How Will We Prepare – Crew Readiness

When I thought about these preparatory posts, I was thinking of crew readiness as a simple factor focused on health and knowledge.  As I worked through it a bit, it became clear to me that those aspects are huge, especially knowledge.

Our boating philosophy is a combination of KISS and gear-head.  For example, it is simpler to turn on a GPS and get a position than it is to take sun and star sightings, do the math using the tables, and hope that the position is right.  Given that we’ve made that decision, we must have enough GPS devices that even catastrophic events can’t take them all down.  For example, one must be in a place that is insulated from lightening strikes.

Our lack of knowledge about and comfort with sextant-based navigation strongly affects the choices we make in gear.  In the boat readiness part of this series, I focused on things that the boat itself requires in order to be seaworthy.  In this part, there are some overlaps and some items that would almost surely belong in boat readiness, except that I think they are a function of us – our knowledge, skills, and needs.

Physical Health

James and I are in decent condition.  He’s stronger and more fit than I am, but we both have cardio and weight routines that keep us in good shape.  Trainers who understand the stresses of sailing aren’t a dime a dozen, so we have each found machines and exercises that strengthen the muscles we use most while under sail.

I’m working very, very hard on my core strength – abs, chest, back – but also trying to build some muscle in my arms.  Tiller steering is tough if we don’t have the boat balanced correctly so I can ease the work load with better sail trim – which is also work!  Regardless, I need to be able to hand-steer my four-hour shifts if necessary, and it is most likely to be necessary during bad weather.  As I said in the boat readiness post, the Aries will be operational for the trip (dammit) and hand-steering ought to be unnecessary.  However, in the event that something goes wrong, I absolutely must be able to take shifts with James.

My legs are pretty strong from years of bike riding, but I’m looking for some good exercise that could mimic the balancing needs of moving around on a boat.  Perhaps doing my bicep curls while standing on one of those half-ball platform things?  I don’t know what I’ll do, but I do know that the far more static leg presses and squats I’m doing currently – they don’t even begin to approximate the way my legs will be tested at sea.

Last but not least, I have finally gotten into the swing of stretching.  I stretch before exercising and then do a long set of stretches afterward.  Best of all, I change into a bathing suit and saunter into the pool area (I do love my gym) for a long soak in the hot tub.  Not only does this give me the deep heat I enjoy, it also gives me a nice noodle feeling in my worked muscles.  Another set of stretches in the hot tub and I leave the gym feeling great.

James is doing very similar work and it’s showing on him.  His arms always look great, as soon as he starts working out.  His pecs are stronger now than I’ve ever seen them and he’s doing a lot of back and shoulder weightlifting as well.  I worry about him a little – does he stretch enough?  He is far more flexible than most guys his age, so I figure the answer must be yes.  However, I’m convinced that most of my bad wounds have been side effects of stiffness and lack of flexibility.  I want us both to be fluid while moving around this boat at sea.  So to speak…

That’s about health – what about illness and injury?  We have two medical kits – one marketed toward boaters and a smaller one we took to India with us.

The bigger one has a large splint, eyewash, a syringe, and other supplies for the big-deal injuries.  The smaller has mostly bandaids, bacitracin, and burn cream.  I need to replenish the bandaids and check expiration dates on the creams and such.  Other than that, I’m considering whether we should add a suture kit and/or IV kit.  I might have sewn James’ head on the Hawaii trip, had we been prepared for that.   I’d rather not see this on the next trip, but…

We also need to keep a supply of the usual medications – prilosec for James’ bad belly, aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen.  We’ll need some Tylenol PM and we’ll probably pick up some 222s when we are in Canada.  Neither of us take any prescription medications  – one fewer thing to worry about.

Mental Health

I’m trying to manage my excitement, fear, and anticipation more smoothly, this time, than I did preparing for the trip to Hawaii.  I dealt well behaviorally, but the stresses broke out in another way – shingles.  Oh, was that ever horrible!  Terrible pain around my ribs while hauled out and grinding blisters…not the best situation.


(In this photo, I’m either feeling better or fronting like a motherfucker.  Oh, and that’s my “Masturbation Militia” shirt from marching with Babeland in the 1999 Seattle Pride Parade.  I miss that shirt.  Always got me the best reactions from checkout clerks.  Ah, the days before self-checkout…)

When I meditate regularly, I can feel the pulls and pushes of deadlines, to-do lists, and what-ifs as a flow around the still point of me.  When I let myself start chasing all these things, that’s when I lose the balance that will keep me happy and healthy.

The only other mental health aspect I can think of right now – handling addictions.  We’ll stock up on coffee rather than give up that addiction, but I’m not sure what James will decide to do about smoking.  I think he needs to decide very soon, because quitting right before we leave sounds like far more stress than either of us wants to deal with underway!

We’ve both been drinking more in the last few years than we did before that.  Though I might consider cutting it out, we’re going to stock up instead.  Hard alcohol is expensive in Greenland, and we’re hoping that sharing a bottle will be considered a good guest-gift.  Where we don’t want to spend money, perhaps there will be trades possible…and if we consume some of our trade-goods, oh well!

Comfort at sea

Food, clothing, and warmth.  These are the basics of comfort (along with meclazine).

I’m logging all my food purchases now so that we can have a comprehensive list of the things we eat.  I’d like to get a great deal on these things, so the list will get turned into a proposal.  If we buy everything we need from Whole Foods, what kind of deal might we be able to get?  I’m talking about case quantities on most things and large bulk buys of basics like rice and beans.  When we shopped for the Hawaii trip, we bought so much that we were still eating the canned fruit a year later.  That sounds pretty good to me, since we’re heading into uncertain financial territory.  The more food we have on board, the less we have to buy later.

Our bibs and coats are great.  They will do just fine for windy, sunny days.  At that point, we basically need waterproof windbreakers that cover our whole bodies and those garments will be fine.  On the other hand…

We went to Bacon on James’ day off and looked at all their good stuff.  We had hoped to trade some of our old things for some new-old things, but instead we paid cash money for two Mustang survival suits.

Dena's SuitJames' Suit

These suits are padded for flotation and warmth, they go on and come off in one piece, and James’ even has pee-access without stripping.  The tubes over our left shoulders are for inflating the head float in the back.  They have lots of pockets and attachment points.  These suits (plus a selection of gloves and some great boots) will surely do the trick, even if we run into cold-ass nights among the icebergs and bergy bits.

Warmth is a worry.  We can run our electric blanket off an inverter, but what about cabin warmth?  We have a propane heater, which would be enough if it weren’t for the difficulty of obtaining propane in Greenland.  I quite literally don’t know how we will manage to get any.  We could very well leave Newfoundland or Nova Scotia with full tanks and arrive in Greenland empty.  Without refilling, that could make the exploration of Greenland and the sail to Iceland…well…cold.

On that front, I’m banking on weather like this:

That’s the boat Morgan’s Cloud in Greenland, where they transported the scientist pictured to small villages all over the coast.  Read up on their trip – it’s fascinating.  By the way, they are the source of one of my favorite aphorisms:

  • What Really Matters

    • Keep the water out
    • Keep the crew on the boat
    • Keep the keel side down
    • Keep the mast up
    • Keep the rudder on

    The rest is small stuff.


Harnesses, pfds, tethers.  We have all of them and are comfortable using them.  We will set up jacklines before leaving and practice with them as we hop up the coast.  The biggest problem with safety gear is that people don’t practice with it – it stays below until needed.  In which case they end up on the foredeck in storm conditions with a tether that’s too short to let them move or that they trip over.  When your safety gear trips you up, you are in danger.

Knowledge in General

This is where I get back to the example at the top.  Our knowledge level is high when it comes to our boat and its systems.  We are experienced sailors, and we know our rig and sails well.  There are things we’ve never done on this boat – such as heave to in a storm – but we know how it works and plan to practice the next time we’re out in some heavy wind.

The gaps in our knowledge are strange in some ways.  Neither of us took any courses – James learned from his dad and I learned from James.  Our boats have taught us even more, and getting ourselves out of ridiculous situations has provided plenty more education.  So the things we don’t know are, by definition, the exceptional things.  I’m thinking about taking a course to get my Master’s license (one of the captain’s licenses available), but I don’t figure on learning a whole lot that will be useful in everyday sailing.

Other things, such as celestial navigation, will remain unknown.  We have a sextant on board and will get a book of sight reduction tables.  Then, if the satellites all fall from the sky or WWIII breaks out and the data is corrupted, we will pull out the how-to book and the tables.  Gulp.  In other words, we don’t want to do that.  To avoid it, we will have 5 or more GPS devices on the boat, and several types of power for them.

Meteorology isn’t a strength of mine, though I have a certain instinct.  I’d say James is in the same boat.  Ha.  Again, we have to supplement our information where we’re weak.  As long as we can get on the internet, we can download GRIB files and check weather forecasts in other ways.  Once we’re out of range, though…wow.  Spend a couple thousand dollars on SSB and learn to use it?  Pay for the access to data that we would need?  Ouch.  We may very well have to get forecasts, make the leap, and then deal with whatever we get.  This could be the scariest thing I’ve said in all the prep stuff.  It’s the kind of thing that would be a no-go for many people and my cautious side presses me to say the same.  On the other hand…pilot books, forecasts, and all-weather preparation put me ahead of the people who would head out in the olden days.  I do quake a bit anytime I have to compare my safety to that of the ancients.

Officialdom – No Go

Then there’s the travel factor.  We are planning to enter and exit 5 countries in 4-5 months.  This means we’ll be going through all the same border processes that anyone would experience – aboard a significant piece of property.  Customs officials will be very interested in the boat – what we’re bringing into the country and what we’ll be taking back out.  Immigration officials will be very interested in us – who we are, whether or not we can support ourselves, and when we plan to leave.

We must have multiple sets of documents whenever possible.  For example, I plan to get a couple extra official Certificates of Documentation.  I want to leave one on the boat at all times but also have one with me at all times.  If James or I have to leave the country due to some sort of emergency, we must have a copy to prove that our one-way ticket into the country doesn’t mean we plan to stay.

Jimmy Cornell authored the World Cruising Routes and World Cruising Handbook.  Big fat hardbacks, they are, with sections on each area of the world and each country’s entry and exit formalities.  He lists these as the documents one may need when entering a country:

  • Ship’s registration papers (Certificate of Documentation for us) – Go
  • Crew list (with full details of passports, date of birth etc) – Go
  • Radio licence for the boat and an operator’s licence for at least one of the crew – No Go
  • Passports and vaccination certificates – No Go on the vaccination part
  • Visas (if required)
  • Clearance papers (zarpe) from the last country visited
  • VAT paid or VAT exempt certificate (when in the EU)
  • Original of the third-party insurance for the yacht
  • Certificate of competence for the captain
  • The ship’s log
  • A list of electronic or other valuable items on board

Canada is going to want to charge a duty on booze, as will Iceland.  Maybe stocking up isn’t that important.  Or we could wait until we’re in Canada and only buy enough to get us to Iceland.

If we decide to get a kitten, that’s a whole nother ball of wax.  There is a system called, hahacute, PETS.  It’s microchipping and vaccinating and all kinds of things.  That should take care of us for the most part.  If necessary, we can keep the cat belowdecks to fulfill most requirements.


We’re almost a go.  I’m glad I started looking into the formalities early.  Sometimes I wish we were headed somewhere other than the EU (and we might have to leave it sooner rather than later).  Things are quite difficult with the EU time-limits.  In the old days, a whole bunch of countries and time limits meant a whole lot of time in Europe.  Oh well…



  1. A lot of the muscles used in balance and walking around the boat underway can be exercised in the same way I showed you to strengthen an ankle after a sprain. Stand tiptoe on one foot for even a few minutes and you will feel the strain on the muscles of the lower legs, ankles, and feet. Most people have to put a finger lightly on a firm surface to help with balance until practiced at this. It’s a simple exercise that can do wonders———–

  2. Thanks Zen, I just hope we’re not a propane bomb, ‘eh!
    Dmitry, You’re spot on with redundancy! We have a Garmin 441s GPS/GLONASS on board as well as a hand held and a wrist GPS (also from Garmin). We’ll be using the Open CPN chartplotting program on our laptops connected to the GPS network via our Garmin Handheld.

  3. How about a portable radio to receive weather charts on the laptop. I use a satphone to get grib files but have a shortwave receiver as a backup. Some free software and a longwire antenna and you’re all set.

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