Atlantic Crossing: Meep! Meep! Watch out Wile E. Coyote
10 December 2014 | Le Marin, Martinique
Marta Portoles, Mark Morwood
We had a very fast passage. It took us 15.5 days from Tenerife – and I think it could have been even faster if I wasn't so conservative (aka chicken!) during my watches.
We were very lucky on weather and wind. We were in excellent health, and had only two issues: autopilot woes for the first 4 days and the Code 0 halyard breaking near the end of the trip. Fortunately Mark fixed the autopilot, and after the Code 0 halyard broke the wind stayed fine for either main and jib, or spinnaker alone.
We all got a bit of a surprise being woken at 3am by Mark saying the Code 0 sail had come down and was in the water. The sail was floating eerily in the full moon, fully extended under water. It was held to the boat on two corners by the sheets and tack line. With all hands on deck it only took an hour to get the sail back on deck, fortunately undamaged, folded/rolled back into its bag, the jib out, and us underway again. Excellent crew work by all. Once in Martinique, we fixed the halyard and the pulley at the top of the mast that probably caused the break. We were surprised by the halyard breaking as we had had the sail down the day before and there had been no chafe at that point.
Our only other issue was the autopilot. On our first night after our departure, the autopilot presented the "black screen of death" with the cryptic message of "Can't communicate with the CCE so I am switching myself off" that we had seen sailing from Gibraltar to Canaries. Switching the autopilot circuit on and off helped, but the black screens of death were happening more often and the resetting back to normal was taking longer and longer every time. Mark started to tackle the problem, changing one component at a time. I used Mark's analytical approach for troubleshooting this issue as part of our Science class on "Scientific Investigation". Because of our lighting strike in Maine in July 2012, we had a complete duplicate of autopilot set up, including two hydraulic rams. Mark formulated different hypothesis and changed just about everything (one component at a time) including the electric cables (he connected the autopilot directly to the battery cables by-passing the main electric circuit). Nothing was fixing the issue. Every hypothesis failed (or should I say "was unsupported"). Finally, Mark exchanged hydraulic rams, and voilà! No more "black screens of death"! It only took three days ☺ There was a general sigh of relief aboard Por Dos when the "black screens of death" were no longer on the menu. It looks like it was a small solenoid on the ram that was causing the problem.
Here you have a couple of statistics and numbers for the mathematical and competitive minds:
1) we covered 2,778 miles in 15.5 days,
2) our average speed for the trip was 7 knots,
3) We had a two days when we travelled 200 miles in 24 hours,
4) on our slowest day we travelled 146 miles,
5) we sailed under spinnaker alone 5 days out of 15,
6) main + jib or main + code 0 for about 4 days or so, and
7) the rest of the time we sailed under code 0 or jib alone.
We organized watches to fit our family needs. For the first time, Alec and Roan did formal watches of 4 hours each with parents available but relaxing in the saloon. Alec's watch was noon to 4 PM. Mark did 4 to 7 PM. Roan took over from 7 to 11 PM, while Mark napped in the saloon settee. Then, Mark did 11 PM to 4 AM while "princess" Marta had the longest sleeps ever. At 4 AM, ready and refreshed I started my watch until noon, when Alec would take over for his watch.
With many passages under our belt, provisioning was easy. I did minor changes to make it even easier for the cook during the passage (me). I precooked several meals and half prepared several more. I thought I would have to cook 2 or 3 meals from scratch at the end of the trip, but, with such a fast trip, I didn't have to. We also had a box of snacks filled with favorites for each one of us. Because of how our watches were organized, everybody was waking up and napping at different times, so each one decided on the best time and best things to have for breakfast, lunch and snacks. We had our daily big meal together as a family around 6 or 6:30 PM – just before Roan's watch and Mark's nap in the saloon.
Of course, we did plenty of reading, play many hands of "500 hundred", looked for birds, fish, whales, dolphins, puffy clouds and squalls, changed sails at least twice per day (I am going to write down all changes in our next passage), we did some biology reading and discussing for school, and …. counted the days and miles until arrival ☺
We also had an ongoing competition to guess the day of arrival. A couple of days after leaving Tenerife we all picked which day we thought we would arrive in Martinique. Mark prepared a spreadsheet and each noon we calculated the miles to go, and our required average speed for each person. By the last couple of days it was clear that the two middle guesses, Mark with 15 days and Alec with 16 days, were the only ones left in the running. To make Roan’s guess of 14 days we were going to have to average 300 miles/day and to make Marta’s we were going to have to slow down to 4 knots. I’m sure Mark was pushing the boat for the last week so his guess would be right! Plus we were trying to get to the Odyssey Rally dinner and presentations on the evening of the 10th (15.5 days after we left)
As we were getting closer to Martinique, we thought we might just make it for the dinner. We flew the spinnaker almost continuously for the last 3 days, and though the wind started going light near the end we made it into the harbor just after twilight, with no moon. Navigating into Marin Marina on Martinique is interesting because you have to maneuver between a couple of reefs and hundreds of boats, but the channel was well marked. Once we got into the marina we had an interesting time adjusting to yet another variation of tying stern to, this time tying the bow to a floating mooring off the dock with your own dock line, then backing up to the dock. Of course it was after 5pm so the marina staff had gone home, and everyone else was headed for the party! Fortunately the Odyssey staff had our space organized and waiting for us, so after a quick wash, we headed off to the party, getting there just as it started, where we found our rally friends who gave us a warm reception with hugs and rum punches.