Hull #352 – Steppin Out
- Model: Dinette version
- Year Built: 1975
- Hull #: 352 (BTY273520175)
- Vessel Name: Steppin Out
- Owner Name: Daniel Bravo
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hailing Port: Boat registered in Florida, but without a fixed port and, normally, sailing quite far from Florida.
First I have to introduce my boat and make clear that talking about her is like talking about my child. Being my only possession, my home, my companion of journeys and the material expression of a philosophy of life I do feel somewhat proud of talking on her behalf.
My girlfriend, Emily, my boat, Steppin out, and me, We form an itinerant family and I love them both deeply.
I found Steppin Out on the internet looking for a new partner after sinking my previous boat on a rather awful (and somewhat stupid) accident in Uruguay. I got it for $4000 in Melbourne Florida, from the hands of a certain individual whose only merit had been behaving towards “steppin” with total lack of care and technical rigour. The boat was structurally sound, but it was basically a floating trash can.
After solving the legal mess that came with the boat and getting the title finally under my name, a long process of modifications started, the most important being the outside lamination of the toe rail to stop the generous leaks in the hull and deck joint. Then I got rid of the of the atomic 4 inboard, trading it in for an outboard lifting bracket. Getting the engine out was like extracting a smelly, noisy and useless tumor from inside Steppin.
Then came the moment to design and mount the wind vane self steering. Based on a further development of Joshua’s model (Moitessier’s boat), I designed a sturdy and reliable system, not the most efficient, but probably one of the strongest possible solutions, based on a pivoting steel bar that connects a big wind vane with a small oscillating rudder. Steppin was then not just a fiberglass machine but a living being able to communicate and react by herself to the wind.
After the basic safety additions -including a life raft and epirb- we sailed Steppin to Isla Mujeres México, where I stayed for two years working as a charter captain to recover my economic buoyancy.
The only previous relevant journey that I knew of the boat was made by the previous owner from Florida to the Bahamas, so there was no big evidence of real offshore skills on the boat, although a boat that was almost 40 years old and was still floating, probably had proved herself seaworthy many times.
On the journey to Mexico the boat proved to be both pretty slow (no one is perfect!) and remarkably strong, the latter being the most important feature to me and the reason to buy this particular design. After facing a couple of squalls I immediately admired the feeling of reliability.
During the two years in Mexico further modifications followed, most importantly, the change of the rigging from sloop to cutter and the duplication of the cap shrouds and backstay.
Once my economic capacity was reestablished and the boat was ready, came the time to leave. I met my girlfriend Emily around that time and, attracted probably by the spacious interior, she decided to sail with me on Steppin. We have savings for some two years and after sailing up all the east coast of the USA (wonderful journey, full of history and good friends), we headed from New York to the Azores.
The journey across the Atlantic was exceptionally good basically because we chose the right weather window and were lucky enough to have only one force 7 that lasted two days and was sailed under storm jib on the babystay, while we were comfortably watching movies and reading inside.
After 24 days of sailing at an average of 3.5 knots, we arrived about a month ago to the Azores and right now I’m writing on a nice long chair on a beach in the island of Graciosa, after visiting Flores and Faial.
Steppin is floating in front of us, always ready to lift anchor and sail far.
February, 2017 – I have the pleasure to say that our boat successfully completed the second Atlantic crossing of her life (as far as I know…). The boat behaved beautifully and, if the crossing was hard, was only because of the weather and my bad decisions, that Steppin helped to overcome. Here there is a little story of the crossing that may be useful for someone attempting the same route:
Well, this time things didn’t work exactly as expected.
As is usual for long passages, I downloaded as much weather as I could, which meant that we had 6 or so days of offshore prediction, more than enough to decide our game of approximation to the doldrums.
The north east trades looked rather weak and there was an important gap of calms straight south of cape verde, so I decided to head south west and run down pass longitude 30, east of which there was basically no wind. We had a very successful run the first twelve days. Slow, is true, but we enjoyed easy trade wind conditions with force 3 and 4. Enough to have an easy life onboard and get between 60 and 90 miles of daily runs. Not bad if you are eating well, without much shaking and without hard reefing.
Everything was fine and at the end of the first ten days we were almost complaining about the uneventful rythm of our days. But things were soon to change.
On latitud 3 degrees 30 minutes north and longitude 31 west, the horizon ahead of us lost its fluffy texture of white friendly and isolated clouds, and formed something that could only be called “the threshold of apocalipsis…” a black grey formation, as high as the eye could see, with thunder, lightning and rain. It got on our way like the wall that guards the south.
Calm… wind shift, darkness and… Boom!!, the usual explosive irruption of the first violent squall, a sudden gust of wind that pushed rain as hard as bullets and, within seconds, had the ocean turned into a turmoil of confused waves that shaked the boat in all and no direction, while I pushed sails down as fast as possible getting tangled, as it happens, with my harness line on every little deck fitting, making movements clumsy and slow.
That was the beginning.
“Just a cloud”, we thought, but it wasn’t just one.
The doldrums are not exactly calms, they should be described more like “useless winds”, for it is rarely an actual calm. Normally is blowing on the wrong direction, gaining strenght and dying again, just to restart from the opposite angle, last other 20 minutes and go to zero.
Normally my phylosophy would be “sit down and wait for stable wind”, but as it turns out, we were actually moving towards the west north west at speeds varying between 1 and 3 knotts… which is not nothing, specially when we had already sailed fairly far west to avoid the calms that we saw south of cape verde, at the beginning of the journey.
“Don’t cross the equator beyond longitude 30”, recommends the cruising guide, but we were already on 31, and gaining west thanks to a strong current. Unable to make any consistent progress, I started a battle to move south-east on every gust, to fight against the current on every squall. “It’ll soon be over”, I kept telling myself, but the first day went by, then the second, and the third… after the fourth day I had slept only a total of 9 hours, and my head was turning to mash. I was shaky, cold or hot, confused and stressed. Sometimes, after 24 hours, I was only able to gain 4 milles to the south and none to the east. The fear that not even with the south-east trades we would be able to fight the current started to eat me, and suddenly I couldn’t even sleep on the brief seconds when there was no wind at all, because my mind kept telling me that, if we drifted passed cape San Roque, there was no coming back.
The fifth day we saw a cargo ship passing, and the only thing that I thought of, was to ask for a weather forecast, which gave us no hope… once the ship was gone I thought “what an idiot!! I should have asked for jerry cans of diesel!!”. But it was the first ship that we saw in many days, so our chances of getting a new opportunity were rather scarce.
On the sixth day, we had made a total progress of some 160 miles through the calms (1.1 knotts average…), all of them to the south-east. This was a remarkable victory against the current, but it came with a huge price tag: I’ve had almost no sleep on a never ending battle and, whereas I was fading away real fast, the ocean had endless energy for the fight. Em tried to help by feeding me, comforting me, or providing her bulletproof optimism, but I’m the only one able to sail the boat and there was no way around it.
Suddenly, in amongst the clouds, another ship appeared in front of my eyes! This time I had no hesitation, stablished radio contact, ask for diesel fuel and the ship answered without much passion nor discomfort, 30 minutes later the “Celigny” passed at 12 knotts beside us, throwing three huge industrial jerry cans of fuel overboard, which we promptly recovered on their wake. 75 liters!, enough to take us across the whole ocean if necessary!! I thanked the ship profusely, and without further celebration, they dissappeared on the horizon.
From that day on, things started to improve, now I could rest and recover the lost distances motoring for a couple of hours everyday, sailing when possible and now finding the desire to eat, which I had completely lost, and the chance to sleep.
The calms and squalls lasted for two more days, eight days in total, and suddenly the current stopped too… I thought that it would gain speed towards the south (as it is shown on the chart), but it just dissapeard, as mysteriously as it had arrived.
South of the equator, the south-east trades started to blow and our longitude, that had painstakingly gained one degree to the east, it was now 30 degrees west. From there, sailing a fast sidewind run to Brasil was totally possible, and we made some of the best runs on the journey, with well over hundred miles a day, on stable, reliable winds…
We made serious mistakes on this journey and had, at the same time, uncommon bad luck. We should have sailed back east when we still had the north-east trades, and we should have carried enormous amounts of fuel. The current was hard to predict, as it’s not very well described on the literature on it’s position, nor intensity… But we were definitely too far west, on a weak and exposed position.
This is my fifth Atlantic crossing, but the learning curve is, still, fairly steep. I thank the gods of the ocean for giving a hard lesson but, at the end, forgiving the lack of preparation letting us pass, and thank too, of course, the crew of “Celigny”, who helped on an efficient and seamanlike manner.
Now Steppin is peacefully anchored in Jacare, Joao Pessoa, Brasil.
December, 2016 – Well… I guess it’s time for a little update!.
We keep our slow pace over the surface of the oceans and now we are heading south from Canarias to CapeVerde.
Right now we must be sailing with something close to 25 knotts and we spent the whole last night sailing only under storm sail, so probably there were some 30+ knotts… Of course we don’t have any wind instruments, so this is pure guessing game, and we may very well be sailing on 10 knotts now. It doesn’t matter, if we get some 3 knotts of progress and the boat is not falling apart, everything is fine. (happy with daily runs of 70 miles, very happy with 85 to 100 miles)
The last months have been amazing, we stopped in Morroco where we were a little concerned because Steppin Out is registered on the states, but a healthy indifferent from everyone towards the Trump joke (and his hostility towards Islamic world), gave us hope on human kind and the opportunity to learn about their wonderful culture, art and religion.
We visited the magnificent mosque of Casablanca were a guided tour helped us to understand both architectural and religious meanings.
We even bought a little berber carpet for the salon of Steppin, mega posh!
The engine is giving the normal little problems that are expected from any mechanical device and in Canarias I had to disassemble the water pump to change shaft and seals to solve a little leak of salt water, nothing serious.
Las palmas is the right place to play the doctor, because in case things go wrong, there are plenty of real mechanics to run for help. Apparently 1GM10s are prone to develop leaks on the water pump and I have seen some with the oil pipes under the water pump covered in grease for protection.
My most exciting intervention of the lasts months its rather unspectacular, but represent a huge improvement to avoid some of the last remaining leaks on the cabin: The handrails have been removed and reinstalled with aluminum laminated bases, so now they are really reliable to hold and completely leak free!! I’m so happy with that little silly thing that now I run on deck on every maneuver and stand on the handrails just to celebrate their strength!. Wonderful!.
Other remarkable improvement was the shortening of the tiller. We sail the boat 99,9% of the time under self steering and, as we all know, the cockpit, when the tiller is down and swinging from side to side, becomes a little bit of a small battlefield.
We didn’t even have a comfortable place to seat because on our boat we built a sort of bridge deck on the front area of the cockpit. So one day I gathered my courage, the saw, and chopped some 6 inches of wood on the tip of the tiller. After that the cockpit felt immediately six inches bigger!!. Now I can even lay across the cockpit, is wonderful.
If hand steering is required, the remaining tiller provides enough lever to do so without problems and without hitting your knees with the end of it too. The length of the tiller, measuring only the wood, is 91 centimeters, and seems fine to me.
Steppin has been sailing easily and peacefully, as is expected from a strong boat under the rather undemanding conditions of the trade winds. We’ll make a brief stop in Cape Verde, and then keep sailing to Brasil, whose color, music and flavour are already attracting us powerfully.
We are hoping now for an uneventful and reasonably fast Atlantic crossing, being specially conscious of the possible calms on the doldrums area, for which we’ll be bringing loads of water, movies and patience.
Big hugs and fair winds for everyone!!
September, 2016 – Well, after sailing long time without an inboard engine on the boat, and having experienced scenes of traumatic struggle, floating for several days on a calm at plain view of the coast of Portugal, or tacking for several days on the calms or sudden gusts of Chesapeake bay, or heaving to for two days waiting for the 35 knotts of north wind to calm down to sail into Portsmouth, one starts to wonder… There may be something nice about having a little inboard that comes to our rescue from time to time…
Mainly the idea of sailing the south tip of south america, with all its gusts, fjords, little bays and big rocks, sounds very prone to cause death without a reliable engine.
We all know that the bristol 27 is not exactly a J70 to go tacking and maneuvering on tight spaces under sail. In fact, Steppin Out, graceful as she is on open water and rough conditions, behaves with a rather embarrasing lack of response on tight corners, and one remarkable episode almost saw us crashing against the notorious 60 footer “Hugo Boss” on a dock in Portsmouth (“I’ll sail close to take a picture”, I thought).
The fact that Steppin will be, with all likelihood, my partner in cape horn made us take the desicion: Against our basic principles, we got an inboard diesel engine installed in England.
I bought a second hand yanmar 1GM10 and, in one month, dedicating some 10 hours a day, I got it installed with tank, shaft, exhaust, levers, bearing and so on. Every part was bought second hand or made by my very good friend and leith master Dave Bowyer.
The engine cost was 600 pounds plus our mercury 5hp outboard that the seller was nice enough to take as part of payment, all the parts and pieces were bought for other 500 pounds approx. Originally Steppin had an atomic four inboard so the main structures were there: the shaft tube and the supports, although the supports had to be modified a lot to welcome the new machine.
Needless to say, now our life is easy and comfortable, we even sometimes chose to motor through calms instead of just floating!!
We already left England avoiding the arrival of a cold and windy winter, and Steppin presently floats on one of the many nice anchorages that the fjords of Galicia have to offer. We’ll keep moving south during the next months on our way to Brasil, Argentina and, eventually, Cape Horn.
Our monthly budget is something I would like to comment to, specially for the few that are planning on adopting a nomadic life on a boat. We spend about 500 to 600 usd a month. Making ourselves all the maintenance and never getting into marinas, our main spenditures are groceries, spare parts and hardware store items. Of course there are sometimes major economic disasters, like buying a sail, or this engine thing, but provided nothing goes too bad, the 500usd a month should be plenty.
I’ll keep in touch as always and if someone has any questions or need some further information, please write to my email!
June, 2016 – It’s been a long time since my last post and a lot of things have happened:
After finishing the Atlantic crossing on Steppin out, we were asked to deliver a dufour 35 from spain to chile. The whole journey took us 4 months and on the meantime our boat stayed on the hard on the varadero of fuengirola.
The delivery went excellent and the panama crossing was an absolute highlight, a wonderful experience, not much as aan offshore sailor, but surely as a world traveller.
After arriving to chile we flew back immediately and, after doing the bottom paint, changing a thru hull and installing a new salt water pump for the sink (amazing luxury), we put Steppin on the water and sailed away, direction england.
In the united kingdom I have a big friendship with the Portsmouth Harbour Cruising Club, an amazing place for sailors, old salty stories, and cooperation.
Steppin out found a rather uncomfortable series of north winds and the way to england, with several stops, took us a month and a half. Our boat behaved wonderfully and finally we are now in portsmouth enjoying the peace of a long stop. We’ll stay here till the end of summer.
I haven’t answered to some of the comments that people have made and if someone wants to contact us, please use preferably my email address that I check all the time.
Cheers!! happy sailing!!
July, 2015 – Bought her some three years ago and have lived on hers luxurious interior ever since then. We made a lot of modifications [to the rigging], like duplicating the shrouds, adding a babystay, a backstay and so on.
We are now in Azores, sailing from Mexico via New York and heading to Portugal, England and then south to Cape Horn and so on. The boat so far has behaved wonderfully and we do nothing but read and watch movies while we cross oceans on complete safety.
Here’s an inspirational image of Steppin Out in port, expressing that lovely small craft can-do: