|Black Line Planned vs. Green/Orange Actual (windy where Orange)|
(Warning this is a bit long as I document what happened for my own benefit as well as yours!)
How was the trip to Bermuda??
Well, it wasn’t the best! For those of you that considered coming along for the ride (Sue!) and then decided not to…you made a good decision.
It probably sits at number two in our all time least enjoyable list of passages. Tough call, since the Auckland to Tonga trip had more than 48 hours with winds over 30 and this one only 24 hours. But, on the trip to Tonga the Autopilot steered through the worst parts, and on this trip we lost the autopilot less than an hour into the windy stuff. An autopilot is worth at least two capable crew. Lesson learned….we need to fix what broke and organize a backup system for the future!
As earlier posts have pointed out, we left a chilly Newport, RI behind with a forecast (from professionals (that we PAID for!!!)) that predicted 24 hours of very light conditions, the possibility (becoming more likely) of a new Low that would affect us with 20-30 knot winds pushing us downwind for the next 24 hours, and then 36 hours of ideal sailing conditions as we finished our trip into St. Georges Harbor in Bermuda.
Quotes from our Forecast Provider…
1) There is some change to the forecast but still think it looks best to get going today (Sun)
2) You may see adverse conditions for a time Mon, or Mon Night but will see better and more favorable conditions Tue and Wed to Bermuda
3) Look out for increasing NE wind, possible to 20 kts later at Night.
4) Winds: Sun – light and Variable, Mon – 5 to 15, possible gusts to 30 in squalls, Tue – 12 to 26, Gust 30?, Wed – 22 to 11
So, what happened….
The forecast was right on. We motor sailed, charged the batteries, read our books, and enjoyed a few good meals and what is now the traditional one drink 5pm Happy Hour. Sunday night the conditions remained calm, and the engine kept running.
All was well. We all eased into the watch schedule of 2 hours on and 4 hours off. Our Autopilot drove and we continued motoring until we finally got some breeze mid-morning. We went through a couple of reefing and un-reefing exercises just to practice and get our roles figured out. And ended up doing some nice fast sailing with single reefed main and the jib most of the afternoon.
We have XM satellite radio and weather onboard the boat these days. And, as the day rolled on and we read the updated forecasts it became pretty clear that towards morning and during much of Tuesday we were going to see more than just 20 knots with an occasional gust to 30. The predicted Low was forming, and strengthening. Luckily, our timing was good so by the time we saw its winds (and waves) they would all be behind us pushing us right towards Bermuda.
Not really that big a deal. We’d certainly seen conditions like that in the past and with the wind behind us we could reduce sail, be conservative and just sort of ride along. If we were racing, I would have been REALLY excited about the possibility of some great runs downwind under Spinnaker.
Deb and Kim were fine with the updated forecasts, and just a bit upset with me when I canceled that nights Cocktail Hour. They think they got away with it, but now will learn that I was on to them that evening when in an act of Mutiny one of them snuck back to the cooler and grabbed a beer for them to share. I looked the other way in order to ensure continued good crew morale!! [EDIT DJG: Kim and I only talked about it. We did NOT cheat!]
We also rolled up the jib and double reefed the mainsail. (Our main only has two reefs, but we had them build them big! So, two reefs leaves up a pretty small sail. I think I went off watch at 3am in 15-20 knots. Things were right on initial forecast, but I expected things to build a bit based on our updates. However, with just a small bit of mainsail up, I fell right asleep with hardly a concern.
5-6AMish – Kim’s on watch. I’m sound asleep, until I hear Deb suggesting that it would be a good idea to get up and check on Kim. The boat feels good to me, but the wind does seem to be rising quickly. I get up, look at the windspeed – 25 knots. No big deal, ask Kim how she’s doing. She’s fine. Look back at the windspeed low 30’s. Boatspeed 10-12 knots. Humm….maybe I should get some gear on and take a look around.
Bang!! All of the sudden, seemingly out of nowhere a wall of wind hits the boat and she takes off. Thank god for a good autopilot and a great boat! Windspeed 40+, boat speed low teens, the waves are still pretty tame so the boat is just screaming along like she is on rails. I am in full speed mode now!! Kim’s looking down from the companionway with really big eyes asking what she should do!! I tell her do nothing!! Come below!! Shoes and foul weather gear are on now and my life jacket and harness are almost on. Kim comes below and starts pumping steaming hot water out of the thermos to make herself some tea. She’s one cool cat under pressure, or she’s a little over confident in us and our boat!! I sort of give her “that look” and say “that’s probably not a really good idea right now” as I head up the companionway stairs.
Right then, we are hit with a solid gust to 47 knots, I look around and the sunlight is just beginning to light up the water and there is nothing but white around me. The tops of the waves are being blown off the wave tops and into the back of the waves in front of them!! It was an amazing sight, which I’d prefer not to see again for a long long time. The boat hits a top speed of 18 knots and a wave hits us on the leeward quarter and tries to spin us down into a Chinese gybe to leeward. The autopilot was set the previous night on downwind mode so rolling to leeward is the number one thing that it is not supposed to allow. Well, just like the war hero that throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies, the autopilot pulled off one more HUGE save and as it did so we heard a huge “SPROING”! noise that we’ve never heard before, and the boat slowly rounded up towards the wind.
That was it for the autopilot and the beginning of 24 hours of hand steering in 30+ knots of wind for us. We later learned that the autopilot had both bent it’s quarter inch stainless steel mounting platform, and blown its internal hydraulic seals in that last heroic effort to save the boat from who knows what. But, it would have been very very bad!! (On a side note, the electronics installer in Auckland called that mount – “Probably, the best installation platform for an auto pilot that he had ever seen.)
The really good news in all of this, is that this happened and we still had a functional rudder attached to the boat!! In the chain of what breaks next, I’ll always wonder what would have happened had the auto pilot not failed?? It was the rudder delivering all of that force to the auto pilot. So, if not the auto pilot, the next thing of the list would be the rudder!!
We grabbed the wheel turned the auto pilot off and started sailing towards Bermuda again. Based on the forecast, I figured the worst was behind us and the wind would soon return to the 25 knot range. In fact, for a couple of hours I need to admit that I was sort of having fun!! Easily hitting 16’s and riding waves “forever”. Brought back some good memories of a trip to Cabo a few years ago.
Sorry to say, the forecast had changed yet again. The Low as bigger, and getting stronger. As it moved North and away from us, you would think our winds would drop. But, it was evil and intensified as it moved, so our winds stayed in the 35-40 range for most of the daylight hours. The waves (photo’s and video to follow when I get some internet) were huge, Huge, HUGE!!!. Deb says they looked like three story buildings. Whatever, they had our attention.
During the first lull (down to 30) we turned into the wind to try to drop the double reefed main. (Note to self – two part main halyards twist on themselves in big winds and make sails very difficult if not impossible to take down.) I drove, Deb and Kim went forward with lifejackets and harnesses on of course!! We got all but perhaps the last 6 feet of main down but the rest would not come since the halyard twisted on itself. (Exactly the same reason that we switched to a one part halyard after the first part of our South Pacific cruise – lesson learned and forgotten!!) At one point, the biggest wave I’ve ever seen, sort of like that last wave in “The Perfect Storm” came at us and the bow went up, and up, and up. Until….basically there was nothing under the first two thirds of the boat and down she came with a huge crash (she was fine of course. Thanks again Davie!). That was it. End of main down exercise. What was left was the size of a small storm trysail so I called for the sail to be lashed to the boom and turn downwind plastering what was left against the shrouds. In the end, this was perfect. Plenty of sail to keep us moving at about 8 knots, but not too much to make steering difficult or to introduce the potential for wipeouts.
|Why is this person smiling???|
And so it was…for the rest of the day we all took our turns at the wheel. One hour on and two hours off. The boat was fine, the people were calm, Deb and Kim did great on the wheel. But….I was really stressed. Not about the current situation. I was dreading the night ahead. The forecasts and updates from Gibb Kane via sailmail were not encouraging. It was beginning to sound like 30 knots would continue through the night, and I knew that the night ahead was one night before the new moon. Basically, it was going to be dark. Really, really dark and the crew was not getting much if any sleep.
There are no docks out there in the middle of the ocean. No Motel Six to pull into put the boat in neutral and get some sleep. No rest stops…
After considering all the options (there were not many) it was pretty clear that the safest option was just to continue doing what we were doing until the winds calmed down around Sunrise. I did a couple extra long shifts leading up to Sunset, and our plan was to continue the same watch system through the night. Luckily, as the sun went down the skies cleared. With only the occasional cloud and a million of the brightest stars you could ever imagine, it turned out that steering at night was actually pretty “doable”. The secret was to use the compass and a star to steer by, and to listen carefully for the sound of the approaching breaking waves from behind. When you heard those waves coming, you had to crank the boat dead downwind or risk taking a big wave up and over the side. Again, this is a place where our boat seemed to over achieve. Being light and fast, she seemed to float up and over even the biggest of waves, and I often found myself wonder what this would be like on some of the slower and heavier boats that I knew were dealing with the same conditions. My guess is that they were pretty wet!
|Sunrise with Bermuda ahead|
I think that’s about it. The winds did moderate at sunrise and by noon we were sailing along under clear skies and 15 knots of wind. The jib went back out at about at about 8 am. And, life was pretty good. We came through in one piece (well, almost in one piece) and everyone did what needed to be done to stay safe.
|Just outside St. Georges Harbor!|
Definitely, one of those things that you look back on and are pleased to have been able to handle. It will provide years of stories, which I’m sure will improve over time. But, we will be spending lots of time and energy to ensure that we don’t need to do it again!!
Sorry about the long entry, thanks for reading along!!
PS. There was that 15 minutes on Wed. afternoon where I was pretty sure we had a hole in the boat. The sump in the “Men’s Head” had filled up with water and there was water running out of the cabinet in the head!! Pretty fast too. I did a quick check of the two thru hull fitting there and there did not seem to be a problem. The water was coming from aft, so I went through the list of other thru hull fittings and climbed into the “garage” only to see that those thru hulls were fine as well. Shit!! Am I too tired? Why can’t I find the source??
Back to the head, back to the aft cabin. Lift the bunk covers. Lot’s of water!! I mean lots! Damn, we are sinking but from where?? I was about to run for the emergency pump when I notice that the pressure water pump was running full on. No faucets were open, so why was it running?? Oh yes, when Deb initially noticed the water she said it was really warm. I sort of discounted that statement since the ocean temp was 78 degrees, but noticed that she was right. The water was like bath water! Humm…..what next??
Turn off the water pump.
Then….yes, this is disgusting but back into the head to yuck “taste the water” hoping that it was fresh! Hallelujah!!! Warm and fresh!! We were not sinking we were simply pumping our 80 gallon fresh water tank into the bilge via the hot water tank which had obviously failed!!!
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