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Old 02-03-2014, 17:58   #1
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Engine-free Cruising

In the discussion thread - engineless cruising, a few folks wrote about finding themselves having to sail when their engine failed, then enjoying the expereince. though we choose to sail engine-free because of the challenge it presented, not to mention the space and cost it saved us when we wanted to go cruising as young as we could. We have never suggested it is the way to go for others - but we do think folks are forgetting that their sails may, at times, be more reliable than their engines. Below is the text from a chapter in our book, The Capable Cruiserwhich we think might be of interest. (To keep this from taking up too much space, I haven't included the photos.)
Sail Insurance: Take the Emergency Out of Engine Shutdowns

A golden, early morning sun glistens down on a perfect French Polynesian sailing day. The trade winds blow across the deep waters of the pass that cuts through the reef between Huahine and the open sea. The 35-foot sloop cuts a gentle wake as it powers seaward; its crewman, Chuck Ryan, a lifelong sailor, had attached the halyards to the sails before he raised the anchor. Now he is clearing up the foredeck while the owner stands at the helm steering toward their next destination, Raiatea. Halfway through the pass, the engine quits. Chuck watches bemusedly as the skipper dives below into the engine room. With barely a pause, Chuck reaches for the halyard, hoists the headsail, then goes back to the cockpit, trims the sheet for a beam reach, and then relaxes as the sloop gains way. The stem continues to part the DayGlo green waters of the pass. When the water around the boat turns to the deep indigo of the open sea, the engine is still completely silent. The skipper pokes his head out of the companionway hatch, looks around at the open water, glances up at the wind-filled sails, and says, “Gee, that was a good idea!”
Fifty-knot gusts roar into the open roadstead at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, catching the crews of almost 50 cruising boats on a raging lee shore right during the pre-Christmas festivities—a time of year when this roadstead anchorage normally is blessed with warm offshore breezes. In the ensuing melee, 29 boats are washed ashore through the 14-foot-high surf. Dreams, boats, and confidence are crushed. During the height of the storm, however, the crew of the Cal 40 Amola II hank their storm staysail to the headstay, put a deep reef in the mainsail, and then start their engine to motor to freedom before their anchor starts to drag and they too become victims. One of a dozen stray floating lines—left over from boats that have already dragged to destruction—snags Amola’s propeller, and her engine quits. The crew swiftly moves to hoist the sails. With the skills gained from working together on dozens of races, they short-tack to the safety of the open sea.
Two exotic, far-from-home locations, two dramatic success stories that might seem unrelated to the sailing you do each weekend, but these are two perfect examples of what Lin and I call self-help sail-insurance payoffs. Each time you go sailing--whether for an afternoon jaunt outside the harbor or when you enter an exciting new coral-reef pass on the far side of an ocean—there is a chance that your engine, or one of the systems supporting it, could shut down unexpectedly. Yet in every one of the more than 75 countries Lin and I have visited, we have seen countless sailors motoring in or out of marina and harbor entrances, or meandering through rock-strewn passages while fresh trade winds blow, with their sail covers on, halyards and sheets stowed, no anchor visible, and, in warmer climates, the added impediment to quick sailhandling of a fully rigged sun cover.
As I watch them, I think of an incident that left me quite shaken (and influenced me deeply) in Newport Beach, California, when I was building Seraffyn, our first cruising boat, and working as a charter-boat skipper. The beautiful 53-foot yawl Kirawan became a total loss 200 yards inside the eastern breakwater on a day just like the one described at Huahine—light breezes, sunny skies. But, just after she passed the breakwater, her engine stopped. With sail covers on, halyards tied off, no anchor on deck, Kirawan was driven toward the rocks by an onshore breeze and by the 4-foot swells that wrapped around the end of the breakwater (remnants of the much bigger ocean swell running outside). Lift, drop, and the magnificent teak-decked yacht was smashed like a Styrofoam cup. Within two minutes, she sank. For the next few weeks, sailors around the waterfront talked of the ways they could have sailed her free if . . . . If the sail covers had been off, if her skipper had chosen to be on the windward side of the 800-foot-wide channel so he would have had the vital sea room that would have given him time to react, time to anchor or set sail.
Sea room, time to react—the classic concerns of the sailor as well as the aircraft pilot. Airline pilots spend hours practicing how to react if an engine quits (read “altitude” for “sea room”). An interesting fact is that many airline pilots fly gliders for sport, but also, as one airline pilot told us, “Because the gliding skills could come in handy if we lost power on a commercial flight.” That is why we feel that prudent sailors should begin looking at their sails for added security, for what we call “no-premium sail insurance.” The crews described in the first two incidents found that sailing skills and handy sails were the keys to carrying on without fuss when their engines quit. Although it is unlikely that there will be absolutely no wind when your engine acts up, Murphy was a sailor, so we like to include anchors and anchor-handling gear that is at-the-ready as the extra element in making sure that an engine shutdown means only a smooth switch to sail power or anchor grip, and not the catalyst for a confidence- or boat- destroying event.
What allows you to make that smooth transition? Handy sails, confidence in your sailing skills, complete trust in your boat and practice.
What are handy sails? These would be sails that are set before you leave the marina and left up until you are back on your mooring, or ones that can be pulled up in less than 60 seconds each, on any point of the wind. On the average 35-footer, an “instant sail” would be either a jib with normal hanks that is uncovered and has its halyard attached or a roller-furling jib with the sheets ready to go. Unfortunately, a jib alone could be the wrong sail to hoist first in an engine shutdown. If the situation demands that you sail close-hauled, you need the power of the mainsail aft to urge your bow up toward the wind. The quickest-to-set mainsail is the leg-o’-mutton (jibheaded ) mainsail, which is set on an external mast track with claw-type slides. This sail has no headboard or battens to hang up on spreaders or shrouds as it is being hoisted and the slides offer minimal friction (especially if you give the track an occasional rub with beeswax or use silicone spray). Those few sailors who voyage without engines usually choose one of these easy-to-hoist mainsails.[1] Over the years, ideas from the racing fleet have filtered into all aspects of cruising and daysailing mainsail design, adding headboards, short battens, and then eventually full-length battens to enhance sail area and racing performance. Unfortunately, these sails are usually difficult to raise unless the boat is head-to-wind. With alloy spars come internal track and extruded luff grooves that require the use of slug slides. This means extra friction that slows mainsail hoisting. Add cockpit-led halyards, which mean more turning, and fairlead blocks, with more friction in the system, and you will find that a winch becomes necessary to hoist the mainsail. At this point, you have a mainsail that does not fit into your “sail insurance” program. To make it work in an emergency, it would be wise to have this type of mainsail hoisted before you leave any harbor or negotiate among islands and rocks so it is ready to help out should the engine quit.
Sail insurance also means having the appropriate sail area available for the situation. We have a strong preference for the cutter rig, with the staysail secured permanently on the inner stay. This means that the staysail is always on deck, ready to act as an instant heavy-weather headsail choice. Combine this with a mainsail built with three sets of slab reefing and you have quick sail-reduction options that will let you sail to windward in winds ranging from 8 to 45 knots should your engine quit.
We have anchored in dozens of open roadsteads around the world, ones that offered good protection from the prevailing winds but left us feeling uneasy because of unsettled weather conditions—places as diverse as the east side of California’s Catalina Island or the desolate lee of Double Island Point, Australia. In late 2009 we lay very comfortably in the lee offered by the reefs of Penrhyn Atoll in the South Pacific. Weather reports from WWVH mentioned that the South Pacific Convergence Zone was drifting closer to our position, and with it would come a potential wind shift and squally, intensified trade winds. To keep our “sail insurance” fully topped up, we put two reefs in the mainsail before we turned in for the night, and we left the staysail lying on the foredeck, ready to use with its sheets fully rigged, just in case the wind changed and blew in from seaward. By morning, the wind had shifted about 20 degrees, and even though the reef still offered some protection, the anchorage began to get restless. With the perfect sail combination ready to use, we didn’t hesitate to raise sail and head for Samoa. Even if you have an engine, it is important to have sails ready to use, sails the correct size for worst-case conditions. Shutdown can occur even with the most trustworthy engine in the world. (See reasons for engine shut downs at the end of the chapter.) Sails of the correct size at the ready can act as a backup if you have the confidence to use them.

How do you gain this confidence? First you have to consider the sheer simplicity of the basic sailing machine, compared to your engine with its hundreds of moving parts and myriad components. You personally can inspect and repair all of the gear that is required to get your sails up and pulling. If the sails are strongly built, they will work in winds from as light as 3 knots right up to 70 knots or more.
Once you consider this, you should begin practicing what we call “engine-quits drills.” Each time you are under power, think of what you would do if the engine quit “right now.” Quiz your crew and discuss possible actions. (See chapter 24 to get some ideas of possible actions to consider.)
Learn more about maneuvering under sail by leaving your engine idling in neutral and practice using sail power only—to anchor, to sail away from your anchor, to sail into a protected cove. Practice buoying the inboard end of your anchor rode and sailing free of your ground tackle. And, hardest yet most important of all, next time you are out sailing and find yourself running homeward before a fresh wind, don’t head for the harbor, even if you’re tempted by the allure of a hot rum punch and a warm shower. Instead, make the hard choice. Turn around while you still have plenty of sea room. Reef the sails and practice getting your boat to sail to windward effectively. Not only will this help you become more comfortable about sailing in strong winds, but you will gain the vital knowledge of what sail area your boat will comfortably carry in different wind and sea conditions—just like the crew of Amola II, who were able to estimate what sail area they needed to beat to windward and reach the safety of the open sea. You’ll learn what sail combination balances best, and you can assess and improve leads and sailhandling gear and maybe even decide to add some handholds or improve the nonskid areas of your deck. As your confidence grows, it pays to consider joining local sailing regattas. The close-quarters sailing offered at race start lines, plus the need to sail in both strong and light winds in order to finish the race, will help you gain confidence in your overall sailing skills.
The late Eric Hiscock, dean of cruising under sail, told us many years ago: “The biggest change I’ve seen over the past 40 years is that people have stopped thinking of their boats as sailing vessels with auxiliary motors and come to consider them motor boats with auxiliary sails. Therefore, few are learning to maneuver well under sail.” Our most recent voyaging has shown that this trend has continued, to the point that during our monthlong stay in 2008 in Tonga’s islands—where winds are steady, passages and anchorages are open and easy to enter—we rarely saw the visiting yachts use their sails. In 1985, 18 of the 21 yachts anchored at Neiafu participated when an impromptu race was organized (and folks from the other three boats crewed that day), but in 2008, only seven or eight boats of almost 100 cruising yachts joined the Friday-night races, even though the winning crew was offered a free round of drinks at the local café. Consider turning the tables and relegating your engine to its place as an auxiliary. By getting out sailing more and motoring less, by practicing engine-quits drills in ever-closer quarters and then upgrading your boat and its gear so you can swiftly switch to sail power, you will be prepared to take advantage of “sail insurance.” This could convert an actual engine shutdown from a frightening or even life-endangering “Mayday” situation into just a minor incident, one that gives a sense of inner satisfaction. Let your smooth transition be visible to dockside loungers and it could also give a real a boost to your reputation—as the crew of the Cal 40 Amola II learned after their excellent performance at Cabo San Lucas.
Some Causes of Engine Shutdown and Possible Solutions
Reason for Shutdown Possible Solution
* Fuel runs out
Add a fuel gauge that is visible in the cockpit. Carry a spare jug of fuel.
*Air leaks in fuel pickup system
Use a header tank instead of fuel pump. Add a pressure pump to the fuel line (as used for outboard motor).
*Dirt or water in fuel
Two switchable fuel filters with clear sediment bowls in easy-to-view positions. Plan regular inspections and check them off in the logbook.
*Dirt in tanks (sediment, rust, or bits left over from original construction can be shaken loose in rough seas or in a grounding)
Install inspection plates on each tank. Clean out tanks on a regular basis.
*Airlock in seawater cooling system (sometimes caused by intake lifting clear of the water during a heavy roll in a beam sea)
Reposition saltwater intake through-hulls as low as possible on the hull.
Plastic bag plugs cooling-water intake
Install two through-hull fittings for saltwater intake. Very low chance of both becoming blocked at the same time.
Mangrove seed plugs intake (it happened to a neighbor twice in one month)

Be sure there is a screen over any intake through-hulls.
Overheat alarm shuts down
Consider a possible override of the system for emergency situations. (Several boats at Cabo San Lucas had engines overheat and shut down due to sand and debris stirred up by the storm. A few more minutes of engine use could have helped them reach open water, where they could have set sails.)
Oil-pressure alarm shuts down
Possible override of the system or switch to an alarm-only system instead of one that shuts down the engine.
*Line in the propeller
Line-cutting spurs on shaft.
Consider sailing instead of using power in places like Maine, where lobsterpots are as thick as mosquitoes. When you have a stern anchor set, place a can or plastic container over the gearshift lever to remind you to take in all slack on the line (and also to check overboard for jibsheets) before putting the engine in gear.

Electric starting motor fails due to any number of problems—including, but not limited to, flat battery, wiring defect, lightning strike, electrical short
Have a backup starting system. For small boats, try hand-crank systems. For larger ones, consider hydraulic or spring starters.
(We discuss these options in The Self-Sufficient Sailor.)
* indicates those situations we have encountered on delivery jobs

[1] For more on battenless mainsails, see The Self-Sufficient Sailor.
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Old 02-03-2014, 18:18   #2
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Re: Engine-free cruising

I might have said this before on this forum, but it does seem to me the safest boat of all would be one in which the engine and drivetrain were specified and maintained as if there were no sails, and the sailing rig
(but also, and most importantly - and this I think is Lin's most piercing insight: the sailing SKILLS) were procured and maintained as if there were no engine.

In principle, I personally almost always try to sail as though there were no safety net,

but in practice it's hard not to lose that edge of rigour in your practice and planning which, for me, only reaches full expression when there is no (workable) alternative to sails.

And personally, if diesel fuel is priced beyond my means by the time my next boat is a reality rather than a distant prospect, my biggest regret would be in the many many hours spent on devising a truly reliable engineroom.

But in some ways it would be neat to sail around with a functional engine, and a small sealed container of diesel, cherished like a bottle of heirloom champagne ...

"Only to be used in genuine emergency"
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Old 02-03-2014, 18:30   #3
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Re: Engine-free cruising

It is not meant as a criticism but rather an observation: there are some on this Forum who could not conceive of living without their engines, generators, inverters, AIS, refrigeration, outboard motors, radar, solar panels, wind generators, blenders, satnav, satellite phones, autohelms, air conditioning, etc. This is because they represent the mainstream of sailing /humanity and their experience on the water is directly related to the possession of these conveniences. It is difficult, if not impossible, to convice them that these items are not indispensible to cruising or to life in general. In fact, to do so is a waste of time. Whenever people are counter-cultural and do not embrace the average man's concept of living, they will continually encounter antipathy or criticism to their lifestyle. And,unfortunately, it is a desire of some intelligent souls to defend their Spartan lifestyles in hopes of enlightening others to the beauty they see in life without the entrapments of technology and the modern world. This can be very disappointing. Life is a novel of human experience. Only you can write the pages. Good luck and good cruising.
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
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Old 02-03-2014, 18:39   #4
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

Thank you Lin.
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Old 02-03-2014, 18:55   #5
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

I like your thoughts, particularly with the deep passages and trade winds, but I also find that the adherance to sail only, though it sounds most pure and honorable, is very limiting for many. During the historic exclusive age of sail many hardworking oarsmen on longboats and many hours of waiting for favorable current replaced the motors, not some stoic dependance on relying on sail alone. There is nothing that diminsihes the adventures of cruising on a sailboat by breaking an inlet or cruising up an estuary against the current with an engine. Don't attempt to defend the idea that you can accomplish the timing and destinations that those with an auxilary engine can execute. I admire engineless cruisers, but no more than I admire vegans and the Amish.
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Old 02-03-2014, 19:42   #6
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

It seems to be a common assumption in these threads that many/lots/most sailors are unable to cope if the engine fails. Perhaps I see too much of that side of the discussions and maybe I'm overly optimistic but I believe the majority of sailors have no problem managing a boat under sail without the assistance of the engine.

Not to say that there aren't plenty of sailors on the water that would be in trouble if the engine died and certainly it's a point that all sailors, especially the new or less experienced should be aware of, but I see this as no more of a problem than say over-reliance on GPS, failure to monitor weather, etc.

To cruise and circumnavigate without an engine is an admirable feat of seamanship but for me I just see engineless cruising as limiting. There are too many places and situations that are too risky to try or just completely inaccessible without an engine. For me the added cost, maintenance and space of the engine vs greater flexibility in when and where I can go is a trade off I choose to make.
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Old 02-03-2014, 19:53   #7
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

Heck of a nice thought, enginless cruiseing! But if ya ever cruise the PNW and have to make a bar or river entrance you will sure wish ya had an engine!! Cus ya know the wind don't always blow the right way!! The old time working schooner sailors of the west coast were some of the best sailors that ever worked a vessel!! And they spent many days waiting for wind changes to let them enter many of the entrances in the PNW!! Be proud of your engine and maintain it as if your life depends on it !! Cus maybe it will sometime !! Just my OLD 2 cents
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Old 02-03-2014, 19:57   #8
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

> During the historic exclusive age of sail many hardworking oarsmen on longboats and many hours of waiting for favorable current replaced the motors, not some stoic dependance on relying on sail alone.

I'm currently re-reading "Riddle of the Sands". Lots of waiting for current and towing the boat with a dinghy in there (to say nothing of all the running aground and kedging off) The book would have been a lot shorter if they had an engine
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Old 02-03-2014, 19:59   #9
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

I was too quick in responding above with my thoughts of not accepting the perceived "lesser state" of having an engine. When rereading the original post I understand the emphasis is on the preparation and reliance of depending upon the skills of quickly engaging the sails when the engine quits. I've had more than one event when my engine quit in a confined space with current. One of those times the quick deplyment of a sail made my situation safer and another time it was the quick engagement of my anchor. I still rebel against the purist that would not accept the use of an engine, but it's my mistake to take that stand with the message initiating this thread!
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Old 02-03-2014, 20:20   #10
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

As a relative newcomer to the whole sailing thing (2nd boat, 10 years, soon-to-be full-timer), the problem I see with engineless cruising is that marinas, small channels, locks, waterways, and other close-in areas are no longer designed with the sailor in mind. Exactly the opposite; they are designed for tight-manourvering powered boats. Heck, in some marinas and tight passes sailing is banned.

I have no problem cruising engine-free away from man-made systems. I can, and do, sail into and out of most anchorages. Underway is no problem. And we almost never throw on the diesel just to make time. When we cruise we try very hard to have no where to go, and plenty of time to get there. So if there's no wind, we wait.

All that is fine until I come into a marina packed cheek-to-jowl with expensive boats. My full-keel, heavy displacement (i.e. lots of inertia) boat is simply not as manoeuvrable as most others. Even under power, it is a challenge. I'm certainly not the best sailor (far from it), but I think marina and facility design also drives the need for engines these days ... or do I just need more practice .

P.S. I'd love to run with a yuloh or other sculling oar. I've not heard this done on a boat our size (28,000#). Any relevant experience out there?
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Old 02-03-2014, 20:44   #11
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

(Typing this for the second time, thanks Google Chrome - sigh ...)

I bet I'm not the only one reading through Lin's list of things which can cause engines to render themselves unfit for service without warning, and remembering, remembering....

Most of them seem to me to be addressable (in a perfect world) by diligent maintenance and/or procedures.

But the one which stood out as NOT meeting this test is cooling water intake blockages. Sure, some inlets block more readily than others, but even that does not strictly make the problem amenable to the above remedies.

Not wishing to hijack YET another thread, I've started one on this topic, at

I suppose the tie-in with the direction with this thread is currently taking is this:

As has been pointed out, most cruisers can probably cope well enough with random engine stoppages, except (as I think someone else implied) at certain crucial moments when time and searoom are in critically short supply.
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Old 02-03-2014, 20:53   #12
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

Originally Posted by StuM View Post

The book would have been a lot shorter if they had an engine
Very telling quotation.

I sailed one designs in junior high school, no motors on them. In senior high school crewed on SORC race boats sometimes with out power. My Dad had several boats with Atomic 4 inboards that at times were the same as being without power.

Currently have a Seawind that some folks think is under powered with two 9.9 Yamaha outboards; max speed with both motors wide open is seven knots or so while I sail at ten knots plus with impunity. At any rate I seldom use the engines for anything but getting in and out of harbors and dropping and pulling up the hook.

The fly in the ointment is that I am a singlehander. It is hard for me to imagine doing a lot of things without an engine.

How many singlehanders are able to sail with out engines.
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Old 02-03-2014, 20:57   #13
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

I would have no problem with engineless people sailing as long as they weren't waiting at a harbor entrance with a towline in their hand.
My lesson on engine failure was when I motored out of the harbor channel in Moss Landing and did not have the main ready to go up. Engine quit and I was quickly looking at the Jetty Jacks. Raising the main in a narrow channel with a beam wind was tricky getting the main up due to the battens hanging up in the lower shroads. We made it but not without a heart pounder. Never again...main is up as soon as possible.
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Old 02-03-2014, 20:58   #14
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

Originally Posted by tomfl View Post

How many singlehanders are able to sail with out engines.
I managed, for a season, but it was a small boat (20')

Did lots of warping (flippers in constant use for taking out lines)

Some of the best fun I've ever had.

My itineraries were always intentionally aimless, though
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Old 02-03-2014, 21:06   #15
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Re: Engine-free Cruising

Originally Posted by Celestialsailor View Post
I would have no problem with engineless people sailing as long as they weren't waiting at a harbor entrance with a towline in their hand...
Do you have a similar view of people who don't own cars; all fine as long as they don't hitch-hike?
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