Painting above- Rounding the Horn....artist unknown
Thursday April 14th 
Thoughts about training to sail a small boat in a cold windy place.
I will need to have a high level of fitness before I set off for Chile including muscle strength, flexibility and cardio vascular endurance. 

Throughout my life I have worked to maintain a relatively high level of base fitness so that on short notice I can amp up training and be fit for any opportunity that might come my way.
I adhere to a belief that maintaining a base level of fitness is important for a happy life and to simply function a bit better every day whether lifting, walking stairs, carrying groceries, doing yard work etc.

The benefits accrue over time.
Benefits of spending even a little time each day doing some sort of exercise include:
* Building endurance and a stronger heart.
* Helping to lose weight and keep it off. This works better than any strict diet if exercise is combined with healthy meals made up of simple low fat, low carb foods in small portions.
* Regular exercise can help change a focus on alcohol, smoking or other unhealthy habits.
* Promotes feelings of well being and a good self image.
* Helps some folks with anxiety and can even help with depression.
* If done under the advice of a doctor gentle regular exercise can help with slightly elevated blood pressure.

* I suffered a broken back from a 40 foot fall three months after my last trip by small boat in Chile. I survived this as well as I did because I was in such good condition at the time. Exercise has been my savior (I chose it over surgery) even though I have still have serious issues at times. Staying thin and fit is the answer to maintaining what I face with my back. 

The Broom Stick and the Rack;-)
To this day I use a long push broom handle to do a series of stretches based on dynamic tension of muscle against muscle, a superb exercise routine and so simple. I'd be happy to post photos and a better description later if anyone is interested.

In college I designed and constructed a hiking bench that mimicked the moves I would make while racing a Laser. I thought the design unique at the time and recently discovered a photo of other benches that are similar to the one I designed and used to inflict so much fun on my being. I would work the bench for hours and it paid off.

This 2x4 constructed set up was in my apartment and for long sessions I would with feet under a hiking strap and fully extended work two dual pulley systems with 3 gallons of milk jug water bottles suspended from each. This was a serious upper body, back and arm work out. Once on the water I was able to hike without tiring for long periods of time while easily trimming sail.

I no longer have photos of the bench I built but here a few examples of other modern types. These days I am able to accomplish the same sort of work out in a local gym.
This home made hiking bench is very similar to my design but without the up rights and water jug pulley system.
If you add this photo to the photo above that would be it.

Here is a modern commercial hiking bench with integrated arm pulley system. He looks to be having fun but for sure these are effective torture devices.

Eric Stiller
To successfully sail an open boat in Tierra del Fuego will require a high level of fitness. The last time I voyaged there I worked with my pal Eric Stiller as a training partner. For several months before I departed for the south he and I worked out in the basement of the Klepper shop on Union Square in New York City where Eric worked with his father Dieter importing and selling Klepper folding boats. We set up a heavy bag in the basement of the shop and a variety of weight lifting apparatus in the back of the shop.The building was New York old and the basement dark, dirty and more than a bit ominous. I would do long stretches on the heavy bag wearing a dust mask. After we worked the shop each day it was training time and this meant weights set up in the stock room.

Mornings would find us with two Klepper Aerius 1 kayaks on folding boat carts often crunching through snow hiking across town to the 11th street pier where in the pitch black of pre dawn we would hand over hand lower them into the icy Hudson River and put in two hours at the paddle. One morning channel 7 news sent a chopper out to film the two crazy kayakers paddling on the coldest day on record for that date, 15 degrees below zero. This hard time training served me well a few weeks later when I arrived in Chile.

Later Eric and a friend paddled and sailed a Klepper Aerius 2 half way around Australia (Eric's book, Keep Australia On Your Left) and in turn I helped prepare him.
Training at15 Degrees below zero
My fitness was tested from day one. 
I recently wrote about this particular incident in Small Craft advisor magazine after having kept quiet about it for all these years. 
Strange things happen in remote places and I was involved in the swimming rescue of a man who in a drunken state (New Years eve at the Chilean navy base Puerto Williams) took my fully loaded kayak and set to go out for a 2am spin on the ice cold Beagle Channel. He capsized, was separated from my boat (the boat was found later missing much gear) and was flailing in the water with my spray skirt draped around his neck. 

I was awakened and ran out to join the navy personnel searching the shore line for him. I ended up swimming out to rescue him and because I was fit made it back to shore with him in tow. The water was extremely cold, numbing by any measure. Neither of us could stand up at the end of the rescue, which must have taken 3 to 5 minutes at most and had to be helped back indoors to hot showers. Not to sound dramatic but if I had not been fit I believe the rescue would have failed and both of us could have drowned. 

The next day he was dismissed (he was a civilian contract cook for the navy) and sent back to Santiago and I feeling shaken to the core reflected on what had happened and what I was about to do, set off into the wilds of Tierra del Fuego. I recall feeling fortunate I had valued fitness so much in the run up to arriving in Chile. 

I give credit to my friend Eric Stiller:
For the friendship borne training and pushing me so hard for months through a range of brutal exercises. At the time I sometimes complained and wondered but did everything he called for and on reflection had I not specifically trained for shivering (his idea) amongst other strength work I likely would not have been able to handle a desperate drunk in the freezing cold Beagle Channel who was much larger than me. Thank you Eric Stiller and Thank you to Dieter Stiller for the next day the Chilean Armada patched a radio call through to the Klepper shop in New York as I needed replacement parts lost during the capsize on the Beagle. Unfortunately the parts needed could not arrive in time given where I was so I set off without these key parts aboard a research ship bound for 6 months in Antarctica. The Armada got cold feet on my voyage given that I was honest with them about what went missing when my kayak (loaded and ready for navy inspection the next day) was capsized. Later at Cape Horn I needed some of the missing parts. The second big issue was the Pelican box with 80 of the 85 rolls of film and both hand held vhf radios I had brought to record my experience. The Armada was concerned about the loss of the radios, rightfully so. I suppose to this day the film and radios sit on the bottom of the Beagle Channel.

The Range of Fitness Needed Sailing an Open Boat in Tierra del Fuego
1. Flexibility.
2. Strength for sail trim, rowing and hiking out.
3. Dead lift strength needed for hauling the boat through surf and up on land using a block and tackle system.
4. Endurance fitness for long periods under sail.
5. Overall core strength to help counteract shivering from cold.
6. Balance exercises to help with walking over slippery boulders and to avoid injury by falling on land.

The Challenge of Age
I keep hearing how aging is such a bad thing, I get it but don't put much stock in giving in to it. I humbly state I feel great for my age and attribute this to continual cardiovascular fitness centered around bicycling, running, fast walking, swimming, boat building and a lean diet made up of small portions. As a much younger man I was a competitive runner preferring the 10k distance. I decided to get away from long distance running to save wear and tear on joints and given that I have been in a love affair with biking the switch was a natural.

For years I have been in the habit of bicycling daily (when I can given the seasons). While living in Micronesia my daily routine was up at 5am, roast up for a cup of coffee and bike one of seven different routes through the mountains ranging in distance from 10 to 22 miles. My Kiwi pal Glenn McKinley (Hi Glenn) was often my partner for many of these mountain rides at speed. More often than not it was just me on the bike and many days after teaching at the College I would do a second ride in the evenings or go out on the lagoon to sail my canoe "Sylph."

Few exercises are better for sailing than sailing. Having formerly been involved in international yacht racing regatta management including the Olympics I gained an inside track to inside information. I read a physical fitness study many years ago that concluded with the fact that of all Olympic athletes the sailors ranked at the highest end of the overall fitness level. This was a very big surprise but does make some sense when sailing small boats is viewed as demanding full body fitness and endurance.
Trimming sail aboard a Yapese outrigger, great exercise
Summer training for Cape Horn by folding boat

Swimming From Sea Kayaks
In Pohnpei I maintained a varied exercise routine that included not only biking but long distance paddling/swimming. Typically solo I would go out to paddle the inner lagoon or the open cuts in the fringing reef to the open ocean. Again my Kiwi pal Glenn joined me for many of these forays out over the years. We would launch my two solo boats with 30 foot lines attached to the bows with snorkeling gear strapped on the foredeck. After paddling to any reef of interest or out to sea it was a quick line around the waist, drop in the water with mask and fins on, give the kayak a tug and do a mile or more swimming and exploring. This was superb exercise when coupled with bicycling.

Preparing for Tierra del Fuego 
The boat I will be sailing during my upcoming voyage has been carefully thought through and built to purpose. The sailing strategy I will employ is to sail as fast as I can when I can and to in a sense wear  my boat. There will be few opportunities to sail at controlled speed during my voyage as it is such a windy place and this means many days will be spent bivouacked on shore or at anchor waiting for weather windows. When I get one I will sail as far as I can as fast as I can foregoing sleep and other luxuries in order to get to the southwest islands, my hoped for area of exploration. Once there I plan to spend time on land hiking, climbing, exploring and filming what I see, a place so few humans have ever seen.

The video below demonstrates how I use my full body  to control SCAMP #1 and sail effortlessly. 

This is an unstaged video shot by Dave Nichols. 
I am sailing Josh Colvin's SCAMP #1...............Thanks Josh

As odd as this sounds this is how I sail. 
When I select the smallest of sailing boats I think in terms of a “thirds performance and control equation” where hull, rig and sailor are in some level of power/control parity based on weight, sail power and a kinetic sailing style often used by dinghy racers.

A boat that fits the theory perfectly is one that in roughly equal parts, hull weight, sail rig power and weight of the sailor allows for kinetic based control across the wind range. I often sail standing up and steer with thighs, knees, elbows, lower back etc, for hands are often in short supply when sailing solo as they may be hard at other critical tasks. Sailing in this manner I can over power and muscle the boat into greater control if over powered by a gust, breaking sea, etc.

Hike Harder
Southern Cross has been set up with built in hiking seats (both padded) and a hiking strap/jackline combination, which will enable me to get my weight out board and keep her flat, sailing most small boats flat is fast and stable if the sailors skill level is tuned in and he is physically able. Hiking out for extended periods of time can be extremely taxing and relies on physical fitness preparation in advance of setting sail.

Here is an example of sailing flat. In the photo above taken at a sailing academy I instructed I am hiking out and the skipper as per my instruction is standing while we speed up to catch and pass the larger over powered boat to weather of us. What a hoot.
(The SCAMP I am sailing belonged to Mike Monies. He graciously made it available to any participant in the class.)
Hiked out on Hugh Horton's sweet riding Bufflehead. This is a good example of the "Thirds Theory" I am counter balancing against the power of the sail rig and managing to control the hull weight. If I release the sheet without simultaneously moving in board the canoe will capsize to windward. However if the sailor is tuned in this is a very fast way to sail.

The coaming top hiking seat built into Southern Cross can be seen in the photo above. There is a pad that velcro's onto the seat for long term comfort as I intend to sail the boat from the rail much of the time.
I will be sailing engineless as this is what I prefer for any boat I sail other than my wood cutter Blueberry, which came with a nifty diesel engine. Sailing engineless aboard a SCAMP is not much of an issue as where I will be there will be wind just about every day and even in light air the SCAMP design excels. When the wind is down to nothing or when I need to maneuver close to shore I will go to oars. Although it sounds like rowing won't be relied on much I will be rowing hundreds of miles this summer in order to be ready. I believe the best training for rowing is miles at the oars. 

Aboard Southern Cross her oar sockets are embedded into the hiking seats. All I need to do is pull off the seat pad letting it hang down inside the coaming (each is on a lanyard). The oars I have selected are extra lay up carbon fiber 2 piece from Gig Harbor Boat Works. Both oars fit behind the coamings. 

In Conclusion
I will be sailing as conservatively as possible and with full protection from injury, well to the extent possible. This means I have padded the cockpit of my boat including the cockpit sole and inside the cuddy cabin. This to avoid bruises. I have tried to eliminate any sharp edge or object on the boat, except mounted safety knives. I will also be wearing knee pads, a full vest Mustang life jacket, dual tethers to a backline and bronze padeye (at times), padded gloves, a helmet (at times for certain shore landings), ski goggles (for driving rain or snow) and a full Ocean Rodeo dry suit. 

However this may not be enough. A pulled muscle, a finger cut in camp as I prepare food or slipping on boulders as I come into shore could spell a real disaster as once I depart Punta Arenas I am on my own. So fitness and smarts are the call every day because I have learned the hard way in life, it's the left hook out of no where that can spell disaster. 

To this end the Armada de Chile made one requirement of me when John and I met with them in Punta Arenas and that is to carry an HF radio. The reason? In the event I am injured and need to call for help they want the ability to put a doctor on the radio with me for two way conversation until they can get there. Fair enough. I really have no intention of putting Armada personnel in any danger by being careless, it's not fair to them. Once I set out I plan to 100% be on my own and willing to take the consequences of my actions. I plan to disappear into the southwest islands and not be an issue for anyone. It's 100% on me to go to Chile quietly and to sail without incident. Game on! 

Thank you for Joining Me Here
Thanks for joining me here and I do hope readers will consider checking out Dave Nichols documentary film web site. I support his effort and he is on his way to rising the funds he needs to both set my boat up with cameras and support gear and to get himself and another person to Chile to film the arrival of my boat. While there they will film the arrival of the crate, film interviews with the Armada and others, provisioning, final sea trials and the set off to voyage. 

From there it's me filming a daily video diary. So I support Dave and hope the film he makes might be an inspirational piece for others. As a sailor I would like to see such a film. Knowing how he is spending what he raises (no salary or income for his time, no kidding!) I have purchased a T Shirt and Below 40 South hat and made a small donation to the film. He has been in discussion with a number of larger sponsors and hopes these might pan out. So in the interim I hope sailors of all types might see the value in a film about a small boat in big waters!


  1. Nice post, Howard. Keeping fit is paramount.

  2. Hey Kevin......You have that right. What do you do to keep fit?

    1. I do not have a regimen.( Though, now 53 I should probably adopt one). Instead, I make kit a habit to stay active by biking, hiking, playing basketball, bodysurfing, swimming, etc. And I do stretch for 10 mins per day.

  3. Would love to see more details of your broom and rack system when you have time to post.


    1. David. OK. I will take some of the broom stick method. The Rack mentioned is the one I built in college and depicted in photos above of other types.

  4. Replies
    1. friend! Really nice to know, thanks.

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