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Then and Now

How did the boat hold up?

Reinforced mast footThe only major gear failure in 4 years and 36,000 miles was the shearing of our Navik windvane pendulum at the beginning of our Indian Ocean crossing. The forestay had a broken strand so needed replacement. In the Caribbean we became concerned about corrosion at the foot of the mast, where it met a stainless support plate; we had a heavy collar of thick aluminium made and welded in place. And towards the end of the voyage, beating north from Hawaii, we began to worry about excessive flexing under the deck-stepped mast, to a point at which the door to the V-berth would not close; off the wind, however, the problem eased; after careful scrutiny we could find no cracks. 

 


 

Corroded mast foot Replacing the forestay in Tobago

And what's changed in 20 years?

  • GPS: without a doubt the single biggest change; it has made sailing safer and easier. The only caveats: because GPS and electronic charts are not yet fully tied in with each other, excessive reliance can still lead you into trouble;

  • Better and more accessible weather forecasting;

  • Electronic charts (but see above, and it's not always practical or desirable to display electronic charts where the helmsman can see them in dirty weather);

  • Cruising boats are on average at least 10ft/3m longer; this may be a function of more effective advertising (greater length=greater expense=greater income for manufacturers) but may also have to do with demographics (see below) and the fact that older crew require greater comfort and space; any safety benefits that have accrued from greater length are probably cancelled out by ever lighter displacement;

  • Cruisers are older than before, and are much more likely to be retired than mid-career;

  • There are more boats out there, but not that you would notice in remoter parts (Vanuatu, the Solomons) and there seemed to be a recession-linked decline in 2010; fewer Americans are cruising; not sure why;

  • Multihulls were rare in the 80s; most were home built;

  • Autopilots have virtually replaced windvanes; they have also become more reliable, whereas the windvane has not evolved greatly in design or weight;

  • More boats want to get to their destination faster and are prepared to motor (even prefer to motor...) long distances; engines are lighter and more reliable;

  • Cruising rallies have caught on in a big way, with the ARC now oversubscribed every year;

  • Watermakers: these were unheard of in the eighties but now common; refrigeration is now apparently de rigueur;

  • In-port communications and other practicalities are vastly improved: internet; ATMs; cheap telephone calls.

  • Is it safer? No; the Red Sea and Seychelles now make a Suez transit potentially dangerous, whereas in the seventies and eighties the issue was more whether the Canal was open or closed for political reasons. Other regions come and go: Colombia is now safer, Venezuela less so. Those Caribbean boat boys were always there.

  • And finally....the weather. Many people ask us if we have observed climate change during our eight years at sea (four on Tarka, four on Bosun Bird, 20 years apart). That's a difficult call, but it is our definite impression that twenty years ago the weather behaved more predictably.



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