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North Atlantic Delivery II
08/29/2008, 42 52.9'N:43 01.9'W, 475nm SE of Cape Race, Newfoundland

Last night the leash was firmly snapped back on. The northern tip of the giant junkyard - technically called a 'col' - caught us and we were becalmed once again. Condtions were not exactly a poster child for a Sailing Is Fun campaign - airless, hot, humid, and with messy confused swells on an oily-looking sea. With the sails down, a sailboat rolls with spirited abandon, the keel acting like a pendulum to accentuate smaller swells. Leaving the main up is not an option - too heavy, with full length battens and plenty of reinforcement patches and hardware, it slats from side to side with alarming violence. But the solent headsail, trimmed really hard and with full ballast tank on the opposite side, worked to mitigate some of the roll. And so at least I got some sleep.

This morning I expected a continuation - but the sunrise actually seemed to kick up some breeze in a junkyard, unlike the tarpit. From the north, as expected, for a few hours, until a rain squall took it all away, without even a courtesy boat wash (the rain fell to the east). The squall indicated a shift - now from the southeast, much sooner than expected, but quite welcome, as at last we can head more or less where we want to go. For now.

Most interesting sight of the day - a line of about 30 of the boys - dolphins - crossing the bow about 100 meters ahead, all doing aerial jumps and moving fast. They seemed intent on something serious and ignored the boat - probably hunting, where the aerobatics would make sense to confuse the prey. I wonder if that is also a reason they hang out with sailboats - the story is they like the bow pressure wave, but maybe there is hunting purpose as well. The boat's moving hull would probably confuse fish, and the boys could lurk on one side or another to take advantage of a disoriented target. Wouldn't blame 'em for that - why not get a little work done while having fun?

08/28/2008, 42 12.2'N:40 43.5'W, 475nm NW of Corvo, Azores

The wind yesterday and today finally came from a direction - southwest and south - that allowed us to put up the big offwind sails and get going. Nice change.

But things will get a little more complicated over the next few days. There appears to be a giant wind junkyard forming across the straight line to Newport, caused by a low and three highs moving around like they're playing some sort of tag game. To avoid being caught, the weather routing software suggests going pretty far north - and this time I agree completely. You can work with light wind in a tarpit - you can't do anything except suffer in a junkyard.

It seems like the weather is inviting us - and not taking 'no thanks' for an answer - to a tour of various spots of repute and interest on the North Atlantic. The weather route cuts across the bottom of the Grand Banks - that'll be a change from the tarpit.

08/28/2008 | Caroline Wilkel
Hi John, Not sure if you get the emails from those of us on shore following you. Fair seas, good wind. See you in Newport, RI soon. Caroline
Strategic Upside
08/26/2008, 41 01.6'N:34 04.4'W, 200nm NW of Corvo, Azores

The wind never died out completely last night, so we were able to keep going, albeit slowly. The boat is pretty good in light air - not quite as good as an inshore racer like my last boat, but far better than a usual cruising-type boat. So we're able to go about the same speed as the wind, even at 1-2 knots. Not much progress, but a little. And by moving with the sails set the boat does not roll so much, making life onboard much easier.

But with no wind at all, we stop, just like any sailboat. This morning the sun did the usual trick of canceling such breeze as there was, and once again we were becalmed. But there were no rain squalls around this time - and no sinister feel - so I guessed (correctly for a change) that it wouldn't last long. In a few hours, a few knots of wind from the expected westerly direction started to fill in, and we got going again.

As the breeze settled in, conditions were perfect to go up the mast and replace the wind vane. From the spare vane I had onboard (an old one) I could see what caused the problem - a tiny collar that held the vane's axle in place had rusted away completely, so the vane could pop out of the mount - an obvious design flaw. I suspected (and later forensics proved) that the same thing had happened to the defunct vane. I modified the spare so it wouldn't happen again (insh'allah) - the easy part of the task.

Going up the mast at sea is a bit of mission compared to ascending at the dock. The problem is that the mast moves - quite a lot - at sea. Hence the need for the right conditions. With no sails up at all, the boat's roll even in a slight swell is hugely magnified on the mast - impossible to try it then, headachey even to think about. With some breeze, the boat can be put a constant heel with the sails up and oversheeted and with leeward water ballast. But with breeze comes waves, and that causes pitch, with the same magnification problem. The best condition is when there is some breeze filling in on previously calm and therefore relatively flat water - what we had about midday, a benefit of the light air strategy.

But there is still a lot of mast movement. You're unlikely to come off the mast, since the halyards you go up on are rated 3000kg working load, but there is a real risk that you'll get flung around and injured. So it's the full monty of mountaineering gear - helmet (absolutely critical), harness with extra tie-ins, deck harness on to tie-in your upper body, knee and elbow pads, gloves. And then tools, an autopilot remote to adjust the boat's course if needed, and the vane itself. You go slow - tie-in and rest at each spreader, plan each move, relax as much as possible so your body doesn't fight the unnatural motion too hard. Eventually the job gets done.

The ascent and descent went smoothly this time, though occasionaly quite inelegant - a spastic puppet show. The masthead itself was actually easiest, as I was able to wrap legs around the topmast and lean back on the tie-ins. The rest of the gear up there - electronic wind unit, lights and radio antenna - all looked pretty solid. Sorry about no pic from the top - camera too delicate to risk bringing up.

Going up the mast single-handed is one of the hardest tasks on the boat, despite the lack of drama today. Glad it's done. But it definately comes with the territory. The Open 60 sailors go up a mast almost twice as high in pretty much any type of condition. During a recent record run, Francis Joyon went up twice on a mast even taller than that to repair standing rigging - a major job. Didn't make a big deal out it either. Still, I hope another ascent up my private moving mountain will not be necessary this trip, though there's a long way yet to go.

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