Tag Archives: sailing

Baking Bread…? Part 1

Not much fresh food left. I decided to start a batch of bread. I had the thought that I might do the baking during my night watch, between 2300 and 0300. That way I wouldn’t interfere with the cook preparing dinner, and I’d be heating the galley at the coolest part of the day, and it would provide a diversion for me on what seemed, at sunset, like it might be a rather boring time.

At 2300 when I replace Bill on watch, I am in my usual just-woke-up-after-too-little-sleep fog. Bill asks if I want to shake out the reef in the mainsail, since the wind has gone very light. Also he points out an unusual vibration/sound that he can’t identify. I go into the galley in search of the source of the sound, and find water on the floor. A quick check below the floorboards shows water there, but not a lot, so the water is coming from above, not below. Setting the water question aside, I check the fridge and freezer as potential noise sources. Nope. Venturing into Tim’s sleeping area, I find it. He’s got his wall-mounted fan running on high speed. Mystery #1 solved.

I taste the water on the galley floor — it is fresh, not salt. And I notice that our filtered drinking water spigot has a small but constant stream running from it. Yikes! A check of the starboard water tank shows that it is nearly empty. The port one is full. The stream of water explains the empty starboard tank. But the stream runs into the sink, so why there is fresh water on the floor remains a mystery to be investigated in the morning.

What about shaking out the reef? Bill is still waiting before going below. It starts to rain. Oh well, yes, the wind is very light; let’s do it now while two of us are awake. We do it, and Bill heads to bed. The noise of the winches plus our deck light has woken Tim. He asks if the starboard rudder is okay — a new concern he came up with earlier to explain water in our engine room. Assured that there is nothing going on with the rudder, he goes back to sleep.

The rain stops and the wind comes back. We’re moving along very nicely now. Eight and a half knots through the water, but only 6.5 over the ground. Two knots of current against us? That seems like too much for out here. It seems like we always have current against us. Is that real, or is it that our through-the-water boat speed is over-reading? (We know that it over-reads, and we compensate for that; but maybe we’re not compensating enough?) Maybe both are factors.

Our navigation system shows three ships nearby. One is already clear of us, headed north. The other two are overtaking us, one on each side. This requires my attention, to be sure we are clear of both of them. By the time the second one has safely passed, there is a new “blip” headed our way from the south.

The wind is now blowing 20 knots. Maybe the reef should go back in the mainsail. Or is this just a passing cloud with a little wind of its own? I’ll wait, and watch both the wind and the approaching ship.

I decide the bread can wait until morning.

Straight to Panama or Scenic Route?

Wednesday, 21 Jan 2015

Today we have no wind (unusual for here). We’re motoring along pleasantly, heading for the western tip of Cuba. We should be there in about 6 hours, and then we have to make a decision — do we head straight from there to Panama, or take the ‘scenic route’?

We’ve been using the satellite tracker to post our position every 4 to 8 hours, so y’all can see where we are on the BPO website. The three boats ahead have 400+ miles to go to San Blas; we have about 800 to go, assuming we go direct. There are 6 additional boats on their way from Martinique; they have distances to go similar to ours. But they will be going downwind, and probably have more wind than us (certainly more wind than we have now!)

One Night at Sea

It’s never just one thing going wrong that gets you in trouble…

Sailing along the Florida coast south from St Augustine, we had one of the most delightful sailing days ever, and the forecast was for continued clear skies and 15-20 knot favorable winds. As the sun set we took down our spinnaker and sailed with the more easily controlled “screecher” (a big forward sail, that can be rolled up with minimal fuss if the wind gets too heavy).

After sunset the wind shifted aft, until it was almost directly behind us. In that situation the mainsail “blankets” the forward sail, causing the latter to lose its wind, collapse, and then fill with a jarring crash. So we rolled up the screecher and sailed with just the mainsail. As the wind continued to build on Bill’s watch, he put in a reef (decreasing the exposed sail area), and he gybed the boat to head offshore to clear Cape Canaveral.

At 11pm I started my four hour watch, after not much sleep due to the now rough conditions. Bill briefed me that in the course of gybing, our apparent wind indicator (a sensor at the top of the mast transmits the wind direction to a display on our instrument panel) apparently was partially damaged. It still “worked,” in the sense that it was consistent, but it showed the wind from astern as though it was from ahead! So he was ignoring the instrument display, and looking at the vane on the masthead to determine the wind direction (tough on the neck!).

Not long after Bill turned in, it seemed to me that we had made enough distance off from Cape Canaveral, and we should gybe back to run parallel to the coast. It’s a bit of a process to gybe, especially when you’re not entirely clear-headed. I first checked the instrument that reads the true wind speed. It read 15 knots. This seemed much lighter than what we had been experiencing, so I decided it was a good time for the maneuver. Out in the cockpit the wind seemed much stronger than that, but I still figured that if it went down to 15 even for a moment that was a good sign to proceed. I sheeted the main traveler in to amidships. With the mainsail pulled in that way I could tighten the “lazy” starboard running backstay, to support the mast when the sail/boom comes crashing over to the new/port side. I left the running backstay tight on the port side also, figuring I would release it after the sail came across. Then I switched the autopilot to “standby” and turned the wheel to starboard. The big mainsail did its expected crash over to port, and in the big seas I did 30 seconds of erratic steering to find the right new course, and set the autopilot back to “Auto.” Then I eased the starboard side traveler line to let the sail out on the new side, and went back into the pilot house to see if our new course would allow us to sail parallel to the Florida coastline.

Then there was a JOLT and a BANG in the rigging!

Hurrying back outside, I initially couldn’t find anything wrong, but a quick survey revealed that the port side running backstay had disappeared. I had neglected to ease it before I eased the traveler out on the new side. Thus the entire force of the wind in the big sail was pushing against that runner, until something gave way. The good news: on the new gybe we didn’t need the port side runner. The bad news: if we needed to gybe back later, and the wind was still blowing hard, the mast wouldn’t have the protection provided by the runner, and we could potentially be at risk of losing the entire rig!

Let’s review what has gone wrong so far… We expected the more moderate winds as stated in the weather forecast, and weren’t really prepared for a rough night. Bill’s first gybe had somehow damaged the apparent wind indicator, making it difficult to set/hold our course relative to the wind. I had believed the true wind speed indicator when it showed 15 knots, without putting two and two together — that in order for the instrument to compute the true wind speed it factors in the apparent wind angle. The damage to the apparent wind indicator was causing it to “think” the wind was coming from ahead (and thus it subtracted out our boat speed) when in fact it was coming from behind (so it should have added our boat speed). When it read 15 knots, it was really blowing close to 30, and my thought that there was a lull had no basis. Then I omitted a step in the second gybe, resulting in breaking the port side running backstay.

So what to do next…?

In order to sail parallel to the coast, the wind and seas were now coming from almost dead astern. The seas were building, and we were surfing at speeds that we hadn’t experienced before. At one point the knot meter indicated a boat speed of 17 knots! Fourteen knots or more was becoming common whenever a big wave lifted our sterns and the boat accelerated downhill. But this was not fun; it was hairy. The seas push the stern of the boat this way and that, and the autopilot can’t respond quickly enough to keep the boat on a steady course. If the boat “yaws” to starboard, it doesn’t much matter, except that our course goes closer to shore. If it yaws to port we risk an “accidental gybe,” where the wind gets on the wrong side of the big mainsail, and it and its heavy boom come flying across the stern of the boat out of control, potentially breaking something more serious than the runner!

In most situations we would reduce this risk by setting a course a little closer to the wind, so the boat would have to turn further before it would gybe, thereby giving the autopilot time to respond. But such a course would point us in to the Florida coast, and before long would force us to gybe out to sea again — a dangerous prospect without the port side runner. But if we didn’t change course that way, we risk the even greater risk of an accidental gybe. The heavy weather spinnaker would have allowed us to sail our desired course with no risk, but rigging the spinnaker is too complex to do in the dark. Some line would become tangled and create a new set of problems. The working jib alone would have provided enough power to keep us moving fast, but I had two concerns about that solution. First, it is not easy to get the mainsail down when sailing downwind. I certainly could not do it alone; I was very reluctant to waken Tim or Bill in the middle of my watch; and I wasn’t even sure that two of us could safely do it in these conditions. Probably we could, perhaps with some assistance from the engines, but the second concern was that we really should have both runners in this wind when flying just the jib.

Although “hope” is a poor strategy, it was my hope that we could hold the course parallel to the coast at least until the wind eased. I rigged a “preventer” line, holding the boom out to port, so that if we did gybe accidentally it would not fly across the stern with damaging force. We sailed very close to the desired course for the next hour and a half.

During this time I learned to interpret the apparent wind angle shown by our instrument. Although it was wrong, it was possible to compute the correct angle from it, and doing the mental adjustment was easier than constantly looking up at the masthead vane. But then a “funny” thing happened. The instrument showed that I could bear off a little further away from the wind, and thus away from the coast, which was good. And then it indicated that I could STILL bear off a little further. I believed that the wind was changing, allowing us to more easily sail the course we wanted. It seemed that my hope was realized, and I felt deep relief. And just then the boat gybed! At the time I couldn’t understand why this happened, but now the wind was on the wrong side of the mainsail, with the boom/sail held there by the preventer, which had prevented any dire consequences. The boat was effectively “hove to,” with the wind blowing over the side, and the boat drifting sideways. It was relatively peaceful, except for the waves, and my mental wrestling with not understanding what caused the gybe. Maybe we were getting a new wind in my hoped-for direction, as I had thought, but were still getting gusts from the old wind. In any case, what to do now? Normally one would ease the sail over to the other side, which would start the boat sailing again, and then make whatever adjustments needed. But I didn’t want to do that without the port side runner, and with no forward movement through the water, we couldn’t steer to tack or gybe. I decided it was time to wake Tim and have a second brain pondering the situation.

In fact our solution was simple. Start an engine and get enough way on so we could steer downwind and gybe back. Could have done that myself. Oh well, it was a relief to have Tim say he would start his watch early and I should get some sleep. Tim managed to sail along the coast with just one time of rounding up into the wind and again having to start an engine to get going again. The “hope” strategy did in fact work out.

In the morning it became clear why we had gybed. The apparent wind indicator had frozen up entirely. So I was making mental wind angle calculations based on a display that no longer had anything to do with the wind! Also in the daylight we retrieved the running backstay, and found that it was a shackle that had broken. Easily replaced.

So in the end, no problem — just another night at sea.