Blue Water Catamaran

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Our autopilot steered Exit Only 99.9% of the way around the world.  The only time we didn't use it was for maneuvering in close quarters, and when we wanted to protect the autopilot in rough seas.

In over 33,000 miles of sailing, we probably hand-steered the yacht less than 100 hours.  The autopilot holds a course better than any human helmsman, it never got tired, and never complained.  It essentially functioned as another member of our crew.  All we had to do was feed it amps.

The Autohelm 7000 was reliable and tough.  In eleven years of sailing around the world, we experienced only two autopilot failures.  The first happened in French Polynesia where salt water intrusion destroyed a motor bearing.  The second problem happened sailing up the Great Barrier Reef.  In this instance, we stripped the epicyclic gears when the autopilot made a maximum course correction, and the correction wasn't enough, so it kept applying pressure to the gears until they stripped.  Those nylon gears had already sailed half way around the world, and when they stripped, we replaced them with metal ones.  The gears never stripped again after we installed the brass ones.

When we sail offshore, we go to great lengths to protect our autopilot.  If the seas are extremely rough, we adjust our course and speed so that the autopilot doesn't take a beating.  A well-balanced sail plan makes the autopilot's task easy, and poorly balanced sails are an invitation to disaster.  Smart sailors don't stress out their autopilots unless there is a good reason.

Take a look at Captain Dave at the helm in the Red Sea with 45 knots of wind and quartering seas.  We had just passed through the Bab Al Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea and needed to sail about twenty miles to tuck in behind a headland to escape the short steep seas and high winds.

For three hours, I stood at the helm steering by hand, and in the process, the salt spray turned my clothes into a pillar of salt.  At the end of the day,  my clothes contained so much salt that they looked as if they were starched;  they could almost stand up without me in them.

The reason I stood at the helm for those three hours was because I wanted to protect the autopilot.  We had 1500 miles of remote Red Sea cruising ahead of us, and it made sense to not risk the autopilot when we had all those miles ahead.  Hence, I steered by hand.

The autopilot probably would have handled the large quartering seas without a problem.  Nevertheless, three soaking wet hours at the helm is a small price to pay to guarantee a functioning autopilot during the rest of our Red Sea Adventure.

If instead of taking shelter, we had continued to sail directly down wind and on through the night, I would have reduced sail, slowed the boat down, and let the autopilot steer.

Protecting the autopilot is easy to do.  If you balance your sails so that you have a relatively neutral helm, you will put a smile on your autopilot's face.  When large unruly seas start pushing your boat around and your speed accelerates to dangerous levels, simply slow your boat down by reducing sail or towing warps or a drogue.


One of the easiest and best ways to protect your autopilot in rough seas is to tow warps or use a drogue.  Drogues and warps do two things to make the autopilot's job easier.  They slow the boat down and impart greater directional stability to the vessel.  Instead of your stern slewing around in quartering or following seas, the drag devices tend to hold your vessel on a steady heading.  You don't get knocked around as much, and your autopilot doesn't have to do as much work.

When we ran before steep following seas sailing from Gibraltar to the Canaries, our drogues slowed our speed down to four and a half knots, and kept us pointing directly downwind.  The autopilot didn't have a problem with the following seas because of our high directional stability.  When I am towing a drogue or warps, the boat behaves as if it's much longer than its designed waterline length.  Instead of acting like a 39 foot catamaran, it behaves like the warp or drogue are a part of the boat - which in fact they are.

Protecting the autopilot is mostly common sense.  If you make it easy for your autopilot to survive and to steer, it will keep you safely on course all the way around the world.

Real mariners know the sea, know their boat, and know their autopilot.  They treat their autopilot with respect; it sticks by their side though thick and thin and perseveres when the rest of the crew have nothing left to give.

Every sailor on board Exit Only knows that if they take care of the autopilot, the autopilot will take care of them.


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Exit Only has an extremely safe cockpit for offshore sailing.  As long as the crew remains in the confines of the cockpit, there's little risk of falling overboard.

The danger zone on board Exit Only is the area forward of the steering wheels until you reach the safety of the amidships cap shrouds.  If you are moving or standing in that area and the catamaran is hit by a wave and suddenly moves sideways, there's a significant risk you could fall overboard.  That's not just a theoretical risk.  When we were in a storm north of New Zealand, the boat was knocked eight feet sideways by a wave, and one second I was standing in the middle of the salon, and the next second I had fallen down into the galley.  Boats sometimes get knocked sideways, and if you are standing on deck when it happens, you can instantly be thrown overboard.

That experience taught me a lesson.  I decided to install high lifelines that would protect the crew when we sailed offshore.  I put those lifelines in the danger zone, because that was the location of highest risk.

When we started our circumnavigation, we had port and starboard jacklines running the full length of the boat.  I didn't like the wire jacklines because stepping on them was like stepping on ball bearings.  They would roll under my foot and they could cause me to fall.  I also didn't like the fact that they had a white cover on them that made it impossible to inspect the integrity of the wire.  Hidden corrosion could damage the jackline, and it could break just when you needed it most.  I have heard that in some countries it is illegal to use a white cover on lifelines because you can't tell the status of the wire.

After several years, I replaced the wire jacklines with ones constructed of webbing.  Although the webbing worked fine, I worried about reports of people falling overboard and being dragged through the water and drowning because they were not strong enough to get back on board in a water-logged state.  Sometimes injuries prevented the overboard victim from getting back on board, and in one case an elderly crew member wasn't strong enough to pull her husband on board, and he drowned.

The jackline concept is good in theory, but in practice, it doesn't always prevent you from going overboard.  It doesn't prevent the safety harness from breaking your ribs, it doesn't prevent fractures if you get slammed into the side of the hull, and it doesn't get you back on board.

Our solution to the jackline problem was to install high lifelines that ran at waist and shoulder height from the stern to the amidships cap shrouds.  These lifelines gave us protection in the danger zone.

We made our high lifelines using nylon webbing.  We ran webbing back and forth from the stern to the amidships shrouds to create a "spider web" barrier that made it impossible to fall overboard.  These high lifelines were so secure that we would brace ourselves against them to stabilize our cameras when shooting pictures offshore.

Once forward of the cap shrouds, we were out of the danger zone standing at the mast with ten feet of deck between us and the deep blue sea.  The risk of falling overboard while standing at the mast was extremely remote.

Whenever we sailed offshore, we installed the high lifelines to keep us safe when going forward.  At the end of the offshore passage, we took the high lifelines down so that the webbing wouldn't be continually exposed to the harmful effects of the sun's radiation.


Trampolines are the other danger zone on board Exit Only.

In rough seas north of New Zealand, we broke ten stainless steel eyebolts that held sections of the trampolines in place.  We discovered the broken fasteners before anyone fell through the trampolines.  Falling through trampolines isn't a theoretical risk.  Racer Rob James was lost at sea after falling through the trampolines on his  yacht.

Because of these and other foredeck risks, whenever crew goes forward to work on deck or stand on the trampolines, we attach him to an extra long spinnaker halyard that clips on to his safety harness.  There's plenty of slack in the halyard for the person to move around on the foredeck, but if the crew member would go through the trampoline or fall overboard, recovering them back on board simply involves winching them on deck using the spinnaker halyard attached to their safety harness.

If someone falls through the trampoline on Exit Only, there's a good chance that they will be able to save themselves with the spinnaker halyard, and if that doesn't work, then a crew member will be able to winch them on board.

Every yacht is a different design and has different danger zones.  On board Exit Only, high lifelines and an extra long spinnaker halyard protect our crew when they are in the danger zones.





The last time I visited the Miami boat show, I heard a prominent sailing magazine editor say that catamarans are only seaworthy if they are more than forty feet in length.  That came as a big surprise to me, because I had already sailed Exit Only half way around the world, and we were only thirty-nine and a half feet long.  According to his gospel, we were circumnavigating the world in a barely seaworthy vessel.

I have more than 33,000 miles of offshore sailing under my belt, and I can unequivocally say that size has little to do with seaworthiness.  A sturdy small yacht that's sailed well is far more seaworthy than a large vessel sailed poorly by an inexperienced crew.

I know of a 32 foot catamaran that rounded Cape Horn, and I met sailors in Thailand who were completing a circumnavigation on a 35 foot catamaran with a crew of three.

So what's the difference between maxi cats and small cats like Exit Only?  It doesn't have much to do with seaworthiness; it's more about speed and the ability to carry weight.  Big cats go faster, sometimes a lot faster, and they can carry more weight.  Fast is good, but usually not that important.  If you're really into speed, you should be flying in a 747, after all, nothing goes to windward like a 747.

High speed is a mixed blessing.  Sailing at fifteen to twenty knots is exciting and may give you the ability to get out of harms way when you're running from a storm.  But the speed that can save you can also be your undoing.  What do I mean by that? 


When I sail Exit Only at six knots, my margin for error is infinitely large, but when I am sailing at twenty knots the margin for error is razor thin.  I once saw our speedometer max out at eighteen knots during an Atlantic storm as we sailed from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, and I was more than a little concerned.  If the autopilot failed or any significant problem happened at that speed, my catamaran could capsize or suffer structural damage.  There was no margin for error, and it was mandatory that I decrease our speed to safe levels.  I trailed two warps behind Exit Only bringing our speed down to four and a half knots, and immediately smiles broke out among the crew.  In spite of the twenty foot seas, Exit Only was sailing at a safe speed with a comfortable motion, and we knew that we would be ok.  We spent the next two days  running off in thirty five to forty knots of wind without a problem.  We were out of the danger zone and into the "No Worries Mate" zone.

No matter what the size of your cat, you can't maintain high speeds for long periods without incurring structural damage.  It's simply a matter of physics.  The hull structure simply can't safely dissipate all the kinetic energy associated with high speeds for an unlimited period of time.  If you push a large high tech cat too fast for too long in large seas, a demolition derby begins.  I've seen fast cats sitting high and dry in boatyards around the world awaiting repairs.  If you want to discover the structural weakness in your cat, just sail it fast in big seas, and it won't be long before you find the weakest link in your speed machine.

Seaworthiness isn't about size; its about seamanship.  You must know the sea, and know your vessel, and sail it in a manner that it makes it possible to survive.

I sail my catamaran at five to six knots around the clock when I am offshore.  I move at those speeds so that my crew is comfortable, and the boat has a reasonable motion.  At six knots my autopilot effortlessly handles the wind and seas, and everyone knows they are safe.  When boat speed goes above ten knots, everyone becomes uneasy, because we are sailing closer to the edge.

Our perfect boat speed is 6.25 knots.  At that speed Exit Only is able to click off one-hundred fifty miles per day and do it in comfort without risk.  Equally important, the autopilot is happy, and a happy autopilot means a happy crew.

When you're sailing fast in big seas, the load on the autopilot increases substantially.  That's not a problem until you strip the gears on the autopilot or burn out its motor.  Then you have a real problem, because suddenly you must hand steer in bad weather, and if you are crossing an ocean, you might be hand steering for several weeks.  When the wind and sea state increase, I sail in damage control mode to protect my autopilot, because I want my autopilot to live long and prosper.

Yacht designers and salesman worship at the altar of speed, while most cruisers worship at the altar of safety and comfort.  If you are a mariner versed in the ways of the sea, you know the truth about seaworthiness.  It's not the size of the vessel that matters; it's how you sail it that really counts.  So don't let anyone tell you that your vessel is unseaworthy because of it's size.  Just look them in the eye, and wave good-bye as you start your voyage around the world.

Although the sea is big, and my ship is small, life is still good.





Captain Dave and his family spent eleven years sailing around the world on their Privilege 39 catamaran, Exit Only. During the trip, the crew of Exit Only shot 200 hours of video with professional cameras to show people what it's like to sail on a small boat around the world.

The Red Sea Chronicles is a one hour and twenty-two minute feature film showing their adventures as Exit Only sails through Pirate Alley in the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea.  The professional footage documents their experiences in Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, and the Suez Canal.  It chronicles the rigors of traveling in a remote section of the world rarely visited by cruisers.  Exit Only dodges Yemeni pirates, fights a gale and sand storms in the Bab al Mandeb at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.  The crew explores deserted islands on the western shores of the Red Sea, and learns to check the cruising guides for land mines before venturing ashore.

The Red Sea Chronicles also has outstanding Special Features including an Instructional Video on Storm Management that tells sailors how to deal with storms at sea.

And don't forget the two Music Videos: "The Red Sea Blues", and "Captain - Save Our Souls".

The Red Sea Chronicles is a first class adventure that stokes the sailing dreams of both experienced and wannabe sailors alike.  Order your copy of the Red Sea Chronicles and experience the adventures of Exit Only as they sail around the world and up the Red Sea.

Meet The Crew

Dave Abbott - Captain

Captain Dave always dreamed of sailing around the world on his own sailboat, and his eleven year circumnavigation with his family made his dream come true.

Donna Abbott - First Mate

Donna earned her stripes the REALLY old fashioned enduring the rigors of passage making for the thrill of exploring exotic ports across the globe.


Sarah Abbott - Deck Swab

Sarah is the newest member of the family and crew. Despite her limited sailing experience, she jumped right in to life on the high seas. Her fresh and enthusiastic perspective on cruising help make the Red Sea Chronicles so special.


David Abbott - Cameraman/Director/Editor/Narrator/Composer

David shot over 170 hours of footage on the voyage from Australia to Florida. He then spent a year and a half on dry land editing and producing the Red Sea Chronicles DVD. In addition to the narrating the film, David also scored, performed, and recorded the entire soundtrack for the project.


Wendy Abbott - Voice of Ninja Crab

Wendy is the daughter of Capt Dave and Donna. She sailed on Exit Only from Florida to New Zealand. Wendy guest stars as the voice of a Ninja Hermit Crab in the Red Sea


10. The Red Sea Chronicles is an affordable CHRISTMAS gift for the sailor in my life.  Where else can I get a totally awesome gift for only twenty bucks?  
 9. I work hard for a living, and I deserve to reward myself with the Red Sea Chronicles.  
 8. My Dream Machine could use a shot in the arm, and the Red Sea Chronicles will give it the boost that it needs.  
 7. Every minute spent watching The Red Sea Chronicles extends my life by a full year.  
 6. I want to see what it's like to cruise on a catamaran before I spend a bazillion dollars purchasing one.  
 5. I want to see how a catamaran handles in heavy weather.  
 4. I want to see the Storm Management video so I understand what I need to do when I get in a storm at sea.  
 3. If I buy The Red Sea Chronicles, then Maxing Out Media will start production on two new DVD's - Australia to the Red Sea, and Med Sea to the Caribbean.  
 2. I like the Maxing Out web site, and I would like to support the website by purchasing their DVD.  
 1. After watching the Red Sea Chronicles, I can finally see myself sailing on the ocean of my dreams.


"Story, quality, music, people, boat... Just excellent."

e got the DVD yesterday and watched it last night (we had no problem with the different format at all), what a great adventure and well put together DVD it was entertaining as well as informative and funny at times, a great combination. Well done you guys are natural movie stars, Laura and I watched the DVD twice and I am sure we will watch it many more times in the future."

I hope you guys are going to make more DVDís of your previous sailing trips for us to enjoy."

"Amazing...Just watched your dvd The Red Sea Chronicles for the third time today...I called my boss at home and turned in my notice...I'm going sailing!"

"The best cruising video to date from any source and should be on the shelf of every one who shares the cruising spirit even if only in dreams."

"...a great video that transported me from a damp, cold day in Wales to cruising aboard Maxing Out in the Red Sea - pure nectar."

"The only "problem" is that this has left me wanting more of the same stuff, just from some of the other places Maxing Out has visited!"

"Thumbs up. I also wish the entire circumnavigation was documented, but this small portion in the Red Sea is excellent. Well done."

I just watched the Red Sea Chronicles and second what all the others have said. I'd love to see a whole series of Maxing Out DVDs...Good job!"

Red Sea Chronicles DVD Previews

The Red Sea Chronicles is now available!

  We are attacked by flying fish as we cross the Indian Ocean on our way to Salalah, Oman. When we make landfall, the local suq (market) helps us regain our land legs.


  The riskier side of world cruising. In this episode we prepare to sail through "Pirate Alley" in the Gulf of Aden

  We arrive in Aden with a damaged alternator and are delighted to find a superb local machine shop. As we prepare to leave, fellow cruisers are attacked by pirates.

  We must sail through the notorious Bab el Mandeb (Gate of Sorrows) to enter the Red Sea. 50 knot winds and relentless sandstorms are ready and waiting on the other side




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Blue Water






Storm Management Offshore
Parachute Sea Anchor Chainplates
When To Deploy Chutes and Drogues

The Almost Never Fail Catamaran Anchoring System
How Big Should Your Anchor Be?
Far Horizons
Tsunami Damage - The Starboard Bow Takes A Licking
Everywhere, Everything
Go West Young Man - Seasteading
Beam Me Up Scotty

Ten Reasons Why Night Sailing Rocks
When Are You Coming Home?

Sailing to Borneo to See Wild Orangutans
Double Headsail Downwind Sailing
Grand Schemes And Other Important Things
Rigging Emergency Prevented - Listening To Your Boat

Dreams Do Come True
I Have A Dream

I Am Wandering, But Not Lost
Missing Out
The Facts of Life

Red Sea Rigors and Rumors
Never Surrender Your Dreams
Red Sea Sunsets

Exit Only Survives the Global Tsunami
The Sea Is So Big and My Ship Is So Small

34 Things I Learned in 33,000 Miles
Space Travel

Ten Disasters I Was Afraid Of That Never Happened
Kissing Cobras

Pirates of The Malacca Straits
The Tree That Wanted To Eat My Boat

Offshore Dream Machine for Circumnavigation
The Facts of Life Rafts

Surviving the Savage Seas
Abbott Drogue - Adjustable Medium Pull Drogue
You Must Know The Sea

Listen to the Sound of Your Dreams
Clouds Are a Sailor's Friend

Exit Only
Life Is Good
Getting Connected

First You Think It, And Then You Do It
My Addiction
Cook's Look at Lizard Island

I've Got Trade Wind Dreams
Storms Come and Go
Go Ahead.  Live Your Dreams.
The Next Step

Take Care of Your Autopilot So It Takes Care of You
Danger Zones On Board Exit Only

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