Posts tagged ocean

Video – Singlehanded Transpac Tour of the Boat

I’m finally getting around to cutting some of the footage from the 2012 Big Pacific Adventure, and I thought this little clip might help some of the people preparing for this year’s Singlehanded Transpac and Pacific Cup races, so it’s the first to go up. I threw in a few gratuitous sailing scenes just for fun!

Idefix 2012 – Tour of the boat from Adrian Johnson on Vimeo.

Praying for doldrums

I never thought I’d say that. It seems every day gets rougher, and today is the worst of all. Maybe I’m just crazy for trying to reach across the trades in a boat with less than 2 feet of freeboard. We gave up on Tahiti, and now we’re having trouble making Fanning, let alone Penrhyn. Not for lack of trying. Waves break into the cockpit every 15 minutes or so, completely soaking whoever’s driving. I guess I didn’t expect being wet to be such a problem once in the tropics, but it’s highly demoralizing. If it weren’t for Nick and Shirley, I’d bear off and head for Samoa or Wallis, but I think they’ll riot if I tell them we have to sail for another 3 weeks nonstop.

The silver lining is we are quickly approaching the ITCZ, aka the doldrums. Who knows what lies in there, but the zero-to-ten knots of wind in the forecast may offer us a change from getting bashed by breaking waves. And the rain will give us a chance to do some laundry and shower (we are on a strict water conservation regimen). Unfortunately the forecasts also show 2-meter waves in the ITCZ. Hopefully they’re just rolling swells and not steep or breaking waves.

Since I seem to have the strongest stomach, I’m sleeping in the v-berth for this leg. It’s the driest part of the boat, but it pitches wildly. It’s kind of like sleeping on a diving board while someone jumps on it. I share it with a stack of sails and some rotting fruit. I cleaned up some of the moldiest fruits yesterday and released a plume of mold spores all over the front of the berth. Did I mention I’m allergic to mold? Our bread has all gone moldy as well. On the transpac, bread and fruits will last at least half the trip, if not the entire trip. Not so in the tropics. Everything here seems to rot. Even my knees are covered in itchy little blisters. Shirley is going crazy because reading on the pitching boat makes her nauseous, so she has nothing to do. Nick is tough as nails, but I can tell he’s not exactly enjoying this sail through paradise either. So far only the boat seems not to mind.

That’s enough for one day. Idefix out.

Change of course

The big island of Hawai’i, with its twin 13600-ft volcanoes, casts a wind shadow that stretches for hundreds of miles to leeward. We’ve finally exited that patch of light winds and are sailing in the NE trades. Unfortunately the NE trades here are blowing from the SSE, and we’re not making any progress to the E, so it looks like Tahiti is out of question. I’m a little bummed, but our new course will allow us to spend more time in other places, as well as shave 1300NM of sailing off our route. Both of these are mighty appealing, especially since we are running about a week behind schedule. Right now we are aimed at Niue, with Perhaps a stop at Penrhyn atoll, but the weather may have other plans for us.
All is well on board. We are close reaching in about 12-17 knots of wind and 5-ft seas. There is quite a bit of spray on deck, and it’s hot but not unbearable down below. Last night during my shift I was chilling out listening to music when out of nowhere something smacks me in the forehead. Eventually I figured it was a flying fish, probably due to the fishy smell and scales on my face. A couple hours later Nick got one in the face too.

SHTP Part Six – 30th June 2010

The view out the cabin.

Read Part Five.

I awake in my berth at 08:00. I realize I’ve slept through my timer, and am slightly panicked that I might have lost a lot of miles to my competition in the last four hours. As I climb on deck though, I see that the boat is still moving about 5.5 knots under main alone. Perhaps the other Olson 30 drivers I talked to, who doused their chute at the first squall and went to bed, had it right. I’ve been exhausting myself trying to get ahead, and it seems to have worked, but I am in dire need of a good night’s sleep. It’s morning now, and there is not a squall in sight, so I hoist the chute, then make breakfast before checking in with the rest of the fleet. I’ve made good distance on the fleet, but Ronnie is not on the air this morning, which frustrates me, since I have been half expecting his faster boat to suddenly hit good winds and pull a fast one on me. I wonder if he slept in, or is dealing with a rigging problem, or perhaps something worse… For the first time I dare to calculate my ETA: July 4th, 05:00 PDT (02:00 Local). I’m not really looking forward to the possibility of coming in at night, especially given how exhausted I’ve been, but that’s still a long ways off. Four more days of solitary non-stop ocean. Four more days of being confined to this glorified surfboard, rolling on the waves, banging my head and limbs every time I turn around. Four more days of constant rushing water, screeching autopilots, and creaking rigging. Four more days without walking, without smelling anything other than the sea or my own sweat, without hearing a voice that hasn’t been stripped of its humanity by oscillators and filters, without seeing a human face. Four more nights without solid sleep.

I settle into my berth for a nap, but am awakened several times by the boat rounding up and broaching. The wind has picked up to about 20 knots, and speed is keeping between 8 and 10 knots, often more, but the swells have grown and keep knocking the boat off course. There are two swells, one from the East-North-East, which the boat surfs on easily, and the other from the South-East, which rolls the boat onto its beam, throwing it off course. The autopilot is slow to react to the rolls of the boat, occasionally allowing the boat to round up enough to broach. I was hoping for a restful day after my exhausting night, but spend most of it hand steering, or going about my chores while keeping an eye on the autopilot, ready to jump to the tiller and keep the boat from rounding up. I rinse some of my cushions and lay them out to dry in the cockpit, but they get doused with seawater when a couple waves break on the back of the boat. Thankfully the waves are helping the boat gain speed, and I see the speedo hit 14.3 in a surf.

Taking a break in the middle of my living space.

While it seems that there might not be a lot to do on a small boat at sea, I manage to always be incredibly busy. My paramount task of course is to keep the boat sailing fast, trimming and changing sails. I start the day with some hand steering to get a feel for how the boat is sailing, then put the autopilot on to make breakfast, copy the fleet’s morning positions, chat for a while with the other skippers, and make an entry in my log. I go back to steering after check in, then clean the dishes and make lunch. In the afternoon, I tune the radio to the weatherfax frequencies, and hand steer the boat while the faxes come in. The autopilot interferes with the HF radio, so I have to turn it off for several hours at a time to get clear weather pictures. After this is done I analyze the weather, plot positions, and update my strategy. If conditions allow I’ll take an afternoon nap. Then I have to make dinner, check in with the other boats for the evening, compare positions again, make an entry in the log, and decide a strategy for the night. On top of all this there is boat maintenance, fixing chafed rigging, cleaning, refilling my water bottles from the tanks, shooting pictures and video, and many of the other small tasks that keep the boat going in an orderly fashion. All this work, and the sense of solitude, isolation and humility caused by the presence of the ocean, help to clear my mind completely from the mundane thoughts one has ashore. It’s impossible not to live in the present of my situation, to be completely focused on the task at hand. Clarity of thought is something I have always loved about sailing, and now I feel that my mind is almost rid of the non-sailing world. There are times when I can reflect on the past, or think about my future, but with a detachment that is not possible when one is not surrounded by a thousand miles of ocean.

By evening check-in I’m very tired again, and Ronnie mentions that he’s going to douse his spinnaker and go under main alone for some sleep. This sounds like an appealing idea. I decide to hoist my #4 jib and pole it out. The boat barely slows down, averaging 6.5 or 7 knots, and still surfing frequently up to 10 or 11 knots. Down below, the sound of rushing water, waves slapping the hull, and the groaning autopilot are almost deafening, but they reassure me that the boat is running like it should, and I feel I can finally spend a quiet night. By morning I’ve made 85 miles towards Hanalei, only having to get up once when the boat was knocked beam-to by a large wave, and couldn’t get back down with the jib backwinded. I switch back to the spinnaker at dawn, and the boat is again barreling down the swells on the edge of control. My ETA in Hanalei is now July 4th, 0:00 (21:00 Local).

Read Part Seven.

SHTP Part Four – 26th June 2010

Read Part Three.

June 26th marks one week at sea. Despite the chilly morning, I figure it’s about time I cleaned up a bit, so I fill a bucket with seawater and shave, then splash myself, soap myself down, dump the bucket of cold ocean water on myself, and rinse off with half a gallon of fresh water. Of course, that afternoon it gets hot and muggy, and I wish I’d held off on my shower until later in the day. The autopilot is doing a fine job of keeping the boat on course at speed, so I spend most of the day rinsing the salt out of my clothes and setting them out to dry. I’ve only used 5 or 6 of my 28 gallons of water, so I consider doing laundry, but decide to hold off for a few more days (I will eventually give up on the idea of clothes altogether). By evening I’ve made up 5 miles on Warrior’s Wish.

Surfing at dusk.

I wake up at 04:00 on the 27th to find that I slept through my timer. I haven’t had any problems with squalls yet, so I’ve been leaving the spinnaker up at night and sleeping in 30 to 60-minute spells. Fatigue is starting to get the better of me, though, and it seems that I’m not hearing the timers anymore. I’ve also moved into the port quarterberth. It was on the lee side during the windy reach, so I didn’t use it because I was trying to keep my weight on starboard, and the berth was wet from spray coming down the companionway. It’s dried out now, and I favor it because the noise of the autopilot on starboard is deafening, whereas I can barely hear it on port. What I am hearing, though, is a knocking against the hull, close to the rudder. I make my way to the cockpit and feel the tiller. Vibrations confirm something is caught in the rudder. The boat is moving over 7 knots despite the fouling, so I decide to wait until daybreak to clear it. An approaching squall changes my plans, though, and I end up dousing the spinnaker and backing down the boat until the mystery object, likely a plastic fishing float, floats off in the darkness. I take advantage of the break to fix one of the links in my spinnaker net. The net is just a couple strips of webbing, rope, and luff tape that fills the foretriangle to keep the spinnaker from wrapping itself around the forestay. It’s a tangled mess when not in use, but works perfectly once hoisted. With the spinnaker back up, the boat accelerates quickly, with a noticeable improvement in speed. I hope whatever was stuck on the rudder had not been on there for too long. I have a new worry though. The rudder shaft seems to be making a new groaning sound when I turn it under load. I’m beginning to be a bit paranoid now that I am 1000 miles from land, and am worried that the fiberglass rudder shaft might be cracked. I’ve been talking about it to Paul on Culebra. He used to own a Santa Cruz 27, an almost identical boat to mine, and his rudder shaft once cracked at the head. The nuts on the tiller bolts have also been coming loose and making annoying popping noises, so I’ve been tightening them every other day.

Palm-sized flying fish.

I get an unexpected surprise at the morning check-in. I have made up 30 miles on Warrior’s Wish, and am now leading by 3 miles. It looks like Ronnie is not getting the good wind I have to the South. I am broad reaching in 17 knots, on course for Hanalei, and moving fast. The day turns sunny and hot very quickly. I find a small flying fish in the cockpit, and later notice some larger ones on the foredeck. I feel that the rudder noise is getting louder, and decide to investigate. The head is slightly loose, and the shaft is slipping a little. I douse the spinnaker, let the boat round up into the wind, and remove the tiller head. There’s no sign of cracks in the shaft, so I put the head and tiller back on. I’m a little more at ease now, and hoist the chute back up. Once the boat is moving again, I prepare some sauerkraut and sausage to celebrate my passing the halfway point. In the afternoon a tropic bird flies a couple circles over the boat before disappearing.

Sailing day after day on a featureless ocean leaves me kind of disoriented.  I’m used to sailing on the confined waters around Seattle, surrounded by hills, trees, houses, and mountains. Sometimes I think of the clouds as hillls, and the clear skies between them as a lake.  I end up trying to make landmarks out of the clouds, but whenever I look back at my wake, the clouds I was looking at are gone, and different ones have taken their place. The shadow of the spinnaker moves over the boat, and I am convinced for a while that I’ve just sailed under a bridge. It’s impossible for me to think on the scale of the Pacific Ocean.


Read Part Five.

Coke bottle in the middle of the ocean.

SHTP Part Three – 22nd June 2010

Read Part Two.

During the day, the wind turns to a very light breeze, dotted with intermittent puffs, with big shifts that get the boat going 7 or 8 knots, but only last about 10 to 20 minutes. These are challenging conditions, and I have to stay on my toes all day to take advantage of each gust of wind. As night falls, the puffs keep coming, and I know it’s going to be a long night. The boat will sit for up to a half hour moving at a snail’s pace, then a puff comes through and I have to react quickly to keep the sails trimmed and get the boat up to speed. By 04:00 I’m exhausted, and the yerba mate I’ve been sipping (the only caffeine I allowed myself on board) can’t keep me awake. There are no more puffs of wind to be found, and I douse the spinnaker and let the boat drift under main alone until daybreak.

Coke bottle in the middle of the ocean.

A coke bottle floating in the middle of the ocean.

At the morning check-in, I’m elated to find that my hard work paid off and I made up my 16-mile deficit on Warrior’s Wish, then pulled an additional 10 miles ahead.  But I’m completely drained from the long night, and the wind is completely dead, so I spend most of the morning sleeping. I awake to find the boat bobbing on a sea of glass. The water is a beautiful cobalt blue. Plastic objects float all around me: a coke bottle, a fishing float, a small crate. All have mussels and anemones growing on them. I fill a bucket with water, strip my clothes off and wash myself down, then dry myself off in the sun. In the afternoon the wind starts to fill from the northwest. It plays with me for a while, coming and going, and I spend most of the day hoisting and dropping the genoa. It’s an old kevlar-mylar laminated sail, and it’s become rather fragile with age, so I drop it in the calms to avoid it slatting against the rigging in the swells. Nevertheless, sections of mylar are peeling off of it. I hope the sail will make it to Hanalei, as I’ll be needing it on the trip home.

Idefix drifts on a deep blue ocean.

At the evening check-in I learn that Warrior’s Wish is back in the lead by 10 miles. I’m disappointed, as I thought we were sailing in the same conditions, but Ronnie is reporting 5.5 knots to my 0.0. Suddenly I think I’ve made a serious mistake in selecting my route. The forecasts pointed to the wind shutting down on the whole course, then picking up slightly more in the southern part than the north. Could they be all wrong? During the night the wind shifts to the southwest. Well, this is unexpected. I’m sailing to Hawai’i on port tack, close hauled, when I should be on starboard tack, broad reaching. But I keep the boat pointed at Hanalei, and she moves at a decent 6 knots. I spend much of the night trimming the sails to the ever-changing conditions, and by 03:00 I am too exhausted to pay much attention to the pod of dolphins playing around the boat, and go to sleep.

I spend most of the 24th close-hauled with the #3 jib. In the evening the wind dies and finally turns back to the north, so I re-set the reaching spinnaker. All these sail changes are exhausting. Over the last 24 hours Ronnie has increased his lead on me to 33 miles, and I’m still going quite a bit slower than him. I’m hoping that the wind will turn to the northeast and pick up before he gets too far ahead. I spend another night trimming the spinnaker, but can’t stay up past 03:00 and end up sleeping through my alarm, waking after sunrise to find the boat sailing quietly along at 6 knots.

Drying things out while reaching in a light, warm breeze.

The 25th is a turning point in the race for me. The morning is markedly warmer, and I spend some time sunbathing, before digging through my gear to find a Hawaiian shirt. The boat is on a beam reach with the spinnaker up, sailing a decent 6 knots in 7 knots of wind. Ronnie and I had been discussing weather information at the last check-in, and since he had access to high-resolution weather data, he advised me to not venture too far south, as there seemed to be an area of lighter winds ahead. This fits nicely with sailing high to keep the spinnaker full and the boat going fast, so I’m heading due west, or slightly north of west, for most of the day. My only trouble comes in the afternoon when the topping lift bridle on the spinnaker pole breaks. It was severely chafed and I should’ve replaced it before the race. I douse the spinnaker and re-set with the backup spinnaker pole, and take the other one below to fix the bridle, a ten-minute job. Around evening, the wind has picked up to 15 knots and I’m growing impatient, so I bear off and hoist the

First evening of surfing with the big chute.

big spinnaker. I’m soon surfing at over 8 knots, pointed straight at Hanalei, happy as a clam. At evening check-in I’ve managed to reel Warrior’s Wish in by 4 miles, leaving me 40 miles behind. In the beginning of the night, I spot a heavy barrier of rain in my path ahead. It seems to be perfectly stationary, and I wonder if I’ll get a gust of wind when I sail through it, like I would in a tradewind squall. I’m soon in the downpour, and the wind immediately hits, sending the boat on a 10-knot surf. I’ll have to keep an eye out for squalls from now on, but the road ahead looks clear, and the boat seems to handle fine under autopilot with the big chute up, so I manage to get a fair bit of sleep. I’m now tuned in to the boat enough that the rig shaking, or too much heel, will wake me, but I’m still setting a kitchen timer at 45 minute intervals. At morning I find the guy almost completely chafed through by the unfaired end of the backup spinnaker pole, so I douse the spinnaker to change back to the old pole, and shorten the guy. I’ve managed to make up an extra 8 miles on Warrior’s Wish, and the boat is surfing handsomely on small swells in 15 knot winds.

Read Part Four.

SHTP Part Two – 20 June 2010

Read Part One.

Dawn comes and thankfully it looks like the sun is going to come out and provide some degree of warmth to my cold, wet body. At morning check-in I hear that Mirage has returned to Sausalito and Southernaire is restarting. Warrior’s Wish leads me by five miles. Sitting by the radio jotting down positions wreaks havoc on my balance and I have to lurch for the companionway again to throw up. In a couple minutes the sea will have washed it all away. I think back to Mirage. For some reason the thought of returning to San Francisco had never occured to me. I had been so relieved after the start, because in my mind it symbolized the end of a year of preparation work, and the beginning of a journey that would one way or another end back in Seattle, with a stop in Hanalei. But I’d never considered that something could cause me to have to turn back to San Francisco. Hearing of Mirage turning back makes me realize that I’ll really have to baby my boat through the next couple days. I decide to baby myself first, and lie inside the boat for a while, with a sliver of sun shining through the hatch onto my wet foulies. The noise inside the boat makes it hard to relax. Waves crash on deck and slap against the hull, the mast seal has failed and the deck pumps against the mast, my fresh fruit, stowed in a gear hammock in the bow, is bashing itself against the hull. At noon I eat some hot oatmeal, the only meal I think I can keep down, then go on deck and hand steer for a couple hours while my computer downloads weather faxes off the HF radio. The autopilot tends to interfere with the radio, so this will turn into a daily routine. I’m thankful for the sun, which warms me somewhat, despite the wind and ice-cold spray. I sail past a sunfish which is also basking on the surface despite the waves.


By the evening check-in Warrior’s Wish is 19 miles ahead, and over 60 miles to the North. I’m a little worried, but decide I should rest for the night so I can push a little harder tomorrow, after I have a clearer view of the weather ahead. I summon all the intelligence left in my cold, wet brain to scrawl some gibberish in my logbook: “N34d51′ W125d51′ DTF1920 225T 7.7kts. wind 300@20ish. lots of bouncy. had some pasta. fruits crushed.” I set the autopilot and let it drive all night while I curl up in my berth, shivering constantly. I have a hard time understanding how people can spend so much time, effort, and money putting themselves through such a miserable time. The ones I really can’t figure out are the guys on Hecla, Harrier, and Dream Chaser who are not on their first race. No one ever told me how unpleasant this part would be, but they knew this was coming! At daylight on the 21st my teeth are sore from chattering. I’ve been headed a little further southwest than I want to, because the wind is still from the northwest. I could head up a little bit, but that would put me further into the wind and slow the boat dramatically. I get more weatherfaxes showing the wind dying down on the north side of the course in the next few days and decide to head a little further south. The wind has weakened a bit and I can put up my big genoa, which gets me up to 8 knots easily. While up on the foredeck I spot a basketball-sized jellyfish. I’ve warmed up a little, despite the overcast, and finally get to change into dry clothes. My feet have been in wet boots for two days, and look like deep-sea creatures. I let them dry out for a while and decide it’s warm enough to forego the boots, which will never dry anyway. It’s a pity I took my spare boots off the boat before the race. I’ve managed to stay 15-20 miles behind Warrior’s Wish for the last couple check-ins. The wind is slowly lightening up, but every time I consider putting a spinnaker up something happens to dissuade me: a big shift, a gust of wind, a wave breaking over the cockpit… I settle for the #1 and eventually shake out the reefs in the main. I get a decent night’s sleep, but at three in the morning I’m awakened by the autopilot beeping and the boat rounding up. I leap into the cockpit to find the autopilot drive unit has failed. It’s been driving continuously for 12 hours on an aggressive gain setting. I leave the boat up to her own devices for a minute and crawl down below to dig out a spare and lower the gain. I have a third spare should this one fail, but it worries me a little that a brand new drive should fail so quickly.

The Pacific Ocean finally lives up to its name.

On the 22nd the conditions lighten up and I finally get the reaching spinnaker out to find that I can point the boat at Hanalei on a beam reach. I spot my first albatross and flying fish. Ronnie misses the morning check-in, which annoys me, because comparing our distances is my great motivator. We’ve been informed that Bandicoot has returned to San Francisco with radio problems and may restart. Mirage has withdrawn from the race. That leaves only Warrior’s Wish and Taz!! in my division, and I have a 100-mile lead on Taz!!. A quick glance at the other boats shows that Dream Chaser and Saraband are only 19 and 28 miles behind me, respectively. I owe Saraband 58 hours on corrected time, so Dave is doing quite well. At the start I had picked him out as my favorite for winning the race on corrected time, so I’m not surprised.

Read Part Three.

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