A Lucky Start

Leaving Horta, Azores for Ireland, Monday, 18 August 2014

The first day of the last leg of our Atlantic Passage.  For the first time, I’m totally alone.  I had wanted to find a crewmate for this portion of the voyage, but it was not to be. Also, it’s impossible to replace Julie, not because we’re married, but because our decision making process produces optimum results every time. Julie and I had met a sailor in Flores, who was crossing the entire Atlantic by himself going to the Med. So, I thought I just needed to manage my time and I’d be fine.

I got a later than anticipated start, as I has to fuel the starboard  tank with 1224 liters, (323 gallons) of diesel.  We had arrived in Horta with 125 gallons remaining in the port tank, so I’d be leaving with 447 gallons (1700 liters) and expected to arrive at Castletownbare, Ireland with about 80 gallons.  Why I waited until the last day to fuel and why I did not put some fuel in the port tank are questions that are best left for the next life. But I will say that often times, decisions that seem questionable up front, after the fact, become apparent, even if I could not explain it at the time.

I took the short walk to our favorite café, Café Volga, to have my last meia de leite.  Twenty minutes later, At the little vegetable market, I bought a bunch of tasty tomatoes (which would turn out to be my main dish the next 5 days, in large part because I’d bought nothing else!) and while walking the mile back to the fuel dock, I realized I no longer had my passport.

I quickened my step, hoping, I had left it back on the boat, but actually knowing that I hadn’t. As I got back to Dauntless, in my haste to look for my passport, with grocery bags in each hand, I entered the boat through the pilot house, then came rushing down the stairs and swung left into the galley.

My first step from the stairs to the floor was almost my last.

I had left the engine room hatch wide open, leaving a big square hole, in which I stepped.

Being is such a hurry almost cost me dearly, but at the same time saved my lucky ass.

As I came flying down the stairs, I didn’t notice anything amiss until I took that first step onto thin air.  Luckily, I was moving so fast my momentum carried me across the opening and my chest hit the side of the galley counter, allowing me to get my arms up (each laden with grocery bag) and onto the galley counter.  With each forearm on top of the counter, I held myself up and I was able to keep myself from falling the five feet into the engine room.

As I extricated myself and realized that I was not hurt at all, not even banging my shin bone which seems to be a weekly occurrence,  I realized how lucky I’d been. Even the eggs I’d just bought had survived.

Now if only my passport would show up. I looked through the boat for my passport, but no luck and went to go tell customs that I didn’t have it.  They said no problem, I could check out without it, but I asked if he could call the police in the happenstance that it had been found and turned in.

A few minutes later, he gave me the thumbs up and 45 minutes later the police were nice enough to bring it to me.

So, less than an hour after two incidents which could have turned out very differently, Dauntless gave one long blast as we left the dock (I didn’t want them to forget the first Kadey Krogen they had seen in years so soon) and we headed north for the last part of our Atlantic Passage at 11:08.

My course was northeast, there were scattered clouds and light winds from the northwest; all in all a beautiful day.  I didn’t put the Scopolamine patch on until after I left. It usually takes  quite a few hours to take effect, so the only reason I think I delayed was I keep on thinking I shouldn’t need it. I did.

Well, it’s probably stress and fatigue, but on  this trip I needed virtually all the time.  So within a couple hours of leaving I felt sea sick.  When I fell sea sick, I almost never vomit, I just feel queasy and listless. And now feeling this way, I knew it would stay with me until I had some sleep, even with the patch.

Good weather, light winds, boat had a little rocking motion of about 10° in each direction.

Two items of technology, allowed me to feel I could safely do this portion of the passage alone:

  • Our new AIS transceiver, which meant that I could see other boats, but more importantly they could see Dauntless.  Ever since I installed the AIS transceiver just before leaving Rhode Island, no ship has ever came within three miles of Dauntless, and usually it’s at least five miles.  In the past, before  AIS, on virtually every open ocean portion we did, Dauntless always had at least one ship that was on a collision or near collision course until I changed course.

I think that with having AIS, big ships now see us automatically and alter course just to not have to bother worrying about it. It seemed my having AIS made their lives much easier, and this is safer as the result.

  • The second item is the Raymarine radar and its use of the alarm function. After only a year and half of use, I had finally figured out how to make my radar proximity alarm work and be effective. In the past, I didn’t use it because all I got were false alarms.  Finally I realized that by greatly reducing the gain (on automatic mode, it sets the gain at 45 out of 100), I set it at 06, and making the inner circle around the boat, a mile from the boat, anything substantial would have to go through this ring and thus set off the alarm.  I never needed it, because of the AIS as mentioned above, but in the first days, I did test it and even at the lowest gain setting of 1, it would still see a ship at 4 to 5 miles.  No more false alarms.

It allowed me to sleep more soundly, though in the course of the night, I’d still wake up maybe a half dozen times.  But I knew I had to have at least 6 hours of sleep during the 12 hours of darkness, even if it was three 2 hour periods.

My mid-afternoon, I was finally passing the island of Ina De Sao Jorge.  Winds had continued from the NW all day, putting the winds and sea right on my port beam, with winds at 10 knots, producing 2-3’ waves and Dauntless with the paravanes out and the birds in the water was rolling about 10° max to one side.

As darkness descended I got the pilot house ready for night, changing the displays and lowering the brightness, checking the engine gauges once more, 172° water temp, oil pressure and voltage.  Course & speed, weather and sea conditions, all noted in the log and lastly, an engine room check, in which I go sit on the spreader in front of the engine, look at the Racors, the fan belt, use the flash light to check anything unusual near the back of the engine, oil and fuel filters not leaking, etc. Just sit there and soak up the sounds and smells, till my brain sees that everything is normal. Even with all the noise, it’s actually peaceful. The Ford Lehman SP135 has a steady drone that I have only heard before in jet engines, in that it is so steady, not even the slightest change of pitch or sound, unless the throttle is changed. I can’t even begin to describe how reassuring it is.

My alarms set, nothing on the radar for miles and miles, I know I’ll wake in a hour or two, do a little check and hopefully, go back to sleep.

As I lay on the pilot house bench, cozy in my quilt, looking out at the darkness, I think of the day’s events and as the gentle roll rocks me to sleep, I hope I haven’t used all my luck on my first day.

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