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Showing posts from 2017

Christmas at Sea

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In 2009, Alex and I set sail from Ireland in early October heading to the Mediterranean to overwinter. When we got to Portugal, someone told us it was going to be very cold there, so we turned right and went to the Caribbean instead.

Citizen science and sailing

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Getting involved in scientific research is a real game changer for many cruisers. Like Alex and me, many people get out there and then find they need more than just floating around from place to place. They need a purpose. As budgets for research in Universities and government agencies get cut, supporting research projects through participation in citizen science is a real boon. Many cruisers end up in remote places where it would be hard to justify sending a research vessel. Having someone already there who can take some measurements or observations and report back via an app when signal is available is making a difference to the collective knowledge base about the earth and oceans.

Technology and sailing

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Not long ago, when people set sail to cross oceans, they set off with some charts, a sextant, sight reduction tables, pencils, dividers, parallel rules, a compass, a log to measure knots and a clock. If they knew the speed at which they were sailing, and how long they had sailed, they could determine where they were. They would back that up by taking sights on the stars and the sun and calculating their lat and long.

Yacht Sharing - the new trend among young boaters

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An article in BoatUS magazine outlined rather nicely why Millennials participate in boating at similar rates to their parents, yet they're far less likely to actually own a boat. They are finding creative ways to get out on the water without breaking the bank. It seems to be the result of a larger societal shift in thinking away from ownership and toward minimalism. This could explain the rapid growth of boat sharing entities. Regardless of the reasons, it poses a challenge for all the clubs vying for a shrinking population of "boat owners." It calls for a change in thinking of who our members can be. If it's boating enthusiasts regardless of ownership, then all we have to do is change where we look for them and add a few basic benefits to the membership offerings.

The danger of slipways

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We have been dropping boats into the water from trailers for a lifetime. We have two little boats right now that are forever being taken in and out of the sea. For years, I had a Hobie Cat that I trailered all over the east coast of the US. Typically, the car never came near the water. But in some places, where the slipway was gently sloping and more water was needed, the rear wheels sometimes came very close to or even entered the water. We have never really thought about the risk to the car and driver, until now. 


Positive feedback

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Today started out with this note from our friends Fred and Chris, who have just bought their dream cruising yacht, a catamaran called Sea Jay. They come from New York but they bought the boat in South Africa, and sailed her first to St. Helena. Not the typical first leg of a cruise. From St. Helena, they sent us this note:

A death on the ocean

There are no roses on a sailor’s grave, No lilies on an ocean wave. The only tribute is the seagulls’ sweeps, And the teardrops that a sweetheart weeps. —German song

Another sailor has perished in the Clipper Around the World Ocean Race. Simon Speirs, a crew member on the yacht "Great Britain", was helping to change a sail at the bow of the 70-foot boat when he was knocked over the side in the Indian Ocean. He was clipped in and wearing a life jacket with AIS but somehow got separated from the yacht. He was recovered 36 minutes later but could not be revived. It will be important to learn why his tether did not keep him secured to the boat. Simon was buried at sea. RIP.

The rise of adventure yachting

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I suppose it all started with yacht chartering. Being able to fly to the South Pacific and charter a yacht for a couple of weeks was adventurous at some point in time when it was first introduced. If you couldn't sail across oceans, you could at least explore the destinations.

Back to Galicia

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In October, Alex and I had a chance to return to Galicia and go sailing for another week. We'd spent two months there in the Rias Baixas this summer.  The Ryanair flights from Dublin are only twice a week. We flew out on a Thursday morning and were on the boat before noon. It was a foggy, drizzly kind of day and we were wondering what to expect.

Nevertheless, we trudged up the hill from Punta Lagoa to town with our trusty cart and shopping bags to provision. The Froiz was open and the bakery still had one loaf of fresh bread. Yeah!

European Congress of Nautical Tourism

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Hosted by the Monte Real Club Nautico de Bayona
Baiona, 27-29 October 2017

In attendance on behalf of OCC: Daria Blackwell, Rear Commodore Alex Blackwell, Regional Rear Commodore, Ireland
Representatives from 24 yacht clubs and cruising associations from Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal and Spain took part in a 2½ day conference on cruising in Galicia, Spain. Several specialist media representatives also participated. Representatives from ten marina and service organisations were in attendance as were members of the regional tourism and harbour development authorities.

ex-Hurricane Ophelia batters Ireland

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Hurricane Ophelia, the 15th named storm of 2017 and the 10th consecutive Atlantic hurricane, devastates on the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987. Ophelia lost tropical storm status as it came ashore in Cork, but retained hurricane force winds. It has caused three known deaths and cut power to 260,000 homes and businesses.

Irish Weather Station and Early Warning System Ready for Ophelia

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Field Station 1

How will Climate Change affect sailing?

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As sailors, we are acutely attuned to wind, waves, and weather patterns. Our lives depend on it. As long-term sailors, we've been noticing the acceleration of changes in those patterns. I wrote about it first many years ago when sailing on Long Island Sound. I wrote about it again in 2011 after several crossings of the Atlantic.

Visiting the Parque Nacional Illas Atlánticas

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We left the Finisterre region and sailed back southward toward the Rias Baixas. We had not yet visited the barrier islands but had secured our initial permission document before heading out of Ireland.

In the 1980s, Spain acquired several archipelagos of islands off the Atlantic coast and established a National Park to ‘preserve’ these islands. The Cortegada Archipelago is well inside the Ria de Arousa. The Salvora Archipelago is in the mouth of the Ria de Arousa. The Ons Archipelago protects the Ria de Pontevedra, and the Cíes Archipelago sits across mouth of the Ria de Vigo. These islands form natural barriers against the forces of the Atlantic, protecting the sealife and shores of the Rias Baixas. The archipelagos have waters so turquoise and sands so white that they evoke Caribbean beaches...until you put your foot in the water. Let's just say it's refeshing.

Ria de Corcubion

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We had sailed down the Rias Baixas in mostly light northerly breezes. Now it was time to head back north to the Ria de Corcubion, our favourite destination in Spain when we visited in 2008. We wondered if our memories were serving us well. We wondered if anything had changed.

Ria de Vigo and Baiona

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Our last stop with the Irish Cruising Club Rally was in the most impressive destination of Baiona (Bayona in Spanish). We were booked into the Monte Real Club de Yates in Bayona (MRCYB). The last time we tried to book in there years ago we were told it was not possible and were turned away rather gruffly. They begrudgingly let us leave our dinghy tied up on their property for a few hours.

This time was a very different story. We had heard that after the economic downturn, most of the yacht clubs had declining membership numbers and revenue, while having sunk significant monies into infrastructure. To survive, they had been forced to open their clubs to visitors. I must say, they did so with great welcome. The staff were genuinely nice and accommodating. There were large signs welcoming us and informing members that the Irish were coming! Many of the local members stayed away while we were there. We returned several weeks later with a friend who is a member and saw a whole different s…

Ria de Aldan

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Between the Ria de Pontevedra and Ria de Vigo is the small Ria de Aldan. Ria de Aldan is exposed to the north and, given the predominant northerlies, it can be subject to swell. It is also chock full of mussel rafts which tend to smooth out the waters some. It is a  popular weekend destination for the local yachting population and the anchorage does get rather full. It is worth every effort to find a spot, as this little place, with no marina, has plenty of charm and the warmest water of any ria.

Ria de Pontevedra

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We sailed inside the Illa Ons and into the Ria de Pontevedra and our next destination, Combarro. We passed Sanxenxo which appeared to be a modern city, and continued on to the head of the Ria. Our charts showed the area as quite shallow, but we were informed that the depths where the new marina is now and outside the massive outer pontoon are 3 meters, and indeed that was the case. We followed the deeper channel in along the Illa Tambo where several boats were anchored.

Ria de Arousa

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We sailed off in light mist, fog and showers to the Ria de Arousa, rounding Cabo Corrubedo and bypassing Illa de Salvora to the next stop on the ICC Rias Baixas Rally, A Pobra do Caraminal.  We weren't sure whether they'd have room for us, so we anchored and went ashore. The anchorage was very protected in about 30 feet of water. It was quite an international gathering there with Dutch, French, Swedish, Irish and Spanish vessels anchored nearby.

Ria de Muros e Noia

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The Ria de Muros e Noia (Muros y Noya in Spanish) provided us with a lovely cruising experience. Portosin was a great location for starting out because of the fabulous staff and the first rate facilities. The Real Club Nautico Portosin (RCNP) were so accommodating and friendly. I feel like Carmela is now a lifelong friend. They even posted a photo of the ICC burgee and Rally logo on their Facebook page.

Visiting Santiago de Compostella

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The day before the start of the Irish Cruising Club Rias Baixas Rally, the local dignitaries organized a bus trip to Santiago de Compostela. We had both wanted to go and jumped at the chance. Unbeknownst to us, the bus would also stop in Noia, which made it even more interesting. Noia (Noya in Spanish) was the traditional place where pilgrims coming to Santiago in the Middle Ages would travel to by boat from the British Isles. In fact, I had seen a plaque on the waterfront in Dingle commemorating the mariner's camino route. The ships would land in Noia and the pilgrims would travel up the river by small boat as far as they could, then walk the remainder of the way. Today, Noia is silted in and not navigable by cruising sailboats, but some shallow draft vessels can go part way, we've heard. Portosin is now one of the closest ports in the Rias from which to travel to Santiago.

Fixing things in exotic places

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Here we were in the Rias Baixas and we had no exhaust and no refrigeration. Well, we proved yet again that cruising is all about fixing things (and doing laundry) in exotic places. Fortunately for us, the staff of the Real Club Nautico Portosin spoke great English and were incredibly helpful. They got the marinieros to tie us up to the transient dock, organized a mechanic and electrician, then translated between us to explain the problems.

Crossing Biscay

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We crept out of Crookhaven under the light of the full moon. We set sail at dawn in 10-12 knots of wind out of the W, ideal conditions for setting out into the Celtic Sea. The sunrise was lovely and bright, and just as promised, the wind had started to fill in. On a heading of 186 degrees M, we were doing 8 knots - 505 MTG and 75 hours at this speed, not that we expected it to last. Dolphins feeding came by to see us off.

Lay day in Crookhaven and bike trip to Mizzen Head Signal Station

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Ah, that pint of Franciscan Well Rebel Red went down well at O'Sullivan's on the pier. Just one and back to Aleria for dinner. The forecast was for another 24 hours of zero wind (0) so we had a lay day in Crookhaven. Chance to visit the new Marconi museum and signal station!


Starting in Ireland 1st of July

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We departed on the 1st of July bound for Inishbofin. It was windy. Much windier than it was supposed to be. And choppy, with a big swell. It was SW-erly and we were heading -- SW! I was not feeling great. Lunch was Ritz crackers with peanut butter, yogurt, saltines with Gubeen cheese, apples and strawberries, and water. It was all I could muster. Weather alert - F6 for a time. No kidding. Why knot hailed us to tell us it was pretty hairy off Achill Head. So rather than beating ourselves up, we opted to stop in Clare Island. We tried to anchor but it wouldn't hold - damned shale. We picked up a mooring but it seemed to drag. We picked up another but I misjudged the first time and had to go around. Got it on the second try and it seemed to be holding. Phew. This was the first day? We were exhausted. Damien Cashin delivered a bottle of wine for our trip and things were looking up. We had burgers and a beer in the Sailor's Bar, a good rest and continued on in the morning.

Hurricane Maria pummels tropical paradise Dominica

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Our two favorite islands in the Caribbean, Barbuda and Dominica, destroyed. I can only hope that all the friends we made while we were there in 2010 have survived. Dominica they say has been denuded -- no leaves, many trees toppled. Maria made a direct hit as a Category 5 hurricane. It was the most lush garden paradise, with an embarrassment of natural riches. Waterfalls, deep pools, sulfur springs, mangoes and avocados aplenty, and wonderfully gentle people. My heart bleeds for them. How will they and their families fare if people stop coming. They depend so much on tourism. This season is devastating.



My friend Marvin weathered the storm in Puerto Rico. He doesn't know if his boat has survived but from the looks of it, it will have sustained damage.* Puerto Rico is without power, and its aging infrastructure is not going to be easy to rebuild. It could be months before power is restored.

St. Croix, already housing victims evacuated from other Virgin Islands after Irma, sustained…

Hurricane Relief Efforts

I have been working hard for the past few days to week or so to help the people of the Caribbean get the help they need after Hurricane Irma. But putting together those able to assist with those interested in donating and ensuring that the organizations are reputable, I hope to be able to make a small difference. If you are looking for information or ways you can help, please visit the  Ocean Cruising Club  (OCC) website.

So many of the lovely places we visited on our Caribbean cruise in 2009-2010 are devastated. Please do what you can to help. Thanks.

The wrath of Hurricane Irma

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My heart goes out to the people in the path of Irma's wrath. Little Barbuda with its 1600 gentle people and miles of gorgeous white sands framed in impossible blues fills my mind with glorious memories of a serene visit at anchor several years back. Today, after Irma's eye passed directly over Barbuda, there is only devastation. If I were able, I would sail over and make fresh water for the people and help them rebuild in any way I could. Instead, I will do my best to share information about their plight and encourage others to pitch in any way they can. Perhaps that's all many of us can do. 

Fireworks in Galicia, Spain

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We have just returned from Spain and I will be writing about our experience there Ria by Ria, starting with Ria de Corcubion near Finisterre and ending with Baiona.


August is the month when most Galicians go off on holiday. Everywhere we went in August, there were festivals in villages with carnival rides, games, music concerts, arts & crafts, food, and fireworks. The fireworks started at 9 am to announce the beginning of the festival and get people to come to the village. At noon they would shoot them off again to announce the day's opening of the festival. At night, they would shoot them off in earnest.  A different village would be involved every day. Some of the fistas were in honour of the Virgin Mary, some celebrated sardines, others music. There were no shortages of themes to celebrate.

In the meantime, while I'm compiling sense of my notes, here's a little video (4.5 minutes) of fireworks in Cee as seen from our boat anchored in Corcubion. Delightful.

Fireworks …

Sailing the Rias Baixas in Galicia Spain

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Over the past month, we sailed down from Ireland along the wild west coast, then crossed to Spain via the Bay of Biscay to sail the Rias of Galicia with 60 boats from the Irish Cruising Club. To say that it has been an absolute delight would be an understatement. I will tell each of the stories individually, but this is the introductory opening.

Day of departure

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I'm a fan of moving aboard several days before departure. You find out what you forgot to bring, you find out what you forgot to remove, and you find out what's not working so you can fix it.



This time, we had multiple SNAFU syndrome. Alex went aboard to bring a load of stuff while I stayed behind packing more stuff. He was to run the generator and chill the fridge freezer. Problem #1, the fridge didn't cool. Problem #2, the exhaust pipe was leaking into the boat. Problem #3, the generator was charging too high and kept creeping up and spiking. Our hearts sank. It didn't help that it was a beautiful day.

Emirates Team New Zealand taking the America's Cup down under

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Foils, wings, and pedal power led the Kiwis to a massive 8-1 victory over the billionaires of Oracle Team USA. Burling, at 26 the youngest helmsman in the AC, made the transition from junior AC in 2013. So the oldest trophy in sport goes to the youngest skipper. Once again, innovation trumped unlimited financing. But was this sailing?  One might argue not. And how was it a contest of nations when in the last race there was no true American aboard the Oracle Team US entry?

The most beautiful boats ever built

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The J Class hosts arguably the most beautiful yacht design ever. That's why they are still being built. And this year, for the first time ever, 8 of the 9 assembled in Bermuda and 7 were expected to race during the America's Cup challenge. Three of the yachts are the original surviving yachts of 10 built.

When they approached the start for the first time. Kenny Read was at the helm of Hanuman, one of the newer vintage builds. In this historic America's Cup J Class Regatta in Bermuda, three different crews won races on the opening day. Just one point separated the top two boats, Hanuman and Ranger on seven apiece, with Lionheart poised for three way final day showdown on eight.

The yachts are:
JK3: Shamrock V JK7: Velsheda JK4: Endeavour J5:    Ranger JK6: Hanuman JH1: Lionheart JH2: Rainbow J8:    Topaz JS1:  Svea JH3: Yankee J9:    J9
In second place in a dramatic, high stakes final race laden with tension off Saint George's island, the Lionheart crew stuck to their goals in the …

Guns and cruising

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The recent increases in terrorism and migration have once again gotten cruisers thinking about whether they should be carrying weapons on board. I will lay out the reasons why I believe weapons are not a good idea for cruisers.


Bringing Aleria home

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What has become our new annual migration between Westport and Killybegs in the West of Ireland took place in the north to south direction last week. 
We launched Aleria on the high spring tide in Donegal on Wednesday evening. Having had a new shaft and prop fitted, our first dilemma was that the PSS gland was leaking too much. Back up in the sling and mechanics aboard to burp and tighten the seal. Back down again and ready out. Alex pushed the throttle and nothing happened! Back up again. Broken throttle cable. The mechanic suggested we drop in and motor slowly with him aboard to the new marina. We inch our way over in brilliant sunshine and total calm. At least there was something to be grateful for. The T end of the new pontoon is reserved for visiting yachts (€2/m/day). It had 24 feet of water at half tide. Phew!

NOAA has posted a draft plan on the future of charting

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NOAA has undertaken a comprehensive plan to evolve their chart products. The following statements are from NOAA announcements recently released:

"The NOAA Office of Coast Survey has released a draft National Charting Plan. The plan describes the current set of NOAA nautical chart products and their distribution, as well as some of the steps Coast Survey is taking to improve NOAA charts, including changes to chart formats, scales, data compilation, and symbology. The purpose of the plan is to solicit feedback from nautical chart users regarding proposed changes to NOAA's paper and electronic chart products. Coast Survey invites written comments on this plan that is available from https://nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/​staff/​news/​2017/​nationalchartingplan.html."

Psychological prep for offshore sailing

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My husband and I, like most couples, sail short-handed. Setting off on an ocean crossing or even a briefer offshore voyage takes a good deal of advance preparation, especially the first time. 
There's a progression of experience we've noted. The first voyage is filled with fear, primarily fear of the unknown. You make lists, then lists of lists, then prepare for every eventuality. With each successive voyage, unless they are significantly different, the fear is replaced with other emotions, including excitement, anticipation, anxiety and determination. But a healthy dose of fear and respect for mother nature is always good to have. The one thing one needs to fight wholeheartedly is complacency. Complacency can lead to mistakes, and mistakes can be catastrophic out there.

What about electric laser "flares"?

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We've been very interested in electric flares as an alternative to pyrotechnics since we staged a demonstration of flare use at our yacht club more than a decade ago. That demo showed us how dangerous it can be to have flaming magnesium dripping out of a flare that is held from an inflatable life raft. Pyrotechnic flares were invented in the mid-1800s.* A technological alternative that won't melt your vessel around you seems like a good idea.

Flares have two applications: the first is to attract attention and alert others to an emergency situation, the second is help locate the person or vessel in distress. So two types of flares are needed for day and night: those that shoot high up into the sky and those that are held close by after the alert has been spotted. The convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has standardized the signalling device recommendations to increase the chances of rescue anywhere in the world.


Apocalyptics

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For years, I've been feeling dread and doom for humanity. I've often shared with Alex that I feel that the end is coming for the world as we know it. There are too many people and not enough resources. It's a scenario heading for disaster of biblical proportions for the human species. I have read Lovelock and I subscribe to the Gaia Hypothesis that the earth is a single organism in which each species is inextricably linked and controlled to ensure the survival of the whole.



Shipbuilding heritage in Beaulieu

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Visiting our friends, the Meakins, is always an interesting experience. They live in Southampton, UK, a city with a rich maritime heritage. In fact there is so much history everywhere that it becomes a game to discover how it all interlocks.

On arrival, we were offered a trip up the Hamble River by row boat. Alex and Philip rowed up river against the wind. The marinas got progressively smaller until they disappeared altogether. Here we entered another world. A protected ancient oak forest carpeted with bluebells.

The River Hamble in Hampshire, England flows for 7.5 miles (12 km)  before entering Southampton Water. It is tidal for about half its length and is navigable in its lower reaches, which have facilitated shipbuilding since medieval times. Leisure craft are still built there today and boating is very popular on the River. The river, its banks, and its shipbuilding yards, have also been used for military purposes, particularly during World War II. Its lower reaches are known th…

Happy Hooking at Beaulieu Boat Jumble

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Alex and I were invited by Practical Boat Owner to present our anchoring seminar at the Beaulieu Boat Jumble near Southampton in England on the 23rd of April. It was the 40th anniversary of the event's launch. Forget the fact that Beaulieu is pronounced bewley, we had always wanted to visit the legendary jumble and this was the 30th anniversary of the event. It was a great opportunity for a triple whammy: promote our book, visit the jumble, and see our good friends Lynda and Philip Meakins.

We thought about coming by car so we could load it up with stuff we wanted to buy, but it proved to be too expensive and time consuming. We flew to Southampton and Philip met us at the airport. After a lovely evening with Philip and Lynda, it was showtime.

We had sent our presentation off to Laura Hodgetts to upload on the shared computer; but just in case, Alex came with thumb drive pre-loaded with our Happy Hooking the Art of Anchoring seminar (based on our book by the same title) as well as…

Alphabet Soup of Cruising Clubs

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For the past two weekends, we have taken part in the annual meetings of first the Irish Cruising Club and then the Ocean Cruising Club. I am a new member of the ICC this year, which has about 650 members in Ireland. I am a flag officer of OCC, which has about 3000 members around the world.

Top Ten Tips for Safer Sailing

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These are things we learned, often the hard way, on three Atlantic crossings and many more offshore passages. What things have you learned that can help others sail long distances safely?

1. The No.1 rule of sailing: STAY ON THE BOAT! Having a healthy dose of fear of falling overboard can save your life. Remember: 'One hand for the boat, One for yourself.'

Top Ten Tips for Safer Anchoring

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by Daria Blackwell, co-author of Happy Hooking. The Art of Anchoring. 

We're starting the year with a new summary from our book with our top ten tips for anchoring safely. Do you have any tips to share with us?

1. Select your spot carefully. Do not anchor on a steeply sloping bottom, on a lee shore, or in close proximity to other vessels. Follow the lead of other vessels in the anchorage for method of anchoring (one anchor, how much scope, etc.).