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North Atlantic Delivery II
Done
09/13/2008, Newport RI

It took longer than expected. I had planned for 3 weeks, +/- 3 days, based on the distance and the boat's basic speed, and results of similar boats doing the crossing a few months ago in the Artemis Challenge Race (they averaged 16-18 days).

In the end it took 27 days, so about 6 days more than expected. Easy to see why - first, dodging the magnum low gale off Ireland took about 2 extra days. And that took me further south than planned, and right into Azores tarpit conditions, so being becalmed or in very light wind at various times probably added another 2 days. Then waiting for the center of TS Hanna took another 2. So 6 days got added to this particular delivery, which would otherwise have been right in line with the expected 3 weeks.

But when crossing an ocean in a relatively small sailboat the unexpected has to be expected. We were provisioned for at least 30 days, without rationing. Of course all the fun food was gone by the end, but there were plenty of basics (rice, canned fish, dried fruit, honey, coffee - all fine when you're hungry enough). Water was in pretty good shape, but as you can never be sure enough about this, I had started to catch rainwater off the sails to top up reserves. Diesel consumption to charge the batteries was much lower than expected - good, because it doesn't rain diesel - and we finished the trip with almost a full tank of 80l. The engine was used exclusively to charge the batteries - we never motored at all, the boat was moved only by the wind from Cork Harbor to R2 at Newport. That is not the norm for deliveries, but I wanted I wanted to keep it a pure sailing trip, despite many temptations to motor out of the tarpit.

After 27 days at sea you might expect that conditions on board resembled the painting of the Raft of the Medusa - the boat disordered, the sailor crazed for land and becoming incoherent, traces of civilization fading away. But not at all - and I think that's a pretty objective judgment. The boat had no mechanical failures other than the lost wind indicator, and since I was able to replace that with a spare, the boat arrived in Newport in the same condition as when it left Ireland. I lost one bucket overboard in the tarpit when it sank before I could retrieve it, but no other gear was lost. A lot of the salt buildup from the Gulf Stream was washed away by rain, or cleared out of the winches and jammers with some WD40. Inside the boat was clean and dry - everything does get salty, but any dirt associated with shore was long gone, and drying the inside of the boat after squalls or rain is a routine. Garbage was minimal - organic, paper, metal and glass go over the side offshore where they will quickly disappear forever, but any and all plastic (down to a scrap of tape) is kept onboard as a matter of almost religious observance. So about half a trash bag.

As for me, standards were generally maintained. I lost weight (as everyone does at sea) but no health issues at all, energy levels fine even at the end. The Gulf Stream heat was annoying, but that would have been true onshore for me as well. Obviously without a shower system and unlimited water, 21th century standards of personal cleanliness can't be maintained on the boat, but with clean clothes, paper towels, baby wipes and the occasional shower and shave on deck, things don't get medieval - more like mid-19th century, probably more natural anyway.

Mentally it was all much lower-key than you might expect. I was never bored - there was always plenty to do and in between tasks there was sleep whenever possible. Nor did I ever feel lonely. Emails with friends and writing this blog were an adequate connection to the onshore world of people, and I didn't really want more than that, as being offshore is its own context, and you get immersed. No truly scary moments, though some episodes were appropriately tense - going over the side in the Gulf Stream was about the most nerve-wracking, since there's a visceral aversion to being overboard to a moving boat. Going up the mast was hard work but relatively calm. The Gulf Stream squalls had a nightmarish quality to look at, but since I trusted the boat, I didn't get overly concerned going through them. Riding out TS Hanna was surprisingly peaceful when the boat was heaved to - almost to the point of parody. At its height, when the wind was about 45-48 and 20 ft seas, I was calmly brushing my teeth on deck looking over the scene - and I realized that any observer coming through the seas and seeing such domesticity in the middle of the Atlantic would think they were hallucinating. Had to laugh at that.

Generally, the whole delivery was done to the standard I was aiming at - 'another day at the office'. It was not an adventure - a description that implies to me that things got out of control - but rather like a job that I happen to like doing, and want to do it well. So from that perspective the delivery was a success - all the more appreciated because it is not always like that, as adventure works its way into anything at sea. The useful experience of this long trip should help a lot in future to minimize issues, but as ever - insh'allah.

There was final and unexpectedly appropriate touch. I arrived in Newport in the middle of the big Newport International Boat Show, and the dock space was essentially within the show's perimeter, so the boat instantly seemed part of it. She liked that of course - cleaned up a bit, got a lot of attention, despite being surrounded by mega-yachts of all type (did Milton's Satan arrange this?).

And I added one thing - a 'battle flag' from my previous boat, which was called Swordflounder (hence the graphic in the pic above). Race boats all have them, but I'd nearly threw this flag away in 2002, as I felt that such a thing was easy to buy but an actually an embarrassment. I had not fundamentally earned the right to fly it- a flag should have meaning beyond vanity. I kept it, but never flew it again - until now. A single-handed crossing of the North Atlantic, without issues, finally seemed enough.

I'll continue this blog periodically as the boat starts to race and we do other trips - probably not for another month or so. For now - back to onshore life and the rest of what's called the real world.

The Test
09/13/2008 | Gerry
Congratulations John; thanks for the very interesting and informative sailblog. As a NAT singlehander myself, your account rang very true!

Good Luck with your career,

Gerry

 

 
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