December 5, 2013
Where did we last leave off on this mighty adventure of pushing a 21 foot sled solo across the Atlantic Ocean?
After our 68 hour technical stopover in Portugal we said our goodbyes, cast off lines and pointed the bow to Lanzarote. We (the boat, Jack our mascot and I) were well behind the fleet at this point but still in the race with a chance to pick up a few boats. Even along the coast of Portugal I was wearing thermals, midlayers and a dry suit! When was it going to warm up?
The first 24 hours were a test of the new batteries. The power charged up nicely during the sunny day and at night fell as low as 12.4 but we were running with everything lit up. There was also some nice code 5 spinnaker flying and great boat speed! ten knots….12 knots! Woohooo let’s catch up some boats!
Mid afternoon of the 19th we were screaming along in 20 knots of wind. The pilot was driving beautifully. All of a sudden the needle on the wind instrument went dead. In 2o knots of wind, the display was reading 5 knots of wind and no direction. This was definitely annoying. It’s not impossible to run a boat without wind information, but it’s very very dangerous in heavy wind conditions and it certainly isn’t fast! But, I had a second vane onboard from my great friends at Raymarine and tomorrow’s wind was going to ease to 10-12 knots and it would be decent rig climbing conditions to swap out the units. I was pretty sure that after having dumped the existing wind vane in the drink frequently while getting knocked down, that I probably had a significant amount of corrosion at the connection point. It was also possible that infact I had chaffed through the cable for the windvane inside the mast. Earlier on I had lost part of the functionality of my mast head tri-light and I wondered if infact I had now chaffed through the wind vane cable also? So a plan was hatched to climb the rig in two days when the wind and sea state dropped.
Two days later the sun came up and the wind died along with the swell. Perfect! Time to collect the tools, wind vane and everything I might possibly need. While I was sitting in the cockpit sorting my equipment, a flat little round disc caught my eye. It was about the size of a pea, very oxidized with a tiny little hole right in the middle of it and just lying there on the cockpit floor. “What the heck is that” I thought, and just as I leaned over to further inspect it I realized what it was and I said “oh crap…..where did you come from?” It was the head of a rivet. I looked at the boom with great anticipation that a rivet on the end of the boom had degraded out of the casting. There was no such luck. My next fear was confirmed when I looked up the mast. I was on port tack. The main nicely leaning out the starboard side of the boat and the port side of the upper spreader bracket was banging back and forth against the mast. The rivet head I was holding in my hand had sprung off of the cast piece when the casting broke. There were still two rivets holding it to the mast but if I didn’t act quickly, I would risk the mast falling down.
Immediately I tacked, taking all the load off the damaged side, then dropped the main to properly assess the state of affairs. The cast piece was split into two pieces. The quickest solution was to straighten the mast by adjusting the rig tuning and runner and check stays and compress the broken fitting holding it in place. I could use my small spinnaker and genoa but I would be without a main and 350 miles to the Canary Islands and maybe…just maybe I would be able to effect repairs with enough time to get started again. I only had four hours left for technical repairs. A quick calculation of my position and estimated time of arrival would take me approximately 3 days to get in. I also new that there was a big risk if I stopped in the Canaries. The risk was that I would run out of technical stopover time and be so far behind the fleet that for safety reasons the race director would deny me access to restarting.
So with that in mind I lashed the main to the boom, hoisted the genoa and storm jib and pointed for the Canaries. If the weather degraded I would reduce to a storm jib only. If the wind shifted to the west I would have to go to Africa instead. Always a plan and fingers crossed. With that I reached out and pressed the black button on the race transponder indicating to the race organizers “I have a problem but I am ok”.
When I arrived to Lanzarote it was midnight. A mile offshore from the harbour entrance I was sailing downwind into a bay with no ability to tack. I had been hoping to arrive during daylight and to get towed straight to a seawall where I could repair the bracket and then head off again. Lanzarote is a volcano. Because I arrived at night, I was at risk of being tied up to the seawall for hours until the shops opened. I couldn’t drop anchor. I was in 450 feet of water, drifting into a bay with rocks all around and a seabed that shallowed to 60 feet literally in the mouth of the harbour. This volcano wasn’t being very helpful. My tow in from MRCC Las Palmas meant I tied up at 0230 or so in the morning and my clock would run out about 0730 in the morning. Even with an email to the Race Director, I knew that this was my finish line. At 0930 the Race Director confirmed what I expected. Due to the expiration of my technical stopover time and the fact that I was now days behind the fleet and the nearest support boat, I was denied restarting the race.
This has been an amazing journey. It’s been the toughest thing I have ever done in my life! We may not have crossed the finish line in Guadeloupe but we have achieved some amazing accomplishments along the way. The weather conditions of this race were some of the toughest in recent history. The mental exhaustion of starting, stopping, starting and stopping were staggering. Some competitors abandoned before crossing the start line because of the conditions. The prospect of arriving to the Canaries and encuring a $10,000 shipping bill to get the boat home to Canada made me sick. But….we managed to plow through 30 and 40 knots of wind, upwind in the Bay of Biscay in a horrible sea state all the way to Gijon Spain, trudge along the coast of Spain for a restart in Sada and finally cranked our way around the treacherous and infamous Cape Finister. The rig wasn’t lost and there was no emergency rescue at sea. Over the years our team has generated some wonderful business partners and a return on investment for them. We’ve also been massively supported by the local sailing community including a great community effort now to secure the money needed to bring the boat home. We’ve even managed to inspire classrooms of school children along the way.
I am incredibly proud of our accomplishments. Thank you for being part of this amazing journey and having fun along the way.
Now…..what’s next? hahahaha