Comments for Sailors
Tinkerbelle's voyage, I believe, supports the theory that a boat's size has little or no bearing on seaworthiness (only on comfort) and tends to prove that very small boats, reasonably well designed and handled, are capable of crossing oceans. (However, I hope no one reading these pages will assume that any small boat is able to cross an ocean, because in that direction lies potential tragedy.) The principal factors that made Tinkerbelle capable of the voyage were, I think, her watertightness with hatches closed, her unsinkableness and her self-righting ability. Of course, many other factors also were involved, but these three probably were the most important, and the absence of any one of them might have resulted in insuperable difficulties.
My general advice to anyone contemplating an ocean cruise in a small boat is to get all the sailing experience you can, especially in the boat you expect to use, read all you can about the voyages of others and, most important of all, profit to the fullest possible extent from your experience and reading. Don't gloss over hazards that should be faced squarely. And don't take chances unnecessarily. By this I mean don't reason thus: Yes, I know the mainsheet halyard is badly worn in one spot, but it's probably strong enough to last through this voyage. Or: The bilge pump seems to be working all right, so I don't see why I should have to check its insides or take along spare parts. It is folly to leave a potential source of trouble uncorrected.
It is important to assume, I think, that at one time or another your boat will be completely submerged and/or capsized and, to be extra safe, that it will be filled with water. So you need a boat capable
of coping with each of these possibilities. If you don't have such a boat, the risks you face will be correspondingly greater.
The cockpit or foot well should be small so that, if filled by the sea, it will not add a dangerous amount of weight to the boat, making it sluggish and lacking in buoyancy. Tinkerbelle's foot well was reduced in size through the temporary installation of a box-like contrivance containing flotation material at its aft end and a storage compartment at its forward end. It was a worth-while alteration because the remaining part of the foot well was filled with water several times.
If a conventional keel sailboat weighing a ton or more is rolled over or pitchpoled (that is, somersaulted stern over bow) by an enormous wave, it will almost certainly be dismasted and suffer other serious damage. However I think Tinkerbelle could be rolled over and possibly even pitchpoled without suffering grave injuries because she weighs only six hundred and fifty pounds, and her hundred-pound daggerboard-keel is not heavy enough to cause sufficient strain to break her mast while righting her. I can't prove this. It is simply a feeling I have acquired, partly through reasoning and partly through familiarity with Tinkerbelle's usual behavior.
If I were to repeat the voyage, the only change I would make in Tinkerbelle herself would be to equip her with roller reefing or with an extra set of reefing points. I would also add a hacksaw, a pair of tinsnips, a small can of machine oil, a spare radar reflector and a second dacron genoa to my stores. I could have used the hacksaw and tinsnips in repairing the broken rudder. The machine oil would have helped to keep my tools from rusting, although I improvised machine oil by melting Vaseline on the stove. The radar reflector would have replaced the one lost overboard and the second dacron genoa would have allowed me to make Tinkerbelle steer herself more often. If I had been able to do that, I might have done more reading.
On a repeat voyage I would not take any cotton clothing whatever except possibly shoregoing clothes sealed in plastic bags. Everything else would be wool, for wool retains body warmth even when it is wet. Wet cotton, on the other hand, becomes chilly and then, when it dries, the salt in it makes it stiff so that it chafes against your skin.
Incidentally, the plastic bags in which I packed my cans of food and many other items were sealed by folding a piece of Teflon tape over the open end of each bag in turn and going over it with a hot iron. I found the iron worked best when it was set for woolens, although some experimentation was necessary to get the proper combination of heat and time to secure an air-tight bond. Of course, the same piece of Teflon served to seal all the bags.
I had very few health problems. During the first month the prolonged contact with salt water made my fingers and toes swell rather painfully, but twice-daily applications of skin lotion and Vaseline cleared up this condition. Similar treatment, plus a course of achromycin antibiotic capsules, kept the salt-water sores on my buttocks from developing into anything serious. I found that the sores began to heal as soon as I switched to wearing wool next to my skin. Salt-saturated cotton underclothing tended to irritate them, causing me considerable distress.
When I began the voyage, I was somewhat overweight at two hundred pounds. All the way across the ocean I dined very well indeed, from the point of view of quantity if not quality, and so I expected to arrive in England weighing as much as I had at the start, if not more. But, very much to my surprise, I found I had lost forty pounds. (Possibly this means that a good way of losing weight is to go on a canned-food diet.) I suffered no ill effects, however, and at the end of the voyage I still had thirteen gallons of water and a month's supply of food.
Despite the periods of depression and the hallucinations, my mental health apparently remained good (unless you believe I was insane to make the voyage in the first place). I have been interviewed by three psychiatrists, two of whom specialize in the study of human reactions to monotony and loneliness, and have learned from them that my responses were predictably normal. It seems that sagging morale and hallucinations are experienced by practically all singlehanded voyagers, although not all of them admit it publicly in their books.
The lack of sleep and the drug I took to keep myself alert no doubt accelerated the appearance of the hallucinations, but the visions themselves were largely the result of my mind's efforts to cope with the solitude and danger. My mind invented people, both friends and enemies, so that I wouldn't be alone or without help in facing the hazards of the vast, empty ocean.
I wish now that I had done more with photography. It is not especially easy to sail a boat and take pictures, either stills or movies, at the same time, so I found that the high points of the voyage, periods of very rough weather or the moments when I was conversing with the captains of ships that stopped to see if everything was all right, went unphotographed. I was simply too busy doing other things at those times. Which makes this a good argument against singlehanded voyaging, because, if a second person had been present, he could have taken the pictures while I handled the boat, or vice versa.
The picture I most regret having missed is the one of the giant "sea worm" I saw. I wish I had taken the time to get out my cameras and go back to photograph it. Who knows? It might have proved to be some as yet uncatalogued creature of the sea.
Moisture and heat are the worst enemies of photographic film, especially color film, but the film aboard Tinkerbelle was not damaged to any great extent. Heat was no problem at all since the cabin temperature, out at sea, never got above seventy degrees; but moisture was another matter. Still, the only film that suffered moisture damage was the 16-mm. movie film that had been left in the camera for several days. When the camera was not in use, I kept it sealed in a plastic bag, but apparently this did not prevent some moisture from reaching about twenty-five feet of film and altering the colors slightly.
The still camera , being designed for underwater as well as above-water use, protected the film from moisture very well; and as soon as a roll was exposed I popped it back into its sealed container. But the movie film wasn't as easily protected. It was all right as long as it was in its original package and, after exposure, when I resealed it in the package with cellulose tape. But while in camera it was vulnerable.
In addition to being sealed in its original packages after exposure, all the film (both before and after exposure) was kept sealed in large plastic bags, which also contained silica-gel moisture-absorbing tablets.
Another minor disappointment of the voyage was that I never got to take any underwater pictures, even though I had an underwater camera. The homemade device I had for thrusting the camera below the surface and operating it from above contained a heavy
brass plate and when the second rudder broke I had to use this plate as part of the material for making repairs. And that put the underwater picture device out of action before I got around to using it.
Now, about expenses. The total cost of the one-way passage to England, not including the cost of the boat and the expense of repairing and remodeling it, was roughly $1,000. Since it would have been possible to fly to England in June for approximately $400 (first class) or $270 (coach), the voyage was actually a rather expensive way to cross the Atlantic Ocean. But the experiences of the voyage, both the pleasant ones and the unpleasant ones, more than compensated for the difference in cost. In fact, to me, they were priceless; I wouldn't have traded them for anything.
One more comment should be made. The $750 in traveler's checks I had among my supplies was to pay for getting Tinkerbelle and me back to Cleveland from England. I didn't use it, however, because the Plain Dealer very kindly took care of this expense.