The Winds Come on Strong

When the weather gets rough, my attempts to update the blog drop off to zero.  The last couple of days have been wild.  We changed our heading to NNE get to the 38th latitude.  When my watch started we were motor sailing.  Soon the winds built enough to turn the engine off and we were close hauled doing 7-8 knts with winds of 12-15.  The wind started to build and I heard Marshall in my ear.  I looked at Carlos and said, “Time to reef?”  He responded affirmatively.  Turned out that Marshall was right. The winds eventually hit 35 kts and we were ready.  The sails were well balanced and set at the third reef.

We had been referring to the winds at the 38th latitude as the conveyor belt.  The grib files indicated there would a band of 15 kts wind building to the mid 20’s out the west.  Once we got near the 38th our heading shifted to 090, straight east.  The winds were as promised and more.  Since the winds at 38 N were sustained over several days, the seas had time to build.   From the crest to the trough was about 12 feet.  It felt like were we were surfing with a 50 ft 15-ton surfboard.  The waves were moving faster than the boat and directly on our stern.  As a wave would slowly pass it would lift the stern and as the crest of the wave would pass, the bow would be lifted.  Then we would be looking at a 12 ft wall behind us.  When the wall of water caught us, the stern would ride the wave up.  The distance between the waves was great enough that the bow did not get buried in the next wave.

We spent at least 36 hours on the conveyor belt.  The winds eventually gave us a spirited ride.  With just the genoa on a whisker pole, the winds went from mid-20’s to mid-30’s.  There were stretches when our average was 9-10 knts.  One evening, I was on watch and the chartplotter said we surfed down a wave at 12.2 knts.  Very exciting at night, the howling wind, and creaking of the wet jib sheet on the fairlead. The bad news is the stress on the jib sheet resulted in chaffing where the whisker pole was attached.  Roy and Carlos were on the bow cutting the chaffed section out of the jib sheet and re-tying it. The boat was bouncing around as you would expect with high winds and wild seas.  They had their lifevests on and were tethered to the boat, but very scary.

Sleeping in damp clothes, damp sheets, and moist hands/feet has begun to feel normal.  If I was at home, falling asleep under those conditions would be difficult, if not impossible.  Not the case here.  I close my eyes and quickly fall asleep.

Goodbye Sunshine and Consistent Winds

Hello rain.  In Longboat Key, we often watch thunder storms move across the Gulf.  A tall dark thunderhead looks like it extends to the water.  The rain portion reflects the direction the cloud is moving.  Today there were two thunderheads, one on our port and the other on our starboard.  They appeared to be connected by one large arching cloud.  Under the arching cloud was some daylight.  We sailed right under the arch and missed the downpours.  Eventually the rain caught us and stayed with us.

Most evenings we experience heavy condensation.  A layer of condensation forms on the sole (floor), table, seats, and on vertical surfaces such as cabin doors and cabinet doors.  Everything is damp, and sticky, even the sheets in my cabin.  Climbing into my foul weather gear is challenging, because the inside of the jacket and trousers is damp, not wet.  The outside is wet from the last watch.

Day 2 Sailing to the Azores

Roy awoke me for my 0600 shift.  My phone has been acting up so there was no alarm.  It is currently in a bag with about a lb. of rice.  Apparently, the charging port has not liked the salt water bath it got during the leg to Bermuda.   The timing of the 0600 shift is nice because I am up for the sunrise.  When the seas are calm and winds are steady there is not much to do.  Other than occasionally scan the horizon and check the chartplotter for other boats, there is plenty of time to watch the sunrise develop.  When not on a boat, how often do you get up early enough and devote 20 minutes to reflecting about the marvel of a sunrise?  Maybe on vacation, but during routine life, the demands of day get in the way.  About 30 years ago, Dan, my wise department chair, was listening to complain about how I was so busy with article, grant and teaching deadlines.  He asked. “Jack, who makes your schedule?”  It was quite a revelation that I was the cause of my overly full schedule.  Retirement gives no excuses for failure to schedule appropriately.

Prior to my watch, we practiced jibbing with the whisker pole out.  We had to shift the preventer from the port to starboard.  The whisker pole is attacked to a track on the mast.  The trick was getting the pole connected to the clue of the genoa.  The reason for the practice was stronger winds and a wind shift is anticipated tonight.

My 1400 shift was a peaceful as earlier in the day.   Roy, Carlos and Kathy saw three or so dolphin while I was sleeping.  I scanned the water for dolphin activity and saw none during the two-hour shift.  I did see flying fish.  I thought they were birds.  They were a little larger than the ones we saw earlier.

We have encountered solo birds.  Typically, they circle the boat a couple of times and then fly on to wherever they are headed.  I wonder whether the birds are lost, because we are currently 300 miles from the nearest island, and roughly 1000 miles from North America.  The nearest islands headed east are the Azores, between 1500 to 1600 miles away.  That is a lot of bluewater between here and land.

Blue is the appropriate descriptor for the water.  There is lot water under us. Two miles to the bottom?  Out here the water appears untouched by human and industrial waste.  When the water is splashed up by the boat it is a light aqua color.  Looking straight down when the sky is clear the water is a deep blue.  Looking across the water there are patches of dark, almost black water.  These patches of blackish water move around and are caused by clouds.

On the evening 2200, again I was pleased to see the orange sliver of a moon.   We had changed to head more directly north.  The wind at the 35 north was forecast to be light.  Two low pressure systems were aligned such that if we motor sailed north we would pickup winds in the teens building the high twenties that would carry us several days east to the Azores.  The unknown was when we would encounter the wind shift and possibly strong winds.  Hence, I had to be vigilant and be ready for a quick sail adjustments.

The moon was now off the starboard beam.  It  appeared to be following us.  It remained of my question to my dad while we were driving at night.  As a young kid sitting in the back seat of the car, I asked “How does the moon follow us whichever direction we turn?”  I still marvel at the phenomenon.

We Depart for Horta, Azores!

Our start was delayed by the late delivery of our bow thruster solenoids.  For most of the morning it looked like we were going to leave without the unit.  Since we only use the thruster while docking, it would not have been mission critical.  We needed to top off the water and diesel, so that added to our late start.  The upside of the late start we got a nice picture of our friends going across the start line.

As I was writing this, a school of tiny flying fishes were headed in the opposite direction on the starboard.  They are interesting as they actually flap their wings and stay out of the water for a surprising distance.  These little ones were flying about 10-12 feet.  It is much nicer to see them flapping their wings, than to clean them off the deck.  At some point on the last leg, there was one by the port helm.  He/she apparently hit, bled some and then ended up further aft with another blood spot.  I did the traditional burial at sea and lamented a sad end.

On a cheery note, there is a wonderful blue sky, few clouds and a modest breeze.  We are averaging 6 knots, occasionally hitting 7.5 or dropping to the mid-5’s.  The apparent wind is consistent at 9 knots and we are on a comfortable beam reach. Sails are set.  There are smaller rollers rocking the boat.  The autopilot is functioning well.   We were able to catch Migaloo after we passed the cut to open ocean.  However, they deployed their spinnaker and are now slightly ahead of us. There are three boats behind us.  We passed two of them and the other got a later start.  Twenty some are ahead of us.

We had to use the engine to charge the house batteries that run the autopilot and frigs.  This moved us up in the pack.  Hard to say our relative standing. Maybe in the top third.

My 2:00 pm (1400) shift was peaceful.  Steady wind and mild seas.

I saw my first sunset of the trip. On the leg to Bermuda there was no sun to see, except one that I apparently slept through.  The sunset today was absolutely beautiful, and it lasted quite a while.

My 2200 shift was the first of the trip to see the big dipper and north star.  As we were on a heading of 050 with a course over ground (COG) of 045.  The winds continued to be consistent.  There is a certain magic seeing so many stars.  I did not see the milky way, despite not being able to see the moon.  Carlos had the shift after me and he said he saw the moon as a tiny sliver.

Today was the first day that I was able to write a post on board while sailing.  Previously it would have been impossible to keep the laptop and my fingers connected.  It would have been a challenge just to keep the laptop on the table.

Tomorrow, We Set Sail for Horta in the Azores

It has been a most pleasant five days in St. George’s.    The warmth of the Bermudians has been felt day after day.  Walking on the streets in the morning, almost every person says hello or good morning.  This was the case whether the individual was young or old, black or white, poor or elegantly dressed.

Today we shopped for groceries and were waiting for a cab.  After 20 minutes or so, a gentleman drove up and asked if we were waiting for a cab.  He noticed we had been waiting for long time.  He said he was headed to his boat in St. George’s.  He volunteered to drive us to St George’s.  We loaded 10 grocery bags in the back of his station wagon. He drove us to the dock where our boat was 100 yards away.   To transfer the bags to the boat we had to leave some by the curb.  A man noticed our predicament and volunteered to watch our bags.

There is a wonderful sense of comradely among the ARC Europe participants.  Invariably, something on the boat breaks during a challenging passage.  In our case the culprit was the bow thruster. While docking at St. George’s, the thruster got stuck on.  That meant the bow was moving without the helmsman being able to lift his finger and turn it off.  Roy shut the main engine off and it simultaneously shut the thruster down.  Crew members from at least four boats agreed to look at the problem.  The source of the problem was initially thought to be the switch at the helm.  Subsequent opinions converged on the solenoids at the bow above the thruster.  At the moment, we are waiting for a mechanic to return with the solenoids and news of the bench test.

St George’s, Bermuda

Walked to Tobacco Bay, a nice beach. Spent some time snorkeling and given how close it was to beach, there were large colorful trigger fish. Water temp was comfortable.

On the walk to Tobacco Beach we met Phil and Norma.  Their blog is: https://www.sailblogs.com/member/philandnorma They have been sailing since 2009.  Nine years is a long time to be traveling with only occasional trips back for family events.  Like initial conversations with other sailors, the questions are typically about where you sailed from, to where and when you plan to sail, your respective boats, and boat repairs.  As the conversation proceeds more detail is learned about noteworthy passages.  After transiting the Panama Canal, they were headed to the Galapagos and ran into a submerged 8-ft metal fishing cage.  Their keel and rudder were compromised.  They hand steered for 350 miles.  Phil did a two-hour shift while Norma did a one-hour shift.   To make matters worse, the parts they needed and the boatyard that could do the job required another passage of the Panama Canal. Norma said the first time through the Canal was exciting and took many pictures.  Not as much fun on the second and third time.  Rather than lamenting their misfortune, they reported feeling good about being able to successfully handle a serious situation.

On land it is common to learn what a person does for work.  We talked with Phil and Norma for close to an hour and the topic of occupations/professions did not come up.  The conversation was focused solely on sailing.

The day was capped off with the awards ceremony for the first leg of ARC-Europe. Team North Wind came in second!

Tiny frogs make incredibly loud and high pitched sounds.