Pic: Refilling the tanks at the gas station
Google Earth Position at 06:00: 31 49 315N, 68 17 350W
Day 5 was yet another pleasant day at sea, but unfortunately it was a little too pleasant. While it was certainly nice to have the seas down to 2 feet, the winds remained under 10 knots the entire day. It was always unnerving to drop our sails and start the engines given our limited supply of Diesel fuel. And with our boat speed down to 3 knots, we would have to motor.
Back in Norfolk we had to think hard about how much fuel to bring. Normally one would know exactly how much fuel their boat required for such a journey, but given the boat was still very new to us we opted for the philosophy of "bring much more than you think you will need." So we thought about it and came to the conclusion that we expected to conservatively motor nearly 75% of the time during the first half of the trip, and then maybe 25% of the second half once the reliable trade winds of the Caribbean kicked in. With consumption of approximately 0.8 gallons an hour (guessing) we figured we would need over 90 gallons to motor 700 miles. So with 90 gallons as the magic number in our head and a tank capacity of only 50, we hauled an additional 40 gallons of fuel aboard in jerry cans (which we lashed to the rear steps and stowed away in the middle storage lockers until needed). While heavy, we would be willing to trade the lost boat speed for the security of knowing we would have enough fuel to last the entire journey.
Without fuel an ocean crossing could quickly turn disastrous. For starters, your engines charge your batteries, which in turn power your navigation lights (so a tanker doesn't run over you at night) and your radar (so you can avoid running into a tanker at night). Additionally, it's almost a necessity on a Catamaran to have your engines on in order to turn into the wind when you raise or lower your sails. Had we run out of diesel like some of the boats did in last years rally, we would have to divert to Bermuda to get more - which was pretty much not an option now that we had fixed our mainsail so triumphantly the day before. But it looked like this would not be required as we were doing well, using only a modest portion of our fuel and letting "conservation" be our motto.
But the soft conditions were nice. I used the day to refill our tanks manually (lashed to the boat on the rear steps) and I put in a new GPS antenna (as our old one would conveniently lose its "position fix"). And we also played a game of dominoes called Chicken Leg after dinner. Only on a Catamaran could you actually stand up a domino on the kitchen table in the middle of the ocean without it falling over. Let the record show that Elizabeth won the round with only 112 points, while Steve, myself and Henry came in second, third and fourth respectively (140, 168 and 176 points).
While playing Dominoes was nice, it would have been nicer to sail with some wind. Would we get more tomorrow, or keep running down our fuel supply?
Picture: Seth and E as the sun rose on day 4
Google Earth Position at 06:00: 33 53 838N, 69 46.728W
Day 4 started perfectly. I traded the 12-3 shift with Steve and was now on watch from 3-6am, allowing me a little more sleep from dinner to 3:00. And the seas had calmed considerably, making sleeping and taking night watch a pleasant experience rather than a chore.
At the beginning of my watch I saw two ships in the distance, the first we had seen in two days. I also saw phosphorescence in the water for the first time in my life. I had read about this but never experienced it and seeing the water come alive with life beneath our boat was a memorable point on the journey for me. Like 50 fireflies in the water they occasionally lit up into bunches of light - particularly when a wave bounced off our hull. I wish I could explain it, or better yet take a picture of it, but this was one of those moments that just had to be remembered and was not to be recorded. Fortunately I was able to show Elizabeth when she woke up at 06:00 for her watch. We went up front to the trampoline and watched the fireflies shoot under our bridge deck. And then the sun came up over our port beam. It was a special morning, nearly half way through our trip.
Later in the day we passed another boat heading south, a Grand Soliel. They were not part of the Caribbean 1500, but a nice looking boat. Unfortunately the name of the boat was covered by the ubiquitous yellow diesel gas cans on her stern.
And finally, we had one more visitor for the day. A grey sea bird. Not quite a sea gull, but close. It tried to land a few times on our mast for a little rest, but it never quite timed it right and eventually flew off. Poor fellow. All alone in the ocean and exhausted. Hmm, kind of like us.
11/09/2008, Atlantic Ocean
"Jerry-rig" - "To fix an object (usually mechanical) to a working condition in a haphazard way."
Pic: Steve and I at the mast removing the sail cars.
Google Earth Position at 06:00: 35 09.000N, 71 30.000W
As I took my midnight to 3am watch the weather conditions deteriorated around us. At 2:45am I recorded in the Captains Log that we were outrunning lightning storms with only 20% of our jib unfurled and seas growing to 10 foot swells, sending the boat into a pounding rhythm that probably made sleep all but impossible down below. In fact, Henry was passed out on the saloon sofa, unable to sleep in his bunk below due to his worsening seasickness. The wind was gusting to around 30 knots and I was left wondering what Elizabeth was going to say when I woke her at 6am for her time on watch.
Thankfully the weather started to improve and as the sun came out and we found ourselves in big seas but light winds. As the pictures attest, it was a sunny day and we were quite lucky to have an opportunity to better view the damage we had caused the previous afternoon. Although chances were slim that we could jerry rig our boat to sail all the way south to Tortola, we wanted to try.
Our plan was simple, but in the end would take over eight hours to complete and would leave us with only 80% of our mainsail for the remaining 8 days at sea. We would basically perform a bit of surgery on our mast - taking cars from the lower sections of the sail and placing them at the top where the headboard had pulled free. What may sound simple was no walk in the park as each car contained 48 ball bearings that we would need to load individually. Losing just a few of them would have only made matters worse than they were 12 hours ago.
Thankfully it all worked perfectly and showed that our "crew" could work together and triumph as a result. Everyone contributed to the outcome and after several hours of work we were extremely pleased to hoist our mainsail to the first reef, divert from our current course to Bermuda and head south following the rest of the fleet. An accomplishment I proudly boasted of on the SSB radio call that evening.
Come hell or high water (how appropriate, no?), we would limp our way south before quitting! Although we were already in last place, were sailing with a weakened mainsail and were now an additional half a day behind, we would be joining the fleet in the BVIs. And nothing could have made us happier.
But a few distant thought remained in my head. Just how did this happen and what did the track look like at the top of the mast? Once we got to Tortola would we be able to get new cars and raise the sail to the weakened section - or would we need to replace the entire track, thereby removing the entire mast to do so? Only time would tell, but we were far from out of this one yet.