And this lobster never imagined that over the next days the water would get hotter and hotter finally coming to a boil just hours from safety.
The evening before (the 24th), the light winds had ended, as the winds were now out of the south and southwest at 18 to 30 knots (kts), producing a large following sea, 8’ to 12 feet. I kept rpms low all day, starting at 1600 rpm, later being reduced to 1500, then 1400 when I realized we were still making 5.3 kts at 1400. Having the data log from the Maretron Solid State Compass, enabled me to have a good idea of actual pitch and roll. I would log it using three values: most of the time, 1/3 of the time and 1/12 of the time (this may be once a minute). So in the beginning of the day, with this following sea I logged rolls of delta 15°, 22°,25°. So delta 15° means about 5° to one direction, then 10° in the other direction, and every few rolls that would increase to 22° and then every once a minute 25°, like 10°+15° in the other direction. I had also noticed that the paravanes were less effective in following sea conditions, but since those conditions are usually pretty good under any circumstances, it was not an issue.
I had logged that the 24th ended with the yellow float that’s 17’ above the paravane bird was occasionally under water and that was a scene that I was not used to seeing.
The night of the 24th, 25th, was one of the worst nights I’d had on the passage so far. Winds were about 30° off the port quarter and the roll had increased all morning.
This was my 7th night since leaving Horta. Being alone, I knew I had to have a program of work and sleep that was effective, otherwise I would be worn down in days. As I wrote about earlier, having a system that I trusted and having an eye for light, made a difference. It meant that a quick glance around, radar, AIS was enough, to let me go back to sleep. In the course of the 9 hours of darkness, I probably woke half a dozen times, and actually slept about 6 hours. This was very effective. Days that I slept less, would probably mean that I would take a nap, less than an hour, during the afternoon.
But I was feeling great that I was more than half way. I found it best to measure the time each night, as it seemed that when darkness came, since I did sleep a bit, before long morning would be there. Surprisingly, many days did seem to go quickly, it helped that I had about 15 hours of a Korean drama that turned out pretty good. I had watched that the first 5 days out of Horta.
The winds were also veering more to the west. This meant that my following seas were becoming more on my beam, though the barometer was steady.
I played with the ComNav autopilot (AP) a bit, re-adjusting the settings, finally settling on Rudder Gain of 7, Counter rudder of 9 and Sensitivity of 9 (7,9,A). 20 minutes later, when I had the biggest roll since Horta, a delta of 35° with 25° to starboard and 10° back to port (25+10), I radically readjusted AP to 2,2,A. At 03:00 we started rolling heavily, so I promptly changed course to more easterly, to reduce the waves on the beam and tried adjusting the AP again, this time 7,7,A.
Dauntless and our Ford Lehman SP135 passed 3600 hours at 07:30. We had a small, impromptu celebration and I added ¾ qt. of oil to the hard working engine. I also re-adjusted the AP to 7, 9,1 and slowed to 1050 rpm which still gave us 4.4 knots and the roll was reduced to delta 15 to 18°, almost nothing.
As the morning of the 26th, progressed, the winds weakened to 10 knots and I speeded up again, back to 1600 rpm and set the course NNE. I also used this quieter time to add a little more oil to engine.
So at 20:00, the evening of the 26th, my 9th night out, even as the winds were picking up, the barometer was 1007 mb, having lost only a mb in 24 hours, my course had me heading to Land’s End (At this point Brest was 290 nm east, Land’s End was 270 nm NE and Castletownbare was 220 nm due north. I knew no matter what the winds did, I would be in one of those places within 2 to 3 days). Fuel was good, I had at least 35 gallons left in the port tank and while I had my second inkling that not all was good in my starboard tank (which had 110 gallons), I clearly wasn’t that worried about it. We were now running on that fuel. The AP was reset to 6,8,A and I went to sleep that night feeling all was right in the world.
A few hours later, Dauntless woke me as only she can. I was rolled out my pilot house bed with a roll that seemed to bring me to my feet as it felt like I was doing a somersault. As we came vertical again, I was standing on my feet. Thus would start the last 47 hours of the Atlantic Passage and would be the biggest ordeal Dauntless and I had ever faced.
The big roll to port was caused by 36 kts wind and waves from the southeast. The dew point also went up 10° (both signs indicative of a warm front) The roll that rolled me out of bed was 25° to port. The barometer had fallen suddenly to 1001 mb, and within a few hours, would be down to 996 mb. The winds were howling out of the south at 35 knots. I set the course to NNE and hoped to stay in this sector of southerly winds long enough to get me to Ireland.
Ha. What a dreamer.
Thus would begin my two days of feeling like I was tied to the front of a roller coaster and though I was pretty sure the cars would not fly off the track, I was not happy.
The southerly winds lasted only 4 hours, enough to get me 20 miles closer to the end, only 200 to go!
Rolling had increased to delta 18°, 30°, 43° In the year and a half before the paravanes, I had seen isolated rolling like this, but I never put us in a position for it to be long term. By mid-morning winds were strong out of the west and I was struggling in trying to keep a course that was as north as I could make it, without being pounded by 8’ to 10’ waves on the beam that were continuing to build.
The barometer had bottomed out at 995 mb, but this just meant that the west winds were unlikely to change direction. They did get stronger 30 kts gusting to 40 kts by midafternoon. With nothing else to really do, I logged our rate of roll and fiddled with the AP. It was now at 8,8,2 and we were heading NNE at 6.5 knots. With the AP I realized that the A(uto) setting, just meant it desensitized itself in this seaway, not what I wanted. So I reset it again to 6, 8, 1.
I watched as one of the blue cushions on the foredeck got picked up by the wind and flew off. I decided that the rest of them would just have to be on their own, as it was not worthwhile to go out on deck for them in this weather. A good decision.
The roll was pretty much the same, (15° to 35°) as I really only watching the angle of the wind on the boat, I wanted to go north, so I would adjust the course accordingly trying to keep the wind off the port quarter consistently. Again, it gave me something to do and kept my imagination from running wild (another problem of being alone). I did have one other thing that helped; I found I had the card game of Hearts on my computer, (thank you Microsoft) and I played that as much as I could. In the last days, I could use how well I played as a measure of my tiredness. I peaked at a 43% win rate, but the last day was hard and I ended the trip at 41%.
At midnight on the 27th, with only had 25 hours left, I discovered the starboard Racor was full of crap (dirt and water), so I switched to the port Racor and contemplated my next moves as the wind picked up right on my beam.
The pot began to boil.