Going Motorless

Going cruising motorless. To many, this is inconceiveable.

A while back I read Cruising in Serrafyn, one of the many books by cruisers Lynn and Larry Pardey. I remember several things about the Pardeys: They built their own boat, a wooden 24-footer; they cruised around the world many times; and they sailed without an engine.

Before I read their book, I cruised the Bahamas in 1979 on my first liveaboard boat, a beautiful, seaworthy, wooden, 26-foot Folkboat, named Trifid. I sailed the waters of Lake Worth in Palm Beach County, FL, for about five months before I decided to take it offshore. My girlfriend was coming out from California in June, when we were planning to leave for the Bahamas for three months. But before we left, I wanted to make a two-week shakedown cruise to the Bahamas with a friend of mine who had been there before.

Trifid, a 26-foot carvel-planked Folkboat built in the 70s. My first trip to the Bahamas, the motor broke down before leaving Florida. A later trip was with the motor.

We made all the preparations and were pretty much ready to go, when, the day before our planned departure in early May, Trifid’s outboard motor’s driveshaft broke. There was no getting it repaired in time, but my friend and I decided to go anyway. I had sailed the boat all over Lake Worth and along the coast on day trips many times and felt I knew her quite well. So, one morning, we sailed out the slip, out Lake Worth Inlet and south on an overnight trip to Miami, where we anchored for a day before leaving from Fowey Rocks one evening, heading across the Gulf Stream for Gun Club Key, just south of Bimini in the Bahamas. All was going pretty well, although leaving the slip with almost no wind was slow going, but otherwise, we felt pretty confident in being able to maneuver the boat, as in an anchorage, without a motor.

We did have a bit of problem crossing the Stream. In the middle of the night, we lost all wind and started drifting north. After several hours, we decided to raft the dinghy with its 2-HP Seagull to the side of the boat and aim southeast—in hopes of escaping the Gulf Stream’s grip. We succeeded (read about it online in the January 2006 SOUTHWINDS), and eventually made landfall much farther north in the Bahamas. We spent a week cruising the Berry Islands—maneuvering everywhere without a motor. It was not only easy enough, but fun and challenging. When we finally made it back to Lake Worth, we sailed right into the slip like old salts.

In June, my girlfriend and I took the same route to the Bahamas—with the outboard—making landfall in Gun Club Cay, as originally planned, and spent three months cruising the islands, going as far south as Staniel Cay in the Exumas. With all that experience behind me, we never used the motor whenever we came into an anchorage or left, although we would sometimes have it running—out of gear—as a backup when currents were strong and threatened the safety of the boat in some tight passages through reefs. We became so good at going motorless, that we powered up the engine just to check it out more times than for any other reason.

I’ll have to admit—as this was the smallest boat I ever cruised on—that the bigger the boat, the more unlikely it is to me that going motorless is an option.  And I wonder about all the explorers who went motorless for a few thousand years on boats a lot bigger than Trifid.

But even still, I loved it. So, here’s to going motorless—fun and challenging. Not only that, it’s quiet.