Sunday, December 9, 2012

Buy, Outfit & Sail: A Book for the Frugal Sea Gypsy

I've recently read through Cap'n Fatty Goodlander's recent book: Buy, Outfit & Sail not just once, but twice.  If you've ever even remotely entertained the idea of living the cruising life, this book is as good a place to start as any I've found.  Cap'n Fatty dispels the notion that you have to have a lot of money to acquire and outfit a seaworthy boat and sail it around the world.  While many other sailing authors have put forth essentially the same idea, few have done it in such an entertaining way as Cap'n Fatty.

The first time through, I read this book because it was full of new ideas and information that I had not seen all in one place before, and some not anywhere.  For example, unlike most other "how to get started cruising" books, Cap'n Fatty doesn't just talk about what kinds of boats to consider, he explains at length how to find them.  And not only how to find a boat - but how to find one for pennies on the dollar - especially those boats he says have a "ticking time clock" due to the current owner's need to get rid of them now due to various reasons.  And after you find the deal of a lifetime on the right boat, the outfit and the sail portions of this book will put you on course to get your vessel shipshape and keep her that way as you chase the horizon.

I read this book a second time not only to pick up tidbits of advice I might have missed the first time around, but mainly for the sheer entertainment value.  Cap'n Fatty is a natural-born storyteller, and this book is packed with fascinating glimpses of the amazing life he's lived at sea in a variety of boats.  Some of these tales will have you cracking up with laughter and some are so far out there you'll find them hard to believe, but no matter how outrageous the stories, somehow you know that Cap'n Fatty probably actually lived them.

The book is available on Amazon in Paperback or for Kindle.  For more information on this and Cap'n Fatty's other books, visit his website at:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I've been spending way too much time thinking about boat design lately, but I suppose it's justified, since I'm trying to decide what my next boat will be.  I've been looking at a wide variety of sailing vessels, from heavy, offshore-capable monohulls to small multihull beachcruisers.  Sometimes it helps to get just get out on the water to think, so I spent some time a few days ago paddling my kayak around Deer Island, just south of Biloxi.  Kayaks are just so simple and quick to launch, and easy to pull ashore most anywhere you care to stop.  This is my Arctic Tern 17, one of my favorites that I built about 14 years ago:

While there are some large, shoal-draft cruising sailboats that can go right up the shore and safely dry out at low tide, this Endeavor 37 Ketch that was also beached on the island is definitely not one of them:

This sailing yacht was obviously left hard aground by the storm surge of recent Hurricane Isaac.  She's a good 40 or 50 yards from the water's edge now, and at 20,000 lbs. displacement, will not be easy to refloat.  I don't know where she was before the storm and how she came to break loose and end up on the beach at Deer Island, but seeing this is a good reminder of just one of the things that the owners of small, beachcruising sailboats and sea kayaks don't have to worry about.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meeting James Wharram at Last

Meeting British catamaran designer James Wharram and his co-designer Hanneke Boon back in May was certainly one of the highlights of my year so far, at least until late June, when I saw the first copy of my first novel in its published form.  But those who have read The Pulse know that a Wharram-designed 36-foot catamaran is also integral to the plot as the vehicle of choice for one set of characters, and I can say for certain that it will be a part of the sequel as well.

The event was the 2012 Hui Wharram, or Wharram Spring Rendezvous, held in the Florida Keys on and the grounds of and in the anchorage near the Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada.  This is an annual event, but this was the first year the famous designer himself was in attendance, and I made the 2,000 mile round road trip to the Keys just to meet him.

Here, James Wharram is signing my copies of his Design Book and his classic narrative of his 1956-59 double-transAtlantic voyage, Two Girls, Two Catamarans:

James Wharram and Scott B. Williams
Coming from a background of long-distance sea kayaking and canoeing, I was naturally attracted to Wharram catamarans the first time I saw a photo of one back around 1997.  I immediately ordered his Design Book then and built the Hitia 17 beachcruising catamaran, which was a natural progression from paddling to sailing.  These designs made sense to me then and they still do today.  Wharram's basic principles that make them so inherently seaworthy are these:
  • Narrow beam/length ratio hulls
  • Veed cross-section to sail to windward without daggerboards or centerboards
  • Flexibly mounted beams joining the hulls together
  • No permanent deck cabin between hulls
In addition, like traditional native canoes and kayaks, the two individual hulls that make up a Wharram catamaran are always double-ended, with plenty of rocker amidships and lots of reserve buoyancy due to the flare carried all the way to the sheer.  Unlike many modern multihull designs, these catamarans are extremely resistant to capsizing or pitch-poling due to either wind or sea state.  This has been amply proven by many ocean crossings in small Wharram cats, including Rory McDougall's circumnavigation in a Tiki 21, which still holds the record as the smallest catamaran to circumnavigate.

An outstanding example of a Tiki 30 at the rendezvous
More about James Wharram's visit to Florida can be found on his website, which was recently updated with a report by Dan Kunz on the rendezvous and James' own report on his visit to the new shop of his U.S. professional builder, David Halladay, of Boatsmith, Inc.  Hanneke Boon has also put together a video of the rendezvous and uploaded it to YouTube here.   I also wrote an article about the rendezvous for the current, July issue of Southwinds magazine.

Wharram cruising cats pulled up to the beach at the Lorelei

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Across Islands and Oceans

I first posted this on my main site earlier today, but wanted to repost here for those of you who may not have seen it.  If you have any interest in sailing and especially cruising aboard a voyaging sailboat, you don't want to miss Across Islands and Oceans, by James Baldwin.
Across Islands and Oceans is one of those books that makes me lose focus on everything else I'm doing and seriously contemplate hauling in the anchor and setting sail for distant horizons.  The author, James Baldwin, did just that, but he was seriously focused on his dream or he wouldn't have been able to pull off such an amazing solo voyage around the world, beginning at the young age of only 25.
It was another 25 years after leaving before he put down the story in the detailed form you'll find in this book, and in the meantime he continued sailing, circumnavigating two and a half times on his engineless 28-foot Pearson Triton, Atom, and making a name for himself in the voyaging community through his many articles in Cruising World and other sailing publications.  His website, Atom Voyages, is a popular and extremely useful resource for those looking to restore and outfit older fiberglass sailboats and follow in his wake.  I referred to it extensively in my own refit of an old Grampian 26 that I owned for a few years before losing her to Hurricane Katrina.  Baldwin's advice is based on solid experience, and his recommendations are well-reasoned and budget-conscious for the self-sufficient cruising sailor who is not independently wealthy or interested in all the latest gadgets.
But back to the book at hand: Across Islands and Oceans is not simply the narrative of the kind of adventure many of us sailors can only dream about, it is also so well-written and interesting that it could capture the imagination of the most land-locked dirt dweller with no intention of ever setting foot aboard a cruising boat.  Baldwin's descriptions of not only the offshore passages but his explorations ashore and interactions with the natives showcase not only his writing abilities, but his keen and genuine interest in the history and culture of the places he visited.  Because he was alone with no companion to answer to or distract him, he was able to devote his full attention to the new people and places he encountered over each new horizon.  Having traveled solo for extended periods of time myself, I can relate to the difference this makes in the experience, and especially in this case, the difference it makes in the finished book that is the narrative of the voyage.  I learned new things about out-of-the-way places that I hope to someday visit throughout the book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in sailing or travel of any kind, but that recommendation comes with a warning:  reading this book may leave you discontent with your current life!  You may find yourself perusing the online listings of used cruising boats for sale, and if you do, you'll find that in the current economy, this is perhaps the best buyer's market ever for a solid old fiberglass sailboat.  For less than the cost of even the most basic new car, and a good bit of elbow grease, you can find and prepare an old boat that can take you around the world.   On Baldwin's website, you'll find examples of people who did exactly that, many of them bringing their project boats to him for advice and assistance on the refit before setting out on their own ocean crossings.
Across Islands and Oceans is available in print or in the Kindle version on Amazon.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Art on The Water Video

Here's a pretty cool video compilation I found on YouTube of Wharram catamaran photos from around the world.  Just about every model from the JWD Design Book can be seen here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Apocalyptic Sailing

As many readers here know, I've been writing books for years and now have seven nonfiction titles published, all of them related in some way to the subjects of boats and/or survival on or near the water.  I have now written a novel, which has been published by Ulysses Press, of Berkeley, California, and has been released in print form this week (the Kindle and other E-book formats will be available on or before July 10).

I wanted to mention this here for those of you who may not visit my other sites, as this novel is a post-Apocalypitc tale in which a 36-foot Wharram catamaran is featured in much of the action.  Here's a look at the cover:

While part of the story takes place in New Orleans and later involves travel by canoes in the river swamps of south Mississippi, as  this cover image suggests, the other part begins in the Caribbean, where Artie Drager, one of the main protagonists is on an offshore passage with his brother, who is a yacht delivery skipper.  While they are still far from land between Martinique and St. Thomas, a series of powerful solar flares shuts down GPS satellites and all other communications, and destroys practically all complex electronic circuitry.  Artie, who was just visiting the islands on a short vacation, is now cut off from his only daughter, who is a college student at Tulane University, in New Orleans, and is frantic to get back to the mainland and find her after the pulse event.

They continue on to St. Thomas, where they discover that the power grid shutdown is widespread and complete, and leave the yacht there as Artie's brother, Larry, has contracted to do.  In his spare time between delivery jobs, Larry has been building a Wharram Tiki 36 catamaran as his own personal boat, and they make their way to the build site on Culebra to quickly ready it for launch, despite the fact that it is still in primer and most systems are uninstalled.  The big, shallow-draft Wharram cat will have many advantages in this new world of chaos and uncertainty, and confident they can reach New Orleans and find Artie's daughter, they sail for Florida and the Gulf beyond.  Here's a description from the press release from my publisher:

A Compelling Novel of Surviving the Collapse of the Grid
When an intense electromagnetic pulse instantly destroys the power grid throughout North America, there's no guarantee of survival.  And that's what Tulane University student Casey Drager quickly realizes as desperate citizens panic and anarchy descends.  Surrounded by chaos, Casey must save herself from the havoc in the streets of New Orleans. 

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, her father, Artie, finds himself warding off pirate attacks and tackling storms on his Caribbean sailing vacation-turned-nightmare.  Using the stars to guide him toward the states, he wonders if he'll ever be able to find his daughter.  

The first novel from best-selling survivalist author Scott B. Williams, The Pulse is a thrilling narrative of survival amid the violence and disorder following the catastrophic destruction of America's power grid.  "The Pulse reveals what it would take to survive in a world lit only by firelight," Williams explains. "Where all the rules have changed and each person must fend for himself."

I've been wanting to write a novel with lots of sailing (and canoeing) action for as long as I've been writing, and now I've finally gotten around to it.  If you decide to check it out, I hope you enjoy it and that you will give me your feedback.  There will likely be a sequel as the ending opens the door for the next part of the story to continue.  Here's a review that was posted yesterday on Boat Bits, one of my favorite sailing blogs, which is written by a full-time liveaboard cruiser and former Wharram owner:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Solo Around the Americas in an Albin Vega 27

If you read much sailing news you might already be aware of Matt Rutherford's recent completion of an incredible non-stop circumnavigation of the North and South American continents in a 27-foot "classic plastic" production boat.  No matter what boat he sailed, Rutherford's voyage was a record-breaking first because he is the first person to have completed a non-stop solo circumnavigation of the Americas, traversing both the Northwest Passage and rounding Cape Horn all in one go.  That's 27,077 miles in 309 days, 18 hours and 38 minutes.   You can read all the details on the official voyage site: Solo Around the America's.  Here's a look at the route though, in case it's hard to picture just how long this non-stop voyage really was:

Even before this record-setting voyage, the Albin Vega, drawn by Swedish designer Per Brohall, has attained legendary status for it's sea-keeping abilities proven by many ocean voyages.  John Vigor included it in his book, Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere, which I reviewed here back in 2008.  Vigor gave it a "safety at sea factor" of 6, rated against the 19 other boats included in the book.  The Albin Vega 27 is smaller and lighter in displacement compared to many of the other proven bluewater boats of the same length, such as the Bristol 27, Cape Dory 27 and similar designs.  With a beam of 8 feet even and a draft of 3 feet, 10 inches, it displaces 5,070 lbs on a waterline of 23 feet.  

Here's a good illustration of the deck and interior layout:

I almost bought an Albin Vega 27 myself on two different occasions when I was shopping for boats.  Though they are no longer in production, there are deals to be had in the used market, and sometimes you can pick one up for under 5K, as my dock neighbor did back when I had my Grampian 26 at Point Cadet in Biloxi.  His example needed a lot of work, but I've seen well-equipped Albin Vegas in the 10-15K range.  Not bad for a boat  that we now know can round the Americas non-stop and come back looking little worse for the wear.  Here's a short clip of Rutherford's homecoming in Annapolis:  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Video: Assembling a Tiki 21 Between Tides

I found this cool video on YouTube, A Wharram Tiki 21 catamaran being assembled and launched the way the designer intended, by hand and on the beach between the tides:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cruising on $500 per Month?

I first ran across the 185-page "Cruising on $500 per Month" thread on the Cruising and Sailing Forums from a link in a post on Boat Bits, a blog that often features observations on the cost of cruising and the cost of cruising boats.

That this thread could generate that many pages and 2767 replies (and still counting) is a testament to the amount of interest there is in the concept of low-budget cruising in these tough economic times.  What many of the contributors to the thread have pointed out is that despite what the glossy sailing magazines would have you believe, there are lots of people out there cruising and even voyaging all over the world on simple, low-cost boats they have either built themselves or refit after buying cheap in a market that is saturated with neglected used boats.

Having made the transition over the years from sea kayaks to cruising size boats myself, both by the refit route and the home building route, I understand the appeal from the point of view of someone who would never consider boats of this type if I had to buy new at today's prices.

One of the biggest considerations that keeps resurfacing again and again in this ongoing discussion is the size boat you need to go long-term cruising.  Again, if you believe the popular yachting press, anything under about 40 feet is unsuitable.  But among those who are actually making the break from land and seeing the world on their boats, smaller boats are not nearly as uncommon as the magazines would have you believe.  Boats in the 25-30 foot range are cheaper to buy, cheaper to refit and equip, cheaper to haul-out and maintain, and cheaper to dock if find the need to do so.  Plenty of designs in this size range are seaworthy enough to go anywhere you might care to go.  You might have to give up some of the comforts, but what is better - being slightly more uncomfortable while out there living the dream - or working year after year to get the bigger boat paid for and equip it with every modern convenience while never getting away from the dock?

Whether you want to try and live as cheaply as some on this thread advocate is another matter, but it can be done even today with the right boat and the right attitude, and some knowledge of which places to spend your time in and which to avoid.  After buying and outfitting the boat itself, the biggest expenses for cruisers on any size boats are almost always associated with shoreside conveniences and services.  You certainly won't be cruising on $500 per month if you plan to tie up to the docks of a marina every night, or if you want to eat most of your meals out in restaurants.  Cruisers wanting to travel in that style will need a monthly budget in the thousands of dollars, rather than the hundreds.  But if you don't mind doing your own cooking, and you're happier anchoring out in a secluded cove and rowing the dinghy ashore to ferry supplies to the boat, you can avoid most of the expenses that make the cost cruising so prohibitive in most peoples perspective.

The key to low-budget cruising and the gist of the thousands of posts on this thread can be summed up in a few points:
  • Choose the smallest boat that will accommodate you and your crew and safely take you to the destinations you plan to explore.  Researching the proven voyages of others who have gone before you or are out there cruising now will point you to the best designs to choose from.
  • Keep the systems on the boat as simple as possible and make sure you have the tools and skills to do all of the maintenance and most if not all repairs yourself.  Carry spare parts you anticipate needing rather than having to pay expensive shipping and import duties to get them later.
  • Carry a hard dinghy with oars rather than an inflatable with an outboard, as it is cheaper to buy, build or replace, less likely to get stolen and can be equipped with a simple sail rig if desired.   
  • Plan on anchoring out 99 percent of the time, wherever you go.  Good ground tackle is essential for this and should be your top priority in equipment purchases.
  • Shallow-draft boats open up many more anchoring possibilities than deep draft boats, making it much easier to avoid marina fees in popular cruising areas where there are few good, deepwater harbors.  Shallow draft also lets you explore remote regions that see few if any other cruisers.  Such places are often much less expensive to spend time in, as the locals are not used to making profits off of wealthy yachtsmen in their big boats.
  • Plan on cooking and eating aboard 99 percent of the time, and if you do eat out, go where the locals go rather to that to expensive tourist traps.  
  • Acquire useful skills that you can use along the way anywhere you go.  Welding, sailmaking, diesel repair and similar skills can allow you to cruise indefinitely without having to wait until you have enough money in the bank to live off the interest.  Go now while you still have your health and enthusiasm for adventure.  
These are the main points brought out in this thread, though I'm sure I missed a few.  Many of the posts became painfully repetitive, with the same ideas rehashed over and over.  The discussion also led to quite a few arguments about choices of boats: especially the same tired old monohull vs. multihull debate.  But quite a few of those participating in the conversation extolled the virtues of Wharram catamarans, as well as shoal-draft sharpie monohulls - two of the boat types long-time readers here know that I post about most often.  My own choice of a Wharram Tiki 26 catamaran as the perfect boat for me to build and sail was influenced by the same line of thinking that led to this discussion - shallow draft and simplicity being top priorities.  

If you've got hours to kill, you can read the full thread on the forum and will probably find it both entertaining and informative.

"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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