30 hours with Neptune
18 March 2012 | Cabo San Lucas
So when I fixed the bad splice, and the associated wiring that was cooked, I tested the system to make sure the alternator still gave a charge as the problem wire had flattened our starter battery. All was well so I jump started the starter from the house bank (same as jump starting a car), and we were off while I let the alternator charge up the starter battery. Well as luck would have it the regulator on the alternator was bad because it overcharged the battery, exploding the case and melting all associated wires. Good reason to have a temp switch on the starter battery also, don't ya think (we have one now).
Back on Day 6 at 5:00pm, when we went to turn on the engine to motor to Cabo in no air, again out came the jumper cables; however it wasn't coming to life this time because the alternator seized up (I've never heard of that one). With a loaded belt the engine can't start (I learned this once safely docked). Thus, our final day to Cabo started with no engine. It wouldn't be an issue if we had a little wind, but instead we had nothing but building seas 10-20 foot with breakers developing. This made for an interesting night, because we were pretty much drifting but getting tossed both from a northerly and a westerly swell. When we could hear a breaker coming, we would brace and absorb the blow, then try to get some steerage with the motion created by the swell. After a couple rolls knocked us very close to the edge (beyond 30 degrees), on go the life jackets. We decided we would both stay in the cockpit at this point since we were concerned, probably overly so, about our safety and the stability during "surprise" breakers on the beam. We moved our watch schedule from 3 hour shifts to 1 hour, in an attempt to keep us more fresh and alert. The off watch person slept on the floor of the cockpit. After a couple nervous hours of this, the breakers started coming from just the north so we used those to push us south while absorbing some of the sloppy westerly. This gave us a better motion so we relented to doing this until we could get just a puff of wind to work with (be careful what you wish for!!). About sunrise we were 50-ish miles offshore and had drifted about 10 miles south of our destination, but we got about 10 kts of wind coming up. Yippee, no more drifting and being at the mercy of the swell (still around 15 feet at 6-9 seconds).
With a nice breeze, we were able to start sailing with the westerly and, with the sun; we could see the breakers on the northerly and steer off to take them at a nice angle. We actually had a pretty nice sail like that for about 20 miles. Then it happened; the winds built to 30kts in about 15 seconds. We were thankful the #5 sail slide had broken and only allowed a double reefed main because we needed it at this point, and later even that was too much sail. As the winds stayed steady at 30 knots, the breaking waves from the north, on our beam, started to redevelop intermittently. This meant watching the swells to time a turn with them just in front of the break which we were able to do most of the time. I missed once and we rolled beyond 35 degrees, and as we rolled back, we heard and felt the keel pop/slam/collide back in; in longer duration we would have knocked down, but the steepness and depth of the swell/waves actually snapped us back before she could roll. Tanga is a shallow full keel so anything over 30 degrees is highly discouraged by the manufacturer.
Then, as if Neptune hadn't yet felt he had our attention, he tossed in another 10 kts of wind and steepened the seas on the beam just for sport. So just as we were getting a rhythm with 30kts and 9 second seas, now we have 40kts and far steeper seas (6 seconds peak to peak). However, the seas were dropping to a 10-15 foot size with only the occasional 20-25 thrown in, so we had that to smile about. Also, during all this, a humpback whale started doing full body jumps about a hundred yards away. While neat as hell, we couldn't enjoy it as much as we would have liked, but it was still awesome. While not a full gale, we did get some astonishing (for us rookies) gusts in the 45-50 area. Our sail configuration during the worst of it was double reefed main with just a handkerchief sized jib and no mizzen. After another hour or so the winds backed to around 20-30knots and the breakers began to diminish. Once we got within 5 miles of Cabo, the winds died completely!! We were actually drifting less than 2 miles from having our backsides kicked.
All in all it was a great learning experience for us and gave us a taste of how indifferent Neptune can be. We are both shocked that the worst seas we have experienced so far, were not up north near San Francisco, but down south off Cabo. Looking back, we learned several lessons and developed more confidence in our tiny little vessel and her novice crew. I don't think we could have "hove to" because of the steepness of the seas but I need to discuss this with a much saltier sailor to understand what we could have done better.
The next post will be a much lighter one about how we got into the harbor that night.