Saturday, January 16, 2010

Autumn Moon

Vero Beach

Note: Mark, Sue and Autumn Moon are made up names. I never intentionally publish personal information in this blog that might embarrass people.

I've blogged before about how I admired intrepid cruisers who set forth in boats much smaller than typical cruising sailboats; some as little as 23 feet. As I brag about how much Libby and I downscale our needs, we meet people who seem to get along fine with significantly less than we do. Autumn Moon is an extreme case of a couple who perhaps carried it too far.

We first met Autumn Moon here in Vero in December. Mark and Sue are the owners. Libby and I love that couple. They are wonderful people and we care for them. They come from British Columbia.

First the boat: Autumn Moon is an O'day 25 foot ketch. “What?” you say. O'day never made a ketch. That's true. An O'day 25 is a familiar sight in inland lakes where people do day sailing. That's what they are designed for.

Mark added a mizzen mast and a mizzen sail himself. That's something I've never seen done before. Mark did a lot of other things to that boat. He found that deck was fastened to the hull only by a handful of screws. Mark added numerous bolts. Then he built a very sturdy rub rail around the outside with glass over wood that makes the bond very sturdy. He also added external chain plates like those on a Westsail 32. He also bolted the internal bulkheads in place. Autumn Moon is very much stronger than an ordinary O'day. Of course, that makes her heavier too.

Mark also took a Briggs and Stratton gasoline engine, added an automobile alternator, and installed the whole thing at the rear of his cockpit as an onboard generator. He has 3 large marine batteries under the cockpit floor. (I can only fit 2 on Tarwathie.) When he fires up that monster generator, it makes a terrible noise. However, he needs to run it only 5 minutes to top off his batteries.

Autumn Moon has no inboard engine. Instead she has a 3.5 hp outboard engine mounted on a bracket on the stern. Mark found the engine in the trash it runs fine, except that he can't use more than half throttle. Top usable horsepower is therefore 1.75 hp.

The interior of Autumn Moon I can't describe. Sue apologizes that she can't invite people onboard because there's no room. She says, "There isn't even enough room for us to turn around." I understand. They carry 30 one-gallon jugs for water. Mark carries a complete set of power tools including a skill saw and a belt sander. When they cook supper for themselves, they must serve it in the cockpit, because there’s no room down below. On those cold miserable days that must be awful. I imagine that every cubic centimeter of the inside of that boat that isn’t used for sleeping is full of stuff. No place to sit. No place to stand. No place to stretch or to turn around.

Poor Sue can't stand being cooped up inside that boat for anything other than sleeping. Therefore, Mark and Sue spend almost all their time on shore or on other people's boats. In that they uncovered a bonanza. If you have the least accommodating boat in the harbor, and if you are open in complaining about it, the flood gates of hospitality open wide. I can't say for sure that this couple is invited out for dinner 7 days a week, but it must be close to that.

What about Autumn Moon’s voyage down here to Florida from New Brunswick, Canada? The early part was uneventful and the weather was nice. When they got to Buzzards Bay Massachusetts, the weather began to change. They ducked in to a little harbor to seek shelter. The locals there don’t normally allow cruisers to use their harbor, but they gave Autumn Moon a free mooring and a local woman rowed out in a dinghy to invite them to dinner.

They sailed down to Block Island, RI. There the conditions turned rough in the open ocean. They got knocked down by a big wave. A knock down in a sailboat means that the boat heels so much that the mast and the sails go in the water. The boat recovered. Seconds later, they got knocked down a second time. Clearly, Autumn Moon was no match for the conditions. They sought the nearest shelter, which was Montauk, NY on Long Island. The people in Montauk were very hospitable. They sheltered and fed Mark and Sue for 2 weeks. The weather didn’t let up.

Finally, Mark located a man with a flatbed truck who was hauling cars south. The man agreed to also put Autumn Moon on the bed of the truck and to take it to Savannah Georgia. That worked fine. From Savannah down to Vero Beach, Mark and Sue could continue in the sheltered waters of the ICW.

What next? Mark wants to go to the Bahamas and to Cuba. That thought gives me chills. I worry about what would happen to Autumn Moon if she got pooped out in the Gulf Stream. As I wrote before, getting pooped is a very serious threat to sailboats. (See my recent blog post Pooped.) Autumn Moon I fear is especially vulnerable. She has a large cockpit relative to her total size. She may also be overloaded. My friend Don said that sailboats should carry no more than 10-15 percent of their total displacement as cargo. He thinks that Autumn Moon may be carrying 40-60 percent of her weight in cargo. That tiny little outboard is also too feeble to allow Autumn Moon to outrun following waves, and if she is pooped the outboard will be submerged and stop working immediately. I talked to Mark about my concerns. He says that he is aware of the pooping problem, and that he installed oversize cockpit drains to compensate. He’s confident. I’m skeptical.

Don and I, and other cruisers gossiping here in Vero think that Autumn Moon should continue cruising on the ICW. Florida’s west coast offers numerous opportunities for a little boat with shallow draft to gunkhole in sheltered waters. They could have a good time there. However, taking that vessel out into the Gulf Stream sounds much too perilous IMHO.

Many times, the high ambitions of cruisers to circumnavigate or to sail away to exotic lands get tempered. Indeed, Libby and I on Tarwathie are examples. Our first year, we intended to head for Alaska, and from there to circumnavigate. To make a long story short, we changed our minds. We hope that Mark and Sue also change their minds and remain safe. Whatever they do, we wish them well.

So what’s the point? Libby and I continue to advocate the simple life offered by cruising. Clearly, one can overdo it. The scale of the equipment, the cruising ambitions, and the needs of each person on board must find a harmonious compromise. Some people get along with even less than Autumn Moon; most people can't.

Below are two views of Autumn Moon rafted up with Tarwathie. That enables you to compare their relative sizes.


  1. Hi Dick,

    Now that it's winter, I'm enjoying your blogs even more - thanks for writing them (even when you are "parked" for a while -- they are just as fun to read then).

    I just thought I'd mention that in the photo of you and "Autumn Moon" rafted up, the name of AM is clearly visible on her stern. I figured you might want to blur it out a bit, given what you said at the beginning of this entry.

    No need to publish this comment, by the way. It's just "FYI."

  2. Dear Dick and Libby,

    Your blog has been a great source of entertainment, education, and inspiration to us. Thank you for it and please keep up the good work! I'm afraid I'll show my ignorance with this question, but here goes. Do Westsail 32s have 2 cabins or one? I seem to recall you writing about having guests and you had to haul all the stuff out of 'the attic' to accomodate them. By this I understood you meant the v berth. So where do you guys sleep? I would appreciate details about the day to day living aboard. My husband, Robert and I have 14 years until we hope to undertake the plunge.


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