A French Kiss on the Bay of Biscay

Three days, three nights, three hundred and fifty miles, what could go wrong?

Dauntless in Spain

Dauntless in Spain

In my early years of cruising, it what seems like just yesteryear, oh wait, it was just last year, I started out every overnight passage thinking nothing would go wrong. No muss, no fuss, no drama.

In spite of the fact that I really like Korean dramas, not all dramas are the same and dramas on Dauntless seem just that, dramatic.

But this year, 2016, I vowed everything would be different.  Leaving no stone unturned, I would ruthlessly dot every I and cross every t, leaving no room for dramas of any kind.

We waited an extra day in Rochelle with an anticipated three-day weather window opening up.  Day one would have brisk winds from the northwest (NW 12g18), Day 2 continued brisk winds but from the northeast, Day 3 light winds, less than 8 knots and Day 4 southwesterly winds increasing in strength to 25 knots by Day 5.

Now, what this means is since our course for the 60-hour passage would be to the southwest (240 degrees True), Day 1 would find brink winds on our beam producing 4 to 6 foot seas, Day 2 would see a following sea of the same magnitude and Day 3 should see flat seas.

But we would have to arrive before the southwesterly winds picked up, since there is nothing worse than heading into the seas and wind in a slow ass boat like Dauntless.  Not only does the ride become worse than the worse hoppy horse you ever rode, but you slow down so much, you 10-hour trip becomes 20, so the time of being miserable is doubled is not trebled (see last year’s epic, beating yourself to death on the English Channel.)

Thus our departure time was carefully calibrated to the weather forecast and the opening of the gate in the marina which is only open for three hours centered around the high water time.  Thus 6 hours out of every 24.

We left La Rochelle on time, 14:15 hours, just as the draw bridge opened, and got a hearty send off from the bridge attendant with gestures and yelling which could only mean “Bon Voyage”, though he was pointing to a red light in doing so, but if I have learned only one thing while boating in France, it’s that everything is advisory and as long as you don’t hit something too hard, All’s Well that Ends Well.

The afternoon of Day 1 was about as anticipated, westerly winds around 10 knots; not enough to produce significant seas.  So we ran without the paravanes birds in the water. Dauntless had a nice easy gait to her.  The boys were on four hour watches and they were doing very well. I could even sleep in my cabin (having slept in the pilot house on our previous passage from Ireland).

12 hours into the passage, during the early morning hours, the winds were picking up to the mid to high teens, that will produce seas 3 to 5 feet and they were from the west not NW. This meant that our heading to the SW was into a bit of seas producing some pitching.  So at 02:00 as I rolled around in bed, I figured I may as well get up and deploy the birds.

Normally, upon leaving port, I set the poles out and make sure of the rigging.  We did that this time as usual, but when the birds were in the water, I noticed the lines were wrapped strangely around the pole, with the net effect that the bird was not hanging from the end of the pole, but from the middle.

That just wouldn’t do, so in seas that were now 4 to 6 feet, we stopped to haul the birds, unshackle them and re-rig them.  With Dauntless sitting dead in the water, standing on the side deck can be a bit frightening to the novice sailor.  From the side deck, you look up to see a 6 foot waves approaching the beam. Your first thought is that this wave is not only going to soak you, but will swamp the boat.

Now I’m kneeling down, taking the shackle off, so I can unwind the line from the pole.  Tony, my nephew, is standing there a bit amazed, as he warns me of the “big” waves approaching.  It is a bit daunting I admit, but I tell him those waves aren’t that big.

So, 10 minutes later both birds are re-rigged and in the water.

I did notice that the lee side bird was running pretty close to the boat, but I have seen this behavior before and did not think it was significant.  I got back to bed, leaving Tony or Micah on watch.

As I am laying in bad, thinking about the birds, I had gotten splashed by a few drop of good ole North Atlantic Ocean water.  I went to sleep thinking I had been kissed my Mother Nature.

The winds picked up all night and into Day 2, now blowing at 15 to 22 knots.  Annoyingly, they were still from the west and not the northwest as forecast (stupid me for believing the details of the weather forecast).  So the seas were building and we were rolling a bit more than usual.

Then Bam, what the hell was that? I’m in bed, it’s dark. I get up, look around, I notice that the windward paravanes pole was unloading more than usual.  Maybe that was the bang I heard, felt, as it picked up the slack suddenly.

Every few minutes, when the boat got into a deep rhythmic roll, I’d hear the bang.  I look again, see nothing unusual. Both birds are running closer to the boat than usual, but they are also running deeper than last year.

After getting another 2-hour sleep in, I get up at 07:00, to relieve Micah so they can both get a good sleep.  I am determined to find the bang.  I’m standing in the stern deck, looking at the beautiful sunset and I look down during a particularly heavy roll (15 degrees in one direction) and the paravanes bird is really close to the hull.  Is that the bang I am hearing??

Have the birds become asymmetric?  Meaning does it now matter which side they are on?  I realize that the starboard bird is running to the left, while the port bird is running to the right.  Could the easy fix be to just swap them?

I decide to do just that. So for the third time I stop the boat to retrieve the birds, unshackle them and swap sides.  I think you should be able to see the course change I made to facilitate this, (Share.Delorme.com/Dauntless) I turned Dauntless to run with the waves making the motion on the boat easier.

Ten minutes later, it’s done and they are running true, both now running just where they should about 13 feet from the side of the boat.  So now, I better mark them.  The roll was also reduced after the swap.  Now they are working normally.

Day 2’s winds stayed NW all day. Never saw the NE winds that were forecast.

Around midnight of the second day out, we stopped again to pull the birds, this time because the seas had greatly diminished and I wanted the 0.7 kts back that they use.

So it’s now 08:00 on Day 3.  The winds have finally died, though we have an Atlantic swell of about 6 feet every 8 seconds.

I decided to add a quart of oil to the engine while running.  With the Ford Lehman, there is virtually no blowback with the oil cap off, so one can add oil without making a mess. (Don’t try this with your car with an overhead camshaft.)

This engine consumes about a quart of oil about every 50 hours, so to add some now would not hurt.

As I am pouring the oil in I notice the red plastic ring that comes off the cap was still around the spout of the oil container.  As I think I must be careful not to let it fall into the engine, it falls into the engine!

What a f…ing idiot.  I dash to the pilot house to kill the engine (yes, I know I need a remote start/stop in the engine room) and run back to see what I can see in the top of the oil fill on the crankcase.  I bend over, flashlight in hand and see the plastic ring. Yes! Then I see a second plastic ring? And then a third.

The plastic rings retrieved from the top of the crankcase.

The plastic rings retrieved from the top of the crankcase.

I suppose the good news is they were not going to melt and ruin the head.  I do have one of those retrieval snakes right by the engine, so a few minutes later, I had all three fished out.

I should look in there more often.  Maybe I’ll find my missing books.

Probably not.

All’s Well That Ends Well.

Tonight Spain, ready or not.

 

2 thoughts on “A French Kiss on the Bay of Biscay

  1. And you did not want drama… stopping mid ocean, killing the engine mid ocean… sounds like drama to me… glad you are posting details of the adventure.

    Best,

    Carl

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