On day nineteen of last summer’s passage from Hawaii to San Francisco, Moli suffered a critical systems breakdown.
We had been climbing into winds of 25 knots for several days. Seas were steep and breaking. On that morning I rose at the usual hour and made my coffee in the usual way: cone with paper filter balanced atop a ceramic cup, the ceramic cup swinging on the gimballed stove.
In 20,000 miles of solo passages, this teetering miracle has never failed me.
Until this morning.
Since the last refit report, I’ve moved Moli two miles up the channel to KKMI, a big, resourceful yard with a sense of humor and a small but practical chandlery that (bless it) requires no driving to get to.
Here the first order of business has been to pull the mast so as to initiate the rerigging project.
The ease with which this operation came off was disheartening and left me nothing whatever to write about. At 10am on a clear morning, two guys in green hard hats clambered aboard and before I could say, “Hold on, what about the…,” the mast had been launched on its way to the cradle.
Aboard Moli is a small hardbound book titled Rund Amerika, the story of my boat’s initial adventures with then owners, Clark Stede and Michelle Poncini. It’s in German. I can admire the photos, like the one above, but I can’t read a word.
So, I was grateful to receive this week the below Yachting Monthly article from 1991 where Stede/Poncini, in translation, describe their Northwest Passage in Asma.
WARNING: for several months to come, many of these blogs will wander off into the badlands of boat refitting. My apologies if block-and-tackle-type discussions are not to everyone’s liking, but the work is a necessary prerequisite to minimizing excitement levels during the voyage itself, and writing about them, nearly so.
With the Figure 8’s September of 2017 launch decidedly in view (seems as close as next weekend), the race to the starting line has commenced in earnest, a race that has largely to do with preparing Moli and her skipper for a year at sea.
The first weeks of flying down the Atlantic were interesting enough (it’s been a year of record times), but only as the boats encountered the difficulties of the Southern Ocean did my interest become acute.
Once I got her home to San Francisco, the first job on Moli was a quick haul at KKMI in Richmond.
While at anchor in Hanalei Bay the month before, I dove on the hull and found two lengthwise scratches in the new bottom paint so expertly sprayed into place by the guys at Homer Boat Yard.
The September 25th discovery of abandoned vessel Wavesweeper left me with an interesting mystery whose many clues are outlined in the previous post. At the start of this investigation, I had thought to find a single failure that would lead, step-by-step, to the Wavesweeper disaster, a failure profound enough in itself to seal the boat’s fate. But the evidence does not so neatly resolve, and to my reading no such central clue has emerged. That said, what does emerge is compelling and equally horrific.
To review, the key questions are
- What event(s) disabled Wavesweeper?
- What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
- Why was such a well-found vessel (floating on her lines) abandoned?
What event(s) disabled the vessel?
The narrative that sifts from available information suggests that Wavesweeper succumbed to not one but a series of compounding failures precipitated by a knockdown, or knockdowns, events that injured her rig and mechanical systems beyond recovery.
It has been a summer of unusually strong winds in the North Pacific. This is corroborated both by my own experience during the recent Pacific crossings in Moli and by the remarks of racers I met in Hawaii. By way of support, the opening sentence from the 2016 Pacific Cup race results:
Kaneohe, HI, Saturday, July 30, 2016 – The 2016 Pacific Cup will be remembered for the big wind and seas that challenged some racers with broken boats and bodies, but pushed many in the fleet to record-breaking passages.
Also characteristic of the year was a generally unstable Pacific high-pressure system, often with multiple centers that bounced around the north and were augmented by frequent lows. A sailor passing through these regions could easily experience multi-directional eight to ten-foot seas and winds to 30 knots, as Wavesweeper reported, and such seas could easily generate the occasional something much larger. On a small boat in such conditions, a knockdown would not be difficult to come by.
Given evidence from the photos and the July 19th report where Wavesweeper’s owner (henceforth referred to as “Skipper”) states, cryptically, that “weather had torn the sails on the vessel’s lower mast,” one can imagine a sequence of events like the following:
- Wavesweeper is in brisk weather and steep seas under a partially reefed genoa and main when a first knockdown fills the headsail with water and parts the furling line. The sail pops open, and before Skipper can release the sheets, it wraps fatally.
- The main also fills; and under such sudden and extreme weight, the halyard parts.
- When Skipper attempts to replace the halyard with the topinglift, another knockdown pulls it from his hands. While the boat is down and the mast is in the water, the line wraps the masthead.
- This second wave shears the pin in the mainsheet shackle, at which point the boom goes over the side. Skipper hasn’t seen that the toppinglift-cum-halyard is now wrapped (like me, he may wear glasses, which have been swept overboard). He retrieves the toppinglift, attaches it to the head of the main and hauls the sail halfway up before the line jams hopelessly, having bound to itself at the masthead.
- Before the second knockdown, Skipper has also readied the staysail, but as the boat is laid over, that halyard becomes fouled in the lower spreaders. No amount of tugging frees it.
- With the jib halyard jammed, the main halyard lost into the mast, the toppinglift bound on itself, and no mast steps, Skipper has no way to get to the masthead to free-up a line, even if weather allowed.
- And without functioning halyards, Wavesweeper’s rig is beyond Skipper’s control. Her genoa is in its death throes, dragging the bow off dangerously at every gust. Skipper attempts to quiet things by cutting the sail down, but above head-height, it simply won’t tear away. Left with only one option for control of his boat, and as a hedge against a third wave, Skipper deploys the drogue.
The above sequence accounts for the state of the vessel as I discovered her, but given scant corroboration, many such scenarios are possible. One could argue, for example, that much of the visible damage occurred after Wavesweeper was abandoned. But my hunch says that’s not the case.
What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
To all outside appearances, nothing. In fact, with decks all ahoo–lines tangled or jammed, staysail loose and main and solar panels at odd angles–and no evidence of attempted jury rig, I assumed upon arrival that the scene was fresh; I even thought there might be a person in the water nearby.
Frustratingly, the two articles describing ship visits do little to clarify interim events. The APL Singapore report from July 15th makes no mention of Wavesweeper’s troubles save that she is short of water. Did Skipper not mention the injury to his rig or how long he’d been out? If not, was the crew not curious enough to ask about damage that was clearly visible? The only clue here is that the water drop was intercepted. If sails were useless at this point, as they must have been, then Wavesweeper still had engine power as of July 15th.
The second report from July 19th adds the mention of sail damage and that the “operator” was “having issues with [the boat’s] engine and batteries and was running low on water.” The jugs on the cabin-top and life rings on the stern rail, which had been retrieved from APL Singapore a mere four days earlier, make that last remark a nonsense, but it is conceivable that during a first or second knockdown, Wavesweeper took enough seawater below to kill her charging system.
For example, a wave down the companionway hatch could have soaked the various regulation devices for the engine, solar panels and wind generator and shorted-out the alternator, all without disabling the batteries or engine. This would explain the solar panels being askew (why bother to align them to the sun if they are no longer useful?) and the secured wind generator.
An inability to produce power would also explain the water shortage. If we assume an early May departure from Mexico and a slow, 100-mile-a-day crossing of the 2,700 miles to Hilo, Hawaii; if we assume a brief, one week stop-over and then a departure to the north in the first week of June, then Wavesweeper could have been underway for only four or five weeks at the time of the first ship intercept.
According to the Reliance specifications, the boat’s original design included 130 gallons of water tankage, enough for a solid four months of passages without rationing. But Wavesweeper’s tankage may not have been built to this spec or may have been modified and supplemented with a watermaker, now useless because Skipper was “having issues with engine and batteries.” With far less water to start with and no way to produce more, a call for potable water would have been of first importance. And that the call was for “30 or 40 gallons” suggests that as of July 15th, Skipper thought he could save his vessel and make landfall.
Why was such a well-found vessel abandoned?
That Wavesweeper floated on her lines 68 days after abandonment makes it tempting to think she was abandoned without cause. But floating is only the half of it; a vessel must also be able to make way. Without functioning sails and lacking the ability to produce power, Wavesweeper was out of options.
Skipper would not have expected to drift ashore in any reasonable time frame. Even if winds were pushing him east while he was aboard, he must have realized that the coast’s prevailing northwesterlies and the increasing number of southerlies would have prevented a close approach based on drift alone.
He could not have motored the distance either. The Reliance specifications show fuel tankage at 70 gallons, so that even if Wavesweeper’s engine was operable after the accident (as the water retrieval exercise suggests) and even if he carried extra fuel in jerry cans (there’s no evidence of this), the boat’s range under power would have been insufficient given her position 1,000 miles west of the Columbia River.
What happened, then, in the intervening four days between the call for water and the call for rescue? The attempt to save disabled Wavesweeper, even to simply exist on her after the accidents, must have been deeply fatiguing. Especially after the first knockdown, the rough weather, flogging sails, and waterlogged cabin would have made sleep all but impossible. Could it be that a tired Skipper accidentally and irretrievably foul his own halyards? Or was it that a second knockdown after the water drop did that work, putting further repair beyond his reach?
Whatever the case, by July 19th, Skipper had decided to call it quits. Wavesweeper’s drift was setting her slowly south of the shipping lanes; Skipper knew that if he didn’t act soon, he risked moving forever beyond rescue. He made another call. When OOCL Utah arrived to take him off, his fatigue and feelings overwhelmed his seamanship, and he failed to scuttle now dead Wavesweeper.
Hopefully, the above reconstruction reveals more than just my bias, my affinity for a solo sailor who got into trouble where trouble is so easy to come by. One could argue, as my friends have done, that a 70-year old Skipper became overwhelmed early and simply gave up, that he should have continued to fight as long as the vessel floated.
But another conclusion emerges when the evidence is taken in total. Wavesweeper is well-equipped and well-maintained. Her return to the north Pacific comes after several years of cruising and several long, successful passages. When given the first chance to abandon, Skipper chooses to remain aboard and keep fighting. All this suggest a man who knows his business, and I contend that only when Skipper is out of options, out of ways to get Wavesweeper safely to port, does he unwillingly leave her to make her own way on the sea.
On September 25th of this year and during a crossing from Hawaii to the mainland, Moli and I discovered an abandoned yacht named Wavesweeper at a position roughly 600 miles west of the Oregon and California border. Such a find can be soul-rattling, as I reported on this site that same afternoon.
After the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I feeling subsides, one is left with an interesting mystery whose key questions are
- What event(s) disabled Wavesweeper?
- What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
- Why was such a well-found vessel (floating on her lines) abandoned?
What We Know
The day after my initial post on the Wavesweeper find, the story was picked up by 48 North, the sailing magazine for the Pacific Northwest, and run with a query to the community for more information on this Vancouver-based boat. The query netted two reports: a back-page article in West Coast Sailors, the newsletter for the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, which detailed a tricky and successful water-drop for Wavesweeper by container ship APL Singapore on July 15, 2016 (link/PDF); and a press release from the Coast Guard summarizing the rescue of Wavesweeper’s owner by the container ship OOCL Utah on July 19, 2016 (link/PDF).
Other information gleaned from the community included the vessel’s build and rough itinerary.
A summary of the facts is as follows:
- The registered name of the vessel is Wavesweeper (one word). She’s a Reliance 37 out of Vancouver, BC.
- Wavesweeper is last noted in San Blas, Mexico, in late April. At that time her 70-year-old owner, who has been cruising Wavesweeper in the south for several seasons, is in the final stages of preparation for a singlehanded return home.
- Wavesweeper next pops into the public record on July 15th, when the container ship APL Singapore, enroute San Pedro, California, receives a distress call from her via USCG Juneau, Alaska. The report states the vessel is making for Vancouver from Hawaii, has run low on potable water and requests a drop of 30 or 40 gallons. APL Singapore’s crew gathers six water containers from the ship’s life rafts and tethers them in series with a life ring on each end. The crew lowers this rig into the water from the gangway and notes, “It drifted astern of the ship as the sailboat made way and intercepted it.” The article does not mention APL Singapore’s position nor the cause of the distressed vessel’s need for water.
- On July 19th, USCG 13th District (Pacific Northwest) contacts the container ship OOCL Utah enroute South Korea with a distress call from Wavesweeper (noted as Sea Sweeper in the press release), then located 990 miles west of the Columbia River. Per the USCG, Wavesweeper states that “weather had torn his sails on the vessel’s lower mast, [and that he] was having issues with [his] engine and batteries and was running low on potable water. During his transit the operator was also battling 30 mph winds and 8-foot seas.” OCCL Utah diverts course and successfully rescues the owner, transporting him to its next port. No mention is made of the water drop on July 15th nor when the adverse weather and sail damage occurred. The report does state that the now disabled vessel lacks an EPIRB and a life raft.
To sum up, Wavesweeper departs San Blas for Hawaii sometime after late April, receives a water drop from the APL Singapore on July 15th while enroute Vancouver and is abandoned when her owner is rescued by OOCL Utah on July 19th.
Note that this information answers none of the key questions listed above, save some portion of the first.
My discovery of Wavesweeper on September 25th came 68 days after her abandonment. I would never have guessed this as I drifted nearby, awaiting word from the Coast Guard. In fact, what made my heart pound was how fresh the scene appeared to be. There was no sign of weed on the hull, no dark scum marks on the top-side, no bird droppings on the deck. Most tellingly, she floated on her lines. Only her sails, jib in tatters and main down, boom end dragging in the water, suggested something terrible had occurred.
Why Wavesweeper had been abandoned was not obvious.
What the Photographs Show
Once home, I took a closer look at the photos from that day and made the following discoveries.
Any self-respecting detective would have to admit that abandoned Wavesweeper offers a goodly number of clues with which to solve the case, but which of these is the smoking gun?
In the next post I’ll attempt to reconstruct a chain of events …
I saw it for the first time on October 2nd, the red trimaran with the golden stars.
Moli and I entered under the bridge that day, ending our summer passages and exchanging the sweet, white-capped wilderness for a marina, flat as a parking lot and mad with weekenders.
I noted the exotic red giant nested in among boats gathered for a Westsail Rendezvous; sprawling and ungainly in aspect only because of its company, a Gulliver among the Lilliputians; hemmed-in, tied-down, an escape appearing all but impossible.
Over the next two weeks I visited Moli several times and each time I saw the red trimaran. Qingdao, hailing from China. Sleek, with modern, transverse bows and a spidery black mast. Arching, muscular supports for the outer hulls. A pilot house suggestive of a space capsule. The boat meant business.
Once I saw it gliding up the fairway, returning from what I gathered was a test sail. Once I saw a man giving a tour. Once the man seemed to be lounging on deck with his family.
I should say hello, I thought. But the boat was on G Dock. I was on F.
I didn’t know the story. I made the assumption Qingdao was crewed and preparing to be part of some larger race. I’m not much interested in drag racing and expensive, heavily crewed boats. I never stopped by.
Last weekend I noted that the boat was gone.
Today I read that the lone skipper of that red trimaran, the man I saw on deck with his family, is lost.
From Bill Hancock’s feed:
[As of October the 27th] Guo Chuan, China’s most famous sailor, is missing at sea and the Coast Guard have suspended their search for him. Mr Chuan was attempting to break the single-handed record for the fastest time to cross the Pacific. He left San Francisco on the 19th October heading for Shanghai but this past Tuesday [October 25] his support team lost contact with him. He had been keeping a regular blog about the trip and was making good time but suddenly there was no response. At first the Coast Guard flew over and tried to raise him on the radio but there was no response and later when they boarded the boat they found no trace of him. His lifejacket was there and one can only surmise what happened.
Guo Chuan was the first Chinese sailor to sail singlehanded around the world and he did so in 2013 in a Class 40. The World Sailing Speed Record Council recognized his accomplishment as the fastest time for a solo lap of the planet in a 40-foot boat. He had also competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and last summer set a benchmark record transiting the Northwest Passage from Murmansk in the extreme northwest part of Russia to an imaginary finish line in the Bering Strait. For that trip he purchased Francis Joyon’s old IDEC and he was using the same boat for his Pacific record bid.
As to surmises, Guo Chuan’s website has posted two:
With the information Guo Chuan Racing got about the sea and wind conditions at the supposed moment of the accident, the team think this desaster could have happened in two ways.
Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and gennaker in about 13 to 20 knts wind downwind which is a reasonable sail configuration for these conditions.
At the end of the day he decided to furl the gennaker in order to sail even safer for the night. After that he tried to drop it on windward side (which becomes a tricky maneuver in stronger winds for a solo sailor). Holding the halyard and restraining the gennaker at the same time, he lost the control of the halyard and the gennaker finally fell brutally down far away on the leeward side of the boat. As he was trying to restrain the gennaker to fall in the water he got pushed and ripped out of the boat either at the side of the starboard float or in front of the starboard front beam.
Guo was sailing with 1 reef on mainsail and J1 in about 13 to 20 knots wind downwind which is the safest sail configuration for sailing at night.
The gennaker was furled and still hoisted. For an unknown reason the halyard or the gennaker cable broke. Guo first furled the J1 in order to slow down the boat before taking care of the gennaker that has fallen in the water.
He then began to get the gennaker back on the net close to the starboard float. By manipulating the very powerful gennaker (which was drifting in the water) out of the water, he had at a certain moment to unhook his safety lifeline in order to change his position on the boat. A bad wave throw the gennaker back in the water and pushed Guo out of the boat.
Guo had most probably a life jacket with a safety line and a beacon for these maneuvers. In the first scenario, you need to unclip the the safety lifeline at one point.
I feel an affinity for Guo, this man I never met, though our approaches to (and presumably our appreciation of) the sea, boats and projects were very different, and I can imagine that Guo, working the foredeck with spray in his face, sometimes wondered, as do I, what it would be like to fall overboard.
Ironically, such a thing never feels possible, much less imminent.
Once beyond the land, the world simplifies and the center shifts. There’s the wind and sea, the boat, and you. With time and the perpetual motion of life on the waves, the boundary between you and boat becomes hardly noticeable, even the boundary between boat and sea blurs. This weird world where you forever fly atop the water … feels perfectly natural.
What is just beyond that thin skin of hull is uninhabitable, as alien as the ice giants circling the sun. But you have forgotten this long ago.
The sudden lurch from an unseen wave. The lost grip and momentary sense of weightlessness. The cold splash and then the immediate, frantic, impossible swimming, soon given up. The boat is already several waves ahead.
One long scream, the boat’s name, with full faith that such a call will turn her on her heels. It must. You slap the water. You blink salt from your eyes. The boat sails on.
So that’s what she looks like sailing, you think! If anything, her beauty intensifies the sense of loss. You stare and stare as she grows small. Then she is but a shaking mast above the waves. Then she is gone.
What happens next I can never quite force myself to imagine. The waves roll. You become colder and colder. If you are lucky, at night you see the dome of stars. Because you are lucky. You wished to push beyond the usual, to witness a world others cannot imagine. And you succeeded.
Aboard Solace were skipper Steve Harris, daughter Kelsey, and friend Kim Kirch, pictured below from their blog, where they are typically represented catching fish. Lots and lots of fish.
As reported earlier, a few days into their passage north the yacht’s autopilot failed, and a few days after that the steering cable parted. The first of these was easy to deal with, though it forced the crew into hand-steering watches of 2-on and 4-off. The second failure left them dead in the water.
Steve immediately rigged the emergency tiller, but found it almost impossible to hand steer the boat for any length of time in a seaway, this due to the tiller’s exceptionally short stock. After some experimentation, Steve was able to lash the tiller and balance the boat under shortened sail. This kept Solace moving in generally the right direction and allowed the crew some rest while Steve figured out and then fashioned a fix for the parted cable.
Being a cruiser-racer design with a fast underbody, Solace had been slowly pulling away from Mo up to this point, and by the time Steve lost his steering cable, Solace had bettered our distance by 60 miles. But with Solace under lashed tiller and reduced canvas, Mo quickly made up the difference. On day ten of our passage we met Solace at sundown at 38.57N by 153.31W, roughly 1500 miles west of San Francisco, for some conversation and an exchange of cookies.
Soon after Solace and Moli parted company, Steve and crew rigged a quadrant cable from Dyneema and resumed their passage north.
The delay caused by the quadrant cable failure meant that Solace missed her opportunity for northing. The low that had carried us both to this point petered out, and while Mo and I were sliding down toward Drakes Bay on brisk northeast winds, Solace beat back and forth 200 miles astern attempting not to lose too much ground. It took three days for winds to shift to the northwest, allowing Solace to finish her run at the 39th parallel.
Solace passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning of Oct 6, having sailed 2,900 miles in 26 days, and 21 days under jury rig.
Since arrival, Joanna and I have had the pleasure of entertaining Steve, Kelsey, and Kim at our house for hot showers, laundry-access, pizza and beer, and last night we met for an even more civilized engagement as Steve’s guest at a restaurant on Jack London Square. We’ve forgotten to take pictures on either occasion.
Solace is currently at the Berkeley Marine Center undergoing repairs while the crew has fun in the city.
Departure south is slated for a week hence.
Figure 8 course length and boat speed requirements were my focus at the time. Realizing I didn’t entirely grok the concept of theoretical hull speed, I was digging around for an explanation even English Majors could understand when I discovered Charlies’s articles called “Crunching the Numbers,” some of the most lucid forays into the deeper mysteries of boat-in-water design dynamics that I’ve yet found.
A year later I was inspecting my first aluminum boat for the Figure 8 (not Moli), and recalling that Wavetrain’s author owned what he called a “tin” boat, an aluminum Tanton 39 named Lunacy, I reached out for some advice. And got it!
So, it seemed only natural to alert Charlie when the Figure 8 acquisition occurred and turned out to be constructed of his preferred material. The following article ensued, which was syndicated on SAILFEED on September 8, 2016.
Besides stints at SAIL, Cruising World, and Offshore, Charlie has written a comprehensive guide to The Modern Cruising Sailboat and has another (subject as yet undisclosed) book releasing in the spring of 2017.
Randall on the foredeck
Randall gets into the Nutella
Randall with his last beer (Alaskan, of course)
A glimpse of Gjoa’s underbody. You actually don’t see many tin boats with keels like this. I think she’s faster than she looks!
He’s already sailed Gjoa singlehanded across the Gulf of Alaska to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then from there to Hawaii. This month he’ll be sailing from Hawaii back to his home in San Francisco. He does a very good job of writing up his passages while en route, so I urge you to follow his adventure as it unfolds.
Drakes Bay. 4:30am. Up with the alarm. Sky to the east, black. Orion, The Dipper, shimmering.
Though I can hear swell crashing on rocks to the south, MOLI, tucked inside the hook of the point, is still as a board. Aground? I check the meter. 18 feet.
Because the peninsula eats the sea, I remember. Jutting out from the coast and down for fifteen miles, the peninsula’s great dunes feast endlessly on those furies from the Gulf. The wind blasts, but the sea is consumed utterly.
Yesterday. Jo drives two hours from San Francisco, bringing a late-afternoon picnic. We sit on a bluff overlooking Mo; beyond, the sandstone cliffs and low, forested mountains. We drink champagne. We eat brie on toast with lettuce wraps of shrimp and cucumber. I marvel at the flavors, at once novel and familiar.
We talk in the uneven bursts of two people being reintroduced. What have you been up to? How’s mom? How overgrown is the garden? The mail comes later now. That property up the hill is for sale. Health Insurance coverage has changed. The kitchen door deadbolt has stopped working. Karen’s niece bought a new car. There’s coffee in the cupboard and fresh cream in the fridge.
Details. One after the other. It’s just the start. A thousand and one small pieces make up the landed life.
I think then of Drakes Bay as a half-way house for sailors, poised between a vastness of sea and a compaction of city. I have sailed 7,000 miles since May. I have longed for home, but I need this half-way house.
The anchor comes up fouled with weed. Finally in its chock. Mo’s head toward Point Bonita. All night the sound of wind in the rigging, a red herring. We motor in light northwesterlies past Double Point at sunup.
The day reveals the peculiar textures of my home waters. A green sea. Faun colored cliffs. Hills of golden grass and oak. Brown Pelican’s diving and joined by gray gulls with orange beaks. A pale, cloudless sky.
At Duxbury Point, I pick up the spires of the bridge. At Point Bonita, I pick up the flood. Mo and I race toward the entrance where, I am told, Jo is on a far hill snapping photos and our neighbor, Mary, spies with binoculars. I wave but without really seeing either.
We are under the red span at eleven–full sail, but motoring through calm–and in an instant all sense of wilderness falls away. Now, here, numerous boats drift about, waiting for the weekend wind. Ferries muscle their way through to Sausalito, to Tiburon, to Vallejo, to Jack London Square. The twinkle of cars flying north on that black ribbon. Over there, Richardson Bay. Angel Island. Alcatraz. Treasure Island. The sprawling Bay Bridge. The impenetrable cityscape.
I know what and where things are. Bluff Point. Ayala Cove. Raccoon Strait. Paradise Cove. Richmond Longwarf. Red Rock. There, the Corinthian Yacht Club has not moved. Neither has the Berkeley Tower nor the Trans America Building. But surely this is my first entrance.
I motor on. Out of Raccoon Strait, I wrap the main and jib. Entering Richmond Harbor Channel, I break out dock lines, stiff with lack of use, and fenders.
Mo slides catawampus into a slip, landing like the gooney bird she is. Tied, secured, she looks proud but uncomfortable, corralled. There is a wildness in her eyes, a shying as she tugs at her braces. We were headed here, she asks?
I have longed for home. And now I am home. And I am happy to be home. But standing on the dock, a hand on Mo’s rail, I think of out there, beyond the gate.
And this vessel can go, I think with a rush. We can really go. Anywhere.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Anchor Down, Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore
POS: 37.59.77N by 122.58.51W
Miles since last noon: 138
Total miles of passage: 2889
Avg. Miles per Day: 144
I know, it’s not quite San Francisco.
Drakes Bay is 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a sweeping crescent defined by the massif that is the point of Point Reyes and the peninsula the joins it to the the mainland.
It is so named because Sir Francis Drake is thought to have careened his Golden Hind in the sprawling estero behind Limantour Spit at the bay’s north end.
I like ending cruises here. The seashore is vast and undeveloped with Doug Fir-forested mountains and limestone cliffs within view of the boat. And though the anchorage is protected and beach access easy, one usually anchors alone.
Before taking on the bright lights of the big city, it’s good to stop here for a beer and to get cleaned up. That final dash can always wait one more day.
For me it’s a tradition. Also a tradition is Joanna’s visit. She’s on her way now with snacks and champagne. Can hardly wait to see my lovely wife.
Tomorrow, the final few miles…
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 38.58.32N by 125.15.31W
Miles since last noon: 173
Total miles of passage: 2751
Avg. Miles per Day: 145
Miles to San Francisco: 160
Sail: All plain sail, wind angle 120 degrees to port
Speed: 5 and 6
Wind: N15 – 20
Sky: Clear, some scattered high cumulus
Air Temperature: 68 degrees
Sea Temperature: 55 degrees
8pm. The dark of night. Sitting and reading by headlamp from my usual spot near the companionway. Hatch closed, except for a small gap for fresh air. Closed because now that we are before the wind, little bits of sea spray are swept onto my glasses when a wave taps MOLI on the quarter, which is a bother when one is with a book.
But the sea is subsiding, I think. At least it is quieter than earlier in the day.
Then that now familiar whooshing sound followed by a metallic THWAP as the wave makes Mo’s port flank and climbs aboard. Rushing white water covers the pilot house windows and flies over the cabin top. Suddenly I have a lap and face full of ocean as I also have the sense of going weightless.
Mo rolls over and down. Now a rushing sound to starboard as the decks and windows go under at the bottom of the wave. Crashing sounds from the main cabin. Water flying around in the pilot house.
Then Mo is up, shaking it off. Again, I dash to the companionway hatch to check on Monte. He’s smoking a cigarette and reading Playboy. Unperturbable, that dude. “Drew you a bath,” he says, pointing. “You were complaining of being smelly.” I look down and see the cockpit is half full again and with various bits of line and a winch handle subbing for a rubber ducky.
Below looks like a mobile home after a tornado. Water all over the sole of the pilot house. Also there, a soaked first edition of Ranulph Fiennes MIND OVER MATTER, the clipboards holding my food inventory lists, my foulies fallen from their hook, and a towel, which I retrieve and begin drying off.
Everything that has been on the counter in the galley is on the floor or in the head. No shock there. More impressive is that a can of NIDO dried milk has made the journey from the counter all the way into the head sink, about six horizontal feet (when Mo is upright). I can hear the EU Football announcer shouting, “Scooooooore.” Nothing came off the gimbaled stove.
In the salon, all the books that were on the lower shelf (which has a four-inch high fiddle rail) have been cleaned out, and half are now on the bunk on the opposite side of the boat.
It takes an hour to mop-up and restow the boat, during which time the companionway hatch stays shut all the way.
These two “knockdowns” (quotations because I’m not sure the mast and sails were ever in the water, though the boom has, by now, had several deep handshakes with Neptune) are odd. The wind has not been that strong and the wave action, though steep, has had no curl.
Two clues: wave action yesterday was often chaotic and today the sea temperature reading was 55 degrees, a seven degree drop from the day before where a one degree drop is more usual. Both of these suggest that we sailed through a collision of currents, which could well have perturbed the sea-state.
I dislike yachtie galley gear. Plastic/non breakable dishes. Stainless steel, spill proof cups. No idea why, just do. When I look forward to the morning brew, the image is of a very normal, ceramic mug filled with coffee from boiling water poured through fresh grounds.
Admittedly, balancing the filter atop the cup can be a tricky business. Thus the gimbaled stove. In 20,000 miles of solo cruising, this has always worked.
Until this trip. Until again this morning.
We still had our difficult waves. One lurch. The coffee cone full of hot water and hot coffee grounds allowed itself (yes, it wasn’t paying close enough attention) to be thrown at me, all down my front and scalding my left wrist before proceeding to plaster the far wall and crash into the head.
After a profoundly sincere screaming fit and an extended clean-up operation. After another go and success, a lovely mug of Joe, which I absent-mindedly set down while reaching for my book, upon which it promptly flipped over.
Out has come the non-flip cup and the instant coffee canister. I can take a hint, after a time.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 40.26.66N vy 128.12.57W
Miles since last noon: 169
Total miles of passage: 2578
Avg. Miles per Day: 143
Miles to San Francisco: 330
Sail: Triple reef in jib and main. Wind angle: 120 degrees
Sky: Clear, some scattered high cumulus
Air Temperature: 67 degrees
Sea Temperature: 62 degrees
Wind has veered into the N, allowing me to relax Mo’s wind angle without a change of course. This has quieted things down considerably. I no longer feel like a war correspondent on the front lines.
Seas are still up, however. Steep and confused and occasionally combining into a Big Bertha whose break is a mushroom-shaped collapse that then foams-out for a 100 yards. Beautiful to watch if you are a sailor; not the least bit surfable.
At around 10 this morning and before the winds went N, one of these Berthas (I presume, as I never saw it) delivered an interesting imitation of a knock down. Sound like thunder, then heavy water at the pilot house windows and suddenly Mo was on her right ear.
When gravity returned to something like normal, I jumped up to check Monte, who was so unperturbed he’d not bothered to put down his espresso, but the cockpit was half full of water (upside: I got to see how fast it drains) and the line in the port side cubbies was afloat.
In the galley, the only notable casualty was my coffee grounds container, which had launched into the head and exploded. This provided nearly an hour’s entertainment with broom and pan, though I noted an improvement in the smell.
Over the last two days we’ve taken so much spray over the boat that a rime of salt crystals has built on the the cockpit teak. And I’ve been able to ascertain with certainty which hatches leak in weather and which don’t. In short, all leak. Or leaked, until I tightened up their knobs with a screwdriver.
My only disappointment: whenever I bring my camera on deck, the entire seascape suddenly goes all shy. Not a whitecap can I find nor a wave with as much heft as a bedroom pillow.
I’ve not been cooking much since the weather went north. Not for lack of appetite, mind you, but I’ve yet to master the galley in boisterous seas. For example, I need to rethink the cupboards, which tend to happily pour their contents, en masse, onto the counter top unless I time the roll perfectly. Then there’s the gimbled stove, an island of calm in this shake-n-bake world. The only problem is that, boat motion being what it is, I’m either clawing my way up hill to reach it or fighting to keep from being thrown bodily onto it.
On a related note, it’s getting noticeably cooler. Temperature in the cabin as I type is 64 degrees. What this means is that I can eat cheese again, which was untouchable when the cabin was 80.
Two days to San Francisco at this pace, but you’d never know it by looking out the window.
SOLACE update. Steve and crew appear to be doing well. To reports, the repair to the quadrant steering, replacing the parted cable with Dyneema line, has continued to function. They are currently jogging NW and SE at around 40N and 140W while they wait for winds to become favorable for a return to an easterly heading. This should happen by week’s end.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 41.45.90N by 131.15.47W
Miles since last noon: 154
Total miles of passage: 2409
Avg. Miles per Day: 142
Sail: Triple reef in jib and main. Wind angle: 70 – 80 degrees
Wind: NE, ENE 25+
Sky: Clear, some scattered high cumulus
Air Temperature: 79 degrees
Sea Temperature: 62 degrees
Comfort cannot be expected by those who go apleasuring.
H. W. Tillman
All yesterday and today we have been just shy of a beat in 25 knot northeasterlies.
Seas are not large–some are to 10 feet–but they are steep and we are taking them beam on. They break over Mo with the least provocation, least provocation being that curling wave is here and boat is here. Smash. The decks are streaming.
From below the canon fire produced when Mo drops bodily off a wave onto her side or, when on her side, the next wave slams into her bilge, is startling, partly for the sound and partly for the whole-boat, things-coming-unglued vibration it produces.
One cannot be sure the watery collision wasn’t with a solid object that has torn a hole in the hull. Several times today I’ve checked under the engine to make sure the slimy inch of water gathered there is still but an inch (it is).
I open a galley cupboard for a can of soup and the entire contents empty onto the counter. I aim at the head, but gravity decides it is tired of such strict confines–today left is much more interesting than down. I reach out to steady myself but before my hand contacts the bulkhead, the bulkhead has thwapped me in the forehead.
Only lying down seems safe, and though my new berth on starboard is comfortable, I slept last night as if in a war zone.
That’s just what it’s like to beat into fresh northeasterlies.
ALL THAT SAID, our course is excellent and warms my heart. If this is as E as the NE winds get, then I called my northing perfectly, because as I write, Mo is on a rhumb line course for the Golden Gate Bridge. Distance: 441 miles.
Let’s hope I haven’t spoken too soon.
By way of follow up to the story on WAVE SWEEPER, the abandoned sailboat Mo and I discovered a day and a half ago, the below release from the Coast Guard was sent to me courtesy of Joe Cline, editor at the Pacific Northwest sailing magazine 48*North…
CREW OF 1,000-FOOT CONTAINTER SHIP RESCUE SAILOR IN DISTRESS 990 MILES WEST OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER.
WARRENTON, Ore., — The Coast Guard coordinated the rescue of a sailor in distress more than 990 miles west of the Columbia River by utilizing the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue system, Tuesday.
Responding to the AMVER request, the crew of the 1,098-foot container ship Oocl Utah altered their course to retrieve the distressed sailor, safely took him aboard the ship and is currently transporting him to their next port of call in Busan, South Korea.
Watchstanders at the Coast Guard 13th District Command Center received the notification of distress from the operator of the 37-foot sailing vessel Sea Sweeper stating that weather had torn his sails on the vessel’s lower mast, was having issues with its engine and batteries and was running low on potable water. During his transit the operator was also battling 30 mph winds and 8-foot seas.
Due to the great distance of the sailing vessel, the Command Center personnel issued the AMVER broadcast asking any mariners in the immediate area to assist the operator of the Sea Sweeper.
The crew Hong Kong flagged Oocl Utah responded to the request for assistance and proceeded with the rescue of the sailing vessel operator.
“The AMVER system was created for events just like this one,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Brown, an operation specialist at the Coast Guard 13th District Command Center. “Thanks to the merchant mariners who volunteer for this program, help can be provided to those in need even when they are hundreds of miles away from traditional assistance.”
The operator of the sailing vessel was reportedly found without proper safety equipment including a life raft and emergency beacon onboard his vessel. The lack of essential equipment was a factor which prompted the AMVER assist. Boaters are reminded to always have proper safety equipment such as an Electronic Position Indicating Beacon, life raft, lifejackets or mustang suits, signaling and communication devices onboard their vessel before getting underway.
A message has been issued to all mariners operating in the area notifying them of the adrift vessel.
The AMVER system is aa assistance and rescue program with vessels from all over the world to participating in the program. AMVER helps provide assistance in areas beyond the reach of Coast Guard assets. Vessels participating in the AMVER program agree to have their general positions tracked by the AMVER system and volunteer to assist vessels in distress that may be in their area.
For more information about the AMVER program, click here: http://www.amver.com/default.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 42.48.56N by 134.14.24W
Miles since last noon: 157
Total miles of passage: 2255
Avg. Miles per Day: 141
Course: ENE, then E
Sail: Twins poled overnight. Close hauled, triple reefed next day
Wind: SW15 to N20 -28
Sky: Overcast, some rain (Pacific Northwest sky)
Air Temperature: 70 degrees
Sea Temperature: 64 degrees
Up at five to find Mo heading SE. The wind had shifted into the N overnight, as per forecast. I let us run until first light and then slowly wound up sails, took in the poles and got Mo ready for several days of reaching.
Winds should be 20 – 25 from the N, then NE, then ENE and finally back to N-ish over the next two to three days. Not ideal for a boat that wants to go E and SE.
It appears our cruise will end with a bash.
While this high settles in, my goal is to 1) carry true wind on the beam and keep apparent wind below 60 degrees off port. 2) to somehow keep from getting pushed below 40N until the wind comes back into the N. Those may be tall orders.
Currently am triple reefed in both main and jib in winds that have increased to 28 just as the sun set. (Of course!)
I’ve also taken the opportunity of some wind and a very wet foredeck to practice-set the storm jib. Good thing as I’d stowed it in a way that made it extremely awkward to get at the tack and hanks. I flew it in 20 knots, and now that we’re touching 30, I wish I’d left it up.
Handel is still with us.
Several days ago he moved his quarters from inside a cockpit cubby to the vang clutch on the starboard clutch assembly.
This was an unfortunate choice as it is outboard of the cockpit, quite windy, and thus cold, and was often washed by waves. I’d not seen him for several days and thought him overboard.
Still, I tried to leave the vang clutch unused as long as I could on the off chance … but today it had to come into action.
Luckily Handel was out and inspecting his estate when I needed to begin work there, and I was able to move him to a protected spot underneath the dodger.
In typical fashion, Handel was unhappy with my safe-as-houses location, and has since wandered into the hatch slide pocket. So, again, I have to live in fear that moving the hatch will crush him.
So it goes with Handel.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 41.50.33N by 137.12.05W
Miles since last noon: 171
Total miles of passage: 2098
Avg. Miles per Day: 140
Sail: Running under large genoa
Wind: SW to SSW 20 – 25
Sky: Mostly clear
Air Temperature: 76 degrees
Sea Temperature: 65 degrees
I’m in the cockpit. I don’t know why. I look up and off MOLI’s port quarter and to the west, mast and sails. Maybe four miles distant. Hull down. A sailboat.
My first thought: SOLACE! Steve and crew have, in fact, repaired their pedestal steering and are underway these past 24 hours. She’s faster than MO, but that’s too fast. Last report put her over 200 miles to our stern.
Second thought: something’s wrong. Even without binoculars I can see that the sail set isn’t working. With binoculars and from the top of the larger waves, it’s clear the genoa is luffing terribly.
What are the odds I’d encounter a sailboat here that was making due east for the coast and that I’d see it just the moment its crew lost control of the headsail?
Seeing another sailboat has sufficiently small odds. But there’s nothing due east except Crescent City, California, a fishing town, and due east is the wrong heading given coming weather.
I wait five minutes. No need to bother them if they’re on the foredeck, I think.
Five minutes later the sail is still beating. I call on channel 16. I call repeatedly. No answer.
A sinking feeling in my gut. I have to go.
MO is running fast. Winds have been 20 – 25 SW and SSW for several days. The wave train is large and long period; seas 10 and 12 feet and breaking happily. Really beautiful stuff. But it makes for slow action on deck. The starboard genoa pole is still out from yesterday, a vain hope, and to port and out free, the large genoa. It takes fifteen minutes to pull the pole, rig for the number #2 jib and tack about.
It takes another twenty minutes to work up to the vessel’s position.
Here’s what I wrote to Joanna and my friend, Kelton, immediately after the sighting…
Subject: URGENT. POSSIBLY ABANDONED SAILBOAT. PLEASE FORWARD TO COASTGUARD
Date: September 25, 2016 at 4:18:49 AM PDT
JO, KELTON, which ever of you can get to this first. URGENT.
I have discovered a *possibly* abandoned vessel, a sailboat, adrift, sails out and torn.
Urgent because vessel does not appear to have been adrift/abandoned for very long.
PLEASE CONTACT LOCAL COAST GUARD AND FORWARD INFO. ASK THEM TO ROUTE ACCORDINGLY. I don’t know who to contact or would do myself.
Abandoned Vessel Position: 41.49.463N. 137.20.131W.
Sighting Time: 1100 Hawaii Standard Time.
Sighting Date: Sept 25, 2016.
Vessel Approximate Course ESE.
Vessel Approximate Drift Rate: 2-3 knots.
Vessel Name: Wave Sweeper.
Vessel Port: Vancouver, BC.
Description: Sloop. 30 – 35 feet on deck. Yellow hull. Fiberglass. Home-built dodger of wood. Jib out and torn to ribbons. Main out and boom down and in water, sail also torn. Main hatch open. Boat appears to be dragging a drogue from quarter lines; drogue not seen. No dinghy seen, though a kayak on coach roof. No life raft seen, nor place for canister observed on boat deck or rail.
Action: Multiple hails on VHF, channel 16, upon approach and departure and via air horn upon passing by. No response.
Scan of area found no other debris or sign of raft.
I made two close passes and have departed the scene assuming boat is abandoned.
I was still panting when I wrote this. Reading every sentence aloud. Typing as fast as could. Hurry, hit send. Good.
Because you just don’t know. It all looked so fresh. No weed on the hull. No bird shit on deck. The kayak at the ready. The BBQ on the rail. Hatches open. I half expected someone to come popping from below. He’d offer me a beer. “Hamburgers up in a jiffy, mate. Sorry about the mess.”
Except for those awful sails. The banners of ghosts. They could only mean disaster. Loss of control. Loss of self. The kind of panic that unhinges a person in a second.
Something terrible had gone down here, and it looked like it had gone down yesterday.
Joanna immediately contacted our local Coast Guard station, and they routed my email and photos to the Offshore Rescue Unit.
Here was the response…
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2016 2:44 PM
To: JOANNA BLOOR; RCCAlameda1
Subject: RE: [Non-DoD Source] Fwd: URGENT. POSSIBLY ABANDONED SAILBOAT. PLEASE FORWARD TO COASTGUARD
The Sailing Vessel WAVE SWEEPER was the subject of a Search and Rescue case from July 19th of this year. The master of the vessel was rescued and brought safely to shore.
Thank you very much for your report.
United States Coast Guard
Rescue Coordination Center Alameda
I had been trending slowly NE under deeply reefed jib. Waiting for word. Waiting for orders or release. Release from responsibility and that horrible dread.
When the note came, relief. I had misread the signs. That’s OK. The story had ended well, at least for the man.
I opened the big genoa and we flew free again. Hull down, that dead boat astern. Sails still beating their warning. Then she was gone. I breathed in. Shake it off, man, shake it off…
Because a sailboat is a rocket ship traversing vast, open space. This is its chief attraction and its chief danger. Because after a time one becomes as comfortable with the space as with the rocket ship. One feels a familiarity, a kinship…with both. Or worse, one feels a certain invincibility. One forgets that the thin fuselage of the ship is the only thing keeping doom at bay. That the space is alien and uninhabitable. That it does not wish harm; it does not wish, but that it is prone to random violence. That it eats your mistakes for breakfast.
Such sightings tear at the web of security we weave about ourselves. Like seeing a messy crash on the side of the freeway. Suddenly you realize that going 80 in traffic isn’t, in fact, as safe as being home in front of the tele. It’s a jarring moment because it’s so obvious and because you’d forgotten.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 40.46.44N by 140.22.61W
Miles since last noon: 177
Total miles of passage: 1927
Avg. Miles per Day: 137
Sail: Twins poled out until the wind veered a little more into the south. Now genoa only.
Wind: SW to SSW 20 – 25, most 25 today
Sky: Mostly clear
Air Temperature: 76 degrees
Sea Temperature: 68 degrees
1am again. Sail changes. No big deal. Wind is up so simply roll in a bit of the twin headsails.
But while in the cockpit I hear a barking. By now I know where to look. I see that starboard tiller line block is frozen, the one I installed new two days ago. I can see the sheave is cracked. No, wait… And then as I brighten the beam of the headlamp and get nearer, the sheave simply falls apart. I dash below and flip on the autopilot.
Part of me can’t believe it. Part of me is not surprised. It is 1am, when MOLI mayhem appears to be scheduled.
All the steering issues on this trip seem to come back to my making poor choices. I don’t say this to be self-critical. It’s all a part of learning what this boat needs and can tolerate.
For example, when the first block froze on the way to Kauai, the larger block I used as replacement (all I then had) appears to have changed the line angle and caused, at least in part, the extraordinary chafe that broke the tiller line earlier in the week.
The new block added two days ago, delivered to Kauai with a great number of other spares, fixed this issue, BUT the block did not have a swivel shackle as had its predecessor; it merely had a saddle. I had manually applied some twist to the strapping that holds this assembly to the rail, but it wasn’t enough. The block was out of alignment with the line; the twist put severe pressure on the sheave, grinding it against the cheek until it failed. In two days!
And here’s the basic learning: The tiller line assembly cannot tolerate alignment issues because the weight of the tiller in a seaway is extreme. Often when making fine adjustments to the chain I must fight hard to get chain and tiller to match up…and our weather/wave action has been far from heavy on any of the three legs.
I’m also beginning to suspect that using covered line in such a high pressure, high repetitions installation is a mistake. The cover simply gets ground up.
New, well aligned block in place. New line run. Last? We’ll see.
*And I had no more 90 degree turn shackles, proving again that one cannot have too many spares.
I can smell home.
Though I’m positive we’ll get at least one more weather surprise, I feel Mo and I are on the last lap, the last 1000 miles, in any case. I’ve been away most of this year and constantly since May. I’m ready to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Knox-Johnson missed a beer in the pub. Schrader missed his dog. I miss my wife, Joanna. I’m a man of few friends, but she is the best of them, and I want again the simple luxury afforded couples that make a habit of staying within three states of each other–the ability to touch base at will, to check-in, to have a chat.
How she handles running her own business, the house, and our lives while I’m away, how she tolerates the doubled responsibility without resentment I don’t know. But I am grateful, and I look forward (in truth) to being the one to take out the trash … at least for the next year.
On that note, a special shout-out to Sarah, Joanna’s mom, whose birthday was this week. Sarah, you done good work. If I had champagne aboard, I’d toast you with it, but your toast will have to settle for beer.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 39.33.77N by 143.17.84W
Miles since last noon: 158
Total miles of passage: 1750
Avg. Miles per Day: 134
Sail: #2 jib full all night; then twins poled out, wind 100 to 120 degrees on starboard
Wind: SW 10 – 25
Sky: Mostly clear. Thin cirrus and then SF style high fog, burned off
Waves: SW to 7
Air Temperature: 77 degrees
Sea Temperature: 66 degrees
For a few hours last night wind eased as a ridge passed quickly over. I decided to sleep instead of make more sail and press more miles into the day. The two previous nights had been largely devoid of that luxury and my attempts at napping, mostly exercises in staring at the ceiling. We’ve paid for my log-sawing in our daily totals. A fair deal.
Not so today, however.
With this morning’s forecast, I’ve decided it’s time to work some northing into our passage. Our current heading is 60 degrees true and our current target is an imaginary Gastro Pub at 43N and 133W. Here, I am told, the brew is rich and cold and the steaks are hot.
The reason: by Monday a large high may settle north of us and bring brisk NE winds to what will be our then location. I want to be positioned to take those winds on the beam.
The forecast is sure to change and I likely won’t need 43N (who cares about cold beer anyway). But that’s today’s plan.
I rose at 6. Had a cup of coffee. Lofted the port pole and the #1 genoa. Had a second cup of coffee. Lofted the starboard pole for the #2 jib, and we’ve been flying since.
We’re taking the winds, now just over 20 knots, deeply on the starboard quarter. Jib #2 is canted way forward, #1 hauled in taught. Both soon carried a second reef. We’ve covered 31 miles in the 4 hours since noon. And they’ve been easy miles. Monte Cristo is finding this so untaxing that he’s reading the paper and smoking a ciggy, and we’re still on course.
Things are not so rosy for SOLACE and her crew. The attempts to braid the broken steering cable together have failed as has the dyneema line used to replace the cable. This latter solution has stretched and slipped off the quadrant. No word on its being tightened or replaced. Steve has rigged a block and tackle from the emergency tiller to the center cockpit, and the crew are using this to steer (much as did Shackleton in the southern ocean), which he reports is at least an easier arrangement in light winds. High winds are still a struggle. Currently they are some 170 miles back of MOLI but are making consistent, if difficult, progress, and generally in the right direction.
Standing in the cockpit staring north and west. The cobalt waves tumbling like liquid glass, exploding in white cascades. The kind of day made for staring at.
Then an oddity in that wave. An olive colored shape moving below, surfing down the inside of the curl. Then another. Then two more. Not large–say the size of small dolphins. But not dolphins. They never break the surface to breath. So, fish, then. But what?
After a time, I think I see sharp pectoral and dorsal fins and perceive a compact and bullet shape to the body. Silver flashes from the water when they suddenly change course. Tuna? They hung out off port quarter all afternoon, waiting, I fancy, for Mo to scare up some flying fish.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 39.13.10N by 146.35.73W
Miles since last noon: 179
Total miles of passage: 1592
Avg. Miles per Day: 133
Sail: main double reefed; #2 jib triple reefed; then #2 jib only, double then single reefed, wind moving between abeam and quartering.
Wind: SW 15 – 30
Sky: Mixed cloud cover
Waves: SW to 12
Air Temperature: 78 degrees
Sea Temperature: 66 degrees
Why does it always happen at night?
1am. Sleeping lightly in my bunk on portside. The press of my body into the portside settee cushions is comfortable. Such a relief from the constant twist and roll. But too comfortable. Not right. Mo is on her side and staying there.
In the pilot house I see the indicator shows wind 90 degrees to starboard and pegged at 30 knots. I have up a double reefed main and triple reefed jib. We’ve been on the edge all day, frothing along. Now we’ve tripped over it.
Blap Blap Blap. The AIS alarm. On the chartplotter, the signature gray triangle of a ship and our course, which has been E, is now SE. It appears on the screen that we’re set to T-bone the larger vessel.
I look into the cockpit. Monte Cristo’s (wind vane) steering chain has fallen off the tiller. Odd. That only happens in light winds. I used to lash it to the tiller (the lanyard is sitting right there), but in any wind at all it stays perfectly secure in its chock.
“Moli Moli, M/V Regent Star.” I do a quick measure. Four miles out. He’ll have to wait.
I dash into the cockpit and grab the tiller. Here I see the ship half hull down, lights along its deck are dipping in the distant swell and the vessel’s already abeam. “Couldn’t hit you if I tried,” I yell. Blap Blap Blap. “Moli Moli, M/V Regent Star,” says the radio. Jesus but these ship guys are sensitive.
The wind is up for sure. Its force in the rigging is an impressive roar, and I can feel it warm but hard on my chest. I give the tiller a heave. With wind back on the quarter, I slap the chain in place, but something is mushy. The cover on the starboard tiller line is sliding around.
I follow it back and see that where the line passes the dorade vent, the cover has broken revealing the bright blue dyneema core.
“You everlasting bitch!”
This is a known chafe point, so I check it regularly. I had, in fact, checked that afternoon and seen only the slightest frizzing on the cover. Shouldn’t have seen any! I changed that whole line out two days ago due to heavy frizzing of the cover at the first turing block. I did note then some broken strands at the dorade. But the whole run is new!
Mo takes a dive; slams on her side. First order: get the main down.
I strap in and crawl forward. Anything beyond my headlamp beam is black. Ship is long gone. No stars; no moon. Not even white caps, though the ripping white noise says they’re there. Spray in my face. Every surface on Mo covered in a slippery, salty film.
I rig the lazy jacks and begin to lower sail. The angle of the lazy jack line looks wrong. It’s pressed against the mast and has snagged a sail car. Yank yank yank. Ten minutes to get unstuck. Why do lazy jacks make things more difficult?
Sail wrapped loosely. It’ll do till morning. Mo’s motion much better.
Back in the cockpit. Thinking. What next?
The wife has asked why I call the wind vane Monte Cristo. “Because I *Count* on him,” I say. He’s a singlehander’s most essential piece of kit.
Nothing for it but to change the tiller line now. Too much pressure on Monte. And I can see the dyneema core is looking worn already. Can’t risk it breaking.
But what is going on?
Maybe my replacement block is too large (this is the one that froze on the trip down). Maybe it’s changed the angle of the line and into the dorade. I dig out a smaller block and begin the process of reeving new line down and through Monte’s cascade of blocks. It’s quick enough work, but involves hanging my ass over the stern and reaching down into the water for the line’s bitter end.
It makes no sense, I think. To chafe so fast. Almost like it was cut. One more time I trace where the line touches the dorade and the ring moves. What? The dorade ring is loose. I tighten it all the way down and note that in doing so I close off a line-sized gap that allowed access to the threads.
I also note Handel the gecko sitting in his usual spot, a witness to the accident. “You were watching! Was that what happened?” I ask. “That the line got trapped under the dorade ring and the threads cut the line?” Handel said nothing, so we’ll just have to see.
4am. I roll back into my bunk. Problem fixed for now but not solved.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 39.00.45N by 150.11.80W
Miles since last noon: 170
Total miles of passage: 1413
Avg. Miles per Day: 128
Sail: Twin headsails poled out; change to double reefed main and #2 jib; wind abeam and on starboard quarter.
Wind: SW to 30
Sky: Mixed cloud cover
Waves: SW to 10
Air Temperature: 79 degrees
Sea Temperature: 69 degrees
Wind, glorious wind. And for once I made sail changes before all hell broke loose.
The breeze backed into the SW after dark and our course began a gentle loop to the north. Knowing stronger winds were due in the wee hours and not wanting to surrender easting, I got the poles down after dinner and hoisted the main and #2 jib. A ship passed above us and then the moon rose inky red into a mess of cloud.
By midnight I’d reefed the main. By morning winds had increased to over 20 knots. I reefed the #2 jib after coffee. By nine o’clock the main had two reefs and the jib, three. Winds were steady 25, gusting 30. Lots of gusting. Mo boiled steadily along.
It’s like space travel. I am using an approaching weather system to slingshot my tiny ship out of the gravitational trap of another weather system. But instead of accelerating in toward a planet, as a spacecraft would do, ship and I must wait for the weather system to arrive. Then we don’t miss it!
Our slingshot has arrived.
If we are fast enough, Mo and I will be able to ride this wave nearly to the coast. My intention is to stay down here around 39N, angling only slowly up to 40N, in order to avoid the light airs at the top of this stream.
But I’d best hike it up to 40N by next week, because after this low moves through, a high drops back in that can give us a final push to San Francisco or, if my approach is too shallow, drive us down to Morro Bay. I like Morro Bay just fine. I’m just not going there.
Standing at the main mast. Admiring how Mo settles into stronger winds with a will. The waves haven’t much too them yet, I think. Perky but without much heft. (Did I not see the decks were streaming with water?) Then came a smasher rolling into Mo’s flanks. I thought I’d avoid the splash by hoisting myself up into the rigging. Like that wide receiver who jumps over his tackler. I heaved, one big pull-up, legs tucked in, way up. And the wave, seeing my maneuver, threw its entirety into my chest. I have never been so suddenly and entirely wet without jumping into the water. We both had a good laugh over that one.
Note that it’s getting cooler. Today is the first day of sea temperatures below 70 degrees and a cabin below 80 degrees. I’ve put on long pants and wear a long sleeve shirt to bed.
Handel the gecko is still with us. During sail changes last night I noted him sitting in his usual spot near a starboard cockpit winch. Thinking he had crawled from hiding to expire, I reached for him and he moved, slightly. His vital force remains, though it must be much diminished by his meager diet, at this point no more than a dream, and the cold. Handel never looked plump; now he’s positively gaunt.
With the wind up, the giant birds, the black footed albatross, that Lancaster Bomber of the sky, is really in form. Never have I seen them reach so high when banking. But on this wind the top of their curve rivals the top of Mo’s mast. And they approach. This morning two sailed in and out of the disturbed air that passed around Mo’s sails. Playing, I presume, though they look too serious for that.
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 38.57.05N by 153.31.40W
Miles since last noon: 143
Total miles of passage: 1243
Avg. Miles per Day: 124
Course: Tacking up to SOLACE, E after
Sail: Full main and #2 jib; Twin headsails poled all night and next day
Wind: WSW10 -15
Sky: Mixed cloud cover
Waves: Small opposing swell; NE and SW
Air Temperature: 80 degrees
Sea Temperature: 72 degrees
Stats from Sept 19
Noon HST position: 38.36.38N by 155.42.44W
Miles since last noon: 132
Total miles of passage: 1100
Avg. Miles per Day: 122
All day MOLI climbed to SOLACE’s position (39.03.87N 155.27.59W), first close hauled NW in warm sloshy seas, and then NE, doing 7 knots under main alone.
By 5pm I had a visual, a tiny fleck of white on the horizon two points off starboard that did not melt like whitecaps, but instead held and grew slowly, so slowly. Relief. Nothing teaches the size of the ocean so much as trying to find something in it as small as oneself.
I slid under SOLACE stern just as the sun went down.
SOLACE is a San Diego boat, a fiberglass, double-cockpit, flush-deck sloop with a sweet, tear-drop hull; she’s 40 feet overall, built in South Africa in 1989. Owner Steve Harris and crew, daughter Kelsey and friend Kim, have made a cruise to and of the Hawaiian Islands this summer and are now headed home.
As reported earlier, MOLI and SOLACE departed Hanalei Bay together. Two days out the autopilot motor on SOLACE failed. Steve has attempted repairs to no avail. In the interim he and crew have been hand steering in watches of 2-on and 4-off. All was well until a couple days ago when steering failed. The quadrant cable parted. Steve rigged the emergency tiller and has been working on a permanent fix since then.
Over the last five days, our respective positions have been within 60 to 100 miles apart, and we’ve been communicating multiple times daily via the DELORME InReach.
“Special Delivery–please hold still,” yelled Steve as I maneuvered MOLI as close as I dared. Steve lobbed a small plastic bag that bullseyed Mo’s foredeck…and stuck. Amazing. I retrieved a bag of Kim’s fresh-baked peanut butter cookies. Double amazing!
“But you’re the yacht in distress,” I yelled back. “What can I lob in return?”
“Who said anything about distress? You made the trip to see us. A little conversation is all we ask.”
I doused the sails and drifted, and we talked on the radio for the next hour and a half.
While a fix to the parted cable is in the works, Steve and company have found steering SOLACE with the emergency tiller rough going, possible, but not for extended periods in even moderate seas. That said, Steve’s learned that balancing the boat under sail with emergency tiller lashed is doable, and he can now make way on most points of sail with a triple reefed main and a scratch of a jib.
A fix for the quadrant has been more of a long term project. The first attempt, braiding the wire rope back together, failed under load, and last Steve reported he and crew were disassembling the pedestal so as to reeve Dyneema line in place of the failed cable, a job similar in simplicity to performing arthroscopic surgery while riding a mechanical bull.
“Heck, we might not go back to hand steering even when the wheel’s repaired,” said Steve. “Otto Jr. (lashed tiller) is doing just fine, and I’m finding sail balancing to be fun.”
We reviewed what spares I had that might be useful.
“Thanks, but we’ll be fine. This is an exercise in self-sufficiency. We’ve got plenty of water, food and fuel. We can make way in nearly any direction, although slowly. We’re in good spirits. I’m very confident we’ll reach our goal, and we may rival your time yet. All we miss out here in this big place is someone to talk to other than ourselves.”
At 8pm Steve said, “Well, it’s been nice to hear your voice, but we best be getting on with our respective journeys.” And so I rigged MO’s genoa poles and made my way east toward moonrise while Steve balanced SOLACE on a course northeast. By4am his masthead light was bobbing green. By morning we were alone.