Day 204, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 10-Crossing the Gulf Stream
Date: Monday, May 16, 2011
Weather: Overcast, 77 degrees F; Winds W’ly 10-15 knots
Latitude: 32 57.337 N
Longitude: 078 10.537 W
Miles to Go: 56
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA
Oh, my! This test we need to pass to graduate from World Circumnavigation 101 just gets more and more interesting. The good news is that the wind really did die down and stay that way from about 5:30 on yesterday evening. And the three to four meter seas almost immediately dropped to about one meter. So our night was much calmer. I guess I can start referring to the height of the seas in feet instead of meters, as that is the way the weather services here report it. But in all of the rest of the world it is reported in meters. So in US terms, we now have about three foot seas instead of nine to twelve foot seas-and that is definitely a good thing. When I went down to sleep during Mark’s first shift, we decided I would sleep only two hours, not three. Then Mark would sleep from 9:30 to 11:30 pm and I would get him up if we had another case of Midnight Madness. And we did. We had been sailing along nicely since 5:30 pm with 15-22 knots of SW wind. Just before midnight the sails started flapping, so I quickly tightened them and checked our course and wind direction. The wind had changed and was coming from the W. According to the navigation screen, Windbird was headed due E-the Gulf Stream. I figured we were going to need to furl the staysail, center the main, and try to motor to get Windbird back on course, so I got Mark up and we started the process. From there, one thing led to another. One of the staysail sheets had gotten under the dinghy and was wrapped around one pontoon so that we couldn’t furl the sail. I went forward and got that loose. Once the staysail was furled and main was centered, we attempted to start the engine. It didn’t sound right and in investigating we found the water pump was clogged with seaweed and in the process of checking that a hose clamp broke and one of the hoses came off. So while Mark was working on these projects, we were drifting eastward with the Gulf Stream at about 4 knots-stronger current than we expected here. When we finally got the motored started we couldn’t control the steering. We appeared to be going south and no matter how much I turned the wheel one way or the other, the navigation screen showed us going south. Mark looked over the back railing to check the rudder. It was still there and looked like it was moving just fine. Then he had to take the mattress off the aft cabin bed to get under it to check the steering. It seemed fine. Then we stopped looking at navigation aids and asked ourselves, “What makes sense?” The moon was in the right location-the same location it has been in for the past few nights. The moon was to port, so that was west and we were heading northwest after all, but at less than one knot of speed. The compass said we were headed to the west, but we realized that was the heading necessary to fight the four knot current. The navigation screen just couldn’t register what direction we were going because we were going so slowly, even when we upped the RPM’s to 2400, it still showed us going to the south. Adding to the problem was that the wind was blowing about 20 knots directly on the nose. So we knew we were going to have to shake out the reef in the main, put the staysail back, and change course a bit so we could use the sails as well as the engine. Otherwise we were going to end up off Cape Hatteras in a couple of days! By 1:30 am, we got the sails set, adjusted the course, and the 20 knots of wind piped down to about 14. Finally, something in our favor. We were now able to control the steering and were moving in the right direction at about 3.5 knots. At 1:45 am went to sleep for a three hour shift. While Mark was on watch, things were going along smoothly until the GPS just simply quit. We think it got moisture in it-not sure how that could happen out here in these conditions (sorry for the sarcasm). Whatever, he had to get the old GPS out. It works fine but it doesn’t “talk” to our computer. Therefore, Mark can’t upload routes to it electronically. But it will be fine for now. The next little happening came about at 7:15 am when I tried to turn on the HF radio to download email. The radio wouldn’t turn on. I check wiring and everything look fine, but still nothing. Mark would be getting up soon, so I just waited. When he tried to turn it on, he also got nothing. He was starting to check power flow when I remembered that the last time this happened it was a fuse. He checked and that was it. Thank goodness. After last night’s log, I knew if I wasn’t able to send a log today my sister would get very worried. During the day, the fuse has blown two more times, so something else must be the problem, but we are hoping we can keep the radio going until we arrive and work on it then. As Mark said last night, “How many things can go wrong at once?” I’m hoping we are at the end of bad weather and things breaking. But we still have fifteen hours or so to go and unfortunately, a lot of things can happen in those few hours.
We have successfully crossed the Gulf Stream but the downside of that is that the temperature has dropped from 77 to 71 degrees. 72 degrees F is “Cruiser Freezing Point” so I guess we’ll have to break out the polar fleece! We have had a great afternoon sail, but unfortunately the wind and wave height are increasing as I write this. The sky is blue with white puffy clouds, so I think the increase in the wind is not associated with stormy weather. At least that is what I hope. The only problem is that we are reefed down as much as possible and are still going too fast. We only have 56 miles to go and might arrive at the entrance to the Intercoastal before sunrise. If so, we’ll just have to hang out until daylight. But the wind could change a number of times before then. We’re going to have to play this game of chance right up until the end.