The Importance of Speed

“With no serious penalty in speed, the boat just danced over or through the waves…”
–Bill Parlatore, Passagemaker Magazine


We’ve briefly mentioned the importance of the ability to maintain high average speeds. Let’s take a few minutes now and look at this subject in more detail. We’ll start with weather.

Although we’ve spent a great deal of effort to make these designs capable of dealing with heavy weather, the real key to this subject is avoiding it in the first place. Given the current state of weather forecasting, and the sources of information available to us, with a boat able to average 10 to 11 knots, even on long passages we can do a pretty good job of staying away from adverse conditions.

Our previous experience is that the magical number is a sustainable 240 to 270 miles per day. This is quick enough on long passages to hook onto a high pressure system and stay within its typically benign influence, while riding the high across the ocean.

On shorter hops, where there is a requirement to passage between frontal systems, this speed often affords a two- to three-day window.

And if we are caught out, we have the capability of moving the boat to a position relative to the weather which can work to reduce the influence of wind and wave (sometime just 50 or 100 miles can make the difference between hurricane and gale-force winds).

Our trip between New Zealand and Fiji is a good example of making boat speed work for us. We were able to leave under the influence of a high pressure system, and within a day and a half were far enough north so as to be out of the track of those low pressure cells that create such uncomfortable and occasionally dangerous weather in this part of the world. Maintaining an 11.4-knot average got us to port before a forecast trough of low pressure messed up visibility and created head winds as we approached Suva, Fiji.

Of course most cruising is in areas of clement weather, where risk factors are low. In this case speed allows us to pick the optimum conditions for voyaging, when wind and wave are favorable, or at least not substantially unfavorable. An example of this was our trip up the Pacific Coast from Southern California to the entrance of Puget Sound. This trip can often be difficult with strong winds and big seas on the nose. But Wind Horse’s speed allowed us to make quick work of a series of short hops, all in relatively calm weather. During the spring of 2007 we made the trip between Marina del Rey, California and Prince William Sound on Alaska Panhandle in 23 days. Just four nights were spent at sea during this period, and we had time to enjoy some extraordinarily beautiful anchorages along the way. Best of all, only 12 hours were spent with sufficient wind on the nose for us to notice the waves.

On shorter trips, speed brings more flexibility to the decision on where to go. This is particularly true in the tropics, where sun angles and cloud cover are important to keeping track of the coral reefs (we typically do not rely on charts, preferring eyeball navigation).

Our trip from Suva to Musket Cove is another example. Most boats make this 103-mile trip in two or three segments. However, we were able to leave at first light (0700) and have the anchor down at 1500, averaging a hair over 12 knots for the trip.

At the other end of the world, cruising Alaska, we are often able to cover 170 to 180 easy miles between anchorages using our 11 knot cruising speed and 18 hours (or more ) of daylight.

Combine speed with range, and interesting things really begin to happen. Take our trip back from New Zealand to California. Normally this would be a long, slow slog, with little time for enjoying the wonderful island groups along the way. However, we need just 23 days of sea time for the roughly 5,800 miles. That left plenty of island time in the three months we spent on the trip (most cruising boats would allow a full year for this trip back).

The ultimate example of the advantage of speed came during the 2008 cruising season. Wind Horse comfortably cruised California to Panama, the Bahamas, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, then Greenland, across the North Atlantic to Ireland, ending up in the UK. 11,000 miles between April and September with just two on board. It was fun, restful, and a wonderful array of new experiences were encountered.

In terms of net comfort it is usually more comfortable on this type of boat to go fast. Speed increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the active stabilizers. Speed also brings with it a form of dynamic stability from the hull shape and fins. Combine these two factors, and you have efficiency in terms of fuel burn and comfort.

Finally, going fast is more fun than slow – especially if there is another boat on the horizon to grind down (and you can always slow down if conditions suit).

For more information on the FPB Series, e-mail Sue Grant: Sue.Grant@Berthon.Co.UK.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (October 13, 2011)

Comments are closed.