Posts tagged spinnaker

Made it!

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

SHTP Part Seven – 1st July 2010

The beginning of my troubles: broken traveler.

Read Part Six.

July 1st will turn into a very unpleasant day for me. In the early afternoon the shackle on my spinnaker sheet pops open, and I douse the spinnaker. Since the wind has veered to the East, I decide to re-hoist on starboard tack. I’m now less than 50 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer, it’s positively hot, and I’m drenched in sweat. The wind is not quite as strong as yesterday, but the swells are strong and the boat is still surfing. In one particularly good surf, the main gets backwinded, and as the boat slows on the backside of the wave, fills to the wrong side in an accidental jibe. I grab the sheet and fling it back, but the traveler catches on the lip of the track mount, cracks, and begins to spill its bearings all over the cockpit. I grab the box of Fig Newtons I’d been eating out of and use it to collect the bearings. Eventually the traveler has spilled enough of them to lift off the track, and I have to lash it down with a piece of line. Thankfully I’m going downwind, the loads on the mainsheet are low, and I will probably only have to jibe once or twice more before the finish. I’m upset at breaking something so close to Hawaii, though, and worry about the annoyance of trying to find replacement parts once I get there.

A couple hours later I’ll be faced with a much more serious problem, which will make me completely forget the traveler. As the chute fills after a beautiful surf, the mast shudders and I hear something tumble out of the rigging and onto the deck, then overboard. I half expect the mast to come down, or perhaps one of the sails, but nothing happens. I’m kind of perplexed. I’m pretty sure my mind did not make up the distinct sound I just heard, but then again I’ve been having auditory hallucinations for the last week… so I confer with the voices on the boat and we all agree something is not right. The instruments at the masthead seem to all be in place, and I can’t see any missing rigging. The shrouds and stays are still holding tight, and I can’t figure out what broke. I decide to continue for a while, as the boat is moving nicely, but eventually the wind picks up, anxiety gets the better of me, and I take the spinnaker down to get a better look at the rigging and check for chafe. The spinnaker comes down with more difficulty than usual, but I can’t see anything wrong with the rigging, and there are no signs of chafe, so I hoist it back up, which is also difficult. After a couple hours, the wind has picked up into the low twenties, large squalls are starting to roll in, and the autopilot is having a hard time keeping the boat from rounding up in the large cross swells, so I make up my mind to douse the chute early and put up the jib. Before doing so, I decide to take the spinnaker net down. I start pulling and realize there is a lot of tension in the halyard. I get the net about halfway down when I look up and see the chafe guard that protects the halyards at the masthead is coming down with it! Suddenly I realize that the piece of rigging that fell out of the mast is the pin that holds my two spinnaker halyard sheaves in. The sheaves have likely dropped inside the mast, and I can no longer fly my spinnakers! I fly into a rage, screaming as many obscenities as I can think of at the top of my lungs until I’m hoarse. I’ve come so far, and been in the lead for so long, and suddenly my race looks toast. Without a spinnaker, Warrior’s Wish will make short work of me, and Saraband will easily correct ahead of me. All because of my stupid laziness. I had seen that the threads holding in the sheave pins were stripped when I had the mast down long before the race. I had riveted in the one for the jib halyard, but gave up on fixing the upper one, because it was a little more work, and I wanted to get the mast back up. My friends John and Goran had advised me to do something about it, and I’d ignored them, and here it is bringing an end to my race. I’m such an idiot. I will never hear the end of it.

This stuff should all be at the masthead. See here for comparison.

Eventually a wave coming over the foredeck and dousing me in warm, clear water pulls me out of my recriminations, and I get to work putting the #4 up and poling it out. I bring the useless spinnaker halyards back to the mast base and tie them off. For a second I consider climbing the rig to lash a block at the top of the mast for an external halyard, but with the climbing gear I’ve put together I’m barely capable of climbing to the spreaders at the dock, and I can’t fathom getting to the masthead with the boat rolling in waves. I think of flying the spinnaker from the jib halyard, but it would certainly chafe against the fiber forestay, which could bring the mast down. I pause for a while and feel the motion of the boat. She is still hitting speeds in the double digits, surfing down the swells, albeit less frequently than before. With no spinnaker to roll the boat around, the autopilot is having a much easier time keeping Idefix headed straight, and I can leave her to her own devices. I’m also running deeper downwind with the jib than with the spinnaker. Perhaps all is not lost? After all, I had 80 miles made good the previous night with the same sail configuration. I go down below to note the incident in my logbook, and calculate ETAs based on average speeds of 6.5 and 6.75 knots, which is what I seem to be doing with my current sail configuration. The faster speed will put me there at 21:00 on July 3rd (18:00 local), or a little more than 48 hours from now. I can count my ETE in hours, and arrive in daylight, what else could I possibly want? I’m still hoarse from freaking out earlier, but it felt good to let some emotion out, and I’m now more at peace than I have been in a very long time.

My wimpy new sail configuration.

At the evening check-in, I realize I was foolish to get upset about my situation. I have a 145-mile lead on Warrior’s Wish, and Ronnie would have to average almost 10 knots to catch up to me, which is all but impossible, even for a Mount Gay 30. I’m finally getting a grip on the magnitude of the lead I have. I’m in a good position to take home a trophy, even with a crippled boat. I’m 323 miles ahead of Saraband, still short of my target 365, and our speeds are almost similar. I picture the Westsail 32, a stately platform overlooking the blue, rolling in the swells, plowing inexorably towards Kaua’i under full canvas, while Idefix, a fifth the weight and less than half the sail area, does her best imitation of a cross between a surfboard and a submarine. How different the ride must feel for Dave! I think of relating my tales of woe to the other skippers, but I’m having a hard time getting a word in edgewise, between talk of microwave dinners and on-board refrigeration and I realize that if they know I’ve slowed down much, they might push harder to catch up, so I turn off the SSB for the night.

A blue-footed booby attacks my wind vane.

So long, bird!

With the loss of my spinnaker halyards, my journey has become much more serene. The jib and main require virtually no trimming, and the autopilot is making a fine job of steering the boat, so I find myself with very little to do. There is no point in worrying about my position, as I have no way of making the boat go faster. Save a major disaster, I’ll be in Hawaii in less than two days. I sleep well that night, having to get up only to put in the second reef during a squall, then pull it out at dawn, which is much easier than I’d anticipated, even with the sail loaded up and in the shrouds. I make a mental note to reef again the following night.

On July 2nd my hope of correcting ahead of Saraband is perversely rekindled when Dave announces he has broken his boom. It’s a bit ironic, since I was warned before the start that Olson 30s usually either win the race or break their boom, and I had prepared for such an event by packing a bunch of aluminum angle and steel bands to splint the boom, which was reinforced. Unfortunately Dave had no such luck and had to jury rig a repair. Aside from this, it’s a boring day for me. I’d never have thought I’d ever get bored on a sailboat, let alone racing, but here I am, bored out of my wits. I’m anxious to make landfall, worried about fixing my broken hardware in Kaua’i, and dreading the long trip home. I shuffle through my navigation table and pull out “Mutiny on the Bounty”, which Peter had given me to read before my departure. I hadn’t planned on reading it until the trip home, but the book is a welcome relief from the monotony of sailing, so I get completely engrossed in it, and barely leave my berth, where I can read and nap in the shade. I don’t even pay attention to the fact that for the first time I am sailing South of the Tropic of Cancer.

Last sunset of the race. For the first time, the sun emerged from the clouds before diving into the ocean.

I jibe before sundown, and my last night at sea as a solo ocean racer is clear and beautiful. Hecla has just finished, and as I watch the sun set to the West I strain to see Hawai’i and think of my own arrival less than 24 hours from now. As the sky darkens I watch the Southern Cross rise out of the ocean, and spot Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to the Sun. To the North-Northwest Venus is wildly bright, and its reflection illuminates the waves. I crawl back into my berth and read for awhile, until a racket on deck pulls me from my book. A fish is flopping in the cockpit, and I chase it around a bit before getting my hands on the slippery little guy and throwing him back to the sea. He was big enough that if he had landed in the boat a couple hours earlier I would’ve had fresh fish for dinner, which would’ve been a welcome change. I’ve been dreaming of BBQ steak for a couple days now. I still have some dried sausage and cured ham, which is better than a lot of the other boats (especially George on Taz!!, who had packed mostly frozen food and saw it all thaw a couple days into the race). Since running out of bread I’ve been eating tortillas with nutella or peanut butter and jelly, or beans and sardines. I also have a couple cans of pears I get out on special occasions. Around midnight I see a light to the South, and figure it might be the glow of O’ahu, but eventually I conclude the distance is still much too great for that, and it must be a fishing boat. I stay up late to jibe back, which seems more complicated with the small jib than with the spinnaker. Of course, my clear night is interrupted by a single squall that hits me right in the middle of the jibe. For a little while I’m pelted with rain and wind, dancing with a flogging jib in the dark on a heaving foredeck while carrying a 12-foot pole and getting tangled up in lines. After this circus, the calm returns, and I go to bed for a solid night of sleep. Tomorrow is arrival day.

Read Part Eight.

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.

SHTP Qualifying Cruise

Well, this is the first post on this site, which I think will mostly be dedicated to my preparation for the 2010 Singlehanded Transpacific Race. So I guess I’ll kick it off with a repost of my log for the qualifying cruise I did in November. I originally posted it on the Washington Yacht Club’s newsletter.


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