Wednesday, November 21, 2012
ATHENS - TEL AVIV OFFSHORE TRAINING
The delivery and advanced ocean passage that the school has just finished has been an interesting experience in different sailing philosophies and safety at sea. The
school in an attempt to broaden its winter income base, has expanded into the yacht restoration business. We maintain a winter maintenance crew that service our
school yachts and also do a certain amount of freelance work. The current Greek crisis has meant the decline in school business has required we diversify into more broad
yacht services. Using our highly skilled winter staff to do yacht restoration was a logical step.
Our first client has been an Old school student that bought a used charter yacht and then requested that we renovate it back to its original condition. This included new teak decks, new standing rigging, upgrading of deck gear and replacement of all running rigging. We also installed a fully comprehensive navigation package from Raymarine, that included their new radar/AIS/plotter interfaced computer screen, with all yacht instruments and the auto pilot. A truly one button navigation system. The system is also very addictive, and in my opinion will create some very bad habits, more about this later.
The trip started with a short shakedown sail to Poros island. It was a good chance to check out the new Raymarine toys and to do a more detailed tuning of the mast
and new standing rigging. It was a good 5 hour sail in about 15-20 knts of breeze that came pretty much from all directions.
The following day was a hive of last minute adjustments, both to the rig and to the safety equipment. The yacht left late that afternoon heading out for the Cyclades
island group and the further island of Kos. As the owner of the yacht was on board, he assumed the role of Captain with my self being more of an advisory role. The other crew members already had there ASA and RYA licenses, so this was more a mile building exercise as well as offshore experience for them. The first night of any offshore sail is always one that has sailors getting use to watch systems again as well as finding their sea legs. So a little irregular behaviour needs understanding and flexibility. I have always found that a good evening meal on the first night if possible goes along way to ensuring confidence and comfort for the coming nights watch.
When quizzed about watch our captain was fairly non-committal about what he wanted and said that it was better if everyone did what they felt like. He further went on
to mention that food was not a priority with him and that a little bread and cheese was all he needed. At first I was very disappointed with his answers, he had been
one of our first students to come though the school, he already had a huge back ground of sailing but no real paperwork when he joined the school course back in
2005. Since then he had completed this very same 'run' Greek islands to Israel some 5 times with his and other yachts.. so he was well aware of the changing weather
patterns and changing sea states that one can encounter...
We finally arranged ourselves into 3 watches, 2 hours on and 4 off with the owner and father doing their own thing.. the yacht was extremely comfortable with a huge
cockpit and cockpit table in the middle, long side benches that you could lie out on, full dodger and Bimini, and all major control lines lead back to the cockpit
coaming allowing for easy dry access to trim and control the sails. Unfortunately the cockpit was so well sheltered that keeping a 'good' watch out at night meant alot
of craning your head and neck around lots of supports and fabric... which is when the huge computer screen mounted by the helm station became a much more
easier and dryer way of keeping a watch out.
The trip to Kos is about 190 miles as the crow flies, we logged 230nm with a couple of tacks thrown in. As a result it took us over 38 hours. The latter half of the trip was in heavy rain and limited visibility. The Raymarine package with its Chartplotter and interfaced AIS+radar was a very nice toy to have, making identifying shipping and other objects a simple matter. However what it did not see was more troublesome, the local Greek fishing fleet do not carry AIS.... nor do there fishing long line markers or drift nets... making the old skill of looking at the sea and horizon ie:- keeping a watch still the primary skill to learn..
Once in Kos it was a short stop over with the crew taking a break ashore and looking for some breakfast while the owner took charge of refuelling the yacht. Some
supplies where purchased but as the crew had not eaten a "Galley cooked meal' since the first night and where self-feeding themselves, not much in the way of
immediate supplies had been consumed. The yacht was soon under way again this leg was to take us along the Turkish coast, north past Rhodes island and then to
parallel the coast until we arrived at Kastollrozio island.
That evening was a busy time on watch, identifying shipping coming out of Rhodes and other ships heading to Rhodes. The weather again deteriorated to rain and squall fronts rolling off the Turkish coast. The Rhodes channel can at times have a heavy wind driven surface current running east west; this particular night it was running at least 2-3 knots which made our SOG as little as 3knts at times. This is not a good speed to be trying to avoid shipping traffic, despite the fact we where motor sailing for most of the time. Again the Raymarine AIS/Plotter package proved its worth, however it was still imperative to keep a physical eyes out over the horizon watch and not become glued to this very addictive screen like some video game.
The rest of that evening was a mixture of squalls and washing machine like seas that caused the yacht to pound and bounce around the sea slowly on its way to
Kastellorizio island. Up to this point the yacht had been steered almost exclusively by auto pilot, with neither the owner nor our crew steering by hand for more than
30 minutes. I think I had the most time on the wheel with our 12 hours since leaving Athens.
The rest of this delivery continued with little change in the way things operated or the prevailing wind conditions as once the yacht left Kastellorizo for Tel Aviv, we had
to face a remaining 350 nm of pretty much windless sea and intermittent rain. The extra jerry jugs of fuel we carried on deck proved necessary and the yacht finally
made it to Tel Aviv.
Looking back at this particular trip, has brought up quite a few significant issues that where faced and perhaps not dealt with as well as could have been, for example the dependence on too much modern technology. I am not some one who believes that the Old School Way is the only way, but a healthy mixture of both old and new can prove to benefit all concerned. Before that is reached you have to start with a Captain that has an idea of what he wants and how to implement his desires and discipline on the crew, skilfully. Having no plan or idea of what is required from the crew can be more damaging than having too much sometimes. The modern acceptance of just opting out or passing the buck I'm afraid does not cut it on a sailing yacht. Clear leadership is what was required, and having 2 captains on a yacht can complicate things. It was not my place to challenge the decisions made at the time.
However, my observations have lead me to believe that even though the advance of electronic navigation instruments is wonderful and extremely helpful, our addictive
nature as humans makes us rely on them much to heavily, forgetting our old skills as seaman.
I really do not think it is a good thing to come on deck watch and check the computer screen first for traffic before you have scanned the horizon. I prefer to hand steer as much as is required rather than let a yacht be steered by auto pilot 100% of time come wind or sea state. Auto Pilots allow a yacht to pound and bounce into potholes. There will never be a replacement for hand steering or a good helmsman.
There has been alot of studies on watch systems, sleep patterns and nutrition at sea. Unless I am mistaken they have all basically come to the same conclusion, regular watch/sleep rhythms and regular feeding time, make a happy and efficient crew. Arbitrarily sleeping and eating leads to fatigue and mistakes. My lesson from all this has been to emphasis more the interaction of modern and old ways but never ever to rely solely on modern technology.