What’s a sailing passage like?

“Do You Anchor at Night?” and Other Passage Queries

People often wonder what a sailing passage is. Our definition of a sailing passage is where you sail non-stop day and night to your destination. That might be one night or thirty or more! Here are some fun questions we have been asked about doing sailing passages:

Do you anchor at night?

On a passage the waters are too deep to anchor. For example, on our biggest passage across the South Pacific we were in waters over 1000’ deep for almost one month. We carry 300’ of 3/8” chain which would not go too far in those depths. So, passages require us to sail non-stop day and night, 24/7.

How do you carry enough food?

I calculate how many days we will be on passage and then add “emergency” rations after that. Things like dried beans and rice, cans of chili, chicken, tuna etc that would last us 1-2 months after the calculated passage time if needed. It’s a safeguard against boat breakdowns or other emergencies. We might carry 100 eggs for a 2-3 week passage, 6 rolls of paper towel and 10 rolls of toilet paper. Fresh produce and meat usually last a week or two, depending on the temperature (less time in the tropics). I find citrus lasts longer as does romaine lettuce and cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes. Fortunately, we have a fridge and a small freezer so we can carry more than we did when we sailed in 1998. We have a lot of lockers as we built the boat and put storage everywhere possible. It’s a necessity to track all the non-perishable food. I keep a laminated list and use a dry erase marker to mark how much of a particular item we have, where it is located, and how much we have used. Otherwise we would never find that bottle of ketchup!

What do you eat on a passage?

On passage, breakfast is help yourself. A typical breakfast might be yogourt, granola and the local fruit of the country we are leaving, bacon and eggs, or cereal and fruit. Lunch can be leftovers, salad in a jar (you build the salad ahead of time in a mason jar), bean or other salads, sandwiches, cheese, pickles, olives and crackers. If the weather cooperates, I might make nachos, Kraft Dinner, hot dogs or soup. In the heat, salads are often a favourite lunch fare.

Salad in a jar for lunch

Dinners are usually one pot (two maximum). The weather dictates dinner options. One-pot meals are a must when the seas are rough. I always provide warm meals unless the conditions (read high winds and rough seas) say otherwise. Normal dinners are like home, but simpler. Meat plus veggies or salad, or pasta or casseroles. I’ll make pasta, quiche, Shepard’s pie, soups, meatloaf, chicken or roasts for dinner. Again, the wave and wind conditions dictate what I cook. I do all the cooking and Dave does the dishes. Coming down the coast of Oregon I was able to make Cornish game hens! Off of Los Frailes in Mexico, dinner was a can of chili warmed up as conditions were so rough.

I often cook a few things before we leave port as I can be sea sick for the first few days and we may have rough waters. Also, being at anchor or a dock, we lose our sea legs so we need to get used to being out again. I will also look for prepared food in the grocery stores before we leave. Recently we had 7 for dinner unexpectedly so I was able to bring out pulled-pork that was was pre-prepared and served it with salad and bread.

Food, drinks and snacks are an important part of a passage. The crew always looks forward to meals and snacks. I always pack away special treats to mark milestones like when we crossed the equator or celebrations like 1000 days at sea or a birthday. On our South Pacific passage everyone got to choose their juice one day in the week. I’d put it in the freezer and serve it very cold for dinner. Everyone looked forwarded to that. Simple pleasures are what’s important on a passage.

Do you cook underway?

Definitely! Some people only like to cook when they are doing day trips (where they stop each night). On a passage that’s impossible. Dave would starve! I’m responsible for all the provisioning (shopping and planning for food and sundries) and cooking. So, yes, I prepare 3 meals a day, plus snacks.

What’s the longest passage you have done?

Our longest passage was from La Paz, Mexico to the Marquesas Islands in 1999 with our girls. It took 28.5 days.

How do you stay awake that long?

Ha, ha… you don’t. We are very careful to keep watches 24/7 on passages. When we had the kids with us we did 2 hours on and 2 hours off for Dave and I. During the day our daughter Leah would do a watch to give us both a break.

Moon rise… and squid on the deck following a night watch going from Huatulco, Mexico to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Now that it is just the two of us we have decided to do 3 hour watches. That means one of us is always on watch for 3 hours, then the other person takes over. All day and all night. I have the 2100h to midnight watch if anyone wants to message me then! And then the 0300h. to 0600h watch.

What happens on a watch?

During our watches our first responsibilities are to not hit another boat and to stay on course! Sounds easy in a big ocean but you would be surprised how many boats you see. Technology has greatly improved since we sailed offshore previously. We now have AIS – Automatic Identification System. If a boat has AIS we can see them being tracked by their unique transceivers onboard. Fortunately, ships (freighters, cruise ships) are required to have AIS. We can normally see the name of the ship, how big it is, its speed and compass course, how close to us it is (when it could possibly hit us) and where its final destination is. Other pleasure boats are not required to have AIS. We have found that fishing boats rarely have AIS. Most sailboats do carry it.

Off of Mexico had some great current going with us

With our navigation system and AIS we can see the relationship between other boats and us which helps inform if we are safe or need to change course. As well, we watch every 10-15 minutes with our eyes for boats or other obstructions (fish nets, for e.g.). We also have radar which will show thunderstorms as well as boats.

Next, we check that we are staying on course. If the wind changes direction or speed we may have to change the sail configuration, or in the case of no wind, fire up the Iron Genny (motor!).

What do you do besides watch for other boats, change sails and navigate? Do you have anything to entertain you?

Passages are a great time to read. On our circumnavigation our 11 year old daughter Leah read 17 books on the 28 day passage. With technology now Dave and I have Kindles as well as iPads. With Starlink we can even occasionally watch a downloaded movie or YouTube if we have internet.  Star and moon gazing is also a favourite pastime. Watching the ocean wildlife is probably one of the most memorable pastimes. Since leaving Canada in September we have seen many turtles, dolphins (my favourite), rays, fish, whales and all kinds of birds. We even had a bat sleep over one passage night off of El Salvador.

I never tire of seeing dolphins

What happens off watch?

Off watch activities depend on the time of day. We often will nap. I will cook the meals and provide the snacks. Sometimes it’s catching up with each other – usually in the day. During the night we definitely sleep for our 3 hours off watch.

So, as you can see, passage making has a lot of moving pieces and we are never bored!