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.

 

Dauntless Comes Alive

It’s hard to describe how a boat comes alive.

Sunset over the English Channel
Sunrise over the English Channel

31 hours into our passage to France, our second night out. it’s now 01:00 on the 15th of July 2016.  I’ve just relieved the “boys”, who had their first watch without me for the last 4 hours.  I had planned on sleeping another two hours, but I awoke and knowing the English Channel transit lanes were only an hour away, I figured I may as well get up.

Sunrise over the English Channel
Sunrise over the English Channel

Besides, nothing untoward had yet happened, and like the experienced manager taking the young prospect out of the game on a positive note, not letting mistakes happen as they fatigue.

Last night I had been alone, the boys sick as dogs. No, probably sicker.

Dauntless in Camarat
Dauntless in Camaret, France. Our first stop on the continent for 2016

I like the night, slicing through the water, the white mustache at the bow. There is a coziness the envelops the boat making us even more with nature.

We ran yesterday for 24 hours with the paravanes deployed.  We needed them.  The weather has been exactly as forecast, with strong NW winds 18 to 25 gusts to 32 for the first 12 hours after leaving Ireland.  That caused for some rough seas, 6 to 12 feet.

The next 12 hours were a bit better, with winds decreasing to 15 to 18, gusting to 25 and they were more northwesterly. Then finally, yesterday evening they had died to 5 to 9 knots, so the seas quieted to just a few feet.

Now, as forecast the winds are westerly at about 8 knots. Not bad, not bad at all.

Paravanes worked well.  I had changed the rigging a bit more since Scotland last month.  They now run 17 feet below the water line and they are considerably more effective than last year.

The hardest part has been saying goodbye to so many dear friends and nice people in Waterford and New Ross.  I think I’ll be back though, at least after we put a few miles on as we circle the globe.  But I’m sure after a number of years and many miles, I’ll be ready for northern Europe yet again.

Maretron Data for the Trip
Maretron Data for the Trip The first 24 hours were rough

Just south of Waterford, we passed an old friend, Fastnet Sound.  They dredge the channel just south of the Barrow Bridge, which has a tendency to silt up in the spot where the rivers Suir and Barrow meet.  They then dock for the night across the river in Waterford.

They took a picture with showed up on Marine Traffic showing us leaving, with me on the foredeck taking picture of them.  You can see that picture at Dauntless taken by Fastnet Sound leaving Waterford on the River Suir.

Well, it’s now Sunday, 48 hours after our arrival in Camaret France.

It’s taken me this long to recover. I must be getting old.  I slept Friday night for 12 hours, having only slept for about three the two days previously.

Dauntless as ever performed flawlessly and this time, this passage, so did the captain.  No incidents, accidents, or other shenanigans, yours truly has been known for.

Coming up France.  French boaters may be a mess, but the food is divine!

Here are two videos of the crossing.  Sorry nothing spectacular.

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What Not to Do

All’s Well that Ends Well.  Why do I repeat that so often?  To remind myself not to think of the pain and suffering caused by my own foolish behavior.  And besides, that’s the ONLY good thing I can take out of the last two days.

A Honfleur Pistachio Ice Cream Cone
A Honfleur Pistachio Ice Cream Cone My High Point of the Last Few Days

During the past few days, I broke about every rule I had vowed never to break:

  • Don’t enter a strange harbor at night
  • Don’t back up the boat to dock
  • Don’t enter strange marina at night
  • Don’t set out on a cruise with winds in your face from the get go
  • Don’t travel with current and strong winds in the opposite direction.
  • Repair little leaks before they get to be big ones
  • Move the fuel tank vents
  • Don’t let one problem lead to others
  • Do preventive maintenance things the day BEFORE departure
  • Run the fuel polisher while in port
  • Don’t delay in changing fuel filters as needed
  • Always do a visual check that all lines are clear when leaving dock
  • Don’t get a case of “get home-itis”
  • And if any of the above develop, pull into a port in the daytime and wait it out.

I did none of that.

Let’s rewind the tape and see why that happened.

Larry and Karla were leaving Dauntless for the gay lights of Paris and by coincidence; they were being replaced by someone from Paris, Pierre-Jean who had contacted me a few months ago, as he is really interested in Kadey Krogens.

Our goal was Vlissingen, in the southwest corner of Holland, about 190 nautical miles (210 sm, 350 km), 30 hours at just above 6 knots.

I had been looking at the weather for days, http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/orthographic=-2.69,50.52,3000

This surface wind chart at earth.nullschool.net is pretty much the only thing I look at.  It goes out 4 days and by clicking on any specific point, it provides the wind direction and speed for that point.

Now, listen carefully, when you go to your favorite weather site to get a specific forecast, with all pretty colors and forecasts every minute, all you are getting is the same information in a format that has been made to look attractive.  The danger is that those more specific forecasts give the impression of significance that does NOT exist.  OK moving on.

Sunday looked to be a good weather day, light winds, but the forecast for the coming days had steadily increasing northeasterly winds from Sunday night thru the end of the forecast period on Wednesday.

NE winds was our worst case scenario, as we had to go NE.  In addition, the currents in the English Channel are very strong, 3 to 5 knots, and we had already encountered even stronger currents, contrary winds and very steep standing waves just getting to Honfleur.  After that encounter, I had vowed never again.

Never lasted only two days.

Dauntless in Honfleur
Dauntless in Honfleur

I have found that 15 knots of wind is the magic number.  Below that speed, no matter the direction, seas stay small and travel is relatively easy. Above that speed, seas start building and the direction and currents start making a big difference.

Well, my forecast was right on.  Should have been easy.

Sunday looked to be the best day, light NE winds, increasing to NE at 10 to 15 knots Monday, increasing to 25 to 35 knots Monday night through Tuesday night.

We were leaving Honfleur at 8:30, the time the bridge opened to let us out of the inner harbor.  Then one hour down the Seine we would be turning NE ward just as the currents also revered to run NE.  Our ETA to Vlissingen was 04:00 Tuesday morning.  Now this would mean the last 10 hours would be into strong winds.  Pierre-Jean and I talked about the plan and figured if it got bad, we would just pull into French or Belgium port before it got too bad. But how bad could it be?

Famous last words.

Because I had not yet moved the fuel vents, I was diligent about feeding from the windward tank, as Dauntless rolls a bit more to leeward.  Having left Waterford with full tanks, the port side tank was finally about 5 inches less than full and therefore showing up on the sight tube.  So, I decided to leave Honfleur running on the starboard tanks, to level the boat.

When we had arrived in Honfleur, two days previously, the Fuel Polisher which had been running the whole time while underway, indicated 10” of Hg, which meant it needed to be changed.  I also noticed a little water in the bottom of the bowl.   So I wrote in my log to change the FP and the port side Racor filters.

I am still mystified why I did not do this before the Sunday departure.

We must be waiting in front of the bridge for the 8:30 opening.  I had started the engine and turned on the fuel polisher for the starboard tank at 08:00, we would use the starboard side Racor, which was new.

At 08:15, I do a last minute check in the engine room and decide that I would now change the two filters, thinking better late than never, though I hated the thought of starting my day smell of diesel.

Changing the two filters took about 5 minutes, so with 10 minutes to spare, our lines are cast off and I’m backing out of the slip, with my hands smelling of fuel, even though I had washed them three times.

I must have been distracted.

As we back out, all of a sudden, the bow starts swinging quickly to the right, towards the bowsprit of the two sailboats docked perpendicular to Dauntless.  Thinking that it’s wind driven, I quickly give a burst of left full rudder in forward to push the bow to port.  That works.  OK I try backing straight again, same thing happens at which point the sailboat folks are getting concerned.   I straighten the boat again and as I go to look, Pierre-Jean yells that there is still a line tied to the end of the finger pier to our stern.  Well, that explains that. We get the line untied and I pull out finally with no drama.

No, in reality the drama was just beginning.

To be Continued