Thursday, October 30, 2008

First night

It was a pretty eventful first night out. We were not even out of our local cruising area, when we discovered that the mizzen halyard was secured improperly, and had been "skyed". Skyed means that the bitter end of the halyard went up to the top of the mast, and someone has to go up there to retrieve it.

Normally this is not a problem, bet we were out in about 25 Kts, gusting to over 30, and the mizzen mast has no extra halyards to pull someone up to retrieve the first one. So you have to climb up without assistance.

Since we failed to bring our trained lazerette monkey, I had to go. It was good that it happened early in the trip, since we could go back and seek shelter in Quick's hole, in the Elizabeth Islands. When I first started climbing, it became apparent that I did not have the strength to pull myself up, then hold myself with 1 hand and 2 feet while I moved my safety line up with the other. So we ran a safety line over the spreaders, and I was able to climb up that far.

That only left about another 15 feet. Paul rigged up a long pole made of fishing rods and duct tape with a small grapple taped to the end, and I was able to retrieve it. NP.

The night was blustery and even thought the seas were behind us, the going was kind of tough. Without naming names, a couple of the crew fell to Mal de Mare, but Paul and Bruce managed to cover their shifts anyway.

We are making good progress, check out the SPOT transceiver positions on the web site.

P.S. Dec 20 2009:
The next day was much smoother sailing.

I wrote the preceding entry in 8-12 foot seas wedged into a corner of my bunk, so I was brief. Now I can undo the good deed of brevity and describe a bit more.

Preparations started a year in advance, but the actual departure was a last minute affair. We had all of the food and crew gear on board, but still had not lashed the dinghy to the foredeck, move the anchor and anchor chain to the bilge, sealed the dorades, mounted the solar panels, etc. etc.

It was good in a way that the weather had delayed us. Offshore insurance underwriters all required that I have the boat surveyed. I made the mistake of not hiring the surveyor known for "rubber stamping" boats. My surveyor was known to be very thorough, and although he separated those items that were compliance, must do, should do , and nice to do someday, the insurance underwriters insisted that we do ALL of the repairs and upgrades before departure. It was not doable in the time we had left.

My crew worked like mad on the boat, and I negotiated with the insurance people. We finally got struck a deal that would work for both of us, and we cranked through the list.

When the list was completed, we still had some time to start on some of the upgrades. The afternoon before departure, I commissioned a frame to be built to mount the solar panels on the davits, provided that it could be done the next day. Not only was it done the next day, it was done before noon, so we picked up the frame about 6 hours before we departed. While we waited for the winds to diminish a bit, we mounted the frame, finishing minutes before we cast off! Brilliant!

We had not done these things because we did not think that we would be leaving. There was much foul weather out there; really nasty stuff. Our daily ritual included tuning in to Southbound Herb each day to get the weather and advice on when to leave. He would talk to us directly (when atmospheric conditions allowed us to reach him on the SSB) So far he was advising us to head downthe coast to Norfolk so that we could leave from there.

During these sessions, we made our first contacts with Dawn and Lauri on S.V. Cattails, who we would come to know very well. Herb had given them the OK to leave a day or so before we were ready, and they were on the way. Unknowingly breaking the etiquette of the SSB net, we called Cattails to congratulate them on the fine weather window they had chosen. It looked from shore like they would be having a fine trip. They told us no, they were getting their asses kicked. That sobered us up a bit...Cattails had done this trip a few times before, and in conditions that we thought were OK (from shore), Lauri had to stop broadcasting to go puke.

When the day came, Herb told us that we could go, but he could not way where. there were two cyclonic weather systems out there, and he could not say which would dominate. He suggested that I head due south (Bermuda is SSE) and in a day or so, he would tell us whether to head to Bermuda or Norfolk. That's sailing, folks. The crew had a meeting, and I suggested that if he said Norfolk, I would abandon plans for Bermuda and the Caribbean, and head down the coast for the Bahamas. the crew all agreed that they would abandon their pre-paid flights back from Bermuda if this was the case, and stick with me as we headed down the coast. Some of them preferred this possibility, since they cold stay on longer. I did not mention this on the blog, because my second crew did not need to know that their plans might get ruined.

The episode with the halyard began in the frenzy of activity at the dock. We had a number of well wishers and helper show up and set to work with us to get us underway. Another experienced cruiser taped up the water tank fills so there would be no salt water intrusion, seized and stored the extra anchor rodes, mounted some hooks for kite storage etc. Several of the local sailors topped by. In the midst of the crowd on board, I did the unthinkable and fastened a critical piece of gear in a temporary way; that is how the halyard went tot he top of the mast.

People on shore were able to view our progress by watching a web site. We had a SPOT transponder that beamed our position to a constellation of satellites, back to Internet gateways, and to a web site that positioned us on a map. Just like Magellan and Columbus.

Imagine their surprise when about three hours into our big adventure, we turned tail and fled to the lee of a local island, then started making little tiny circles. Some began to wonder if we didn't just chicken out. Others thought that we might have come back to that island to wait out the weather a while longer, maybe even days, but to embarrassed to come back to our own home port for fear of being spotted.

It was incredibly black that night, and though we were within 50 yards of shore, we could not see it at all. I instructed Bruce to pay no mind to what we were doing, it was his job to keep us in calm water, and keep us from running aground. It was a tough job performed well. The frequent and slow refresh of the GPS screen (it was set to course up), the crew working between him and the GPS, the darkness and the strong current in the hole all added up to make for a tense situation.

I think with a lesser crew, mutiny would have been a possibility. Here we were, heading out into some pretty challenging weather, without knowing where we were heading, and we have problems in our first few hours. Bruce, Alan and Paul were great. What could have become the seeds of a negative experience and trip became a bonding experience, where we learned to trust each other to do our jobs without second guessing.

It was an extremely fast first day. We had to head to weather that first night so it was rough cold and windy for a few hours as we bashed into it. Then we could turn away from the wind (still ahead of the beam) so it was ...rough cold and windy; but a little less rough and windy. We made over 180 miles in the 24 hours after we left (the second time).