DATE: Saturday 11 June, 2016, 09:30 AM Mid Atlantic time
SY Visions of Johanna Bermuda to Dingle, Ireland Crossing Day 14
North Atlantic Ocean
Position: 50 52.6N/18 36.2W
SOG 7.59 knots; COG 061 mag
TWS 14.5 kn ; TWD: 255 mag
Conditions: It's foggy and (looks and) feels just like home! Lumpy seas.
We are motorsailing nearly DDW, trying to keep AWA above 130 mag. Winds of 15-20 kn WSW to westerlies are anticipated for our approach, with maybe a shot of NW briefly nearing the Irish coast, so essentially it is a downwind approach. I need to determine whether to tack downwind with reacher (longer) or motor-sail (shorter distance at the expense of diesel) in to Dingle. Seas remain a soft topped 4-6 feet with a southerly swell interacting with a SW wind wave. Relatively, any motion is nil as viewed from the aspect of recent comps!
Current situation: Let me start around 24 hours ago. Wind picked up but slowly through the early hours of Friday morning. We had placed a third reef in the main 17:30 Thursday evening, and flew the jib for part of the night...hesitating...considering when to further shorten sail...wondering...waiting...asking...when will the frontal winds arrive? It felt a bit like waiting for Godot. Well, Godot showed up after all, at least in our rendition. The jib was rolled in around 22:30 hours Thursday night, carefully, tight and neat we felt. All this reefing explains our modest speeds through Thursday night into Friday morning, 7's early on, then 6's, as the wind remained 23 kn or less through 0500.
We also had some conflicting data weatherwise at this point. Our downloaded GRIBs indicated that increased winds and seas would arrive after daylight Friday, but with some moderation, 25 kn and occasional 30 kn winds from the south and SE. Ken McKinley's forecast was quite a bit harsher, including sustained 28-33 knot winds with some gusts possibly to 40 kn, and we would begin seeing the harshest winds after midnight Thursday and through the early hours of Friday. I always default to Ken, so we were ready!
Ultimately the front did not make it's approach known until 0630 Friday - by that time we were adding an additional 1/2 hourly log reading of wind speed, direction, and barometer reading, to our full hourly log. Wind speed jumped abruptly to 27.3 kn at 06:30 Friday, and then never looked back. So Ken's estimate of where the boat might be when the front approached was several hours off, but he nailed the intensity. Bulls eye! And I hate it when he is so right. Barometer started at the 1016 mb range at 22:00 hrs Thursday night, and hit a nadir of 1004 mb 16:00 hrs Thursday afternoon, a drop of 12 mb in 18 hours. Pretty severe, but thankfully not steep.
Wind speeds increased by the hour through Friday, literally, until maxing out to a 33.5 kn average at the 13:00 hour reading. We were sailing with triple reef mainsail and 1/2 reefed staysail at that point, seeing gusts to 39.9 knots. Overall I would not say that we were particularly comfortable on our sturdy vessel, but we all felt safe and sound. Sleep was't great, daytime meals were catch as catch can, but we all knew that this would begin to abate sometimes toward the end of the day. So we waited. Again. Waiting.
And, please don't think that we were completely hassle free through all of this, simply sitting on our thumbs. No, a vessel and crew are always tested on ocean passages (and in ocean racing for that matter) and it would be fool hardy to think that a few things would not go amiss - particularly in this ocean. You just never know when or where a mal-occurrence might pop up, especially during a frontal pass, when you are crossing the north Atlantic around 49N. So any number of eventful happenings should be anticipated, perhaps a few escapades, but hopefully no big issues. I would say we made it to the few escapades level.
Around 03:00 Friday morning the autopilot alarm went off, failure reading of "mot stall", presumed to mean motor stall. Exactly what that indicated is uncertain (mot stall is not listed in the Raymarine manual as a fault code, of course), but what it meant was jumping out of the bunk to hand steer. Denis was on watch and we initially each took a 1/2 hour turn. I was thinking about issues and possible solutions, and then simply experimented, turning the AP back on but to steer by heading, not wind. And it worked. Thank you! But I took it as a signal, a warning really, about how insignificant we were out here. Why did it happen? We had been piloting by the wind and most likely the wind shifts and building seas overloaded our AP, but I am not sure as I have no idea what the fault code might mean. And the steering was quite easy, actually. Denis commented that "she tracked well", and we found a nice soft spot to steer on our intended course, sail plan balanced (at that point staysail was still out fully), and moderate speeds in the 7 knot range. So it did not seem that AP was working too hard. Needless to say, it has not been asked to steer to wind since.
The Friday morning hours brought a bit of shuddering and bouncing of the jib stay. Tried to control with mast head bend, but no change, and shortly, we noticed that the jib was beginning to unfurl itself high up. Furling line was locked, but the top was fluttering out. We began to unroll it but it soon became apparent that the top 1/4 was wrapped against the direction of the lower furl, with an intervening hour glass. When we were unable to get it to unwrap itself by jibing, we finally found a way to have all the turns the same way, and it unfurled evenly. Whoohoo. But not so fast...this is the north Atlantic, and it was windy. Even with good attention and efforts to refurl it, the sail and then the furling drum encaptured the reacher sheet. The jib was stuck at a 50% roll...and fond memories of sailing up the south island of NZ to Picton washed over me. So at this point, an inspection was necessary, and a little jaunt up to the bow followed. This was a group effort. Denis hand steered a downwind course to mitigate seas and wind, and Andrew and Pam controlled jib sheet and furling line, respectively. Essentially, I brought the reacher sheet to the foredeck and arduously unwound it, also using the step-wise unrolling of the drum one turn at a time to assist. 30 minutes later, no worries, mate. All done, sails properly furled.
A large pod of whales joined at this point. And...
Less than an hour later, the windspeed really started to come up fast. Timing is everything.
By this time we were reaching, with speeds first in the 6's and then 5's, sailing slowly trying to keep apparent wind at or abaft the beam in building seas. They got pretty big. Definitely over 4-6 feet (really 9-12 and an occasional 16, but don't tell!). Large amounts of green water were seen strolling across our decks. We were heeling, and then heeling and rolling hard in swells. At one point a fairly loud crash was heard. The aft galley drawer slipped it's catch, and went to the ground. Fortunately, only two casualties are noted, but it still remains on the galley sole as seas are not quite yet easy enough to repair. The forward galley drawer is also questionable; latch has a fatigue crack and we have put it out of commission.
Well, I thought 3 events were a charm. Not! Around 15:00 hours, a huge amount of water washed over the deck from what must have been a particularly large swell accompanied by exquisite timing. Like being in a waterfall. Really. Neptune again made his presence known as dorades in Andrews cabin and the quarter berth (opposite sides of the boat!!) were breached, and drippings were found on the saloon table as well. By then, I realized, our trangressions. We were not at all cocky, but we were gamely surviving all the north Atlantic was throwing at us. But that's not how it's done.
Our error was, we were meaningless peons, a tiny vassel traversing a huge and unforgiving ocean, and we needed to submit. Cry uncle. Ask for kindness, and safe passage. So tail between my legs. I did. Loudly. With the greatest of respect, I acknowledged the powers of Neptune, submitted essentially on my knees, while proclaiming to all that could hear, our unworthiness in his huge sea.
And it worked. Within the hour winds began to ease, and slowly but steadily they diminished through the rest of the afternoon. Coincidence? Who knows. I am not usually a prayerful guy, but I think that this is something akin to the absence of athiests in foxholes. Either way, all is better. Good even by now!
And since I initiated this blog piece, drawer latches have been repaired.We are putting things back together, enjoying the (relatively) smooth ride.
Tactical: Get the F to Dingle.
We are looking at clocks and are having trouble figuring out whether the western most coast of Ireland is UTC-1, or UTC.
Lunch and dinner yesterday were a blur. We were on our own for lunch fixings. Dinner was make your own wraps with vegetable, bean, and turkey burgers. We even had enough greens for a cucumber/celery/onion salad with chick peas.
All is well on-board. 302 nm. to Dingle Bay approach waypoint, 10 more miles in to the harbor. Landfall is expected some time late Sunday night/early Monday. The good people of Dingle are helping us plan our approach.
Bill Strassberg and crew, SY Visions of Johanna
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