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Charles goes for it!
07/06/2011, 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.

08/03/2011 | Adam
As the former owner of Solebay -- I was sailing her solo around Newfoundland -- I'm thrilled to see she's still working hard. Please pass on my e-mail address to your cousin and send my regards!
July 4th Weekend
07/05/2011, Bristol, RI

Friday: We were going to head to Third Beach in order to do a longer sail on Saturday, but we were late getting away (6:30pm), so we followed Jamin to Potter's Cove instead.
On the way, we tested the Outbound's spec sheet - regarding mast height... 64ft mast, 65ft bridge...
I was so convinced we were going to lop the top of the mast off that I had the boat in full reverse to try to stop - but too late, we were committed... and she fit through!
Unfortunately, no wind so we motored the whole way to the cove, looked for a mooring that Neal said would be available, but couldn't find it so anchored next to Jamin (2 tries...) Dinner was aboard Jamin, where Jane graciously served up pork chops and Pilaf rice for us - great!

On Saturday morning we moved too early - in no wind. In the afternoon it came up great so we missed a good opportunity. We did however secure a mooring for the weekend - even though we had been told none were available. A nice spot, right opposite the park. We then had all sorts of visitors - Neal, Cathy, Wayne, Joan, Peter, Diane, Mike and Jane - and enjoyed altogether too much alcohol!

Sunday: After a quick visit from Andrea and Nathan to check out the new boat, we headed off to Prudence to pick up Neal, Cathy, Wayne and Joan for a circumnavigation of Prudence. Wind was up, but it was overcast and humid... We started with a reefed main and headed to wind with Wayne at the helm. We almost caught and passed an Island Packet that was motoring while we zigged and zagged down the bay! Had a great sail and completed the circumnavigation in just 3 hours.

Laurie and I then sailed back wing on wing with the headsails in the dying breeze and then settled in to watch the fireworks display - magic!

Monday: We strolled the parade route before the parade and then sat it out aboard. It was hot! Managed to get the AIS working and checked out the batteries and engine...
We left about 2:00pm with the breeze having built to about 10kts and with enough west that we were able to sail the whole way. Enjoyed catching and passing a couple of boats on the way! Didn't enjoy the rotten AIS alarming forever - but managed to silence it eventually...

The Sakonnet Bridge was a breeze the second time around!

Update on Schedule

Here's the latest schedule - all subject to change of course!

July 9 - 10 Dutch Harbor

July 15 - 24 VACATION
Third Beach - Nantucket (Around the back)
Nantucket for a few then Hyannis
Then maybe Menemsha or join the Mattapoisett cruise in Buzzards Bay

July 29-31 Block Island with nephew Clive and Aileen

August 6 - 7 Newport Jazz Festival - The Russians are coming!

August 12 - 15 Cuttyhunk

Aug 20 - 21 ?

August 27 - Sept 5 VACATION
Fisher's Island, Montauk, BI

Sept 15 - 18 Newport Boat Show

Sept 24/25 ?

Oct 1- 2 ?

Oct 8 - 10 Menemsha

Close to home

So on Saturday we watched as Wayne and Jackie tied the knot up in Nashua. Nice ceremony & good party!

Sunday we came down to the boat while our Realtor held an open house trying to unload the biggest anchor in our lives...

We didn't go anywhere today - except following a relocation of the flux-gate compass, we did the calibration dance again - driving around in slow lazy circles - and managed to get a deviation number of just 9 - not fantastic, but a whole bunch better than 29! Now the autopilot and chartplotter headings sort of agree - and it looks like they are speed independent!

Also managed to fix the AC hook-up for the water heater. Meanwhile Laurie and Lola set about polishing more stainless!

We managed to visit the Pirate Cove fuel dock without incident and filled up with hopefully 2 year's worth of diesel! Who'd have thought it would cost $500 to fill up with fuel on a sailboat!

Delighted to get a call from Nephew Clive who's threatening coming over to New England to give me another sailing lesson!

Electronics Awry

Sunday dawned bright - but pretty windless. We enjoyed a nice traipse around the island with Mike and Jane - finding spots Laurie and I had not seen before. Then we set about cutting some lines to install a two-line-per-reef reefing system. Toodle-oo! came with a one line per reef system that was absolutely hopeless. Even though the new system works much better, I have to rearrange the lines into the cockpit some - to avoid unnecessary chafe issues. A Job for one evening...

Jamin quietly slipped her mooring around 12:00 and headed out ahead of us, but we were only about 30 minutes behind.

The wind was light, but once clearing out of the outer harbor, we set the code zero and main and managed to make 4 - 5 knots in the right direction, all the way until close to the Sakonnet. Since we didn't see Jamin, we figured (rightly) that they had probably motored in the light (6 - 10kt) winds.

Although the wind briefly came up at the entrance to the Sakonnet, it was short lived and we were left with the familiar motoring experience back to our mooring. At least it was a nice warm day today!

Capped the day off with a really good ice-cream at Somerset Creamery!

Approaching the Sakonnet, I was able to document some strange issues regarding headings as displayed by various components on the boat (hence the strange photo of wire's in a mess!):

Under power at 6kts: Chartplotter heading: 270, Autopilot 295, Ship's compass: 270
Under power at 2kts: Chartplotter heading: 260, Autopilot 234, Ship's compass: 265
Sailing at 6kts: Chartplotter heading: 019, Autopilot 108, Ship's compass: 040
In all cases, the icon on the chartplotter more-or-less agrees with the autopilot heading.

Quite interesting: when I was running with engine at 2kts, with autopilot engaged (and set at 234), and then sped up to 6kts, the boat turned south! Presumably, if I'd let it, it would have ended up on a heading of about 210 (since it was set on 234)...

Anyone have any ideas???

12/30/2012 | Me
The one-line reefing system was perfect. Too bad you couldn't figure it out.
12/30/2012 | Bill Balme
Hi Merrie,

You and Mike were much more experienced sailors - I couldn't get it to work - but had no experience with single line systems. Decided to got the simpler - if slower - route.
Potter's Cove anyone?
06/20/2011, Cuttyhunk again!

This weekend was planned to include Abby and her friends, but because the weather was pretty iffy and we had to arrange repairs to water heater, we decided to postpone until a later date when the weather was a little more predictable.

So, having lost all water pressure last week due to a failed gasket on the water heater, the morning's activities centered around getting that going. We'd left a message for Jane and Mike aboard Jamin, that if things worked smoothly, we'd head to Potter's Cove - in case they were interested...

Right around 11:00am, as I'm finishing up with the heater, Jane calls and says they're on the way to Cuttyhunk! They never got the email... OK - let's give it a whirl...

By 12:00 we were ready to go and set off down the Sakonnet in pursuit... The wind was on the nose and it was cold. We had to motor nearly all the way down - it's a long bloody river! Two hours of droning engine - that is except for the time when it quit! Yep, I guess we finally emptied the port tank! Now for the rest of the weekend we'll be worrying about fuel!

Finally down around Third Beach we were able to sail - into about 15kts, and with one tack South West to Sachuest Point, we were then able to head for the Schuyler Ledge Bell, and give sufficient leeway to the fish traps we'd marked on the GPS from our last encounter! Meanwhile, fog had come in, so we were sailing with Radar for almost the rest of the day in a cold murky light.

Fortunately, the wind stayed up and maintained around 15 - 20 knots all the way to Cutty. As the fog cleared close to the island, we were able to pick out the familiar transom of Jamin - the chase was on. Mike had made it easy for us however by pulling in his jib which was getting covered by the main.

2 Hours to the bottom of the Sakonnet, 2 hours from there to Cutty...

We decided to try anchoring in the back of the inner harbor, but were completely unable to get a set on the Spade anchor despite a couple of tries. Since we'd witnessed a boat dragging last week in the same spot, we decided to have a relaxing stay - so took a mooring instead!

A couple of drinks aboard Jamin, then we repaired to Toodle-oo! where Laurie prepared a delicious Pork Tenderloin with roast potatoes and squash.

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Who: Bill and Laurie Balme
Port: Newport, RI
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