The Last 7 Days

A video of the morning after.

If I’ve learned nothing in the last 60 years, it’s that I need 6 to 7 hours sleep on a routine basis to not get into a sleep deficit.  The watches on this passage were set up to facilitate that.

In spite of the drama I like instilling in my life, for every one day of “crisis” we spend about 5 to 6 days of peaceful boredom. It’s even possible that the weekly crisis is not totally random.

Why, you wonder?

Not so much on this trip, but in the past, most of my problems were caused my me. Complacency, boredom, who knows, I decide everything is going so well, so I may aa well see what happens if I do this. This last crisis was a case in point. I was “experimenting”.

My only point here is that in spite of the appearance of the narrative, very little time is spent dealing with anything. The hardest part of a long passage is not getting bored, even more so in these conditions that virtually never changed.

So, December 23rd dawned to bright skies and easterly winds; we were feeling good.

The one lingering issue was the amount of air still in the Hydraulic steering system (which is controlled by the helm wheel or the ComNav autopilot), which caused a hellacious banging every few seconds as the auto-pilot moved fluid thru the lines.  This was exacerbated by the location of my cabin directly under the pilot house.

Normally our brains filter out routine noises. I once lived next to a church steeple in a small town in Germany. Every 15 min, some combination of bells would ring: 15’ after the hour 1 gong, 30’ after 2 gongs, 45’ after 3 gongs, then 4 gongs on the hour, followed by the number of gongs based on the hour, 1 = 1, until 12.

Within a few days, I didn’t even hear it any more. But I did find it nice to be able to know the time in the middle of the night, without turning on a light.  I do love Germany.

Even years later, when I would visit and sleep in the same house, after the first gong, I’d “hear” no more.

This wasn’t like that.  Since the noises had no pattern, with a variable duration and frequency, my brain did not do what to make of it, so it made sure I heard everything. As the days wore on, while the noises were decreasing, they were still significant and I found myself getting less and less sleep. Three hours overnight, then an hour here, maybe a couple there.

Did that contribute to our travails on the last night?  Probably a bit, maybe more, but Micah and I had the worst night of the entire trip on our last night before pulling into Martinique.

The days since our big repair had been good.  In fact, Christmas, December 25th, was one of our best weather days, with winds not going over 25 knots, thus our ride was great with light rolling to 10°, worst 15°.  I made our last big steak and candied sweet potatoes.  We even opened a bottle of Bordeaux that my French friend PJ had given me.

Micah meticulously pours our wine

That was also our second whale sighting.  There were two whales, about 30’ long cruised with us for about 15 minutes.  Very nice.

The Whale Video

Dauntless rolling along, watching this makes me miss the ocean

I do love our Weber Q-280 grill

Our ETA to Martinique was noon on the 28th. Therefore, the night of the 27th, was our 20th night at sea since leaving the Canaries.

I started the last 24 hours by putting the last of our oil, 1.1L into the engine. I estimated that at worst, we would arrive about 1 liter low, which is normal. (and we did). But there was no point in shutting down the engine to check at this point, as I had no more oil anyway.

Just as I go to bed at 22:00, ETA in 14 hours, the starboard paravane pole bounces vertical. This necessitates stopping the boat and letting the pole fall back into position, once the rearward pressure is taken off the line to the bir

The starboard pole has never done this before in the previous 15K+ miles!

25 minutes later, it does it again. Something is not right, but I am tired and even in hindsight, it’s not totally clear to me under the circumstances what I should have done.

All evening the winds had been increasing.  They were now easterly at 25 steady gusting to 40. Clearly the seas had grown, again with the annoying swells from both NE and SE and the wind driven waves from the east.  Our rolls were getting substantially more, routinely to 20° and the worst, a few times an hour to 30°.

Even on a rally boat like Dauntless, a 30° roll is significant. Or I should say, it feels significant in the pilot house.  If I am in the engine room, I hardly notice, even the salon is much better, but I digress.

I attributed the increased rolling to the winds and seas.  It was dark out, so it’s hard to estimate seas.  Also, since we were approaching the island of Martinique, the waves would start to change.

But at 02:40, all of a sudden, the boat rolled over at 15° (normal) to port, but was really slow in rolling back.  This meant the opposite stabilizing bird was not working for some reason.

Sure enough, I had gotten up to see why the boat motion was different and saw right away the starboard bird being pulling along the surface.

We stopped to retrieve it.  It was broken and later that morning as I looked at it, I realized the bolts that held the vane in place had come loose.  That was probably the reason the pole went vertical earlier in the evening, as the bird was no longer running straight. That added a tension that eventually broke the plywood wing of the bird in half.

Now, in a strange occurrence, maybe due to lack of sleep, after we pulled the bird, we continued on with just the one port side bird deployed.  I’ve run many times with only one bird.  It is quite effective on a beam sea with winds that are not too strong.

But with a following sea, only one bird, is only half effective, so we rolled our way into Martinique that way.

I say strange because all that morning, I had been tripping over the extra bird that was no longer in the lazerrett.  We had gotten the bird that was jammed in the lazerrett out and even cleaned up the lazerrett.  So, it was sitting, inconveniently, on the port side deck.  It would have taken all of 30 seconds to attach it to the starboard pole and throw it in the water.

Oh well, All’s Well that End’s Well.

And of course, as we approach the harbor of Le Marin, the only sailboat we’ve seen in 19 days decided to tack right in front of us.  Much like the last idiot on our first night out of the Canaries.

Warning. Harsh language is involved and I don’t hate all sailboats.  But for the life of my with an entire ocean in front of him, why he cut across our bow is beyond me.  I had been watching him for quite a while, had he delayed his tack 10 seconds or changed his course by a few degrees he would not have ended up directly in front of our bow. I had to virtually stop as to not hit him… umm, maybe that is the answer, could he have needed a new paint job?

And my feeling were certainly exacerbated by the fact that this was only the second SV we had seen and the previous encounter, our first night out, was eerily similar.

 

 

 

 

 

Ground(ing)hog Day II

Sans Bill Murray.

Another Beautiful Sunset Over Finland and Dauntless
Another Beautiful Sunset Over Finland and Dauntless

The evening of the [first] grounding, Julie and I, along with our NYC friends, Karen and Jason, were joined by our English sailing buddies, John and Jenny on S/V Shaka.

We celebrated our second successful tie to shore with a stern anchor with a bottle of Prosecco followed by a tasty dinner of roast pork shoulder, onions and red peppers all grilled on the Weber Q280, washed down by at more Prosecco and some Cotes du Rhone.

Good food, good company, good wine; no one can ask for more of life.

What the Chart Looks like
What the Chart Looks like

So I felt far better about the day’s fiasco and remembering my new life’s motto, All’s Well that Ends Well.

That’s what crossing the Atlantic has done for me; my sense of perspective was totally recalibrated, e.g. crossing the street, get run over by a bus, first thought, well, at least it didn’t happen while crossing the Atlantic!

Next day, we awoke to another beautiful day.  Blue skies, westerly winds, which were calm in our protected cove.  I had never slept so well on “anchor”.

Tied to an Island
Tied to an Island

The day’s plan was to move about 10 to 15 miles further east towards Helsinki, as we needed to return to Helsinki the next evening as Jason and Karen had a plane to catch to attend a wedding in NY in two days.

The challenge in Finland is finding a sheltered (from the wind) spot that is not in front of someone’s house, or even visible from said house.  In fact, they are a bit particular about that and in just a few days’ time, we would learn just how particular. But that drama is for a different day.

The challenge is to motor relatively slowly around islands that are everywhere, to find a sheltered cove, that we can safely motor up to, get someone on land to put a line around a tree and then deploy the stern anchor.  All the while also watching for houses, flag poles, stern buoys, docks and other signs of human habitation that must be avoided.

Not an easy task.

Our Stern Anchor
Our Stern Anchor

So as we enter a wide channel between a few islands, maybe a third of a mile apart, we spot some locals sunning themselves on the rocks.  What better way to find a place than to ask them for suggestions!

Another stupid idea that will cost me $$$, but how much is still to be determined.

So, once again, I am driving the boat, as we yell over to these Finns, hoping someone can not only speak English, but can give us a suggestion as to where we can go and not intrude on anyone’s space.

It didn’t seem we ever got an answer that we could understand, though I do remember they pointed out a rock to be avoided, about 200 feet off the end of their island and 200 feet in front and to the left of our heading.

No problem I say, I see it clearly marked on our charts.  I’m certainly not going to run over the little “+” that denotes a rock this time.

And I don’t!  But alas, it turns out I didn’t have to actually hit the “+”, but like tossing horseshoes, close also counts.

I’m turning the boat in a lazy 180° aiming along the route we had just come in on, I aim right of the rock going again about 3 knots. But not far enough to the right.

The wind is strong, 25 knots on our starboard quarter, about 120° relative to the boat, and when I look at the chart seconds later, I see that we are getting close to that rock and shallow area just off our port side.

I steer the boat more to the right, but not in that imminent danger mode, in which I push whoever is at the helm out of the way, and spin the wheel faster than the wheel of fortune; no this was more like, umm, that rock is getting close Jeeves, maybe we should wander a bit more the other way.

So in no haste apparent haste, just as the boat turns, we feel the now too familiar thumps announcing we have struck land once again.  Dauntless rises out of the water, but not like Moby Dick this time, more like a humpback whale, as we rise, but then slide off to the right.

Again stopping within 20 feet, tilted to the right, but still on the rock enough that I cannot extradite ourselves with a little reverse engine.

It’s a large rock.

Very large, maybe two to four feet below the surface, but at least a hundred feet long in the shape of a banana.  The “+” on the chart denoted, the highest point!, but not the full extent.

All my fault in any case.  I still got too close for no real reason and was again too sloppy in my helmsmenship.

Another lesson learned the only way one does seem to learn; the hard way.  But then as a teacher, having firmly believed that no learning is done unless work, sometimes hard work, is involved, I take my medicine that I so liberally dished out to others.

And I can only smile at that irony, but it’s really not ironic, it’s simply a fact of learning.

So again, we got about half way along the keel before stopping, tilted at an angle to the right, bow up.

Within seconds, literally seconds, a Finn and his son appeared in a little skiff, asking if we needed help to get off.  I had already put Dauntless in reverse, but just for a moment, and seeing no real movement, I did not try very hard, and stopped.

Since s/v Shaka was right behind me,  I figured why run the motor and prop hard so close to rocks, when they can pull me off.

But the Finn really wanted to help, he volunteered to go get his big skiff, with 150 horsepower engine, but I told him Shaka was right there and we would try with that at first.

He helped my talking the line from our boat to Shaka.  While that was taking place, I looked around and it was clear that the deep water was off our starboard stern quarter.

I asked Shaka to pull us in that direction and within seconds of him pulling, we were off.

I know there are now more scrapes and gouges, that will have to be attended to sooner, October, rather than later, the spring, but no visible damage and no holes or issues with the prop or shaft.  If I get the opportunity to pull the boat sooner, I will probably do that, just to make sure and develop a plan for the winter.

But let me tell you, while I felt lucky, as I had the day before, I hated the idea that I had used all of my lucky charms in two days, with another 50 days to go in waters just as treacherous.

Like the guy who speeds through the red light, once, twice, three times, sooner or later, he’ll get creamed; and on this trip I had already sped through too many red lights.

Well the friendly Finn suggested a place for us and I asked him to guide us.

He brought us a cove about ½ mile away (maybe the same place the sunning Finns had been pointing to?), but we decided it was too windy and I was frankly afraid to approach the shore (rocks) within 100 feet to see if the wind would die down as we got closer to shore.

So, he brought us to another cove, on the SE side of a rather large island.  There was an old stern buoy there, but he told us, while the island was privately owned, (as most of them are in Finland), he had not seen anyone use this mooring for years.  But no house was visible, so he was sure it would be OK.

It was a very nice spot:  no house in sight, the winds were calm in this sheltered location and we could motor slowly to the rocks on shore.  We decided to stay.

The procedure at this point, what with my extensive stern anchoring experience (at one and counting), consisted of checking out the spot by motoring, drifting really, to nose up to shore and if the nose of the boat can get to shore with enough depth under the rest of the boat, all is good.

Next step is to back up. Make a “U” turn to return to a spot about  150 feet from shore.  With the boat facing shore again and along the exact track we had just taken in to shore, we drop the stern anchor and slowly motor up the shore/rock again, letting out the rode as we go.

Then some intrepid soul, jumps onto shore or if too high, we use the kayak to get to shore to bring a line around a tree and return it to the boat so we may leave in haste if need be, without having to go ashore again.

Our ground tackle consists of a 100 foot ¼” line, a strap to protect the tree, my 40 pound Bruce with 10 feet of chain and 250 of nylon rode.

So far in the half dozen times we have done this, being so close to land, there is almost no force on the boat to push it away from land. So the bow line’s main purpose is just to hold the bow at a particular position.

Now, having the bow secure, the rode on the stern anchor is taken in just a bit.  Enough to hold the bow literally inches away from the rock in front of it.  This will preclude knocking, albeit quietly and slowly, against the rock all night keeping yours truly awake.  (Or until I get up, and pull in the stern anchor rode to put tension in it, dressed only in my birthday suit).  But that’s only happened once so far.

Our stern anchor is my old 40 lb. Bruce with the bent neck with 10 ft. of chain and 250’ of nylon rode that is really stretchy.  This was my third anchor rode set that had been stored in the lazerette.

Looking at all the fancy stern rigs boats in Europe have, I decided to actually use what I had for a season before spending (wasting) any more money.

I just unhooked the Bruce from the bow rode (50 ft. chain and 250’ line, got the old rode out of the lazerette and bough a plastic hose reel in Ireland.

Voila, done.

The anchor sits on the swim platform, its neck between the slats of the platform, the ten feet of chain in a plastic box also on the swim platform, with the rode running thru the stern hawse pipe to the line on the hose real.

Again, we had a great dinner.  Salmon I think.  I do love our Weber. Washed down by plenty of wine.  And then our German sailing buddies, Andres and Annette, found us. The evening ended with more empty bottles than I thought existed on the boat.

After recounting my tale of woe, we followed him out the following morning, late morning, as the evening before the four men, two Americans, one German, one English, partied like is was 1999.

This was such a nice spot, we returned to it a few days later after having been to Helsinki again to change out crew. Dana and Peter, also from NY now joined us for Julie’s last few days in Finland.

But this time, within a few hours of arriving, two women in a little skiff came by and asked us to leave since their brother was coming with his boat sometime that afternoon and evening.

So we pulled lines and anchors and decided to try to spot the helpful Finn had suggested a few days earlier.

Since we were now a single boat, both our sailing buddies had to press on west towards home, the spot was good for just one boat.

It turned out to be a wonderful spot.  Quiet, with a larger view to the north.  In fact, the spot we had moved from to make room for the brother was only a half mile away and clearly visible.

So another great day that ended well, well, almost well. The brother never showed up.

We were worried that something may have happened to him!