Our wind taking us due west died away with the day. By sundown it was 10 knots and beginning to veer into the west. We tacked around with the last of the light, having made our great turn to the N, and then I went off watch and to bed. When I returned at midnight, our now westerly breeze had risen to 15 knots. I called Harmon back just as he was climbing into his bunk and together we reefed the main. “Winds are due to come on overnight,” I said.
Four hours later, winds were westerly at 20. As Harmon came on watch we reefed again, now two each in the main and jib. By the time I climbed back into the cockpit from that stint at the mast, the anemometer was reading 25. In half an hour, 29. Back to the mast I went for a third reef.
While making an adjustment to Monte from the transom, I heard the Watt and Sea laboring. Actually it was making a skipping sound, racing and then splashing and then racing. When I looked, it was in fact skipping over the water like a large lure. The long, single pintle that attaches it to its gudgeons on the boat had pulled up, giving it unwanted freedom. That pintle is held in place with a zip tie at the top, not a metal pin at the bottom because on Mo, that bottom part of the pin is nearly inaccessible from the boat, even when one is hung over the side to his waist. In 40,000 Figure 8 miles, my zip tie solution had never failed. This new zip tie had barely lasted ten days—a testament to the differing strains on a boat before rather than on the wind.
Now we were down to our smallest set of sails. The next reduction would be to take in the main altogether, but I was keen to keep Mo driving overnight. Our best course required a wind angle of about 60 degrees and that needed the main’s help.
I went off watch but couldn’t sleep. Mo churned as the wind increased, now 30, now 35, water was being thrown everywhere; the rig howled. We widened the wind angle. Mo tore along at 7-8 knots, but the ride was abominable. Imagine a mechanical bull inside a dump truck speeding down a rocky road in a hurricane.
Thud thud; shudder; wham!
Harmon was having fun. His ocean crossings have been with Clipper races and a Fastnet aboard a Volvo sled, boats that are driven to the max at all times. But then those boats have teams of mechanics and containers of spares awaiting them in each port. Mo has only her skipper and the hardware store in the forecastle. And she’s 35 years old.
“How do you know when to reef?” asked Harmon, confused by my strategy. Apparently, the boats he’s sailed have strict protocols, at x knots, reef. I shrugged. You feel it. You can feel when a boat is over pressed.
And now I could feel it so strongly it made me sick to my stomach. Mo was flying, and Mo was under control, but it was as though she were, wave after wave, pounding through a brick wall. We’d already lost the Watt and Sea. What next? The 20-year-old spare headsail (the new one had not arrived in time)? Was there enough play in the boom vang when Mo lay over and the boom buried itself into the water–or would one gusher snap it? Would Monte take the strain without parting a tiller line?
Still, I recalled the adage that “most boats can take much more punishment than their owners.” Was Mo in pain or was it just me? “Would you take this ride to Homer, or the ride we had our first ten days?” asked Harmon. Good point. This ride–I’d get used to it if she could.
With the day, I could see the waves again and after a time found a wind angle that required less rounding and less pounding. Though wind stayed steady at 30 gusting 37, this afternoon Mo rode well enough that I could nap.
During which the wind dropped to 25 knots. And on we tear due north for Homer.