Posts tagged stars

Crossing the Line

At 0822Z, longitude 157d44W, Shirley, Nick and I became trusty shellbacks.
The wind has picked up and we are close reaching in 4-ft waves, trying not to lose any ground to the West. There is plenty of spray on deck, and the boat leaps and pounds into the waves, which makes my berth up front feel like the inside of a bass drum. The itchy little blisters on my knees, which I thought had disappeared, are back over my entire legs. The consensus on board is it’s prickly heat, it’s driving me crazy.
Achernar, Canopus, the Southern Cross and Magellanic clouds are keeping us company at night. Meanwhile, Polaris and most of the big and little dippers are below the horizon. The zodiacal light is also very noticeable.
If you’re tired of the party line, you can read Nick’s take on things at

250 miles to go

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…


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.

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