Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Underway, South of Isle of Wight

As the sun was slipping under the waves, I happily headed the Wildebeest III on a course of about 180 degrees, magnetic. Our goal was to make the Alderney Race with slack tide which would enable us to safely traverse that exciting bit of water. Alderney Race is the water that flows between the Channel Island, Alderney and the North French Coast. There are no beaches, it is rocky cliff and deep, fast and treacherous waters. This was a trip of about sixty miles, we should be able to maintain about five knots, so it should be about eleven hours and we will be there. We gave a cushion of about two extra hours, to be sure of making it for the tidal gate.

The tidal flow is probably about three knots and if you get a situation of water flowing on an Easterly course with winds from the East, well, you will get towering waves and all the adventure you can ever dream of.

About 0200, as we were trying to keep awake while avoiding the criss-crosing commercial traffic, I noticed us getting a little close an avoidance area. All this while keeping the dinner down, since we were both feeling seasick from Westerly winds and accompanying chop. No problem, Mon!

The Wildebeest III was keeping up gamely as we motored south. We hadn't had a chance to do a shakedown sail, so we were motoring and trying to make miles. The watch was about an hour on and off for the both of us, depending on level of fatigue. Sleep was in fits and starts, while trying to hang on to the cockpit settee and not fall onto the deck..

About 0600, the sun began its rise and we began to feel the rejuvenation of the new day. The Perkins 4/108 continued the 2000 RPM drone with nary a murmer or complaint. We tried to make a snack and some coffee, but She Who Will be Obeyed was having a tough time. I asked her to take another Stugeron pill and that tiny pill did get stuck in her throat which inspired her to to do a technicolored yawn into the bucket.

You could see the little pill sitting triumphantly in the mess, have done the opposite of its intended use.

She was never sick again, for the next year or so. Darn her!

Every hour we marked our position on the paper chart and we noticed by 0800 that we were not going to make our intended goal. So I raised the Genoa sail and we turned on a course that would take us to Cherbourg, a major port city in Normandy.

That was when the motor decided to burp and die. My fatigued mind foolishly decided that we were in the midst of a catastrophe. Oh, if only I knew what was really in store for us...!

It could be that fatigue was talking crap again, but what did I care? Something I knew was gonna happen, happened!

So like the proverbial chicken with the missing head, I started running about, with my appearance being like I was accomplishing something, but in reality was doing nothing. The classic "Chinese Firedrill", with much yelling and screaming. I had not quite reached the "Clusterpluck", but trust me, it was coming.

I looked at the engine, yes. It is indeed an engine, hot, with no apparent leaks or obvious damage. In fact, the engine looked good as new, so why won't it start?

Outside, the wind was picking up, and the swells were obligingly increasing in size. The lovely Bride was finding it difficult to keep a course, and was telling me that her ankle was hurting and she needed a break.

I am a wannabee sheep dog in life, having served our Country for years and in this situation, serving "She Who Will Be Obeyed". I went completely out of my mind with growing anger with the boat and especially my unhappiness with Her feeling any kind of discomfort. I went straight to Clusterpluck.

There was a bleeding of the fuel system, and a changing of the fuel filter. I did this in record time and pumped the fuel lift lever to repressurize the system. I ran back up to the cockpit and tried to turn the motor over.

Back to the moter to bleed. Pump the lever about 35 times, repressurize.

Rinse, repeat, Rinse.

By now, the wind had picked up to about 20 knots, and we had too much sail out, which made the heavy Wildebeest difficult to handle.. Being the one legged man in the ass kicking contest, I allowed myself to make some more poor decisons.

You probably noticed a bad trend, right? It was getting worse, and alcohol was not a contributing factor. Just more bad headwork stacked on top of ungood breaks. Usually, we had the benefit of extra hands, or crew, which meant that they would have differing viewpoints and we could come up with sensible solutions to emergent situations.

Not this time.

The engine finally fired up, and for a brief moment I began to relax. Now, time to roll up the sail and continue to head into Cherbourg.

The weather was blustery and there was a bit of fog and cloudiness. You could see the shore of Normandy on our right, about three miles away. I turned the boat to the North to roll in the 130 Genoa sail.

Rolling! The boat reacted to seas and wind by rolling strongly from left to right.

The sail complained, as it was still holding tight to the wind, and the port sheet (Which was about 5/8 inch thick) began to snap and whip in the wind. The starboard sheet was doing the job and stayed taught, but the excess line from the port side began to snap dangerously near our heads. I began trying to roll up the jib with the roller furler.

This is an illustration of the roller furler concept. Not to be confused with my actual experiences; this one works.

Back to the Wildebeest in '99;

What I should have done was ask for someone to tighten the loose line. But noooo, I was quite busy trying to pull in the sail that I assumed that SWWBO would read my mind...

This is when the roller furling line departed the hub of the roller furler. Our brand new sail had stretched, and there was not enough furling reel line to continue rolling sail, so the furling line disconnected from the freakin' hub, and the Genoa started unrolling out in the wind at lightning speed.

Now, the port sheet had tied into a huge knot and started flogging the boat and equipment! A sine wave formed on the forty foot line, and the one pound knot would would head away then build speed and with a snap! it would strike the boat!!

First victim was the bimini frame, which is about head high. The knot struck a blow which caused the metal to buckle and snap apart. We had to pull back to keep from being struck.

The seas were too rough to turn into the wind, so all we could do was run before the wind and waves, all the while the lines were flogging the boat. I ran forward to drop the sail, ducking and dodging the flailing lines. This was the first real emergency we had ever faced while sailing, and it was not fun.

First thing was to identify the halyard that holds the jib/genoa up. I grabbed the blue line and untied it. The wind pressure was holding the sail up and I had to pull on the sail to ease it down. The Spousal Unit was doing a bang up job balancing the boat in the wind and waves.

The sail got about half way down when those damned lines began whipping about me. A mighty tug and the sail completely fell down!

Into the water.

While moving at five knots.

Lines were now in the water, threatening to get tangled in the prop. The Sail was partially stuck on the mast and in the water, filling with water. This condition is know as "shrimping", watch this video and at 1:27 you will see some shrimping. We were having the same sort of malfunction, but only one person to pull the monster in.

This video will show "Shrimping" and how a crew brings the sail in. Disregard the moronic commentary. "Oh my Gawd", and all that. These guys do a pretty good job of keeping it together.

Switch back to the Wildebeest III in French waters, enjoying her own shrimping experience:

...Now was full panic time. I yelled for the motor to be pulled out of gear, we drifted with the wind and waves while I was pulling with everything I had to get the sail back onboard. Or be ready to cutaway $4500 bucks of new genoa. We had been underway for about nineteen hours and already this.

I pulled, dragged and quietly went about making this happen. No, I was wailing and gnashing teeth. All my wife could see was sail somehow piling up slowly, and could hear the occasional curse and squawk of my favorite word, which just happens to start with an "F". Finally, I got the entire sail out and tied it down to the deck, there was no more energy. I crumpled on top of the sail and had a breather.

"Darryl,..... Are you ok?" "Are you having a heart attack?"

"No... I'm ok, just trying to get my breath!" I yelled back.

"Oh. Ok, I couldn't see you. That was an amazing effort you put in!"

Just like her. Has to say something nice and loving. While I huff and puff like a scared little girl.

Time to Man Up! I crawled my way back to the cockpit, we put the motor in gear and resumed heading to Cherbourg. This was when we opened up our Cruising Guide book to see what the harbor actually looked like;

View Larger Map

If I had known that the entrance to the harbor had a West facing break water, I could have just sailed in with the entire sail up, got into the calm harbor and taken down the sail without any drama, and we would have looked like heroes. Nope, we had to learn that complacency and jumping to false conclusions will cause us to make decisions which will not have good results. Piss poor planning does indeed cause poor performance, I should have planned on secondary ports and had charts and guide books ready. We could have avoided all that silliness by just planning to take a little bite at a time, have gone straight to Cherbourg and waited for a good weather window of opportunity that would be two hours away vice fifteen hours away. Plus, Cherbourg is a wonderful nautical city.

Oh yes!

We got off lucky that day and were able to motor up to the Port de Pleasance. We spent the next couple days thinking about causes and effects, fixing our roller furling and planning better. Our learning curve would have to be steep, but we had just gotten a great lesson about the sea and we had a much better times after this harrowing day. I make it sound more scary than what it was, like a drama queen would do. But I am trying to illustrate what was running through my head at the moment.

As for our team work and mutual support? Never stronger. We worked off of each other's weaknesses and strengths, and the bonds of great marriage were becoming bonded with the concrete of shared adventure. I wouldn't think of sailing with anyone else.

The next post will have pictures of Cherbourg and the local sailors. This trip was not only exciting, but it was getting better by the minute!


JihadGene said...

Local sailors, exciting? This I gotta see.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Ewe cracka me up, numbah wun! You will be surprised at the local sailors, oh yes!

Buck said...

Yet again: WOW! Brilliantly done, Darryl.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Thanks, Buck.

We finally have interesting subjects to post. I wish I was back on the water.