I’ve been thinking how we’ve written recently about preparing one’s boat for extended offshore cruising or even a circumnavigation. But as much as we discuss getting the boat, the systems, and the bits and pieces of a yacht ready for such an adventure (i.e., the “hardware”), we have not really addressed the “software” components of the equation—specifically, the captain and crew.
I had a conversation the other day with a friend who is also a circumnavigator, Bob Frantz. Bob and his son, Eric, left Norfolk, Virginia in February 2011 on a trip around the world aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 43, Blue Heron. Five hundred days later, they crossed their wake in June 2012, having completed a fantastic trip full of adventure and unsurpassed experiences.
(Seen below: Blue Heron in the Society Islands.)
My thought was not so much for him to share details of his experience, but rather what he did to prepare himself and his son for this major sailing trip. While I acknowledge that much the world and technology has changed in the last decade, I still think he can offer lessons to be learned and share advice for anyone thinking about world cruising, even if a full equatorial circumnavigation is not in the plans.
Bob is a longtime dinghy sailor, as is his son. Growing up in coastal New Jersey, Bob went sailing every chance he could. An attorney by profession, Bob and his family lived for years in Ohio, and Eric learned to sail and race dinghies as a member of a lakeside dinghy club. It was only later, when the family moved back East, did they get the chance to sail larger boats, and they even bought a share in a 37-foot sailboat to enjoy on Chesapeake Bay.
(The Frantz Family map below of all the destinations they've visited.)
Bob explained that he read all the classic books that cover topics relevant to a world cruising sailor. Weather forecasting, navigation, the excellent books by Beth Leonard (The Voyager’s Handbook), Jimmy Cornell (World Cruising Routes), Nigel Calder (Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual), and Steve Dashew’s volumes on essential skills and how to solve problems encountered while cruising. I’m sure there are others. These books are still loaded with great insights and advice, even if climate change and political unrest have changed some parts of the world, making a circumnavigation not as attractive to some as it once was.
(Other classics of our generation, such as those by Hal and Margaret Roth, Eric and Susan Hiscock, and Tristan Jones are still fun to read, but not nearly as helpful or relevant as they may have been in the 1970s and earlier. I’m afraid we’ve moved away from tallow-filled lead lines.)
Bob attended every seminar he could find that covered information and insights from accomplished people who have been there. He attended the Safety at Sea program at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, as well as an engine maintenance course put on by Mack Boring, the East Coast Yanmar engine distributor.
To cover all bases, he also took a class on celestial navigation, which is making a comeback in some circles.
Since he took Spanish during high school, it was only natural that he refreshed his second language skills using Coffee Break Spanish, one of the language courses from the popular online resource based in Scotland.
After the family bought their Hallberg-Rassy 43 for the trip, Bob contacted John Neal, the well-known cruising writer, instructor, expedition leader, and consultant who has been training people to go cruising aboard his sailboats since the early 1990s, most recently on a Hallberg-Rassy 46. His company, Mahina Offshore Services, offers boat selection consultation, training expeditions, and seminars focused on cruising.
(Seen below: Blue Heron looking over the rising moon in Bora Bora.)
John also offers individual consulting services, and Bob contracted with John to provide voyage planning and local contacts for contractors he could use as they cruised the Pacific, where John has cruised for many years. It turned out to be invaluable, getting general cruising advice as well as the names of people living in the islands who could help if there was a need. Not everything is up to date or complete in general cruising guides, and it is most helpful having the name of someone on the ground to contact about where to come ashore or fulfill certain needs. Having local information and advice about medical resources, finding spares, and the best places for fuel and provisioning made a big difference in their cruising experience. As cruisers all know, sometimes things break, and it helps to have someone local to call.
Bob used a weather service to provide cruising route advice with current forecasts. He also used a weather module in MaxSea software. Today, of course, there is Windy, PredictWind, PassageWeather and other programs and apps that provide excellent information about the world’s weather.
To get offshore experience, Bob crewed on several ocean sailing trips down to the Islands, which gave him a taste of what it is like at sea and be exposed to conditions one must contend with. This knowledge doesn’t come from a book.
They sailed Blue Heron every chance they could. Reflecting on it now, Bob recommends sailing the boat for at least a full season before setting off on a long trip. There are many reasons for this: getting used to the boat and how it handles in different conditions, dealing with gear failure closer to home, and getting to know every aspect of the boat.
To do shakedown passages at sea, Bob and Eric sailed from Chesapeake Bay to Bermuda, then Chesapeake Bay to Block Island. It was a necessary experience to find what it is like when they were oceans away from home, on their own boat. Eric got terribly seasick on the way to Block Island and it gave him some concern about the upcoming global adventure.
They carried the typical spares for extended cruising, including a sail repair kit, although their sails were new, so they did not expect to use it, and they didn’t.
Although the boat was not that old, the electronics on the Hallberg-Rassy weren’t current generation. That was only a problem as their electronics installer could not easily find a way to interface AIS with the electronics, so they upgraded what was needed to have AIS on the boat. Bob would never sail without AIS, and it proved enormously beneficial during the circumnavigation.
I asked Bob how he would prepare crew members for such a trip. He suggested that any crew without ocean experience take one of the offshore sailing courses where people learn by performing all aspects of ocean sailing, from anchoring to sail handling to navigation. These courses, while expensive, are an invaluable way to get up to speed to become a contributing member of a crew.
It always helps to get a storm at sea under one’s belt. The father and son encountered back-to-back storms early in the trip, on their way south towards the Panama Canal. But the storms gave them a much-needed boost in confidence in the boat and themselves and relieved the anxiety that Eric had about getting seasick offshore. In fact, his anxiety was replaced by an attitude that would be his reply the rest of the trip, “We’ll be all right.”
Ideally, Bob thinks three crew is better than two, or perhaps two couples. But the dynamics of mixed crew can lead to issues from varying personalities. It is important to see how everyone gets along.
(Seen below: Eric and Bob compare their profiles with the Moai.)
Bob’s wife, Janellen, stayed home and was the ground support for the trip. Having someone responsible on shore proved invaluable, as she got well versed in the world of international carriers, such as DHL and FedEx, and how to manage sending packages around the world. Bob used a satellite phone to stay in touch and to request parts and other items to be shipped to their next destination. When they lost their autopilot in the Indian Ocean, they were forced to hand steer until they reached South Africa, as Janellen was unable to get replacement parts to them in this remote area of the world.
There were occasions where they needed to get dressed up, so it turned out to be a good thing to have a blazer on board.
The one question I really wanted to know was, “How did you know you could do this, sail around the world?”
Bob thought about it. It really is the most important question of any sailor thinking of sailing offshore. The captain of a boat has the full responsibility on his or her shoulders to complete a passage safely.
He said that being a lawyer helped to gave him confidence. In many of his cases, he would have to become an expert on some subject he knew nothing about. After a while his success in these cases built his confidence that he could do it. Getting out of his comfort zone became normal, which led to his belief that he could rise to the challenge.
Despite even close friends questioning such a risky endeavor, a dinghy sailor leaving to sail around the world, he reasoned it would be okay.
“I know enough. I’ve done enough.”
The rest he’ll figure out as he needed to. It was time to go.
So, Bob and Eric sailed around the world. Mission accomplished.
(Seen below: Bob and Eric visit Lizard Island near the Great Barrier Reef.)
Also Read: Frequently Asked Questions About Sailboats
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