As 2017 comes to a close, I find myself thinking about its beginning. Lying in bed on the morning of the first day of the new year, 1 January 2017, I luxuriated in being on a motionless bed. I thought about the last month. It was only a month ago, that I was waiting for the winds to die down so we could leave the harbor of Rabat, Morocco.
30 days and 3,000 miles later, we were in the New World. It was a much hard trip than I had hoped for. Watching the weather for months before our eventual departure, it was clear that the trade winds blew strong and steady from Africa all the way through the Caribbean to Central America.
I’d been hoping that I could stay in the band of lighter winds just north of the trades. It was not to be. Within hours of leaving Europe and the Canary Islands, we got hit by easterly winds for 20 to 30 knots. I wasn’t worried about Dauntless, she was made for following seas like this, but it did occur to me that these conditions meant there was no turning back.
That’s a sobering thought. In the Mid-Atlantic, with such strong winds behind us, we had to head west one way or another. There is no turning back. 200 miles west of the Canaries, no matter the issue, no fuel, no water, forgot to turn off the lights at home, no matter; one way or another you’re going west.
On a somewhat related note, here are a few Delta Airlines commericals that I find very motivating:
(The below was written last week, while underway, midway between St. Vincent in the Grenadines and Bonaire)
It’s about time!
Anyone who looks at a weather map can see that the passage from the eastern Caribbean to the Dutch Antilles is pretty much the same conditions as the Atlantic from the Caries to the Caribbean.
That means strong easterly trade winds and the seas and conditions that they produce. They are trade winds, because they are produced by the global heating and not by low pressure systems, as occurs north of the tropics.
So, we are merrily rolling along. This is 42-hour point of a 70-hour trip. Do I worry about jinxing it, by writing that we had no problems? Of course, I do. But every once in a while, I feel the need to get really crazy. Hoping that Poseidon is playing with Persephone and doesn’t have the inclination to mess with Dauntless this time.
Now, if this post never gets published because we never made it. I take all the above back. But let’s assume that you are reading this in the comfort of your reading place and I am happily ensconced in Bonaire paying too much for everything and squealing like a pig as I do so.
Since I finally just published the account of an average day crossing the Atlantic in the trades, you should all know the routine my now.
And the weather is the same.
Easterly winds, 20 knots gusting to the low 30’s, with the direction varying from northeast to southeast.
As long as it has an easterly component, Dauntless can deal with it as we make our way west.
While the winds are about the same, the wave heights are significantly less. Thank God, no strike that, Thank Poseidon.
I guess that is the effect of the Grenadines and Antilles reducing the fetch (the distance winds blows over uninterrupted sea). There seems to also be a tidal current of 0.5 to 1 knot pushing us along. That means that yesterday, we made 156 miles in the first 24-hour period, that’s an average of 6.5 knots.
Our earlier Atlantic Passage, our average was 137 nm at 5.9 knots.
Yesterday, I made grilled chicken for us, with a side of pasta. I also made a tomato sauce for pasta, which we will eat today. This is something I have not made for many, many years, at least a half dozen, years.
I made this for Micah, as the time for him to return to school and get on with his life is now rapidly approaching. It’s the least I can do for his hard work and the diligence he as shown these past 8 months on Dauntless.
The three big problems we had previously: the mysterious fuel leak, paravane shenanigans and hydraulic hose failure, have all been overcome. The paravane poles have been the most interesting in that I am always tweaking the system. Sometimes my tweaks work, sometimes they don’t. But I pride myself on finding simple, inexpensive solutions and this stabilizing system is finally starting to speak for itself.
The hydraulic steering and the helm and for the ComNav Autopilot has never been quieter. Never, at last since I’ve owned the boat. And as Micah pointed out, the owner’s manual did say that one had to be patient as air would work itself out of the system in a few weeks. I did help it by rigging a Rube Goldberg looking filling tube and funnel on the upper helm. This allows the system to burp itself without the usually oily mess.
After the ABCs, we are headed to Colon and the Panama Canal, after a short visit to Columbia, where my brother is for some unknown reason. He’s never seen Dauntless, so it’s the least I can do.
Near term, once through the canal, we’ll head up to Costa Rica, where Micah will leave us and Larry, my Alaskan friend of 44 years who I met on T-3, will join me and D.
We got up early to take advantage of the calm winds and little boat traffic. Dauntless rolled a bit last night on the mooring ball, so I put the paravanes out. They decreased the roll a bit, certainly dampened it, like shock absorbers on a car, but these particular fish (or birds) are made to be moving through the water for maximum effectiveness.
As we got south of the Scillies, I realized that while it was 90 nm to Plymouth, France was but 120 nm. With fair skies and still under the influence of the Azores high, it made sense to me to press on across the channel to the continent. I discussed our options with Karla and Larry and they concurred. A direct route to France also meant we could avoid the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) off the English Channel and the area north of Brest.
So instead of turning due east for Plymouth, we set off ESE towards the north coast of France. The port of Trebeurden is our goal, with anticipated steaming time of 22 hours.
After a few hours of beautiful weather and looking at our expected arrival time, I decided to lower the engine rpms to 1500. Not only will that save us about a half-gallon of fuel per hour, but our ETA would have been 04:00 at the faster speed, and is now, about 05:30. A better arrival time, as it will be light.
It’s 18:00 now and as the day progressed diurnal heating produced some stratocumulus clouds and winds from the WNW at 15 gusting to 23. So the almost flat seas we had in the morning, gave way to wind driven waves of 3 to 5 feet hitting Dauntless on her stern starboard quarter. We have gradually increased our rolling from plus or minus 1 to 2 degrees to +/- 4 to 6°
Still, that’s half of what it was for the last few hours of our cruise into St. Mary’s Harbor in Scilly.
For dinner, I made a tasty dinner of hamburger and crudité. The hamburger ground by my butcher in Waterford. It’s hard to imagine that I spent 8 months on and off in Waterford and now won’t be back for four months. But I did meet an Irish sailboat in St. Mary’s. We had gotten into a discussion about the “legs” on their boat which was beached on hard sand, held vertical on its keel by said legs. That gave me some ideas of how I could make that work on Dauntless. Probably just 4”x4”s with a notch for the rub rail, then bolted through the hawse pipe. A project for next winter. They were taking her to the west coast of Ireland and will winter over in Dingle, so I promised to come visit next winter.
Unlike yesterday, time today has seemed to fly by. And yes, I kept the patch on.
For the past two hours I have been watching the parade of ships heading for the TSS north of Brest. I have also managed to figure out the Raymarine radar a little better and finally noticed after two years that the gain also had an adjustment for wave state. I could keep the gain much higher, if I also adjusted the wave state. A win win. And to think, some say I’m a slow learner! (win-win turned out to be tie-tie, as I adjusted it not to see waves, turns out it also didn’t see fishing boats).
A beautifully flat day, azure sky and sea, with just some mare tails cirrus. As the afternoon and evening progressed, the winds started picking up slowly, but surely. By evening, increased westerly winds had produced 3 to 5’ waves and the roll was 6° to each side. As one of the lessons learned from the Atlantic Crossing, I now run off the tank on the windward side of the boat. The lee side seems to remain heeled for slightly longer times, so I don’t want the engine sucking water through the vents. Yes, I had not gotten around to moving the vents yet. I did think about it a lot though!
Under these conditions, it’s not an issue, and possibly only an issue under heavy seas with only paravane in the water.
I had also adjusted the ComNav Autopilot to be less sensitive, so that it made fewer corrections constantly. I will have to call them someday and discuss if my interpretation by reading between the lines of their user manual is correct. Basically, under open ocean conditions, meaning no need to keep a rigid heading constantly, I set the sea state to very high (rough seas), so that it doesn’t try to adjust heading every second. Under these conditions, I will hear it operate every few (3 to 6) seconds.
On the other hand, under truly rough, 12+ seas, I set it to totally flat conditions, so that as soon as it senses the stern coming around it acts. Then the adjustments are almost constant, but it does a great job of steering the boat through the worst conditions. I have tried to hand steer under such conditions and frankly the ComNav does a better job. In the 20+ foot seas on the last day into Ireland, as I cowered on the bench in the pilot house, the ComNav reacted so well, I never saw any green water over the rails. Maybe I should ask them about a sponsorship!
During the early evening hours we had a little excitement as we were crossing the main eastbound traffic lanes. While not in a TSS, the ships having come around Brest in the TSS 30 miles to our west, will reenter the TSS about 30 miles to our east. Therefore they pretty much stay in the same track. Makes it easier for us, as one can figure out where the main traffic lane is and the direction ships will be heading.
We only encountered a few west bound ships, but an hour north of the east bound lanes, our AIS and Coastal Explorer showed the parade of ships heading east. They were cruising at 14 to 18 knots, while we were doing 6.5 knots. That gave me plenty of time to plan our crossing. There was only one ship that was a factor. It was a big Chinese ship that the AIS said it was doing dredging operations (something must have gotten lost in translation), but to me looked to be one of those floating dry docks. Massive bridge at the bow and a massive stern and almost nothing in between.
I adjusted our course to be perpendicular to his course and I could see that he adjusted his course a few degrees to starboard also. The picture is what CE depicted. The closest anyone got was about a mile, though later on we passed a fishing boat about a quarter mile away, but I had been watching him for more than an hour so…
By midnight winds were westerly at 15 gusting to 22, seas 4 to 6 feet and roll 7°. This kept up until we reached the harbor.
Dawn was breaking as we approached. We had to stop to get the paravanes in, while it only took a few minutes, it was disconcerting to be stopped just hundreds of feet from the large rocky outcrop. So I was much relieved to get underway again even though Dauntless hardly drifted at all.
Previously, I had carefully plotted a course into the basin based on our pilot charts, and my C-Map and Navionics charts.
But the reality ended up being a bit different. Our planned path was full of moored boats. So on to Plan B, I kept our speed just above idle, about 4 knots, to minimize the damage if we hit anything. I picked up the three green lights our pilot charts told us meant the gate was open. But our pilot chart had also told us the gate was always open during neap tides and as I remembered seeing the waxing (light on the right) quarter moon last night, I knew it was a neap tide.
Creeping slowly forward, the sign board seemed to indicate 2.5 meters, but always leery that I am missing the obvious, I was still worried about the mysterious sill. We passed over the sill into the marina basin and didn’t scrape anything, but it was an anxious moment.
A big assed catamaran was on the one available “T”. I went past him to see if we had any options, we didn’t. I turned around and headed for a slip just inside the gate. The slip is short, only 20 feet, so our rear half is hanging out.
The wind was behind us, so that was a bit of a mistake, it made the docking more stressful then it needed to be, but finally, 23 hours after engine start at St. Mary’s, we were finished with engine and had landed on the “continent” for the first time by boat.