Archives for 2017 | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

Sailing Across an Ocean on a Catamaran - Bluewater 50 by Discovery

In mid-November we set sail from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands to make our 8th transatlantic crossing but this time we did it on a catamaran - a brand new Bluewater 50 Story coming soon…
We had very light winds for this passage and ended up flying the spinnaker for many days. Winds were from astern as expected on this route but often under 10 knots true - which is lighter than the typical 15-18 we have experienced on this crossing before.
The first 2 days out from Las Palmas we had the more typical winds at 15-18 and she roared along at 10 knots showing how powerful and easy it could be. The winds were to be much lighter for the rest of the cruise!
I had planned that most of the passage would be done with our twin headsails. This is my favourite rig for our monohulls where we fly one jib on a pole and the other using a block on the end of the boom. On the wider catamaran we barber-hauled the jibs out to the beam and moved along well dead downwind. This rig was also perfect for night sailing as it doesn't need the management of a spinnaker, and can be easily reefed if a squall comes by. (Photo Courtesy of Craig from CruisingOffDuty who bravely flew his drone to get get the aerial shots)
This is actually an asymmetric spinnaker but we flew it two different ways.
1) as a symmetric spinnaker we ran both sheets to blocks on the two bows
2) as an asymmetric spinnaker we ran one sheet to the bowsprit, and the other sheet aft to a block by the stern

In this picture we're flying the spinnaker off the two bows.
From the masthead you can see how the spinnaker is running to both bows. This was our most common rig and worked well dead downwind.
Flying the spinnaker from the bowsprit here you can see the sheet running aft on the starboard side.
One day the wind dropped below 5 knots so we went for a swim. Sheryl stayed on board and I went down below to see how we looked from underwater. Its 3 miles deep right here and the visibility is about 200 feet!
We shot a TON of video on this crossing! I'm currently working on the footage and will get something up on YouTube shortly.


Planning a World Cruise

It's a very exciting time planning an upcoming cruise! Whether you are planning a summer cruise of a week or two, or planning something a little longer as we are… the planning stage should be a fun exercise as well as a chance to learn about your destinations and route.

In our case we're planning our first trip out into the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos, Marquesas, French Polynesia and onwards. But first we will be back in the UK to collect our new Distant Shores III next spring, so our planning starts there.

The new boat will be ready in time to appear in the Dusseldorf Boat Show in January. Then she'll be back in the UK for final checks before splashing her in the Solent for our initial test-sailing in late March. Below is a section of the pilot chart for March in the North Atlantic. It shows winds around force 4-5 with a slight preponderance from the W-SW and only 2-3% of calms. The red "10" in the English channel indicates that 10% of the time the waves are greater than 12 feet high. The next red line indicates 20% so our sailing ground will be between 10-20 percent waves above 12 feet. The open channel is likely to be "perky" ;-)

You can follow the link for the US Government site to download the pilot charts yourself, which all include a handy section on how to read them.

Of course it's still cold in March so we won't be planning very long passages. The Solent is a protected body of water with many nice harbours and uncrowded anchorages (that time of year) so it should be fun cruising while we get to know Distant Shores III.

We will also plan some "open day" events then so if you'd like to come and see Distant Shores III there will be an opportunity as well.

Year 1

Looking forward to May with the weather becoming more pleasant we will be heading off on our first longer cruises. We'll cross the Channel to Guernsey in the Channel Islands and visit France as well. Then after one more trip back to the UK we'll set off on the big voyage.

The summer plan is to head south along France, then Spain and Portugal to Gibraltar. Way back in 2007 we sailed this coast in December (Yikes!) so are expecting a much warmer cruise with a chance to poke in some of the harbours we missed that time!

Next we'll sail across to the Caribbean in November - arriving in Antigua in December to complete 2018 with a Caribbean Christmas.

Here is our recent video Q&A on planning the world voyage.

Are you planning a cruise in the next 1-2 years?

Crossing an Ocean

I'll always remember the sense of accomplishment Sheryl and I felt as we came in to Horta in the Azores after crossing our first ocean. Wow! We were tired and ready for a real night's sleep. It had been an 18-day double-handed crossing with sleep in 3-4 hour stretches and included our biggest storm to date. Boy were we thrilled to have sailed across the Atlantic!
arriving-atlantic-crossing-azoresThat was way back in 1990 in our first year of cruising/living aboard. We've since spent hundreds of days at sea out of sight of land including 6 more Atlantic crossings but the thrill of that first one is still a life memory.

The Proper Yacht - Room for Crew

On that first ocean crossing we were aboard Two-step, a Sparkman & Stephens design, we built ourselves from a bare hull and deck. This 37-footer was a small boat inside and a wet boat with low freeboard, but we sailed her 68,000 miles and three times across the Atlantic before moving up to our next boat. (The second picture is our third boat, Distant Shores II, a Southerly 49, sailing downwind wing-and-wing. Much nicer!)
atlantic-crossing-wavesBut perhaps one of Two-Step's biggest shortcomings was that she was a bit too small for bringing along additional crew. Doing watches 3 to 4 hours-on-/3 to 4 hours-off gets tiring. Nowadays we prefer doing passages with additional crew. Even one more crew means you can reduce the watch schedule, 4 people total and it makes a much more pleasant passage where everyone gets much better sleep.

Our new boat, Distant Shores III, a Southerly 480, is being built from the ground up with the plan to accommodate extra crew on passages. Distant Shores II could only handle 4 people on offshore passages in comfort. Distant Shores 3 is designed to have 6 aboard (Sheryl & I plus 4 additional crew) and we are planning safe comfortable sea berths for all. Here is an interior plan… For Offshore we will have a maximum of 6 people total aboard including us, and crew can choose the best berths for the conditions and preferences.


What's it Like at Sea?

It's not all storms and excitement on the ocean, although we certainly expect some exciting squalls on this passage. The transatlantic trade wind crossing to the Caribbean from Europe is likely to be all downwind. We have had a few calm days on 3 of our 4 east-to-west crossings on this route, but mainly the trades blow 15-20 knots or more from the east. We set the sails and roll along downwind, sometimes not even adjusting the sails for days on end. Typically there are squalls that pass regularly bringing rain and winds gusting up to 30 or so.

Here is a video from our recent Atlantic crossing in 2015 as we are completing our crossing the Atlantic to St Lucia. Everyone is very excited!

Offshore Ocean Overnight

If you've never done an overnight passage on a sailboat the thought of crossing an ocean and spending perhaps 18 days out of sight of land might well be daunting. In that case we would recommend a shorter passage first - one or two nights just to see if you like it.

View Schedule - Legs - Availability - Click Here

Do You Want to Cross an Ocean?

This isn't a dream for everyone! It's a big adventure and requires a big commitment in time. But if you dream of crossing an ocean then the trade-winds crossing of the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean is certainly one of those dream passages. Setting off in cooler fall weather from the Canary Islands, we head south for a few days. Tradition says "sail south until the butter melts" but with modern weather routing software we can make a better plan than that! On our last crossing we stopped at the Cabo Verde Islands, and we plan to do this again on our next crossing too. The islands are dramatic and friendly and it's a nice way to get 850 miles under your belt, then take a few days rest before jumping off for the big transatlantic crossing.

Join us Aboard Distant Shores III

We have always enjoyed bringing people along with us through our television shows to share the ocean life. Now with Distant Shores III we have planned the boat so we can bring along 4 additional crew and share the lifestyle directly. We have planned some passages in our Sail Away Weeks schedule. The big one is crossing the Atlantic (via the Cabo Verde Islands). We have planned 25 days this for adventure with probably 16-18 days at sea. That gives us a week or so in the Canary Islands, Cabo Verde Islands and Antigua when we arrive to celebrate!

For a smaller sampler of offshore sailing we are doing a passage from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. We plan a stop in Morocco either at Rabat or Agadir. Either stop means there will be a leg of a few hundred miles (2-3 days) at sea on passage before we arrive in the Canary Islands at Lanzarote.

View Schedule - Legs - Availability - Click Here

If you'd like to join us for a "virtual" ocean crossing then why to check out our recent videos on the Atlantic crossing…

Join us aboard Distant Shores for the adventure of a lifetime crossing the Atlantic


Discovery Test Sail & DS3 Plans

Here is a (nearly final) drawing of our new Distant Shores 48, being built by Discovery Yachts. We're currently working with Discovery on the new design and think she's a beauty! A mainsheet arch keeps the cockpit clear while moving the attachment point to the boom aft. This is because mid-boom sheeting means high loads and a heavier boom as well. We learned from experience here (see Youtube). The pilot house design means more comfortable passages/night-watches as well as protection from the elements. Plus great views from the saloon! We'll get some better quality drawings in a couple of weeks!


We also shot a Vlog style YouTube (below) on a Discovery test sail in England. We sailed on a Discovery 55 (not the new 48 that we're building). We also fly our new drone, visit southwestern Cornwall, meet horses on the highway in the New Forest, and look around the Discovery Yachts factory in Southampton.

Discovery Test Sail

Most Discovery yachts are delivered with a Selden furling mast, and this one was the same, set up with standard Kemp Dacron sails. Some people recommend a high performance sail for in-mast furling units and I'm sorry we didn't have it to test. Nevertheless performance was quite acceptable and the boat pointed quite well with the self-tacker sheeted in.
Looking at the self-tacking track above, I liked how it is rigged with the sheet running across the track. This is different from the way Southerly rigged it, and appeared to moderate the tacking procedure, smoothly sliding the car across. Nice!

Down belowdecks the main saloon has magnificent views from the saloon table, and also a forward view for a helmsman in inclement weather. Our new 48 will have similar views.

Production Plans

Building a new boat takes a while! We are hopeful the new Distant Shores 48 by Discovery will be ready in time for the Dusseldorf Boat Show in January 2018. Better get back to work!

We Moved Aboard a Catamaran

For the last 3 weeks we had an excellent time in the British Virgin Islands. We were doing our “Sail Away Weeks” where we had 4 couples a week aboard with us sailing in the fabulous BVI. Lovely Caribbean breezes were the norm, blowing as always from the east with sun and just a few showers. The notable exception was our second week which included an unseasonable 2-day gale gusting up over 35 knots! So overall we've sailed a catamaran in fair weather and foul… here's the story!

How did this all start? This winter we are "between boats" as we're still working on the new Distant Shores III. We decided it would be a great opportunity to restart our “Sail Away Weeks" having people aboard to give them a taste of the cruising life. And why not also give a catamaran a long-term test? Who knows? We might still decide to buy a catamaran?
voyage-500-cat-review-distant-shores - 1
Here are some first impressions …

Space, Wiggle and Bang!

Tons of space! Big cabins (except for our "captain's cabin") large cockpit, spacious decks. The is a large boat! She is 27 feet wide!! Although there are 10 people aboard it’s not too crowded!
voyage-500-cat-review-distant-shores-10-people - 1
The catamaran sails upright but there is more wiggling than I imagined. The motion on this catamaran, a Voyage 500, is more confused and "quick" than on a monohull. Although the boat stays upright, not heeling, you feel each wave as it passes under each hull. So we tilt a bit as a wave picks up one hull then the next as it passes under us. I didn't have a problem with it but Sheryl found this a bit difficult to deal with in the galley.


Wow this boat makes the most spectacular banging noise when a wave hits the bottom of the bridge deck! You can feel this in your feet standing in the saloon. Most of our guests didn't complain about the banging since we were only day sailing and no one was below sleeping while we sailed. Out in the cockpit it wasn't a big deal, but for a light sleeper like me?? On overnight passages it would be a deal-breaker for me…

From the picture below you can see the low bridge deck clearance that is to blame for the frequent banging as even smallish waves slap us around.
voyage-500-cat-review-bridge-deck-clearance - 1

Upwind performance

We managed to sail about 38-40 degrees off the apparent wind when sailing upwind. The sails on our boat appeared to be the original and were pretty tired. This Voyage 500 was built for the charter trade and comes with just a main and jib. Both sails were well built and had been maintained (more or less) but the boat is a 2008 model. I suspect the sails are that old as well. A newer main and jib might have allowed us to point better upwind.

Downwind Sailing

Disappointing … the rig of this cat includes well swept spreaders. There is no backstay so the shrouds support the mast, but restrict the amount you can swing out the mainsail. Most owners would add an asymmetric spinnaker or a "screecher" sail on a furling unit and leave it set up on a bowsprit. The charter company doesn't do this but instead recommends you use the genoa downwind. This is quite a small sail and didn't give us very good performance. Even if we were able to lead the genoa sheet further outboard it would have been an improvement I think. This could easily be accomplished on an owner boat but I suppose for a charter they didn't want extra complications.

Luckily most of the time in the BVI you are reaching or beating, so it only affected us when we tried to return downwind to the base at the end of each week. If you're looking at purchasing a cat you'd need to test sail the boat with a screecher setup to see how it would work for you.

Perfect BVI Boat?

If I seem to be complaining about the performance of the Voyage 500 - it’s not in relation to sailing her in the British Virgins! As a BVI charter boat she is great! 4 luxurious cabins for guests - each with its own head (bathroom/shower). Plenty of space for lounging around in the sun, and pretty decent sailing in the typical Caribbean trade-winds. She is a great choice for 4 couples sharing a week on a boat.

Is a Catamaran For You?

Of course only you can answer this question… catamarans offer so much living space and seem the perfect boat for Caribbean sailing, certainly in the British Virgins. But before you commit, it make sense to try one out on a longer offshore passage.

What do you think? Please comment below!

And here's a couple more views of the inside…
voyage-500-cat-review-galley-chairs - 1
Galley Island with 3 bar stools (bolted down!)
A view down into the "skipper's Cabin" which is actually an upholstered sail locker… yes you climb in through the hatch!

How to Sail with a Swing Keel

Throughout our 27 years of international cruising, Sheryl and I have sailed over 100,000 nm and 40,000 of those miles have been sailed on the two lifting-keel yachts - Distant Shores, a Southerly 42 and Distant Shores II, a Southerly 49. Many people have asked what it is like to sail such a boat, how they sail upwind, what to do in storms, what happens if you hit the keel, what to do in huge waves and more.

Sailing Upwind

We always put the keel all the way down when working to windward. Our Southerly 49 draws 10' 3" (3.13m) with the keel down - an extremely deep aerofoil keel. Since the swing keel is also deeper than a conventional keel, it performs well upwind. The design doesn't carry as much weight deep down so the boats aren't as light or stiff as a racing boat, but they do well compared to a standard cruising boat with a moderate keel and offer many advantages to the cruising sailor. As you can see in the photo below, Southerly 49 keel at 10' 3" (3.13m) is a REALLY deep keel!

Aerofoil Keel Shape

Some centreboard boats have a flat board for a keel but the swing keels on the two Southerlys we've owned are both airfoil shaped and perform well upwind. I asked world-renowned yacht designer Rob Humphreys how important it was to have an aerofoil shaped keel. He said, "It’s vital, and not just for upwind performance. A well profiled aerofoil section keel optimizes the lift-drag ratio and widens the stall angle."

Sailing in Shallow Water

Whenever we are sailing in shallow water and there is a chance we might touch the bottom, we look over the chart and raise the keel to a comfortable depth. For example, when crossing the shallow Caicos Bank (photo below) we raise the keel halfway so we draw just 6-7 feet. The boat will still sail well, but she will not point as closely upwind. You can see we are close reaching. It is great to have this ability when exploring.


Lifting the keel can reduce or eliminate the risk of the yacht broaching. According to cruising guru Jimmy Cornell, who owns a Garcia Exploration 45, "continuing to lift (the keel) up to the point where the board is fully retracted, is a great advantage as the risk of broaching is virtually eliminated. The absence of a keel to act as a pivot in a potential broaching situation means that the boat does not tend to round up when, in a similar situation, a keeled boat would do just that. It is a feature that I have blessed on many occasions and that has allowed me to continue keeping the spinnaker up longer than I would have done otherwise."

Ocean Sailing Downwind

Before we sailed a Southerly Yacht across the ocean (we've now done it 5 times), I wondered what it would be like on a boat with a swing keel. Talking with other sailors who owned shallow-draft swing-keel yachts, I realized there were more options for sailing efficiently if you have a lifting keel. Swinging the keel up to raise it means you have actually moved the centre of lateral resistance backwards. It's possible to use this to your advantage when sailing downwind. Normally the yacht designer has carefully calculated the best position to mount a fixed keel. For a yacht with a swing keel, the design is done to optimize performance with the keel all the way down. When we swing the keel partially up, the centre of effort moves aft as you can see in the diagram below. We use this to improve performance when sailing downwind plus it reduces helm effort. It is similar to sailing a dinghy. With the keel most 70 percent raised, we have modified the bottom profile so the boat is more like an arrow. In this position the boat loves to sail downwind!

Distant Shores III

If you are considering buying a swing-keel yacht, please contact us for more information on the new Distant Shores III. She will have a swing keel just like Distant Shores and Distant Shores II and, based on our experience, she will be a great boat for a circumnavigation! We are currently working with a design team to develop this new model - to be launched later this year!

Swing Keel FAQ


Can you sail with the keel up?

Yes. The boat is safe to sail with the keel in any position including raised all the way up. Naturally the boat makes a lot of leeway when going to windward with the keel completely retracted, but she only heels a few more degrees. To understand this you can look at the image below of the keel for our Southerly 49 before it was installed during the build. The keel assembly consists of the massive grounding plate (weight 3180 kilos) plus the swinging keel at 2050 kilos. When you swing the keel up the centre of gravity does raise but not by enough to effect the safety or heeling by very much since so much of the ballast is in the grounding plate. In the picture above we have the keel of our Southerly 42 almost all the way up sailing the shallows of the Bahamas. We are drawing about 4.5 feet instead of our usual 9 feet (2.72m), the deepest draft of the Southerly 42. We are beating upwind and, despite making more leeway than usual, she still makes progress upwind.
Cool Keels - 8

What happens if you run aground?

The keel is designed to swing up into the hull when raised. Since it pivots on its front bearing in normal operation there is no damage if you hit something. Of course we try not to run aground, especially when moving at speed. The lifting pennant goes slack and the boat slows down. This is unlike a "vertically-lifting" centreboard which can be damaged by hitting something as the board jams in its case.

Does the board rattle?

We have never heard the keel move while sailing either of our Southerlys. We do not call it a centreboard since the weight and profile make it more like a regular keel. The swinging keel part of the assembly weighs 2050 kilos (4400 pounds) on the Southerly 49 which is about the same as a BMW 740 automobile! I don't think it could rattle. When we drop the keel down all the way it makes a thump as it comes to rest in the stops in the massive grounding plate.

Does the keel require maintenance?

Yes. The keel lifting mechanism is a system and as such has a maintenance schedule. Once a year we check the hydraulic level, and every five years we replace the pennant that lifts the keel.

Are you considering a Swing-Keel Sailboat?

We're currently developing a new model of swinging keel shallow draft monohull. Distant Shores III be 48 feet long with a draft around 3' with the keel up. If you are in the market for a similar sailboat and would like more information please email us.

In an upcoming blog I will discuss how to sail a swing-keel yacht in heavy weather conditions…