Day1, dead downwind, deadheads, and dolphins
27 May 2010
Day 1 sailing from St Thomas to Key West on board sailing vessel Simpatica was not without excitement and new challenges. Simpatica is a 41 foot Jeaneau and for a guy who sails a beefy Aluminum cutter made to sail in the Antarctic and delivers mostly full keeled Island Packets she has taken a little getting used to. For example, as I speak the wind is blowing dead downwind at only about 8knots, in an Island Packet we would be motoring but this light little boat is actually sailing wing on wing at an average of 4.5knots. Being a delivery skipper I take pride in getting the boat to the destination as fast as I can, so why don't I kick on the Iron Genny? These boats are not really meant for long ocean passages and so they don't waste a lot of extra space for things like... fuel... she holds 37 gallons and we added another 40 in jerry jugs. Even with our fuel conservation we will have to stop in the Dominican Republic to fuel up.
Sailing dead downwind is a challenge by itself but Simpatica doesn't have an autopilot so we get to hand steer the whole way. While sailing wing on wing has its advantages, (balanced helm and good boat speed) it takes a great deal of patience and concentration to keep her from Gybing. We have the boom prevented out but a full on gybe can still put enough pressure on the gear to damage something... it's just better not to have an accidental gybe.
Deadheads... now some of you might be thinking we have run into a boatload of Grateful Dead fans in tie dye with long scraggly beards... I wish... they wouldn't put a hole in the boat like the deadheads I am referring to. A deadhead is a huge log (tree actually) that floats straight up and down in the water... we have seen a few of them in the past 24 hours here on the North Coast of Puerto Rico along with any number of rather large logs and branches floating with birds perched on them. The danger of deadheads is that they are almost impossible to see and certainly are impossible to see at night. If you hit one just right while coming down from a rising wave you could hole a light boat like this... keeps us vigilant.
On a trip like this, especially in a boat that is unfamiliar to us we check the bilges regularly, usually only to find a little water in the bottom. Yesterday when we checked it the second time the bilge was full, the engine well was full, and the well by the packing gland was full. Nothing gets a sailors heart pounding like a new and significant influx of water in the bilge. Richard and I began pulling up floor boards and beds trying to track down the water. We pulled out a bucket and a kayak bilge pump to help get the water under control as the little bilge pump couldn't keep up with it. My fear was that we had either hit a deadhead or the drippless packing gland was no longer dripless (not much you can do if those go out that's one reason I still use flax packing on Wandering Dolphin.) Once the water was all pumped out we could tell that it was coming from somewhere aft of the engine... we had just filled the water tanks (located aft of the engine) before we left St Thomas, so I decided to taste the water to see if it was salt or fresh... to our relief it was fresh water. One of the tanks must have a leak high on the tank so when we heeled over it leaked into the bilge. It has since stopped so the leak must be above the water level in the tank now.
We went from near panic looking for a hole in the boat to laughing in the cockpit and fixing steak for dinner within about 30 minutes. That is actually pretty typical offshore. Things are either really great or really terrible with very little middle ground.
I have the 6:00am watch and within moments of taking the wheel from Richard a pod of spotted dolphins showed up and, as if to announce themselves, or maybe just say "hi" one of them jumped at least 8 feet out of the water and did a full back flip just for me. I have never seen anything like it outside of Sea World. They zipped up to the side of the boat like 8 or 10 torpedoes and proceeded to play in the bow wake for Richard.
It's all quiet on the boat right now; Jimmy is at the helm on watch and Richard it playing with his iPad.
Hope Your Day is as Beautiful as Ours is Right Now,
Captain Tofer, Richard and Jimmy