Archive for July, 2012
It took some time, but we finally got out of Hanalei… Idefix and crew are in Honolulu after a 24-hour trip bashing across the Kauai Channel all night. Sure enough, the crossing lived up to my expectations: a really unpleasant day and night of upwind sailing, a bit of relief on the back side of the O’ahu, then some more trouncing to Honolulu. Not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. But we all came through with little more than salt-encrusted faces and some seasickness. Not everyone was so lucky last night as we heard that Brian’s crew on Red Sky fell and broke her rib. Luckily they were only a day out of Hanalei.
Idefix is in Hanalei, rafted up to Green Buffalo (thanks Jim!). Got in shortly after midnight last night. The last day was an incredible white-knuckle ride. During the night I’d taken down the spinnaker in a squall, just left main up and gone to sleep for 5 or 6 hours. I woke up on Friday and the wind had finally arrived. The waves had picked up quite a bit too. The boat was moving at 6 or 7 knots with just the main. I did some quick time-distance-speed calculations and was faced with a conundrum. I was 150 miles away, and I could slow down some and get there early Saturday morning, as planned, but I would’ve felt stupid trying to slow the boat further. I didn’t want to arrive in the pre-dawn hours, because I’ve been falling asleep at 3am like clockwork. But I see that if I average 8 knots, I can get there at midnight. So I decide I’m going to put the pedal to the metal and try to get there as early as possible. The catch is that there’s no way the autopilot is going to handle the boat with a chute up in 20-knot winds and messy 10-foot seas. So I finish breakfast, toss an armful of snacks and drinks into the cockpit, crank up the music, hoist the chute and am off on a wild ride that’ll last 16 hours. I was doing mental math the whole way and calculated an average 10 knots for the first hour, and 9-9.5 for the rest of the day. I got drenched by waves breaking into the cockpit within the first 10 minutes, so needless to say it was not a comfortable ride. I managed to leave the tiller 5 or 6 times to fuel up on food, water or caffeine, but that often ended in a broach or accidental jibe. At some point I went past the research ship Kilo Moana, which was hoding station 85 miles from Hanalei, and chatted them up on the VHF. They mentioned they’d seen another sailboat go by five days ago, by the name of Truth, and he was hauling like me. I was pretty flattered that they thought I was anywhere near Truth in speed! Eventually the sun went down, and the Kilauea lighthouse came into view. Then it was down to the last few miles, and soon I was trying to pick out the lights of the condo, and trying to reach the race committee on the VHF, and getting run over by squalls. Last time I had cleaned up and shaved before the finish. This time I took one last big gulp of coffee and managed to spill it all over myself. Oh well. Finally just pulled out my cellphone and called the race deck. Last couple miles the wind shifts a ton. I’d been expecting it, but then forgot. Fighting to keep the chute up, eyes riveted to the GPS to make sure I cross the line without hitting the reef. Finally I’m there.
Sent at 2012-07-13 15:50 UTC from 23°11.21′N 156°57.58′W
Last night was clear and beautiful. I think this is the first night of the trip that I could really do any stargazing. The milky way is as bright as ever, and after the sun goes down you can see a bit of light from the primordial dust left in the solar system. We’re now south enough that the scorpion is high in the sky, and I spotted Alpha Centauri low on the horizon. The southern cross is too close to the sun to see for now, and the horizon is pretty cloudy.
Today started with a beautiful sunrise, then got pretty hot, again. For most of the day it looked like typical tradewind weather, with puffy little clouds and deep blue water. Flying fish are everywhere (but I’m managing to keep them out of the berths today), and tropic birds keep showing up to check on my progress. I stripped off too many clothes and got a sunburn. Then a massive wall of squalls came and I took down the chute for a while, and clouds and rain have taken over the landscape.
Up until I took down the chute, I had been making very good speed, and I’m now less than 250 miles out. Probably completely jinxing myself, but I expect to come in sometime on Saturday morning, around 8am PDT (5am local). If the wind picks up as expected, it may be earlier than that. I’m torn as to whether I should consider slowing down a bit to ensure I come in with a bit of daylight.
I managed to reconfigure the solar charge controller and got a halfway decent charge, so I have enough power to send a couple emails for the rest of the trip, unless tomorrow is completely cloudy. I also managed to throw out a fork and spoon with my dishwater. I’d sworn that wouldn’t happen again…
I was wondering why the inside of the boat smelled fishy this morning, when I found a flying fish had sailed through the companionway and found its way into one of the quarterberths overnight. Thankfully not the one I was sleeping in. I’ve heard they can get to be up to two feet long, and are quite delicious to eat. This one was the biggest I’d seen at about 8 inches, but I had just finished breakfast when I found it.
Today was finally the clear day I was hoping for to charge my batteries. They’ve been starting to get really low, and I figured the overcast was keeping them from topping up. To my great dismay, I found the solar panels weren’t putting in the 10-12 Amps of power I was expecting, even at high noon. More like 6 Amps. A little bit of investigating later, I found the wires for the cabintop panel had corroded away, so I jumpered them and managed to get 8 Amps for a little while, but it quickly tapered off to 6 again. What’s happening is the solar charge controller thinks the batteries are already topped off, and is giving them only the float voltage of 13.6V instead of the absorption voltage of 14.4V. It’s been doing this the whole trip, but I’ve been attributing it to the cloud cover… I’m going to try rebooting it tonight when the batteries are at their lowest, to see if it’ll cooperate. I can probably survive until Hanalei at this rate, but I’m having to cut down on power use.
Only 439 miles to go, but we are moving excruciatingly slowly. The wind is supposed to build tonight, so hopefully that’ll change.
Sent at 2012-07-12 00:45 UTC from 24°03.02′N 151°46.67′W
A lot has been written on the typical weather pattern for a California-Hawaii race, but I’ve now done it twice, and each time the weather has departed pretty significantly from “typical”, and each one has been radically different. I now understand the General’s reaction to the weather seminar: “They don’t know what the weather’s going to be! I’m going to go have a beer!”
Unfortunately, this race has been marked by pretty light trades, which is a big disadvantage to ultralight displacement boats (ULDBs) like Idefix. In a nutshell, the ULDBs are handicapped to take into account the fact they will surf and plane in heavier winds. When the winds are light, we can’t surf, and the boat can’t sail to her handicap.
In addition, this year the squalls are just… weird. They started showing up very early in the race, on the 3rd or 4th day. Usually they don’t show up until the second week of the race. Normally, they are isolated, or in loose rows, but this year they are always banded together in dense lines oriented NW-SE, which makes avoiding them almost impossible. Finally, they should typically start showing up in the afternoon, building in strength through the night, and dissipating in the morning. Two years ago, the sky would be completely clear shortly after the last squall dissipated at sunrise, until early afternoon. This year, it seems the only time I don’t get hit by squalls is at night! They start showing up after sunrise, are massive by mid-afternoon, and dissipate in the middle of the night. And they’re accompanied by huge bands of overcast. So it seems like the answer is to once again throw out the rulebook, let out an exasperated “WTF”, and deal with it.
In other news, my autopilot has been slowly going completely nuts. I calibrated the compass in Alameda, and was dismayed to see it was completely off at the start of the race, and the backup autopilot wouldn’t even turn on. Later I realized it was very inconsistent in how far off it was from the steering compass; sometimes as far off as 30 degrees, sometimes only 10 or 15. Then it stopped listening to half my inputs. When I engage it, it’ll hold course for 4 or 5 minutes, then drift by 20 or 30 degrees. Needless to say this has been driving me completely crazy and resulted in quite a few entertaining shouting matches between me and the damned piece of plastic and wires. Today I finally had the last straw and fixed the wiring for the backup autopilot, and that one seems to be working OK.
Do you ever get those moments where you’re deep in sleep, and you wake up expecting to be in your own bed, but when you open your eyes, you’re in an unfamiliar place, like a hotel room or a friend’s house, and it takes you a split second to remember that you’re on a trip, or on vacation? Well, when you wake up on a little ULDB surfing like a bat out of hell in the pitch black night with no one at the helm, that split second is pretty terrifying.
I thought I saw Slacker again last night around 23:00. I wanted to go over and say hello, but as we were about to get run over by a squall, I headed up and we quickly diverged. This morning I realized it couldn’t have been Whithall since he’s far to the north now. Must’ve been a tourist sailboat. It’s infuriating to not be able to make up any ground on Whithall or Jim. They definitely each have their ride dialed in. I’m still trying to get south a bit for more wind.
After the morning check-in (and shortly after posting something about not much wind in the squalls), I came up on deck to see a giant steamroller of a squall covering most of the horizon behind me. The thing was seriously several miles across. I lost no time jibing on to port pole, and then had a second thought, as it seemed I was close to its northern edge, so I jibed back to starboard and tried to outrun it. This seemed to work for a couple minutes, as the wind ramped up and the boat sped up, but eventually I realized I was getting in over my head and doused the chute. Right as I was about to be run over by the worst of it, I decided to jibe back onto port and “exit stage left”, but with a full main and not a lot of speed, the jibe was incredibly violent, and the outhaul snapped. I quickly doused the main and got it under control in the middle of the 25-knot gust, and the boat continued under bare poles. Once the worst of it was over, I had to set out to the task of replacing the outhaul line, which goes inside the boom. I had to take apart the boom to re-rig it, which took me a couple hours during which the boat was under bare poles. It’s incredible to think that a 1/8″ spectra line snapped without damaging anything else. That stuff is rated for 3 or 4 thousand pounds of load! But in the end I managed to re-run the outhaul line through the boom, re-rig the outboard reef blocks which had come unlashed, and got the boat going again no worse for wear. The rest of the day was pretty light, and it got incredibly hot in the light air. But I can already see tonight’s squalls brewing…
Sent at 2012-07-08 23:01 UTC from 26°26.37′N 143°37.03′W