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One Quarter of the Way!!

It’s all in the way you do the math but it is now 37 days since I set sail out of St. Augustine.  Multiply 37 by 4 and you get 148 days and that I now declare is my target. Take out 12 days for the St. Augustine to Bermuda legs, (6 days each way), and I hope to make the Bermuda to Bermuda in 136 days which will break Dodges 150 day record and that of the Chinese sailor who now hold the record for fastest circumnavigator in a cruise yacht by way of China back to China of 137 days. So you see why I hope I am now one quarter of the way through this challenge.

To quote/paraphrase my hero Winston Churchill, “now this is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”

So where is Dodge Morgan at this point in time? Well as we passed by the coast of Brazil, Dodge did swing southeast while I was directed to head more south – both of us receiving advice from weather routers for our respective seasons. So we have diverged by several hundred miles. Dodge did well and in a virtually straight line, whereas I have covered more miles and with a frontal passage expected tomorrow maybe have to head further south and even a little west for a period. But by about day 40 (it’s now day 31 since Bermuda) our paths will meet on the 40th parallel south and then we shall see exactly where we are. Stay tuned.

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Sailing Safe

I am wary in these waters as it was around here that most of the incidents leading to my withdrawal last year took place. For instance yesterday with north winds at 22 knots I under full main and genoa was making 11 and 12 knots. A great speed. But the seas were rough and the night was fast approaching. So I put in a reef reducing the mainsail area and bought in the genoa and ran out the smaller staysail. I lost a good knot or a little more of speed but Kiwi Spirit rode better and we smiled at one another.

I suspect there are many classifications of sailors but here is mine; harbour and estuary day sailors, offshore coastal sailors, cruising blue water sailors, fast blue water cruisers and professional blue water racers. I have a fast blue water cruising yacht that I am deliberately sailing safely. Should I break down I don’t have the luxury of trying again. Life at seventy seven is too short and I have much else to do and my wife bless her agrees! So its rule number one, sail well and get home safely. Breaking the records are of secondary consideration.

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Suddenness of a Squall

I am again in the waters that did so much damage to my boat on my first attempt.  Just this morning I had my cereal and reconstituted milk and was on my way to the galley to take back my dishes and put the water on for a cup of tea. As I left the cockpit I looked around – all clear skies, puffy cumulus on the horizon and no overcast. I quickly snapped a photo of a double rainbow and went below.  One minute later I hear it, a squall.  It comes on suddenly and the first sign is the change in wind pitch issuing from the wind generators for some of my electrical power. I leap to action just as the boat begins to heel from 20 degrees now to 30 degrees. I get to the main winch with knees bent andready to drop to the deck should I slip and with one hand hanging on and manage to reach the winch and ease out the mainsail to bring the boat more upright and to slow a little. Had I not acted so quickly, waiting another five seconds the boat would have been over at some 40 degrees making it almost impossible to get to the winch and there would be a further delay as I would have judged it prudent to get my safety harness on. Note I do not leave the cockpit without the harness being on – that’s a rule and a promise. But even sometimes in the cockpit and when asleep I am harnessed on to a secure fitting.

So what happened to my “patented” squall detector designed on my first voyage and described in one of my blogs? That was the device, a plastic container weighted with water that sat on a material with a certain coefficient of friction sitting on my cockpit table right by where I slept or napped. When a squall hit and when a certain angle of heel was reached it the container would slide off and hit me either on the chest or throat and I would spring to action. Fine, but the sound of the wind in the wind generator blades, a elevating of the pitch will now awakes me sooner than my “patented” device – and my throat feels better.

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Strategy Unfolding

If you take into account the priority of my goals which are:

1.            Return home safely

2.            Be the oldest to have circumnavigated non-stop, non-assisted

Then of less importance

3.            Beat Dodge Morgan’s 150 day record from Bermuda and back

4.            Beat Chuan’s 137 day record for fastest cruising boat to circumnavigate – China and

                back

5.            Establish a new record from St. Augustine and back

6.            Be the first to do it all green – no diesel, gas, propane, butane just what I create from

               sun wind and water

Then, “racing” is not on the agenda. “Be kind to the boat and it will be kind to you” said Steve Pettengill, project manager for this attempt and I intend to do my best with that advice.

For instance the other night I had a true wind angle of 50 degrees, true wind speed of 17 knots and was sailing with a first reef in the main and just the staysail out (not the bigger genoa). I was doing all of 7 to 8 knots. However I could have got two more knots, that’s fifty miles in a day, had I bought in the staysail and put out the larger genoa. But night was upon me, squalls come up fast and so I sailed on with the lesser amount of sail and slept well knowing I could handle a squall.

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Twenty Days Out From Bermuda – Where is Dodge?

Twenty days and some 3,600 miles from Bermuda, I find myself still neck and neck with Dodge Morgan and his 1986 record. He did better through the doldrums than I did. He shot through with favorable winds while I had some windless times and some time out for repairs. At this point Dodge is 249 miles north east and behind me – a little more than a day but he is east of me and will stay that way for a while.  Now we enter an area off the coast of Brazil where we will start to lose the easterly trade winds and have many variables along with squalls in the early morning and at dusk. It’s in these waters that most of my damage occurred last time (lost a spinnaker, damaged my staysail furler, busted the end of the boom from an accidental jibe, lost two battens from the mainsail) including  the deck fittings which support the mast and sailing gear were beginning to fail. So I shall be sailing more conservatively for the next ten days and expect Dodge to gain and pull ahead of me. Soon after that however we shall part company somewhat. His router (Bob Rice) had him take a more south easterly course to the southern ocean whereas my router (Ken Campbell and team of Commanders Weather) will have me take a more southerly and perhaps even SSW at times to get to the westerly winds down south and then I will turn east. When Dodge and I meet some fifteen days later at about 40 degree latitude south it will be interesting to see the result.

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Equator Crossed

Cocktail Hour Begins Early – at 4:16 local time here yesterday, I crossed the equator. This called for a small bottle of champagne to be opened (actually a screw top cava would you believe!). I poured a little into the sea to pay homage to Neptune and then a few drops more just in case he was with company – mermaids and all. Then I poured a little on the deck for Kiwi Spirit. Next up I shared my thanks with Betsy – she is the Secondary Autopilot and is doing a splendid job – reliable and responsive. I then, so as not to hurt the feeling of Arnold the Primary autopilot, troublesome and temporarily on strike, gave him a few drops also and then finally to the as yet unnamed reserve autopilot. Yes there was still some left for me.

All is well. There is work to be done and sailing to be enjoyed. We are now across the equator and in steady trades. I am managing to stay east despite SE winds. Kiwi Spirit is just purring along.

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Tired and Exhausted

Even with a full crew the talk is of fatigue at sea. At a minimum it’s using different muscles. Muscles work even when seated and especially when standing as you struggle for balance and are always holding on with one or both hands while legs are braced. Sleeping is also different in that legs are spread wide, braced against anything and the body tries not to roll though it will levitate at times. No wonder one wakes fatigued. Compound that with what we solo sailors have to do – sleep aware of what’s going on.  The sleep is not deep and I limit myself to one hour maximum at a time on this voyage and in these waters. Later I may take a two hour sleep once out of any shipping lanes. So I am perpetually tired and when I get to land though I will indulge in several ten hour sleeps I will still, just as with most solo sailors remain fatigued for a month or two. The fatigue is constant and is such that most chores begin with a mental exercise of such as “I have to do it.”

Last night at 4:00 am I was experiencing a fresh wind which woke me from a one hour nap. I decided to top off the water ballast tanks on the windward side when all of a sudden there was a loud “bang.” I feared the mast had broken – a sailors biggest fear but it was obvious as I sailed on that had not happened. Perhaps I had jibbed and damaged the end of the boom – but no it was fine. Then I saw it, a large block on deck had come adrift and the line smashed into the Bimini taking away one of the support poles. I turned the boat up and through the breeze so that the sails were now on the wrong side and lay a hull. Here the boat was even in 22 knots quite calm and it drifting north at one mile per hour while I planned the work I would have to do and waited for daylight. Six hours were lost to sailing but then on my way.

Yeah for a day at the office!

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And Now the Doldrums

I awoke to the slapping of sails and the jerking on sail sheets as the wind died and the ocean swells rolled the boat. I had entered the doldrums that equatorial space where the NE trades that brought Columbus to America collide with the SE trades and canceled another out in a sea of overcast skies and squalls. In earlier days big heavy sailing vessels that could only sail downwind and whose heavy sails took a lot of wind to fill and deliver forward motion, mightily around here for weeks. Not so for today’s light yacht.  I am at the moment going on course at 2 knots with a wind of 4 knots, but at any moment the wind could increase, die or turn around and then its “all hands on deck” to adjust the sails to the new conditions. 

The first Leg was to Bermuda and it was a little slow being six rather than five days. The Second Leg is now completed as I managed to stay north of the coast of South America and now get caught in coastal breezes. Now at the beginning of Leg Three I started with the Doldrums and then headed due south to get to south latitude 40 where I shall hang a left and proceed around the great Southern Ocean on Leg Four to south of New Zealand and Leg Five to the Horn of South America. That is how I am dividing the route.

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Suddenly a Yacht

I looked up from the pages of Manchester’s biography on Churchill titled The Last Lion to see not a hundred yards from me, another of comparable size and decorated as to denote an event such as is mine, but observed that he was being poorly sailed wallowing under too little a sail area. He did not show on AIS and I could not learn anything about the boat so I called on Channel 16. The boat and skipper are French and he is escorting a rowing craft that is rowing from France to French Guyana on the North Coast of South America. In the swells I could not see the rowing boat. The rower will not be the first to have rowed the Atlantic. Throughout the Caribbean such as at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua one sees rowing shells that have made it across. Don’t worry this will be my next adventure as I have never seen the point in turning ones back on where you are desiring to go.

I did not know it was Thanksgiving until I got an email wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving. Well, I reflected I at least had turkey bacon for breakfast (ugh) along with two farm fresh unwashed eggs. On the subject of eggs America seems the only country where they are routinely refrigerated. In Europe they are sold on open shelving amongst items such as bread. Unrefrigerated and unwashed eggs (I managed to get six dozen of them) will keep for weeks without refrigeration. There is a simple test for their health – if they float they are gone. So to celebrate my Thanksgiving dinner I decided on a bottle of wine that I removed from the refrigerator only to find that some scoundrel had absconded with at least two glassfuls. If I catch the devil he will walk the plank. However if he is an officer – well then a few sharp words will have to do.

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Attrition and Black Boxes

 

On the first attempt last year the challenges I had to continuing were mainly mechanical: loss of battens from the sail, damaged staysail furling, extensive damage to the end of the boom. These I repaired and felt comfortable they would not be show stoppers.  However it was the failure of the fixtures that hold the shrouds that support the mast that caused the alarm. Farr Yacht Design said they were unsafe and that I had to quit – soon all team members agreed and so I put in to Cape Town.

This time it’s the electronics that are taking a toll. I have two sets of winds instruments atop the mast. They give both wind speed and true wind direction. One set has failed and I am on the second set – so soon. Next I have three auto pilots and now one, the primary Auto Pilot has given up the ghost. Let’s hope I have seen the last of my electronics problems, but I fear not.

The autopilot did not quietly into the night. Once it failed it simply would not turn off at the breaker on the electrical panel and kept sending out load beeps every seven seconds. Then for no reason at all, perhaps I was being too calm about it all, the dying Auto decided to sound the Man Overboard alarm which really screeches.  When I finally figured out to turn it off, it found another way of coming on. Eventually however it totally died and I had peace and quiet.

My Project Manager Steve Pettengill said “Look after the boat and it will look after you.” Believe me Steve, I am doing my best but while I am somewhat mechanical, electronics are just a black box to me.

 

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