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Foggy Mountain
Disappearing Stars and Heart Break Hill
02/14/2011, Beating South 85 Miles North of Antigua

Stats for today: noon to noon run was 128 miles - our best yet. Late yesterday it appeared that we had made enough easting so we eased the sheets which made the ride better and faster. Today the prediction was for easterly winds that would have allowed us to keep the sheets eased the rest of the way to Antigua. But, the wind gods were not with us. Instead of backing to the east the wind veered to the SE. This caused us to have to sail close hauled again so that we could maintain a course for Antigua. So, all day we have been trying to sail as close to the 12 to 15 knot wind as possible to gain easting again. I know this has been a familiar theme for this passage that continues much beyond its welcome. The wind speeds aren't too bad but the seas that are 6 to 8 feet are uncomfortable when you are sailing into them. The winds that we are getting don't generally support seas of this size but I believe they are from the long fetch across the Atlantic from which they come. In any case we have done all we can to keep the boat moving and going in the right direction, now we hope for the favorable wind shift that was predicted.

On night watches when the stars disappear it brings out the fear here in the tropics. Reason being when the stars disappear it usually portends a squall's arrival. I had no problem staying awake on my night watches last night because I spent most of my time dealing with squalls. It was a memorable night to say the least. The good thing was that contrary to the squalls of the previous night these didn't change the wind direction. They maintained the direction so when the wind and rain came we sprinted off on the correct course. All I had to determine is if the sails had to be reduced or if we could ride the squall out without changing anything. Needless to say it was exciting, scary and exhausting. When pam is on watch I try to set the boat up to hand the expected 20 knot gusts in the squalls and sacrifice boat speed. This allows her to ride them out and I don't have to come on deck to help with the reefing. I get a more consistent sleep that way. When i am on watch i try to make up on the performance end by setting more sail to gain speed and reduce sail as needed. During my watches I remember thinking that this is the price of admission to the Caribbean.

On the route of the Boston Marathon there is a location called "Heartbreak Hill". So called because of all the hearts that it has broken over the marathon's history. You see it is located near the end of the course when the runner can smell the finish and then they hit the hill. Well I thought that last night's squalls were our "Heartbreak Hill" trying to sap our energy so close to the end of this journey. But I was wrong the real "Heartbreak Hill" has been the unexpected beating that we have had to do today. Just when we thought we were going to beam reach to the finish line we were slammed with beating again. Slammed is a good word here because it literally describes the waves that woke me several times this morning from a sound sleep. Waves that hit with such a concussive force that i was sure that we had hit an immovable object. So, with a wind shift we should be able to make Antigua sometime tomorrow. Without the wind shift, we shall see. Will we get it or not??? I'll let you know in the next post.

Dousing, Daily Work and Triple Ace
02/13/2011, Close Reaching South

First, the stats - noon to noon run 109. Overnight was quite event filled with a twenty knot squall coming thru. Quite a contrast to earlier in the day when we had to power to make progress.

In the title to yesterday's entry I mentioned a dousing of Jeff but neglected to put anything in the blog about it. The night before last I was sitting in the companionway in windy conditions at about 7:30 pm when we took blue water over the port side amidships. The wave landed on top of the cabin house in front of the dodger. Most of the front of the dodger is closed except for a one and a half inch by six inch gap where the control lines pass thru. The water came thru that hole and hit me in the chest, deflecting of me and went right down inside the cabin. Fortunately in the Valiant 40 there is only storage lockers in that area. But everything will require a cleaning when we reach port. Of course my clothing was soaked so I had to wash down with fresh water and put on new clothes. Basically you could say the whole experience was memorable.

before we left North Palm Beach, my friend Nelson asked me what we do all day. So, since today was quite representative let me describe what I have done. Starting last evening we had a squall come thru at about 7:30 that lasted for about 45 minutes but seemed like it was never going to end. During the squall the wind was blowing over 20 knots with six to eight foot swells. We are still beating into it so it was quite rough going. In the squall the wind shifted forcing us west. After reefing the jib to handle the wind increase I had to point the boat to try to stall its progress because I didn't want to lose the easting that we had worked so hard to gain. If we had to go in the wrong direction it might as well be slow. After the squall passed the wind came out of the south, the direction we want to go, forcing me to either go further west or tack and go north east. I chose to tack to the ENE to gain back the easting that e had lost during the squall. After a frustrating hour of not going where I wanted to go, the wind shifted again back to the ESE. At which time I tacked again to get back on course. Then I went off watch until midnight. Overnight could be characterized as tweaking of sail trim trying to keep the boat moving as well as possible in the 10 to 12 knot winds. Until about 3:00 am when we got another burst from a squall to about 20 knots again so I had to reef the jib again to ride that out. After which the squall sucked all the wind out and we drifted ghosting along at three knots but at least it was in the right direction. The light winds required that I un-reef the jib again to keep the boat moving. At about 7:30 am I went off watch to get a little sleep. After breakfast at about 9:30 am I went back on deck to let Pam get some rest. I looked at the sail trim and our speed and saw several things that I could do to make the boat go faster. But was so tired that I was more inclined to just sit there and enjoy the placid moment. But them I remembered what a racing sailor friend told me, "a lazy sailor is a slow sailor." So i got up off my butt and made sail trim changes that took us from 3.5 knots to 6.2 knots. The rest of that watch from 9:30 am to about 2:00 pm was spent making trim changes, reefing once when a squall came thru and then un-reefing after it passed employing the same stalling tactic as before because the wind did the same thing as before, Now we are close reaching in 12.7 knots of wind with a speed over the ground of 6.6 knots right on course for our next waypoint. It doesn't get any better than this for we sailors. Oh yah, some where during all that activity I managed to transfer four gallons of diesel fuel from a storage tank to the day tank that feeds the engine. Of course all this activity was over and above typical navigation calculations and fuel consumption calculations that had to be done. Well now I am pooped.

In the world of aerial combat a pilot earns the designation of Ace after his fifth enemy kill. Using that as a yard stick Foggy Mountain is now a triple ace after 15 confirmed flying fish kills. And the beat goes on.

Lessons Re-learned, Whales and Jeff Gets Doused
02/12/2011, Still Beating But Now South

Summary: noon to noon run was 119 miles. It was a combination of sailing last night and powering this morning.

Living in North Palm Beach for the last nine plus years has been great living but not so great for our sailing prowess. On this passage we have had to re-learn old lessons. One example occurred last night. There is an old sailing rule that if you are thinking about reefing (reducing the size of your sails) while you are out sailing you should do it. Well last night I remembered that rule and reefed the sails as soon as the thought crossed my mind. This paid off because the winds increased from 12 knots to 20 knots in about 30 minutes. The boat was moving well and in the right direction which was SSE. We still wanted to gain some easting so we took this opportunity to stay hard on the wind (beating again) to gain that valuable easting. It was quite rough with six plus foot swells and associated waves. Another lesson re-learned is that when beating never, I mean never, let your pants drop below your knees when going to the head. Having to bend over to try to pull them up with one had in sticky hot conditions may be impossible and dangerous if the boat rolls the wrong way. This hasn't happened to either one of us but yesterday I was reminded of the potential calamity while in the head. Remember the you have to maintain that tripod at all times and if you are sitting down and try to use both hands to pull up your pants you have lost your tripod position. Not good.

Last evening right before the sun set Pam saw whales flipping their tales in the air. This wasn't the normal raising of the tale as they dive they were sticking them straight up in the air and appeared to be beating the surface of the water with them. It was hard for us to see what was going on in their immediate vicinity because they were about five miles to our NW. This beating of the water went on for about ten minutes that we could see them. Very interesting, when we get internet access we're going to check out to see if there is an explanation for the behavior that we saw. That's it for now we seem to be making good progress - stay tuned.

The Beating Continues Along With the Carnage
02/11/2011, Beating East South Towards The Caribbean

Our noon to noon run for the last 24 hours was 116 miles. The wind deserted us again last night so we took the opportunity to power to gain more easting. Late this morning when the wind returned, light for the SE, to try beating south. The prediction was for the wind to back from the SE to more ESE by the afternoon, but that didn't happen. So we are making the best course we can. At the moment we are west of our rhomb line course but the wind is supposed to back enabling us to make a better course tomorrow. So, we just have to try not to lose too much ground tonight.

The flying fish carnage continues, with this morning's count of three I think that brings us to a dozen for the passage thus far.

Also, we have discovered that tripods rule aboard aboard Foggy Mountain beating in these conditions. What do I mean by that??? Where ever you are or where ever you are moving to you must always make you body into some form of tripod. In other words, at least three parts of your body must be in contact with the boat. Otherwise when the boat moves you are likely to be thrown off balance. Truly - tripods rule.

Dolphins and Living on the Walls
02/10/2011, Beating East Again

Our noon to noon run was 116 miles, first beating south and then tacking to beat east. Chris told us that given where we were located this morning this was our last opportunity to get more easting before we get into the trade winds. So we tacked this morning and have been beating into 15 to 18 knots winds since then. We have a single reef in the main sail and have partially furled the jib. The going has been rough but we are making good progress east, although we are losing a bit of ground to the north. The plan right now is to continue east until tomorrow morning and see where we are at that point. If we have made enough easting we will turn southerly. Initially we will be pushed SW but the wind is supposed to back from the SSE towards the SE and ESE as we move south. We'll see how it goes tonight, wish us luck.

We did have a good omen this morning I saw dolphins riding our bow wave for a little while.

Thus far on this passage the majority of our time has been spent beating. While beating we have had to live with the boat being heeled (tilted) at 10 to 15 degrees. To get a feel for what that is like imagine your room or office tilted at 10 to 15 degrees and constantly rocking and rolling in all directions. Now imagine having to deal with the constant motion for eight days 24-7. And just to keep it interesting, last night, we tacked so the boat was heeled in the opposite direction which caused us to change the way we had done things for the first seven days on one tack. It was a learning experience. This has been a marathon.

Tranquil Night for Re-charging Our Batteries
02/09/2011, Working oor way south toward Antigua

Our noon to noon run yesterday was 121 miles. It was a combination of motoring and sailing in light winds. Right now our goal is to get further south to get o more favorable wind conditions. Right now the wind is from the SE which of course is the direction we want to go. Which reminds me of a French sailor friend of ours. He was on a trawler when we met him but he had done several trans-Atlantic crossings and sailed across the Pacific to Australia. He said he bought a trawler so he could go ten knots in every direction no matter for the wind. He said, "on my sailing boat that always pointed the way I wanted to go." When he said "that" he pointed at the wind direction indicator at the top of my mast. For you non-sailors, his comment meant that he was always having to sail against the wind - otherwise known as beating. Beating describes the punishment taken by both the boat and the crew when it is done in in windy conditions.

Last night was a good break for us as we were beating (still) but the wind was light. It was actually a tranquil night that allowed us to get some decent sleep after the rough conditions of the previous night. With the light winds I had no problem staying awake because I was constantly tweaking the sail trim to try to eek out every bit of speed that I could. Trimming sails at night is done a lot by feel as you can't see that sails very well. But this problem solving is what I like most about sailing. The challenge of taking the wind and using it to go where you want to go is sometimes a daunting problem, light winds are the most difficult because you don't have as much to work with. Just think how difficult it was for the captains of sailing ships going into battle with the enemy. The captain knew what the best position was for his ship but he had wind and seas to contend to contend with to get him to that position of advantage. It wasn't as easy as turning the wheel and giving it a little more throttle to get into position. Now those guys were real sailors, no I'm not talking about Johnny Depp.

Today earlier today we powered some more because the wind deserted us again and only this afternoon did the wind return enough to set sails. We'll see how long it lasts this time. According to our Floscan fuel metering system we have used 19.9 gallons of fuel thus far on this trip. Not too bad considering the light winds that have dominated this passage thus far. Ahh for the trade winds, but there's more work to be done to earn the right to sail in the trades. Gotta get back to work and see if there is anymore speed in this almost 30 year old girl.

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Who: Jeff & Pam Nelson
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