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There years ago my family and I, with some friends, sailed out of Larchmont, N.Y. for Shelburne, Nova Scotia aboard our 45-foot sloop, Mustang. Southerly winds stayed fresh all the way; the days were warm, the nights cool and star-flecked, and plenty of good food was served from the galley. It was as close to perfect as any cruise could be, and when we had tied up in Larchmont harbor, a batch of cocktails back on the quarter topped off four easy weeks of real pleasure—the pleasure that belongs to ocean cruising. One of our guests, a fellow who had never cruised before, was rather surprised by it all. "It wasn't the way I'd heard," he remarked. "No broken boom, no water in the cabin—just four weeks of easy living. How come we never had a crisis?"
As owner and skipper of Mustang, I had the primary responsibility. But I also would have been to blame if the trip had turned out to be miserable. Perhaps more than any other type of boat a cruising auxiliary reflects the planning, the knowledge and the judgment—good or bad—of the skipper. Its condition is proof of his regard for his boat and its crew. He and he alone is responsible for what his boat may be: a safe, secure and comfortable home for ocean cruising or a nightmare for all aboard, uncomfortable, insecure and—not the least important—unsafe.
The differences between comfort and misery are surprisingly small. One detail overlooked—a bunk board installed improperly, for example, so that in a rolling sea it pitches a guest from his bunk, perhaps breaking a bone—and a cruise, not to say the guest, can be ruined. The difference rests in the sum of all the little things: the tiny details of a boat's gear, its fuel, water and electrical systems, its sails and rigging. The difference can also be in the clothing you wear, the food you bring aboard—Carleton Mitchell has worked out an excellent basic cruising menu (SI, Jan. 16, 1961)—and, finally, in the skipper's continuing recognition of varying abilities and limitations of all the people on board.
There is an example of this concern in the picture above, showing my family and me on Mustang completing a tack. My wife, Marge, is at the tiller; Betsy, my 13-year-old daughter, is assisting me with the jib sheet. The cranking of the winch is left to me, and that is as it should be. Marge and Betsy are both good sailors who can steer the boat as well as I can. Winch-cranking, however, can be an exhausting and sometimes impossible chore for a woman. But beneath such little things there is a single, strong foundation, an attitude which, as a naval architect, I've had to maintain over the 30 years I've been designing boats, racing them on the oceans of the world and later cruising with my family. That attitude is: plan ahead, stay relaxed yet alert and be mildly suspicious of every bit of gear and every situation.
I was planning ahead when I bought Mustang almost 17 years ago. I wanted a boat a family could live on comfortably, whether out for a weekend off Larchmont or on an extended cruise along the coast of Maine. I also needed a boat which, with the family ashore and a crew of ocean racers aboard, could beat across the Gulf Stream to Bermuda. The measurement rule for the Bermuda race and most other blue-water events sets a practical minimum of about 35 feet in overall length. But since the bulk of the heavy chores on a family cruise would normally fall on me, I felt the boat should not be over 45 feet so I could handle it myself if need be. In the 17 pleasurable years that I've been cruising and racing Mustang I've never regretted that decision. There is much to be said in favor of a compact cruising boat.
The size of a boat has never been a matter of safety; it is rather an index to cruising comfort. It governs the degree of privacy below decks, the amount of stowage space and the comfort or lack of it in a rolling sea. For the needs of my family, Mustang has been more than adequate. In a boat this size or smaller there are fewer worries under sail because there is less of everything aboard to worry about—and hence there is more fun. For instance, if the wind builds up suddenly, sails can be taken in without difficulty; if we have to reef (see page 38) we can get the job done in five or six minutes. A smaller boat is lighter, and thus easier to bring into a dock or mooring. Moreover, the smaller the boat, the less will be the effect of an error committed—and less skill and muscle will be needed to correct it.
I am also in favor of a simple sail plan: in boats up to approximately 45 feet I tend to prefer a sloop, which has a single mast, only two working sails and hence fewer pieces of gear to worry about.
Once a man buys a boat, he should get to know it as fast and as thoroughly as possible. He should sail it frequently, learn the feel of it under various conditions and know all its working gear. I try to imagine what might happen with every piece of equipment aboard, prepare for the worst and then hope that it won't happen. Unfortunately, it sometimes does.
One time in the 1952 Bermuda race, at about 2 a.m., I was below, dozing off in my bunk, when I was awakened by some choice comments from the helmsman, who had just discovered that the tiller had broken off in his hand. I had seen no reason to think it would break; there was nothing wrong with it when we started, but I had an extra one aboard—just in case. Within minutes, the new tiller was in place, and I was back in my bunk. Without that spare tiller our chances for an early finish would have been sharply reduced.
The sensible skipper will be this thorough about all his gear. For example, every boat carries an anchor; many have two aboard. Mustang carries three anchors at all times. One is a Danforth, which holds well for its weight and is fine for normal conditions, but the heavier CQR plow anchor can be a little more reliable if wind and current make the boat circle the anchor. In deep water and a poor holding bottom the third anchor, the classical kedge, is put to work. Our anchor lines are nylon, which stretches and thus eases any jerking on the anchor. Just about every other piece of line on board is nonstretch Dacron. And all the lines are of synthetic materials, which won't rot and are stronger and more durable than natural fiber. Despite their virtues, however, synthetic lines become temperamental with age. They tend to harden—which makes them difficult to coil or to keep on a cleat. When they get this old they must be replaced.