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Getting the right voyaging boat 'look'

Jan 1, 2003

Sometimes when we've been off our boat for a few hours, out sightseeing in the sport boat or provisioning ashore or doing the laundry, we're stunned as we approach our vessel, which still looks somewhat strange to us. When we were weekend sailors, we took such pride, and spent so much time, in keeping our brightwork bright, our stainless polished, the hull waxed, and the decks cleared and scrubbed, always giving both hull and decks a freshwater rinse after every day's sail. Belowdecks, books, magazines, charts, and photograph albums were tucked neatly away. Why, we could even seat six people at our dinette, with all the space underneath the table clear for them to put their feet.

But now we have a voyaging boat, distinguishable from several hundred yards away. How have we achieved this widespread recognition? With a wind generator. A wind generator mounted anywhere on your boat will do, but for the optimum identification, mount it, as we have, atop a mizzenmast, or, if you happen not to have a ketch-rigged sailboat, on a pole equally high. Then anyone who wanders by your boat will know you're a voyager.

Upon closer inspection, the observer will note your solar panels. We recommend placing them in several locations so they can't be missed. We've mounted three rigid panels above our davits on the stern and three on the port stem pulpit, and two flexible panels on the top of the canvas dodger. The rigid panels show well; however, the flexible ones are really visible only from above, so except for viewers in low-flying helicopters, these don't give us much status.

We had the wind generator and the solar panels for some time before we began our voyaging and had gotten accustomed to them on our non-voyaging boat. For us, then, they aren't the noticeable features that label our boat as a voyaging boat, even though we've become aware of the message they send to others. For us, the many other changes on deck are more noticeable.

First, we no longer can find an unimpeded path from midships aft along the port side of the deck to the stem rail. We must crawl over, squeeze among, or circle around a number of items rarely seen aboard a non-voyaging boat. A small back-up outboard motor sits on the port stern rail. Aft of the motor is the Lifesling. Lashed to the rail and sitting on the deck are our two fold-up stainless steel bicycles in their nylon bags, which were once black but have been bleached by the sun and salt water to a grayish hue; two red plastic six-gallon jugs of spare diesel; a clear plastic five-gallon jug of water; a red plastic two-gallon jug of gasoline for the outboard; and the red plastic fuel tank for the outboard. Don't use colors other than red for these jugsred can be seen from the other side of a secluded anchorage.

For the first few months of our voyage, we kept the self-steering windvane assembled on the transom and gained another valuable tool of recognition. In a less-than-calm anchorage, though, we discovered the rolling of the parts of the vane directly behind our aft stateroom berth disturbed our sleep. Thus we had to sacrifice this token of the voyaging boat, and we keep it disassembled except when we anticipate its immediate use. But we haven't lost all its benefits. The sails that catch the wind to steer the rudder lie on the port side deck inboard of the plastic jugs and are visible to anyone alongside the boat.

Along the rail on the transom we've tied our two large, bright-orange fenders, recent additions to the three fenders in holders on the port rail. (In harbors where we have to tie, Tahiti-style, between two other boats, we've found we need enough fenders for both sides of the boat.) Anyone looking closely enough will usually see a black plastic garbage bag tucked between the two orange fenders and the deck underneath the bow of the sport boat, which rides from destination to destination majestically enthroned on the aft coach roof.

Making our way on around to the starboard stern pulpitcrawling, squeezing, muttering oathswe find two more red plastic diesel jugs, and the 15-hp Johnson outboard and its lift on the rail, alongside a 35-pound Danforth anchor. Below the anchor we've secured a 10-inch glass float we found loose in the ocean. You can begin to see how much work making an ordinary boat into a voyaging boat can be.

The decks forward of the mainmast are relatively clear. After all, we must be able to get to the sails if we're to continue to have a voyaging sailboat. We have stored along the gunwales a boat hook, a gaff, a fishing net, an anchor chain scrubber, and the rudder for the windvane. Forward of the butterfly hatch, bungee cords secure the boat ladder to the deck along with the stainless flopper-stoppers. But these items on the foredeck are fairly unobtrusive, hardly visible except to those standing on deck. Thus they don't do much for the image. The extra anchora 45-pound Deltaalongside the primary 66-pound Bruce helps, though.

The cockpit benches remain clear. We couldn't possibly give up these areas so essential for napping, reading, or lounging as we watch the whales, the dolphins, the turtles, the sunsets. We've been able make additions elsewhere in the cockpit that contribute to the voyaging image. Unfortunately, we haven't done as well as most voyaging boats in locating our life raft; it isn't out on deck in full view. Instead, we've secured it under the bench at the helm, where it goes mostly unnoticed. But we do stub our toes on it periodically to remind us of what we are.

Where the voyaging cockpit shines is up under the hard dodger on the cabin top along either side of the companionway hatch. Here we have two blue cushions matching the other cushions in the cockpit. We say we have two cushions not because we've seen them lately but because we remember them from a bygone era. What we see now are the removable doors from the companionway; a large bag full of snorkel masks, swim fins, and beach shoes; a plastic bin filled with wide-brimmed straw hats, visors and caps of many sizes and hues, and boaters' gloves; a bag of clothespins for hanging our swimsuits on the lines; two pairs of binoculars; a camera bag with two cameras and extra film; etc. We assume the blue cushions are still aboard, well protected from the effects of the sun and salt air, since they never see either.

If you follow our example, the difficult part of preparing your boat's decks is fairly complete at this point. We do caution you, however, that, as with most images, you must take care not to cross that fine linein this case the line between a voyaging boat and a garbage scow.

Occasionally, you will have to attend to the brightwork, even if only to strip it all so that it's not coming off in strips. You will decide to save your stainless (what a misnomer!). You'll find a harbor with fresh water for washing away the salt deposits and a place convenient for waxing the hull. If you have overnight guests, you'll have to clear a bunk or two for them to sleep on.

On the other hand, you'll still have the rails and decks nearly sagging under the weight of the extra gear you've brought along, so you'll not be mistaken for other than a voyaging boat.