11/27/2015, 340 nm ESE From Grenada
Greg here. I hope all our family and friends back in the US are enjoying a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving weekend. While we are all missing the smell of pumpkin pie and a basting turkey it's the time with our loved ones that we miss the most. We have many great holiday memories to hold us over this season. It will be great to be a part of the festivities again next year. But I have to admit, I will have a big smile on my face when thinking about Thanksgiving 2015. The most unique Thanksgiving Day I have ever had. I hope most of you are settling in for today's college football games with left over dressing, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Go Gators! and best of luck to the Maize and Blue as they try to dethrone Urban Meyer and company. The last 24 hours have largely been focused on our collective excitement about reaching the end of our passage. We're all deep in meditation about what toppings to put on our vanilla ice cream or if in fact we should plan on chocolate. Dave and I are thinking vanilla¬...¬...and chocolate! After that it's the age old conundrum of Margarita or Pina Colada? These are the types of deep philosophical discussions from a crew that will have spent 24 straight days at sea. Socrates had nothing on us! It's been a long journey but time has really flown by. Our shaky autopilot pin continues to hold which is great news. None of us are interested in hand-steering Leu Cat all the way to Grenada. I like our chances. For most of the day we sailed along in calm winds but we had a big 3-4 meter swell that was hitting us on our starboard aft side. The swells created the most rockin' and rollin' we have experienced on this passage. I wobbled around like a drunken sailor for several hours but we were no worse for the wear when all was said and done. The swells were accompanied by light squalls that moved past us with only slight increases in wind and some light rain. Near the end of the day however, we got our first moderate squall. The winds maxed out at about 35 knots true and Leu Cat was treated to a pretty good rain bath from the passing clouds. It lasted for about 30 minutes. Since we are sailing with double reefed main and head sails we were in perfect configuration to meet the small tempest. It was a great lesson for Mary and I as this was the heaviest weather we have encountered so far on our trip. Since last night we have been making great time as our speed as averaged over 7 knots. If that holds we should make landfall in Grenada on Monday late afternoon. If we slow down a bit, it will force us to wait until Tuesday morning as we don't want to make an approach into an unfamiliar port during night hours. We should be passing by Tobago Island tomorrow night where we will turn north and start our 75 mile sail to Grenada and the finish line. Mary and I will celebrate our first oceanic passage while Dave and Mary Margaret will be "popping the cork" in celebration of their circumnavigation. We'll be all smiles on Leu Cat! "The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." ~ Michael Althsuler
As of noon today, the end of Day 21 of our passage to Grenada, our position is 9 17.8'N: 56 43.5'W, our course is 303 degrees True, our speed is 7.0 knots with 11 knots of apparent wind from the E. The seas are mild, running 1 to 2 meters from the E. We made 172 nm today, averaging 7.2 knots. We have sailed 2846 nm with a daily speed average of 5.7 knots. We have about 340 nm to go to reach Prickly Bay, Grenada.
11/27/2015, 500 nm ESE From Grenada
Moon Dancing With The Dolphins
Last night, right before and right after the watch change between Greg and Mary Margaret, they were presented with a very special and rare sight. About a half hour before the watch change Greg spied a large pod of dolphins swimming alongside Leu Cat. What clued him to their presence was their splashing and "puff" sounds as they exhaled from their blow holes. He could watch them frolic, jumping 3 to 6 feet out of the water, in the glow of the moonshine. Alongside Leu Cat he could watch them underwater but up toward the bows and well past the bows he could only see them when they breeched. When Mary Margaret joined him for the watch change, they both took in this very rare event. This is the very first time I have ever heard of watching dolphins play with a boat at night and it most likely was only possible because of the bright glow from the full moon. The two of them are very lucky and both Mary and I are envious of their rare sighting.
By the way, I forgot to mention yesterday that we were visited a couple of times by dolphins and had a beluga whale lazily cross just 50 yards in front of our boat and then strolled down our port hull as we passed him. It was cool!
We had another good sailing day today. Although, for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, we had 3 meters swells and a smaller set of cross swells that pushed Leu Cat around a bit. Poor Otto had to work some to keep us on course but the jimmy fixed quadrant pin held up to all of the stress and strain.
Also, around 0430 this morning Mary Margaret woke me up to let me know that a squall cell was about 6 nm from us and approaching fast. I had asked everyone to get me up when something like this happened so I could observe Otto and see how well he could handle the additional stress that squalls added to the rudder.
The squall cell was of moderate size, being about 30 nm across. On the radar we could count about a dozen or so squalls around its perimeter. We were only visited by the last three of the squalls as the cell passed over us but one was about 10 nm long. While large in size, it was only a moderate squall with winds only hitting 25 knots. As we started to feel its impact, the wind angle moved forward so we were sailing on a beam reach. Otto seemed to like this a lot as he handled the heavier winds like a champ. The swells never reared their ugly heads so Otto did not have to deal with them. The squalls last only about 1.5 hours but Otto did really well. I was thankful that Mary Margaret woke me to share this event with me.
This morning, Greg and I added the last of the deck fuel to our starboard fuel tank. The tanks on both side of the boat are both nearly full so we will have no problem reaching Grenada, even with running one engine at low RPMs the rest of the way.
As of noon today, the end of Day 20 of our passage to Grenada, our position is 8 00.0'N: 54 09.4'N, our course is 198 degrees True and our speed is just 5.7 knots with 11.5 knots of apparent wind from the E. The seas are in the 1 to 3 meter range from the E. We made another 158 nm today, averaging 6.6 nm. We have sailed 2674 nm since leaving Ascension Island with a daily speed average of 5.6 knots. We have modified our rhumb line at bit to sail south of Tobago instead of north of that island. Thus, we have about 500 nm to go before we reach Grenada.
11/25/2015, 816 nm ESE From Grenada
We had another wonderful sailing day today, despite the negative reports we keep getting from our friend Clint. He wrote to us saying that with each forecast of gnarly weather he does a Druid dance for us. I do not know much about Druids but I am starting to become a believer! Keep dancing my friend, it is working.
Clint's latest report is that there is another deep, gnarly band of bad weather in front of us. It is supposed to start around 2300 tonight and last until 1800 tomorrow evening. The band starts about 40 nm in front of our current position and is about 150 to 200 nm deep. We should be well into it by the time it is supposed to get exciting. As I sat down to write this blog we could see a dark grey band of clouds, bellowing high up into the sky just about where Clint said they should be. They really looked ugly and powerful. However, after watching them for about an hour, a path formed splitting them open and a corridor of clear blue sky appeared. It was as it Clint's Druid dance had caught the attention of the wind and weather gods out here and they responded. Within two hours the corridor spread out and we are now looking at a wide swath of clear sky in front of us. I know we still have about 10 hours to go before Clint's model says it should get nasty but, right now, we are thankful and hopeful that between the Druid dance and the weather gods taking pity on us, we just might sneak through another "gnarly" band of bad stuff. We shall see¬....
Yesterday, I promised to explain why we are running an engine and how by doing so this reduces the torque on the sheared quadrant pin we are dealing with. This explanation is really for those of you who are sailors so if you are not, you may just wish to skip this section. ****************************************** Leu Cat is a catamaran and, as such, has two hulls: each with its own engine. Running one engine pushes the boat toward the side the engine that is running is not on. Thus, the port engine pushes the boat to the starboard and the starboard engine pushes the boat to the port. If we did not turn the two rudders we have, the boat would just turn in a slow circle. This turning force that the engine puts on the rudder is significant and our autopilot has to turn the rudder to compensate for it. However, this turning force is constant and once Otto turns the rudders to compensate for it, he just keeps the rudders fixed in this position as we merrily go straight. Since we are going straight, Otto no longer has to turn the rudders and there is no more torque being applied to the quadrant pin. Our goal is to keep torque off of this pin so what we have done is a good thing.
However, there are a number of other forces pushing on the boat, trying to turn it. These forces are the wind on the main and head sails, the current, and the alternating sideways motion that the swells put on us as we go up the face of a swell and then slide down the back of the swell.
All of these forces are highly variable and act to turn the boat. We have tried to minimize the turning forces of the wind on the two sails by sailing with a balanced sail plan. Since we are stuck with two reefs in the headsail due to our jammed furler, we have two reefs in our mainsail. This helps a lot but the wind directions are constantly shifting by 20 to 30 degrees as we sail along. Plus, as we sail up and down swells, the winds attach each of the two sails differently so even with a balanced sail plan, the wind forces trying to turn the boat are highly variable.
The good thing is that the turning force of the one engine, even with only low RPMs, is so much greater than the other forces combined. At least, this is true with moderate wind, current and swells. Thus, the overall impact to our rudder by these forces is greatly outweighed by the turning force of the engine. In other words, Otto feels the turning force of the engine much more than the other variable forces of the wind, current and swells and he more or less ignores them. To help him ignore those variable forces, we have turned his response setting to its lowest setting. This means that he does big slow "S" turns to keep the course we have set instead of responding immediately to a small deviation from the course heading. Slow changes to our course translate to slow, small adjustments to the rudder which translates to reduced torque on the sheared quadrant pin.
There you have it. I am sure this is now crystal clear to you. Well, maybe not but trust me, this technique has been working great for the last 4 days.
As of noon today, the end of Day 18 of our passage to Grenada, our position is about 120 miles off of the border between Brazil and French Guiana at 4 44.1'N: 49 31.0'N, our course is 299 degrees True, our speed is 6.5 knots with the apparently wind at 11 knots from the E. The swells are between 1 and 2 meters from the E. We made 153 nm today with an average speed of 6.4 knots. We have gone 2332 nm since leaving Ascension Island and have about 816 nm to go before reaching Grenada.
11/24/2015, 969 nm ESE From Grenada
We had another wonderful sailing day today. The skies during the daylight and nighttime have been clear with only big puffy cumulus clouds passing us by. Sometimes a little squall is spotted on the radar but they have kept their distance and not bothered us.
While the weather was very nice, we were a bit anxious through the night. Our friend in Nevada, Clint, had sent us a series of weather forecasts based on the model he is using. He had informed us that a big, bad (the term he actually used was "gnarly") band of weather had reared its ugly head about 100 nm in front of us. It was supposed to appear around midnight and last about 12 hours. When we got his email we calculated that we would be arriving where this thick band of ugliness was supposed to be around 0400.
Because we wanted to avoid the heavy seas, heavy winds and heavy rains that are associated with such weather, we decided to slow the boat down and arrive at the start of this zone around noon on Tuesday. With luck, it would be dissipating by the time we arrived. Thus, Mary Margaret and I put in another reef in the mainsail and turned the engine down to just 1200 RPMs. In tomorrow's blog, I will write about why running an engine helps stabilizing the boat and minimizes the forces on the rudder and reduces the torque on the broken quadrant pin that we had.
Our efforts dropped our speed down to about 5 or so knots and would allow us to arrive at the start of the bad weather zone as it was to be dissipating.
All though the night the stars twinkled, the moon shone majestically and the skies remained mostly clear. As dawn broke and I took over the watch from Mary Margaret, the good weather continued. We were now about 32 nm from the start of the bad weather zone but neither visually nor using the radar showed any sign of bad weather. Hmmm?
I decided to shake out the third reef we had in the main and our speed returned to about 7 knots. I decided I would sail the weather that I was seeing instead of what was predicted by a model.
Soon we were overtaken by a passing chemical tanker called Gaschem and he hailed us to test a new radio system he had installed. Mary heard our VHF alarm go off in the salon so I went down to see what the matter was. The VHF radio was showing a text that Gaschem was hailing us and asking us to go to channel 6. Before I could, the message went away so I decided to just hail Gaschem using channel 16.
Once contact was made, Gaschem's radio operator explained what he was doing and why. I used this opportunity to have him share his weather data for our route covering the next three days. He said that everything looks clear and that we should continue to have moderate winds and seas and mostly clear skies. Yippee! That was great news. Apparently, the big bad weather band decided to not bother us.
I later contacted Clint via email and he said that not only was his model showing the band of bad weather being still there but the latest NOAA infrared satellite photo showed it being right where the model was saying it was. Hmmm, that would now be right over us. However, the skies are mostly clear and no bad weather is in sight.
Apparently, the weather gods are taking pity on us and are pushing a clear path of weather through the band of gnarly stuff Clint and NOAA are telling us is there. I cannot readily explain what is going on, weather-wise, but I am not complaining. We all are just thankful that we continue to have great sailing weather!
As of noon today, the end of Day 17 of our passage to Grenada, our position is 3 17.7'N: 47 25.8"W, our course is 304 degrees True, our speed is 6.5 knots with 10.5 knots of apparent wind off our beam. The seas are just 1 meter from the E. We made 140 nm today, averaging 5.8 knots. We have sailed 2199 nm so far on the passage since leaving Ascension Island and have about 970 nm to reach Grenada. We are hoping to arrive there during the daylight hours on November 30th. We still have our fingers crossed!
11/23/2015, 1109 nm ESE From Grenada
Moon Dance (by Mary) It was a wonderful night for a moon dance. Actually the last several nights have been illuminated by the moon's light. The night sky is not as dark therefore the stars are not as bright but that's okay. Bright moon nights offer a different kind of beauty. It's as if the moon is gently guiding us through the night. The moon shines upon the waters and I can see the waves shimmering. The moonlight also illuminates the clouds and last night I could see a few squalls ahead but the weather remained far enough away to not affect us. The moon is in a growing phase (waxing moon) so each night the moon is a little brighter and with us a little longer before it sets in the western sky. Tonight will be a full moon. A couple of nights ago, as beautiful as my dance with the moon was, it was time for us to part ways. The moonset was spectacular and just like I lost my 360 view of the horizon and darkness set in. It's been a day and a half since the auto pilot pin broke and Dave and Mary Margaret's remedy is holding up. We are running an engine, which appears to be putting less stress on "Otto" and the pin that broke. We have mild seas and fair winds. Since crossing the equator the winds have shifted to more of a 90 degree angle over our starboard. A high weather system is in control today and it appears that it is pushing the doldrums further from the coastline of Brazil. This morning Dave and Greg transferred more of the diesel from the cans as well the fuel bladder into the boat's main tanks. The plan is to motor sail the rest of the way. Crossing the equator yesterday was very exciting. It happened during my shift at the helm. I was happy to have Mary Margaret join me as we counted down the seconds until we saw 00'.00.00! At 10:22, I captured the moment on camera. We all said a toast with our water bottles and celebrated with feasting on a yummy peach crisp that Mary Margaret made in anticipation of the special moment. And to Neptune, the experienced shellbacks tossed a shot of vodka and dessert in the waters and in that moment Greg and I went from pollywogs to shellbacks! A bit of female perspective: Mary Margaret and I were a tad jealous of "men's wear" or attire on the high seas. Though today seems a bit less humid than yesterday, it's still hot nonetheless. We wish we could get by with less clothing on these hot days. Our conversation continued as we talked about how salty air and water are unkind to our nails and how nice a manicure would be right now! I won't even go into any discussion of hairstyles!
As of noon today, the end of Day 16 of our pass to Grenada, our position was 1 48.7'N: 45 40.8'W, our course is 311 degrees True and our speed is 6.8 knots with two reefs in both the main and the head sail. Since we have set the head sail two reefs due to the stuck fueler, with two reefs in the main we are sailing under a balance sail plan. It helps keep the wind force equally distributed between the two sails and reliefs undue pressure on the rudders and the broken quadrant pin. With one engine going at just 1800 RPMs, we are making very good speed for a double reefed sail plan. The winds are from the ENE at 11 knots and we are sailing on a beam reach. The seas are mild with only a 1 meter swell from the E. We made 169 nm today with an average speed of 7.0 knots. We have sailed 2059 nm so far with an average speed for the passage of 5.3 knots. We have about 1100 nm to go.
On the weather front, our luck continues to hold. Thank you for all the good luck you are sending our way. According the Clint and the GRIB files we get, it looks like we just might squeeze up between the Brazilian coast the the doldrums and avoid any really bad squalls. Let keep those fingers crossed because it seems to be working!!!!
11/22/2015, 1275 nm ESE From Grenada
While from a sailing perspective, this has been a relatively easy sail, from an equipment failure perspective; this transatlantic crossing has been a challenge. As I have written in the past, all the issues have been more of an inconvenience but Mary Margaret and I are getting tired of them. Greg wrote about the traveler car block failing yesterday. We traced that problem to the fact that someone had pulled the topping lift tight which raised the boom. The mainsheet holds the boom down and when they both are pulled in, the resulting tension is centered on the traveler and its blocks. We never have the topping lift tight when the main sail is up because if the sail flogs, the ends of the battens beat against the topping lift with great force and can break. The problem is, no one can remember tightening the top lift halyard. Thus, it will just be chalked up to one of those many mysteries of this passage.
We had two other problems yesterday afternoon (the first part of this passage day since the day starts at noon). The first was a result of the wonderful Mahi Mahi that Greg caught and then filleted. In his enthusiasm to clean up, he swished sea water on the cockpit floor and the wet bar counter top. A bunch must have run off the counter and landed on our EPIRB, setting it off. An EPIRB is an emergency beacon that is supposed to be set off when you are sinking and need someone to come rescue you. It sends a radio signal to a satellite and then bounces it to one of a number of rescue centers located around the world. Setting off an EPIRB is a pretty big deal since it is the first step in a world rescue effort. Once I disconnected the EPIRP, I tried calling the EPIRB Action Team number in the US. However, I only got a voice mail message saying that they are only open from Monday through Friday (so do not get into trouble unless it is during bankers hours!!!!). Since yesterday was Saturday, I could only leave a message. I also called and emailed our daughter Christina in Tucson and my brother Don in Connecticut. I had hoped that one of them could call the NOAA EPIRB center and let them know of this false alarm. Unfortunately, I could not connect with either of them. Greg then tried calling his sister and was successful. She ended up calling the US Coast Guard and they told her they would take care of the false alarm. Whew!
However, the broken traveler block and the EPIRB were not the end of today's problems. At 2300 last night, during Mary's watch, the rudder quadrant's pin decided it had had enough and failed. For about an hour we were without steering. I was finally able to fix it, with Mary Margaret's prudent suggestions and we have been motor sailing since. I am hesitant to just sail with the jimmied fix that I did as I am not sure it can take the strain. Thus, we have been motor sailing, using one of the engines to help guide our course. We have been making between 6 and 6.5 knots, so we are making reasonable progress.
Greg and I have come up with a backup plan if the pin should break again but we have our fingers crossed that we will not have to implement it during the approximately 10 days we have in front of us before we get to Grenada. Keep your finger's crossed!
Weather wise, we are now dodging squall lines as we make our way up the Brazilian coast, toward the mouth of the Amazon River. We have narrowly missed two of them this morning, both passing us within 5 nm, cutting in front of our heading. Welcome to the doldrums!
As of noon today, the end of Day 15 of this passage to Grenada, our position is 0 05.6'N: 43 25.4'W. Please notice that we have crossed the equator and are now in the northern hemisphere. Our course is 304 degrees True, our speed is 5.9 knots with 12 knots of apparent wind from the E. The seas are in the 1 to3 meter range, running from the ESE. We made another 144 nm and averaged 6 knots. We have made 1885 nm during this passage, with an average speed of 5.2 knots. We have about 1275 nm to go!
11/21/2015, 1389 nm ESE From Grenada
Happy Wog Day! Greg here. Most of our days under passage are looking for something exciting to break up the routine but not today. Mary Margaret started off the festivities by preparing a Malaysian Chicken dish she learned in South Africa. The dish includes a spicy curry type chicken served over fresh sweet bananas (the ones we picked on Ascension Island). It was really great. After dinner I assumed the watch at about 5:30. About that time I realized the sun was setting and it was time to reel in my trolling line so I stepped down to do just that. As I was reeling in the line a sharp tug was met with a buzz as the line hummed out of the reel. FISH ON!! I yelled. And I could tell right away she was a beauty. She tail walked out of the water for a couple of seconds and Dave got a good look at her and called "Wahoo!" and "it's a big one! Four and half, maybe 5 feet long - probably close to 60 pounds!" After a second tail walk and a 30 minute fight the line went slack and the fish was gone¬...¬...ugh. I reeled in my lure no worse for the wear but dreaming of what could have been¬..... This morning about 7:00 Dave and I were initiating a gybe to correct back to course when the blocks on the traveler broke. It took Dave a couple hours to work a temporary solution but we eventually completed the gype around 9:30 and Dave is now working a longer term fix. After we had completed the temporary repair on the traveler a now familiar "FISH ON!" call came from Mary as she saw the rod bend over in pressure. I ran up and grabbed the rod and started playing the fish. I could tell right away it was considerably smaller than the Wahoo but it still felt like a promising fish. With the fish about 100 feet from the boat my Penn reel suddenly snapped and the retrieving mechanism was destroyed. By now, the fish was tired and we were able to reel him in by hand and finally get him in to the boat. Success! A 15-20 pound Mahi Mahi!! In my opinion, the best tasting deep sea game fish. We filleted him up and stuffed about 3 meals into the fridge - one of them for tonight!! Today is also Wog Day. So Happy Wog Day to you all!! There are two types of sailors in the world, Polywogs and Shellbacks. Dave and Mary Margaret are veteran Shellbacks (This will be their 7th crossing of the equator on Leu Cat) and Mary and I are Polywogs. Shellbacks are the veteran sailors who have experienced a water crossing of the equator while Polywogs are sailors without that significant achievement. The day prior to crossing the equator is known as Wog Day as the Polywogs prepare for their right of passage to Shellbacks. We expect to cross the equator tomorrow around noon and have been preparing our "Crossing of the Line" ceremony. The Crossing of the Line ceremony is a time honored maritime tradition that dates back to the 17th century. Mary Margaret is making some peach crisp for tomorrow's desert to mark the occasion. The "Crossing of the Line" generally includes a toast (with the first taste going to King Neptune) and a representative "stepping over the line" ceremony. We have ours all set to go. So you can see, we have a lot going on. Who said passages were dull and boring?
As of noon today, the end of Day 14 of our passage to Grenada, our position was 1 17 6'S: 41 31.1'W, our course is now 304 degrees True after heading west for the last couple of days. We are now just 97 nm off the coast of Brazil as we try to avoid the bad weather that is out to sea. Our speed is 6.5 knots with the apparent wind at 13.5 knots from the SE. The seas are 2 to 3 meters from the SE. We had a good day of sailing with winds more to what we had hoped for this crossing. We have made a711=A nm so far with a passage average of 5.2 knots
Weather wise, it was another fine day and the predicting of bad weather in our way changes daily. Clint is reporting that we may have a few days of good weather in front of us. This is what our GRIB files are also showing. Keep your fingers crossed.