A state of mind for high latitude sailing

The Reverend Bob Shepton won Yachtsman of the Year in 2014 for his adventurous sailing adventures to remote polar regions. In a new book, co-authored with fellow high latitude sailor Jon Amtrup, he shows you how you too could follow in their wake. In this exclusive extract, Bob and Jon take a look at the state of mind necessary for these kinds of voyages.

Sailing in the high latitudes requires experience, planning, stamina, guts and a special state of mind. As with most other things, you can train for a high latitude expedition. If you live in a country with a winter season – use it actively for cruising. Don’t put your boat on the hard for the cold season. Spend the weekends and afternoons sailing so that you are prepared for the real thing. Start in the autumn. Anchor in small bays that are partially exposed to learn anchoring techniques and how to arrange lines ashore. Read the weather forecast thoroughly to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations when training. When lines and anchor are set properly, you will be surprised how much wind and sea you can ride out. Be sure always to have an exit plan if things should turn out for the worst.

3 DD amongst the icebergs Uummannaq. Photo Ben Ditto, my camera - Copy - Copy

Exploring in remote areas is a challenging mind exercise. It’s not just about keeping warm and alert. As you sail along a new coast where the weather can be highly unstable, you always need to have contingency plans.

Think worst-case scenarios for when sailing, before anchoring and after you have set your anchor. What if the wind shifts? Will the anchor hold? Will ice come drifting? Where can I escape to? Do I have enough room to manoeuvre?

Always have a back-up plan for the back-up plan. Self-sufficiency and being prepared for redundancy are the key in high latitudes. And to avoid problems it is important to have established routines that work:

– Always have the boat ready for rough weather, both below and on deck. Make sure everything has its own place on board, and that everyone puts things back after use. This will give you the ability to hoist anchor immediately without a lot of things breaking or being thrown around down below.

– Establish routines on deck so that you sail with a clean deck. If you have to stow diesel cans, dinghy etc on deck, make sure they are always secured when not in use.

– Potential breakages or chafe or anything else that can become a problem must be fixed straight away. If your mindset is ‘it can wait until tomorrow’, then the problem might be a whole lot bigger and the weather much worse when it becomes essential to fix it. The moral is to fix things immediately. Always.

– Also establish routines when sailing into the night. It’s a good habit to check all halyards and sheets before night falls. They must run free and not be tangled with other lines or the rig. Prepare the sails you expect to use during the night. If you are sailing along a coast, think about which anchorages or harbours you could go into along the way if the weather should turn bad, or the feeling of tiredness becomes too overwhelming.

– When starting the engine, always check for lines in the water before pushing the button. Then check that the cooling water is pumping out freely and no unusual sound is coming from the engine. Check the oil level every morning before heading out.

– You are probably doing these things already, but all this is routine that will heighten your awareness and most likely give you a trouble-free and happy expedition.

– Think comfort before speed. It is always better to wait a few hours, or even a day or two, instead of setting out into a nasty sea or bad weather prognosis. It is easier on the boat and crew. And to be perfectly honest, what does a day or two matter in the grand scheme of things? Take the time to enjoy yourself where you are, right now.

High Latitude Sailing (ISBN: 978-1-4729-7327-6) is published on 3rd September, RRP £25. You can buy with a 10% discount direct from us here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/high-latitude-sailing-9781472973276/

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