Monday, December 7, 2009

Atlantic Crossing, Days Four through Six The fun begins!


About 0800, 24 Dec 1999, we made a course change to 270 degrees, first real time of heading directly west. The Captain and Crew of the Wildebeest III agreed that we were indeed, in the f$%#*& Tradewinds.

Our crew, Richard (Royal Yachting Ass'n Coastal Skipper instructor) and Chris (RYA Coastal Skipper, Competent Crew) felt very knowledgeable about trade winds and what they feel like. So every time I would announce that I thought we were in the Trades, they would argue with me and remind me that I didn't know what I was talking about. So on that fourth day, with increasing wind speeds and growing seas, we agreed that we were in those trades, and really had been in them for the past two days.

With the winds now at a steady 25 knots, gusting to 28-30, I guess they were "Tradewind Like".

This is not "Leading Proactively, from the front". This was an example of trying lead by consensus and letting events drive our actions. A better way to describe the situation is that I was reactive, and exposing all of us to failure.

Chris and Richard were fatigued, and so was the Spousal Unit and myself. Four on and Four off was not letting any of us get the required rest. We needed a defined course of action to remedy the situation. But I was afraid to change anything because I didn't want to argue about it. Soon, our situation began to define our course, the Bulls&*t flag would have to be raised and a new routine was to be set.

Digression switched on for a few moments;

I have described the four on four off watch system, this was a good way to ensure that two hands would be available to react to sudden changes in sail trim or unique situations requiring extraordinary effort or physical strength thus not endangering the watch resting below decks. Off course, all hands were available at any time, but we had not been in any really bad situation requiring such level of efforts.

Just the "what if" monster of doubt lurking always in the play room of my mind.

Meals: We ate three meals a day, breakfast at about 0800, lunch around 1300, dinner about 1800. All meals were hot because the lessons of military life were ever present. A Crew requires good nutritious meals, or everything will soon go to he double tooth picks. Seriously.

The cook was by default the Spousal Unit. She knew where all the food was packed, I would be driving so I couldn't really help. Our crew were lifelong Bachelors, used to having women prepare and serve them meals. That's just how they grew up, not a flaw in character.

There was a time or two, when we could smell something being prepared to eat, we would get out of our cabin to see what was smelling good, only to find out that there was only enough for those two.

Thanks, fellas. There are a thousand streets named for you in Germany... and they are all called "Einbahnstrasse"! One way...

Breakfast would be Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal. Sometimes it would be Who Hash. Along with toast and coffee. Lunch would be sandwiches or after the bread ran out it could be Spanish Tuna (Huge cans!) packed in olive oil served with cabbage slaw and olives. Dinner would be pasta, beans and franks (The Crew LOVED bush beans and canned hot dogs!) or some other wonder dug up from the pantry. Each meal had dessert; Cookies, candy or that wonderful treat: Fresh Baked Cobbler.

Recipe time!

Bisquick Fruit Cobbler Recipe - Bisquick Cobbler Recipes

This is a absolutely delicious dish made from different types of fruits.


Fresh or frozen cherries, apples, raspberries or peaches(4cups), cornstarch(2tbsp.), lemon juice(1tsp.), sugar(1cup), lemon rind(1tsp.), salt(1/8tsp.), water or liquid from fruits(2cups), milk(1/3cup), butter(3tbsp.) and bisquick(1 1/2cups).

Method of preparation:

Take a large sauce pan. Mix cornstarch and sugar in it. Add slowly 2cups of juice or water in the saucepan. For sour taste add lemon juice and lemon rind in the mixture. Then boil this mixture for 5 minutes. After boiling pour the hot mixture into a baking dish. Keep the dish aside.

Take a bowl. Mix (1 1/2cups) Bisquick, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 tablespoon of sugar and (1/3cup) of milk. Beat the mixture until it gets blended and then drop with spoon into the hot mixture in the baking dish. Bake it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees in oven.

Serve it with milk or vanilla ice-cream.

Heh. She would mix crunchy topping in bowl, take a can of Pie Filling, pour into a bread pan. Pour dough on top and bake for a half hour. Serve.

Back to the current digression:

Before the other crew would take their watch, we would have a thermos of hot water so the Crew could make tea and soup in a cup. There would also be cookies, raisin, peanut and M&M's trail mix and a gallon of Kool-Ade (Better known as "bug juice). We needed to make sure that energy levels were kept up.

Digression OFF.

Here is a photo of the main cabin of the Wildebeest on Christmas Eve.

Looks calm and peaceful, huh? It wasn't.

1226 24 Dec 1999
021*30.173N 020*47.489W Course 270M
Log: 2695 (415 NM into the trip)

Winds NE at 20-25 knots
Barometer:1035 Steady Skies clearing.

Winds seem to be settling, but the waves are still large, with gusting winds prevail. A further reef is placed in headsail to reduce size presented to wind.

2342 24 Dec 1999
021*22.539N 021*57.376N Course 270M
Log 2763

Winds ENE 25-30 Knots
Barometer 1037 slightly rising, increasing clouds

Not much change, winds seem stronger. Merry Xmas!

It was getting much more rolly, the winds would gust and it took more effort to keep the boat from broaching in the swells.

I mentioned the food situation earlier in my digression, and the attitude onboard the Wildebeest was getting as strained as the equipment due to fatigue and my lack of clarity on our mission.

Mission? Yes. Mission: Get to Barbados (or across the Atlantic) in one piece, preferably with all hands still present!

It also seemed that rest time was not as fulfilling, mainly because the boat would be thrown in various angles not conducive to sleep in a flat bunk. Particularly when I was trying to sleep. The crew was not as attentive to keeping as straight a course as when I happened to be steering.

Now, when I happened to mess up and let the boat gybe, (Suddenly lean and swing on a new course with a terrific BANG!) it was not necessarily because I was inattentive or got lazy. Oh no. Now when the other watch let that happen, I would get thrown out of bed and become angry because they were inattentive. And lazy.

I'm one way like that.

Nobody was getting sleep and it was really affecting morale. The wind increasing it's speed and volume was forcing a decision I did not want to make...

Here is a photo from about 0630 on Christmas day:

I was trying to catch a few minutes break from steering and it was pitch dark. The Spousal Unit is in a lot of pain in her ankles, and there are tears she was trying to hide from that pain. I flashed the picture and stood up to take the rest of the watch.

Something was going to happen today; I knew it. The wind and seas were wearing us down and something was going to give, that day.

But first, I went to bed hoping that patience would prevail and the weather would sweeten up.

Why the he** are these winds so strong??? The barometer is steady, there is no reason for such heavy winds. Frustration. I laid in bed for a couple of sleepless hours, praying that we would catch a break.

0800 25 Dec 1999
021*18.688N 022*52.308W Course 270M
Log 2816
Winds NE gusts to 38 knots!
Barometer 1037

Last four hours the winds have been from 15 to 38 knots! @ 0530 we had a large wave break over starboard quarter. Will make a decision this afternoon about putting out sea anchor for tonight.

The Bravo Sierra flag was about to fly, but I was still trying to make excuses and use positive attitude to will the weather to be more calm.

View From the Catamaran sighting in a larger map

1200 25 Dec 1999
021*10.319N 023*17.954W Course 270M
Log 2843
Winds 25Knots barometer 1038 Ptly Cloudy

Wind still howling, no indication when it will let up.At 1600 winds seem to let up but came back with vengeance

Went to bed after eating, hoping and hoping that winds would settle down.

I got up for my watch at 1600 and really began to wrestle with the helm and my decision that I knew would be made. Finally, just before sunset, we really started to be thrown about and our crew was unable to handle the boat. The Spousal Unit called me up on deck to make the decision; She raised the Bravo Sierra flag and said that we could not go on...

25 Dec 1999
021*07.534N 023*56.269W
Log 2880
Winds 30-35 gusting higher, Barometer 1036 Ptly cldy

Decision made to let out sea anchor as winds are still increasing as sun is setting. Sea anchor deployed and boat lying 50 degrees to wind. Anti chafing put on line at anchor mount.

Watches are now changed to three on, six off for anchor watch.

The winds were now gusting to 43 knots, and there was no effing way I would be able to do four hours fighting that, especially since I was two hours into my rest time and was not sleeping.

We looked at the seas, the winds and the weather. I started the moter to stabilize the boat and gave the preparatory order to deploy the sea anchor.

This is what a sea anchor looks like on a nice day:

Photo from Paratech. I really like their products!


I studied Lin and Larry Pardey's book on Storm Tactics, they recommended that a vessel heave to or use a sea anchor in case of tough weather. I purchased a Paratech 18 foot sea anchor for about $700.00 through West Marine. I also purchased fifty feet of anchor chain and four hundred feet of three quarter inch anchor line to go with the Sea Anchor. It was all packed in a large sail bag along with a twenty four inch float ball. The assembly was tied to the bow cleats, and all we would have to do is kick the sailbag over the side and the sea anchor would unravel and deploy itself. I set it all up to be usable at 0300 in a blinding rain.

This was my big storm tactic. The nuclear option.

Again, Figure from Paratech. Don't sail without their products on board!

I presumed that once deployed, the Sea Anchor would probably cause damage or be destroyed (About $1200 bucks of gear!) and if we were going to use it, there had better be a darn good reason because I really did feel it was a "Go or Blow" option.

The crew was staged and I started to roll up the headsail using the furler line.

Mind you, we still had steady 36 knots gusting to forty and the boat was still sailing, but the engine was engaged forward.

I gave a mighty pull on the furling line and the sail wrapped super tightly on the foil and we got the sail 80% in when the furler line popped out of the Profurl barrel. I fell on my butt with a great harrumph.







The 130 Genoa had been half rolled up for minimal sail exposure to the heavy winds. If that sail came all the way out and caught the wind, well it would be catastrophic! At minimum, I would be fighting to lower the sail in heavy weather, just like the first day off of Cherbourg.

Worst case is we could lose the mast. A hundred fifty miles off of Mauretania, with no possibility of rescue.

I let out a howl of frustration and ran up to the bow of the boat and grabbed the furler barrel with my hands, I had to stop the sail from opening. The boat was sea sawing up and down in the waves as I yelled for someone to please, please bring a line to secure this thing before we are wrecked!

Chris was out of the cockpit in a second with a spare bit of line. But he was taking time to clip his lifeline as he moved.

I calmly yelled my favorite word (That one that starts with "F") and told him to hurry, it's slipping...

We got the sail hand turned back to the secured position. After a three minute breather, we crawled back to the cockpit where I was rebuked for not having my harness clipped in. I still could not believe the the piece of crap furler line failed at that moment!

We tossed the bag containing the Sea Anchor over the side, I took the boat out of gear and waited. A few moments later, our bow was facing the swells and we were pointed East, and our movement came to a halt. We were anchored.

We pulled in about 100 feet of line and tied another line to the anchor line with a preussig knot to the line and let it go again. This would hopefully keep us pointed at 45 degrees off of the swells and the boat would form a "slick" and any seas would break on the slick and not on us. Partial success.

We set three on six off watches and had christmas dinner (spaghetti) and passed out small goodies (whiskey chocolates, candy bars) to the crew. Set the watch, I took the first and sent everyone to bed.

Hopefully, Boxing Day will have better weather.


Buck said...

Whooo-eee. Throughout my life people have had a tendency to tell me I'm nuts for riding mo'sickles to get my jollies. In future I shall direct them this way... (insert big-ass grin here)

Again: good stuff, Darryl.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Thanks, Buck.
All of this is written with a view from the moment. But with hindsight, I can see what better pathways we could have taken. The shrill tone sharess a feeling of the daily panic we felt at the time, but really, this was all much safer than I make it sound.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Typed too fast; Shares.

virgil xenophon said...

Great read as always! Forgot to mention about your previous post: You used a phrase I've NEVER heard anyone else use before; "Slay a fish" LOL Too much!