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I can’t take my eyes off the Vendee Globe, that solo, non-stop, around-the-world race whose fleet of rocket ships launched some 51 days ago.

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.

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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.

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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.

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This wind map shows typical 2016 summer winds, in this case for June 30th, and the red dot is Wavesweeper position on July 15th.

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.

Wavesweeper gave the impression that the scene was fresh.

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.

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Even after 68 days of drifting, Wavesweeper was still 600 miles offshore and positioned to trend along the coast for a very long time.

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.

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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:

  1. The registered name of the vessel is Wavesweeper (one word). She’s a Reliance 37 out of Vancouver, BC.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Reconstruction of Wavesweeper’s route noting the position of her abandonment and where she was found 68 days later.

What the Photographs Show

Once home, I took a closer look at the photos from that day and made the following discoveries.

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Wavesweeper as she first appeared. I had approached from starboard, swung around her stern and was now coasting in on her lee. Note the jib in ribbons and the main half down, boom in the water.

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This photo from a closer approach shows that A) the wind generator is not spinning, and the blade position suggests it has been secured, though no lanyard is obvious; B) the air vane for the servo pendulum-type wind vane, possibly a Cape Horn, is in its socket and pushed hard-over by the wind; C) drogue lines trailing from the quarter are slack (they are slack in all my photos).

A full boat shot as I pass under Wavesweeper’s lee. This is a large file. You can open and zoom in as I point to details below.

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Note the water jugs and the life rings (D) referenced in the APL Singapore story and that the main sheet has parted from the traveler (E). Also note that the solar panels on the stern arch have been knocked out of alignment. Optimally they would have been tilted slightly aft as Wavesweeper made her northing.

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There are several places along the jib foil that suggest the sail has wrapped; the arrow at (F) is one example. The jib trails in the water, and the sail on deck is a staysail (G). The sail appears to be hanked to removable stay (H) clipped to the rail, but is otherwise loose. The Kayak on deck seems not to be secured but is itself the secure-point for another line headed up the mast.

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This photo shows the staysail’s head and clew (I). The sheet can be seen running up through a series of blocks (J), the first of which is attached to a staysail traveler (K).

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Follow the staysail stay (H) up to its terminus at the upper spreaders and note that it is slack. Now follow the line that’s attached by a red strap to the aft of the kayak (L). This line appears to be the staysail halyard and it appears to be badly fouled in the mast.

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This shot from the stern shows a line (M) that has wrapped around the top, starboard spreader. If this is the staysail halyard, the positioning suggests that it has jammed into the spreader-end assembly or around the radar reflector hung just above the spreader.

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Perhaps the most intriguing clue is this barely visible line that has wrapped the head of the mast. If the jib halyard is internal, as it appears to be, then this line is either the main halyard or the main topping lift, but how it got this way is an utter mystery.

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 …

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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.

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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:

Scenario 1

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.

Scenario 2

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.

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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.

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As noted in my first post from sea, Moli and I departed Hanalei Bay for San Francisco in the company of another yacht, Solace, a Doug Peterson Baltic 42 out of San Diego.

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.

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Steve and Kim with a lovely Dorado.

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Kelsey showing off a Wahoo.

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Steve gloved-up and ready for the fish-cleaning operation…

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.

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Solace as Mo approached. Tiller is lashed at this point. Note deeply reefed main and hanky of a jib.

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Steve, Kim, and Kelsey…moments before the shockingly successful cookie lob.

Soon after Solace and Moli parted company, Steve and crew rigged a quadrant cable from Dyneema and resumed their passage north.

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Kim having fun with the steering column.

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.

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Steve and Kelsey moments before passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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.

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While researching the Figure 8 one evening, this a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon Wavetrain, a blog written by SAIL Cruising Editor, Charles Doane.

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.

FIGURE-8 VOYAGE: Solo Round Antarctica And The Americas All In One Go

8SEP Posted by
Charles DoaneTaonui

Speaking of aluminum boats, some of you may be wondering whatever happened to Taonui, the 41-foot German-built full-keeled expedition vessel that Tony Gooch sailed on a solo non-stop circumnavigation back in 2002-03. It was an impressive voyage, the first-ever non-stop circuit via the great capes sailed from the west coast of North America (Victoria BC in Canada to be precise) and also a very impressive boat (see image up top). I know I admired her intently and in fact it was my respect for Taonui that inspired me in part to acquire Lunacy, my aluminum Tanton 39, going on 10 years ago.

So I was a little jealous when I got a note last month from an online acquaintance, Randall Reeves, tipping me off that he had recently purchased a 41-foot full-keeled aluminum boat built by Dubbel & Jesse in Norderney, Germany, in 1989, now called Gjoa, but formerly named Taonui. The very same vessel. Randall first got in touch last year, seeking advice on tin boats, as he wanted to find one to take on what he calls the Figure-8 Voyage, a solo non-stop circumnavigation of first Antarctica and then the Americas via the Northwest Passage, all in one year. Now he has a perfectly appropriate boat and is training up for a departure from San Francisco next fall.

Scoping out Gjoa’s history on Randall’s well-written website I was a little surprised to see that she was originally built as Asma for a German sailor/journalist, Clark Stede, who commissioned her specifically for a voyage around the Americas that he made with filmmaker Michelle Poncini back in 1990-93. This factoid triggered some dim recollections in my mind of reading about Stede back when I was traipsing about the North Atlantic on my old Pearson Alberg yawlCrazy Horse. (So it seems I have in fact been following this boat practically since she was born.)

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Asma in her original incarnation. Note the nice collection of sponsor’s stickers and the old-school hank-on jib

Tony and Corwyn Gooch bought the boat from Stede in 1994 and cruised her for several years before Tony finally set out on his great solo circumnavigation in 2002. The Gooches in turn sold the boat to Ann and Glenn Bainbridge, who renamed her Gjoa (after the vessel in which Roald Amundsen first transited the Northwest Passage in 1903-07) and then set out themselves aboard her on a two-year transit of the Northwest Passage.

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In her latest incarnation as Gjoa

Randall first encountered the Bainbridges and their boat way up in Nunavut, Canada, as they were humping over the top of the Americas in 2014. Then last winter when he found the boat was for sale in Homer, Alaska, he jumped on it.

There’s obviously no doubt this boat is fully capable of sailing the route Randall has laid out. Both the Southern Ocean and the Northwest Passage are old hat for her. The random factor is Randall himself. He had previously done two long Pacific passages, one singlehanded, and has also crewed on a boat through the Northwest Passage (hence that random encounter up in Nunavut). Now he seems to be gearing up for his Figure 8 challenge in a very deliberate way.

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Randall on the foredeck

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Randall gets into the Nutella

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Randall with his last beer (Alaskan, of course)

Full keel

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.

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain for SAILFEED on September 8, 2016.

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moli-under-ggbridge

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.

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kjb
Sept 30
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Day 20

Anchor Down, Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore

POS: 37.59.77N by 122.58.51W
Time: 0930
Miles since last noon: 138
Total miles of passage: 2889
Avg. Miles per Day: 144

I know, it’s not quite San Francisco.

Drakes Bay is 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a sweeping crescent defined by the massif that is the point of Point Reyes and the peninsula the joins it to the the mainland.

It is so named because Sir Francis Drake is thought to have careened his Golden Hind in the sprawling estero behind Limantour Spit at the bay’s north end.

I like ending cruises here. The seashore is vast and undeveloped with Doug Fir-forested mountains and limestone cliffs within view of the boat. And though the anchorage is protected and beach access easy, one usually anchors alone.

Before taking on the bright lights of the big city, it’s good to stop here for a beer and to get cleaned up. That final dash can always wait one more day.

For me it’s a tradition. Also a tradition is Joanna’s visit. She’s on her way now with snacks and champagne. Can hardly wait to see my lovely wife.

Tomorrow, the final few miles…

ddd
pjl
jnn
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alfj

Sept 29
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Day 19

Noon HST position: 38.58.32N by 125.15.31W
Miles since last noon: 173
Total miles of passage: 2751
Avg. Miles per Day: 145
Miles to San Francisco: 160
Course: SE
Sail: All plain sail, wind angle 120 degrees to port
Speed: 5 and 6
Wind: N15 – 20
Sky: Clear, some scattered high cumulus
Bar: 1017
Air Temperature: 68 degrees
Sea Temperature: 55 degrees

8pm. The dark of night. Sitting and reading by headlamp from my usual spot near the companionway. Hatch closed, except for a small gap for fresh air. Closed because now that we are before the wind, little bits of sea spray are swept onto my glasses when a wave taps MOLI on the quarter, which is a bother when one is with a book.

But the sea is subsiding, I think. At least it is quieter than earlier in the day.

Then that now familiar whooshing sound followed by a metallic THWAP as the wave makes Mo’s port flank and climbs aboard. Rushing white water covers the pilot house windows and flies over the cabin top. Suddenly I have a lap and face full of ocean as I also have the sense of going weightless.

Mo rolls over and down. Now a rushing sound to starboard as the decks and windows go under at the bottom of the wave. Crashing sounds from the main cabin. Water flying around in the pilot house.

Then Mo is up, shaking it off. Again, I dash to the companionway hatch to check on Monte. He’s smoking a cigarette and reading Playboy. Unperturbable, that dude. “Drew you a bath,” he says, pointing. “You were complaining of being smelly.” I look down and see the cockpit is half full again and with various bits of line and a winch handle subbing for a rubber ducky.

Below looks like a mobile home after a tornado. Water all over the sole of the pilot house. Also there, a soaked first edition of Ranulph Fiennes MIND OVER MATTER, the clipboards holding my food inventory lists, my foulies fallen from their hook, and a towel, which I retrieve and begin drying off.

Everything that has been on the counter in the galley is on the floor or in the head. No shock there. More impressive is that a can of NIDO dried milk has made the journey from the counter all the way into the head sink, about six horizontal feet (when Mo is upright). I can hear the EU Football announcer shouting, “Scooooooore.” Nothing came off the gimbaled stove.

In the salon, all the books that were on the lower shelf (which has a four-inch high fiddle rail) have been cleaned out, and half are now on the bunk on the opposite side of the boat.

It takes an hour to mop-up and restow the boat, during which time the companionway hatch stays shut all the way.

These two “knockdowns” (quotations because I’m not sure the mast and sails were ever in the water, though the boom has, by now, had several deep handshakes with Neptune) are odd. The wind has not been that strong and the wave action, though steep, has had no curl.

Two clues: wave action yesterday was often chaotic and today the sea temperature reading was 55 degrees, a seven degree drop from the day before where a one degree drop is more usual. Both of these suggest that we sailed through a collision of currents, which could well have perturbed the sea-state.

I dislike yachtie galley gear. Plastic/non breakable dishes. Stainless steel, spill proof cups. No idea why, just do. When I look forward to the morning brew, the image is of a very normal, ceramic mug filled with coffee from boiling water poured through fresh grounds.

Admittedly, balancing the filter atop the cup can be a tricky business. Thus the gimbaled stove. In 20,000 miles of solo cruising, this has always worked.

Until this trip. Until again this morning.

We still had our difficult waves. One lurch. The coffee cone full of hot water and hot coffee grounds allowed itself (yes, it wasn’t paying close enough attention) to be thrown at me, all down my front and scalding my left wrist before proceeding to plaster the far wall and crash into the head.

After a profoundly sincere screaming fit and an extended clean-up operation. After another go and success, a lovely mug of Joe, which I absent-mindedly set down while reaching for my book, upon which it promptly flipped over.

Out has come the non-flip cup and the instant coffee canister. I can take a hint, after a time.

kl-n

Hot coffee grounds threw themselves at me and onto the floor.

kb