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North Atlantic Delivery II
Waiting for Hanna - Part 2
09/07/2008, 41 10.2'N:63 45.5'W, 275nm E of Cape Cod, Mass

We're heaved-to (yet again) under the smallest sails the boat has - the orange slice storm jib and the trysail-sized 4th reef.

We finally got out of the Gulf Stream yesterday evening and I finished setting up the boat before sunset. And then we stopped, pretty much here. The point of this was to avoid going any further west into Hanna's direct path. As it is, we'll be on the edge of the southeast quadrant, which has the strongest winds, since there the system's S and SW winds are compounded by the overall fast movement to the NE. The edge has plenty to deal with - 35-45knt sustained wind, gusts into 50, 18 foot seas.

Hanna's center is already over the Gulf of Maine, so the low's southeast quadrant is just now arriving to us. Wind is 35, swell about 12 feet. Not too bad right now heaved-to with small sails - the boat rides up and down the swells, leans over smoothly in the wind, and is surprisingly quiet down below (howling on deck of course).

Conditions will peak here over the next six hours. I expect things to get much messier (there's a big difference between 35 and 45 wind, and 50 gusts are pretty serious) but there's not much to do for now except wait.

Waiting for Hanna - Part 1
09/06/2008, 40 28.3'N:63 03.4'W, 310nm W of Cape Cod, Mass

There is a famous painting by Winslow Homer called 'The Gulf Stream'. It shows a single-handed sailor lying on a dismasted sailboat in the middle of swells and squalls. The painter must have seen the Stream firsthand - the water color and ugliness of the sky is just right. The sailor looks beyond miserable and somehow resigned to his fate - his expression is complex.

I feel a very small piece of the guy's pain. We cannot get away from the goddamn Gulf Stream. On Wednesday night and Thursday we were heaved-to about 100nm ENE of here. The plan was to stop at some point in order to avoid the inevitable date with Hanna taking place near shore, where the options would be much worse. I stopped there because Thursday was very windy - 25-30knts - with a bad blueshirt action. No point in going upwind in that just to stop later.

But what I didn't take into account was the drift south - right back into the big Stream northern meander, and this time with adverse current of 3-5 knts. In one sense OK, because staying to the east was good Hanna-wise, but I did not want to be in any part of the Stream when Hanna actually hit - way too much negative energy. Now this definately felt like the episode in the Odyssey (by the other Homer - why does this name keep coming up in this blog?) with Scylla and Charibdys - trying to avoid one, I fell into the other. A classic.

So now we're trying to get away from the meander - should be out of it in a few hours. Other than the current, the meander is here is not bad - the water is hot, but air not so humid and no squalls. Once we're clear, the next job is to prepare the boat for Hanna.

All this Gulf Stream stuff is taking a toll on us, though - hot water was not expected for this delivery. The fire-hosed salt spray is jamming winches and line stoppers - I'm keeping up, just. But other subtle issues arise. Over the last two days, the boatspeed indicator was showing slower and slower speeds, obviously a problem. And a very annoying one - boatspeed is a primary input for true wind speed and direction whenever the boat is moving - if it fails, we lose important data for the pilots and for planning, the latter not an academic matter with Hanna lurking.

I suspected some sort of fouling, as the sensor is electronic and should not have any mechanical jamming. I pulled the sensor and cleaned it - still not working. But I knew - from my prior boat - that fouling around the sensor (not just on it) will disrupt water flow and create errors. And that would be consistent with the one place on the boat's there is not anti-fouling paint - the boatspeed indicator's thru-hull mount. Didn't paint it because I thought we wouldn't be in hot water for too long between dives. But such was not the will of Allah.

So there wasn't really a choice - I needed to go over the side and clean the mount. Heaved-to the boat this time, as there was 10-12 knts wind and with the sails down the boat would drift too fast and roll heavily. Heaved-to the boat drifts and rolls less - but that's relative. Still a 2-3knt current. No pleasure swim this, despite blue warm water, etc. Rather tense in fact.

The first attempt was a failure. There was a 4 meter gap between the hand-hold lines that I'd put out over the side - that gap would require a free swim. NFW, despite the trailing line if I missed - decision got made by the brain stem before it was even consciously raised. Medulla to Cortex: "Negative re free swim due to sensation of current and perception of empty ocean. Will not -repeat will not - process any command which causes hands to release lines attached to boat"

The second attempt - with re-arranged and extra lines - succeeded, but it was a bit of a trial. I could see the growth, but with all the motion it took a while to get at it, in lunging attempts, face mask knocked around by the hand lines, boat hull moving in random ways. When finally done, a damn fast scramble back on the boat. The indicator then worked perfectly. And it was good to see the rest of the hull looked fairly good.

Going over the side to clear things in less than calm conditions is like going up the mast - not an easy task, but sometimes simply necessary. It is better to practice these moves I think when conditions are relatively controlled and the job itself not big - so you might have a better chance when a fishing net line jams both rudders in 20knts of wind at night in cold water. Gulf Streaming turned out to be useful for that anyway.

09/04/2008, 41 18.1'N:60 43.4'W, 400nm W of Cape Cod, Mass

Two evenings ago I predicted the condition we were in - thick fog - would last all night until a stronger breeze blew it away.

Wrong. Within two hours the fog cleared completely, to blue skies and smooth seas - the wind, still from the SE, actually dropped further. What was happening? Confused for a bit - but still enjoyed the best big cloud I've ever seen, a baroque palace of gargantuan size on a mountainous landscape, even with tints of pink and rainbow colors.

Then I saw that the sea surface temp had risen dramatically - back up nearly to 70F. The cloud should have told me that too. I checked a weather file on the Gulf Stream currents and locations - and that explained it. Despite being north of the usual track of the Stream, we'd sailed into a big warm eddy coming off a northern meander. That's why the fog disappeared so suddenly.

The current of this eddy was very favorable - about 1knt to the west - and anyway it stretched on the path to Newport. Pleasant enough to be in it overnight. Not so pleasant the next day, yesterday.

In fact, downright unpleasant. First off, back to hot n' humid conditions, which I find really hard to deal with - I was evolved for Crosshaven-type weather, not this. But more directly difficult was the number of squalls around, and their intensity. I guess that since the warm eddy was mixing it up pretty closely with colder water, and against a backdrop of a fairly strong low, all sorts of energy was in the air - negative energy from my perspective. Suddenly no wind, then 30-40knt blasts, wave chop from hell, back to no wind and a brutal sun crusting the salt on the boat. Very tiresome.

Not totally without some fun, though. One tactic to deal with the squall blasts was simply to run downwind. Steep chop - the blueshirts - is ok downwind, though you have to steer aggresively, which encouraged stabbing blueshirts in the back with the bowsprit as much as possible. We both liked that touch of revenge, with an added twist that 1930s fascists were apparently obsessed with stabbed-in-the-back conspriacy theories. So there - it's true.

But on through the night, with even more intense and closely spaced squalls - adding in dramatic lightning for a genuine horrorshow touch. Finally, early this morning we went through a minor front-type thing and into colder water and air - out of the eddy, and through the low's cold front.

Not in the clear though, by any means. Having got away from the Charibdys of the Gulf Stream eddy whirlpool, we now have to face the witch Scylla of TS Hanna, which is lining up directly between us and Newport. No easy way around it - which explains what we're currently doing, heaved-to and waiting for more developments. More on this tomorrow.

09/05/2008 | Peter Michaelsen
Hi John, I'm following your journey with interest and envy. I think your position is currently 400 nm E of Cape Cod,not W.
Continued good luck and all the best.

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