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Old 01-06-2009, 15:40   #1
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Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island to Saint Simons Island GA April 18-19

Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island to Saint Simons Island GA April 18-19

Making ready to bid Lucaya a fond farewell, I did my usual engine checks. Hmmm…

That fan belt I’d bragged on – and just tightened - so recently was very stretched out. Since I’d just tightened it, that was a clear sign that it was on its last revolutions. As we had a fairly long passage, including a Gulf Stream Crossing ahead of us, I might find it useful to have the engine running. Accordingly, I put a hold on the countdown and changed the alternator belt. As it’s behind the raw water belt, one must first remove that, but as many times as I’ve had the water pump">raw water pump off lately, this was a walk in the park. Ten minutes later we resumed our countdown. We cast off our lines from the poles we’d borrowed, and at 7PM, headed for the entrance to Port Lucaya.

The exit was a bit fussy, as it wasn’t full tide, but we saw nothing less than 9 feet and basically followed our track we’d made on the way in a few days ago out past all the buoys. Because of the way the island lays, we weren’t able to make a direct run to our destination, but the nature of the shoreline and sea bottom was such that we hugged the coast pretty closely.

By the time we got to Freeport, it was full dark and the oil platforms and pilot ships were very brilliantly lit. We made sure to give them a wide berth, and enjoyed viewing the large ships moving into the area from a reasonable distance.

As we approached West End, about 9PM, we heard one of our recent acquaintances hailing us on the VHF. They wondered how we were doing, and I wondered back about their anticipated departure the following day, as conditions were supposed to worsen by dawn. We’d later wonder how they made out, given our experiences…

Once clear of Grand Bahama Island, we set a rhumb line for Saint Simons Island. The weather was forecast to be good for the Gulf Stream, and I wanted to ride it as far as we could before getting off. Our acquaintances, also Chris Parker clients, were very concerned about the western wall of the Gulf Stream, wanting to stay close to it to jump out in case of a reversal of the primarily southerly wind. (The Gulf Stream runs roughly north, with up to 3.5 knots of speed. When that’s hit by a north wind, things can get very uncomfortable quickly due to the wind against the current producing what’s known as "square" waves – very short period [the time between waves] and very steep angles. *Lots* of north wind makes for not only discomfort but also potentially dangerous circumstances. Most sailors won’t go out in the Gulf Stream with a wind that has "N" anywhere in it.)

We made about 7 knots pretty consistently for the first several hours. Lydia thought we must have been in the Stream, but listening to the forecasts showed that we were still some 18 miles east of the eastern wall, so our speed was due to our clean bottom and easy wind. Unfortunately, the wind got even easier, about 10 knots, by 4AM, and the sea state’s rock and roll made for a lively ride, despite our speed of under 5 knots. When the occasional puffs arrived, we got back up to 7 knots, but they were infrequent.

We estimated arrival in the Gulf Stream somewhere between 7 and 9AM, and, sure enough, about 7AM our speed picked up to 7.1 knots, no thanks to the wind. As we moved further into the Gulf Stream, our speed over ground continued to build, and by 10AM we were making mid-8 to low-9 knot progress, with the wind at only 8-10 knots.

By 1PM, the wind had shifted to nearly south. Dead downwind is the least efficient point of sail, but if you have the main out to one side, and the genoa out to the other, sometimes you can make very good progress. We tried to use our spinnaker pole, but the pin which releases it from the deck mount, and from the sheets on the sail in case you have to get it off quickly, had frozen (well, seized), as it does if it’s not used frequently. I got out the loosen-er-up and gave it a shot, waiting for another day.

In the meantime, we prevented the main, and did the best we could with the genoa. The rolling made for a pretty floppy sail, though, and a lot of pressure as it filled each time it rolled back the other way from its dousing at the hands of the waves. So, unlike the pretty pictures you see of the sailboat going downwind on a perfectly calm sea, genoa full and main out to the other side, a wing and wing configuration, I characterized ours as wing and flop :{))

However, we were still making 7-8 knots speed over ground, and by 4PM, the spinnaker pole’s seizure had abated. Accordingly, we put the genoa out on the pole, albeit with more effort than usual, a curiosity which didn’t strike me until later. That made for a much quieter, and somewhat faster ride, of course. No sooner had we stabilized than we caught our Mahi for dinner. Fortunately, the seas, while rolling a bit, were soft, so I got myself into my harness and out on the platform to clean the 30-incher. I’m getting much better at filleting, now, and we had a very substantial portion to put into the marinade. At least three meals from her.

No sooner had I gotten cleaned up than I saw that our pole needed some adjustment for better orientation of the clew (the part at the end of the sail) – it was too low the way I set it first. I tried, but couldn’t make it go any higher. DANG! The pole lift (the part connected to the end of the pole that controls the height of the sail end) was fouled around the radar. Fortunately, at 6PM, I was able to clear the foul, and, once again, the end of the pole went up and down easily. Small victories :{))

Because we’d been in very overcast, mostly calm conditions in Lucaya, our batteries were a bit low due to the lack of solar and wind assistance, so we turned on the iron genny to charge up a bit. Checking to see how my exhaust system kludge was working, I saw water, again! This time it was a fitting in the cooling water riser. Off comes the engine, and I root around in my plumbing bin until I find a part that will work, make the repair, and start again. No leak. Another small victory, but I’ll have to lay in some more spares when I get ashore, as that was the last of the type I had. By 8:30, we were motor-sailing. I did the calculations and found that we’d made 170 miles in our first 24 hours, very good, indeed, given the circumstances. It looks as though our Savannah-bound folks were right, and it would be a fairly quick trip.

That evening had us making high 10 to low 11 knots over ground, in estimated 15-18 knot south wind, which was lovely to experience. By 11PM, we were making 11-12 knots in an estimated 15-20 knots. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, after more than 24 hours of never spontaneously going into standby, at 1AM we had multiple instances of our autopilot taking a vacation. The boat’s response was to instantly turn into the genoa, trying to put us in irons. I was pretty busy controlling it, and finally gave up and manually steered for a while, still making 11-12 knots.

At the 2:AM watch change, when Lydia took over, the winds were building, but all was still well when I went down to sleep. The motion was still rock and roll, but manageable for my sleep. However, I was awakened at about 3:30 by the sense that all was not well. In addition to our rock and roll, suddenly (well, maybe not suddenly, but it’s what woke me) we were also slewing notably from side to side, and the rolls were getting more pronounced. I was instantly awake and on deck.

As the wind built, so did the seas, and we were no longer roughly in phase with them. That creates a condition where, if it becomes severe enough, you can have an induced broach. Dinghy sailors call it the death roll because each successive roll becomes worse, and each successive yaw increases; eventually, the keel catches broadside to a wave, and suddenly you’re on your side. In our case, it would mean either the genoa pole or the boom would be hit with the massive force of the water pushed by our 40,000 pounds moving at up to, I later learned, 13.3 knots. That was not a circumstance I was eager to experience. We had to get the genoa furled…

We estimate that the wind had built to 25-30 knots, and the seas to 6-8’, contributing to the yawing we were doing as we slid down one side of a wave, and up another. The sea state was significant enough that before I even got started, the life raft came flying off the perch on the deck (in the cockpit, behind the dodger), along with all the starboard cushions in one of the port rolls. The rest of the cushions followed suit as it rolled back to starboard. That had me pretty focused on getting it in, and I knew I’d need to use the winch on our furling line due to all the pressure on the genoa.

Our spinnaker pole setup is such that the genoa can be furled with it in place, and, in my urgency to get it in, I overlooked one very crucial point in rolling up a genoa in high winds (well, always, but especially so in these conditions). That is, in addition to controlling the sheet which is pulling on the sail, you have to keep slight tension on the other one, the "lazy sheet" – which in this case, with the genoa flapping mightily, wasn’t lazy at all. Instead, both sheets were tangling with both the other sheet and the sail itself as they flailed.

The end result was to have the sheets foul as we wound in the genoa, and we were presented with an hourglassed genoa. That’s where part of it’s furled, but the top and bottom aren’t, and those are flapping away. Well, nothing to do but turn on the spreader and foredeck lights and go out there and try to get it fixed. Things were, to be charitable, pretty busy out there, so I had to clip in at the bow to one of the lifeline strong points, which severely limited my movement. After trying mightily, and failing, to undo the foul, I had Lydia run downwind to try to blanket the genoa as much as possible with the main. Of course, we’re still in the Gulf Stream, and moving north inexorably, but now, since the wind has changed to southeast – and increasing – we have to go offshore, as well, when we do that.

That maneuver didn’t materially alter the situation out on the deck. I’m a pretty strong guy, but there was no way I was going to win against the howling wind in trying to make the sail unfurl to the point where I could unfoul the sheets. Eventually, I gave up and tried to lash it with the spinnaker halyard. That’s a process we go through whenever we expect a major blow; it keeps the edges of the furled sail from getting caught by the wind, getting wind under it, and eventually causing damage. My thought was that I might be able to get around the balloon above, similar to dousing the spinnaker with the sock, and eventually get it controlled enough that it wouldn’t be fully loose.

No such luck. The spinnaker halyard was nearly instantly captured inside a fold of sail, one I couldn’t make come out. After many tries of hurling our anchor snubber’s stainless steel end over a gap in the sail at the clew, in order to pull it down, flattening the open section a bit, some of which included being bonked in the head several times when I missed, that part succeeded, but didn’t materially improve matters. Next try, pole lift. Meanwhile, I’m crawling along the deck, clipped to the jackline on a very short leash, to get back to it, and then back to the bow. I have some, but very little, better success with the pole lift. Since I’m tethered right there, on a violently pitching deck, I can’t do what I’d ordinarily do, which is to get a turn over the sail, and then walk it down the deck, back over the deck and again forward, all the while keeping tension on it. The result is a very poor compromise, but it’s the best we can do. The unrestrained remainder of the ballooned portion of the sail flapped and flailed mightily, leading to visions of forestay failure, but we had nothing else we could effectively do other than to press on. Of course, the knowledge that our rig had survived an estimated 3-5000 impacts during our wreck gave us a little confidence that it would also survive this :{)) Just after dawn, I’d done all I could do, and we turned back to the West.

As is usually the case, I see I’ve succumbed to logorrhea, and will leave you here, pitching, rolling, with the building seas and winds…

Stay tuned!


Skip and crew

Morgan 461 #2
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
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Old 01-06-2009, 16:40   #2
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Great read and looking forward to reading more of your experiences and journey!! Hope everyone and everything is ok..
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