Archive for March, 2011
March 29, 2011
It’s been over a week since my last post as I’ve been busy busy busy! The last week has been an intensive week of learning, sailing and testing at the Vancouver Island Maritime Academy(VIMA). We covered tides, currents, boat handling under sail and power, man overboard, pilotage, day shapes, night lighting systems, sounds and the list goes on and on right down to the European method of tidal calculations. Why you ask the European method? Well…..VIMA is now a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) accredited facility. You can check out the VIMA website for more accurate details and enquiries. The relationship with the RYA is brand new and part of a new initiative to bring the training to Canada. It was an amazing course and I was privileged to be part of it with some wonderful people.
On the left, meet Katy the owner, operator, brains behind the operation of VIMA and our instructor for the week. The other two guys are the wonderful motley crew that together we made up the first three successful training candidates for the RYA program with VIMA. The guys were successful in obtaining their RYA Yachtmaster Offshore certification and I was able to obtain my Yachtmaster Coastal certification. Yes…..there were a few short jokes this week, but somehow I still measured up! The person missing from the picture is our photographer and RYA instructor. It was a pleasure to be under Christian’s watchful and intuitive eye 🙂
Did I mention tidal calculation? Check out the current at this south cardinal buoy! And yes…..they have cormorants here in Victoria as well! Now I think it’s time to do some sailing and put this new found knowledge to practise!
I hope you have had a chance to read the crazy events of my finish for the 1000 nautical mile qualifier in my last blog. Certainly it wouldn’t have been as favourable an outcome if it wasn’t for the support I received to try and get back to my mooring ball and land. I want to introduce you to Sea Tow.
Rand and his fantastic rigid inflatable were able to amazingly manoeuver around the mini in massive seas and winds and not leave a mark on her. Plus, we’ve all heard horror stories about the significant levels of damage that can result from towing. Often the worst damage happens during towing! Not the case with Rand and Sea Tow. OGOC and I were in fantastic hands. Considering there are no bow cleats on the mini, Rand figured out the best and safest towing method, and was able to negotiate safe towing speeds to keep the loads as minimal as possible while we were underway. Picture a inch and a half tow line stretched out well over one hundred feet and disappearing into the wave behind you, dragging a boat that wants nothing more than to scream at obnoxious speeds down each wave! Thanks Rand for your support and wonderful skills! For the rest of you, check out a membership with Sea Tow. It’s an inexpensive piece of insurance that is MUCH cheaper than calling for an emergency tow, and may just save your life and the life of your vessel one day. 🙂
log date March 2, 2011
N25d10’ W79d50’’ – Cay Lobos to Miami Sea Buoy
0129 UTC EST (the night before)
Log Reading 1245M
Wind N20 -28knots
Drifting toward the Sea Buoy with control would be one way of describing it. Wishing I was strapped in with a five point hitch would be another! Here’s the summary. 11 days out. A potential sum total of 24 hours of cumulative sleep. Busiest shipping lane in the world. 20+ foot square waves you can’t see in the dark and fifty miles to the finish! I can honestly say at this point exhaustion was starting to win. By 0230 I was loaded on my third coffee. The rain was pouring across the sky. The traffic was never ending. Each time a new vessel would pop up on my AIS I would write it down in my book and hail them. Most times they were headed directly in my path, headed for Miami or Fort Lauderdale, or south to the ditch. We were all sharing the same bucket of water. Thankfully they were all very happy to alter course to avoid. Once we had confirmed positions and a collision was averted, I would put a check mark next to their name. Then I would move on to the next. The closest call came when one ship “thought” they saw me. When they altered course to avoid me they actually came closer. I opened the companionway hatch to see both bow lights staring straight at me. I called on the VHF again and after several flashes with my spotlight, a 965 foot freighter banked hard right and brushed past us. Everything looks bigger and faster in the dark, but I’m sure I could hear the waves smashing against their hull. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile away. Then again I was also up to seeing and hearing crazy things. I could clearly see someone climbing in over the stern of the boat right where the safety gear was mounted. On the one hand I knew it wasn’t real. On the other, I was perplexed as to why this person was invading my cockpit, and at one point even ran back into the cockpit to address the issue! Then, while stationed inside the cabin, I was hearing people talking. Again I knew it wasn’t real, but it was amazing how clear and vivid the voices were. I think everyone who has ever done a long distance haul will attest to those odd wee hours where the unreal starts to catch up to you and the brain suffers a little! Crazy, but nothing a little nap can’t solve. Unfortunately I wasn’t getting a nap.
The new plan. At the current calculations, I will drift north with the Gulf Stream at 4 knots. I should be adjacent to the Miami Sea Buoy (my finish) around first light. There’s an anchorage just inshore from the Sea Buoy. The plan is to finish, sail west in to the anchorage, drop a hook and wait it out. Then turn around and head south back to Coconut Grove or head in through the main channel. My next course of action was to radio the US Coast Guard and inform them of my position. I often live by the “just incase” rule of thumb. Although the Coast Guard was a little perplexed as to my VHF call, they took my information and agreed that even though the anchorage was a lee shore, that it was probably a good idea. By daylight I was ready. I had almost 300 feet of anchor rode and chain. I poked my head outside of the cabin to see what life really looked like. Holly cow! The seas were gigantic! I was about 8 miles off shore and I couldn’t see the city when I was in the troughs. There was no power when I was in the troughs. Then we would rise up to the crest of the wave, 28 knots from the north would hit us. We could have sailed in this but the new concern was getting in…or more specifically when something went wrong trying to get in. Any channel would be narrow and have deep chop. I would have to sail in. The engine’s prop wouldn’t even touch the water. To get to an anchorage would be feasible, but would my anchor set? What if it didn’t? I have a fortress anchor, which is the correct size for the boat but is one of the lightest ones you can get. Would it even make it to the bottom before we got picked up by another wave and pushed in to the lee shore? That close to land we wouldn’t have a northward push from the Gulf Stream. We would be completely at the mercy of the wave action, wind and counter current pushing us onto the lee shore. I called the Coast Guard again. Gave them the details and asked for support to get in safely. At 0712 on March 2, 2011 I finished. Not only was I past the Miami Sea Buoy, but now I was heading north quickly! Coast Guard agreed to come out and pull me in. Sea Tow also rang me up on the VHF and offered to tow in. Rand from Sea Tow was familiar with the boat and campaign, as we had been moored in the same basin. They offered to come out free of charge! It’s amazing what the human spirit is capable of! Coast Guard arrived first, then Sea Tow. Rand dropped a towing bridle into the water and floated it downwind to me. I hooked it up to the primary winches. We towed to weather and everything looked good. Then we stopped for me to take the main down. If my brain had been working a little better I would have realized the error I was about to make. The next step was to drop the main. Remember, I was heaved to. The main was what was holding me still. As soon as I dropped the main and the sail lost its anchoring ability, the boat took off like a rocket down the face of the next wave. Rand said “one minute you were there, the next you were gone”. We started screaming along with a wave and as I was at the mast trying to drop the main, I wasn’t steering, and I hadn’t thought to put the autopilot on to drive us into the wind. Then the next wave picked us up and we started to scream even faster. Rand saw what happened and gunned it. He dropped the hammer on 400 some odd horsepower of outboard strength and tried to run ahead of us. Remember….we’re now hooked together by the tow line. Rand couldn’t catch up fast enough. I ran over my towline and face planted into the next wave. No damage, and now we were parked for a second and I got the rest of the main down on deck. In the process, the towline had wrap itself once around the keel and up through the rudders. A bit of a mess to say the least, but nothing a knife couldn’t fix. To help, the Coast Guard put a body on deck with me. Poor kid! Two years in service, struggling with a bowline and plopped onto a boat with a crazy blonde who prefers to control her own domain! He was very helpful and did everything I told him to do. Plus he had a great time! Eventually we got the towline sorted out and were on our way. Then we deployed the drogue to slow us down and control our ride in. Kyle from the Coast Guard was having a little difficulty negotiating the lumpy seas and the big gulp coffee he had slammed! The whole towing process took 7 hours. By the time we got to the main channel entrance to Miami, the Melges 32s that were headed out for the offshore regatta were turning around in the channel because they couldn’t get out. Another support boat came out. My wonderful new friends at Coconut Grove Sailing Club Nick, Dave and other helpful hands came out to lend assistance. Nick came onboard to replace Kyle when he had to leave and said “let me drive…you need a break”. I’m a bit possessive to say the least when it comes to my Mini, but Nick offered me a fresh tuna sandwich on a croissant, fresh fruit and a Gatorade in exchange for the tiller…..I thought it was a good deal! Three bites into the sandwich I switched to the fruit. Three pieces or so into the fruit my brain said “that’s it…..time for a break”, and I passed out cold. Next thing I knew we were pulling up to my mooring ball and my little adventure was over.
Finished 1212 UTC 0539 EST – N25d38.65’ W79d 54’
March 14, 2011
I should have the last leg posted tomorrow. I’ve spent the weekend preparing all of the charts and logs etc to submit to Class Mini. Good new is that everything got sent off by snail mail today to France. The class will now review all of the documentation and then hopefully officially validate my run in the Bahamas! Cross your fingers.
post on March 11, 2011
log date Feb 27, 2011
N21d45’ W75d Great Inagua to the Old Bahamas Bank (aka the ditch)
1155 UTC 0655 EST
Log Reading 835M
Full main and genoa and 2 reefs in both
Wind SE 15-20 knots
Between Great Inagua and the beginning of the Old Bahama Channel, there’s a large section of water where you can line yourself up gybing to get up the Old Bahama Channel (the ditch). My gybing work takes me a little north of the rhumb line and then with a gybe over I come to the south side of the rhumb line very close to Cuba. With one more gybe in mind, I gybe over and start working my way toward the ditch.
It’s hazy out this morning. You can’t really see the horizon. Cuba is a great place. I’ve never been, but everyone I know who has gone there on holiday has had a fantastic time. I’ve also heard lots of stories of drug running and patrol ships along the Cuba border. For many reasons I have no intention of wanting or needing to go into Cuba. As the sun came up the haze showed how thick it was. I could just make out the form of land….just barely. Then out of the haze I see a ship. My usual procedure, I check the AIS…..doesn’t show up. It’s also pretty much standing still. The AIS will only pop a ship up on the screen if it’s within about 4 miles and this ship could have easily been outside of that range, but still….things were a little eerie! It’s almost like they were trying to figure out what or who I was. If they looked through their binoculars I bet they were saying….”what the heck is something that small doing way out here?” Regardless of who or what they were, a few minutes later they moved on. Later on that night, as I got very close to the narrows of the ditch I got to chat with some guys on Chemical Pioneer. They were making their way out of the ditch and I was gybing my way in through a section that’s about ten miles wide, depending on your angle. I wanted to make sure they saw me, and in the conversation ended up telling them about the campaign, as they were seriously curious about a 21 foot single handed boat way out in never never land! Then the ditch narrowed and the traffic swelled, and I plodded my way just outside of what seemed to be the shipping lane, and we quickly made our way through the ditch to Cay Lobos.
Feb 28, 2011
N22d34’ W77d58’ – Great Inagua to Cay Lobos
1605 UTC 1105 EST
Log Reading 1049M
Full main and genoa
Wind SE 20 +knots
Feels great to be on our way home. As much fun as this is and as much incredible hard work as it is it’s always nice to pass a mile marker and know that you’re on your way. So, where were we…..right, Cay Lobos and still in the ditch. Cay Lobos is my final waypoint before returning to the Miami Sea Buoy. As you know, the depth meter isn’t working. Upon final approach to Cay Lobos the depth meter decided that this was an appropriate place to commit final suicide. The meter had been steady at 28 meters for almost a thousand miles, or was flat lined. Most likely the problem I was experiencing was from the soundings reflecting back through the different thermal layers of the water. Now upon final approach to Cay Lobos lighthouse the meter decides to jump to 2 metres below the keel. This of course sets off the shallow depth alarm. Fine…hit reset. Should be plenty of water here according to the chart. Then it jumps to 12 metres and then 99 metres and the deep anchoring alarm goes off. I’m ready to heave the friggin thing right into the water. Patience prevails as I continuously hit the reset button, try to get a picture of Cay Lobos and the GPS and try to read the chart all at the same time. Then… almost as if all of the other alarms on the boat were jealous, they started going off as well. The Active Indicating System felt inclined to tell me about two ships in the area, and the autopilot chimed in with an “off course” alarm for the apparent wind. Maddening to say the least! Scary as hell as everything was going off at once. Fine…take the damn picture and head back out.
The next several hours were spent heavily engaged with a manual, the cockpit floor and the ST60 display in hand trying to figure out how to shut the damn alarm off. The ST60 manual is possibly the worst written manual in the world for someone who is semi-conscious and barely able to construct a sentence due to exhaustion and fatigue! I’m sure that for your average person who is lucid and coherent, it’s an excellent manual, but under the circumstances this was a loosing battle!!! Note to self….make a cheat sheet for when the alarm goes off again! Next stop….Miami Sea Buoy J
March 1, 2011
N23d19’ W79d05’’ – Cay Lobos to Miami Sea Buoy
0324 UTC 2224 EST (the night before)
Log Reading 1133M
Full main and genoa
Wind SE 5-10 knots
We’ve worked our way out of the ditch and are making our way north back into the Gulf Stream.
At this point the current is completely in our favor, which is really handy as the breeze is dying to a gentle drift. The cruise ship and cargo ship traffic are building quickly also. All night long we played “dodge the cruise ship”. Luckily they have just as little interest in plowing into us as we into them. With a little radio work we all chat our positions and they happily alter course around us. I felt bad having a big ship like that alter course around me, but honestly, it was that or get mowed down.
By the next morning the breeze finally fills in a little from the east. The weather forecast is not so good. The breeze is going to swing around to the west by mid afternoon and then go north in the evening and north east through the night…..bad weather coming. During the day I finally got to take advantage of some nice kite flying conditions. The water was flat and the breeze was 5-10 knots. I got the biggest kite up and then as the breeze started to shift forward switched to the code 0 and then back to a headsail. By the time the headsail was back up we were smack in the Gulf Stream again. My calculations were excellent. A Course of 320 degrees gave us a course made good of 348 degrees as the stream pushed us north. We were on port tack and getting tighter. Before the sun went down I checked the jib was ready to go and gave everything a final check over to make sure we were ready for heavy weather. It was going to clock and build to 20+ knots. The weather forecasts were inconsistent. May or may not rain, and may or may not build past twenty and probably only 4-6 foot seas in the stream. I made dinner, made a coffee and got my gear on. The next problem was that as the breeze shifted, the breeze also died a little which changed my set and drift calculations for the stream. I had to point higher and was almost up to 290 degrees just to make my course of 348 degrees. Keep in mind that that course of 348 degrees is the course made good according to the GPS….otherwise known as my “track”. So the bow is pointed in one direction and we’re heading in a different direction….crazy, but calculated. So the plan is to carry on west as much as possible, and when the breeze swings north, I’ll tack and sail upwind on starboard and let the current take me rather than fight it, then if we’re heading north a little too much, we can just crack off and push more west. The angle should also be good for the wave action, but regardless, they are going to be steep and sharp. Sounds like a good plan…..right? By nightfall the breeze builds to 20+ knots. At one point I had just finished sharing my position with a ship and went up to the bow to put a reef in and change headsails. While I was up there, the breeze swung hard from the west to the north. It seemed like only ten minutes. This is scary! I’m tethered up on the bow. The breeze has moved almost ninety degrees in a very short spell of time….I decided to leave the headsail down and go back to the cockpit and check our direction and wind etc. 23 knots and from the North hard. Within what seemed like minutes, the waves stack. I sheeted in the main and went without a headsail until I got a feel for the new conditions. Keep in mind, there’s no moon and I can’t see the wave action at all. These waves are pressing up against the Gulf Stream. They are literally square. No curling or cresting, but just standing straight up and close to each other. As we made our way we we’re falling hard off the waves. The bow would climb up a wave and then the wave would disappear out from underneath us and we would free fall down the backside of the wave. I couldn’t see the wave to slide down it. We landed with a thunderous crash. The rig would chatter and scream. Te hull smashes and bulkheads feel like they are going to pop. My nerves run for cover. This is too hard on the boat. It’s also not getting us anywhere other than closer to breaking something. Time to heave to. At least heaved to we’re not crashing around and we’re a little anchored in the water with the main hanging down wind. Granted it’s a lot like being in a washing machine twisting and turning with no great consistency, it’s easier on the boat. Did you know that according to the locals, the Coast Guard and anyone else you talk to that this is smack dab in the middle of the busiest shipping lanes in THE WORLD! I didn’t know this. So the new plan is to drift with the stream in the right direction. I’ll recalculate our position and our drift every hour to make sure that we’re going in a favorable direction, and once the sun comes up I’ll carry on sailing to the Miami Sea Buoy. Time for more coffee….holly crap there are a lot of ships on the AIS now. Time to get on to talking with the traffic on the radio to make sure we don’t get run over!
posted on March 10, 2011
Log date Feb 25, 2011
N24d15’ W73d 39’ – Ocean waypoint to Great Inagua
0110 UTC 2010 (the night before)
Full main and genoa
Wind E 10-15 knots
This is the turn at the ocean waypoint, and it really is a turning point in this marathon run through the Bahamas. With a little luck the breeze will hold from the East and I’ll be able to get my kite up. The turn takes us due south to Great Inagua. As nice as it is to have passed a major milestone, I have greater issues at hand. The battery doesn’t seem to be charging, and thus the trouble shooting starts. Connections are checked for corrosion; solar panel controllers are checked for their charging status with their blinking lights. The controllers are all flashing a solid green which means they think the batteries are fully charged, but the volt meter sais otherwise…12.25 volts….not good. These are acid glass matt batteries. They operate a little differently than a traditional wet cell 12 volt battery. Generally speaking, a wet cell battery is completely useless once it reaches about 12.6 volts. I don’t know how long my batteries will continue to run the autopilot, but the chart sais 12.5volts takes me to 50% battery power. Let the trouble shooting continue! In the meantime, I’ll physically swap battery one with battery two and start using that one. Up until now I have been running only one battery and saving the other for “just in case”. Well I guess this is my “just in case”!
I saw my first sailboat today. Melika. We had a great chat on the VHF. Melika and crew were heading south to great adventures and not sure where or when they would end up somewhere. I told them about my campaign and the owner of Melika told me about his first Atlantic crossing and how he’ll never forget what an exhilarating ride it was. We wished each other luck and carried on with our journeys. He also wished me luck with my batteries!
Feb 26, 2011
N21d21’ W73d40’’ – Ocean waypoint to Great Inagua
1003 UTC 0503 EST
2 reefs in the main and two in the genoa
Wind E 15-20 knots
Last night the batteries got dangerously low….down to about 40%. I was hand steering to save using the autopilot until the morning when the sun came out, but I was falling asleep at the helm. One minute I was on course, the next I was 100 degrees in the wrong direction and didn’t know how long I had been going that way. This was definitely falling into a risky situation, so I deployed the drogue to somewhat park the boat. A drogue is not the traditional method for stopping the boat. You can heave to or you can deploy a sea anchor. I don’t have the space to keep a sea anchor on the mini, and the flogging of the sails is expensive, so the drogue provided a nice controlled drift. Plus there is very little traffic this far out. It’s probably the safest place to “pull over” for the night. Still, I kept the 20 minute alarm going and kept a vigilante watch for ships in between naps. When the sun came up the trouble shooting continued. If I didn’t get this figured out it was going to be absolute hell to finish the run. The irony is that there was no turning back. I was as far east as I was going and it was actually a shorter run to finish than to turn around. Plus the resources available to me this far out were pretty much non existent. If I needed to organize a new solar panel this was one of the most expensive places I could imagine to do so. I would be home before a new panel arrived! So I was trapped. The sun came up and the trouble shooting began. Over the past year I have always run the batteries on “All”. Typically in a 12volt DC system you have heavy gauge wires running from your batteries to a “Perko” switch. Perko is a brand name, but the switch is your main on off switch. You can select between battery 1, battery 2, all batteries or have the switch in the off position. This switch isolates the batteries as you need. After the Perko switch, wires run to your panel with all the different switches to turn on the toys. This is all normal operation stuff. My solar panels are wired through the Perko switch and then are dedicated to a battery rather than having an electronic gadget to manage the recharging. Each solar panel has it’s own controller which manages the flow into the batteries. Try to imagine the sea of wires going into and out of the Perko switch and onto the batteries. Note to self….need a bus bar. It turns out that through this wiring set up I need to have the switch always on “All”. As soon as I switched over to “All”, the controller lights started blinking and both batteries started drinking up the power generated by the solar panels. Within 4 hours, the batteries were back up to 85%. Holly cow….lesson learned for sure. But it’s important to know that I don’t have an option of depleting only one battery at a time. Potential tragedy resolved!
At 1507 UTC and bucking in deep seas to get there, with fully charged batteries, we arrived at Great Inagua. Of course the depth meter still wasn’t working. It was a building sea. We made our way east to the longitude of the lighthouse and within sight of the lighthouse and I took my picture of it and the GPS.
This was certainly a momentous moment. Granted it was the second one of the trip, but this was the biggy! This is where we stopped heading east and south and made the big turn west. This is where the wind moves behind us and the sleigh ride home starts. This should have been a kite ride all the way home at blinding speeds. Did I mention at this point the wind was up to a solid 20 knots gusting up to 23 and the seas were a steady five to eight feet and climbing? Once we turned west, we started to scream along. With two reefs in the main and a reef in the genoa, we started our sleigh ride home. The waves were close enough together that we were catching the trough ahead of us and the bow was burying in it. At some points we screamed down the face of a wave at 18 knots! No need to deploy the kite and have it blow up or trip over the bowsprit. I don’t need to break anything way out here! Home James!!!
The approach to Hole in the wall ended up being in the dark. It was definitely too dark to take a picture of the lighthouse and too shallow to go in any closer without a depth meter working. I’ve had several discussions with the locals about coming in to Hole in the Wall and there seems to be a consistent consensus. The currents make it tricky. Some people have spent half a day sailing back and forth trying to get in until they get it right. Not worth it in the dark! So instead I worked my way to a waypoint within three miles and took a picture of the GPS there.
Class mini rules require validation of the qualifying route. About four months ago I submitted my proposal to the class to do this route with specific waypoints along the way. The class approved the route but required me to validate the route along the way. This is standard operating procedure. To do this I was required to take a picture of each waypoint with the boat and the GPS in the view, which of course is a bit tricky in the dark, so for Hole in the Wall, a picture of the GPS was going to have to do.
By mid afternoon the next day the breeze had shut down entirely and the sails were just flogging and crashing about. Rather than destroy the sails I dropped them on deck and decided to do some work on the boat. Remember when I said the engine might have swamped coming out of Biscayne Bay? Well this was an excellent opportunity to inspect the engine and make sure that if push came to shove, that it would run…especially if a ship came near and I needed to maneuver out of the way. What else for work? Well I ran a changing block for the jib sheets. The mini has a hanked on jib and genoa. Basically they’re little piston clips that hold the sail to the forestay. When I have one sail up and I need to change to the other sail, I have to do some “bottom loading” of the hanks, but I also have to tie a new sheet on to the clew. Or, if I’m reefing the headsail, I need to tie a new sheet on to the new reef point. The mini came with a single fairlead that isn’t big enough to hold two sheets. The easy solution is to sister up another block to the car. It was a bit tricky, but with a little effort I just barely got the spectra line through and lashed the new blocks in place. This made changing sails and reefing sails much safer and easier. Phew…another job off the list. By mid afternoon, the breeze started to fill in and we were back up to 10-15 knots of wind. Next job. The jib was in terrible condition. It has really had the crap beat out of it over the past year. The guys at UK Halsey have repatched and rebuilt it more times than I can remember. Tristan specifically said to me when he handed it over “this jib WON’T last 1000 nautical miles”! And as predicted, in the last take down I found a section that was starting to part. You could see the strands all exposed and the laminate peeled back. If it got up to twenty knots again this would be the better sail to have up, so I wanted to make sure that she would hold…even if the shape wasn’t great. With some sticky back, Nick’s palm, some acetone and needle and thread and two hours of patience and time, the jib got a large section about 16” tall by 8” wide reinforced. It was probably the ugliest hand stitch job ever, but it will hold for sure….
Feb 23, 2011
N24d54’ W75d36’– toward the ocean waypoint
2047 UTC 1547 EST
Log Reading 397M
Full main and genoa
Wind 0 knots
Today was again a no breeze day. Sails were down and more work was completed on the boat. It’s very important to take advantage of opportunities as they come. If you’re not prepared, then you’re going to get caught in a bad position and something is going to go very wrong! So, this was an excellent opportunity to get more work done. First priority on the list was to check all of the lashings, split rings and every friction point on deck. I could have also climbed the rig and checked all of the swages and rivets. That would be next on the work list for the next no wind day. I found a few lashings wearing through, but all in all everything was in good shape. I also attempted some sun sights with the sextant. Another rule of the qualifier along with having to photo validate the waypoints is to do a minimum of 2 sun sights and complete a running fix with those sights. Today was a tricky day to do sun sights. The horizon and the water were almost the same colour in the haze and it was very difficult to find the horizon through the sextant. I took about 12 sights to develop a curve on the height of the sun measurements. Once I got some consistent numbers I was happy with my results. Next I spliced a snap hook onto the trysail pennant. They couldn’t do this at the loft without having a hoist measurement. I must have looked pretty funny out there coasting around in no breeze, main lashed to the deck and the storm trysail hoisted ready for war! It’s a bright orange patch of sail that is virtually bullet proof! Last successful job of the day was to fully realign the heading on the computer properly. During all of this mucking about, I found a school of five fish living under the boat, happily enjoying the shade. After getting to know each other a little, I determined that they quite enjoyed cheerios and apples!
Thankfully going into the night the breeze filled back in. What an amazing night! There was no moon. It was pitch black save the piercing stars above. The only thing you could see were the instruments on the bulkhead and the phosphorescence streaming past and out the stern of the boat. We may have only been doing 6-8 knots, but she felt like a rocket ship! This was one of those moments that you remember forever. It’s the reason we do these things. Try to imagine being a kid at the carnival. You’re on one of those rides that whips you around at crazy speeds and you don’t know which way you’re turning next…all you can see is the lights whizzing past you. All you can hear is the thunder of the ride. You’re so dizzy with excitement that all you can do is laugh and scream. All I could hear was the thunder of the ocean waves breaking alongside as we torpedoed our way along and the music drumming through my ear of my MP3 player. It was completely exhilarating! The kind of thing that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This was a moment to remember….this is why we do this!!!
Feb 24, 2011
N24d29’ W74d 15’ – Toward the Ocean waypoint
1352 UTC 1052 EST
Log Reading 481M
Full main and genoa
Wind E 15 knots
The forecast was starting to predict the breeze to clock around to the south east. This is a traditional weather pattern for the Bahamas. It’sl controlled predominantly by the Gulf Stream and the prevailing winds. The high systems will settle in and get “stuck” there for a week or two. Eventually a low will fight its way through across the Gulf of Mexico and build some heat over Florida and then dump onto the Bahamas. The cue to this low is the breeze clocking and working it’s way south south east. When the low starts to take hold the breeze will shift through the south and come from the west and then fairly aggressively swing to the north. It takes a while for all of this to usually work its way through, but it’s pretty consistent. The breeze was now very slowly starting to clock a little more south of east. Today I was able to get some more sun sights in. Then the breeze went a little north again. This meant that the swells and the breeze weren’t matching and as we slide off of a wave the apparent wind shifted and the autopilot got confused and tried to alter course. Then the boat would slowand the apparent wind would come back in line with the boat and the autopilot would try to adjust again…..time to hand steer. It’s true that throughout this run the sea was somewhat confused….mostly I attributed this to the land masses around and the depths and shallows that the currents were pushing through. There’s a significant amount of ocean that pushes its way along with the Gulf Stream and makes its way through the Bahamas. It’s not surprising that the seas are a little confused, but this was a particularly frustrating sea to drive in. By 2000 UTC the breeze had finally settled back in. The batteries are starting to stay low though. Hmmm?
March 5, 2011
Feb 20, 2011
N26d16’ – W79d28’ – Enter Northwest Providence Channel
0939 UTC 0439 EST
Log Reading 91M
Full main and genoa
Wind SE 10-15 knots
This leg is a great opportunity to get into ship life routine. There are critical items that must happen when you’re onboard for an extended period of time. It’s really easy to fall into a routine of laziness and just spend your time driving the boat or napping. Jobs still need to get done. You need to take care of yourself and your boat. These jobs also keep your brain focused and sharp. Here’s what needs to get done.
Position the solar panels
meter the batteries and record the voltage
fill my two water bottles for the cockpit and the water bottle for cooking
brush my teeth, hair and have a bit of a sponge bath
apply new suntan lotion
clean clothes on
pull out the food rations for the day
load snacks into the cockpit bags to last 24 hours
get weather information
nav lights and the Active Indicating System and Active Echo off
recalculate the plan according to weather and wind
Then throughout the day I work the boat towards that plan. The most critical factor is that I have enough battery power to run the autopilot all night if I had to. I wouldn’t run the autopilot all night, by choice, but I need to know that there is enough battery power “just in case”. The first few nights are especially tough to get in that routine. Especially the first few nights where it’s really tough to get into a sleeping routine. That leads me to the evening routine. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Bahamas….in the Gulf Stream or many other warm climates. The ocean gets cold at night. It also gets very damp and as soon as your clothes get damp with salt water, it’s very difficult for them to dry out again. So as the sun starts to dip down I do almost the reverse of the morning routine.
get a weather report and calculate against the plan
layer on the clothes and fowl weather gear
plot again, even though I’ve been plotting throughout the day as well
turn on the electronics (AIS/AE, nav lights)
During the days I will often drive the boat to save battery power, do calculations or check the boat over for repairs. Lines chafe through in the oddest places and inconsistently. Shackles open up and split rings disintigrate. It’s critical to know that if a storm comes up your gear is ready for it. The last thing you need to do is be forward on the bow in a blow trying to do a headsail change and have a lifeline part on you! The trip through the Northwest Providence Channel was largely focused on getting into that routine. The sleeping at night is the toughest part. It can take anywhere from 2 – 4 days to get into a routine of closing your eyes for 20 minutes, having the alarm scream at you and checking your surroundings, course, sail trim etc, and the horizon for ships. The AIS doesn’t pick up every ship, so you need to constantly check the horizon so you don’t get run over. In the early and later stages of the trip I probably saw 10 ships a night.
Feb 21, 2011
N26d 21’ – W78d 10’ – Northwest Providence Channel
2 reefs in the main
Wind SE 20 knots
Most of the passage through the Northwest Providence Channel was spent tacking toward Hole in the Wall. There was a solid 20 knots all the way along and some decent cruise ship and freighter traffic as well. There also developed a small problem with the ship’s heading alignment with the computer and the ship’s compass. As the night went on I started to notice that we were tacking through very wide angles. Because I was so tired, I’m not sure how long this was going on for. The majority of my years sailing have been course racing. When you’re course racing your whole moment is focused on being on the right side of a shift and playing the shifts in your favour all the way up the course. A ten degree shift sustained over 3 or 4 minutes is often worth tacking on if you’re in phase with the shifts. When you’re racing hundreds and thousands of miles, you get to learn pretty quickly that the shifts become consistent over a twenty minute window often and the more tacking you do the worse shape you are in. It’s better to wait it out and see where the shift goes. So this is a little battle I am always dealing with. So here I am in the dark, looking at a bulkhead compass and factoring in deviation, then looking at the boats autopilot heading and wondering why there is a fifty degree difference and how long that’s been there? The bulkhead compass is too small to navigate by and it’s independent of the computer. I need to realign the autopilot’s heading . This is a tricky feat as it typically requires motoring at 3 knots in a flat sea. I’m in twenty knots and bobbing along with great excitement! But with some great effort I’m able to get a much closer alignment on the computer’s heading. We’ll have to work within that for now until the sun comes up and we have flatter seas. Did I mention that the depth sounder has also crapped out? Same thing happened last June going to Bermuda and the darn thing didn’t come back on until we got back to the East coast. Now I’m working my way toward Hole In the Wall which has some currents that funnel around it and also has some shallows around it.
We’ll do a post ever day and take you through all of the legs. Here’s the first one.
In 2013 84 + 21 foot Mini 650s will race single handed across the Atlantic Ocean from France to Brazil. Yes, single handed. I’m going to be there. But to get there first I need to do a series of qualifying events. There are two things a competitor needs to complete to be eligible for entry application into the Transat Race. The first is a 1000 nautical mile passage. It must be nonstop and must adhere to a very strict set of rules including the use of a sextant and a GPS with no mapping capabilities. Plus a bunch of other stuff that would just make you shake your head! The second piece that must be completed is another 1000 nautical in race miles in France. So to complete the first task I figured, what better place to do a 1000 nautical mile passage than in the warmth of the Bahamas! Here’s how the story goes 🙂
Today’s the big day. I’m ready to go. The systems have all been checked. The electronics are working, the GPS waypoints are plugged in, the food is packed, the clothes are in great shape and the new gear sponsored by Guarantee Company of North America is ready to go. The rig is tuned and all the powers that be have been notified. The weather window is perfect. The breeze is out of the east and holding in a nice high that should last for a long time. We launched One Girl’s Ocean Challenge at Shake-A-Leg here in Miami and have been doing final preparations for the passage at Coconut Grove Sailing Club on a mooring. Everyone at both places has been particularly wonderful. Here at Coconut Grove I’ve become a regular tourist attraction…in a good way! People are just so incredibly helpful and supportive; I can’t tell you enough great things about them. So where were we….right, time to get off the mooring ball and out of Biscayne Bay and through the Biscayne Channel. Let’s get this show on the road. I’m just itching to get going!!! We draw six feet, but have a very under powered 4 horse engine. We’re heading out on an ebb tide that is pretty much slack, so that we’re fighting the least amount of current. It also times us to cross the Gulf Stream at night and enter into the Northwest Passage for daylight. Getting out of Biscayne Bay takes us (me and the mini) through Stiltsville and the Sand Bar.
People will pull up here and have a few cocktails and kite surf. So far so good. The seas aren’t too rough and the motor is plowing along. Just as we get to the last channel mark before exiting the channel, a small wave slaps up the stern of the boat and floods the engine. With a short hiss she cuts out. No problem, the main is ready to hoist……let’s get her up, filled and make a sharp turn north to head for the Miami Sea Buoy. Phew. Excellent recovery….No problem at all.
Feb 19, 2011
N25d 38.7 – W80d 06.3 – Miami Sea Buoy Start mark
Log Reading 91M
Full main and genoa
Wind SE 10-15 knots
We’re officially off. The first waypoint is Great Isaac. It’s not a mark of my course, but it gets me into the Northwest Passage and over to Hole in the Wall for my first waypoint of the course. The Gulf Stream books north at 3 to 4 knots and the breeze is south east so it should make for a good fast crossing. It’s a simple task, but if you don’t calculate set and drift to get across, you’ll end up missing your mark entirely and having to work your way back up the stream. Although my calculations are perfect there are a few “added” factors. Did I mention that this is cruise ship alley! Lots of dodging and weaving and bobbing. If you check the spot tracker you will see that it wasn’t a dead straight run. That’s why….Not a problem though, the AIS is working and we’re making our way through….and in great time. We’re going to get there before sunrise! The full moon really lights up the night. Did I mention the rough chop? I don’t get seasick very often, but I’ll be honest…..I felt a fair bit queasy going across. Lots of short choppy wave action. At 0430 in the morning, we reach the Northwest Passage and make our turn East for Hole in the Wall. Bring on the sunshine!
March 3, 2011
Doing the Bahamas via a Mini is probably not everyone’s dream opportunity, but it was for me. I will be sure to post a nice long follow up with lots of stories in the next day or so, but in the meantime, I’m soooo busy with trying to organize stuff for the Mini and getting her back on her trailer, that I just don’t have the time…Plus I have very limited access to the internet and my computer is dying very quickly! I’ll try to get something better up tomorrow and share some of my great stories with you!
You are all soooo very amazingly supportive. When things get tough out there and you’re just bashing in the waves, your words really become a very key piece to helping “get through it”! Thank you to all of you for your wonderful encouragemenet I really do appreciate it so very much.