Sailing plays a major part in the story primarily because it is a major interest of my own. As the plot for Tunnel Rat developed, sailing was always a big part of the story and became convenient for plot development. My intent from the beginning was to write an adventure tale and, for added spice, take the readers along on a modern bluewater sailing vessel and let them share the experience.
The sailing information I included is as accurate as I could make it. Some of it was drawn from the experience of others. Since I can gladly report that I have never sailed in even force 10 conditions, let alone hurricane conditions, I should give credit where credit is due. Most of the information I used to add realism to that experience came from the writings of Larry and Lin Pardey. If you google them, you will soon become familiar with two of the world’s most intrepid cruising sailors, two people who have contributed significantly to the safety of small boats at sea, and two people whom I greatly admire.
The descriptions of Pelican in the book are based on a real boat, a French-built Lagoon catamaran that is very popular. If you Google “lagoon catamaran” you will find tons of links. If you examine those links, you might recognize some of the features. The hatch that Eric dove through at the end of the book really does exist. All the Lagoon catamarans, in fact all production European catamarans, have them because they are required by their safety certification standards. Other things I described, such as the sky at night, the appearance of the sea, the sunsets, the sunrises, the phytoplankton that effervesce in the water in certain conditions, the sea life, and some of the handling of the boat, come from my own experience.
The modern bluewater sailing vessel is an extraordinary machine. They are the result of millennia of trial and error experimentation. The sailboats that are handed down to us today are highly refined and, extremely well-suited to their purpose. They are also very beautiful, as things of highly refined utility tend to be. In addition to millennia of refinement, recent decades have seen the advent of new technologies that have completely changed the calculus for offshore sailors. Here are just a few to give you an idea:
- Global GPS—With the advent of this satellite-based technology, which extends across oceans as well as on land, sailors now know where they are, their position in relation to land, their course, and their speed all the time. At least for as long as the electronics don’t crap out!
- Electronic Chartplotters—These are a Garmin for a boat using the GPS data mentioned above. They show the boat’s position just like a Garmin or your phone app shows your car’s position on land, with marine charts instead of road maps. Most of the newer ones can do a ton more. They can overlay a weather map just like Eric’s did in the book. Some of them can overlay data from a radar unit. On most of them, you can plot a course and show waypoints. Some of those can link to your autopilot and make it follow the course you’ve plotted. And that just scratches the surface. There are apps for your desktop computer, tablet or phone that perform many of those same functions. There are tide apps, light apps, knot apps; the list goes on and on.
- Global Weather Forecasting—Now we know what the weather is like over the horizon, for the next few days anyway. Unless you’re a commercial sailor on a schedule, there is no need to experience the conditions Eric experienced. If the weather isn’t perfect, stay in the tiki bar and have another beer. If it’s hurricane season, stay in the tiki bar and have lots of beers, or better yet, plan ahead to be out of the hurricane zone. If it’s perfect, go sailing. Other weather data is helpful too. For a long time, sailors have used both analog and digital wind speed and direction sensors to help them sail. Now, that information can be combined with other components to allow a boat to automatically follow a course relative to the wind. Eric used this ability when battling Hurricane Aida. All this weather is constantly changing, of course. There are apps that take all this into account, along with your boats sailing characteristics and plot the most efficient course.
- Global Communications—Single Side Band (SSB) radios have been around a long time and still work just fine. You can download weather maps and send emails with them, as well as talk to shore stations and other boats. Satellite phones are beginning to replace them. They are still expensive but they are getting cheaper. More and more sailors are beginning to use them for email and uploading data to web-based tracking systems so their families can see where they are, or even making phone calls if they don’t mind the cost.
- Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)–This technology is required equipment for all vessels sixty feet and above. It continuously transmits data to all boats within VHF range. The data includes the vessel’s position, course speed, name, size, and a lot more. It is also now very common on smaller boats, especially ocean-going boats. If you have it, all those big cargo ships show up on your screen and, even more importantly, you show up on theirs. Imagine yourself on the bridge of a giant cargo ship with a football field sized deck in front of you. You are not likely to see a small boat. With AIS, they are alerted to your presence. As far as I’m concerned, it is required equipment.
So, all this means that sailing to far shores is not nearly the risky enterprise that most people envision. Thousands of people, like Eric Tucker, do it every day. They detach themselves from land and all the conveniences that are there and depart in their own floating, self-sustained little island. They are their own power company, their own water utility, and their own waste disposal service. They live mostly outside in the environment all day, especially the weather part of the environment. They are attuned to it all the time and live according to its conditions. It’s not a bad way to live. In exchange for a little inconvenience, a high learning curve, and not a little of work, they experience nearly complete and total freedom. They point their vessels where they will and if a destination does not please or the neighbors become tiresome, they throw off the bow line, give a cheerful wave, and move on. They explore exotic places and stay as long as they like because they have brought their house with them. Their boats become a living thing to them. It is their mode of transportation, their shelter from the elements, their source of recreation, their source of entertainment, and their place of rest. In the story, Pelican was viewed by the other characters as a living thing, Relationships with other characters existed and more developed. That is not fictional. Cruisers view their boats that way. If you don’t belive me, run into one of them. I guarantee you will see what I mean. 🙂
Thank you for reading! May you always have fair winds and following seas.