Crossing an ocean - part 2

13 minute read

This is part two of our ocean passage, see part one here.

Luckily Annie is smart and suggested that I dig out some clamps as she’s certain there’s two small G clamps in the tool tray under the work bench. I dug the clamps out and clamped the box down. I took the panel up on the fore-deck and tied it down. I squeezed as much 5200 in the gap as I could and smoothed it over with a Popsicle stick (another important set of tools we added recently to the toolbox). We left the panel to dry until night fall and brought it down below to continue curing for the requisite 24 hours.

I turned to Annie when the job was done and quite proudly announced that “This will be one of my top five fixes while at sea!” We had a pretty nice day sailing and we were starting to enjoy the passage. Unfortunately it didn’t last too long, the next day we were actually sailing in decent weather but the barometer was steadily dropping. That night things had built up to the point where we had two small (not big enough to eat) squid wash up on the side deck. The seas were also so confused that I couldn’t get the wind-vane to steer Taleisin and instead had to hand steer for two hours before things finally settled enough for the vane to work again.

I think I’m starting to master the wind-vane, it’s a fine balance of sail trim, the right tension on the control line and in some cases the use of a bungy cord on the tiller, which also might need more tension to either port or starboard. It’s a delicate dance, but something I think is becoming instinctive to me now. This is the first time we’ve used the wind-vane in anger on passage and I was surprised that I managed to get it to work.

Things kept building until mid day the following day. We noticed that some of the sail cars on the mainsail was detached and decided to heave to so we can re-attach them. I started lashing the cars back on, Annie said, look up. The top three cars we undone. We would have to hoist the trys’l if we wanted to have a chance to fix these! We dropped the main, hoisted the trys’l and put Taleisin back in the hove to position. I started lashing the sail cars back on as best as I could. While in this position it became pretty obvious to us that we’d have to get the para-anchor out soon. We set to task and we were very glad we did it when we thought about it. Within an hour of setting the para-anchor things got serious. The swells increased to five meters (imagine staring at a ten meter wall of water when you’re at the bottom). On top of those swells were one and a half meter breaking waves. We have no way of knowing the exact wind speed but using the Beaufort scale and our observations we estimate the winds to have been around forty to fifty knots. It was certainly a lot more wind than we’d ever been in and we know for certain that we had sailed in thirty five knots gusting forty.

At this point we sent Bob a message and told him we were forced to heave to, his reply was, stay hove to until morning, then sail to a way point north east. We intended to do just that. Through the night I didn’t get up enough to check on our gear and the anchor rode had managed to chafe quite badly. This was due to the fact that Taleisin tacked on us and the rode was running underneath the bob stay. I though it would be fine since our bob-stay is basically covered in a chafe guard. Little did I know that the conditions were so rough that it actually managed to tear the top part of the guard open and pushed it up so that the rode would happily chafe against the stainless steel wire. I noticed this when Taleisin tacked back and we attempted to get the pennant in the right position to try to avoid tacking. I shorted the scope to the point where I could inspect the chafe, “Nope, cannot have this out there I don’t trust that it wont break”.

Unfortunately this meant that now we’re on a shortened scope. It was morning and we were considering hauling the para-anchor in and taking off. We thought we’d have something to eat first since it was still quite rough sea conditions. After breakfast we realized that we’re not going anywhere, things kicked up even worse than the previous night. This time I went and checked the rode more frequently and dammit, Taleisin tacked again. I kept moving the rode to avoid it chafing as much but we managed to get another really bad spot of chafe on the rode. This is crazy, we can’t keep doing this. I know we still have another spare rode under the work bench but trying to dig that out in these conditions is a bit beyond what my constitution would allow. We tried the best we could with what we had and it somehow seemed to work. It was around this time that the first mental challenges started, Annie had a crisis of confidence and a bit of an emotional meltdown. Not because she was scared but because everything just seemed to get to her. I tried to comfort her as best as I could and got on with the tasks at hand. I recall saying to Annie at one point while everything was in full swing as we headed up on deck: “It’s do or die out here”.

Later when people asked us if we were scared or concerned we’d reply with, there’s no time for that sort of stuff, you just get on with it. Once the weather cleared we got underway as soon as possible and we sailed Taleisin as hard as we could. We decided that it was time to push on as fast as we could as to avoid any more bad weather. Bob gave us a way point to aim for and we made haste! As we hoisted the mainsail we managed to give the second solar panel we lashed to the dingy a good crunch. You’d think that we might have learned from the first time that we should take it down before doing stuff in rougher weather. Seriously at this point we don’t deserve to have solar panels, we just don’t seem to take care of them. Luckily it’s only cosmetic, it still works just as poorly as before. This panel was the first solar panel we bought, it’s a 100 watt Solbian, supposedly the best there is. Well it doesn’t produce much power any more. We were going to return it since it’s got a pretty long warranty, but alas it’s now a very expensive souvenir. We certainly don’t have the money to replace it either.

Over the next 24 hours Annie’s loss of confidence started to have a knock on effect. Every time something got a bit challenging during her watch she’d wake me up. This is absolutely fine as I’d rather she wake me than get in serious trouble. Unfortunately it meant that I got hardly any sleep. This quickly lead to me having a crisis of confidence thinking that we might have made a mistake coming out onto the open ocean. I started formulating a plan to create a sleep cycle for myself that will allow us to carry on without completely depleting my life force. The next morning at around 7 am things kicked up again and we hove to under trys’l only. I went down below and got some much needed sleep (still in my foul weather gear on the cabin sole), Annie kept an eye on conditions in case it got worse. A few hours later we were under way again. I made the decision to sail under trys’l alone. I put Annie on the helm and got her to hand steer and learn how to feel the motion of the boat in trickier conditions. She surfed the waves for a few hours and then she set the wind vane. I’m not sure if this helped or not but it seemed like her levels of confidence returned to normal after that.

Turns out that upon asking her if she felt better about knowing how the boat handles, or about knowing what to do in those conditions she said, “I know what to do, and that wasn’t anything new for me. It’s just that some things you said or have done have confused me so far. I’m now no longer sure my judgment is correct or if I am letting things go for too long.” I just want to put on record that Annie is extremely competent, her loss of confidence was purely due to the mental challenges we faced. She’s capable of handling the boat on her own in most conditions. She’s also the best crew mate I could wish for. The mental challenge while out there is a strange one, and I cannot find the words to describe it, unless you’ve experienced it for yourself you probably wouldn’t understand it either.

We kept the trys’l up for the rest of the day and night, it proved a good choice, we were still making good way and the winds and seas were quite variable such that we were happy to keep going with the sail configuration. It also meant that I was able to get better sleep due to the fact that I knew the boat was configured for what ever may come already. All we needed to do to heave to was sheet the trys’l in, head to wind and tie the tiller off. That’s quick and easy and either of us can do that alone without any issue. This also helped get Annie’s confidence back on track, so it was well worth it.

The next morning we put a doubled reefed main and stays’l up which moved us fast enough and kept the configuration manageable enough so we both felt comfortable when on watch alone. Unfortunately, it was a bit rocky because of the wind, swell and chop direction, but the sailing wasn’t too bad so we didn’t complain much. While sailing along with Annie sleeping in the bunk I heard a bang. It wasn’t huge since the wind forces wasn’t too high. I popped my head up and saw the stays’l stay swinging on the port side. “Oh crap, get up Annie, we have to deal to the stays’l!” I rushed up on deck to investigate. At first I thought we might have lost the stay somehow (but I inspected it all before we left). Then I thought that possibly the Highfield lever had undone itself, but that was still in the closed position. Oh no, did the attachments on the bowsprit rip out somehow? It couldn’t have there’s not enough wind to do that! I went up forward to have a look. Nope it’s all still attached. Then I grabbed the sail and brought it all in, letting the halyard go as I do that to make the whole mess manageable. Once I had it in hand, I noticed what had happened. The cotter pin, which has a spring loaded ball bearing to supposedly keep it from doing just this had come out.

Bugger! How did I miss that during inspection. Heck I replaced the bit of tired string that held the cotter pin onto the rest of the assembly (good thing too as we might have lost it). We worked swiftly to get it all back in place, but we had an issue with preventing this in the future. Larry, show me the way! I said to myself. I looked at the cotter pin again and noticed there was a hole drilled in the other end. The light bulb went on! I need some kind of pin through there! I looked at the forward hatch and saw a keyring style pin holding the hatch cotter pin in! That’s it! I removed it from the hatch and applied it to the pin on the stay! Problem solved. I placed the cotter pin from the hatch in my pocket since we wont need it until we undo the hatch.

I went down below to rifle through my rigging bag. There’s bound to be something in there! Annie made the comment that the rigging bag is like Mary Poppins’ handbag, there’s all kinds of crap in there and it’s almost always the right kind of usefulness when you need it! I found another keyring style pin and went to replace the hatch cotter pin right away. By now we’ve learned that if the opportunity to deal to something exist you do it immediately, it pays for itself in the future. We were very lucky that this happened during reasonably clam conditions as it might have done some serious damage otherwise. While it’s a potential mishap we felt like we dodged a bullet here. We got lucky!

To be concluded…


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