Charles goes for it!
06 July 2011 | Atlantic Crossing
Some may know that I have an interesting cousin - Charles Balme...
Late in life, mid/upper 60's, he decided to rekindle an interest in sailing after watching first his son go cruising for a year in the Caribbean, and then me get bitten by the bug with cruising... so he decided to get a boat, and ended up with Solebay, a Contessa 26 - ocean proven but small... I think he paid about $14,000 Canadian for it!
The following year, he decided to sail to Bermuda - in order to meet us there. He made it there and back in one piece. This was the shakedown cruise for a transatlantic attempt which he first had a go at last year. However, between Bermuda and last year's attempt there have elapsed a couple of years while Charles recovered from two broken ankles following a failed maiden flight aboard an Ultralight airplane - one of his other hobbies!
In 2009, Charles made an attempt to cross the Atlantic to Ireland but got turned back. Last year he tried again, and again was turned back - here's his account:
Had another go at the Atlantic and got about half way across before I had unfixable automatic steering problems. Last year I tried going down the St. Lawrence to jump off from the Gaspe. Got discouraged by cold wet weather and constant headwinds. This year went from New York with no firm destination in mind. I had thought the total distance across was 2500 miles plus another 300 for the circular route I planned to avoid the poor weather further north. Actually the GPS said 3100 miles plus, so that was a rather daunting prospect - 35 days at sea. So I decided to do it in 3 day chunks, which worked really well. If everything was good at the end of three days I would do another three, and so on. Eat the elephant one bite at a time! I had plenty of new experiences to keep things interesting - a genuine strong windsquall; total calm with small swells about 300 feet apart; becalmed in hurricane alley trying to get far enough north east so that if a storm did come my way it would be diminished enough that I could deal with it; large swells with no wind followed by a windstorm which lasted two days and then the steering malfunction after travelling 1400 miles! All of this topped off by an electrical fire which really had me scrambling.
I departed from Sandy Hook and had excellent weather at first. Very encouraging, so rather than visiting you (!) and travelling up the east coast I headed due east bearing in mind the warnings that the Sandy Hook people had given me that the hurricane season had started. I figured a week of clear weather would get me far enough north east to be out of their way. Then I got becalmed about four days out. I motored for two days continuously at one litre of fuel for five hours at about 2.5 knots. With the Gulf Stream of one knot that gave me over 75 miles a day. However, the engine is a bit shaky at those speeds and what I didn't notice was the chaffing of the hot wire to the starter - it's always hot - eventually wearing through the insulation. Not a problem until a few days later when all hell broke loose. So much smoke I couldn't see inside and I could not remember which way to turn the master switch off! It ended up melting two battery terminals and burning a hole in the top of one battery, burning off all the insulation on two battery leads and fusing the bilge pump circuit which happened to be touching the battery leads. Fortunately nothing else ignited although there were substantial scorch markes on some wordwork. Several lessons to be learned here. I ended up wiring only one battery into the main circuit with the remaining good leads and had the other battery as a disconnected spare. I no longer rely on cable insulation which gets very soft when hot, so separation of leads from other leads, even well insulated, figures high on my priorities. The other interesting aspect of this incident is the realisation that one is absolutely without help from others.
I found the windstorm interesting. I had plenty of warning with a couple of days of growing swells with no wind. When the wind arrived I simply hove to and went to bed for a couple of days! However, although the boat was fairly calm inside, over a period of hours there were many white caps which pounded the boat ferociously. V ery noisy. Good thing I have absolute faith in the structural integrity of the boat. Many waves simply went over the boat and that creates a most peculiar feeling. A bit like a swamped boat before it sinks. The boat settles, stops rolling for a couple of seconds, wobbles and then rises. Several waves broke into the cockpit filling it instantly. A bit disconcerting and incredibly noisy, but it drains quickly. Fortunately I just happened to have the hatch closed the first time otherwise the cabin would have been swamped. I have never seen such huge waves but although they seemed fairly steep there were relatively few breaking crests and the boat rode them well. I expect they were only about 15 high but they seemed much more sitting at the bottom of one in my little boat - I find it extremely diificult to judge the height of waves unless they are exactly at my eye-level. Interestingly, the boat travelled about 15 miles the first night, the wrong way - back to hurricane alley - so I turned the boat around and it stayed absolutely still.
In general the weather was good. I was following latitude N40 and hung a left once I reach longitude W50 after I had gone a little over 1400 miles at which point I aimed for Ireland. Ten minutes after I decided to do just that rather than continue to The Azores, the steering broke. Actually, it was just one of the two mounting bolts which fell off into 15000 feet of water - too deep for my retrieval magnet; and besides, it was a stainless steel bolt. I kick myself for not checking them en route. Anyway, I still had 1998 miles to go and didn't relish hand-steering that distance so opted to go to Newfoundland - still over 500 miles. I had two autopilots with me. The first one broke almost immediately so I hand-steered for a couple of days - very tedious - and then used the second, new autopilot for the last four days when the weather calmed somewhat. Once within 300 miles of Newfoundland everything went cold and damp. It's the Labrador current which keeps the hull cold below the waterline resulting in much condensation.
All in all I had a terrific trip, and I don't mind the fact that if I want to finish it I still have the trip to do! Just extends the pleasure, though from a cold place to start. I was away for 20 days and 19 nights. The boat is in NL until next spring. If I try again I will go from NL south east to the Gulf Stream and then east. It will be a much shorter trip and I should be able to do it in about three weeks plus a day or two.
Well, a couple of days ago, I get a Spot report from him - he's on his way again! I think departed on June 28th. In the next entry I'll post his position and keep that one updated until he gets to wherever he gets to.