Sailing » Passage Strategy by Dave Abbott

Release Date: 6/1/2008

I asked Dave Abbott how he planned long range passages - here is his answer:

Many people don't have a clear idea in their mind about how they are going to make a passage - they lack a strategy - and that contributes to a sense of anxiety when they sail offshore. If you have a plan and work your plan, you have an edge that makes your passages more enjoyable. You know what you're going to do, and you have a couple of contingencies already worked out in your mind so that you can take action in a sensible manner if things don't work out as planned.

The odds are in your favor when: You sail offshore when you select the season, you have a well-found yacht, you have engines, plenty of fuel, drogues and parachutes to back you up. You should spend more time enjoying the trip and less time worrying about it. That's what a plan does for you.

Our standard operating procedure on board Exit Only is to move the boat at least 150 miles per day - doing whatever is required to make that happen. We don't always get that distance, but when you have that minimum mileage fixed in your mind, you tend to make it happen day after day. So that's our goal.

Whenever our speed drops below four knots sailing, we turn on ONE ENGINE. That usually gets our speed up to a level that makes it possible for us to reach our daily goal. One engine in dead calm usually gets us about 5 to 5 1/2 knots of speed. If we have a little wind, we will get more speed.

The only time we will turn on two engines is when we urgently need to get the boat to a different location. If there's bad weather on the way, if we need to get in before dark, if we are going through a pass that is dangerous, if we need additional power because of strong headwinds - then it's worth running the second engine because we are talking about safety issues.

I have Yanmar 3GM30F engines. Each engine uses two liters per hour at around 2000 RPM.

When I am on passage into the higher lattitudes ( Fiji to NZ) I carry six jerry cans of fuel plus I have two bladder tanks that I added in Auckland, New Zealand. I have enough fuel on board to motor apporximately 1400 miles in calm conditions.

My basic strategy is this:

1. Get a minimum 150 miles per day any way I can - doing whatever it takes.
2. When I sail in a high pressure area, I keep moving in the calm seas toward my destination using one engine.
3. I regard high pressure areas as gifts that allow me to get to my high lattitude destination without having to battle the lows that are sure to follow on the backside of the highs.

When I came across the Atlantic Ocean with tropical storms to the north of us, I had enough fuel to head south into the Doldrums where I would be safe if the tropical storms turned south and were a threat.

The cheapest piece of reliable gear on board a yacht is the engines. A new 28 hp Yanmar diesel costs around $6000. A new mainsail can cost almost as much. I use my diesels to make my passages safer because they give me so many options. I don't dilly dally when there is no wind - waiting for a low pressure area to sweep through and give me lots of wind. I keep on trucking with my engines. And in the long run, it's cheaper to run one or two engines than it is to blow out sails, stress the rigging, or break things on board because you are sailing in rough weather when the next low pressure area comes through. I have seen it happen again and again. People who say they are sailors and who don't use their engines limp into port with blown out sails and broken gear that costs much more to fix than running their engines. Plus they are now frightened about sailing offshore.

I hope this answers your questions.

Dave and the crew of Exit Only

Yes Dave, it was a great answer, thanks - Pat

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