Day 204, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 10-Crossing the Gulf Stream

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 Traveled:
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.

Day 203, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 9-This IS a Test

Day 203, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 9-This IS a Test
Date: Sunday, May 15, 2011
Weather: Overcast and Stormy, 73 degrees F; Winds SW’ly 15-40 knots
Latitude: 31 25.200 N
Longitude: 077 35.115 W
Miles Traveled: 1052
Miles to Go: 160
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

We’ve decided that this passage is a test we must pass in order to complete World Circumnavigation 101. The last eighteen hours might well be the hardest stretch without relief that we have had since our horrendous passage from Norfolk to St. Martin in 2005. That passage was off the scales, so it will remain our #1 worst passage, but this one might well come in as #2. Since our rocky beginning in 2005 we have had some rough weather, especially in the Indian Ocean, but neither of us remembers anything so bad as the last eighteen hours. We have had gale force winds (above 33 knots) for extended periods of time throughout that period with the seas that accompany such winds. During that 2005 passage all our books on the shelves in the v-berth flew off the shelves. Once in St. Martin, we installed heavy-duty webbing strips to hold the books in and those straps have done the job until today. This time, even with the straps, all the books are off the shelves and on the v-berth. Here’s what happened.

It all started at about 10:30 pm last night when I got up for my first watch. Mark had had a fairly relaxed first watch with 18-22 knots of wind. We were making about 6 knots but that was not going to be fast enough to get us to our destination on Monday night. So we decided to reef the main to slow ourselves down. As soon as we did that, we saw that it wouldn’t slow us enough, so we shook out the reef and decided to go for it. No sooner had we done that than the winds increased to 35 knots. Now Mark had to go back out on deck to reef the main in really nasty conditions. We just weren’t prepared for the 35 knot winds. Where did this come from? We didn’t have our Don Street make-shift preventer installed and it was going to be too complicated to install with the strong winds and seas, so Mark had to go out again and attach our old preventer. The 35 knot winds settled a bit but we were flying through the night. Mark went to sleep and on my watch we continued to have very strong winds, gusting to 40 knots at times during squalls. There was lightening to the northwest and to the north and the seas were building. Not conditions for the faint hearted. Lucky Mark had to motor during his shift as the winds died down to 11-14 knots and we had a considerable negative current against us. But as soon as I came back on watch at 5:30 am the winds immediately built to 18 to 24, gusting to 27. The seas were 3 meters and we had more than one knot negative current. At this point we started to realize that even if we shook the reef out of the main, we were still not going fast enough for a Monday arrival. But then things got so rough that we haven’t even thought about an arrival time all day. The main goal was survival. All day long the winds were roaring, the skies were totally overcast and darkened with storm clouds, and the steel gray seas were churning like a boiling cauldron. The auto pilot certainly got a good work out and Windbird did her best to protect us from the raging winds and seas. It was when one of the monster waves would hit us broadsided that it was scariest. It was just not one of our favorite days.

But as is often the case, just when I was getting ready to come downstairs to write this log, the conditions changed. It seems that 5 o’clock in the afternoon in the North Atlantic is time for a change in conditions. Those 30 knots winds died down to 15-18 and the seas instantly started to settle. As I look outside now, I can see tidbits of a blue sky and a little sunshine. We have no idea what the night will bring, but all we can hope is that the current conditions continue. Mark said he would be happy if the winds just die completely and we have to motor the rest of the way. I feel the same. Today was so rough that flat seas and no wind sound great. But we now know we will not be making it in tomorrow. We are going to stay reefed down and go slowly. Right now we have a double reefed main and double reefed staysail out with no headsail and we think we will keep it that way and slowly make our way. We’re guessing this test won’t end until we are safely tied to a dock at Lighthouse Marina just off the Intercoastal Waterway in Little River, South Carolina sometime on Tuesday morning. We’ve often thought it, but this time I think we might literally kiss the ground when we arrive!

Thanks to Alan Kanesberg and Rich Corbett for sending weather information. One thing we have learned from this passage is that never, ever, ever, never should one leave port on a passage without complete weather information and connection to a weather net. We took off this time because of Mark’s medical situation, but we have been sailing blind without a full understanding of what is happening out here. Even with the weather info sent by Rich and Alan, we still don’t know where the extremely high winds we have had the last eighteen hours came from, but let’s just hope they don’t return.

Day 202, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 8-Game of Chance

Day 202, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 8-Game of Chance
Date: Saturday, May 14, 2011
Weather: Mostly Cloudy/Some Sunshine, 77 degrees F; Winds SW 10-20
Latitude: 29 27.709 N
Longitude: 076 05.901 W
Miles Traveled: 917
Miles to Go: 296
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

A passage is a bit like a game of chance. The decisions you make all affect the outcome. Since Day 2 we have been making the decision to motor when the speed got below 4 knots in order to have any chance of reaching Little River in time for Mark’s appointment with the urologist. Now we are in the home stretch and decisions have to be made to help determine our time of arrival. We don’t want to arrive in the middle of the night, so we either have to average 6 knots from here on out to arrive on Monday evening or go slower and arrive on Tuesday. Now enter factors not in our control. The wind is now coming from the southwest and is no longer on our nose. But the swell is coming from the northwest causing a bit of a bounce which slows us down. Earlier in the afternoon, just when we decided to turn off the engine and go slower to arrive on Tuesday, the winds increased to 20 knots. So now we are going over 6 knots most of the time-but not always-and we have decided to sail as long as we can and take our chances on arrival time. If the 20 knot winds should continue we could arrive at the very end of the day on Monday. Then there is the Gulf Stream. We have to cross it at some point and it will probably boost us northward even faster. That means we could get in even earlier. But the winds could decrease and change the whole plan. If we look like we are not going to make it in on Monday evening, we’ll have to slow ourselves down and hang out until Tuesday morning, but slowing down in the Gulf Stream might not be possible. So the game of chance continues. It certainly keeps Mark busy making decisions and then throwing that decision to the wind and trying another tack.

We heard from our good sailing friends, Zbyszek and Tina of Shirena. Zbyszek is our friend from Australia who had a heart attack while in the Suez. He and Tina are back aboard Shirena in Israel, but they are having a bit of a frustrating time. They had left Shirena in Ashkelon while Zbyszek was recuperating in Australia. They returned to Israel recently, did some touring in Israel, Jerusalem, and Jordon which was all fascinating. A couple of days ago they were ready to go and made reservations in a marina in Tel Aviv. They were going there to check out of the country and move on to Cypress. But when they got within radio range and called the marina, they had no reservation and no room in the inn! The marina finally found a place for them, but then they found out that they could not check out of the country there even though the cruising guide said differently. The next day they had to move on to another town north of Tel Aviv. They are frustrated and having trouble with their steering and starting to question their return to sailing. We hope they get everything set straight soon and can enjoy a wonderful sail to Cypress. So hang in there, Shirena.

Day 201, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 7-Friday the 13th

Day 201, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 7-Friday the 13th
Date: Friday, May 13, 2011
Weather: Mostly Cloudy/Periods of Sunshine, 74 degrees F; Winds N’ly 9-12
Latitude: 27 47.985 N
Longitude: 074 51.250 W
Miles Traveled: 794
Miles to Go: 416
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

I’m superstitious. I don’t walk under ladders, don’t cross a black cat’s path, don’t start passages on a Friday, and I don’t like Fridays that fall on the 13th. My Friday the 13th started about an hour before midnight when the steady 12-14 knot winds we had been having went to 16-17 with gusts to 20. We had out all our sails, nothing reefed, and sailing into the wind got a bit rough. We were running with the toe rail almost in the water and that is not something Windbird does often. I tried to reef the headsail by myself, but I didn’t have the strength without getting out of the cockpit to get a better angle on the lines, and getting out of the cockpit when the other person is asleep is strictly against Windbird rules. So I had to wake Mark. Reefing the headsail did he trick, but just after midnight, the winds died down again. This was the first trick played on us on Friday the 13th. Then this morning just after I had written an email to Helaine Kanegsberg telling her that we had been sailing along nicely for 24 hours, the wind died and we were back to motoring. The next Friday the 13th trick came when the engine stalled. I was taking my morning nap, but I awoke listening to Mark trying repeatedly to start the engine. It would start, run a few seconds, and die again. Mark traced the problem to the fuel pump. Either a spring broke inside or the diaphragm is shot, but in either case we don’t have the parts to fix it. Thankfully we have a second fuel pump that we use to clean fuel, so Mark hooked that one up and we were off again. But in the meantime, the thought of trying to get to the Carolinas with these winds and no motor gave us a moment of pause. The last of the scares was when we looked back and saw our Yamaha 15 hp dinghy motor hanging sideways on the mount. One big “bump” and it could have been overboard. We screw it down to the mount, but the motor hangs outside the cockpit. Once it is screwed down, we put a lock on the handles so it can’t work itself loose. But in some of the banging into waves, it obviously bounced its way up on the mount. We had taken the line that we raise it with off the bridle so we could cover the motor, but this means there was nothing as a back-up to keep it from bouncing right off the mount. So we took off the cover, screwed it down as tight as possible, and reattached the line to the bridle. So now, even if it would bounce its way off the mount, it would still be hanging by the line. Whew! That was a close one. The rest of the day has gone along fairly smoothly, so I’m hoping our little Friday the 13th events are over.

We are currently about 300 miles from the Florida coast and 400 miles from our destination in Little River, South Carolina. Until just now, we haven’t seen anything, bird or boat, for days. But an Atlantic Gannet tried to land on the boat late this afternoon and just now I spotted a huge tanker of some sort off to starboard. I thought the seas were only two meters, but maybe they are higher because I keep losing sight of it in the waves. Since it is so big it looks like a floating city, it should not be so easy to lose sight of in two meter seas. It is heading south so it is not a threat, but this tells me we might be nearing a shipping lane. We’ll have to keep a sharp eye out tonight. Sometime over the next couple of days these northerly winds are supposed to end and we will then get southerlies. And at about the same time we should be in the Gulf Stream, so we are hoping that at least the last couple of days of this trip will go a little faster. The seas have settled down a bit so it is no longer such a lumpy ride, so we’ll just motor along until we get favorable winds.

Day 200, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 6-Half-way There

Day 200, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 6-Half-way There
Date: Thursday, May 12, 2011
Weather: Squalls to Sunshine, 73 degrees F; Winds N’ly 10-15
Latitude: 26 41.628 N
Longitude: 072 41.291 W
Miles Traveled: 658
Miles to Go: 532
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

This morning we passed the half-way mark which is good, but if this weather doesn’t improve it is going to be a tiresome 500+ miles. In the last 24 hours we have had winds from every northerly direction from NW to NE and now back to N. In all of these cases we are beating into the wind and waves that have now built to over 2 meters, but N and NE are much better than NW and right now we have N. So we’ll take it. Of course, what choice do we have? We had a stormy night but the squalls weren’t too bad and early morning was totally overcast and gray. After 30 hours of straight motoring, we were able to turn off the engine this morning at 9 am and we have been sailing since. It is lumpy ride, but doable. We tried for four straight days to get logged into Herb Hilgenberg’s Southbound II weather net, but with no success. Evidently he cannot hear us. And today we thought we would just listen in but propagation was so bad for everyone that he had to move to another frequency and we couldn’t hear him at all So we are going on what our GRIBs show us. It looks like there are some nasty winds up near the Outer Banks and further north and that must be what is kicky up these seas. Things should settle down a bit by Saturday, but then we’ll probably have no wind at all. I think this is going to be a no-win passage for us except for that glorious first day. And tomorrow is Friday the 13th. I don’t even want to think about that.

Last night we had a little hitchhiker spend the night with us. Just at dusk, two small land birds that had obviously been blown out here (maybe some type of wren) starting circling the boat. One of them flew right into the cockpit and landed on one of the wenches on the forward dash. She let me pick her up and put her in a plastic bucket on the floor where I figured she could spend the night. But her companion came close and she flew off. When she returned she flew right into the main cabin and plopped herself on the v-berth floor. I picked her up again, carried her to the cockpit, and put her back in the yellow bucket. She stayed for quite some time, but then she flew off. Her companion kept landing on the life lines and getting blown off and I think she needed to have a talk with him. Then when I came on watch at 10:30 pm I found her perched on one of the lines coming into the cockpit with her head tucked in sound asleep. Mark had not seen her, so I don’t know how long she had been there. So that she wouldn’t be accidentally crushed, I put her back in the bucket and she spent the night there. She slept until Mark got up at 8 am before she flew off. Little birds like that amaze me. They weigh nothing at all and still they survive flying for hundreds of miles in strong winds.

We also had a little medical scare last night. When I got up at 10:30 pm Mark said that no fluids had passed through the catheter tube for the last hour and a half. We’re out here all alone, no radio net, no SAT phone, with only our trusty HAM radio for communication. We figured either Mark’s body was not producing fluid or something was wrong with the catheter. It was like there was an airlock in the tubing, so we got out a large syringe, took the tubing out of the bag, and used it like you would if you were siphoning gasoline. It worked for a couple of minutes and then stopped again. We figured maybe there was just no more fluid to pass through for a bit, so I went on watch and Mark went to sleep. I went down two hours later to check and it was working fine, but I must admit that I’ll be greatly relieved to be on land and closer to medical care until Mark gets his plumbing problems solved!

Neither of us has done anything but read now for a couple of days. The ride is too rough to move about easily so we are devouring “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” series. I can’t even work on my computer in the cockpit as I normally do as we have a fine salt water spray in the air much of the time. This IBM ThinkPad is now six years old and has been my constant companion, so I don’t dare expose it to the salty air. And when I try to work below, we are on such a slant that it keeps flying off the table. So I’m not making much progress with photos or presentations from Years 3, 4, 5, and 6. (I’m just a little behind.) I can usually get so much done when we are on passage, but that is not the case this time. Since we will be the Carolinas a couple of weeks before we planned, maybe I can carve out a bit of time each day to do this work. In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on surviving this passage.

Day 199, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 5-Sailing, Motoring

Day 199, Year 6 Passage to the Carolinas, Day 5-Sailing, Motoring
Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Weather: Beautiful Day, 77 degrees F; Winds N-NW 5-10
Latitude: 25 18.200 N
Longitude: 071 21.088 W
Miles Traveled: 537
Miles to Go: 642
Location: Passage from Puerto Rico to Mainland USA

Just as I ended yesterday’s log, conditions changed drastically and we were able to turn the motor off and sail for ten hours. That ended at about 3:30 am and then we were back to motoring. The last time we had to do this much motoring was on our passage from Tonga to New Zealand, but in that case we didn’t have wind and seas coming exactly from the direction we were headed. This is really a slooooow slog. We haven’t made 120 miles in any 24 hour period and neither of us can remember going this slow except on our trip from Norfolk to St. Martin in 2005. In that case we had huge seas and wind on the nose and we felt like we were crawling up and down mountains of water for days on end. At least the seas are not that rough this time and the wind is not as strong, but it is a bit frustrating. We have had positive current with us on and off, but never more than half a knot. But about an hour ago, we all of a sudden have a little more than a knot of positive current. It would be wonderful if that would stay with us. But we are still hopeful that we will arrive late next Tuesday afternoon, May 17th, in time for Mark’s Wednesday morning appointment. We have used one tank of fuel, but two more to go, so we should be able to motor all the way if necessary. So onward we go.