My Bristol Channel Cutter Godspeed is named after one of the ships that brought the English settlers to Virginia in 1607. Colonial history is one of my favorite subjects, and I’m also a Virginia native, so the name of my vessel came quite naturally. Godspeed has a traditional design, modeled after the old Bristol Channel Pilot cutters that guided the Clipper Ships into port. She has a full keel and a long waterline, which gives her good speed and tracking ability, and a very smooth ride in choppy seas. In fact, her design makes her helm so well balanced that I can leave the cockpit, reef the main, and be back at the tiller before she luffs. Wow, a tiller on an ocean going vessel? How often in the 21st century do you see that!
She carries a large headsail due to the long “J” measurement created by the bowsprit. You can tell this is a traditional vessel; with that bowsprit, sloping sheer line, mahagony bulwarks, and plumb bow. Everywhere I go, I get smiles and waves and lots and lots of questions.
Since Bristol Channel Cutters are designed for world travel, Godspeed is the perfect survival boat. I’ve been across the north Atlantic and back single-handed, down to the tropics, through huge storms, and even a near miss from a hurricane, and my biggest problem was seasickness. The rigging is overbuilt, with double spreaders and standing rigging designed for a boat twice her size. I’ve always felt safe even though many friends and family members have questioned my sanity for sometimes getting caught offshore in storm force winds and high, breaking seas.
She was built in California in an old metal shed by two shipwrights. She is hull 108 of 128 built by these same two shipwrights over a period of 30 years. The company closed down back in 2007. Since then, no more Bristol Channel Cutters have been built. So, I think the small number of vessels scattered all over the world will be the last. I don’t mind at all, for it make her even more unique and valuable.
I joined the history of the Sam L. Morse Company, in Costa Mesa, California, in the mid 1990’s, when Roger Olson had just taken over the company after voyaging for 13 years aboard his own Bristol Channel Cutter. Roger is a very salty guy who knows everything about voyaging and has written a book on the subject. He ranks pretty high among the present-day world voyagers, both for his technical ability and his ownership of the company that produced these vessels. He retired from the company and sailed off into the sunset after building 10 boats, including a new Bristol Channel Cutter for himself.
It took a year to build my vessel, which is normal. I even helped in my own small way laying out some of the interior design and by varnishing after hours, when everyone was gone. At the time, I was single and imagined myself alone on the high seas. I had many long discussions with Roger about this, and we arranged everything so that I could operate singlehanded. Godspeed has a minimum reliance on electricity. There is no shore power hookup at all, and she powers everything from her batteries which can be charged from the diesel engine. For refrigeration, I use a block of ice which will last a couple weeks inside the insulated cooler. Propane powers the galley stove, and that’s pretty much it aside from wind power. I have no radar or other fancy gadgets, and self steering comes from my wind-powered Cape Horn wind vane. I even held off on a GPS for a couple years, instead relying on charts, dead-reckoning, and my trusty sextant. But alas, I finally gave in. Now I am modern and spoiled.
The interior is simple, with lots of mahagony and brass, and a pull-out berth which is just wide enough for two small-to-medium sized people. Its very nice to sleep aboard, with the boat gently rocking at anchor and the moonlight reflecting in through the portholes.
When she was completed, I had her shipped across the country to Virginia. For a few weeks, I had tossed around the idea of sailing her south, through the Panama Canal, and up the east coast of the US. It would have been a great adventure and also would have classified her as an “Internationally Launched” vessel (which avoids sales tax), but work called so I cut that plan short.
I have managed over the years to take several big single-handed ocean voyages. For now though, I’m content to stay in the Chesapeake Bay, eat crabs, and wander among the aircraft carriers and submarines of Hampton Roads. Perhaps some day, before global warming takes over for good, I will realize one of my lifetime goals to touch an iceberg from my boat.
Many people have asked me if I get bored, or lazy or smelly during a long voyage. Well, no. I don’t. For a shower, I use a bug sprayer filled with water. My water tanks hold 75 gallons, which can last more than a month when I’m alone. Of course in family mode, the duration is less than 2 weeks. That’s still not bad at all for 75 gallons of water. For entertainment, I read books or listen to the radio or simply enjoy the trip. When I anchor and go ashore, the scenery is always new and challenging. I’ll often begin my stay in a new place by heading to a library or university, which provides the perfect spot to work on my laptop computer. And of course, there are always things waiting to be done aboard, like varnishing and cleaning and fixing.
Being inclined towards the solitude of sailing, and also being a computer geek, I tend to be introverted. So, going ashore is always a good chance to get out of my comfort zone and meet a wide variety of new people, from wharf rats to zillionares on megayachts. Its interesting to discover that once you get past the material stuff, and engage in a comfortable conversation, everyone is pleasant and engaging, and they all seem to be the same regardless of their background.