In one of my recent posts I talked about my use of Windy.com and how much I like the GUI they have developed. It’s an easy way to look at the two-main worldwide weather forecasting numerical models, the GFS and the ECMWF.
Almost a year ago today, I wrote the post “The Atlantic is a Harsh Mistress”. This was my first reaction to the reality of what we experienced versus the anticipation of what I expected.
I had read so many accounts of boats crossing oceans. Not having any experience, myself I was not sensitive to the subtle differences of the trade wind Pacific versus the Atlantic.
Hey, it’s the trade winds, characterized by strong steady winds and large, 15 to 30-foot-long period waves.
Easy Peasey, as Micah was fond of saying.
I’d just read an account of Kadey Krogen 42 doing the much longer passage from the California to the South Pacific and Australia. Their only problem was boredom and they ran out of Coca Cola. I wouldn’t have those issues. Having lived in Europe on and off for years, I’d long ago learned it best to wean myself off American products. And boredom, not when I had countless hours of Korean Dramas and a crew mate in Micah, who also liked them as much as I.
I still vividly remember leaving Heiro, the western most island in the Canaries to small seas and steady winds. After the first hour, I found myself thinking this could be an easy three weeks. An hour later, as the seas and winds increased, I deployed one paravane stabilizer, another hour later, I deployed the second. We stayed in that configuration for the next three weeks.
It was anything but easy. The passage was characterized by three wave sets (swells).
Swell are longer period waves that develop when the wind blows over the ocean for long period of time. Thus, winds and storms, hundreds or thousands of miles away cause swell.
The primary wave set or swell was from the east, the second from the northeast and the third from the southeast. The third had the longest period (time between waves) of ?15+ seconds. The other two, were on the order of 9 to 12 seconds.
On top of this all, were the wind driven waves. These waves are created by the wind at that location and if the wind stops the waves stop also. These waves had a period of about 7 seconds.
The result of all this was that we had 12 to 15-foot waves from the east, right behind us. My Kadey Krogen loves following seas, but what made it so difficult was the other two swells with different periods hat produced a corkscrew movement. Then every 8 minutes or so, the NE and SE wave troughs would meet under the stern of Dauntless and we would do this wild corkscrew movement with first the bow pointing to heaven and then seconds later, twisting down.
It was a wonderful corkscrew if I was on a roller coaster.
Here are some videos of the experience:
I love my boat so much.
So that was my introduction to multiple swells. Oh, I had noticed it before in the north Atlantic, but I attributed to “rogue” waves and it was not so systematic as in the trade winds.
The result was best described by some sailors I met in Martinique who had just done the same crossing. They called it the bathtub, because the water was so disorganized.
On the far right, you can see the vertical column where “waves, swell, swell2 and swell3” can be chosen.
Looking at this data today, mid-March, it’s also apparent why the best time to cross this part of the Atlantic is in early winter, as the when we crossed in December, at least all the winds and waves had an easterly component. Now, you can see that there is a swell from the northwest, that must be very unpleasant.
Perseverance, in the face of very adverse situations, being bored almost to tears or dealing with unimaginably
stupid, selfish adults, has gotten me to many of my most important goals in my life: four university degrees, meteorologist, science teacher, high school principal, Dauntless and certainly crossing the Atlantic, now twice.
But it has also gotten me in trouble. Big trouble.
My life has always been about planning. Acting spontaneously is not me. Throughout my life, when I have acted spontaneously, the outcomes were not good.
So, it sounds simple.
Make the Plan; Do the Plan.
And this works much of the time, but not always. Why? Because while I’m not acting spontaneously, I end up following a not well thought out plan. Whether career changes, job changes or route planning, I’ve sometimes followed flawed plans to the “T”.
Now, not all plans have the same consequences. Leaving the U.S. Air Force to start my own business still baffles my mind. Yes, I was tired of the bureaucracy of the USAF, but the USAF is a model of efficiency, team work and everything else you can think of when compared to the New York City Department of Education.
So that decision, way back in 1987, ended up affecting my life for the next 20+ years.
Most recently, I had another occasion to change the plan. Abort so to speak.
The outlines of the Pacific Ocean Plan were in place before we even crossed the Atlantic three years ago. While always subject to modification, the Plan has two primary functions:
It focuses my thoughts to anticipate issues and possibilities
It gives me the confidence to persevere, to succeed, even when I get tired, bored, etc.
It’s hard to imagine, that in the original Plan, I would be in Yeosu, South Korea in this month!
Oh well, even the best plans of mice and men, sometimes go astray.
Last year at this time, I still expected to be in the Pacific Northwest by now. One month ago, I still expected to be in Guaymas, northern Mexico this week.
Instead, Dauntless is in the wonderful, little port of Huatulco, Mexico. Just across the Gulf of Tehuantepec.
The crossing of the Tehuantepec was a good example of when to modify the plan.
So, as I left Chiapas at 08:00, alone, because my friend, Cliff who had joined me in Costa Rica to help me get Dauntless the 450 nm to Mexico, had had to return home. But the longest leg was now behind me and tonight next 6 weeks alone was doable, even if not my preference.
The crossing was long, 40 hours, uneventful, but also an eye opener.
Before leaving Chiapas, I had been advised my everyone, from locals to friends who had done it themselves, to stay within a few miles of the coast, just in case the winds pick up. It would only add about 20 nm to a 240-nm trip, not that bad.
The course directly across the Gulf is 284°, while along the coast it would be about 305°, so after passing the breakwater, I made my course 300°.
I then spent the next half hour dodging pangas and fishing nets. 260 nm at 6.5 knots is 40 hours. I immediately understood that I could not spend 40 hours dodging boats and nets.
I had been watching the weather for days, waiting for the appropriate weather window. Since the synoptic weather pattern that caused the Tehuantepec winds was also the same that caused the Papagayo winds which I had been watching for weeks. So, I was pretty confident that at I’d have at least 24 hours of light winds, then at the worst case, if they started to build, I’d have winds on the beam for at most 12 hours.
Being summer, those winds would not be as strong as in winter. Just like the North Atlantic, cold air can easily produce hurricane force winds in the winter. Therefore, worst case, Dauntless and I would have to put up with 20 knot winds on the beam for half a day. Not fun; but not dangerous either, at least not in this Kadey Krogen.
With all that in mind, within 3 miles of leaving the protection of the Chiapas, I changed course to go directly across the Tehuantepec. Needless to say, itw as an uneventful crossing. (Had it been eventful, you would have heard about it by now).
The Plan was to provision the boat in Huatulco and wait for a weather window to continue north. The more I waited, the more I saw my current Plan slipping away. Finally, I realized it was time to let it go completely. In talking to the Marina Captain and a dock neighbor who was heading south, it became clear that the next few hundred miles all the away to Acapulco, offered only one safe harbor, therefore I could not afford to stop as long as the winds and weather were favorable.
Picturing the pangas and nets off of Chiapas, I realized that my long thought out Plan was not feasible at this point. As I looked for alternative places to winter Dauntless, they were all much more expensive, like 10x more! than my present location of Huatulco.
So here we are. Robert Burns said it best:
“The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry”
If you are worried about everything, you will drive yourself and crew crazy. You need to be able to separate the likely from the remote. Be vigilant, but you can’t watch everything. An hour from home, you can afford in indulge your paranoia, in the middle of the Atlantic, indulgences are not allowed. it’s “Calm & Assertive” as Caesar Milan would say.
When I would hear a noise in the middle of the night. Perhaps I was being sleeping? Did the noise wake me or was it a dream? I stay in bed in listen. Sometimes I may even open my cabin door to listen and more importantly sniff the wind! Your sense of smell may well be your most reliable tool on a boat.
Admittedly, the first year on Dauntless I was not his way. Unless she was firmly tied to a dock, I was up at every little noise or movement. I hated anchoring out because I got so little sleep. What changed? Mostly me understanding that the boat was fine, the anchor was fine, and the only problem was me.
A couple days out of New England, on the way to the Azores, on my first Atlantic Passage, a mast cleat that secured the port paravane pole let go with a sound like a pistol shot. I stopped the boat, put on a PFD (probably the last time I used it too) and went to the fly bridge to see what happened.
The quarter inch steel bolts had sheared off. I realized that it was too much tension for a cleat, but a simple clove hitch around the mast a few times would secure the two paravane pole lines with much less stress at any particular point, then ending on the cleat. I made that change in minutes and three years later, it’s still the same.
Later, Julie told me that having a problem like that and me being able to come up with a different and even better solution, gave her all the confidence to not worry about anything. And she didn’t. She had been on the boat less than I, but was more experienced. She understood right away what it took to be successful.
It took me a couple of years.
During my second Atlantic Passage, westbound from Europe, North Africa to North America, I had noticed fuel in the bilge on the first day out of the Canaries. I kept it to myself. It didn’t seem like much, probably less than a gallon, of the 700 we had onboard. To get to the Caribbean we would probably need 600 of those gallons. If push came to shove and I needed to conserve, I could probably get there on 500, even 450. In fact, at idle and in gear, 900 rpms, fuel consumption is probably 0.5gal/hr. at 3.8 knots, making the range above 5,000 nm. With these conditions, with a 20-knot wind behind us, our range would be above 6,000 nm. (at idle and in neutral, with no load on the engine, the fuel consumption is probably 0.1 gal/hr.)
Since I could see no leak on any of the connections or hoses between the fuel tanks and the engine, including the 4 fuel filters, there was not much I could do until it became obvious. It was clearly coming from the tank, but not the bottom of the tank.
I continued to run the numbers in my head, often, during those days and nights.
But I continued to say nothing. Certainly, Micah could do nothing and he worries, a lot. My job as Captain is to do the worrying and to keep my crew fat and happy.
By Day 4, Calm & Assertive was slipping away. I was getting nervous.
The big problem was that the bilge pump was pumping water out that had gotten into the bilge from the lazzerette. With large following seas, the stern deck is awash plenty of time, enough that water gets into the lazzerette. It is then dutifully pumped out. When I would look into the bilge, fuel being lighter than water, it floats on top. So, when I look in the bilge and see a gallon of liquid, which the bilge pump will pump out, it’s unclear if I’m looking at a gallon of fuel or a quarter of a cup, the rest being water. Under these conditions, the bilge pump was turning on about once an hour. So, in 24 hours, that’s about 24 gallons. If it’s mostly water no problem, but if mostly fuel I needed to know.
It was possible that I was looking at the same inch of fuel floating on top of water. So, when the pump would pump out, it was just pumping water leaving the last inch of liquid every time. I had to know what was going on.
initially on Day 4, I did the following:
I used the shop vac to vacuum out the bilge. Now if I saw fuel again, I knew it was new fuel. I turned off the bilge pump and left it off for 6 hours.
I reduced our engine rpms to 1450. Now this change would only reduce our consumption by about 0.1 gallons/hour, but we had 16 days at 24 hr./day = 384 hours. So, to save a tenth of a gallon, that’s 40 gallons over that time. I had estimated worst case scenario if it was all fuel with a little water, we were losing about 12 gallons a day, that would be 200 gallons lost. That would be a problem. Better to reduce speed now and figure it out just in case.
Six hours later, I checked the bilge hoping to see only water.
I saw water and fuel!
Wherever the fuel was coming from, it was still coming. But of the approximately 5 gallons I pulled out, there was at most an inch of fuel on top of the water. That’s less than half a gallon.
From the first time I noticed the fuel, it never seemed that much to me. From dipping the oil soak cloth (very effective in absorbing fuel and oil, but not water) to collecting the 6 gallons, all signs were a minor fuel loss, which was even decreasing. But,
The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. (thanks Milton & Star Trek).
But this is why I say, worry is very destructive. Even with those facts, by the next day, that worry drove me off the deep end. By constantly checking for fuel, all it did was make me lose any objective sense of reason. I cracked.
So, I came up with another radical plan.
We needed a way to recover significant amounts of fuel:
I cut the hose (pictured) that leads from the bilge pump to the thru hull and stuck another hose onto it. This hose I now led out of the engine room, out the salon door to a large bucket on the stern deck.
We would collect everything the bilge pump pumped out of the bilge for the next 12 hours.
We would then take the fuel that standing on top of the water, and pour it into another bucket. Then filter it and pour it back into the fuel tank, as needed. Thus, even if losing 20 gallons of fuel a day, we would probably recover 75% of that. To lose 5 gallons a day was tolerable.
Now the boat is rolling all the time as we have 10 to 16 foot waves off both stern quarters, so it was no easy task to pour one bucket into a larger bucket.
We, really Micah, did just that for 6 hours.
When I relieved Micah, he thought it was mostly water. I checked the “fuel” bucket, the one into which we were pouring the obvious fuel from the bigger bucket. After 6 hours, we had about a quarter of a gallon if that.
I looked at that, I looked at Micah and I came to my senses.
I quickly put an end to this process. It was a 5-minute job to re-connect the now two sections of bilge hose and we were back to normal.
On Day 6, all fuel stopped getting into the bilge
Did I scare it away?
The only explanation is also the most obvious explanation. Last year, in Ireland, when we opened up the port tank to seal it, it was obvious that water had dripped down from the screw holes in which the poorly installed fuel vent fitting had been placed. Now since this is one of the few design, construction issues I have ever found on the Kadey Krogen, it’s hard to complain.
I figured that what had happened is that since the tanks was totally full, the pitching movement in particular meant fuel was being pushed hard against the upper back of the tank. Just where the fuel vent is poorly installed. A few drops every dozen second will easily add up to a couple of gallons a day.
Lesson Learned: If I had to do it all over. I should have been more patient. I could have slowed a bit before doing anything else and waited a few more days. I let myself get too nervous even after I had come up with multiple estimates that the amount of fuel we were losing was not significant.
After arrival in Martinique, Dauntless still had 125 gallons of fuel. I determined that we had lost probably 5 to 1o gallons at most. I was meticulous in feeding from each tank every other day, thus the tanks should have been the same, but instead there was a 5 to 10-gallon difference.
Well, it would probably take a book I’m too lazy to write.
But as I sit here in the sweltering heat of Mexico, air conditioning or lack thereof has become my number one concern.
Having spent two years in Northern Europe, AC was the least of my concerns. So last year when cruising south, once I hit Portugal, the heat hit us at the same time. Like leaving a room that was a pleasant 68° (20°C) and entering a furnace that was in the 90°s (>32°).
Dauntless has two air conditioning (AC) systems. One for the back of the boat, like the salon and second cabin, the other, for the forward sections, the forward cabin and pilot house. Of course, neither one was working.
Somewhere in the Caribbean, finally realizing that this heat and humidity was unrelenting, I tackled the issue and in a remarkable time, got both units working. Relief at last. But this isn’t about that.
So, for the last couple months, I have luxuriated in the coolness of modern living. Now, air conditioning only works if I am at a marina and plugged into shore power or if I run the boat’s generator.
Then last week, my cool times came to an abrupt end. My aft AC stopped cooling and then started blowing hot air. That won’t work.
Boat AC’s working using water pumped through the condenser to make cool air. (Home AC’s use air to cool the condenser).
So, when there is a problem, the first thing to check is water flow. And in fact, there was not any water flow or maybe just a dribble when it should be coming out like a water hose.
Easy fix I thought. It started well. I checked the sea strainer, which is exactly that, it strains sea water so that the water pump only gets water and not sea weed, sticks, fish and whatever got sucked into the thru hull opening. The strainer was full of crap and water was just dribbling out, when it should have been gushing out.
Oh, that was easy. But on a boat, the systems in place that makes everything run as they must, can become complicated.
I cleaned out the strainer. Put it back together and that started the last seven days of trial and error.
I hadn’t cleaned or opened the strainer in probably 4 years. It had a lot of corrosion around it. I brushed and cleaned it up as well as I could. Put it back together again, turned on the AC pump and all was well.
For about 10 minutes.
As of yesterday, the 6th day, I got the time up to two hours. It would run OK for two hours and then quit. I would need to let it rest about an hour and then do the process all over again.
Somewhere between the thru-hull and the AC water pump, air was being sucked into the system. The water pump is sucking so hard and it’s always easier to suck air than water. So even the smallest crack will allow air to be sucked in. That air then collects at the highest point in the system, at the aft AC unit, at which point the air blocks the water and the AC stops cooling.
That has been my last 7 days.
Every day I tried something new. I even made new gaskets from rubber sheets, I’ve did all sorts of things to try to fix the strainer. Sure, there has been some improvement, but it wasn’t fixed.
But I didn’t have a spare strainer. What to do?
One of my lessons learned from crossing oceans is there is always a solution.
When you are in the middle of the Atlantic, there’s no Boat US, no AAA, no nothing, only you and the odds and ends you happen to have.
I realized I did not have a spare sea strainer, but I did have two other sea strainers!
I could simply bypass the AC strainer and put a hose between one of the other strainers to the AC water pump. Then if there is still a problem, it would mean it’s the pump itself.
I’d decided to use the Generator strainer. The gen is not being used and won’t be until next summer. Also, should I mess that system up, it’s not a critical component, like the main engine.
The AC sea strainer uses 1” hose. Turns out the gen sea strainer uses ¾” hose. The gen doesn’t use much cooling water, but the AC’s use a lot.
The main engine sea strainer was 1” hose, so I decided to use that. That has enabled me to sit here a couple of hours later and write this piece in the cool comfort of the Kadey Krogen salon.
Which raises another even more important issue. The first rule of Ocean Crossing, Do No Harm. Don’t fix one problem by making another.
Only because Dauntless will spend the winter here in Huatulco, Mexico, would I consider messing with the main engine’s sea strainer.
There is always a lot of blather about single engine boats crossing oceans. Large commercial boats do it all the time, but then they are not affected by marketing.
If one looks at engine failures on single engine boats versus multi engine boats, the preponderance is a failure of one of the two engines on a multi engine boat. Why is that? On the face of it, the numbers should be exactly the same. Why aren’t they?
They are not the same because both consciously and unconsciously people take care of stuff better when they only have one versus two. Of anything.
How many times have you lost a key after having gotten extra keys made? How many times have you lost your only key?
If I was getting underway in the foreseeable future. I would never have touched the main engine’s sea strainer. Even though Dauntless is going to be here for the next 8 months, if my plan was to come back and get her ready to cross the Pacific, I would never have touched the sea strainer now.
Only because I have the luxury of knowing that: not only will I not be using the engine until next summer, even then we will be slowly moving up the coast. I have a few years and a few thousand miles of coastal cruising before setting across the North Pacific.
A boat is all about systems. A motor boat even more because it takes more complicated systems to run in a dependable manner. So, I am very careful not to mess with systems that don’t need it. Remeber, Do No Harm.
In opening up the AC sea strainer, I messed with that system. I upset something.
Turns out, in getting ready to bypass the AC strainer, I noticed the end of the outlet hose was very hard. Is it possible that when I opened the strainer, I broke the seal between this hose and the strainer nipple? Even though the two clamps were tight. (All connections to thru hulls have two clamps)
I decided before I did anything else, to cut 2″ off the end of that hose and re-attach it. I did and that solved the problem once and for all. Yesterday, the ACs worked for 12 hours with nary a problem.
So even with a solution in hand, keep trying to determine the real problem. Otherwise, it may come back to haunt you in the most inopportune time.
When I had the hydraulic hose failure in the middle of the Atlantic. I caused the problem because I turned the wheel knowing the rudder was already at its stop. Thus I did harm. This forced the fluid to go somewhere and it burst the hose at its weakest point. Luckily for me, that point was easy to find and relatively easy to replace.
But I will never do that again.
Here is the video of me replacing that hose. The seas were about 8 to 15 feet. We were stopped in the water like that for about 30 minutes, because I had to be careful not to make a small problem worse by breaking one of the fittings from the three-way coupling:
I tried to get Micah who was holding the camera to get the overall picture and show the big waves that would approach Dauntless and then disappear under the boat. But that seemed to unnerve him. He wouldn’t look out. Oh well, it could have been worse.
So, one of my lessons learned in crossing the Atlantic: There is always an alternative, there is always a way, a bypass, a work around, but there is always a way. You just have to think about it.
I stayed two nights in the wonderful, quiet, still anchorage of Cedros & Jesusita. It gave me time to catch up on my
sleep and to complete the chores, cleaning and re-organization I should have done before I left the dock in Golfito.
Not the first time I have managed to stress myself by not finishing things as I should in a timely manner.
Won’t be the last, but still …
I hated leaving but it was time to move on. I carefully followed by previous track out into open water. If I didn’t take any shortcuts in; I certainly don’t take them on the way out.
I was underway before 8:00, as I had contrary current to contend with, I kept the rpms a little higher, 1700 today than the usual 1500 to 1600. This gives me about an extra half knot, but also consumes an extra quarter gallon per hour or 17% more fuel.
I was headed to Bahia Samada. While it got good reviews on Active Captain, I’m starting to think all these reviews are written at a different time of year, with no south to west swell, because again it turned out to be rolly.
Also, buggy. I’ve gotten in the habit like most experienced “cruisers” to turn on generator as the sun sets. It’s at this point that the winds will decrease or die and the bugs come out. Also gives me an opportunity to put a little charge in the batteries, while running the A/C to cool and dehumidify the boat.
I usually run it a couple of hours, though I am conscious of the noise and it there are any other boats nearby, I turn it off sooner rather than later.
As I turned NE around the cape towards Samada, there was a large area of rain showers and thunderstorms, seemingly right over my intended destination. Though my timing worked out well in that the storms were moving slowly west, so while it rained for a while, by the time I got to the anchorage for the night, it at stopped.
As I said, not a great place to stop. Rolly and buggy (mostly gnats). Therefore, at the crack of dawn the next day, I was ready to get out of Dodge.
Hauled anchor at 06:00 and was underway to Bahia Guacamaya. This place also got great reviews and for once it deserved them. Hardly any roll, quiet, beautiful.
I stayed here two days. I got the water maker running again, cleaned up the stern deck and jury rigged my garden hose reel that I use for the stern anchor line. I did a good job, only wondering why I had not done it weeks earlier. Another unknown mystery of the universe.
But even before that. The trip was very nice. When I had left the winds were light from the northeast, forecast to turn southwesterly during the day at about 8 to 10 knots. As I rounded Cape Velas the winds were ESE at 20 knots gusting to 25. That pretty much was the rest of the afternoon. Very luckily, I was only a few miles off shore so the wind had very little fetch (the distance winds blow unencumbered over water) this kept the wave heights down, in fact they were less than 2 feet.
Dauntless was rolling on marginally. Now had I come here a few hours later, the seas would have been much greater. Just like the day I left Golfito, with the winds having blown all night, the seas were moderate by the time I left.
Also, I was able to check the latest forecast. I use WIndyty.com for the most part as I love how they present the data and the options you have to change what you look at. I pretty much only look at winds, though I may check the different weather forecast numerical models to see any significant differences. What was interesting about today was the forecast was very wrong, at least in terms of wind speed and for a small boat like Dauntless, that does make a significant difference.
I usually tell people, whether they ask or not, that weather forecasts are usually right, but when wrong they are usually wrong or time or location. What do I mean?
The forecast was for 8 to 10 knot winds out of the east. But 100 miles further north, the winds were forecast to be 20 knots. So, in this case the forecast was wrong by location. The timing was good.
Now since my Krogen on can go about 60 miles in 12 hours; 100 miles off on location makes all the difference in the world. But if I was in an airplane covering a much larger distance, the location being off becomes much less of an issue. Same thing if I’m a ship going 18 knots.
Now had I gotten up that morning with the winds blowing hard, I would not have left. Because the other aspect of bad weather forecasts is that they usually don’t get better. Meaning, if the forecast starts off incorrect, for any given time and place, it’s not like the weather will catch up. Sure, it may look like the forecast is spot on 12 hours later, but more likely, it’s just a matter of chance.
So, I got to Bahia Guacamaya and just as advertised the bluffs to the east blacked the winds from getting into the bay. Ver nice. One of the best anchorages yet, certainly the best if I include the scenery. So good in fact, I really regretted not have Trinh with me. This would have been such a wonderful spot to explore together.
Here are some videos of the two days:
21 July 18:15, Entering Bahia Samada at night.
22 July Bahia Samada the following morning
22 July 11:13 Underway to Bahia Guacamaya
23 July Morning in Bahia Guacamaya
Costa Rica Day 5 Summary: Engine Start 07:46, stop 18:50; uw 10 hrs 49 min, 67.7 nm, avg speed 6.3 kt. Average Roll while underway, +8° to -10°, delta of 18°;
Anchored Bahia Samada in 17 feet water with 100’ of chain out.
Costa Rica Day 6 & 7 Summary: Engine Start 06:00, stop 14:40; uw 8 hrs 30 min, 55.6 nm, avg speed 6.56 kt. Average Roll while underway, <5°either way, delta of 10°;
Anchored Bahia Guacamaya in 21 feet water with 80’ of chain out.