After days with my head in Mo’s bilge or the now typical 3 a.m. wake-and-worry, I sometimes need a pick-me-up, a reminder that this part of the process does, in fact, lead to the launching of a ship into that wild blue yonder, a thing for which both ship and sailor yern.
In years past, I would have reached for a much-thumbed copy of The Long Way or Ice with Everything or any of a number of friendly volumes just to the right of the chair. Recently, however, I’ve been rereading my logs from previous voyages.
While this seems oddly self-referential, it also serves to refresh distant memories, personal proofs that passage-making and the world one encounters “out there” is a reward worth pursuing, is the reward, and not because one is driven to encounter his own heroism but because it allows one such easy access to wonder.
The below excerpt is from Murre and the Pacific, my first set of solo passages in a 30-foot ketch. No storms, no mast down or half sunk ship, no fighting a huge fish over the rail or suffering from days of thirst. Rather, it’s just a normal day, in this case, day 20 of a passage from Tahiti to Hawaii, in which I’m trying to work around a bit of what meteorologists would call “unsettled” weather.
October 18, 2011
Noon Position: 17.15.21N by 150.47.90W
Since last noon: 129
Total for passage: 2283
Miles to Hilo: 279
That great wall of cloud we had been tracking for two days dissipated in the night, I thought. The sky was dark and full of stars. I shot Vega, Deneb, and Fomalhaut and got, after considerable head scratching, reasonable results. I found Cassiopeia, that inverted, laddered triangle, the simple hook that is Ares, the cup of Perseus with Mirfak brightly in the middle. Deneb led to Cygnus and Kochab to a confirmation of the North Star (Ursa Major being well below the horizon). It was a productive evening and I went to my bunk feeling satisfied. Each time I rose, new arrivals presented themselves, but I was too sleepy to greet any but Orion with confidence. And I smiled, looking forward, for the way was clear.
I rose with first light and the great wall of cloud had not dissipated, it had grown leviathan and we had approached. Somehow we had snuck up. Now it had the definition of a mountain, high, white elevation–I had to crane my neck to see the summit–and low curtains of lead pouring rain covered our way from horizon to horizon. I listened for thunder but heard none. Against this grayness, the black silhouette of a frigate bird flapped its paper wings to make distance between it and the great wall. Flap flap flap–awkward in a bird built for soaring–but it was desperate to flee. It was the only other creature. This did not fill me with confidence.
But our choices were to stop and wait or go, and one does not stop and wait for mountains that fill the horizon. So I made another cup of coffee, donned oilies, dropped the mizzen, and at 0800 we went. Inside was all rain. Winds jumped to 15 knots immediately, but not much more, and we frothed along for a time. Then they eased to almost nothing. Then rose again and then eased again so that I had to take the wheel from Molly before she ran us the other way. Rain gushed off the main boom but mostly missed the bucket I’d placed at the gooseneck for catchment. Fresh water poured off the edges of the upturned dinghy. It poured out of the scuppers. Then all the pouring stopped and there was silence. Between squalls, the cloud ceiling vaulted like that of a cathedral. Then all closed in and another squall released. This was the pattern inside.
At noon we exited almost as abruptly as we had entered. The way ahead was not clear, but it was blue and white and there was no gray. And then I thought of the mountain more as a river of cloud and rain flowing west, and we had forded it, swimming.
Earlier in the same passage, I’d encountered a ship. This turned out to be the only human thing I saw on that whole run.
October 4, 2011
Noon Position: 06.52.55.S by 148.38.15W
Since last noon: 117
Total for passage: 604
One gets used to being alone on the ocean, except for the company of birds. It’s a big place. Water goes by and by; the sky is blue and the sea bluer and a sense of ownership develops over one’s temporary province, such that sighting another craft is a thing to notice with alarm.
I rose at midnight after my hour interval of sleep to check the horizon expecting to see, as usual, nothing. But two points to starboard was a glow brighter than a rising planet. I watched it for a time, and as it did not change, I reset the alarm for fifteen minutes, and went back to my bunk, hoping the glow would drop back into darkness. Two intervals of short sleep later, bright white deck lights began to pop above the waves, but I could not discern navigation lights, so the vessel’s direction was not clear. My ship warning device (AIS) shrugged but said not a word.
I put on my jacket (Murre is still throwing water at me) and propped myself in the companionway hatch for a good long watch. Stars upon stars crowded the moonless sky, taking the stage from usually bold Orion and the glittering Scorpio, and I gazed upward, wandering aimlessly until my neck hurt. It wasn’t until half past one that a red light began to show on the ship, and its full length visible in lights. For a while, I thought it stationary. But ever so slowly our courses converged, it became brighter and more distinct, and everything suggested that Murre was passing it–a truth difficult to believe.
My first thought upon sighting a ship is to take evasive action. Even if it is miles away, I want to heave to or change course or do something that immediately resolves the question of collision in our favor. But this tactic, I have found, can prove troublesome if the actual course of the other vessel is unknown–an evasion can go bad if one runs the wrong way. So on this night, I decided to wait. I like to say that the odds of hitting anything out here are nearly nil. So prove it, wise guy!
After a time white bow and mast lights became distinct, the red running light, very clear, and white deck lights blazed almost like fire, even though the ship was several miles to windward. And ever so painfully slowly Murre did indeed pass it. By three in the morning, the ship was mostly astern, and suddenly, and as if she’d just spied us, she made a hard turn to port and was below the horizon by four.
The phrase “two ships passing in the night” conjures an image of purposeful, almost mythic, obliviousness, but fails to capture the fearful maneuvers in the mind of the captain on the **smaller** ship.
It’s these so usual unusualnessess that I look back on when I need inspiration to move forward.
“Great literature is nothing more than an extended complaint,” said my good friend Dr. David R. Kelton. “Dante’s Inferno, Hamlet, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and all of quality in between, can be seen as but artfully woven epics upon the theme of ‘Oh, woe is me.'”
This lesson came in response to my missive titled, “Dammit, I am so tired of boat work!” in which I made the case that moral and physical ruin would soon issue from Moli’s seven-day-a-week refit schedule.
To me, writing up the adventure is half the fun of having it. Sinking the land, being entirely, irretrievably at sea, is like breaking earth’s orbit and entering beautiful, untresspassed, limitless space. It’s not just freeing, it’s exhilarating, and those who have followed my previous passages know this transition tends to light the afterburner on my keyboard.
But for the Figure 8, I’d like to take adventure communications to the next level. I’d like to (please forgive the mixed metaphor) stream from sea.
During this expedition, I’ll be visiting some of the remotest places on the planet, the wild Southern Ocean, the Arctic’s Northwest Passage, places less frequented than the summit of Mount Everest.
And for this attempt, I’m shooting to send back video reports of the voyage as it happens.
Amazingly, this is possible.
Yes, satellite solutions exist that allow small yachts like mine to transmit and even stream video from these remote places. But the technology is expensive, is well beyond my means.
So, I’m excited to announce the launch of a Go Fund Me campaign targeted at allowing you to join me as a “virtual stowaway” on the Figure 8 Voyage.
Want to stay connected to the journey as it unfolds? Please visit my Go Fund Me page below.
Many thanks to the folks at Latitude 38 for their May 2017 feature of the Figure 8 Voyage.
Moli is back at KKMI and is again in pieces. The life raft, the dinghy motor, and the autopilots have all been sent out for overhaul or repair; the fuel tank lids are off in preparation for a good scrub, and the headsails are down, their furling drums disassembled on a bench in the pilot house. Tools and boat parts are scattered everywhere, creating a sense of chaos that could hardly be improved upon by a hand-grenade.
So, when Latitude’s reporter, Tim Henry, came by for a gam, I was sure it would take all the guile I could muster to convince him Mo would ever sail again!
You can judge my success by jumping to page 60 and 61 in the magazine’s electronic version, below, or simply keep scrolling…
Friday, March 31
The show manager, Jorgen, had been quite clear. “Your vessel will be accepted into the Pacific Boat Show marina before noon on Tuesday, but after that the basin will be closed.” A reasonable enough requirement as I had known about it since the previous January.
But it was now the Friday before that Tuesday, and I had a peculiarly boat-refit kind of problem. After three months of seven-day work weeks, Mo was still in pieces. Read More
This isn’t my first rodeo. It’s my second. I should know better.
The first rodeo was a 31-foot Far East Mariner built in 1972 that my wife and I purchased in the summer of 2001. I liked the boat because she liked the boat, whose interior spaces felt vast next to the 24-footer we’d been using for weekends on San Francisco Bay, and because the ketch rig and full keel reminded me of Moitessier’s Joshua and because it was what we could afford. Read More
Nothing is quite so sobering as the realization that the Figure 8, this seemingly massive undertaking, this voyage that is a test of imagination (not to mention intellect, physical stamina, and funds), has already been done … and by one’s own boat!
Moli is a rare bird. Her purposeful, stout beauty would be obvious to a baby. But I never would have guessed that first time I Read More
“Faye. Faye! Psst. Wrong envelope.”
When not cleaning coffee grounds from the floorboards during last summer’s 7,000-mile shakedown cruise in Moli, I kept myself occupied by shooting passage video.
The exercise was an experiment intended to answer three questions:
- What is the minimum technology required for video capture at sea? Read More
“I’m looking for a boat named Moli,” said a friend, Burt Richardson, as he stepped up to the KKMI front desk.
“You bet,” said Emmy, “just head to the back of the yard, make a left at the water, and keep an eye out for the covered wagon.”
The first order of business on Mo has been largely cosmetic, to refasten the non-skid tread and lay down new deck paint, jobs any novice knows would be better timed for Read More
A brewer like the It’s American Press doesn’t come along every day.
For starters, it’s surprisingly beautiful–in the way that complexity is beautiful when rendered, reduced, refined; rethought and redrawn until what remains is the perfect balance of form and function.
I know what you’re saying, “Hey, it’s just a coffee maker!”
But, as coffee makers go, this press is Read More
In the previous post, a critical boat system–coffee making–failed in such dramatic fashion (twice) that, months later, I am still cleaning grounds from between the floor boards. Once home this launched a search for the perfect boat brewer, whose requirements are:
- Be easy to use in rough weather. Read More
On day nineteen of last summer’s passage from Hawaii to San Francisco, Moli suffered a critical systems breakdown.
We had been climbing into winds of 25 knots for several days. Seas were steep and breaking. On that morning I rose at the usual hour and made my coffee in the usual way: cone with paper filter balanced atop a ceramic cup, the ceramic cup swinging on the gimballed stove.
In 20,000 miles of solo passages, this teetering miracle has never failed me.
Until this morning.
Since the last refit report, I’ve moved Moli two miles up the channel to KKMI, a big, resourceful yard with a sense of humor and a small but practical chandlery that (bless it) requires no driving to get to.
Here the first order of business has been to pull the mast so as to initiate the rerigging project.
The ease with which this operation came off was disheartening and left me nothing whatever to write about. At 10am on a clear morning, two guys in green hard hats clambered aboard and before I could say, “Hold on, what about the…,” the mast had been launched on its way to the cradle.
Aboard Moli is a small hardbound book titled Rund Amerika, the story of my boat’s initial adventures with then owners, Clark Stede and Michelle Poncini. It’s in German. I can admire the photos, like the one above, but I can’t read a word.
So, I was grateful to receive this week the below Yachting Monthly article from 1991 where Stede/Poncini, in translation, describe their Northwest Passage in Asma.
WARNING: for several months to come, many of these blogs will wander off into the badlands of boat refitting. My apologies if block-and-tackle-type discussions are not to everyone’s liking, but the work is a necessary prerequisite to minimizing excitement levels during the voyage itself, and writing about them, nearly so.
With the Figure 8’s September of 2017 launch decidedly in view (seems as close as next weekend), the race to the starting line has commenced in earnest, a race that has largely to do with preparing Moli and her skipper for a year at sea.
The first weeks of flying down the Atlantic were interesting enough (it’s been a year of record times), but only as the boats encountered the difficulties of the Southern Ocean did my interest become acute.
Once I got her home to San Francisco, the first job on Moli was a quick haul at KKMI in Richmond.
While at anchor in Hanalei Bay the month before, I dove on the hull and found two lengthwise scratches in the new bottom paint so expertly sprayed into place by the guys at Homer Boat Yard.
The September 25th discovery of abandoned vessel Wavesweeper left me with an interesting mystery whose many clues are outlined in the previous post. At the start of this investigation, I had thought to find a single failure that would lead, step-by-step, to the Wavesweeper disaster, a failure profound enough in itself to seal the boat’s fate. But the evidence does not so neatly resolve, and to my reading no such central clue has emerged. That said, what does emerge is compelling and equally horrific.
To review, the key questions are
- What event(s) disabled Wavesweeper?
- What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
- Why was such a well-found vessel (floating on her lines) abandoned?
What event(s) disabled the vessel?
The narrative that sifts from available information suggests that Wavesweeper succumbed to not one but a series of compounding failures precipitated by a knockdown, or knockdowns, events that injured her rig and mechanical systems beyond recovery.
It has been a summer of unusually strong winds in the North Pacific. This is corroborated both by my own experience during the recent Pacific crossings in Moli and by the remarks of racers I met in Hawaii. By way of support, the opening sentence from the 2016 Pacific Cup race results:
Kaneohe, HI, Saturday, July 30, 2016 – The 2016 Pacific Cup will be remembered for the big wind and seas that challenged some racers with broken boats and bodies, but pushed many in the fleet to record-breaking passages.
Also characteristic of the year was a generally unstable Pacific high-pressure system, often with multiple centers that bounced around the north and were augmented by frequent lows. A sailor passing through these regions could easily experience multi-directional eight to ten-foot seas and winds to 30 knots, as Wavesweeper reported, and such seas could easily generate the occasional something much larger. On a small boat in such conditions, a knockdown would not be difficult to come by.
Given evidence from the photos and the July 19th report where Wavesweeper’s owner (henceforth referred to as “Skipper”) states, cryptically, that “weather had torn the sails on the vessel’s lower mast,” one can imagine a sequence of events like the following:
- Wavesweeper is in brisk weather and steep seas under a partially reefed genoa and main when a first knockdown fills the headsail with water and parts the furling line. The sail pops open, and before Skipper can release the sheets, it wraps fatally.
- The main also fills; and under such sudden and extreme weight, the halyard parts.
- When Skipper attempts to replace the halyard with the topinglift, another knockdown pulls it from his hands. While the boat is down and the mast is in the water, the line wraps the masthead.
- This second wave shears the pin in the mainsheet shackle, at which point the boom goes over the side. Skipper hasn’t seen that the toppinglift-cum-halyard is now wrapped (like me, he may wear glasses, which have been swept overboard). He retrieves the toppinglift, attaches it to the head of the main and hauls the sail halfway up before the line jams hopelessly, having bound to itself at the masthead.
- Before the second knockdown, Skipper has also readied the staysail, but as the boat is laid over, that halyard becomes fouled in the lower spreaders. No amount of tugging frees it.
- With the jib halyard jammed, the main halyard lost into the mast, the toppinglift bound on itself, and no mast steps, Skipper has no way to get to the masthead to free-up a line, even if weather allowed.
- And without functioning halyards, Wavesweeper’s rig is beyond Skipper’s control. Her genoa is in its death throes, dragging the bow off dangerously at every gust. Skipper attempts to quiet things by cutting the sail down, but above head-height, it simply won’t tear away. Left with only one option for control of his boat, and as a hedge against a third wave, Skipper deploys the drogue.
The above sequence accounts for the state of the vessel as I discovered her, but given scant corroboration, many such scenarios are possible. One could argue, for example, that much of the visible damage occurred after Wavesweeper was abandoned. But my hunch says that’s not the case.
What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
To all outside appearances, nothing. In fact, with decks all ahoo–lines tangled or jammed, staysail loose and main and solar panels at odd angles–and no evidence of attempted jury rig, I assumed upon arrival that the scene was fresh; I even thought there might be a person in the water nearby.
Frustratingly, the two articles describing ship visits do little to clarify interim events. The APL Singapore report from July 15th makes no mention of Wavesweeper’s troubles save that she is short of water. Did Skipper not mention the injury to his rig or how long he’d been out? If not, was the crew not curious enough to ask about damage that was clearly visible? The only clue here is that the water drop was intercepted. If sails were useless at this point, as they must have been, then Wavesweeper still had engine power as of July 15th.
The second report from July 19th adds the mention of sail damage and that the “operator” was “having issues with [the boat’s] engine and batteries and was running low on water.” The jugs on the cabin-top and life rings on the stern rail, which had been retrieved from APL Singapore a mere four days earlier, make that last remark a nonsense, but it is conceivable that during a first or second knockdown, Wavesweeper took enough seawater below to kill her charging system.
For example, a wave down the companionway hatch could have soaked the various regulation devices for the engine, solar panels and wind generator and shorted-out the alternator, all without disabling the batteries or engine. This would explain the solar panels being askew (why bother to align them to the sun if they are no longer useful?) and the secured wind generator.
An inability to produce power would also explain the water shortage. If we assume an early May departure from Mexico and a slow, 100-mile-a-day crossing of the 2,700 miles to Hilo, Hawaii; if we assume a brief, one week stop-over and then a departure to the north in the first week of June, then Wavesweeper could have been underway for only four or five weeks at the time of the first ship intercept.
According to the Reliance specifications, the boat’s original design included 130 gallons of water tankage, enough for a solid four months of passages without rationing. But Wavesweeper’s tankage may not have been built to this spec or may have been modified and supplemented with a watermaker, now useless because Skipper was “having issues with engine and batteries.” With far less water to start with and no way to produce more, a call for potable water would have been of first importance. And that the call was for “30 or 40 gallons” suggests that as of July 15th, Skipper thought he could save his vessel and make landfall.
Why was such a well-found vessel abandoned?
That Wavesweeper floated on her lines 68 days after abandonment makes it tempting to think she was abandoned without cause. But floating is only the half of it; a vessel must also be able to make way. Without functioning sails and lacking the ability to produce power, Wavesweeper was out of options.
Skipper would not have expected to drift ashore in any reasonable time frame. Even if winds were pushing him east while he was aboard, he must have realized that the coast’s prevailing northwesterlies and the increasing number of southerlies would have prevented a close approach based on drift alone.
He could not have motored the distance either. The Reliance specifications show fuel tankage at 70 gallons, so that even if Wavesweeper’s engine was operable after the accident (as the water retrieval exercise suggests) and even if he carried extra fuel in jerry cans (there’s no evidence of this), the boat’s range under power would have been insufficient given her position 1,000 miles west of the Columbia River.
What happened, then, in the intervening four days between the call for water and the call for rescue? The attempt to save disabled Wavesweeper, even to simply exist on her after the accidents, must have been deeply fatiguing. Especially after the first knockdown, the rough weather, flogging sails, and waterlogged cabin would have made sleep all but impossible. Could it be that a tired Skipper accidentally and irretrievably foul his own halyards? Or was it that a second knockdown after the water drop did that work, putting further repair beyond his reach?
Whatever the case, by July 19th, Skipper had decided to call it quits. Wavesweeper’s drift was setting her slowly south of the shipping lanes; Skipper knew that if he didn’t act soon, he risked moving forever beyond rescue. He made another call. When OOCL Utah arrived to take him off, his fatigue and feelings overwhelmed his seamanship, and he failed to scuttle now dead Wavesweeper.
Hopefully, the above reconstruction reveals more than just my bias, my affinity for a solo sailor who got into trouble where trouble is so easy to come by. One could argue, as my friends have done, that a 70-year old Skipper became overwhelmed early and simply gave up, that he should have continued to fight as long as the vessel floated.
But another conclusion emerges when the evidence is taken in total. Wavesweeper is well-equipped and well-maintained. Her return to the north Pacific comes after several years of cruising and several long, successful passages. When given the first chance to abandon, Skipper chooses to remain aboard and keep fighting. All this suggest a man who knows his business, and I contend that only when Skipper is out of options, out of ways to get Wavesweeper safely to port, does he unwillingly leave her to make her own way on the sea.
On September 25th of this year and during a crossing from Hawaii to the mainland, Moli and I discovered an abandoned yacht named Wavesweeper at a position roughly 600 miles west of the Oregon and California border. Such a find can be soul-rattling, as I reported on this site that same afternoon.
After the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I feeling subsides, one is left with an interesting mystery whose key questions are
- What event(s) disabled Wavesweeper?
- What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
- Why was such a well-found vessel (floating on her lines) abandoned?
What We Know
The day after my initial post on the Wavesweeper find, the story was picked up by 48 North, the sailing magazine for the Pacific Northwest, and run with a query to the community for more information on this Vancouver-based boat. The query netted two reports: a back-page article in West Coast Sailors, the newsletter for the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, which detailed a tricky and successful water-drop for Wavesweeper by container ship APL Singapore on July 15, 2016 (link/PDF); and a press release from the Coast Guard summarizing the rescue of Wavesweeper’s owner by the container ship OOCL Utah on July 19, 2016 (link/PDF).
Other information gleaned from the community included the vessel’s build and rough itinerary.
A summary of the facts is as follows:
- The registered name of the vessel is Wavesweeper (one word). She’s a Reliance 37 out of Vancouver, BC.
- Wavesweeper is last noted in San Blas, Mexico, in late April. At that time her 70-year-old owner, who has been cruising Wavesweeper in the south for several seasons, is in the final stages of preparation for a singlehanded return home.
- Wavesweeper next pops into the public record on July 15th, when the container ship APL Singapore, enroute San Pedro, California, receives a distress call from her via USCG Juneau, Alaska. The report states the vessel is making for Vancouver from Hawaii, has run low on potable water and requests a drop of 30 or 40 gallons. APL Singapore’s crew gathers six water containers from the ship’s life rafts and tethers them in series with a life ring on each end. The crew lowers this rig into the water from the gangway and notes, “It drifted astern of the ship as the sailboat made way and intercepted it.” The article does not mention APL Singapore’s position nor the cause of the distressed vessel’s need for water.
- On July 19th, USCG 13th District (Pacific Northwest) contacts the container ship OOCL Utah enroute South Korea with a distress call from Wavesweeper (noted as Sea Sweeper in the press release), then located 990 miles west of the Columbia River. Per the USCG, Wavesweeper states that “weather had torn his sails on the vessel’s lower mast, [and that he] was having issues with [his] engine and batteries and was running low on potable water. During his transit the operator was also battling 30 mph winds and 8-foot seas.” OCCL Utah diverts course and successfully rescues the owner, transporting him to its next port. No mention is made of the water drop on July 15th nor when the adverse weather and sail damage occurred. The report does state that the now disabled vessel lacks an EPIRB and a life raft.
To sum up, Wavesweeper departs San Blas for Hawaii sometime after late April, receives a water drop from the APL Singapore on July 15th while enroute Vancouver and is abandoned when her owner is rescued by OOCL Utah on July 19th.
Note that this information answers none of the key questions listed above, save some portion of the first.
My discovery of Wavesweeper on September 25th came 68 days after her abandonment. I would never have guessed this as I drifted nearby, awaiting word from the Coast Guard. In fact, what made my heart pound was how fresh the scene appeared to be. There was no sign of weed on the hull, no dark scum marks on the top-side, no bird droppings on the deck. Most tellingly, she floated on her lines. Only her sails, jib in tatters and main down, boom end dragging in the water, suggested something terrible had occurred.
Why Wavesweeper had been abandoned was not obvious.
What the Photographs Show
Once home, I took a closer look at the photos from that day and made the following discoveries.
Any self-respecting detective would have to admit that abandoned Wavesweeper offers a goodly number of clues with which to solve the case, but which of these is the smoking gun?
In the next post I’ll attempt to reconstruct a chain of events …
I saw it for the first time on October 2nd, the red trimaran with the golden stars.
Moli and I entered under the bridge that day, ending our summer passages and exchanging the sweet, white-capped wilderness for a marina, flat as a parking lot and mad with weekenders.
I noted the exotic red giant nested in among boats gathered for a Westsail Rendezvous; sprawling and ungainly in aspect only because of its company, a Gulliver among the Lilliputians; hemmed-in, tied-down, an escape appearing all but impossible.
Over the next two weeks I visited Moli several times and each time I saw the red trimaran. Qingdao, hailing from China. Sleek, with modern, transverse bows and a spidery black mast. Arching, muscular supports for the outer hulls. A pilot house suggestive of a space capsule. The boat meant business.
Once I saw it gliding up the fairway, returning from what I gathered was a test sail. Once I saw a man giving a tour. Once the man seemed to be lounging on deck with his family.
I should say hello, I thought. But the boat was on G Dock. I was on F.
I didn’t know the story. I made the assumption Qingdao was crewed and preparing to be part of some larger race. I’m not much interested in drag racing and expensive, heavily crewed boats. I never stopped by.
Last weekend I noted that the boat was gone.
Today I read that the lone skipper of that red trimaran, the man I saw on deck with his family, is lost.
From Bill Hancock’s feed:
[As of October the 27th] Guo Chuan, China’s most famous sailor, is missing at sea and the Coast Guard have suspended their search for him. Mr Chuan was attempting to break the single-handed record for the fastest time to cross the Pacific. He left San Francisco on the 19th October heading for Shanghai but this past Tuesday [October 25] his support team lost contact with him. He had been keeping a regular blog about the trip and was making good time but suddenly there was no response. At first the Coast Guard flew over and tried to raise him on the radio but there was no response and later when they boarded the boat they found no trace of him. His lifejacket was there and one can only surmise what happened.
Guo Chuan was the first Chinese sailor to sail singlehanded around the world and he did so in 2013 in a Class 40. The World Sailing Speed Record Council recognized his accomplishment as the fastest time for a solo lap of the planet in a 40-foot boat. He had also competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and last summer set a benchmark record transiting the Northwest Passage from Murmansk in the extreme northwest part of Russia to an imaginary finish line in the Bering Strait. For that trip he purchased Francis Joyon’s old IDEC and he was using the same boat for his Pacific record bid.
As to surmises, Guo Chuan’s website has posted two:
With the information Guo Chuan Racing got about the sea and wind conditions at the supposed moment of the accident, the team think this desaster could have happened in two ways.
Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and gennaker in about 13 to 20 knts wind downwind which is a reasonable sail configuration for these conditions.
At the end of the day he decided to furl the gennaker in order to sail even safer for the night. After that he tried to drop it on windward side (which becomes a tricky maneuver in stronger winds for a solo sailor). Holding the halyard and restraining the gennaker at the same time, he lost the control of the halyard and the gennaker finally fell brutally down far away on the leeward side of the boat. As he was trying to restrain the gennaker to fall in the water he got pushed and ripped out of the boat either at the side of the starboard float or in front of the starboard front beam.
Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and J1 in about 13 to 20 knots wind downwind which is the safest sail configuration for sailing at night.
The gennaker was furled and still hoisted. For an unknown reason the halyard or the gennaker cable broke. Guo first furled the J1 in order to slow down the boat before taking care of the gennaker that has fallen in the water.
He then began to get the gennaker back on the net close to the starboard float. By manipulating the very powerful gennaker (which was drifting in the water) out of the water, he had at a certain moment to unhook his safety lifeline in order to change his position on the boat. A bad wave throw the gennaker back in the water and pushed Guo out of the boat.
Guo had most probably a life jacket with a safety line and a beacon for these maneuvers. In the first scenario, you need to unclip the the safety lifeline at one point.
I feel an affinity for Guo, this man I never met, though our approaches to (and presumably our appreciation of) the sea, boats and projects were very different, and I can imagine that Guo, working the foredeck with spray in his face, sometimes wondered, as do I, what it would be like to fall overboard.
Ironically, such a thing never feels possible, much less imminent.
Once beyond the land, the world simplifies and the center shifts. There’s the wind and sea, the boat, and you. With time and the perpetual motion of life on the waves, the boundary between you and boat becomes hardly noticeable, even the boundary between boat and sea blurs. This weird world where you forever fly atop the water … feels perfectly natural.
What is just beyond that thin skin of hull is uninhabitable, as alien as the ice giants circling the sun. But you have forgotten this long ago.
The sudden lurch from an unseen wave. The lost grip and momentary sense of weightlessness. The cold splash and then the immediate, frantic, impossible swimming, soon given up. The boat is already several waves ahead.
One long scream, the boat’s name, with full faith that such a call will turn her on her heels. It must. You slap the water. You blink salt from your eyes. The boat sails on.
So that’s what she looks like sailing, you think! If anything, her beauty intensifies the sense of loss. You stare and stare as she grows small. Then she is but a shaking mast above the waves. Then she is gone.
What happens next I can never quite force myself to imagine. The waves roll. You become colder and colder. If you are lucky, at night you see the dome of stars. Because you are lucky. You wished to push beyond the usual, to witness a world others cannot imagine. And you succeeded.
Aboard Solace were skipper Steve Harris, daughter Kelsey, and friend Kim Kirch, pictured below from their blog, where they are typically represented catching fish. Lots and lots of fish.
As reported earlier, a few days into their passage north the yacht’s autopilot failed, and a few days after that the steering cable parted. The first of these was easy to deal with, though it forced the crew into hand-steering watches of 2-on and 4-off. The second failure left them dead in the water.
Steve immediately rigged the emergency tiller, but found it almost impossible to hand steer the boat for any length of time in a seaway, this due to the tiller’s exceptionally short stock. After some experimentation, Steve was able to lash the tiller and balance the boat under shortened sail. This kept Solace moving in generally the right direction and allowed the crew some rest while Steve figured out and then fashioned a fix for the parted cable.
Being a cruiser-racer design with a fast underbody, Solace had been slowly pulling away from Mo up to this point, and by the time Steve lost his steering cable, Solace had bettered our distance by 60 miles. But with Solace under lashed tiller and reduced canvas, Mo quickly made up the difference. On day ten of our passage we met Solace at sundown at 38.57N by 153.31W, roughly 1500 miles west of San Francisco, for some conversation and an exchange of cookies.
Soon after Solace and Moli parted company, Steve and crew rigged a quadrant cable from Dyneema and resumed their passage north.
The delay caused by the quadrant cable failure meant that Solace missed her opportunity for northing. The low that had carried us both to this point petered out, and while Mo and I were sliding down toward Drakes Bay on brisk northeast winds, Solace beat back and forth 200 miles astern attempting not to lose too much ground. It took three days for winds to shift to the northwest, allowing Solace to finish her run at the 39th parallel.
Solace passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning of Oct 6, having sailed 2,900 miles in 26 days, and 21 days under jury rig.
Since arrival, Joanna and I have had the pleasure of entertaining Steve, Kelsey, and Kim at our house for hot showers, laundry-access, pizza and beer, and last night we met for an even more civilized engagement as Steve’s guest at a restaurant on Jack London Square. We’ve forgotten to take pictures on either occasion.
Solace is currently at the Berkeley Marine Center undergoing repairs while the crew has fun in the city.
Departure south is slated for a week hence.
Figure 8 course length and boat speed requirements were my focus at the time. Realizing I didn’t entirely grok the concept of theoretical hull speed, I was digging around for an explanation even English Majors could understand when I discovered Charlies’s articles called “Crunching the Numbers,” some of the most lucid forays into the deeper mysteries of boat-in-water design dynamics that I’ve yet found.
A year later I was inspecting my first aluminum boat for the Figure 8 (not Moli), and recalling that Wavetrain’s author owned what he called a “tin” boat, an aluminum Tanton 39 named Lunacy, I reached out for some advice. And got it!
So, it seemed only natural to alert Charlie when the Figure 8 acquisition occurred and turned out to be constructed of his preferred material. The following article ensued, which was syndicated on SAILFEED on September 8, 2016.
Besides stints at SAIL, Cruising World, and Offshore, Charlie has written a comprehensive guide to The Modern Cruising Sailboat and has another (subject as yet undisclosed) book releasing in the spring of 2017.
Randall on the foredeck
Randall gets into the Nutella
Randall with his last beer (Alaskan, of course)
A glimpse of Gjoa’s underbody. You actually don’t see many tin boats with keels like this. I think she’s faster than she looks!
He’s already sailed Gjoa singlehanded across the Gulf of Alaska to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then from there to Hawaii. This month he’ll be sailing from Hawaii back to his home in San Francisco. He does a very good job of writing up his passages while en route, so I urge you to follow his adventure as it unfolds.
Drakes Bay. 4:30am. Up with the alarm. Sky to the east, black. Orion, The Dipper, shimmering.
Though I can hear swell crashing on rocks to the south, MOLI, tucked inside the hook of the point, is still as a board. Aground? I check the meter. 18 feet.
Because the peninsula eats the sea, I remember. Jutting out from the coast and down for fifteen miles, the peninsula’s great dunes feast endlessly on those furies from the Gulf. The wind blasts, but the sea is consumed utterly.
Yesterday. Jo drives two hours from San Francisco, bringing a late-afternoon picnic. We sit on a bluff overlooking Mo; beyond, the sandstone cliffs and low, forested mountains. We drink champagne. We eat brie on toast with lettuce wraps of shrimp and cucumber. I marvel at the flavors, at once novel and familiar.
We talk in the uneven bursts of two people being reintroduced. What have you been up to? How’s mom? How overgrown is the garden? The mail comes later now. That property up the hill is for sale. Health Insurance coverage has changed. The kitchen door deadbolt has stopped working. Karen’s niece bought a new car. There’s coffee in the cupboard and fresh cream in the fridge.
Details. One after the other. It’s just the start. A thousand and one small pieces make up the landed life.
I think then of Drakes Bay as a half-way house for sailors, poised between a vastness of sea and a compaction of city. I have sailed 7,000 miles since May. I have longed for home, but I need this half-way house.
The anchor comes up fouled with weed. Finally in its chock. Mo’s head toward Point Bonita. All night the sound of wind in the rigging, a red herring. We motor in light northwesterlies past Double Point at sunup.
The day reveals the peculiar textures of my home waters. A green sea. Faun colored cliffs. Hills of golden grass and oak. Brown Pelican’s diving and joined by gray gulls with orange beaks. A pale, cloudless sky.
At Duxbury Point, I pick up the spires of the bridge. At Point Bonita, I pick up the flood. Mo and I race toward the entrance where, I am told, Jo is on a far hill snapping photos and our neighbor, Mary, spies with binoculars. I wave but without really seeing either.
We are under the red span at eleven–full sail, but motoring through calm–and in an instant all sense of wilderness falls away. Now, here, numerous boats drift about, waiting for the weekend wind. Ferries muscle their way through to Sausalito, to Tiburon, to Vallejo, to Jack London Square. The twinkle of cars flying north on that black ribbon. Over there, Richardson Bay. Angel Island. Alcatraz. Treasure Island. The sprawling Bay Bridge. The impenetrable cityscape.
I know what and where things are. Bluff Point. Ayala Cove. Raccoon Strait. Paradise Cove. Richmond Longwarf. Red Rock. There, the Corinthian Yacht Club has not moved. Neither has the Berkeley Tower nor the Trans America Building. But surely this is my first entrance.
I motor on. Out of Raccoon Strait, I wrap the main and jib. Entering Richmond Harbor Channel, I break out dock lines, stiff with lack of use, and fenders.
Mo slides catawampus into a slip, landing like the gooney bird she is. Tied, secured, she looks proud but uncomfortable, corralled. There is a wildness in her eyes, a shying as she tugs at her braces. We were headed here, she asks?
I have longed for home. And now I am home. And I am happy to be home. But standing on the dock, a hand on Mo’s rail, I think of out there, beyond the gate.
And this vessel can go, I think with a rush. We can really go. Anywhere.