The Figure 8 Voyage
August 24, 2019 11:28 PM   Subscribe

Randall Reeves is some 270 days into The Figure 8 Voyage, a solo circumnavigation of both the American and Antarctic continents in one season. This is his second attempt at the journey, the first curtailed by knockdowns resulting in significant damage to his vessel MOLI. His blog is updated most days. You can follow his progress on a map. He frequently has conversations with the windvane. He also posts infrequently to his YouTube, for example how he makes coffee at sea.
posted by jackmakrl (12 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome! Also, I’m so glad I didn’t find out about this until he was already done with most of the hardest parts. I’d be a nervous wreck following along in real time!
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:39 AM on August 25, 2019

I like that he included these details about the boat:

Doesn’t Have:
Wheel steering
Hot water
Pressure water
Solar or wind generation
A painted hull
Powered winches or sails
Deadlights in the hull
Any instrumentation in the cockpit

Does Have:
A warm, dry doghouse to keep watch in
Three watertight bulkheads
Water tanks integral to hull create a double wall for puncture protection
An aperture-protected prop
Standpipes instead of through-hulls
posted by valkane at 4:18 AM on August 25, 2019

This is awesome, thanks!

Will have to dig into the wealth of archive posts later.
posted by freethefeet at 5:05 AM on August 25, 2019

Wow. This may be answered somewhere on his website, but I’m curious what safety measures he employs to manage the risk of going overboard while alone and being left adrift. Would he wear a safety line and PFD on the deck in all weather? Only in inclement weather? Does he carry something like a PLB on his person at all times? Or is this just an accepted risk that’s inherent to the activity, dealt with through responsible behavior, and not practical to deal with using safety gear?
posted by compartment at 7:09 AM on August 25, 2019

I like that he included these details about the boat:

I was worried by the omission list you posted but then I checked out the boat spec page and saw his battery rig and generator setup.

I'm kind of surprised he doesn't have a basic windmill or solar panel set just as a backup, because it's practically no wasted space or weight to include in an adventure/touring yacht like that, and these days it's pretty common to have on any given live-aboard sailing boat because it means you don't necessarily have to start the inboards just to charge the batteries or keep them topped off.

But to be fair that's a different kind of sailing where people are just tooling around in a sailboat like it's an RV and creature comforts are part of the program, not laying down knots and lat/long ticks in the log all day, every day.

That is one skookum boat, though. The aluminum hull is a great choice for that kind of boat because it's really easy to repair. Any shipyard small or large will be able to weld aluminum plate and do hull repairs. The divided watertight bulkheads are also a fine choice both for comfort and seaworthiness. He can non-figuratively batten down the hatches and survive really high seas and over-deck waves and maybe even being partially submerged or capsized.

Using a tiller instead of a wheel is also a fine choice for solo adventure sailing. It's actually a lot easier to manage sails and tack when coming about with a tiller instead of a wheel because you can hold one or more ropes and tiller with one hand.
posted by loquacious at 9:33 AM on August 25, 2019

Wow. This may be answered somewhere on his website, but I’m curious what safety measures he employs to manage the risk of going overboard while alone and being left adrift.

In some of the pics it looks like he's wearing a shoulder harness and safety line.

As far as I know this isn't super common practice on crewed or non-solo sailing boats because it can be a liability, but most of the sailing I personally see and have experienced isn't really open ocean sailing. You have to be able to scramble freely all over the deck, duck under sail booms and more. Get your safety line tangled with a swinging boom or a rapidly paying line on a large sail and it'll happily toss you around like a flea.

This is why you're not supposed to, say, try to stop an errantly swinging sail boom with your hands because if it has the wind behind it it's like trying to stop a moving building sized wall, it's just going to sweep you right off the deck. It's better to duck it and let the sail or line slack and work it with a windlass and cleats.

This is also why sailors are really fussy about managing ropes and keeping the deck very tidy and gear stowed and lashed. That rope coil thing they do with unused lines or line ends isn't just because it looks pretty, it's because it keeps you for getting a rapidly moving rope accidentally caught on your ankle and dragging you to the top of the mast.

He also likely wears a water-activated EPIRB beacon as needed, and the life raft probably has one built in to it that activates when the life raft is deployed. In addition to this, should the entire yacht sink the life raft should automatically deploy via a hydrostatic release and activate it's EPIRB beacon, even if he's swept overboard before he can deploy the life raft.

This is one reason why life rafts have sea anchors or drogues, as well as some kind of sea-boarding ladder or entrance. It's to keep it from being blown away from you if you need to swim after it. The other reason why life rafts use these drogues is to keep it from drifting too far while awaiting rescue. It's not going to do you a whole lot of good to drift far from your last reported locations if you're getting blown across the ocean by the wind.

And on that route, he's probably carrying a transoceanic rated life raft even though he's staying relatively near shore compared to a direct trans-Pacific sailing. The seas around Antarctica are no joke and some of the roughest, coldest seas on the planet.

Side note, he probably had to replace the life raft more than once on his trip. There are different ratings for life rafts for cold water vs. warm water and different supply/emergency kits that go with them. He likely scheduled these equipment changes in his itinerary at a port stop.

In addition to the EPIRB he also probably has a tracker and a scheduled check-in system. If he doesn't check in by a certain point in time once or more than once per day it probably activates an emergency plan from whatever support staff or friends and family.

This is all stuff that open ocean sailors train for in depth these days. It starts with sailing tiny sailing dinghys like the Laser, where part of the class work is intentionally capsizing your dingy and learning how to deal with that or even right the boat while in open water, or how to climb up on a capsized hull to await rescue.

This training and practice grows to include everything from how to deploy and use life rafts and watermakers to engine repair and maintenance, even sail repair. How to fire flares. How to don a life vest in the water. How to put out fires and do fire drills. Fire drills are definitely a regular thing on crewed boats and yachts. First aid, too. It goes way beyond navigation and chart reading, which is also a very intensive learning process, not unlike being a private pilot in general aviation.

Even the casual sailors I know around here that generally know what they're doing and go tooling around in little day cruisers and pleasure sailing boats know where their sail and boom is just by how much rope they have in their hands. You can feel the fetch and tack by how much lean there is. I've see people lash the tiller and sail from inside the galley or cabin while they make coffee or have a chat on the phone out of the wind and keep a perfect tack and sail.

I've only done a little sailing and I have found that it's a lot like riding a bicycle, or maybe ice skating or skiing. But you're also trying to fly a kite at the same time. I found it very intuitive to integrate those two things and got a feel for it

So, yeah, there's a lot of training and stuff. The short answer of it is really about experience and practice. When you spend that much time sailing and preparing with one boat you get to know it very well and you know where everything is (or is supposed to be) even with your eyes closed.
posted by loquacious at 10:35 AM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

And yeah, I may still, uh, harbor some fantasies about having a boat, but I have enough experience to know that they're cold, wet holes in the water you throw money into. I've lived on a smaller boat just sitting in a nice harbor and even that was expensive and challenging in weird ways. Much more so than, say, just living on a bike tour or doing van camping or living.

If you want my hot take opinion I think that people that do this kind of solo transoceanic sailing are a very special kind of bonkers. I know just enough about boats and being in the open Pacific in particular that you wouldn't catch me on a trans-Pacific crossing on anything less than 100 foot sailboat or 80 foot ocean rated powered boat. I've been out 20-30 miles on smaller power boats in 10 foot seas and it's... sketchy and about as close to just flying out into outer space just for fun as it gets without leaving the planet.

People do, say, the crossing to Hawaii from ports on the west coast of the US on 25-35 foot single mast sailboats and it's really not a good idea and it's a risky activity like parasailing, climbing big mountains or other high risk sports and activities.

My short time on that boat was filled with interesting experiences like sleeping with a metal sail mast between my legs in the v-berth while thunderstorm was happening and thinking about that a whole lot. Or catching enough wind in harbor on the mast (mast action) that that v-berth was like trying to sleep on a roller coaster with moments of near weightlessness about every 2 seconds and I could hear the bow, stern and springer lines tying me to the dock against the fenders creaking like they were going to snap, and watching the cleat bolts wiggle from the inside. I can't even imagine being out of the harbor in a blow like that on anchor, and I've seen people who do that.

Another side note, I've been constantly surprised about how many people I've met in the Puget Sound area that have Captain or Master's licenses and ratings for some really big boats, like 100+ tons. Bartenders. Art school teachers or deans. Random commercial cooks or chefs. I've met a few unlikely people that have Master's ratings for something like 10,000+ ton commercial vessels, meaning they could legally pilot something like the largest ferries in the area or deliver superyachts and captain a crew.

For the higher Master's commercial ratings in the 100 ton range and up this is actually ridiculously impressive. It means that these people not only have studied sailing and rope work and navigation and all the stuff you first think about with boats be it sailboats or powered boats - but they may have enough emergency medical training to stand in for an EMT or paramedic, enough rescue skills to fit in on a SAR team, enough meteorology training to replace any TV weatherman, enough engine and mechanical training to work on a huge diesel engine. It also means they have to know electrical systems and battery banks and stuff too. It means they know how to use marine radios and radar and GPS.

It means that they probably know the rules and laws of the sea both local and international, US Coast Guard rules and regulations, the laws of various customs and border control at different countries.

You even study boat design and naval architecture at these levels so you really know your boats and the limitations and capabilities of as many kinds of boats as possible. A highly rated Captain or Master can theoretically design and build a boat. And this sort of knowledge as a requirement in sailing is historical and basically goes back to the dawn of boats. You can read accounts of this in action in Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy where they lose their first boat in Tahiti and Captain Bligh immediately sets about making an entirely new boat with hand tools, and, well, a lot of hard labor over something like most of a year.
posted by loquacious at 11:20 AM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure how many days i'm about to lose reading the blog from the beginning (which took some doing to find), it's fascinating. Great post!
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:21 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Re: safety, he talks about it a bit here and here. Also he does have some solar panels that he discusses here and here. It is kind of hard to navigate his site, I found these by searching in my RSS reader.
posted by jackmakrl at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hey, nice first post, jackmakrl!
posted by cortex at 3:02 PM on August 25, 2019

Terrific post - I'm another one losing hours to his site - just fascinating stuff.
posted by leslies at 7:04 PM on August 25, 2019

For the higher Master's commercial ratings in the 100 ton range and up this is actually ridiculously impressive.

I’ve got a 100 ton rating and you’re making me blush.

The hard part about getting a masters is serving the sea time on a vessel which is big enough to count. Yes, you have to learn the rules of the road, and take a bunch of tests, but most of the captains I know who pilot commercial vessels couldn’t design a boat to save their lives.

I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m saying that most boat captains, like airline pilots, are more about driving than building.
posted by valkane at 7:43 PM on August 25, 2019

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