February 24, 2011

Go young, go small

ONE OF THE BOATS I chose to review for my book Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere was the popular little Cal 20. Although at least two of these overgrown dinghies have sailed from the West Coast to Hawaii, I came in for a fair amount of criticism for suggesting that such a small boat was suitable for crossing oceans.

I was therefore very interested to run across an old thread on the SailNet forum in which a young and inexperienced man was asking if a Cal 20 was good enough to take him from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico. General opinion was that it was foolhardy, too dangerous, quite unthinkable. But then Robert Gainer stepped up to the podium. Robert Gainer, as you will gather, was a highly experienced deep-sea sailor and a talented writer. This is some of what he had to say in 2006, two years or so before he died:

“IT WAS CLEAR TO ME [as a teenager] that if I did the conventional thing and worked first, and then sailed after retirement, I would be, as I am today, old and tired when I started doing long-distance sailing, so I wanted to sail first and then retire from the world of professional sailing into a sailing-related job and settle down. I never quite got the settle-down part right but I did get into the boat design/build/repair business.

“I don’t understand where most people get the impression that small boat sailing is tough or dangerous. At one time, long-distance cruising in decked sailing canoes was normal and trips of over a thousand miles were not uncommon. The British still have a yearly trip from England to Iceland by kayak. There is a class of 17-foot boats that used to race trans-Atlantic on a regular basis and of course a lot of small boats are out there doing long trips without any fanfare at all and most of you just don’t hear of them. Sometimes I think the most vocal opponents of small-boat voyaging are the people with the least experience with, or knowledge about, the subject.

“I have cruised in boats as small as 13 feet and most of my long trips were done on boats without engines or electrical systems. In fact my first crossing was on a boat that was a real sailboat and she didn’t have an engine. And let’s not get started on the subject of GPS instead of sextant. Today you don’t need to know a third of what you needed to know before modern gear and GPS became popular. Long-distance sailing has become safer and simpler than ever before. And in a strange twist I think that may spell the end of long-distance sailing as we know it today. As more people try it without proper preparations, and using larger boats that they can’t handle in an emergency, the governments have taken notice and started to think about regulation because of the increase in accidents and problems that go with inexperience and ignorance offshore.

“If you have decided to base your plans on a light-displacement boat, the Cal 20 is an excellent choice for offshore work. She can be made ready with a minimum amount of work and I think if you do your homework and prepare properly you will have a great time. Not my style in boats but still a great choice. Each boat is different and requires a plan written for the trip/boat combination. I like to sail in CCA-style boats but have enough experience in light boats to understand the attraction they have for some people. A light boat requires a different mindset for stores and storm tactics and definitely will not be able to sail on the same routes that a heaver boat could sail. But there are no problems about the Cal 20, and the trip this man is considering, that good planning couldn’t overcome.

“After everything is said and done, as far as the boat goes the biggest question becomes one about the person himself. Some people don’t ever get comfortable in a small boat and some find that being alone and out of sight of land is not as much fun as they expected. Small-boat sailing isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. Build up to it and make sure you really want to do it before committing to a long trip you might not enjoy. But as someone else said, go small go now, and I think he was right because you are young and capable only once and having money and larger boats comes with age. And age dulls the sense of adventure and kills the spirit. I have never regretted for a moment the sailing I did as a kid but would not do any of it today. I sail a Tartan 34C now and want a dry, warm bunk these days.

“Good luck and all the best,

“Robert Gainer”


Today’s Thought
Then hey, for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.
— Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies: Song

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #164
The standard rule of thumb for a cruising boat’s rigging is that the total breaking strength of all shrouds on one side of the boat should equal about 1.2 times the vessel’s displacement. Serious offshore cruisers should make that 1.4 times displacement. And displacement means taking into account the weight of everything on board when leaving port, including fuel, water, provisions and crew.

“Hey Fred, what did you do to your hair? Looks like a wig.”
“Yeah. It IS a wig.”
“Oh really? Jeez, I would never have guessed it.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Here's a shot in the dark but I thought maybe someone reading this article might be able to help out. A few weeks ago we picked up a drifting Cal 20 in Port Hadlock Bay, no numbers, no papers on board. White with blue stripes.

It now sits in the Port Hadlock Marina and we have been trying to find the owner. Anybody out there have a clue?

Roger Slade
Vessel Assist Port Hadlock
360 301 9764

Catalin Pricoiu said...

Hey John, I acquired a cal 20 for free about 6 months ago, and inspired by your book, turned it into a boat that can take you anywhere, built a bride deck, fiberglassed the hull deck joint, rebuilt the decks, rebedded the keel, new rigging, etc etc, here's a link to the photo album, Ill add some description eventually but hopefully you'll find just the pictures interesting enough.