Noon Position: 47 09S 19 28W
Wind: WNW 20 – 25
Sail: Working jib, one reef
Cabin Temp: 54
Water Temp: 49
Miles last 24-hours: 152
Miles since departure: 9849
Wind went southwest 35 to 45 in the late evening. Absolute dark. Without deck lights, not even the bright orange storm jib is visible. One gets the sense of being locked in. The sail is set; Monte’s wind angle is chosen. The are no decisions left to be made. Now the course, and success, will be up to the wind and the sea. All I can do is watch. Watch the boat work and hope she is strong.
I am cold. I have been cold all day. Especially my feet, which are like bricks of ice. The cabin is 55 degrees, a temperature which does not warrant such feelings of chill. A few days ago as we ramped up to this event, I noticed that my cold-all-day feet would warm with the evening beer, which comes from the bilge and is 45 degrees. The warmth could not be from the alcohol, either. It must be the simple act of relaxing that does it.
There’s a gust to 50.
The roar in the rigging is that of a commercial jet engine. When a sea crashes just before it reaches the boat such that the white-water turbulence flows under Mo, knocking her to one side, the sound is that of a commercial jet afterburner kicking in, a low pshhhh. When Mo is broadsided, it’s like the blast from cannon. It always stops my heart.
I have nothing to do but watch, the chart plotter, the wind gauge; I flip on the deck lights and watch the sail. She’s still drawing cleanly. But I can’t see the waves, only feel them.
The sublime, according to William Fox in TERRA ANTARCTICA is “that which is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Tonight I can’t see the beauty but I can feel the terror that comes of being in the grip of something utterly beyond control. It’s grim; it’s fascinating; it is, I decide, why I’m here.
But even being gripped in the middle of a southern ocean gale can be boring. Scared out of ones wits boring. Watching isn’t helping. So, at midnight I hit my bunk. The bag is like ice. Boat motion is extreme. I doze unsatisfactorily until dawn.
In daylight the waves are majestic. Steep and crashing. The main train is southwest, but there’s a large swell from the west and a much diminished one from the northwest. When the two larger meet, the sea becomes pyramidal, leaping straight up and crashing onto itself.
Our course is now northeast and winds light enough for more sail, but I remember the knockdown in December and Moitessier’s notes about the double train. Heading east would put Mo close to beam on the larger swell. Care for the boat is more important than easting. So I wait.
By noon the sea is down. I open the working jib, douse the storm jib and put the boat easterly. Ah, lovely…at last every mile counts.
Dark. Another, smaller low moves through tonight. I’ve left the working jib up. My feet aren’t nearly as cold.
Noon Position: 48 21S 22 13W
Wind: NW 20 – 30
Sail: Storm Jib
Sea: N and NW to 12
Sky: Overcast with rain
Cabin Temp: 56
Water Temp: 45
Miles last 24-hours: 158
Miles since departure: 9697
On day 74, Randall and Mo are 1800 miles east of Cape Horn and working through a low pressure system from the North.
Noon Position: 48 03S 26 04W
Course/Speed: SE 6
Wind: NE 20
Sail: Two tucks in the working jib, two reefs in the main
Sky: FOG and rain
Cabin Temp: 58 (how I do not now; I’m freezing)
Water Temp: 45
Miles last 24-hours: 137
Miles since departure: 9539
Early this morning I came about onto starboard tack close hauled. Winds had been pushing Mo south when I thought I needed more northing. The sails filled, we heeled over and charged off. I set Monte on his new course, tidied up the lines in the cockpit, admired the day (fog) and … OH NO!…
Above the companionway ladder I have a small sign that reads “Stop. Think.”
Beyond being a practical admonition generally, this sign has a specific intention–to remind me to close the galley sink drain valve when we come onto starboard tack (something we have not done since I can remember). The galley and sink are on port side, and as the boat heels, sea water can back-flush through the drain into the sink, fill it, and spill over into the cupboards and pour into the bilge.
The first time I failed this test was departing Hanalei Bay for home in 25-knot trades. I’d nearly filled the bath-tub sized bilge before I discovered my mistake. This time I was “lucky.” Only one cupboard had to be emptied and dried, and the bilge took only 20 stroaks to clear.
Clearly I need a better memory aid.
Each new forecast shows the approaching low has changed slightly such that I’ve given up aiming for a particularly beneficial position and am just pushing east as fast as we can reasonably go.
Winds have been from the north at plus 20 most of the day. With two tucks in the working jib and two reefs in the main we are comfortably averaging 7+ knots.
Every hour the bar drops another point. And the fog continues without a break–three full days of featureless gray and visibility no further than a few waves on. I had no idea an ocean could contain this much fog. Today rain was added to the mix, sometimes heavy. All of which heightens the sense of foreboding and unhappy inevitability of what comes next.
But what comes next? We all have to wait till it gets here to know.
Tonight I’ll make a double-sized portion of stew, enough for two days, maybe more. Along about daybreak I’ll drop the main and secure the boom in its crutch. I’ll rig the second running backstay and make sure both are good and tight. Then I’ll run the storm jib sheets and prepare the halyard. And with that we’ll be ready.
Noon Position: 48 25S 28 45W
Course/Speed: ENE 7
Wind: NW 20
Sail: Working jib full, wind port quarter
Sea: NW 4
Sky: FOG, fog, and drizzle
Cabin Temp: 56
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 161
Miles since departure: 9402
The theme of these last days is fog, a thick, wet fog not satisfied to simply occlude one’s view of the horizon; no, it has to double the insult by coating the pilot house windows and my glasses if I’m on deck, rendering boat and crew blinded near and far.
Except for radar, on watch this last thousand miles and into the foreseeable future, we would have been making our 7 knots of foreward on a hope and a prayer. But I sometimes wonder if it’s a good thing that the radar sees nothing hour after hour. Surely there must be something out there to ping. I wipe a window and peer past the bow for what the radar must be missing. I see only gray, and then I recall the last 72 days of empty sea.
I’ve been running Mo easy, just a headsail, the big genoa if the winds are light, the working genoa when they pipe up. We’ve been fast enough on that rig (162 and 161 miles the last two days) and I’ve wanted to get rested for later in the week, which portends to be exciting. With Mo minding her business, I’ve been sleeping full nights, napping in the afternoon, and making big dinners, because come Thursday, I may be on duty for some time.
There is a biggish, fast moving low approaching from the NW with winds on the trailing edge upwards of 40 knots. Because its dropping down diagonally (it began its career up near Uruguay) rather than marching easterly like its civilized brethren in the 50s and 60s below us, how to position Mo has been a puzzle. In fact, there hasn’t seemed much I could do but wait for it to overtake us and be ready. Hence my course due east.
But as of this morning, there seems to be an opening. At ten o’clock, I altered course to NE and have plotted a target of 48N and 27W. This position appears to be just high enough to get above the eye and avoid the strong southerly winds I’d get (albeit briefly) a mere half a degree lower and one degree further west. If I’m lucky and can work even further east than 27W, I may avoid the hottest of the winds and be able to maintain an easterly course throughout the blow.
We shall see soon enough.
6pm. Winds quite calm now. We are close hauled NE. Been on deck tuning Monte and sails this last hour and I could swear the breeze carries the rich funk of animal life. That and the sudden sense of cold makes me feel there is a big berg to windward that hosts a penguin colony. The radar could not disagree more.
Noon Position: 48 31S 32 31W
Wind: NW to 20
Sail: Big Genoa, out full, wind on port quarter
Sky: FOG!!! And drizzle, all day
Cabin Temp: 56
Water Temp: 45
Miles last 24-hours: 162
Miles since departure: 9241
How far is it back to Cape Horn? How long should the circuit take? What can I expect when I get there?
I do the distance math every day it seems, if not on paper, then in my head, each time hoping to find a carry-the-one error that will magically reduce the miles. It’s a long, remote, and exposed route under the best of conditions, and with the unexpected stop in Ushuaia, I’m behind my initial schedule, a schedule designed around approaching Cape Horn during the “least bad” times of year.
But what’s it mean to be behind schedule? What effect will it have?
First question: How far is it around?
My target latitude for the southern ocean circuit is 47S (subject to change without notice). The distance in nautical miles around that parallel is the circumference of the earth times the cosine of that latitude. So, 360 (number of degrees in the circle) times 60 (nautical miles in a degree of latitude) equals 21,600 (circumference of the earth in nautical miles) times the cosine of 47 equals 14,731 miles.*
I will need to drop back down to 56S in order to round Cape Horn again, but the further south I go the shorter the distance around the circle such that it’s nominally shorter to go from 47S around the Cape and back to 47S than it would be to sail a rhumb line between those two points, even if such were possible.
So, let’s stick with 14,731.
But that number assumes we maintain a perfect course due east for the entire circuit, which we won’t do. Sometimes I’ll want to head NE or SE to take the wind around the lows at a more beneficial angle. So how can I factor in this “inefficiency?” Not sure. I can say, by way of example, that over the last three days of easting, we have been 3.1%, 5.7%, and 5.0% inefficient respectively. Yesterday we sailed 162 miles from noon to noon based on our movement over the ground. However, the “miles made good,” the distance between where we were at noon yesterday and where we were at noon today was 157 miles. That’s a difference of only 5 miles or 3.1%.
Is that typical? Dunno. Unlike most other routes anywhere, my sail around the south will be almost entirely with the prevailing wind. So, let’s assume my miles made good each day will suffer from an inefficiency ratio of 8% (double the average of the last three days).
Total miles to sail, then, are 15,909.
Second question: How long should that take?
I’m budgeting 150 miles per day on average for the southern ocean loop (an average of 6.25 knots per hour). Mo’s hull speed is somewhere around 8.3 knots, so getting to 6.25 is no trouble if there’s wind. Our average for the first leg of this voyage (San Francisco to Cape Horn) was 136 miles per day just before steering failed; that included the doldrums and some painfully slow sailing on either side. Our average for the first eleven days of this loop is 144 miles per day, including three days of unusually calm weather just east of the Falklands. This is the windiest damned ocean on earth–I think 150 miles per day is achievable.
So, 15,909 miles of loop divided by 150 miles per day equals 106 days of sailing. I departed Ushuaia on January 12th, which puts us back at the Horn on (or around) April 28.
Third question: What can I expect?
A look at the Pilot Charts** suggests the “only difference” between a March, April, or May rounding of the Cape is an average increase in the number of gales per month from 2% to 3%, and not in every quadrant. In either case, that’s less than one per month. But we should note that the charts make no comment on changes in severity, just the percent of winds over Force 7 on the Beaufort Scale. Also note that Mo has already weathered two gales on the Pacific side and will encounter another by Friday. So, there’s that.
On the plus side, Tony Gooch notes that though the chartering sailboats that make the summer hop across the Drake Passage between Ushauai and the Antarctic end their gigs in March, they do so because they are making the passage with wind abeam and they are on a schedule. We have no schedule but to make it there and back, and we’ll be running with the wind.
Also, an interesting comment regarding late roundings comes from Moitessier’s THE LONG WAY, “Vito Dumas picked the end of May or early June to round the Horn from west to east. In his book, he considers that that was the best period. Being Argentinian, he was well informed.”
So, where does that leave us? Heading east with alacrity and being thankful for a well found boat with lots of food and water aboard.
*Many thanks to Matt, currently cruising on DRINA in South Georgia for the cosine formula. I hope to repay the favor someday by teaching him how to diagram sentences.
**Cornell’s Ocean Atlas, Jimmy and Ivan Cornell, South Pacific Ocean.
On a lighter note, I opened Kelton’s jar of Apricot jam today. That on my home-made bread, toasted, was a delicious way to start the day.
Noon Position: 48 01S 36 23W
Sail: Working jib, one tuck
Sky: Overcast, Fog
Cabin Temp: 62
Water Temp: 50
Miles last 24-hours: 146
Miles since departure: 9079
After a fantastic three-day flight, the poled-out twins came down around midnight. Wind had faded with the day and shifted north, and I couldn’t bend that rig round any more without feeling silly.
We ran till dawn with the large genoa full and free, a breeze on the port quarter just strong enough to fill it. The sail glowed like a white balloon under a starry sky so packed with moonless light that Orion could almost hide in the clutter. Winds were 20 by morning and increasing, so I shifted to the working jib, which now has a tuck in it. Today has been soupy, alternating between fog and drizzle and, for a change of scenery, just plain gray, a seascape so dull the birds have retired elsewhere.
With Mo sailing herself, I’ve used my time to make and mend. Yes, even after the work done in Ushuaia, there’s still a to-do list. We’ve got some weather coming our way later in the week, so of special focus are the jobs that make us more ready for big wind and waves. For example, the electronics locker that took water during our knockdown in December is now gasketed with coax tape (good stuff, coax tape–lots of uses); the deck hatches have been resealed; the anchor locker and aft bilge have been inspected and drained (not much there, but good to have a baseline); and chafe on the Jordan Series drogue bridle has been repaired.
After days of trending north, Mo’s course now has some south in it. That’s because the coming low looks to be most intense in its upper half. My current strategy is to head down to 49S and 30W, likely there by Wednesday noon, and then trend due east. The low should roll over us on Thursday and give us strong S winds that veer to SW on Friday, allowing us to make our way back north. At least that’s what the long range forecast suggests.
Noon Position: 48 05S 39 44W
Course/Speed: ENE 6-7
Wind: W 17
Sail: Twins poled
Sea: W to 10
Sky: Clear, bright sun
Cabin Temp: 58
Water Temp: 51
Miles last 24-hours: 179. Best single day for miles yet, I believe.
Miles since departure: 8993
I am a stranger in a strange land, an alien exploring an environment for which he is wholly unsuited, can barely comprehend. I cannot swim with the white-sided dolphins. I cannot fly with the chocolate petrel. I cannot surf the waves they both surf. Disassociated from my ship, I am dead meat in half an hour.
From my windows I observe beings that share nothing with humans except, in the case of the chocolate petrel and the black browed albatross, a certain curiosity about the other. All afternoon the petrels cruise the waves in and around Mo. They swing high and low and circle endlessly eyeing the boat as if they are the field biologists for their race, as if they are making notes they will report at the annual meeting of the Petrel Oceanographic Society, Southern Chapter, concerning the recent discovery of the previously-unknown-to-science creature with great white wings that does not fly.
For my part, it is interesting to consider what makes them alien–or, put another way, what of the thousand and one normal human experiences they will live and die without experiencing, ever even suspecting.
For example, their world contains…
No fresh water
No squishing mud between toes
No daffodils in spring; no peaches in summer; no squash soup in fall
No hamburgers, no pizza
No hot coffee
No hot showers
No hot anything except the blood that fills your beating heart
No CNN, No NPR
No piano, No violin
No road rage
No elevator conversation
No Bright Lights, Big City
No Pledge of Allegiance
No national debt (no debt)
No fire drills (no fire)
No sexual harassment seminars
No dreams, no sleep
No corner pub
No holding hands
No church, no school
No priest, no president, no god.
The singular defining element of the petrel world is an abstraction–motion, a triad of movement that is the constant heave of the sea, the wind that pushes it skyward, and the petrel itself, surfing endlessly; perpetual motion in which there is no fixed point, no roost, like the sparrow’s bush or the hawk’s tree. Unlike the heron that sleeps in the sun after its morning feed, the petrel keeps flying, always flying. Colors in this world include blue, gray, white, and a pale turquoise and ranges in between. That’s it. Temperatures are inconsequential because somehow you don’t get cold. Territories do not exist; there is no kingdom of Petrels East into which Petrels West may not trespass, and there are no boarders, as such–the sea and wind go round and round. Days are no different from nights except for the change in the quality of light, because at night the wind still blows and the waves still heave and you are always flying; every day, all day you are gliding; for an entire life, you surf that interstice of wind over waves.
As you glide this world of motion, your own body hardly even moves a muscle. Movement defines you, but you are a study in stillness. You are the fixed point.
Unless you are a gadfly petrel, and here the one difference is that you do not glide, ever! Instead you flap your wings madly 24/7…in wind and rain and sleet and snow, in calm, in storm, and on clear days and cold nights. Endless, utterly frantic self-propelled motion. So, for the gadfly, there is yet one more element that makes him alien–his is a life without rest.
Noon Position: 48 40S 43 54W
Course/Speed: SE 7+
Wind: WNW 25
Sail: Twins poled out, heavily reefed
Cabin Temp: 61
Water Temp: 51
Miles last 24-hours: 164
Miles since departure: 8754
We’ve been sailing with the twins poled out for three and a half days.
It’s a fine way to make miles.
The Commodore, whose father, Warwick Tompkins wrote 50 SOUTH TO 50 SOUTH, tut-tutted when he saw Mo’s sail configuration. His boat, Flash Girl, was undergoing a refit at KKMI in Richmond at the same time Mo and I were readying for sea. “Don’t like that rig,” he said as we stood on the dock admiring my boat (well, I was admiring my boat), “she’ll roll too much if you ask me.”
And, yes, twin headsails *can* be rolly when out full in light winds or when sheeted flat. But in heavier weather, as we have now, Mo runs as if on rails.
Wind started to come on yesterday afternoon, and by the time I woke this morning, we were cruising the leading edge a low whose center is down around 60S. By noon winds were NW to 20; then 25; then 25-30. Only this hour (5pm) has wind gone W as the low’s center passes under and ahead of us.
I furl a bit of sail, and as things intensify, I furl a bit more. Because the poles are quite long, this shortening of sail has the effect of pulling the poles forward, which bellies out the head of the sail, and that belly acts as a damper to the boat’s tendency to roll. It’s magical to watch.
A nice illustration of this comes from a water color by Marin Marie, a copy of which I keep taped to one of Mo’s cupboards. Here the two twins on poles are also quite full and forward. I presume Marie is running on a brisk day in the tropics given he’s in white shorts and wears a pith helmet.
7pm. Of course, then there’s the question of just how much wind the twins can take. I’ve been on deck the last two hours trying to answer that. Wind strengthened as it went into the W, a steady 30-33 knots at times with gusts to the high 30s. Now the twins are the size of pillow cases, and I think I’ve reached the extent that I can roll them and still get sufficient pull.
“Sufficient,” might be a misnomer. We’re averaging 8 knots an hour these last four.
This run of days is also the first, best illustration of how I’d like to make this circumnavigation of the southern ocean, which is to say, surfing the top third of the low pressure systems that go round and round down here. The problem to solve is at what latitude. For the moment, I’m staying further south than I had planned because of the calms above me and because the lows are also deeply south. I don’t think this will last the further we get from Cape Horn.
A thing to be watched. Closely.
Getting into the swing of things on day seven by forcing my head down for a nap. Was a bright day, so I used my sock cap pulled low to block out the light.
Noon Position: 48 42S 47 48W
Course/Speed: ESE 5
Wind: WNW 10
Sail: Both headsails poled out
Sky: Overcast, squalls to windward
Cabin Temp: 65 (because I’m baking bread)
Water Temp: 49
Miles last 24-hours: 89
Miles since departure: 8590
I put myself on short sleep last night because the weather forecast called for an increasing wind that would shift into the west. Both big headsails were poled out at the time, Mo could be easily overpowered, and I wanted to be ready to take action if needed.
Each hour I rose, it was the same. Wind south at 6 knots. We crawled along, sails filling and then crumpling like paper. Filling and crumpling.
At 2am, I saw a faint, flat glow on an otherwise black horizon to the east. It seemed too early to be dawn coming on. It must be an iceberg. A big one. We are, after all, near the iceberg zone. I switched on the radar, which I’d left off to save the batteries and because I intended to be on deck frequently. No reflection. Two hours later, that part of the horizon turned red. It was dawn.
The day was the same as the night. The barometer kept rising, 1005, 1006, 1007, the sky was low and squally, and we wafted along as though we were on the edge of the doldrums.
So I made bread.
When putting together the provisions list so many months ago now, I budgeted a fresh loaf of bread every five days. Nothing speaks to home comfort more than bread and comfort is often in short supply aboard.
But in the tropics it was too hot. And in the south it was too rough. And I was worried I’d not have enough fuel (even though this too was budgeted). Baking never happened. Fifty pounds of flour aboard, and not a bag has been opened…until today.
The bread I’m making is the “no-knead” variety. Put flour mix into a bowl, add yeast mix, stir till a compact ball, let rise for 30 minutes, bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. That’s it.
The mix I like best…
1 1/2C All Purpose Flour
1/4C Whole Wheat Flour
1/4C Flax Meal
1T Sunflower Seeds
1T Flax Seed
1T Whole Bulgar
1T Sesame Seeds
1 1/2t Salt
2 1/4t Yeast
Judging temperatures in the new stove is a bit of a guess, but it worked. By noon I had a hot loaf with a crunchy crust, which made a great base for the massive egg scramble that came next.
Team Figure 8 Made a bit of an error and missed this post. Instead of depriving you we decided you should get to read it too.
Noon Position: 51.53S 56.36W
Sail: Big genoa out full
Cabin Temp: 56
Water Temp: 47
Miles last 24-hours: 149 (previous 24-hours: 159)
Miles since departure: 8144
The south is dealing gently with me these first few days, as if it can sense my ambivalence.
Wind on port quarter has been 15 to 30, and I’ve run with the working jib only, making way to the NE that seems effortless. Downwind of the Falklands the sky cleared to blue and sun and the breeze backed off to but a whisper. The sail went limp like laundry on a line. Except for the temperature and the Wandering Albatross, we could be in the middle Pacific, but even temperatures are warm. The cabin is 65 degrees as I type, up from 49 this morning.
Probably the ambivalence needs no explanation. The Figure 8 has but one goal: to get around the route and return home safely in one year. But I had personal goals nested inside the bigger endeavor, like going non-stop from San Francisco to Greenland, like rounding the Horn twice in a year. Both now gone. Then there’s the disappointment of having prepared so intensely only to be stopped two days from the first big achievement, the Horn, by failures no-one would have suspected. When particularly morose, I think to myself that I planned like Amundsen but was dealt a Shackleton. Then add the uncertainty of the next three months in the Roaring 40s and a second attempt at the Horn on the cusp of inauspicious southern fall.
Please don’t take this as complaint. When Jiver of SIR ERNST, the boat rafted next to Mo in Ushuaia, says, “It is a beautiful cruise you are making,” part of what he means is “you lucky bastard…look at what you get to attempt,” and this from a man who is recreating the cruises of Earnest Shackleton. I do understand my inexplicable good fortune to be out here at all. But I presume you are reading this because you are interested in what goes on inside the mind of a man who would try such a thing, and what goes on is not always guts and glory.
So I am grateful to the south for dealing gently with me these first few days.
I came on deck yesterday morning to find Lt. Wattsy’s (Watt and Sea Hydrogenerator) propellor had come off. What I pulled from the sea was a bare stainess steel shaft, clean as new. The day before a school of dolphins were at Mo’s stern nibbling at Monte’s retrieval line. I watched until they dispersed, but half suspected they’d returned to have a go at Wattsy, with the result being that they’d sheered the pin holding the prop in place.
Not so. The pin simply unwound and it and prop wandered away in the night.
I have one extra of the right size. Now in place with a screw that is doubled-down with Locktite.
By way of breaking the mood this afternoon and reminding Mo and me that we aren’t beyond the pale just yet, I looked up from the cockpit where I was hanging damp clothes to dry to see a C134-type aircraft giving us the once-over. Ah yes, the Falklands are just over the horizon to our stern, I thought.
After the fly-low, it took off to the south.
The wind has filled in from the NW to 20 and we romp on at 8 knots under all plain sail toward our rendesvous with 48N.
Steady as she goes.
Noon Position: 49 27S 49 11W
Sail: Both headsails poled out full, flopping around
Bar: 1002, steady
Sea: Small rollers from the N and SW
Cabin Temp: 60
Water Temp: 48
Miles last 24-hours: 92
Miles since departure: 8501
Some birds are more curious than others. The Wandering Albatross, for example, can’t be bothered. It approches until it recognizes that odd object on the horizon that is not a wave and is not a fish. “Oh, a boat; never mind.” And then it glides away with as much effortlessness as it used on its approach. It’s a big bird with a big belly to fill. It doesn’t have time to chat.
The smaller Albatrosses–still the biggest thing around–like the Black Browed and the Grey Headed, are more social, will circle in for a thorough examination. This happened frequently on the approach to Bahia Cook when I was hand steering and had time to notice. A particular bird, of the many on the wing near that coast, would take a fancy to Mo. He’d surf around and around the boat, hover over the cockpit, even land nearby and watch as Mo and that unusual being clad in red, made their slow way east.
I would often shout, “HELLO!” at the top of my lungs to the hovering birds. Possibly this served to intensify the stare I got, but no bird ever condescended to make an answer or even look startled.
Today, it was a wholly brown petrel (Great-Wing? or some other of the “dark” petrels south of his region?) that came calling.
It was our second morning of wind so light I could barely feel it move, and yet Mo made way and (somehow) Monte kept her on course. I was at chores on deck when I first noticed the bird. The salon hatches leak a bit when water is breaking over the house, and today’s bodger for that was to put a layer of coax tape over the rubber so as to create a gooey (and we hope watertight) seal when the hatch is compressed closed. That and the lifelines needed tightening. And then there’s always some chafe to chase.
I saw the bird plot in the water close to our minimal wake and didn’t think much of it. Five minutes later I noticed another plop. Same bird. Nearly same spot. This time I watched. The bird paddled furiously for a minute attempting to keep up with Mo’s 3 knots. Then gave up. Then swooshed its beak in the water for a bit. Then yawned. Then took off, circled, and plopped nearby. This process repeated for several hours.
A Black Browed cruised in but didn’t stay. The fly-like-mad-till-your-wings-fall-off gadflys flew like mad all around but seemed not to notice Mo or her attendant. Only the brown petrel hung close.
Late in the afternoon the wind came up 12 knots from the SSW. Finally Mo’s sails filled. No more rattle and bang. The brown petrel too decided to stretch its wings. Around and around Mo it went–over the cockpit where I stood watching, under Mo’s spread-wide genoas, over waves and swoop high, then back toward Mo for another close-up. Over and over and over.
Finally, I went below for a cup of coffee, and when I came back on deck, the bird was gone.
Even as a child I thought Doctor Doolittle had missed his calling. Here was a guy who could talk to animals, but he never talked to anything but the cows and chickens. He never went off to ask questions of the snow leopard or the condor or the sperm whale.
Because even as an adult, I’d give anything to be able to invite this brown petrel in for cheese and crackers. I want to know what it eats, how it finds what it eats, how it knows to cant its wings this way or that over this or that wave, how, when I’m on drogue in a storm and in survival mode, it can fly over gray beards the size of city blocks with the same nonchalance it employs today. Mostly I want to know what it’s like to live, day and night, on the ocean.
The odor in the forepeak, where I store all more food, is producing that stale scent of rotting vegetation. Likely this is the cabbage that went missing some months back, but for all my sleuthing I can’t find it. I did find, however, five oranges, packed aboard the morning Mo went under the Golden Gate Bridge. All are still in perfect order, except the two that I ate, whose sweet deliciousness is being happily digested.
Heavy wind is slamming into the west coast of South America. Seven hundred miles east of us, a very tight low with gale force winds is dropping down from the northwest. But here, puffy cumulus; cobalt blue water; an (almost) warm tradewind-like breeze…at 50S. It’s weird.
Noon Position: 49 47S 50 44W
Sail: Big Genoa out full
Cabin Temp: 60
Water Temp: 46
Miles last 24-hours: 161
Miles since departure: 8409
I call them Blue Blobs, the windless regions one has to contend with in sailing from here to there. Granted, on my weather app, they are more purple at their worst, but Blue Blob has stuck.
I saw this one coming and had a plan. I’d sail up to 50S on my now usual course NE, and then I’d pole out the headsails and run underneath the blob, following the wind as it gently backed from W into the SW over the couple days it will take this one to die of exasperation, unloved and unmourned.
Good plan, and I made the necessary sail and course changes just after the noon log.
But my plan failed to account for one thing: forecasts change, especially “forecasts” that describe current conditions. This one now gives me much lighter wind than I’d counted on. Instead of W 10 – 15 knots, I’m getting W 5 – 7. Mo bobs and dips; the sails kerfuffle about, helplessly grasping at breeze that isn’t there. As we roll, everything that can shift and bang shifts and bangs. Imagine sitting in a band’s percussion section during the world’s worst earthquake.
Somehow we make 2 – 3 knots of easting anyway. Amazingly Monte can kind of hold a course.
But no one is happy.
I’m half tempted to turn north. There’s enough wind to make a gentle few knots quietly with wind on the beam, but overnight wind goes SW, and by morning we’d have the same problem.
Given the bags of wind we had on the west side of South America, I’m a little surprised by how shifty wind is on the east side. Yes, I understand the concept of a wind shadow and now think I should have stayed south until we were beyond it.
But last night showed what can be, even here. By 2am we had a steady 30 gusting nearly 40 from the NW. Mo is so quiet below, I didn’t realize the wind had built that much or that quickly…except that as I snoozed I could feel I was sleeping more on the cupboard than the bunk.
The main, already double reefed, had to come down, always tricky with strong wind aft of the beam. But down she came easy, and with a double reefed working jib we still clipped along at over 7 knots till morning.
A mere 12 hours later, this.
Noon Position: 51 06S 54 39W
Sail: All plain sail, close hauled
Cabin Temp: 67
Water Temp: 49
Miles last 24-hours: 104
Miles since departure: 8248
It’s been a day of change.
I woke to find Mo making slow way to the SW, the opposite of the course we had been following a mere two hours earlier. Winds had been light all night, and the main slatted now and then in the calms, but somehow the boat had managed to follow this transition, a perfect 180 degrees, without rattling the main even once or disturbing my slumber in the slightest. By the time I got us back on course, the wind had died altogether. We were becalmed until noon.
It is beautiful to be becalmed in that you get to see the world in a different way. The water of this ocean, as it lays prone beneath the sun, is blue but with a white or milky quality that reminds of the sea in glacial fjords. An oblong jelly with iridescent stripes just below the surface oozed by beyond the reach of my camera. A Black Browed Albatross, magically finding a breeze Mo could not, glided near again and again, then landed a stone’s throw away to preen. A shearwater slept at water top as we drifted. Now and then a bit of kelp, a reminder that land is not that far off.
It is also terrible to be becalmed because one is making no way, but soon the promised northwesterly arrived, very light at first but building. In the early afternoon, we entered a fog bank, the kind that blankets the water thickly but allows the sky to stay blue. I thought at first this might indicate an iceberg upwind, but the fog has grown heavier as the wind increases, and the radar looks back at me blankly with its big black eye.
Twenty three knots of wind now and more coming. We are making 8 knots over the ground close hauled; I have two reefs in the working jib and one in the main. The main will get another as soon as this is done.
Day 62 (days at sea, not counting days in Ushuaia)
Noon POS: 53 23S 59 46W, under the Falklands
Course and Speed: NE7
Temp: cabin, 56; Water, 47
A blog for Jan 11 and 12…
At the office of the Prefectura (Coast Guard), the captain waggled his finger when I showed him my exit papers, completed and signed in advance so as to expedite the process. I was breathless from the three flights of stairs and clearly in a hurry, and there is nothing bureaucracy hates more than hurry.
“The man for the Zarpa, he is out in the port. Will be back ten minutes.” He pointed to the empty waiting area and smiled.
For an hour the captain’s small room with a desk, two chairs and a wall of binders filled with other officers who chatted affably, made notes in binders, browsed others, and then chatted again. One came over to take my paperwork but was waved off by the captain. When “the man” finally arrived, he looked at my forms once, stamped each three times, signed them, and I was off…
…to the office of Aduana (Customs), where I stood watching as a man behind the counter stamped a collection of forms nine times on each page and signed each stamp. He did this with utter seriousness, the stamps thwacking the desk-top with the sound of a gavel. Then the man answered the phone. Then he chatted with another man who arrived with papers but seemed not to need anything done with them. Finally I caught his eye from my solitary position behind the tape on the floor that read “line forms here.”
“Oh, certainly,” said the man, reaching for a stamp.
I had wanted to be off the dock by 9am, so I had begun the check-out process at 7am, but it was noon before I was back to the boat, engine running.
“You best go now if you wish to, Randall,” said Roxanna, the club commodore. She kicked at my mooring lines. The wind was already singing in the rigging, dark clouds above the mountains tore at the peaks. The day before we’d had 40 knots at the dock. “Same this afternoon ,” said Roxanna.
For a moment I waffled. I needed calm water in order to commission the autopilot. But too late.
Mo glided slowly off the pier, and with that we quit beautiful Ushuaia.
I searched in vain for a dead calm in which to perform the autopilot sea trial. Under the mountain was best, but here the gusts could be 30 knots. The calibration wouldn’t take and, when engaged, Otto began to put Mo in circles. I moved down coast, hand steering, to try again. Same result. I re-read the manual while we drifted, but could find no fault in the procedure nor my implementation of it.
Finally I anchored under Punta San Juan and called for help while I still had a cell signal. “Remember, you have an older boat,” said Dustin in San Francisco. “Otto thinks you have a wheel, like everyone else. So when the commissioning test says ‘put the rudder to port,’ you must move the tiller to starboard.’
“Damned remedial of me,” I grumbled.
“You’ve had a lot on your mind.”
By this time it was evening and winds were still gusting 30 off the mountain, so I stayed at anchor under the point, a mere five miles from where I’d started. I had wanted to depart on the 10th. Now it would be the 12th before I really got going.
At dawn the autopilot test took on the first try, and Mo and I were soon motoring in a flat calm and under a brilliant sun down the Beagle, past Puerto Williams, past the inviting anchorages behind Isla Gable at which point Mo and I crossed into Chilean waters.
Within ten minutes an officer from the Chilean navy called for the usual check in.
“Sailboat Moli, what is your last port?”
“Ushuaia.” I said.
“How many crew on board?”
“One, soy solo.”
“And what is your next port?”
“Greenland,” I said
There was a pause. “Can you spell?” asked the voice.
“I spell,” I said, “Golf, Romeo, Echo, Echo, November, Lima, Alfa, November, Delta.
After another pause, “And where is this green-land?” asked the officer.
“In the North Atlantic east of Canada,” I replied.
“Ah, Canada,” he said, seizing upon a recognizable place name. “And what is your eta to Greenland, Canada?”
I counted on my fingers. “July,” I said.
“July. El mes de julio, este ano.”
“Oh, ok senior. Thank you for the information. Have a good navigation.”
But it hadn’t sunk in. Over the next two hours the officer called three more times to confirm my destination and eta.
Then we were east of Isla Picton, and I could see hummocks on the horizon beyond Isla Lennox I thought might be the Horn. The day had continued to be sunny and windless. I toyed with the idea of a hard right turn, but a detour under the Horn would cost 150 miles. I pressed on.
Wind came up out of the southwest to 25 soon after we passed Isla Nueva. I unfurled the working jib and switched off the engine and with that we were at sea.
Steering had failed on December 20th at a position 340 miles westsouthwest of Bahia Cook. We arrived Caletta Olla on December 25th and Ushuaia on the 28th. Jo arrived with companionship and parts (needed in equal measure) on December 31st, and we took a holiday until the 4th of January, after which I worked furiously to get through a longish list of jobs, which I completed on the 10th. Ushuaia had been a lovely, refreshing break, but the failures had cost me twenty days and nearly 3,000 miles of easting.
There is a long way to go to complete the Figure 8 … and we are behind schedule.
Noon Position: 55 58S 62 52W (roughly 200 miles E of Ushuaia)
Course Speed: NE 8+
Wind: WNW 20 – 25
Temp: 53, cabin; 43 water
Mo and Randall have made their escape from Ushuaia, Argentina, and are now thoroughly at sea. In the late morning, the last sight of land, sharp ink spots on a horizon layered in gray, the sinking of Isla de Los Estados.
After entering the South Atlantic via Canal Beagle in the afternoon of yesterday, I ran all night due east on a west wind so as to create some space between the lee Estados and Mo. For a time I thought we’d continue on that course and round the Burdwood Bank from the south. But I’ve thought better of it. The weather these next few days looks to be fair and good for making northing. Best not to dawdle down here.
Since the plan is to circumnavigate the Southern Ocean at around 48S, I’ve put Mo NE and am aiming for the eastern corner of Burdwood. Once around the bank, I’ll put more E in our course.
Wind has been everything but consistent today, and when not napping or admiring the many albatrosses, I’ve spent most of my time making sail changes. The wind range is 7 knots to 35 knots with 10 to 25 being a kind of average. Wind direction has been W to WNW to, now, SW.
Which is why this is a short post. The civilized Randall, used to hot showers and a still, heated cabin, is now cold and tired and needs a hot dinner. I’ll try to catch you up tomorrow.
“…ships and men rot in port,” wrote Tony Gooch last week. And then, “I hope you have rested well and are recuperated. But do recall, you have an appointment with Cape Horn three months hence.”
A brief note bordering on terse but well-timed and written from the experience of one who’s made, and forced himself to leave, many a beautiful foreign port. For nothing is easier to adapt to than comfort nor easier to forget than future trials, even if they are of one’s own choosing.
From her berth in Ushuaia, Mo’s interior is dry and warm and mostly motionless. The showers at the Afasyn Yacht Club are hot; their pressure, if one is not careful, can reach levels approved for hydraulic mining. When it is not blowing a gale, raining, sleeting, snowing or blowing a gale, the town is quite pleasant to explore. The bookstore even has a few titles in English. If your tastes lean toward wood-fired lamb, beef, rabbit, chicken, and chorizos of all types, the restaurants are fine (if it’s kale or asparagus you crave, best not to arrive in the first place).
Still, I have partaken of the pleasures here only after the working hours, for the punch-list is long and the route home longer still.
I write this afternoon from Ramos Generales, a cafe on the waterfront, having consumed conejo confitado, un ensalada de jardin, una copa de vino tinto y agua y cafe con leche y una postre con crema de citron, this on January 10th, my target departure day.
Mo is repaired, fueled, watered, provisioned (more cookies and red wine), even more or less clean, and ready for sea.
But Mo will not depart today. Winds are 20 gusting 40 and more. My six lines to the pier sweat and grumble. The rigging screams.
The immediate plan is open water, some 90 miles east and a straight shot down the Beagle Channel. I had contemplated returning to Bahia Cook and recommencing the voyage from where I left off, but the strong winds which made easting in the Beagle a fast run when I entered would be on the nose, and “it could take you weeks to get back to Cook,” reports Olivier of CHUGA.
On the night Olivier fed a bedraggled Randall at Caleta Olla, he recommended exiting the Beagle to the east, but sliding down for a rounding of the Horn prior to continuing on. This has been an attractive alternative, but again, even if the weather is benign (it doesn’t look to be) the cost is time, a day to check-in and out of Puerto Williams, some twenty miles on, because the Horn and environs belong to Chile, and a night to anchor on the approach…all for what will feel like a cheat, a rounding from inland waters. I haven’t invested three years so as to be helicoptered to the summit of Everest. I wish to earn this most extreme of Capes. To do that I have to go around.
Some shots of town, and for nearly all, it’s the sky that’s most striking…
Evita. The placard below reads, “I don’t ask or want anything for myself. My glory is and always will be to be the shield and flag of my people. And though I leave shreds of my life along the road, I know that you will pick up my name and will carry it to victory as a banner.” 1951.
The Argentine Armada. Granted, this is not likely the best of the fleet. But it is hard to imagine how such a fleet, even much improved, was intended to defend the annexation of the Falklands in the early 80s when the competition was the British navy.
Next to me is now moored a beautiful Boreal 47, named Sir Ernst owned by three French sailors who, with freinds, are recreating Earnest Shackleton’s voyages. For no other reason than, “it’s always been a dream,” says skipper Jiver. “I did make one mistake, though. I got the spelling of his name wrong, but by the time I figured it out, it was too late.”
I was treated to a lovely dinner aboard, which included a bottle of Shakleton whiskey. My gratitude. Visit their site at www.sir-ernst.net.
January 1st, Ushuaia, Argentina
“Option one…” I said to my wife, Joanna.
The waiter laid down a lunch-pail sized cut of lamb that had just come from the fire and smelled of ash and grease and rosemary and made my mouth water. Along with it came three types of chorizo and roasted salmon and a small bowl of mussels cooked in oil and garlic and tomatoes and another of lentils. Then he opened the ubiquitous Malbec from Mendoza. When he at last concluded his presentation, I continued.
“…is to sell the boat, return home and grow cabbages.”
“You were that scared by the storm?”
“No. But it’s an option.”
Jo scowled. “You can do that,” she said, “but you’ll get a real job during the week and grow your cabbages on Sunday.”
“Option two. It’s a long way around the Southern Ocean, some 15,000 miles, twice as far as I’ve already come. This recent adventure with the self steering that has put me in Ushuaia has now also put me behind schedule. If I return to sea in a week or two, by the time I get back for a second pass at Cape Horn, it will be fall…fall down here is serious business. Hell, summer down here has been serious business. So, I could continue this southern loop but stop for the winter in Australia, and then begin again next summer for a rounding of the Horn and then on to the Arctic.”
“How many months would you lay over?” asked Jo.
“Too much delay. I’ve lost interest.”
“Or I could go around but skip the Horn on the second pass; instead I’d sail north for Panama once I’ve weathered New Zealand and then up the Atlantic for the Northwest Passage.”
“Is that do-able within your time frame?”
“I don’t think so. There’s not much wind in the last thousand miles of approach to Panama, and what there is is a beat.
“So, what are you really thinking?
“Get Mo back in shape as soon as possible. Continue with the Figure 8 as originally planned. I think I can be done with repairs by January 10th. Take what the Horn gives when I get here. High-tail it for the Arctic and then home by the end of the year.”
Jo arrived in Ushuaia on December 31st with a suitcase full of spares. Early conversations between Tony Gooch and I focused on the highly likely, interminable delay in Buenas Aires Customs of anything sent to me by courier. “It could take weeks, and that’s thinking positive,” said Tony. “Alacrity is not a word of Latin origin.”
It looked like the Figure 8 was sunk.
Then Jo volunteered to make the trip. Two days of travel from San Francisco and four connections. “Best Wife in the World” is a title well-earned.
But even with this boon, our fear continued to be the officials in Buenas Aires and their ponderous formality.
“Y que es esto?” asked the officer as she withdrew a Monitor windvane part from one of Jo’s bags, which, disassociated from its reality more resembled a giant meat cleaver than a water paddle. Jo explained by showing the Figure 8 tracker, the sharp right turn for Ushuaia; the heavy wind off the coast.
And suddenly she was on her way.
A team got Jo through customs. At the head of that team was Mike Scheck of Scanmar, the maker of the Monitor, who stepped up in a big way to ensure Mo is whole again. He not only got the necessary parts together quickly, he arranged the paperwork and formulated a strategy for our approach to the people in uniform. Thanks also to the quick turn around of Dustin at Fox Marine who assembled the various elements of the new autopilot, and to KKMI and HOOD Sails.
We rented a small cabin in the woods and for four days acted like tourists. We hiked the Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego, strolled the town, ate, slept late. I delivered my wife’s coffee to her in bed, which is really all she requires of me.
Now Jo has returned home, and I’m back at boat jobs. It is the afternoon of January 7th, and here’s what’s been done to be ready for sea on the 10th:
1. The toilet pump has been rebuilt. This was first on the list because pooping in a bucket has a charm that is quickly expended.
2. Monte’s shiny, new pendulum arm, gear, and water paddle have been installed.
3. A brand-new Ottopilot brain, an NAC-3 unit and its Triton controllers, is up and running.
4. The broken hatch handles and dead starboard running light have been replaced.
5. Engine oil and filters have been changed and fifty gallons of diesel has been ordered for tomorrow. According to the tank gauges, we’ve burned 56 gallons since departure.
6. Water tanks have been topped off. The aft tank, the only one I’ve used, took 52 gallons, which works out to .78 gallons consumed per day for the 67 days I’ve been aboard.
7. The Jordan Series drogue is drying in the sun as I type as is my now clean woolen underwear.
What remains to do?
1. I need to retune the rig, which will require dropping the headsails, which will require a calmer day than this one.
2. The port spinnaker pole keeps slipping out of its mast attachment. Last time was in 15 foot swell, and it nearly took my head off. Not sure what the fix will be.
3. A propane tank needs filling; then some light provisioning, including a local beer called Cape Horn and some Argentinian red wine.
4. Test the new gear.
Boats from France, Germany, Poland, Australia, the UK are in and out of the Afasyn Club dock daily. Crews are dropped off, taken on, carts and carts of food and diesel and luggage trundle up and down the pier. To a one, they are all headed south to Antarctica. Only Mo and I are headed east. Soon.
Below are some shots from the extraordinary Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego.
Below is an article written by Tony Gooch for the Ocean Cruising Club, which neatly summarizes Mo’s experience of getting to safety after the loss of both her self-steering systems. Tony and his wife, Coryn, owned Moli, then Taonui, for sixteen years, and during that time cruised extensively, mostly in high latitudes. In 2002, Tony singlehanded Taonui non-stop around the world, Victoria-Southern Ocean-Victoria–177 days and 27,000 miles. He knows his stuff.
I’ve had the privilege (not to mention good fortune) of becoming friends with Tony over the last year, and when it became clear Mo and I would be making an unplanned stop in a foreign port, I reached out to Tony for advice. I had charts and could figure a route but needed recommendations for interim anchorages once on the inside (most in the Chile Channels require lines ashore due to high and shifting winds–a task I wanted to avoid) and entry assistance at Ushuaia.
As you will see from the below, Tony came through and in a big way! My deepest gratitude…
Solo Drama in the Screaming Fifties
…and How Modern Communications Helped Save the Day
By Vice Commodore Tony Gooch – 27/12/2017
OCC member, Randall Reeves, left San Francisco in early October on a solo non-stop voyage, south to Cape Horn, around the Southern Ocean, up the Atlantic and through the Northwest Passage and back to San Francisco. He calls it the Figure 8 Voyage. He is sailing our old boat, Taonui, now renamed Moli, a 42 foot very tough, very capable aluminium sloop. On December 18th, 500 miles from Cape Horn he was in 45 knots, gusting to 65 – 70. A knockdown caused water ingress into the autopilot electronic control box knocking out the autopilot.
The next day a following wave caused the emergency trip line to the stern boarding ladder to become entangled in the latch of the Monitor windvane and the strain broke the weld of the Monitor’s vertical post to the latch plate. No autopilot. No windvane. Big problemos!
Randall had to hand steer 400 miles to reach shelter in Chile. Brutally hard work. The boat has a big stern-hung rudder and is tiller steered. The lows and fronts kept coming. He’d steer for four-hour shifts, then heave-to or drift. On the fourth day, he had to lie to the drogue for 24 hours while a low with 45-knot front passed by. Then 2 1/2 hours of back-breaking work to retrieve the drogue. It took six long, cold days to reach Bahai Cook.
In the meantime, a shore-support team took form. The OCC Fleet map showed Chugach, sailed by Olivier Fourment, in Ushuaia. I emailed Olivier and Roxanna Diaz the OCC PO in Ushuaia for advice on entry, shipping replacement parts, etc. I reached an old friend who had just recently been diving in the area. He advised that the nearest suitable anchorage was fifty miles inland from Bahai Cook. Closer anchorages required lines ashore, too dangerous for a singlehander.
The trackline on the above screen shot (Dec 26, 03:00) is from pings from Randall’s Iridium phone. With this phone we had instant communication to develop sailing strategies and to plan a route into the Chilean Canals. At the same time, parts were assembled for Randall’s wife to carry down to Ushuaia. Shipment by courier was deemed bound to fall afoul of Argentinian Customs.
Randall arrived 50 miles off the mouth of Bahia Cook at 04:00 on December 25 and was faced with the choice of fifty miles into Bahia Cook plus an overnight trip for fifty miles through passages sometimes as narrow as 3/4 mile, or going back out to sea into a forecast 40+ NW gale. He opted to press on. Inside Bahia Cook the first task was to retrieve the 60 lb Bruce anchor from the anchor locker, this done while drifting in 35 knots with lee shores all around.
All this on Christmas Day/Night. From the comfort of our warm home in Victoria, BC and later at Christmas dinner with Ian and Susan Grant (RRC for the Pacific Northwest), we followed his trackline and exchanged cryptic emails with an exhausted, wet, cold Randall who, in the gathering darkness, had to find and navigate the narrow 32 mile long Brazo Sudoeste that leads ENE to the Beagle Canal and to safety at Caleta Olla, one of the few sand bottomed, well sheltered anchorages in southern Patagonia. Coryn and I and about ten other boats spent Christmas in Olla in 1996. I told Randall that he could expect plenty of help there.
Moil arrived at Olla at 01:30 on Boxing day. Following his chart plotter in 30 knot winds and driving snow he briefly went aground near the entrance. It took two attempts to get the anchor to set. He had the place to himself. Magical. Meanwhile, we were enjoying after dinner drinks in front of the fire, following his trackline and AIS position on Marinetraffic.com, checking out his weather on WindyTy and sending him a congratulatory email on his arrival.
It is a strange, instant communications world that we live in.
Randall was always going to have to stop in Greenland to wait for the ice to clear in the Northwest passage. With this delay, that Greenland stop will be a couple of weeks shorter.
Randall has a great blog site at http://figure8voyage.com/blog/
P.S. Roxanna Diaz, PO Ushuaia is now actively assisting Randall with entry formalities and sourcing local supplies. Joanna, Randall’s wife, should arrive December 28/29.
Dec 28, 2017
Caleta Olla, “cook pot cove,” is a bowl-shaped basin with a black cliff on one side and a grassy mole on the other connected by a curved, tree-lined beach. Above the cliff, a condor soars, his primaries spread wide into the gray sky like fingers feeling for the updraft. Across the channel, a pinnacled mountain is colliding with an incoming cloud, and the snow at its saddle ridge is lifting in spirals high in to the air. I hear a passerine. I see gulls and a red-nosed cormorant. Wind coming down-channel is strong this morning; there are white-caps in The Beagle. In the cove it is still.
I write to my wife, “It is beautiful here. I am building a cabin on the beach. Please bring red wine and good books.”
But I stayed only two more nights.
On my last, a boat arrived from Ushuaia, CHUGA, whose owner, Olivier, had helped Tony Gooch in making arrangements for MOLI’s unplanned arrival there. He is French, as is his crew of five. They are cruising the channels for the summer.
Dinner, an engaging curry of fresh lamb, a local staple, and my bottle of champagne intended for the Horn. I talk too much. I have a story tell. Even if half the table has but a passing graps of my language, my story will out. Olivier struggles to keep up the translation. The others nod, smile, reach for the wine bottle.
Finally I am silenced by music. As if by magic, an accordion appears, and after months of attending to the crashing wave and the song of wind, I laugh like a boy at the warm, familiar sounds.
Next day, Ushuaia, 35 miles further east down the Beagle. An uneventful motoring exercise through a corridor of ragged and snowy mountains impossible to distinguish from similar channels in SE Alaska, save for the lack of serious trees here. The only mark of civilization, a coast guard station, until one turns the corner, and there is the town, spread out over the sloping land like mould on a petri dish. Housing communities create stark, rectangular cuts into the forest. A jet rises into the air. Cruise ships.
Mo and I are met at the pier by Laura and her husband, Fede, from OCEAN TRAMP, a local charter boat, who come with fenders (which I didn’t bring for my non-stop) and Roxanna, who immediately whisks me to the several agencies who wish to approve my entrance with a stamp.
Then to domestic issues, which Roxanna intuits from my appearance. “Here are the showers with heated floors,” she says, “over there the barber shop where you may wish to make an appointment before the holiday (beards so unkempt, the mark of a local in Alaska, are unknown here); and there is the lavandaria.”
And as suddenly as that, Mo and I have left the wild.
A planned 240-day cruise has ended at the bottom of the world after exactly 60 days at sea.
The wind tears down from the mountains, first from the north with rain in the harbor that leaves a dusting of sugar on the peaks, and then from the east, dry and bitterly cold. “It is the only problem with Ushuaia,” says Laura over a dinner of empanadas and red wine aboard OCEAN TRAMP, “we don’t get summer here.”
It is December 28, six days past summer solstice. Mo and I are far from home.
Dec 26. 2am. Anchor down, Caleta Olla, after 20 hours at the tiller.
0500. Underway for Bahia Cook. 50 miles east, a full day. 110 miles to Caleta Olla.
The sea running is still a Southern Ocean sea, but somehow it’s more manageable than I expect, the tiller, now called derisively by the name Nasty, Brutish, and Short!, is not so nasty. The day is sunny and crisp with squalls that bring brief showers of hail, better than rain, drier. A few albatross.
0830. Land. Silhouettes above the horizon only barely discernable from the heavy cloud that piles in over them. Chilling to be approaching such a ragged, saw-tooth coast from windward–no turning back. And welcome. And disappointing. And still far away.
1230. Six and a half hours on the tiller and I’m getting cold, so break for lunch. Lunch and dinner have been the same for days. A can of lentils, a can of raviolis, a can of meat. Put all in one pot, bring to boil. Eat as fast as much as one can to transfer as much of the heat to the body as possible.
Breakfasts have been similar. A pot of oatmeal (different pot) loaded with peanut butter, brown sugar, powdered milk and raisins. Don’t be fussy: more milk, more peanut butter, more raisins, good. Neither pot has been washed since I can remember.
I keep a bag of Clif Bars in the cockpit. Have another. Now. Gotta stay warm and calories equal warmth.
First waypoint in Bahia Cook, 10 miles off. We are over the continental shelf now. Depths have gone from thousands of feet to hundreds, and my fear has been that the heavy offshore swell will lump up and become impossible to steer through. But this is not the case. Mostly. That said, I don’t want to lie ahull here overnight. Too dangerous for tonight’s gale force winds from the NW. Gotta push on.
1500. Am well inside the bay now. Since coming over the continental shelf and its upwelling effect and even to now, the birdlife has been nothing short of intense. Flocks of albatross, yes, count them, 20, 30–shearwaters, skuas, noddies, dovkies… and scores of birds I don’t know … feasting. On? Dahl’s porpoises play constantly at Mo’s bow. The landform is jagged. The sea, still quite high as the bay faces the west. The breakers on the islotes to the north are visible miles off.
1800. I’m just about to make the turn east into the Beagle Channel. Decision time. No place to heave to for more than an hour in Bahia Cook and no obvious emergency anchorages. One option: press on to Caleta Olla, another 40 miles. Nothing else makes sense.
Sea and wind way down. Here I pause to swing the anchor, stowed these last two months, which, again, is easier than I anticipated. The anchor is just at the max of what I can lift over the rail when I’m at my best. But done. And the windlass works. So much else has failed, I was…but it works. Relief.
2100. Well into Beagle Channel. Night is coming on. I am both fatigued and elated. Sure, the steering is easy now on flat water, but that’s not it. It’s this place! Beagle Channel. Such history. Just north of here Magellan was the first to discover a strait cutting through from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The bay we entered was first explored by Captain James Cook. The channel we transit was discovered by Captain Fitzroy and bears the name of his ship on which Charles Darwin was a passanger. I can almost see the HMS Beagle beating up day after day, unsure what would be found at the mouth. South of here Drake went west looking for Spanish gold. Somewhere near here, Slocum spread tacks on the deck of SPRAY as protection against marauding Fuegans.
All european explorers had to pass this gate at the bottom of the world. As now do Mo and I.
The land form is reminiscent of the glacial parts of SE Alaska. Humpy, rounded granite mountains of (I’m guessing) 4,000 feet. The top half covered in snow. The bottom, black rock covered in a jaundiced, mossy grass and stunted, wind-tortured trees. At the divides, I can see the much taller, cut and triangular mountains, still black and snowy, that stayed above the ice. Also at the divides, glaciers, a bluey-gray.
2200. The night’s offshore NW gale brings into the channel a west wind to 25 knots and endless rain with sleet. Stop for dinner and a warm up. It’s been wet for hours. Can’t see much now. Concentrate on the chart plotter course and press on.
0000. At Point Divide, turn northwest for a run of two more miles to Caleta Olla. Suddenly our tail wind comes full-around to 30 knots on the nose. Mo goes from 7 knots over the ground to 4 knots and starts to pound. The sky is low. I can make out the dark cliffs on either side of the channel, but that’s about it.
0100. At the entrance to the caleta, according to the chart plotter. With the rain and sleet, I can’t see a thing. I make the turn and follow my course. Too late I realize that the land form on the radar and on the chart do not agree. I feel a thump and Mo slows. We are aground on what vaguely appears to be a lee mud flat. I see a beach, I think. Ahead, where the caleta entrance should have been is a rock wall, maybe.
Back and fill. Back and fill. The wind is pressing us further in. I’m wet through now. Cold, tired, confused.
Is this how the Figure 8 ends?
0130. Somehow Mo slides out and we are swimming again. Out in the channel, I tread water for an hour waiting for some light. I should wait until 3am, which here is light enough to be called full day, but I’ve lost patience. I press for the entrance, this time (by way of experiment) using the chart on the tablet. This time the radar and the chart agree. Yes, there’s the point. I can see its beach and trees. Turn… And a minuscule bay. We are in. We are in!
Anchor down in 45 feet. Back down hard. Stuck. Good. Go below. Strip down. A beer and bed.
Six days and 400 miles of hand-steering at 56S ends here and ends well.
Quick update virtual voyagers. A short Christmas Eve chat with Jo where she shared all the family stories from the holiday. He managed to organize with Lucy (Jo’s sister) to get her a personal card and poem for the holidays. He might be far away but he does a great job in still doing romantic surprises.-
Randall’s got a long day ahead to get into his first anchorage. Thanks for everyone’s support and Merry Christmas to everyone!
POS 55 30S 71 47W
50 miles to the entrance of Bahia Cook; 110 miles to first safe anchorage, Caleta Olla.
The next two days will be challenging. Factors are the distance to safety; shallow water at Cook entrance which may make heaving to at a natural stopping point dangerous in a sea still 10+; a fast-moving blow coming down from the NW tonight (don’t want to be on the outside), and close waters inside making a stop for any time dangerous.
And I still need to swing the anchor–not possible out here.
Plan. Depart now for entrance. Heave to briefly this evening for a nap somewhere at the entrance that still has sea room. Swing anchor deep inside Cook protection. Motor overnight and into tomorrow to Caleta Olla.
On the positive: weather is good now. And the target is downwind. Can’t overstate how good that is.
Tough day yesterday. Up at 3am to retrieve drogue. Took two and a half hours of slow, steady hauling. Motored till 8pm, roughly sundown. Winds 30 knots and swell from gale during first five hours made holding a soul-crushing experience. Two following shifts much better. Made 60 miles of the 120 to the entrance and got 10 in drift overnight.
Comfortable overnight, but slept poorly. Nervous about this last leap.
Hey Virtual Voyagers – we managed to get a report from Captain Reeves. Team Figure 8 is working on getting the equipment together and Joanna’s going to wrap everything in her undies and hand carry it down to Ushuaia.
Pos: 55 50S 74 35w
Winds 40+ gusting 50
Day three of the quest for Ushuaia and I’m hanging out on a drogue 150 miles from the entrance to Bahia Cook. West winds predicted to high 30s started to build last night around 9 pm. Am getting 45. gusting 50 now and the barometer is still dropping. The rig wails. Waves breaking against the hull sound like cannon fire. Seas are very steep, one set west and one set northwest; piling and breaking frequently. (Sounds like the last blow.) Should begin to back off this evening.
The current plan is to attempt retrieval of the drogue at first light and get underway for Bahia Cook. I figure two days of motoring or sailing to get there, which puts me just ahead of some strong northwest winds I’d dearly like to avoid.
Thank you to Tony Gooch for helping to research anchorages inside Cook, most of which down here are plagued by williwaws and require warping lines ashore for stability in addition to the anchor. Not something I can do easily. The first best anchorage for Mo is Caleta Olla, 55 miles north and east up Bahia Cook and the into Beagle Channel and then Brazo Sudoeste.
Will remain there for a day recuperating and cleaning (the boat is a wet wreck and Randall’s not much better). From there it’s about 40 miles to Ushuaia.
Day one of this quest about did me in. Sailing Mo by hand in large swells is both delicate and brutish work. The rudder is large and the tiller is short; the swell (always at least 10 feet and breaking) wants me to go one way and the sail the other. I push and push on the tiller to get back to 60 degrees, my mark, and the next wave knocks me to 90. Pull hard. Pull, pull, pull. Sail gybes. Repeat. I had to focus every moment on the compass and on not oversteering while putting serious arm strength into the tiller. Within half an hour I was endowing Mo with a rich stream of expletives and was hoarse by the end of the day. Still, I got in two 4-hour shifts on the tiller and one of two hours for a total of 55 miles.
Yesterday I needed to charge batteries and so decided to motor for a while. To my surprise, in settled weather, motoring takes about half the energy as sailing, and the stream of expletives didn’t start till afternoon. I was able to knock out a 6-hour shift at the tiller, take a break at noon, put in another four hours…and admire the numerous albatross to boot. I’d gone 60 miles by day’s end.
One of my worries was staying warm while doing such long tricks at the tiller. But I’ve layered up something fierce, got out the triple warm ski-type gloves and put on insulated rubber boots with two pairs of socks. The result is I’m fine at the tiller for hours, but if I go forward to do any work, I’m overheated immediately.
Unfortunately, we are stuck here on drogue until this “little blow” blows out. Then the quest will resume.
Hi Figure 8 Voyage Followers!
This is Team Figure 8 speaking. Well the list of broken things got to a point today where a different approach was needed – specifically poor Monte broke this time.
The good news is Randall isn’t broken (frustrated but not broken) and the boat is as solid as a rock. However self steering gear is critical for getting around the Horn so Randall will be pulling into Ushuaia Argentina for needed repairs.
So what does this mean?
1. It means Randall will be steering, eating and sleeping. He won’t be writing so you’ll have to just follow the tracker for the while. As I get information I’ll update you all until he arrives in Ushuaia.
2. Getting to Ushuaia will take about 6 days.
3. I thought this trip was supposed to be non-stop. The goal was to get as far as possible. The route itself is a first and in the time window so we’re still going for that.
4. Does this mean Randall is done? No not at all. We have an amazing team here in San Francisco and Vancouver who rallied today (thanks Tony and Mike) and will be getting the parts to Randall. They’ve even pinged the harbor folks in Ushuaia to let them know Randall is coming. Seriously sorted out team.
Thanks for everyone’s support and patience. We’ll continue to update you as we get more info.
Joanna & Team Figure 8