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Day 52

Noon Position: 55 04S  85 03W

Course/Speed: ESE 6

Wind: W 19 – 40 (!)

Sail: Working jib, half rolled up. Wind on port quarter.

Bar: 978

Sea: W 15

Sky: Clear, then squalls, then clear

Cabin Temp: 54 (if sunny) 49 (if not)

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 157

Miles since departure: 7047

Miles to Cape Horn: 547

Hodge podge of a day on all fronts.

Wind has been mostly W and WNW, allowing me to follow a rhumb line course for the Horn. But consistency of direction has been all there is by way of consistency. In fact, one rule in my brief time below 50S is that wind velocity changes constantly, and I don’t mean from day to day or even morning to afternoon, but intra-hour. My notes in the log in the wind column today: 0600 Wind W 20 – 35; 1200 W 19 – 40; 1400 W 20 – 30. Later I just started noting the max, WNW to 35; WNW to 28. Winds have been in the teens for an hour. A moment ago, 30.

Attempted some trouble shooting of Otto based on help from Dustin Fox of Fox Marine, but so far Otto is no Lazarus.

Did some fine tuning on Monte’s water paddle while underway, and I think he’s steering better now than ever. He’s got the clue that he’s it and it’s instilled a certain pride. Not a single gybe all afternoon, even in light wind astern and some very lumpy swell.

Attempted trouble shooting on the now defunct Lavac head. The problem, in a nut, is that the pump is pushing into the bowl instead of pulling from it–emphatically wrong. Strongly suggests a plug in the line I’ve yet to discover. Thus, it seems I may be at the “bucket and chuck it” method for some time. The early morning walk with the bucket from the lowest, most secure place in the boat to the rail is a very careful one.

Two nights of very good sleep. And same pattern. To my bunk by 10pm. Up once an hour for a while and then when the night looks not to contain any surprises, sleep for three and more. End sleep cycle before 6am. It has begun to get cold–49 degrees in the cabin as I type–and I’ve stuffed the light sleeping bag into the heavy one and lay them over me quilt-style. Very snug.

I haven’t figured out the hours yet, but there’s very little actual dark down here. This means that by 3am, I need to cover my eyes to stay asleep. And even at midnight there’s enough light to see the white headed petrels flying nearby.

The Big Blow

Other results…

-The Windex wind vane at the top of the mast is gone.

-The wires from the port solar panel ripped out. How is beyond me as the panel has been lashed down for a week and I can find nothing to have snagged them.

-During the blow, I noticed that the straps holding the life raft in place had worked loose and the raft case was in danger of being (very) prematurely launched. Now doubly lashed.

-The aft bilge (under the cockpit) took 26 strokes of the pump to clear. When I opened the lid, there was water on the gear in the locker, so it was the locker lids that leaked when the cockpit went underwater. The lids were latched and locked shut and have (old) rubber gaskets, but I’ve never considered them as designed for full submersion. So, in my book, 26 strokes isn’t much. The anchor locker had less than a gallon to drain and the main bilge in the boat took no water.

-I have found that even sealed dorades (sealed with a screwed down stainless plate) leak when the boat takes breaking seas. I’m guessing the water squirts in through the small drain holes in the dorade box. Fixed by stuffing a rag into the vent in the boat.

Random thoughts:

-One reason for not deploying the drogue was that I didn’t want to get stuck on it (the forecast called for days of high winds). The other was that I wasn’t sure I could deploy it cleanly. Rigging the bridle with 50 knots of wind over the deck without fouling it on Monte or Wattsy or the life raft or…it just seemed simpler to raise an already set-up storm jib and get going.

-Thanks to HOOD Sailmakers for building such a strong storm jib. It took an absolute beating and even now looks as crisp as it did when first pulled from the bag. Part of the reason for its abuse was that I made the mistake of trying to sail to a course during the height of things. Specifically, I tried to carry the wind just aft of the beam. Monte really couldn’t (recall, bent tube) and so the boat would round up, and the sail would dump and beat until Monte could bring Mo’s head back down. A wave would knock us around, we’d round. Rinse, repeat. When I finally figured out I should run with the wind deep on the quarter, things got quieter immediately. I had oodles of sea room, so attempting to hold a course was greedy.

-Same for my knockdown. I was attempting to carry wind and breaking seas too close to the beam and it was a wave that caught us dead on the flank that sent us over. I’d had plenty of warning. We’d been hit hard several times. I just didn’t know how to read the signs. Do now.

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Dec 17
9pm

Waves have broken fully onto the boat many times over the last two days–I stopped counting at five at Mo’s insistence. An hour ago I heard that now familiar deep whooshing and braced, but instead a wham to the hull and water over the top (kathwap–sploosh!), we were hit as by a freight train. Mo was pushed heavily to starboard and then went all the way over. Knocked flat.

Weather was moderating (wind 35+), a dangerous time after a blow as waves will spring up initially when released from the downward pressure of heavy wind.

I’d just come below. As we went over, I was thrown against the port side pilot house windows, which turned green as they faced the sea floor. The cockpit went fully under. Both companionway hatches (top and bottom) had been closed and locked from the inside (standard protocol now when re-entering the cabin). But I noticed water burbling up and into the pilot house from the lower corners. Noise as of the apocalypse below. Two food cupboards blew open spilling cans everywhere.

All over in a surprisingly long instant. And suddenly Mo was sailing again as if nothing had happened.

As I was mopping up I noticed water had gotten into the electronics cabinet where both the autopilot junction box (Otto’s brain) live and also all the satellite equipment. How this is possible is beyond me as the cabinet is protected by cushions and has only two small thumb holes in the door that allow operation of the latch. The latter equipment was spared, but water has apparently got into Otto’s brain. For the moment he is deceased. I get blinking lights that immediately fade; then nada. I have a spare for every other piece of that system. No spare brain.

This is a big loss. I’ve used Otto several times already on this passage–motoring through the doldrums, as a back up for Monte (Monitor windvane) when he’s offline for repair, etc.–and he is an essential piece of kit for the Arctic.

Dec 18
9pm

After two nights of nearly no sleep, slept the night. Winds were down to 35, which felt like the merest breeze compared to what we’d had. I set the alarm for one hour, then two…then I just had at and slept.

Spent the day cleaning up and doing repairs. While at the transom, I noticed that Monte’s pendulum assembly looked bent. Monte’s responses had been mushy just as the big blow was coming on, and I found, upon inspection, that the quick-release line for the boarding ladder, which drags in the water in case needed by…me, had tangled in the hinge. Was so tight had to be cut free. Wave action was such then that most of that assembly was underwater, so no inspection possible then.

When I got the paddle below, it was obvious that all the bend was in the break-away tube. Relief. Monte is my primary steering system. But with Otto now dead, he’s it. It is beyond bracing to consider being here with no one to take Mo’s tiller but me.

So, three cheers for Monte, who steered Mo through some powerful wind and waves…with a bent tube!

Barometer is dropping. Winds are coming on again. Glad I got that done early.

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Hi Virtual Stowaway followers.

If you’ve been looking at the tracker you’ll see that Randall is in some pretty big seas (20-30ft) so writing long blog posts etc hasn’t been high on the priority list. I did however get a short email from Randall this morning and I thought I’d share it will all of you. Mostly so you don’t worry, also to answer some questions I’ve had today.

….

All well, though a very tough ride. Average winds 45 knots from the west; typical range 35 to 55. Overnight gusts from super-squalls of 60 and 70. Had to do a double take on that. Swells have grown large and long, but fast. One could build villages in the valleys. From on top, it is as if Mo has been levitated four stories into the air. Watching the boat fall such a distance and rise up again defies logic. Haven’t even tried photos.

Ran with storm jib until after dark, but seemed overpowered by situation. Pulled it around midnight and tried to run bare poles. Got Monte on course and put my head down for an hour. Found upon waking we were lying ahull, not an deal way to heave to (though in retrospect, I think it was fine). Tried bare poles with Otto. Same deal; just not enough speed to generate enough power on the rudder for the maximal steering needed to maintain a course in this swell.

Contemplated the drogue, but if I deploy that now, it will be days before I can retrieve it. So raised storm jib in straight 50 knots at around 2am (there is light at 2am!) and we have been chugging SE since. Think I now may understand Moitessier’s “no drogue, just keep going” philosophy.

Barometer slowly going up. Winds may be going down but 40 – 45 still the norm, and winds are due to remain strong here for some days.

Cabin temp, 48. Can’t be on deck for long without hands going numb.

All kinds of misshaps.
-Foreward Goiot hatch latch fell apart in my hand just before all this all started…had time for a very smart jury rig.
-Head has stopped working; I think it’s lost its prime given it’s through hull is out of the water frequently. This makes number two into a bucket the tactic–and a challenging one.
-My rework of Monte’s tiller lines (moved them forward on the tiller) fail in such strong winds when more leverage is needed. Have had to go back to the chain.
-Can’t open port sink valves because am on starbord tack and sink is no port, so haven’t done dishes in two days.

Everything wet, even with great care taken. Not much sleep in two days. Will try to catch up some this afternoon and before tonight.

I am utterly amazed by Mo; at core, she’s not the least bit uncomfortable. Over-canvassed now and again; steered poorly by me; knocked around by giant heavers, but the core boat is solid as a rock!

Please let this suffice as my report for the day.

Not online again. Afraid of getting computer wet.

I love you sweetie. More conversation when am out of this.

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Day 48
Noon Position: 50 59S 98 03W

Course/Speed: ESE 7

Wind: WSW 25

Sail: Working jib, two reefs; main three reefs; wind abeam

Bar: 1011

Sea: W 10

Sky: Broken; some high squall

Cabin Temp: 55

Water Temp: 44 


Sleep

Last night: 8 hours, up four times; quality: high

Today: 1 hours; quality: high
Meals

Dinner: Pasta with chicken and parmesan cheese.

Breakfast: Oatmeal (1C dry) with peanut butter and dates and polenta for a different texture

Lunch: Leftover oatmeal. Can of giant beans, tomato, eggplant; added WASA crackers to bulk up; then cheese and crackers.

Snacks: 1/2 chocolate bar dipped in peanut butter
Miles last 24-hours: 142 

Miles since departure: 6445
Reached all night with the “storm jib” and a tripple reefed main in winds 25 to 35 as squalls passed and found that by morning we were still making almost 6 knots. I changed for the larger working headsail after breakfast. Successful experiment in that we were able to maintain a more-or-less upwind course in supreme comfort and reasonable speed in winds to 35 knots.  

Puffy cumulus and small squall clouds rule the day. Definitely summer here, and all delightful … except for a line high and white on the horizon this evening, which is the coming story. 

Two large lows are on the way, the first to arrive overnight the larger of the two. I expect steady winds in excess of 30 by morning and we may well see winds of 40 before we’re through.
I intend to run before their NW and W winds with the working jib and then the smaller hanked on jib as necessary. May run the poles in the morning (winds are still west with a touch of south now) if the NW winds look to hold for more than a few hours. 

The challenge will be to maintain a somewhat beneficial course for the Horn without getting too close the center of the lows, specifically the second; or, conversely, to avoid being blown too close to the coast. Granted, the coast is still a thousand miles east, but these two lows will take five days to pass, during which time we could close to within 600 miles.

It looks like the last of the two will finish off with strong SW winds, so our “little experiment” of the last day may come in quite useful soon.

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Day 47
Noon Position: 49 57S 101 54W

Course/Speed: ESE 6+

Wind: SW 30 – 35

Sail: “storm jib” and triple reefed main; wind on beam

Bar: 1001

Sea: W and SW to 10

Sky: Broken, some sun, some squalls

Cabin Temp: 58

Water Temp: 45 
Miles last 24-hours: 141

Miles since departure: 6303


Sleep

Last night: 9 hours, up four times; quality: very poor (Mo quite rolly)

Today: 2 hours (slept through the alarm set for one hour); quality: high
Meals

Dinner: Left over cabbage, pork and mashed potato stew (added one can of carrots and peas and more mashed potatoes to bulk it up)

Breakfast: Oatmeal (1C dry) with peanut butter and dates

Lunch: 2-egg omelet with cheese and ketchup; crackers, nuts 

Snacks: Kind bar, Clif bar; several handfuls of nuts, 1/2 chocolate bar

Wind has come on this afternoon–steady 30 with frequent visits to 35–and has swung into the SW, its only unfortunate attribute as I’m still hungry for southing. My plan has been to see if we can, in a higher wind, maintain an easy reach, apparent wind on the beam. Emphasis on easy. 

We could do this with the working jib tightly rolled, but Mo would be on her ear, and she hates wet ears. So, just after lunch, I doused the #2 and raised the “storm jib.” This sail is called a storm jib because it’s orange, but it’s actually a small “cutter” sail that’s hanked onto a removable inner forestay just back of the two furling headsails. 

With that and three reefs in the main we went sloshing off (not tearing off) at just under 7 knots. Excellent. I could put that much square footage of sail in my pocket, and yet we made respectable speed and in comfort. 

This and the subsequent playing around with set of sail ate up most of the afternoon, during which time I received a full-body drenching on the foredeck and was quite cold when I came below. So, I stripped down and hit the sack. I dreamed of being entirely contented.

I’ve just come into the pilot house and, sadly, wind has backed off to 18 to 24, this just as the sun is setting. I dislike making sail changes at the change of day (dawn, dusk) and prefer to see what the night/day holds first. As am cold again (I think it’s time to add one more layer of clothing), will make dinner and then see what the wind has set its mind to do. 
Today’s new bird is the prion. A pair have been doing the pitterpattery St. Peter imitation in the waters to windward of Mo. Delightful in many respects, but most of all because they come in close and stay close. I can see the blacks of their eyes. They have no idea how happy that makes me. Damned pelagics are too standoffish as a class.

One albatross also swung very close today, but I can’t write every day about the albatross…

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Day 46
Noon Position: 48 02S 103 59W

Course/Speed: SE 6-7

Wind: W 25 – 30

Sail: Working jib, wind on starboard quarter

Bar: 1009

Sea: W 10+

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 56

Water Temp: 47
Miles last 24-hours: 142

Miles since departure: 6459


Three times I’ve gone on deck to raise the main, just a scratch of a main, and I don’t. The working jib is flying solo as it has done the last 24 hours. Wind is on starboard quarter, 25 this morning and 30 this afternoon. We make 6 and 7 knots with no apparent strain. And each time I go on deck, I decide to leave things as they are. 

Chafe duty called after breakfast. While on the bow replacing a snapshackle pull string, I noted the working jib furling line chewing at the drum opening. Again. This needs fixing permanently, I thought, or may cause serious problems later. So I attempted to move the drum bail up, but it was up, so I moved the final fairlead block down. It’s odd to me that I would need to do what two previous owners did not (I haven’t made changes to the drum position), but none the less…the lead is now fair. 

For my trouble I got a seaboot full of water when Mo decided to duck her bow before I could escape. Frustrating. Once sea water permeates clothing, it can’t be got rid of except with fresh water, of which my supply is limited. So, I have been extra careful since “entering the south.” I never go on deck without foulies; never wear the sheepskin boots on deck; always tuck the foulie legs over the rubber deck boots etc. My failure here was that I’d not strapped the foulie leg to the boot. The water shot up and under as high as my knee. 

One change I have made is to course. I’ve thrown more south in it today as my previous straight-on approach to the Horn has seemed too shallow, leaving me exposed to an expanse of raw coast in the run-up to Diego Ramirez. Today and tomorrow are my best shots at solid southing. Wind will go SW for a time soon, and following that I’ll be well into the meat of the next low, which looks to pack winds of 35 and 40, and which may largely dictate heading. 
We’ve averaged 145 miles per day for the last ten; thus, at under 1400 miles away, Cape Horn is not far off. 

One juvenile Wandering Albatross. 

I know the look at a glance now, the wing profile, the speed and motion, the slant it takes to the waves that makes it different from other birds, but when I focus in, I am still surprised by its size. Is it really possible that that flies here? The gadlfy, the storm petrel, by dint of repetition, have a defined normal for here for size. Next to which the albatross, an interloper. 

And the way that size weaves its way so slowly, with less effort and apparent concentration than a strole, over the madness of waves just below. Juveniles are said to spend their first five years entirely at sea, and 95% of that time is spent flying, alone. They even sleep on the wing. Over this unchanging, every changing mass goes the albatross, motion in motion over motion, each seeming perpetual.

It is interesting to consider dispersal. The birds in my back yard, say the Anna’s hummingbird, the white crowned sparrow, the tohee, the junco, likely have a territory of about a square mile. That’s typically all they need to get fed. Likewise, we creatures of the land tend to think of edible fecundity as concentrated, for example, a heavily-laden fruit tree; a field of crops, a run of salmon. 

Out here, not so. The Albatross covers my sparrow’s territory in five minutes. A meandering hunt–not a route–over a vast area–not a territory–looking for the odd squid, unwary flying fish or piece of trash. 

We think of the ocean as fecund, and it is, but what these animals seek is diffuse. The difference is vastness; here is two thirds of the planet. The Wanderer’s territory, this entire ocean. 

The gadfly, the storm petrel, the shearwater, the albatross have population in the several millions. But you never see more than one or two at a time. I’ve only seen four birds all day. Imagine all the races, the millions and millions of ocean birds…but typically their search is a solitary one. 

I’ve watched sparrows glean and hawks catch rodents, but in all my time watching pelagics, I’ve never seen one stop for a find. They only soar…so much so that it’s easy to forget that in soaring they are on the hunt.

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Day 45
Noon Position: 46 51S 106 41W

Course/Speed: ESE 5

Wind: WSW 18 – 28

Sail: Working jib only

Bar: 1006

Sea: W 10

Sky: Cloudy, a squall no and then

Cabin Temp: 55

Water Temp: 47
Miles last 24-hours: 142*

Miles since departure: 6020
*Due to a math error on the part of the skipper over the weekend, two hours had to be withdrawn from today’s run to get Mo into the appropriate zone time. Thus, our 24-hour run was more like 154 miles.

Our sweet westerly has some south in it today, a little too much for running poled-out headsails, which I dropped at first light. Since then we’ve taken wind on the quarter under the working jib only, usually full, or like now, reefed a bit as a squall passes. Velocities are 18 to 28 knots; for no apparent reason, the day can’t figure out how hard it wants to blow. Mo could carry far more sail, but I’m in a “let’s be conservative” mode again today. 

After sail changes, I made a big pot of oatmeal with peanut butter and dates and then set about cleaning out a couple galley lockers whose jumble has been bothering me. Three cups, two wine glasses, a measuring jar, and several plates, onboard since I bought the boat, have been requisitioned to the deep. And the galley counter and hanging baskets (also gifted to Neptune) have been cleared and contents stowed in now ample cupboard space. The galley is ship-shape. 

After that I sat in the pilot house to get a read on wind and waves…and fell asleep. So, I loaded myself into my bunk for an hour.

And suddenly it was 3pm. 

Gray and not one bird, save a shearwater before noon. I had thought we’d entered albatross country yesterday when three adult Wanderers (white below and above) patrolled near the boat for some time. As an indication of just how much wind the birds require to stay aloft for free, it was blowing 20 at the time, and they still flapped wings briefly between waves. Also gadflies, shearwaters, and our first southern storm petrel. 

Today the sea is being stingy. Not one bird. 

I’m going to let Mo follow this wind through the night and then in the morning we’ll make a course with more south in it.

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Day 44
Noon Position: 45 44S 109 33W

Course/Speed: ESE 6

Wind: W 18 – 29

Sail: Twins poled, deeply reefed

Bar: 1012, dropping

Sea: W 15

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temp: 59 

Water Temp: 48
Miles last 24-hours: 156

Miles since departure: 5878


I know the transition has been slow. Nothing much happens quickly when you’re traveling at 7 miles an hour. But it feels quick. Everything feels quick. Wave movement, wind, approaching cloud, boat motion. And most especially the transition from where we were two weeks ago to the surprising where we are now. I don’t remember a transition. I remember calm seas, a sense of stuckness, and being sticky-hot. Now the sea is big and running fast and every day the temperature drops faster than expected. I remember living in my underwear and sleeping without any cover. No I’m in long johns and wear sheepskin boots.

Quick, that’s the sensation, quick. Time is one step ahead of me–just that inch and a half beyond control. 

I came on deck this morning to change from taking wind on the quarter with working jib and main to running before it on poled out twin headsails. I had just rolled up the working jib and was preparing the port pole when I noticed some chafe on the jib furling line. A closer look showed that the cover and two strands had been cut through. The chafe, cotton-white, brand new. 
Working the problem backwards revealed that the line had been rubbing on the furling drum opening, which is smaller than the drum is high. The sail had struggled for clean air throughout the night, as is was behind the main, which is why I’d reefed it heavily and run it in tight. It was the pumping action that had cut the line.

Nothing for it but to do an end-for-end, an easy job in a marina and a laborious one in winds nearing 30 knots and a fifteen foot swell. It took two hours. Then poling out the port sail, dropping the main, poling out the starboard sail…I was on deck for four hours, with a break in the middle for oatmeal and more coffee. 

This was my second chafe surprise. The other was last week when I flew the poles for the first time this passage and the starboard pole nearly cut through its jib sheet in the space fo 24-hours. Too much sail, too much tension on the sheet, too much movement of the line through pole.

I expect chafe. Lines are extra long, and I have spare line. But I expect it to be slow and notable, not an overnight phenomenon. A parted furling line or sheet could cost the sail. 

So I’ve slowed things down on Mo today. I’ve run the twins extra conservatively all afternoon. Just a scrap of sail with special focus on balance of tension between sheet and control lines and no movement. Go small, go slow. Watch.

We could average 8 knots today with ease. Instead we’re making 6.  
And then after lunch I shut up the cabin and hit the sack for two hours. If napping takes practice, practice starts now. After yesterday’s post, the “strong recommendation” from my friend Tony Gooch was “if you are not on deck, not fixing something, and not eating, you should be sleeping.” 
Slow and easy. Just like the albatross. The world can be as quick as it wants. We are slow and easy. 

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Day 43
Noon Position: 43 51S 111 48W

Course/Speed: SE 6

Wind: W to 20

Sail: Reaching with two tucks in working jib and main

Bar: 1019

Sea: W 10+

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temp: 61

Water Temp: 50 (down five degrees from yesterday)
Miles last 24-hours: 155

Miles since departure: 5722


Crisp sunrise to start a crisp and sunny day at sea. Wind has been in the low 20s from the west for most of it but is slacking as I write, and the barometer has risen to 1019, up from 1014 yesterday noon. My tactic for outrunning the descending belt of calm may not be entirely successful. 

Today’s news: I napped, twice. This is not my habit ashore, and I’ve struggled on previous cruises to incorporate this very sensible activity into my routine. 

Night sleeping at sea is interrupted, often. I typically wake to an alarm once every hour or two and visit the pilot house to ensure all is well, and then there are the nights one is called to be on deck for sail changes–a frequent requirement already on this passage and unlikely to become less so soon. 

Then there’s my nervousness about the Horn approach and the three or four months of circling so as to approach it again. Add to this that I’m moving slowly on deck (partly on purpose!) and feel wibbly in the knees and am falling asleep while eating the last of dinner. 

Upshot: I’m sleep deprived and am starting to make stupid mistakes. This morning I clipped a topping-lift to its stowage ring and began hauling it taught, which should have required one good tug to make it so. But I hauled for some time, staring at my hands doing the hauling, before realizing the snap shackle hadn’t clicked closed, was now half way up the mast and threatening more. For me, mast ascension is emphatically not on the bucket list, ever, but especially before my second cup of coffee and in an irregular ten foot swell.

While putting a reef in the main later that morning, I was again mindlessly hauling with a will, even though the halyard was prematurely taught due to the sail’s luff being wrapped around a mast step. No harm no foul–but I was lucky.

Moitessier wrote that a sailor’s life is one of frequent “cat napping.” I hope today’s daylight snoozes suggest I’m able to adopt that practice going forward. 

Eric Hiscock once opined that the best survival strategy for the Southern Ocean is to “keep the water out.” Following his lead, this afternoon I closed most of Mo’s nine dorade vents with a stainless steel plate, as where we’re headed can overwhelm even this wonderful invention. And besides, I soon won’t be interested in allowing fresh air below that is barely above freezing. 

And the pilot house floor board locks work again. They had gone out of adjustment, and one was missing some key parts, which I was able to rummage from my bin of nuts and bolts. 

A note of thanks to Tony Gooch, previous owner of Moli and highly experienced singlehander, for the above two, and many other, safety features aboard. 

All around, a productive day. 

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Day 42
Noon Position: 41 51S 133 44W

Course/Speed: ESE 6 – 7

Wind: NW 15 – 25

Sail: Twins, poled, half reefed

Bar: 1014

Sea: NW 10

Sky: Overcast, ragged

Cabin Temp: 67

Water Temp: 55
Miles last 24-hours: 172

Miles since departure: 5567

It drew my attention at first because it hung there over the wave as if suspended by wires. Not a petrel, I thought. Petrels have such a crazed need for speed that if the wind isn’t providing, they will flap furiously with long powerful strokes that give the impression of a winged primate swinging through an invisible jungle. An entire race of birds so maniacally focused on fast that I half expect to see them leave trails of feathers ripped from wings by the strain. 

Not this bird. It remained suspended for a time, and then without any apparent adjustments, the body slowly tilted, descended into the nearest trough and with equal slowness and a sense of gravitas utterly foreign to petrels, it ascended the next wave, making a perfect arc before again seeming to pause on top of the wind. 

And the size of it! Well, the only things to compare it to out here are petrels and me, and it was much closer to my size than it was to those spitfires. Long, slender wings with a distinct elbow joint and whose tip gave the sense of a hand. A certain mottled coloration, though mostly white. A chunky, heavy body. A fleshy coloration to its face and beak. 

And then it was too far away to take from it more detail. Except that I could see it arcing and pausing almost to the horizon.

My first southern Albatross. I presume juvenile Wandering!

All night it blew from the NW, a steady 27 to 33 with gusts to 35. At one point the sky cleared for a time. I could make out stars through a kind of haze. Orion very high and erect; the moon, then just rising, yellow, and the thin cloud it illuminated raced by with a speed that made me shudder. 

Before starting my sleep cycle, I had put Mo dead before the wind, and propelled by the two twin headsails a mere half their usual size, she rolled and churned and the boat creaked and locker contents slammed and I got little sleep. 

In the morning, the sea was a boulder garden. Waves, too new to have formed a train, ricocheted around, crashing into each other and mushrooming out. And the temperature had dropped another four degrees. In the afternoon, the wind went west and increased. Then the Albatross. And I thought, we’re really in the South now.

I’ll admit, I’m afraid. I feel vulnerable, exposed. The power of choice has been left in the north; this is not a mountain I can now decide not to climb. No running for cover. No control, except of my tiny capsule. No way to gauge the power of what’s next against my capacity except to keep going and see.

I know I am not an expert sailor. I know my planning and preparation was imperfect. I know how tough I am not. How much will all that matter?

By noon the waves had begun to mature. They’d grown–maybe to the height of three story houses–but had lost some of their steepness. Troughs now had the aspect of valleys that were beginning to elongate.

After lunch I put more south in Mo’s course for two reasons. All evidence to the contrary, this sector is about to develop an east/west belt of calm. If I maintain too much easting, I may get stuck. Also, the low that just passed over us is redeveloping in the northwest and is soon headed this way. If possible, I’d like to be below its power when it embeds into the westerlies. I’m unsure of this second strategy and may go back to a more easterly course in the morning. 

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Day 41
Noon Position: 39 41S 115 58W

Course/Speed: SE 7

Wind: NW 20+

Sail: Twins, half in

Bar: 1023

Sea: NW 8

Sky: Gray deck

Cabin Temp: 71

Water Temp: 58
Miles last 24-hours: 155

Miles since departure: 5395


This evening we have technically entered the roaring 40s, and though they are not roaring at moment, things are changing fast. 

The barometer is dropping as the leading edge of this low rides over us. At 6am, we had the usual 1026mb; twelve hours later it’s at 1019 and falling. Winds are on the rise, a steady 25 from the NW now and still edging up. Swells are not large but steep and dead astern, so Monte is working hard to keep us on the path of righteousness. The twins are half rolled up and we still make 7 – 8 knots, 9 on the backside of some of the bigger heavers. 

Water temperature is plummeting, was 58 degrees at noon, down from 75 degrees just six days ago (a degree or so of change a day is usual). Briefly cabin temperatures got above 70 degrees but are already back in the mid 60s. Let me emphasize, this is a welcome and long anticipated change from 87 degrees and 100% humidity. That said, I’m caught off guard; am wearing a thermal, a vest and sheepskin boots.  

After months of sun and squalls, we’ve now had a leaden sky for three days, though the fog has lifted. Again, I somehow got a solid noon shot, but my longitude shots put us 20 miles east.

Most surprisingly, birdlife is suddenly awake. The species numbers have not yet increased–I’m still seeing mostly Gadfly Petrels–but they are no longer solitary. Now they fly in small groups and in this stronger wind, there’s no pretense of hunting for food. They’re goofing off. For a petrel this means flying (gliding, no flapping) as fast as a bullet–so fast I have 50 photos of, at best, a blur–while diving into wave troughs and performing large loops in the air, all while appearing to chase the others in your cohort who are doing the same as fast as they can. A gadfly loves speed above all else, and this is the first day he’s had a chance to exercise that love in some weeks. 

Much of my time today has been spent on deck watching Monte work, trying to get the tiller set just right; and trimming, reefing and balancing the twins. Today’s wind is the new normal, just an average, if warmish, day in the south, and I want to get Mo riding as easily as possible, for there are months of this to come.   

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In the latter part of November, 2017, Moli and I were making way south through the Pacific’s Southeast Trades toward Cape Horn. These shots document a few of those moments. By way of explanation, the repair to the tiller was necessary because the plastic I used as a gasket between the aluminum tiller the stainless steel collar, renewed before departure, fragmented and wore away during the first month of this voyage. This caused an unacceptable amount of play in that connection. I replaced it with some scrap G-10 I had aboard.

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Day 40
Noon Position: 37 46S 118 02W

Course/Speed: SSE 5

Wind: NNW 10

Sail: Twin genoas poled out full

Bar: 1029

Sea: N 3; the big odl swell from the SW is gone.

Sky: FOG!

Cabin Temp: 77 

Water Temp: 63
Miles last 24-hours: 138

Miles since departure: 5238


When I wake in the morning, I will have been at sea longer than Noah and his Ark. All day I have felt this deserves celebrating, that forty days and forty nights is significant. Clearly that number had import to the Patriarchs. So, I’ve dug out a beer I particularly like and tonight will raise a toast to not running aground on Mt Ararat. 

Fog is today’s story. Drizzle overnight with fog and fog all day. I stole a latitude shot at noon, but the horizon for longitude was so close I could have licked its ice cream cone. 

Both genoas are poled out full and only in the last hour has there been enough wind to make them happy. When unhappy they are a terror, barking and slapping as the languid breeze slips through their fingers. Winds are between 10 and 15 now, and they are humming contentedly an inaudible tune.

I came on deck after breakfast to find the starboard genoa sheet had escaped the pole. A straighter shackle that doesn’t impinge the release mechanism was easy enough to rig, and I was just finishing up when the pole fell right out of its socket at the mast. Down on deck it came with a crash, caught by the shrouds and the fact that its control lines were still attached. No idea what triggered the release. I reattached the pole and yanked on it furiously for several minutes trying to repeat the accident. Didn’t budge. 

Southeast is still our course as we attempt to skinny between the center of the high to the east (pressure 1032) and that fast moving low to the northwest (pressure 994 at the center). I’m guessing the fog is the “leading edge” of the low, whose winds should start passing over us tonight, though the better part of the punch seems well to the south!
By way of final preparations, I’ve spent the day at odd jobs. The heavy weather staysail has been permanently rigged for a couple weeks, but I’ve now run the sheet. The starboard running back, useless this last month and so stowed to protect from chafe, has been recommissioned. The clear plastic rain guard is now zipped in over the companionway hatch. Lines have been tidied, tut stowed below. 

The extreme weather chores have been saved for another day–removing the dorades and blocking the holes (still too warm) or locking down the floorboards in the pilot house. The box of wine, jar of nuts, and gallon jug of water I use to gauge my daily consumption still sit on the galley counter. 

I mean, it’s just a low.

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Day 39 
Noon Position: 35 58S 119 42W

Course/Speed: SE/SSE 6 – 7

Wind: N 11 – 15

Sail: Twins, poled out full

Bar: 1027 (wow)

Sea: N 6 SW 8

Sky: Overcast, drizzle all night

Cabin Temp: 79

Water Temp: 66 (big drop)
Miles last 24-hours: 151

Miles since departure: 5100

“Bodacious” (a hybrid of “bold” and “audacious”) is in my dictionary but “bodger” is not; so I feel free to define it as a repair done with whatever is at hand. “Whatever,” it should be noted, never includes the right tools or the right parts.
I’ve had two such jobs awaiting a change in the weather. 

The first has been beckoning since the doldrums when a main sail batten sleeve pin let go. The stainless steel pin held the plastic sleeve to the plastic batten car on the mast and has gone unrepaired this last month because the main has been employed every hour (reminder: reaching on port tack). To be fair, I also wasn’t sure what to do. And I had to get over mourning my failure to bring any spares for the main. 
But now that we’ve got wind on port quarter, the task of propelling the boat is up to the most beautiful twin headsails. So, today I had at.

In the entire month of cogitating on this exercise, nothing more clever came to mind than lashing the sleeve to the car. The pin still had the bite of three threads and wasn’t entirely useless, so I re-installed it, drilled two nicely rounded holes in the sleeve and lashed all to the batten car. Having done that guarantees the main won’t be called on for a month.

Both the twins and the main were newly-made by HOOD sailmakers and delivered just before departure. The main has had a trying month, so I was gratified upon inspection today to find that, up close, it looks (and better, feels) absolutely bomb proof. No sign of wear though it took a beating in the doldrums and was reefed and un-reefed in the trades more times than I can count.  

The other job involved the repeated parting of Lt. Wattsy’s downhaul lanyard. This repair involves hanging myself over the stern up to my torso; thus, I’ve been keen to get this permanently righted before wave action means a dunking in very cold water.

The idea came from Dustin Fox of Fox Marine in Richmond, who suggested lashing the low friction ring to the entire Watt and Sea blade and only throwing a few loops through the lanyard hole so as to keep the larger lashing from migrating. This should have the effect of nullifying the chafe at the lanyard hole that caused the other installation to fail. Done. I’ve only 20 hours on Wattsy since the repair, but so far it hasn’t budged.

It’s good to get these two jobs knocked out now because we’re on the cusp of our first dust-up. There’s a recurring, fast moving low cutting down from the northwest whose punch will be 30 – 35 knot winds plus gusts. I thought it would pass below us, but our time over the last three days has been good, and it appears our reward will be that we’re going to get clocked after dark (always after dark) on Friday. 

Having cleared that low, we’ll be in the roaring 40s, where that much wind can be had for lunch money; so, I’ve not done anything to attempt a dodge. 

Steady as she goes down and to the left…

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Day 38
Noon Position: 33 47S 121 04W

Course / Speed: SSE 5

Wind: N 9 – 11

Bar: 1023

Sea: E 5, S 8

Sky: Overcast. Light rain in the morning.
Cabin Temp: 82

Sea Temp: 67
Mile since last noon: 139

Miles of voyage: 4949


Three reasons this is a banner day:

1. We’re flying the twin headsails, which makes Mo look like the world’s largest seabird and makes me happy. 

About 150 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mo went on port tack and has been on port tack under main and working jib ever since. Let me emphasize: 37 days of port tack. 

But wind has shifted into the north today, and so we’ve made the change. Granted, there could be a bit more oomph to the breeze. At 9 – 11 knots astern and both a northwest and a southwest swell, neither sail has quite figured how to hold itself at attention. Roll roll, slap, blam! Which is too bad, because that’s what the main was doing and why, other than the fun of flying the poles, I dropped it.

Twin headsails are a joy to behold and a very practical addition to a yacht that spends so much time, never-mind the previous 37 days, off with the wind. They are extremely powerful; they move the effort forward (where Monte prefers it); they are easy to reef and easy to douse entirely when needed. 
I’ve flown the twins out full in 30 knots of wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and felt good ship Mo was under control, if just. Not so when I tried to bring the sails in, lost control of the starboard sheet and and succeeded in wrapping the big genoa, this as I raced by the Coast Guard Station off Port Angeles on my way to a lee shore. 

2. Today I got reasonable sun sights. If I was lost before, today I became found, to within 2.6 miles. 

3. This evening I get to talk to my lovely wife by phone. 

And that last reason is why this is the end. I’ve got to figure out how to use the sat phone…

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Day 37

Noon Position: 31 53S 122 35W

Course / Speed: SSE 5…

Cabin Temp: 81
Sea Temp: 71

Miles since last noon: 140
Miles for voyage: 4810


Standing at the boom gallows in the afternoon and watching this lonely run of the sea, lonely because the flying fish of the north have departed and the birds of the south have not yet filled in, I was reminded of Tillman’s quote from Belloc regarding the amateur sailor, “In venturing in sail upon strange coasts we are seeking those first experiences and trying to feel as felt the earlier man in a happier time, to see the world as they saw it.”

And I thought, “That’s exactly it.” Today’s view of those ancient but powerful rollers from the south, the ship gliding smoothly over them, accelerating in the winds at the peak, healing eagerly, lines creaking, and then relaxing in the valley, this view has not changed since its invention.

The coasts have been explored and peopled. Even the remotest villages have cell service. But the deep ocean has retained its wildness since “that happier time.” Out here the vast, untamable waters are the same vast, untamable waters the Polynesians saw, the same Magellan, Drake, and Cook saw. In this way, a link to the early explorers and a world almost beyond time is direct and uncut.

I think this is one of the reasons I like celestial navigation. Beyond the practicality of it, it’s a link to this place and the old sailors who passed by here using tools we barely know today.

Sadly, celestial navigation doesn’t always like me back. For several days I wrestled with “sun-run-sun” running fixes that weren’t producing the customary cocked hat; rather I was getting railroad ties on my latitude line. Only lately did I figure out it’s because I have passed under the sun, who declined at 22S today on her southward march, whereas I have just barely passed into 32S. My sights are at nearly right angles to my course. Thus the railroad ties.

Getting cooler. I’ve put on a shirt with sleeves as I type. Soon I’ll pull socks on before boots.

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Day 36
Noon Position: 29 57.2S 124 59.7W

Course/Speed: SSE 6

Wind: E 9-11

Sail: Full

Bar: 1026

Sea: Locally flat. Old swell form SW is growing.

Sky: Clear. Thunderheads to windward.

Cabin Temp: 81

Water Temp: 74 
Miles last 24-hours: 123

Miles since departure: 4670


Stronger breezes this morning. Mo got up a 7-knot head of steam for a while, but now we’re back to ghosting. Quite alright as it gave me a flat deck in the afternoon from which to re-rig the jacklines. 

Mine are the usual strapping run up the side of the deck from bow to stern. This layout has the advantage of allowing one to clip in once and get access to the whole boat. But the disadvantage is not slight. Because the strapping is long (read, stretchy) and fairly outboard of centerline, a fall with the 6-foot tether puts me in the water at least hip deep and well out of reach of the bulwarks (Mo’s flush deck makes her topsides fairly high). Could I hoist myself up the three feet of tether to grab the rail? On a day like today and with adrenaline shooting off like fourth of July fireworks, I could likely fly. But imagine it’s night, it’s rough, it’s cold, we’re surfing, I’m tired and fully foulied-up. Then what? 
Long story short, I’ve wanted an alternate solution for a while.

To solve this problem, Tony Gooch, previous owner of Mo (then Taonui) and highly experienced singlehander, ran lines down the outside of the hull from bow to stern that he could reach from the water. Tony reasoned that if he went over, he could grab the line, unclip the tether, and work his way back to the Monitor at the stern, which is low enough and easily rugged enough to serve as boarding ladder in an emergency. 
I like that solution, but Tony used a tether with a Wichard quick-release snap shackle that, in my little use of it, can sometimes fool me into thinking it’s locked when it’s not. By comparison, the tether I’m using now has an extremely positive clip that takes pressure from both thumb and forefinger to open. Over the side and under duress, I’m not sure I could release that clip. (I’m not advocating this clip either; it’s going the be tough to manage with cold, wet hands when one needs to unclip immediately. But it is, at least, positive.)

So, my experimental solution today has been to add a run of strapping from the rail at the corner of cockpit and pilot house to the base of the mast. Typically I go forward for two jobs, working the main or working the poles. The former is all done at the mast and the latter needs a range of motion six feet forward of the mast, which the current install allows. Advantages are obvious: it’s a shorter run and so the strapping is less stretchy; and placement is well inboard such that a fall over the side puts me just below the gunnel (note in the photo that I’m sitting on the rail and the tether is half taught already). The strapping can also serve as a kind of safety rail/guide as I move for and aft. Disadvantages include lack of bow access and a run forward that has a few items to tangle on. 

Will use it a while and see.

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Day 35 
Noon Position: 28.01S 124.24W 

Course/Speed: SSE 4

Wind: E 6

Sail: Full

Bar: 1024

Sea: S 10; E 6 (old rollers), otherwise the sea is flat.

Sky: Mostly clear; some cumulus; occasional squall

Cabin Temp: 79! 

Water Temp: 75
Miles last 24-hours: 118 

Miles since departure: 4547


Silently Mo glides through a silent sea.

Those words most days would be a nonsense. But today we ghost on a steady zephyr and have done so since yesterday noon, moved noiselessly, one hour like the next.

No wind, and Mo bangs and rattles to drive one mad. In a good breeze the wind thumps the ears, the rigging thrums, white-caps clap and crash. One does not come to the sea expecting the stillness of a forest or one is disappointed. The sea is not a contemplative.

But today there is force enough in the small stirrings from the east to quiet Mo and give her momentum without waking the water.  
And then you realize you haven’t heard this, this…nothing…in weeks. 
The sensation: moving through an emptiness–except for the blue and the cloud–so vast that movement is irrelevant. Beyond boarder or threshold, beyond here or there. Beyond time. Beyond end. Wandering.
And there is a deliciousness to it I can’t explain. A feeling, but of what? Not of being lost or isolated, there is no impatience to arrive; today we are not fighting the sea to make miles. Today we are … home. No, not at home. Simply, home. Just boat and man and firmament. Here is the all that in them is. This is the most of the world.

A lone petrel cruising nearby, winged brown against blue, breaks the reverie. Ah, not quite empty. And then you see the swell from the south, a slow heaving, a gentle rolling of hills so large they prick the horizon, the space between, secluded valleys to be enjoyed for a moment and then gone. Ancient giants from a battlefield far away. Soon you will join their kin.

The sun sets. The full moon. Orion, no longer prone, but standing tall over his sky. And silently Mo glides through a silent sea.

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Day 34
Noon Position: 26 17S 125 10W

Course/Speed: 0

Wind: S 3

Sail: Dowsed

Bar: 1025

Sea: E 2

Sky: Squalls

Cabin Temp: 86

Water Temp: 77 
Miles last 24-hours: 97

Miles since departure: 4429


“Damn wind!” I muttered to Monte this morning. We both sat on the rail staring at the horizon to weather from which came nothing but one rain column after the other, slowly, over a glassy sea.

“Senior, do not hate the wind; the wind is all that we have. But OK, you can hate these squalls that are like elephants, you know the elephant, Senior?, that suck the wind up into the sky. Damn elephants!”

“This…and the westerlies are still 600 miles south!”
“It is because you are impatient. You are eager for the challenge, but Cape Horn, it will be there when you arrive; it does not matter the day.”

“No, Monte, I am eager for the challenge *to commence.* Such a long way to the starting line.”

Thus to explain that were are going nowhere, again.

So, provisioning…

By the time I got to the Figure 8, I’d provisioned for several month-long passages, and in 2016, I provisioned Mo for an entire summer of sailing. But a year? That was a real mind bender.

Here was my approach:

1. The goal was to have 365 days of food aboard. That would leave me no cushion if the voyage did take that long, but as I intended a stop in the northeast, I could supplement the supply there as needed in or around month ten.

2. The organization plan was built on recipes for foods I eat on land. I’ve learned the hard way that, when stressed, the familiar is far more precious than variety. So, anchovies in fifteen flavors? No. Curried beef and rice twice every week? OK.

3. Meals needed to be simple to prepare. For example, most breakfasts are easy oats–oatmeal (hot) or muesli (cold). I struck gold in finding Kodiak pancake mix (one part mix to one part water) which now serves as my toast substitute for the beloved PB+J. Lunches are cold; cheese and crackers, peanut butter and cheese, various spreads. All dinners are batched to be two meals in one pot, and most are made in the pressure cooker. 

4. Foods needed to last without access to freezer or refrigeration as Mo has neither. Once you’ve wrapped your head around the lovely tin can, this is just not that difficult. Some items like Kodiak Cake Mix, NIDO Milk, etc., will push up against their “best by” dates by the time I get north, but my experience suggests this will not be a problem for most foods.

5. Supplementation. My caloric requirements will jump when it gets cold and rough, but by how much I do not know. Planned meal portions are already generous, but I wanted an easy way to goose intake. So, months ago I began experimenting with powdered meal replacement “shakes.” Most, I found, are protein bombs or low in calories or high in sugar (or all three) when what I wanted was a balanced meal. Enter SOYLENT, whose goal is exactly that. Each “meal” is 400 calories, i.e. 20% of the RDA of 2000 calories per day, and contains 20% of the RDA of nutrients. A white powder, neutral in flavor; add water, mix, drink. Bingo. Now MO has 400 meals of SOYLENT tucked away in lockers for when it gets cold.
6. Don’t cheat. Trust the math on the spreadsheet and avoid the urge to “shelfgrab” when shopping. In the end I did cheat a little. Extra coffee, milk, cookies, crackers, and fresh cheese found their way aboard (thank you Joanna!). 

7. All foods must be tracked, both where they are aboard and when they are consumed. (One last minute mishap: the printed tracking sheet I use on Mo is NOT alphabetized. It’s random and in a tiny font. Oops.)

I did not account for fresh fruit and veg in the inventory as they don’t last more than a few weeks.

Thinking it would be a big project, I began provisions planning *months* before departure. Good idea, as it turned out. 

I’ve included the tracking and provisioning spreadsheet for those inclined that way.

Wind kicked in a 1pm, so back to work.

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Day 33

Noon Position: 24 54S  125 51W
Course/Speed: SE 6
Wind: E to ENE 10-14
Sail: Full working sail
Bar: 1025
Sea: E 3 and diminishing
Sky: Clear
Cabin Temp: 84
Water Temp: 75

Miles last 24-hours: 136
Miles since departure: 4332


Timeless. All day we’ve reached into light but unvarying trades. The sails, full, no thought of a reef; crisp-white and starch-still against eternal emptiness. The sea’s undulations, relaxed, each hour bringing less swell so that Mo slid along close hauled as if crossing a lake. The stern cobalt and obsidian blues, faded, the water taking on pastels from the sky where a Skua comes calling and infant cumulus form and evaporate and the wind blows ever the same. I have not touched line or tiller since sunup.

Which is good, because it’s been a busy make-and-mend day.

At some point after midnight, Lt. Wattsy (Watt and Sea Hydrogenerator) busted a seam. Wattsy is fussy. Good family, private schools, speaks five languages. Highly productive but a little too clever. Can’t quite be relied on. Tends to just let go.

I came into the pilot house in the wee hours for my usual check-in to find we were making no amps. Suspecting the problem I poked head over the transom, and there was Wattsy bouncing along on top of the water all crazy-eyed. The lanyard holding the downhaul low friction ring had parted. Again.

The first parting happened in the second week of this cruise. The factory lanyard, made of a small, uncovered, Dyneema-type line, had been spliced into a loop and the splice had slipped free. I made a new lanyard from slightly larger line and closed the loop with knots whose bitter ends were whipped down. This time the lanyard had lasted for nearly 100 charging hours before chaffing through where it passes through the generator body.

I had already tried replacing the lanyard with shackles, but didn’t have the right size. I thought of making a wire rope lanyard, but I don’t have wire rope aboard. Lacking other ideas, I reached out to Bruce Schwabb at www.OceanPlanetEnergy.com through my friend David R Kelton. He replied quickly, confirming this is a common problem without a bullet-proof bodger. He steered me toward lashing the ring directly to the generator. Which I have done. Looks good. Works well, today. But I’m dubious of the long haul.

In the afternoon I finished commissioning the Jordan Series Drogue. The lashings that will hold the bridle to the boat are made; chain weight is attached; and the line flaked down and ready to deploy.

We passed Ducie Island at 2pm, sixty miles to port. My inner Jack Aubrey and inner Stephen Maturin had tussled a couple days ago regarding making a close approach. Normally Maturin would win, and we’d sail miles out of our way…just to see. But I want none of that now; I’m all Jack. No distractions from the coming challenge. Keep pressing…down and to the left.

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