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Old 06-02-2010, 21:06   #1
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Self-Sufficient Sailors - Do They Still Exist ?

Many years ago I read a book by Lynn and Larry Pardey called "The Self-Sufficient Sailor". One of my favorite cruising books is "The Circumnavigators" by Donald Holm. The book is full of the stories of the adventures of seemingly self-sufficient sailors. One of the hallmarks of the early circumnavigators like Slocum, Pidgen, Guzzwell, and many others is the fact that they appeared to be largely self-sufficient.

Most of these folks had no electronics and some even had no engine. They relied on excellent seamanship to make their voyages. Many of them built their own vessels, and when something went wrong, they fixed it themselves.

A self-sufficient sailor today would need to know how to fix electronics, engines, generators, rigging, composite sails, composite hulls and a thousand other things not even invented in the time of Slocum and Pidgeon.

Is self-sufficiency alive and well in the cruising community, or is it a fantasy? What does it mean to be a self-sufficent sailor in our time? Do you know any self-sufficient sailors? Is it still possible with a modern yacht?
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:27   #2
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I dream of finding barrels of lard to fill my hold (like Slocum) to sell and support the journey ;-)
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:27   #3
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As you describe self-sufficient it makes me think of the days before any electrics. Boats of wood and men of iron. But the problem with being self sufficient in those daze is a lot of sailors died trying. No offense to the ladies but it was rare to see a woman at sea on anything less then a transport vessel.

At least with todays toys it's a lot safer to be out on the water. To start, the construction of the vessels (in most cases), the equipment (cooking, water makers, modern food storage & refers), then the safety gear (EPIRB, life vests w/attachments & inflatable life boats), the knowledge of others (books & now the web), communications (VHF, SSB & running lights), and last the intel (GPS, AIS, radar and weather receivers). A big difference.

I think it's the fantasy that still brings men/women out on the water. Self-sufficient in todays standards IMO would be anchoring out all the time, not really claiming a home port and only working to acquire food, fuel and maintenance items (unless one has enough $$$ to not have to work).
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:29   #4
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I dream of finding barrels of lard to fill my hold (like Slocum) to sell and support the journey ;-)
You are a genius. Why didn't I think of that when I was sailing around the world on my boat?
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:31   #5
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A self-sufficient sailor today would need to know how to fix electronics, engines, generators, rigging, composite sails, composite hulls and a thousand other things not even invented in the time of Slocum and Pidgeon.
No, would just have to be prepared to leave without these things. i.e no electronics, no huge loads on engine - I used to get away with about 40 mins battery charging every 4-5 days -, no need for a generator obviously, whatever choices you make regarding rigging, you should be able to repair/maintain yourself or stay home, if you have a composite hull have contingency plans for repairs away from "yachting centres".
I kinda like cedar/glass - well within bounds for a useful amateur and still fairly light and strong.

What else?
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:31   #6
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Hi Dave maxingout,
many years of hands on experience creates self-sufficiency, if you don't have that, then you have to learn to keep things simple. Learn how to navigate by the stars and sun, they don't break down like electronics do, learn the basics of diesel engines or go without one and learn to maneuver your boat without one.
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:34   #7
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Its very doable IMHO...other then navigation in which few now know how to use a sextant myself included...nor do I ever care to...most everything on board is not a necessity...in other words if it fails you can do without it if you don't know how to fix it.

But learning your systems "Basics" is a good thing to do...so you can self diagnose some things and affect repairs yourself....I think there are quit a few out there that actually know an uncanny amount about seemingly everything....Im not one of those people but I do know my engine...my heads.. getting a handle on my rigging and now my electrical system pretty well...I still have no clue about refrigeration or any instrument electronics or radios...and little weather knowledge ...but Im a greenhorn in those areas just due to the fact I haven't been around them or needed them....So I will eventually pick up some things.

Other then that Fiberglass or wood work Im OK at as well...Im sure there is a lot more if you want to get technical...like medical emergencies, etc. etc. etc...but it kind of gets to the point of never being ready and never leaving the dock if you take it to far.
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:42   #8
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...like medical emergencies,
Oh yeah! That was one I left out, meds and the knowledge of anatomy. I'm sure there must be something else.
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Old 06-02-2010, 22:57   #9
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Oh yeah! That was one I left out, meds and the knowledge of anatomy. I'm sure there must be something else.
I know how to do my own eye surgery. If I could just figure out how to take out my own appendix.
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Old 06-02-2010, 23:11   #10
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An interesting thread!

I also enjoy reading about the exploits of the “pioneers” and am doing my best to keep my boat as simple as I can. The minimalist thing for me is encouraged by my interest solo in bushwalking/trekking/mountaineering where everything is carried in the one lightweight pack. It is amazing how many old adventurers had to be as competent at sea as on land. You just have to look at the exploits of people such as Shackleton. Like these adventurers, after a week or so in a tiny tent, the comforts in a basic boat are almost equivalent a five star hotel.

While I enjoy this minimalist approach there are still certain pieces of modern electronics and navigation gear that it would be foolish to leave behind. Regardless, I just finished reading John Lee Graham’s “Dove” and am keen to go out and buy a sextant. Likewise, the history of calculating longitude is enthralling and I need to keep a simple but reliable watch onboard set to Greenwich Meantime. See: John Harrison - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

With an understanding of some of these old techniques while nearing self-sufficiency you can pick up so much wisdom (and save a lot of dollars!!!).
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Old 07-02-2010, 00:04   #11
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[FONT=Times New Roman][SIZE=3]..... the exploits of the “pioneers” and am doing my best to keep my boat as simple as I can. The minimalist thing for me is encouraged by my interest solo in bushwalking/trekking/mountaineering where everything is carried in the one lightweight pack. It is amazing how many old adventurers had to be as competent at sea as on land.
I use to do that too in my youth but now we have people in brown uniforms w/badges,a side arm and a smokey-the-bear-hat running around saying we can't do this or that (anymore). Another lost freedom!

So now, boats are all that's left.
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Old 07-02-2010, 02:38   #12
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Is self-sufficiency alive and well in the cruising community?
What does it mean to be a self-sufficent sailor in our time? Do you know any self-sufficient sailors?
Is it still possible with a modern yacht?
Yes, self-sufficiency is alive and is possible . . . but it is no longer the norm. You have to become a 'seaman' and adapt to the sea environment and not try to bring your whole shore existence with you out to sea.

We have friends who are spending two years (including two winters) on a 30' boat on South Georgia. Just no-way to do that without being self-sufficient.

The last depends a bit on what you mean by a 'modern yacht'. I think Hawk is a 'modern yacht' (bulbed fin keel, spade rudder, fractional rig, laminate sails, sat phone and gps) but she has dead simple systems and is a doodle to maintain. But if by 'modern' you mean one of those boats that has every possible system with all the possible bells and whistles crammed in, then the answer is probably no.
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Old 07-02-2010, 04:31   #13
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I think so depending on your definition. We keep our kitty together afloat by sewing. Do all our own maintenance, and keep on the move.
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Old 07-02-2010, 05:30   #14
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self sufficiency is as much a mindset as anything.

Are you not self suffcient if you buy a new mast when yours breaks at sea? Or are you self suffcient because you managed to jury rig a system to get you to shore instead of kicking off your epirb, ditching your boat and getting picked up by the nearest cargo ship.

I have seen some truly fully self sufficient sailors on old small woodies like a Erik or a Thistle with home built masts, kerosene based nav lights and even a guy who swore he sailed around the whole way twice using a sexent, lead line, and trailing log for all his nav info.

But still, you cant exactly drop the hook now adays and wade ashore, chop down a tree to make new planking and a mast on some deserted shore. The days to "slocum" style self sufficiency seem to be dead to me but I dont think the ideals of self sufficiency are in any way dead. The idea of being prepared to deal with as much as you can in the way of your boat or the weather, to not include systems on your boat that lock you to a marina or closest DHL delivery point are alive in a good portion of the long distance sailing community.
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Old 07-02-2010, 05:57   #15
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In 25 years of sailing I have only used yard help for...

nothing. Not counting hauling. I'ld skip that if we had more tide. If I had to, I would go to the lower bay and use a beach.

I've fixed a 2' hole from when a yard blocked the boat wrong (a snow like this). Their insurance paid me $3,000, and I did the work for very little in materials.

I've replaced engines and re-wired whole boats.

I've re-cut sails. Sewed an a-sail years ago without a pattern, because there was no such thing.

I've pulled masts with gin poles.

I can't really think what I would use help for. I enjoy learning new crafts too much. To me, that is what makes a sailor - to be able to be self reliant. Granted, my boat is only 32 feet, but I like this size for single handing.

The real challenge would be keeping this up, away from a home workshop. I am very impressed by cruisers who can remain effectively self contained for years. Possible, but very challenging.
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