Get Ready for High Latitudes
Cruisers equipped for the tropics will find they need new gear when they sail toward the poles
Nearly any seaworthy blue-water sailboat is capable of cruising successfully in the high northern and southern latitudes. Alvah Simon, for instance, spent a year in the Chilean channels aboard Zenie P., his 31-foot plywood Golden Hind, and Willy Kerr took his production Contessa 32 to Baffin Island in the north and to Antarctica in the south.
For the most part, the question of what boat to take to these latitudes has more to do with comfort than safety. This isn't the case, though, when it comes to equipment. The crews that we saw get into trouble in Patagonia, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland did so not because of the boat itself but because, for example, they were surprised by quickly changing weather conditions, lacked adequate ground tackle, or had no way to get shore lines in place quickly and easily. For those contemplating voyages to the ends of the Earth, it pays to recognize that even the best-
equipped tropical cruising boat will need some new equipment, and much of it w ill be essential for safety.
The high latitudes differ from the tropics in the frequency of gale- and storm-force winds; the possibility of short-lived but violent gusts from almost any direction; the cold temperatures together with ice, snow, and hail; the prevalence of difficult, rock-and kelp-covered bottoms; the presence of large tidal ranges (in excess of 20 feet in some areas) and the resulting currents; and the remoteness and isolation of most of the cruising grounds. Safety in these areas requires a variety
of equipment, but fortunately, this gear can be added without the necessity of undertaking a major retrofit.
Strong winds, tidal currents, and rocky, kelp-covered bottoms make anchoring a challenge. On some boats, ground tackle that had served well for years of temperate and tropical voyaging proved inadequate in these harsher settings. Nothing beats weight to cut through kelp and find a purchase on an uneven bottom, as the popularity of the old fisherman anchor among high-latitude sailors attests.
To give some idea of how heavy is heavy enough, a 45-pound CQR proved inadequate for a Rhodes 41 until the crew increased its weight by a third by adding lead to it. Most of the charter boats we saw sailing Cape Horn and the Antarctic were between 40 and 60 feet long and carried 75- to 110-pound anchors on their bows. Our primary anchor, a 110-pound Bruce, is one size larger than recommended by the manufacturer for our 47-foot boat, but it's proven itself in the high latitudes.
A tandem anchor solution offers a viable alternative for those who can't carry that much weight on the bow. The secondary anchor is shackled on a 6-foot length of chain led from the main anchor. If the primary anchor begins to drag, the secondary one sets and helps to reset the primary. To make retrieval easier, a 10-foot length of line is tied to the shaft of the secondary anchor and to the chain aft of the primary anchor. To lower the system, the secondary anchor is
In the rugged environment found in the extreme north or south, securing the boat often means taking lines ashore in addition to dropping an anchor.
dropped over the side, and the primary anchor is dropped as usual. To raise the hooks, the primary anchor is pulled home to the bow roller. Then the length of line is untied from the chain and used to pull up the secondary anchor, either by hand or by using the rope gypsy on a windlass. After repeatedly dragging their 45-pound CQR, the crew of a 45-foot pilothouse ketch began using a tandem-anchor arrangement with two 45-pound CQRs, and they had no more problems.
With a proper anchor, chain i doesn't need to be larger than i what one would use in the i tropics. Those venturing to Chile, however, will want to be ! sure they have at least 300 feet
Shore lines, up to 600 feet long, need to be easily deployed. A stainless-steel spool (above) is found on some sailboats, but a mesh bag on the deck (below) can do the trick.
of rode to allow for backing up close to shore in deep anchorages with large tidal ranges.
The high, mountainous terrain in some high-latitude areas, particularly in the Chilean channels, funnels and accelerates the wind and in gale conditions creates willi-waws, which are katabatic gusts that can reach storm-force or greater. Rocky hills that have been scrubbed clean of vegetation predominate in areas subject to williwaws, while small stands of trees along the shoreline indicate niches protected from these winds. To get a good night's sleep, we learned to pull the boat as close to these trees as we could possibly get using shore lines. We spent many comfortable days tucked up into the trees, with barely any wind on the hull itself, while storm-force williwaws chased whitewater across the anchorage 100 yards off our bow.
Those planning to spend a season in the Chilean channels should equip their boats with at least three 300-foot lines and, ideally, one 600-foot line. All should be set up for easy deployment. In most situations, floating lines, such as polypropylene or Spectra, are preferable to nylon. These lines don't absorb water, so they'll remain lightweight, easy to handle from the dinghy, and relatively free of kelp. However, anchoring amid ice requires lines that sink to allow the ice to float over them, so nylon is preferred for Antarctica. Commercial-fishing chandleries carry a wide range of
Gambo, which has made two trips to Antarctica, keeps two oversized anchors on the bow and ready to go.
polypropylene lines that vary greatly in their feel and the way they coil. We used a four-strand line purchased from a chandlery in Ireland that proved easy on the hands and was virtually free of kinks. While ground tackle needs to be oversized, shore lines can be somewhat smaller than normal because if the boat has been properly tucked into the trees, these won't have to handle shock loads from waves or gusts. Half-inch to 5/8-inch lines proved adequate for boats up to 50 feet.
Swimming isn't an option, so it pays to have an inflat-
We saw a variety able, engine, and of methods for de- backup dinghy. ploying shore lines quickly. These included everything from fancy, custom-made stainless-steel reels mounted somewhere on deck to 300-foot coils of line draped around granny bars or handrails on deck. The reels make both deployment and retrieval quick and easy, and they're a good investment for anyone planning to spend a season or more in Chile. We used large mesh bags for deploying
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