Portland to Boston: 100.7 nautical miles
East Coast Expedition total: 303.9 nautical miles
As I went to Portland, I was on my own (solo), but coming from Portland to Boston I was sailing with Ilya (double-handed). Is solo better than double-handed sailing or the other way around? Neither is better. Both are a challenge compared to fully crewed sailing but each have their pros and cons. One positive that is immediately obvious is safety while sleeping – there is someone else to keep a lookout while you nap. Actually Ilya is sleeping as I write!
When sailing solo over long distances it is essential to sleep but one needs to take very short naps. In combination with the electronic lookouts, such as the automated identification system (AIS) and radar, short naps allow one to sleep and get rested while trying to maintain good seamanship standards. When sailing with a co-skipper it’s possible to sleep for longer periods, although still shorter than when fully crewed.
For example, offshore we might have 2 hour watches. One person is on lookout for 2 hours while the other rests. Being able to sleep during this period is a great benefit for minimizing fatigue. You may ask why choose 2 hours? It’s because our natural sleep cycles occur in 90 minute periods. By choosing 2 hours to be off watch one has enough time to get to sleep, then wake and be back on watch ready for the other co-skipper to be relieved.
I do find sometimes that solo sailing can be easier. As soon as I am tired I can take a nap. But double-handed I have to wait for my watch to end. However, when I am off watch double-handed, I can get that full sleep cycle.
So when solo why sleep 20 minutes?
Have you ever taken an afternoon nap, and when woken up felt very groggy? It’s likely you slept for about an hour and woke while in deep sleep. If you wake after about 20 minutes you will have had the restorative effects of sleep but have not yet got into deep sleep, making it easy to wake. Every minute you continue to sleep your sleep gets deeper until you get through that full sleep cycle and return to light sleep. Thus, it’s easier to wake after 20 or 90 minutes than from an intermediate time period. (For more information about sleep patterns, check out this blog.)
The ability to communicate with someone while double-handed can also be a real psychological benefit. During this voyage we rated freeze dried foods and sent scores back to shore. A fun exercise. Currently the leader is yellow curry, but we do have a few more to try before this expedition is over. Also, it’s fun to sail with someone else. As we were heading through Boston harbor we were playing wind shifts and gusts and getting maximum performance from the boat.
Another advantage of double-handed sailing is that there is an extra pair of hands if something goes wrong, and an extra brain if you need to noodle on a problem. But then there is an incredible sense of accomplishment sailing an ocean solo. If a problem arises while offshore, there is no one coming to help. You must solve the problem yourself and often will learn a lot in the process.
On the balance I love both approaches and enjoy any time I have on the water, whether it be solo or double-handed.