achieved, it’s gracefulness in the ever-harsh environment of the sea. So I’m a slave to it’s beauty.

To the man who walks by on the dock and snorts, “You shoulda bought a plastic boat!” I say, “Don’t you know pain is beauty?!?” Then I get back to work. It’s not just because it’s pretty that I do all this.

Velella works awfully hard keeping us safe day and night, so the least I can do is take a loving hand to her. My eyes know all the cracks and crannies and I have a mental log of every spot that will next need caulking. It’s a great way to bond with the boat–doing teak work. Anyway, all that wood has brought us on an incredible journey. And the wood took an equally incredible journey of its own before I ever laid a brush on it.

In a book I have in our onboard library*, the author excerpts a small history of teak, which is fascinating. Teak trees are absolutely enormous–up to 40 feet around and 150 feet tall–and they don’t grow in groves, but are found individually within monsoon rainforests. The wood, which grows in India, Burma, Thailand, and Java, has unique properties that those cultures have long known about (it was only more recently that Western navigators realized its superior benefits). Teak is an extremely dense hardwood that actually sinks in water when freshly felled–in fact it’s so hard that you can’t drive a nail into it (which is why screw holes are pre-bored and fitted with wood plugs.) It’s much stronger than most woods, resistant to mildew, insect attack, fungal decay, and all sorts of other wood-plaguing maladies. The grain will swell when it becomes wet, effectively making it self-sealing.

What’s most amazing to me is that the harvesting process for all this teak is done by elephants who are trained to haul the felled logs to the nearest waterway. They even lift and stack the logs using their trunks. I’m not making this up! Then, the timber is floated downstream, ending up in ports that ship to North America and Europe.

So to those of you in the second camp who say “to he$% with teak work, let’s go sailing already,” I can totally understand that. But for better or worse, I love the maintenance as much as I love the movement–the symphony of function and form that all come together to produce this little world that keeps us safe at sea. Sailing is an undeniably romantic art. So I leave you with a quote. Or perhaps a mantra.

“Art begins with resistance–at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” –Andre Gide

*If you want to learn more about caring for teak from someone really in love with the fine practice of woodworking, read Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood by Rebecca Wittman. The photographs alone are worth it.

Here’s where Velella is now!

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map