Sunday, June 19, 2011

The right-size boat

This blog post is in response to a comment from a reader about "Meanwhile, back at the boatyard...":

I understand your attraction to the Pacific Seacraft sailboats, the Dana 24 and the Flicka 20. They are sweet-looking little boats, and in the proper circumstances, I am sure they would be enjoyable to sail. In fact, each is small enough to be trailerable, which opens up all kinds of sailing possibilities. Being small, they are also less expensive to purchase and maintain than larger sailboats.

Unfortunately, for me at least, that is where the advantages end. Smaller boats are naturally slower. This is partly a function of hull shape. Because a boat's beam needs to be wide enough to accommodate a comfortable cabin, smaller boats end up being shaped more like stout rowboats than sleek canoes, with a corresponding loss of performance. The smaller hull size lends itself well to the incorporation of a full keel, which helps with trailerability but reduces maneuverability and adds surface drag.

Smaller sailboats naturally accommodate smaller crews and offer less storage space, so they are not well suited to long-distance cruising, which might require rotating watch shifts and enough food and water to feed a hungry crew for an extended period. You mentioned that someone sailed a Dana 24 or a Flicka 20 from California to Tahiti, but I'll bet that it was just one person, that the boat was loaded to the gills with provisions, that the passage took several months, and that he was lucky to have favorable wind and wave conditions most of the way.

What I am leading to here is the issue of safety. I have been on small sailboats in bad conditions, and it is no fun. It can be downright scary. When the waves are huge and the wind is howling, there is so much motion in a small sailboat that it can be difficult to make any headway at all. And a boat that is not moving forward is like a raft, at the mercy of the elements. A larger sailboat, instead of riding up and over the waves, will plow through them. Its greater length and weight give it better stability and smoother motion, which keeps it making headway in all but the worst conditions.

My recommendation to you is that after you have taken the sailing lessons you have scheduled for July, you should evaluate what type of sailing you would like to pursue. If it's sailing inland lakes or coastal cruising, then a Dana 24 or Flicka 20 might be the perfect boat for you. But if you dream of crossing oceans, you should seriously consider a larger sailboat, one more in the 36- to 50-foot range.

Best of luck to you as you embark on one of life's most rewarding journeys!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More fun with Google Maps

My friend Capt. John Kretschmer departed from Solomons, Maryland yesterday morning on a transatlantic passage in Quetzal, his 1987 Kaufman 47. With fair winds and good weather, he and his crew should arrive in Cork, Ireland on or about July 11. Since I maintain his website for him, John asked if I would post position updates from his SPOT beacon as he sent them via email. I agreed that I would, but I wanted to do more than just copy and paste the latitude and longitude coordinates and their associated links. I have seen other sailing websites that display images showing passage progress, point by point, but when I looked into them, I found that they either required a subscription fee or they only covered coastal areas. This led me back to Google Maps and its My Maps features, but I found that I couldn't position placemarks exactly by latitude and longitude. Some searching on Google revealed that the only way to do this is to import placemarks from outside sources, using a KMZ or KML file format. Well, I found that the process of creating, exporting and importing placemarks in these formats is not explained very well anywhere that I could find, so here is an explanation of how I created the position chart for John's transatlantic passage:

First of all, you need a software application that will create KMZ or KML files. The one I already had installed was Google Earth, which I don't use very often anymore since Google Maps came online. Then you need the latitude and longitude, in Google-friendly format, from the SPOT beacon's email message. Here is some of what is contained in a SPOT message:

GPS location Date/Time:06/12/2011 10:50:38 EDT,-75.95612&ll=36.99486,-75.95612&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

The highlighted text above contains the latitude and longitude and can be copied and pasted into Google Earth's search feature. (It may be necessary to paste the entire Web address into Notepad or another text editor in order to make the latitude and longitude selectable.)

After Google Earth rotates the earth and zooms in on the latitude and longitude, it shows a new placemark on its map and also under the search feature. Right-clicking on either placemark brings up a menu of choices. Choose "Save Place As...", and then choose a folder location on your computer. The default file name and type are fine. Click the Save button.

Open Google Maps ( and click on My Maps. Create a new map or edit an existing one. Click the Import link, browse to the KMZ file created above, and click the Upload button. Just as in Google Earth, Google Maps shifts its focus to display the new placemark, which may then be edited for icon, title and description by right-clicking and choosing Properties.

That's all there is to it. It's not exactly intuitive but it's also not too complicated a process to follow in order to get exact latitude and longitude coordinates into Google Maps.

If you would like to follow Quetzal's transatlantic passage in Google Maps, please click here. It will be updated daily so be sure to check back frequently. Thank you.