Archive for July, 2010
The previous part of this story is here.
The barometer is dropping quickly now, and the wind is building. First 12 knots, then 15, then 18. The swells are coming up too. After 3 days of drifting at under 3 knots, and still 500 miles to go, it’s a relief to watch the boat speed up to 6, then 7, then 8 knots. Swells have picked up too. What’s funny is that these are the same conditions I was sailing in for most of the Transpac, but they seem much less friendly now. The sky is overcast, and the water dark grey. We are wearing all our clothing, despite it being the height of summer. As dusk comes the waves and wake of the boat are illuminated by flashes of bioluminescent plankton. It’s the brightest I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even pitch black yet. The wind starts shifting regularly, and we switch back and forth between the #3 jib and reaching spinnaker regularly over the next two days. We’re now about 80 miles from the coast of Vancouver Island, and 150 miles to the entrance to the Strait. We are constantly in fog. During the day the sea is black, and at night it glows brilliant green all around us, as if we were wearing night-vision goggles.
In the early morning hours of August 2nd, the wind dies completely. We are 65 miles from the entrance to the Strait, making less than 2 knots. We can hear the Canadian weather forecasts on the VHF, and they are dismal. Frustratingly, the radio reports a 30-kt gale “offshore”, from which we can feel the swell, and there is wind in the Strait. But we are stuck.
Since we left Hawaii, I’ve been mentally racing the other boats back home. Solar Wind and Culebra left two days after us, headed for San Francisco. They both had shorter routes, and motorsailed a bit, but had to head straight through the high, and faced a lot of adverse winds. Now we are drifting 120 miles from Port Townsend, and Culebra and Solar Wind are about 200 and 270 miles from the Golden Gate, respectively.
We spend the morning of the 3rd drifting at the entrance to the Strait, a couple miles from shore, hoisting the tattered #1 at every puff and dousing it in the lulls so it won’t get chafed in the rigging by the swells. Peter spotted the beam of a lighthouse at night, but I haven’t seen any evidence of land. We can smell it through the fog, though – the smell of seaweed and pine trees, and we can hear the waves rumbling on the shore. Eventually I spot a line of light in the fog – a beach. We can now watch our dismally slow progress against the shore. With the current pushing us out, we are making only half a knot. I think of the last Olson 30 that sailed back this way after the 2006 SHTP, and ran aground in the Strait. A pod of orcas swims by us, followed by a Cal 40. I’m tempted to ask them for a tow, but hesitate long enough for them to motor out of reach.
In the evening the wind starts to pick up again, and we hoist the big spinnaker. We make a pact that we will not take it down again, as we need all the speed we can get. We’re soon cruising through the fog at a decent 7 knots. With 60 miles to go, I check in with the fleet for the last time. Culebra is 40 miles from the Golden Gate, and Solar Wind 120. We will all be reaching home about the same time.
In the middle of the Strait, the wind and swell has picked up, and we are blasting through fog and darkness at terrific speed, almost completely blind. I think about taking down the spinnaker, but remember our pact. If we slow down now, the wind will surely die in the morning and strand us in the Strait forever. So we keep surfing through the night, me at the helm, keeping the boat upright, Peter at the navigation station watching the AIS for traffic and keeping us off the rocks. Above the boat, the fog is flickering with flashes of light. I try to think of an explanation, and settle on St. Elmo’s fire (I’ll later learn there was a magnificent aurora borealis above the fog).
Around sunrise the wind has lightened and the fog is slowly dissipating, rolling around us in well-defined banks. We round Pt. Wilson at 8:30 and meander our way around some little fishing boats. A couple fishermen wave at us, and I wonder if they can tell that we’ve been at sea for 23 days. The wind is really light now, and it takes us over an hour to sail the remaining two miles to the public dock at Port Townsend, but we finally tie up at 9:52 on August 4th, after 23 days at sea and 2864 miles, happy to finally be on land. What an adventure!
I had been wondering for a while what it would be like to go back to real life, and what might have happened during my absence, but I was unprepared for what awaited me. I was informed shortly after arriving in Port Townsend that my friend and colleague Aude-Marianne had been killed in a parachuting accident while I was at sea. She was a mentor to me in my professional life, and a friend who inspired me to live an active life. I will sorely miss the time we spent flying sailplanes, skiing, and scuba diving together, and I regret that I will not be able to make good on my promise to teach her to sail. I very much looked forward to seeing Aude again after this trip, and her death makes me realize what great friends I have, how much I’ve missed them, and how indebted I am to them for all the things they do that make my life wonderful.
After a somber morning, breakfast and a walk through Port Townsend (it’s amazing how atrophied your leg muscles get on a 3-week sail), I finish the trip singlehanded, under power this time. The long motor up Puget Sound gives me time to make calls to friends and family, and reflect a bit on life. After picking up my friend Ross at Shilshole and transiting the locks, Idefix arrives at her dock well past dark, and just as we are about to make fast, a huge crowd of friends pop out of the darkness yelling “welcome home”! I couldn’t have wished for a more wonderful end to this adventure…
The previous part of this story is here.
July 22nd was another eventful day. In the late morning the wind has turned to SE-SSE at about 7 knots, and I decided to hoist the running chute. It was nice to be back under spinnaker, and with the overcast thinning and the diminished apparent wind, the boat was pretty comfortable. The barometer was now dropping, which signified we were now skirting the high. In the afternoon I realized we had logged 1417 miles from Hanalei, and with only 1398 miles left to Port Townsend, we had officially crossed our halfway point! We celebrated by inventorying our food supplies, and found we were still in good shape, although we weren’t quite ready to double our rations just yet. Peter and I were both eating enough to sustain ourselves, and weren’t hungry by any means, but we had definitely not felt completely full since leaving Hanalei, except for the few times we’d caught fish.
Our spinnaker fun was short lived and on the 24th we had to go back to the genoa, close reaching. The next few days saw a lot of variation in the weather, with a couple rain showers, thick overcasts, fog, mist, and a cold that made us run for our fleeces and thermal underwear. Only the wind is constant at 5-10 knots. We also saw whales and caught some sort of scombroid, maybe a king mackerel. Whatever it was, there was no doubt it was edible.
On the 25th we passed the 1000-miles-to-go mark, and I decided to calculate an ETA: Monday, August 2nd. We had made 130 miles that day, all towards Cape Flattery, and I hoped we could better that once the winds picked up, although it seemed the high might be repositioning in front of us to slow us down some more. We were starting to get incredibly bored. The water held nothing but the occasional head of kelp and bird’s feathers for miles around. The boat rarely went faster than 4 or 5 knots. Our boredom was only interrupted by a close encounter with a sperm whale. Shortly after the evening check-in, I went on deck to take a look at the setting sun, and when I turned around, I spotted it only a couple boat lengths away. It was perfectly still, only rising and falling with the pace of its breath. The sound of its breathing was incredibly loud. As we passed it it disappeared for an instant, then its tail rose high into the air and slowly dove into the deep, leaving behind a magnificent sunset.
On the 27th the wind dies, and we spend most of the day ghosting along at less than 3 knots with the reaching spinnaker. The forecast looks like more of the same for the next four days, when we will reach the 30-knot gales that blow along the coast. We’ve been watching our latitude go up slowly but surely as we skirt around the high, and we are now North of Seattle. The boredom is momentarily interrupted by a beautiful yellowfin tuna tugging on our fishing line. The next morning there is a tiny speck on the horizon to the North at sunrise. A sailboat! We decide to jibe to chase them down, hoping that they won’t motor off before we reach them. All day we sail as fast as we can in the flat calm, and the speck slowly morphs into a 50-ft ketch, flying a staysail and spinnaker. Finally in the late afternoon we are within VHF range, and after hailing them a couple times, we exchange a few words, and they invite us to raft up for a shot of rum. Thus on a beautiful calm day, a thousand miles from shore, we find ourselves on the deck of the Jolly Roger, which had left Hanalei Bay for Seattle about a week before us, and motored through most of the high before running low on fuel. The boat is on the last leg of her delivery voyage from Panama, with a delivery skipper and crew. We exchange a couple packets of dried fruit and take some swigs of rum before heading on our way. We will see their running lights behind us for most of the night, but they have disappeared by daybreak.
I spend most of the next day playing with porpoises, filming them and trying to pet them. The wind has picked up a little and we are making over 4 knots. That evening I feel that I’m watching the first sunset of the entire trip. By that I mean that I’m seeing the sun touch the water for the first time. Previously there had always been some sort of cloud just above the horizon.
The next part of this story is here.
The previous part of this story is here.
The 15th was windier and we made our switch from the #4 and 2nd reef to the genoa and full main only shortly before the evening check-in. Hopefully the squalls wouldn’t make us have to switch back. It was a lazy day and I spent most of it in my bunk. Peter remained in the cockpit, trying not to get seasick. Weatherfaxes brought bad news of the high moving north and east, blocking our path. But it would be a while before we got to it, so I didn’t despair too much yet. At the evening check-in Max on Solar Wind reported: “I’m so bored I could take up fishing”.
On the 16th I once again spent most of the day in my bunk. The night had been rough, with frequent wind shifts and a number of waves soaking me in the cockpit, and I hardly got any sleep. The day was proving to be much the same, close reaching in about 18kts from the ENE. That evening we decided to cancel the morning radio check-ins, as we were having difficulty making contact. I don’t know much about HF radio, but one of its peculiarities is the position of the sun in the sky has a tremendous effect on reception, which is why boats within a couple hundred miles of each other might have no problem contacting each other in the evening, but can’t make contact in the morning.
The chop eventually abated and the boat started making very good progress, putting in about 150 NM per day, while the boats behind us reported lots of waves and wind. I was glad we’d left a couple days before them, in a relative lull in the tradewinds. Peter and I traded night shifts, so that I would have the first shift until about 0300, then sleep until 0900, which worked much better for me. On the 18th, at about 35 degrees North, the sky was overcast, and temperature had cooled appreciably. We were definitely not in the tropics anymore. It had been almost a week since we’d left Hanalei, and I decided to mark the occasion with a hot freshwater shower, while there was still enough sun. On Idefix, taking a shower requires laying a 2-gallon solar shower in the cockpit for a couple hours, then hoisting it from a spare halyard at the mast to about 6 feet above the deck. The rest is self-explanatory.
The 19th was an eventful day (relatively). We marked one week at sea, passed the latitude of the Golden Gate, and were now closer to Unalaska Island than any other land. Every new weatherfax showed the high moving further and further North, and without an engine we were bound to follow it and pass to the North of it, lest it come back down on top of us and strand us in no wind in the middle of the ocean. We spotted some little dolphins broaching, and a basking shark, before catching a very nice dorado. Once Peter and I had stuffed ourselves with fish, I threw a sizeable chunk of it back into the water, which brought on a second visit by dolphins.
The next morning, the water had turned color from the brilliant cobalt blue I’d been seeing for most of the trip to a steely gray-blue. Every day now would be colder than the previous, and we started wearing more and more clothing. Fork-tailed storm petrels escorted us through the night, orbiting the boat and attacking the masthead light, chirping all night. In the mornings they would disappear. We crossed our first ship since leaving Hawai’i, a container ship headed ESE. A couple hours later another ship appeared on AIS, and it was the beginning of a steady stream of ships.
On the 21st We had reached 43 degrees North, and the winds started clocking from NE to ESE, and lightened substantially. It seems we may have rounded the North end of the High. Peter and I took advantage of the light wind and flat water to take the rudder head off and re-shim it with a can of tuna, as it had come loose again, and I was worried the rudder stock would split. That night the birds came out in force, at least twenty of them, and at 0430 Peter was attacked by a fork-tailed storm petrel. The next morning I found a strange dark red stain on deck, that left a pink stain after I cleaned it up. Jellyfish? Squid ink? The middle of the ocean is quite a strange place.
The next part of this story is here.
Since the boat is out of service, let’s get back to your regularly scheduled Transpac story (the previous installment is here):
It’s not easy to decide to leave paradise. I met so many interesting, friendly people in Hanalei: my new brothers-in-arms, the skippers of the 2010 Singlehanded Transpac, other BugLighters of previous editions, their families, the race committee, and even some colorful locals.
Kaua’i is a beautiful place, and I got to travel around it a bit, snorkeling at Ha’ena, or buoy racing on the Olson 30 Speedy with Ronnie at Nawiliwili. Jeff of Hecla graciously invited me to stay at the place he’d rented, so I got to spend time with him and his girlfriend Zia. I took a day to hang out at Race HQ, chat with the race committee, and watch Solar Wind come in from over the horizon and finish from the top of the bluff. Jim Kellam was kind enough to drive me around to provision the boat, and to Lihue to pick up Peter. But 9 days is a little short to explore such a beautiful place, and much of my time was spent provisioning, fixing, and cleaning the boat.
One of the great traditions of the SHTP is “Tree Time”, or just “Tree”, an informal gathering every evening under a tree on the beach. As the days go on and racers arrive, the party gets bigger and bigger, and so does the pile of booze and food laid out on the table. Everyone seems to know everyone, as families and friends have been following the race attentively for the last three weeks. My last tree time crept up on me quickly. AJ, Sam, and Adam had all recently arrived, and I’d barely got to see them. For a few days I’d mulled over staying longer, but I’d been away from home for a long time, and if I stayed any longer it would be even harder to make the step back into “real” life.
So on July 12th, at 14:25 Local time, Peter and I hoisted the main, weighed anchor and sailed Idefix out of Hanalei Bay. I addressed a farewell to the rest of the fleet on the VHF, and got a chorus of replies. We were the first boat to leave for the mainland, and Saraband and Culebra would be leaving a couple days after us. Outside the bay we found the trades blowing an easy 12-15 kts, with a ten foot swell. We hoisted the #4, took a reef in the main, and the boat settled onto a nice close reach at six and a half knots. To the West we spotted Warrior’s Wish, on a sight-seeing tour of the Na Pali coast. I thought of sailing by to say farewell. We had raced against each other out of sight for so long, it would’ve been nice to watch our boats sail side-by-side for a while. But I was frightened by the number of miles we had to cover to get home, and couldn’t fathom pointing the boat in any other direction.
It wasn’t long before I was used to being on the ocean again. The conditions felt much more pleasant than I’d expected. The trade winds were gentle, the swell was well spaced and the boat was moving fast and pointing fairly well, without the brutal motion and spray that I’d expected. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as going downwind, though! Peter was having a tough time with the swell, and felt nauseous pretty much as soon as we left Hanalei Bay. I figured he would get used to the conditions after a couple days, much as I had on the way over, and completely forgot about the seasickness medication I had stowed away in my medical kit. During the afternoon we watched Kaua’i quickly recede astern, and it was gone well before nightfall. I felt a twinge of anguish at seeing the island disappear so quickly, given how long it had taken me to get there. I knew it would be a long time before we saw any sort of land again.
During the first night the winds lightened up a bit and the boat slowed, and we progressively increased our sail area to match, so that by afternoon we were flying the full main and #1. We managed to make 134 miles in the first 24 hours, which would amount to a 19-day passage if things held up, although I had my doubts. In the evening I powered up the SSB radio and made contact with Culebra and Hecla, still in Hanalei. I had asked Paul to relay some of our messages for the R.C. to post on the website, as people had been pretty in-the-dark about what was going on on the boat for the trip out. Since we would probably have some days of very little progress, our friends ashore would want to know what we were up to!
During the second night the winds picked up again and we had to reduce sail for the night, and hoist again at dawn. This pattern would repeat itself frequently. There would also be frequent afternoon and evening squalls. One particularly dark and ominous squall was whipping up spray on the surface of the water only 150ft away, but missed us completely!
On the afternoon of the 14th we decided to put out the fishing lines George had provided us and hooked a nice dorado just before dinner. Since there was no refrigeration onboard, we both stuffed ourselves full. That night we made contact with Culebra and Solar Wind, 56nm and 16nm North of Hanalei, as well as Kestrel, a boat sailing out of Honolulu for San Francisco. I had noticed Kestrel on the AIS at the beginning of the race, and wondered what would motivate someone to sail to Hawaii and back besides a race!
The next part of this story is here.
Idefix came out of this race in pretty good shape, considering the failures some of the other boats experienced. Here’s a quick rundown of the major failures I experienced, in chronological order:
Day 1: the bananas, which were stowed in a gear hammock above the v-berth with a variety of other fruit, are smashed to smithereens by repeated pummeling against the hull. Limes appear intact but will soon start turning all sorts of non-lime colors. Grapefruit and oranges are edible until day 12 or so, depending on how desperate I am.
Day 3: the autopilot drive unit experiences a catastrophic failure after 3 days of beam reaching in heavy seas on an intermediate gain level. I quickly replace it with a spare and turn the gain down. The spare starts rattling, but drives the boat all the way to Hanalei.
Day 11: a really bad day. While surfing down a wave, the sails are backwinded and the main flops onto the wrong side. I flick it back and the traveler car breaks, spilling ball bearings all over the cockpit. Once all the bearings are gone, the car departs the track and I have to lash it down. A couple hours later, I douse the spinnaker and spinnaker net to find the halyard sheave pin has fallen out. I can no longer fly a chute, and have to fly white sails all the way to Hanalei.
The last two items are giving me a bit of headache preparing for the trip home, but otherwise Idefix came out of the race relatively unscathed!
The last couple days have been a total blur, taking care of basic hygiene, greeting other racers, catching up with friends and family, but also cleaning the boat out, provisioning, fixing up some broken items, and trying to enjoy a truly beautiful place. I’m planning on leaving for Seattle on Monday, so I don’t have a whole lot of time left, and I feel like I’ve wasted most of it sitting around wondering what to do with myself now that I’m not trying to make the boat go fast!