BOC 2001: Lessons Learned
The cruise to Bermuda and back in 2001 was a great experience.  Here are some of the lessons I learned from this cruise.  Some of these lessons would appear obvious.  It's amazing how you can rationalize bad judgment in the face of conflicting priorities.  That's why we sailors will continue to make mistakes no matter the extent of our experience.  I will have truly learned these lessons if I avoid repetition, but I know there are many more mistakes to be made.
Lesson What I Learned
Never delay an action to after departure Before departing Bermuda for the return to the USA we were aware that the engine water pump bearings were shot.  We could have replaced the pump while in Bermuda, but in our haste to attend a departure party and get under way the next day we elected to put off any action.  We thought the pump might hold up for the trip or at least we could replace it underway.  If we had attempted to replace the pump at the dock in Bermuda we probably would have encountered the same problems (see the page on our sail back from Bermuda), but we could have gotten them fixed.  That might have delayed our departure for another day, but we could have made up that time during the period we were becalmed without an engine for over 24 hours.
Metric sockets Although nearly all of the fasteners on Sarah are SAE not metric, in the future I will carry a full set of metric sockets and wrenches on board.  We could have removed the rounded head machine screw on the water pump (see the page on our sail back from Bermuda) if I had the metric socket just smaller than the SAE socket for the screw.  If we could have removed that screw we could have removed the pump and probably the broken screw.  This would have given us a fighting chance install the replacement pump and resume engine operation.
Refrigeration Although the Grunert compressor failed before we lost the engine, either failure would have deprived us of refrigeration.  Refrigeration is not essential to any cruise, but it goes a long to making the cruise more comfortable and less of an endurance effort.  I do not want a single point of mechanical failure in the refrigeration.  This has been addressed by the SeaFrost system that I installed in 2002.  This system has two compressors, one engine-drive, the other 110VAC driven.  We will have to lose both sources of power or both compressors or the wrong combination of failures to lose refrigeration on future cruises. 
Bermuda Navigation I'm not sure I'm capable of learning this lesson, but ...

I developed a reasonable and well researched navigation strategy for the last Bermuda cruise.  I abandoned that strategy too soon.  I need to maintain better navigation discipline under way.  On this trip my lack of discipline probably cost us 24 hours on our arrival in Bermuda.

Crew size With only three sea berths on Sarah, the crew of five (5) that I took on the cruise were required to hot bunk on the off-watches.  Hot bunking means you use whatever bunk your watch relief just vacated.  This was a minor inconvenience for the relatively short cruise to Bermuda, but I believe it could be a greater problem on longer cruises.  In the future I would like to limit the crew to two or three persons, including myself.  This will allow each crew member to have a dedicated berth.

One other advantage of a small crew is that you have fewer demands on the voyage to make certain ports within a specific timeframe because of the personal schedules of crew members.  Although it was really not an issue on the Bermuda cruise, I do not want make a critical voyage decision to accommodate the flight schedule of one crew member.

Galley Drawer During our storm passage on the return trip both galley drawers came loose and flew across the cabin.  The face plate on one broke.  I implemented a secure lock on these drawers prior to my departure on the Atlantic Circle.
Storm Sail Configuration Sarah's ketch rig allows a lot of sail plan options as the wind rises and a storm approaches.  These options would be even greater with the addition of an inner forestay on which a storm jib could be flown.  During our passage of a minor storm on the return trip we reduced sail to a 50% furled Genoa, double-reefed mainsail and a single-reefed mizzen.  I had an ATN Gale Sail (storm jib that can be hanked over a fully-furled Genoa) on board, but by the time the wind reached levels that called for that sail, the boat motion was such that a deep furl of the genoa seemed the best approach.  Even if we had set the Gale Sail, it would have still put a great deal of sail area at the extreme ends (mizzen and forestay) of the boat.  This really not is the ideal configuration when the wind is forward of abeam.  It is difficult to balance the forces of the opposing sails in these conditions, and the boat requires constant attention to resist luffing.  I believe a better configuration would be one that brings the reduced sail area in board, closer to the center of effort.  This configuration  could be achieved by dropping the mizzen, completely furling the Genoa, deeply reefing the main, and setting a stay-sail or storm jib on an inner forestay.  Sarah does not currently have an inner forestay.  Hence I plan to add a Solent Stay to provide a means of setting a staysail or storm jib.
Fuel Management Probably the only worrisome part of the entire trip was the having to judge how much we could run the engine in light airs and calms and still maintain enough fuel reserve to maintain battery charge and safely enter the harbor at the end of the trip.  On the return leg we were relieved of this concern as the engine water pump failed and could not be replaced.  In any case we had less than 40 hours of light enough air to temp us to run the engine on that leg, so we would have had plenty of fuel.  The leg to Bermuda was a different story.  With light to non-existent wind for the entire leg we ran the engine for nearly 90 hours and arrived on fumes.  Although that might seem like very efficient fuel management, in truth we never knew when the engine might start sucking air out of the fuel tank and die.

A number of factors worked against our ability to effectively manage our fuel reserves on this voyage.

  1. My limited experience with the boat.  I had owned Sarah for less than two years and had not taken time to measure her fuel consumption and true tankage in that time.  I guessed the Westerbecke 60 engine consumed about 1 gallon per hour of operation.  That guess turned out be conservative, but reasonably accurate.  I also did not know how much usable fuel was in the tank (nominally 80 gallons when full) when the gauge read empty.  Therefore I never really knew our range under power.
  2. Crew schedules.  Everyone on board, except Dick Juppenlatz, was a working stiff on limited vacation with an office that expected our return reasonably close to that predicted.  We also had one crew member (Steve Angst) who was departing in Bermuda, and one (Frank Palumbo) was coming on board in Bermuda.  We also had family members flying to Bermuda to meet us on arrival.  Crew logistics and schedules created a significant amount of pressure to keep Sarah moving toward Bermuda even in the calms.  This meant running the engine for extended periods of time early in the leg to Bermuda, when a more prudent fuel management approach (given I didn't know our range under power) would have dictated running the engine only long enough to charge batteries until we were at least half-way.

When we arrived in Bermuda the gauge was just about on "E".  At the fuel dock in St. Georges we were able to add 60 gallons.  We had used the 10 gallons of fuel stored on deck in two jerry cans so our total consumption from Little Creek, VA to Bermuda was approximately 70 gallons.   We maintained reasonable records of engine operation in the navigation log so I was able to calculate our fuel consumption rate for the leg at 0.8 gallons per hour.  I still don't know how far past the "E" on gauge we can continue to pull fuel from the tank and I don't really want to find out.  I will just assume our usable tankage limit is 60 gallons and "E" is the limit.

For most of the time we ran the engine we kept the RPMs around 1500 (5+ knots in the calms), which is fairly low.  I assume the consumption rate would be 1 gallon per hour or more if we had run the engine at 2000 RPM (6.5 - 7 knots), my normal operation on the Chesapeake Bay.  There is probably a sweet spot between 1500 and 2000 where fuel consumption and speed through the water are optimized.  I suspect it is closer to 1500 than it is to 2000.

At least now I have some metrics for fuel management on future voyages.  Of course since the Bermuda trip I have replaced the fixed 3-blade propeller with a Max-Prop propeller.  So those metrics may no longer be accurate.

Maintaining Sleep Schedule It's vital that everyone in the crew have a consistent and sufficient amount of sleep on their off-watches during the voyage.  Sleep debt can build up on you without you're being aware of it and seriously impair your reasoning and energy level.  Several of my crew members were unable to sleep during their daylight off-watches and only slept after dark.  This made their on-watch period much more difficult than it should have been.  We were fortunate that we didn't encounter any major problems at night during the voyage that required more than the watch team on deck. 

I was surprised that in the end I was the one most affected by sleep debt.  For the most part I had no problems sleeping during my off-watches, both day and night.  However, during the last two days going to Bermuda, when our fuel situation looked pretty serious (see Fuel Management), I slept less and less and not at all for the last 24 hours.  The result was on our approach to Bermuda I was exhausted, but still performing the principal navigator duties getting us into St. Georges Harbor in the dark.  This contributed to my miss-identifying the Spit Buoy off St. David's (see below).

The Damn Spit Buoy The approach to Bermuda in general and St. George's Harbor in particular is very well marked and lit.  However at night it is very easy to become disoriented before making the final turn toward the harbor entrance.

When approaching Bermuda from the north you must pass Kitchen's Shoal light before turning directly toward St. David's.  There are two lit buoys directly in line with your approach.  The first is the Mills Breaker light and the second is the Spit Buoy.  The second light, the Spit Buoy is the one you turn on to head directly for the entrance to St. George's or the passage to Hamilton.  The two lights show very similar characteristics.  One is 3 Quick Flashes every 5 seconds (Mills) and the other is 3 Very Quick Flashes every 10 seconds (Spit).  The Spit Buoy light is much more difficult to see than the Mills light in that the Spit is smaller and closer in to shore under the St. David's lighthouse.  This caused us to mistake the Mills Buoy for the Spit Buoy on our first BOR and stop racing temporarily 1/4nm from the finish line.

So I was aware and very conscious of the difficulty in identifying these lights on our approach; however, I had not slept in over 24 hours (see Lesson Learned, above) and was having difficulty maintaining concentration.  I should have turned the job of identifying the marks to some one else, but this was my boat and my navigation  and I wanted to get us into Bermuda.  Initially I had sighted and identified both buoys and put us on the proper course to clear the Mills Breakers enroute to the Spit Buoy.  During our approach I was constantly between the cockpit and the navigation station checking the chart.  As we approached the Mills Breaker Buoy I was at the navigation station.  Dick Juppenlatz, who was at the helm, called down to me that we had the Buoy abeam.  Somehow my mind had leaped ahead of where we were and took that to be the Spit Buoy.  I gave Dick the new course to head for St. George's.  Fortunately Dick was alert and when we were on the new course he recognized that this was not correct and questioned my direction.  I came on deck and agreed the new course was incorrect, and suddenly realized I wasn't sure which buoy we had just passed.  I asked Dick to turn around so we could positively identify the last light, and of course it was the Mills Breaker.  We quickly identified the Spit Buoy and resumed our approach to Bermuda.  If Dick had not questioned the course I gave him I could have put Sarah on the reef.

The lesson is to positively identify any marks you are using to navigate the entrance of an unfamiliar harbor, and try to never navigate in restricted waters based on a single aid to navigation.  The further lesson is to recognize when your thought process is impaired (this time by a lack of sleep) and either turn your duties over to someone else or at least seek assistance.

Because of this experience I have begun to see the value of an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) such as MaxSea, Nobeltec, etc. on a small yacht - at least for making landfalls and entering unfamiliar harbors.  With an electronic chart display connected to a GPS, even exhausted, I believe I would have known that the buoy just passed was the Mills Breaker and not the Spit.  Consequently I have recently purchased the FUGAWI software and have begun experimenting with using an ECDIS with both raster and vector (ENC) charts.  I will still principally rely on paper charts as electronics have the habit of failing when you most need them.

Subsequently I purchased and installed a Raymarine C-120 Multi-Function Display, which is both a chart plotter and a radar display.  I'm also using Software On Board (SOB) software on the PC in addition to Fugawi.  For the past 2 years my paper charts have been neatly stored under my berth and rolled up under shelving.  They are only disturbed when it is necessary to do in-depth cleaning.