Saturday April 6, 2013
Day 1, Leaving Santos,24 02S 46 18 W
17 58'S 38 41.5'W
It is dawn and we are finally on our way, heading east into a golden sunrise. Onora is weaving through the multitude of anchored freighters waiting for cargo and orders, spread out for miles along the shore of Santos, the busiest port in South America. Soon we'll have just the vast ocean before us with sails set for a long ocean crossing.
I've realized that not many sailing boats make this trip. The word had gotten around the yacht club that we were leaving for Cape Town and, at our final shore meal last night, the yacht club's commodore stopped by to wish us fair winds. Earlier, when checking out, the customs officer invited me into his office to talk about the trip; when finished, stood up, took my hand, bid me a safe voyage; and, handed me the clearance document that it read '2013-no 3'. I wonder what happened aboard boats one and two? It is late in the season and a month past the 'recommended' October to April window in which to make this crossing. What is in store for us?
Sunday April 7, 2013
Day 2, 25 43S 42 34W
Enough wind has come up to sail - replacing the drone of the motor with the sweet music of water rushing along Onora's aluminum skin.
Most of our ocean crossings have fairly predictable weather but this one is complicated. The South Atlantic does not have the wealth of tracking services of the North. To get to the westerly winds we need we will have to go below a big semi-permanent high pressure area in mid ocean but avoid the menacing deep lows that give the "roaring forties" the name. I have hired Ken McKinley, a weather router holed up in Maine reading his models, to recommend a path. Ken has already had an impact, recommending that we delay our departure a few days for the better weather we now have.
The big difference is that this is our first crossing with a third crew member, Ed Bachrach. Ed arrived a week ago with a small bag of clothes, a larger bag of spare parts, and his guitar. I know Ed through World President's Organization. He was in the men's clothing business with eight hundred employees; sold that and went to the Kenney School for a masters in international Relations; wrote a movie script about Frank Lloyd Wright that he is producing; and, has recently begun farming sheep in Missouri. One of Ed's dreams is to cross an ocean on a sailboat and has been telling me about it for a few years. Six months ago Jeannie thought we should try it and so far, after one day, it seems to be working. It might not for Marge, his girlfriend, who will be in Cape Town on our originally planned arrival date of May 24th. With the delayed start the 27th will be our earliest arrival.
This trip is 3400 miles and I guess it will take three weeks. We hope to stop at Tristan De Cuna, a remote Island about two-thirds of the way across, which has no harbor so a calm day is needed to land. And so, for now, we are headed a bit further south in the hope of visiting this outpost of the British Empire that bills its self as the remotest inhabited island on earth.
Monday April 8, 2013
Day 3, 25 50S 41 53W
Passed through an oil field at dinner time. Each platform twinkles like a small isolated city in the distant twilight. With little wind, we are back to using the motor which Ken says will continue until the weather system falls apart. We don't carry enough fuel to make it across this ocean.
Tuesday April 9, 2013
Day 4, 26 40S 39 23W
I just walked the deck and returned to the ocean six dead flying fish that landed on our deck during the night. So far, these are the only fish Ed and I have caught. The motor continues as we hope for wind. We stopped the engine after lunch and went for a swim. I remarked that the bottom looked clean. "Can you see bottom?" was the crew's comment. The ocean is several thousand feet deep here. I, of course, meant the boat's bottom. A dirty bottom would make this a really long trip.
Wednesday April 10, 2013
Day 5, 27 51S 36 46W
The grib (weather) files that we get over the satellite phone show more windless days ahead. A vast and empty sea with a star packed night sky makes little impression on my sleepy brain struggling to stay awake until 1:00AM when I will wake Ed. We have settled on a three hour on and six hour off watch schedule. I am doing better than the others in adjusting to the interrupted sleep which is fortunate - as captain, I am always on call.
Ed has been reading 'Adrift' about Steve Callahan's 76 days in a life raft and has read Robertson's sea survival manual. Ed has prompted me to review the over man overboard drill; the abandon ship procedures; and reviewed the contents of our ditch bag.
Thursday April 11, 2013
Day 6, 29 52S 32 29W
An 11 knot wind has come and we sail at a steady seven knots. Onora is rocking along and the rush of water along the topsides has replaced the steady low rumble of our Yanmar engine running at low fuel- conserving RPM's. We have left Brazil's heavy heat, humidity and low threatening skies and entered a clear blue zone with white puffy clouds as we push south toward Tristan's sheep farms. Ed bought along two bottles of scotch and a dozen large chocolate bars as gifts for his fellow farmers.
Friday April 12, 2013
Day 7, 30 20S 31 33W
We advanced clocks an hour. I have traded shorts for long pants. The wind comes and peters out. Where are the usual south west winds normal for this time of year?
Ed seems to be losing his usual bounce.
Saturday April 13, 2013
Day 8, 32 00.81S 027 23.02W
The wind came up on Jeannie's early morning watch and we set sails to catch the moderate breeze rolling over the flat sea. As the day progressed so did the wind and seas. The main was shortened to two and then three reefs. By late afternoon only a part of the jib was unfurled and now it is a rough night with the wind ranging between 20 and 30 on an upwind beat. The seas wallop Onora but she plows on.
We are not the chipper three of a week ago. We go about adjusting sails, cleaning, making meals, and reading. Moving about requires timing to cross the pitching sole beneath while grabbing for hand holds to pull one's self to the desired location. It takes some experience to find a comfortable place to settle into. Most spots require constant bracing to keep from getting tossed about.
I am always a little tired and drink most of the coffee. If there is a need to change a sail or make a judgment call, Ed and Jeannie look to me day and night. This is a captain's job but it's hard to wake up from a deep sleep; take in the weather and sail configurations; and make the right call. Before sleeping I try to anticipate what might happen and write out instructions for Jeannie, Ed and myself so I can just react when I stagger up on deck.
Ed's bug has passed. To speed his learning along I try to see he gets more deck time than Jeannie. He is a thinker and likes to repeat what is going to happen before he touches a line. The action is second nature to us so his delay means learning to be patient - not always easy when a sail is flogging or water is pouring across the deck. It is a learning exercise for me too.
Sunday April 14, 2013
Day 9, 33 19S 24 13W
We are tired. The winds and seas make for challenging living and sleeping conditions. As the wind goes up we must take in canvass night and day. Most of this can be done in the cockpit, sheltered from the howling winds and crashing waves, but each time I must go forward to check on the shape of the sails and call back instructions to take in or let out the sheets - a wet business.
Fleeces and long pants have replaced shorts and tee shirts. We seem to have moved from a steamy July when we left Santos to October which is the equivalent month to April in the Southern Hemisphere. Petrels and shearwaters fly loops around the boat. Two days ago a yellow billed albatross first appeared, soaring behind and swooping in front of us as I see him now out the cabin window.
We are four days from Tristan de Cuna. If we can land we will take turns going ashore. Any change in the wind will require moving Onora or we will become the newest Tristan inhabitants when she washes ashore.
We face a shortage of a critical commodity. There is plenty of food, fuel and water but, with three hours on and six off each of us has two sleeping periods and the toothpaste is running out.
Monday April 15, 20113
Day 10, 34 2 S 20 34W
This morning, as I was telling Ed how good our engine was, it sputtered and died but it was not long before I found a dirty fuel filter and had the engine going again.
Neptune tested us again this afternoon. I heard something fall on the deck and went up to find the nut for the connecting pin which holds the boom to the mast had worked loose and the boom was now cocked sideways, threatening to crash down. It took four hours to set up lines and blocks to lift and position the boom back into place while the boat pitched into the seas.
Tuesday April 16, 2013
Day 11, 35 18S 18 09W
Another rough day on the mind and body as we sailed into the twenty plus knots of wind with reduced sail. Ed is amazed at how well Onora handles it all. She was designed for tough conditions but we weren't.
Ken's report, thirty knots blowing onto the shore with big seas, rules out our Tristan visit. We are all sad but too punch drunk to be very upset.
I have come up with a "Sailing Enjoyment Index" which is a combination of wind speed, wind angle, sea state and wave height. Today gets a low rating.
TWS 3 TWA 3 SS 2 WH 4=SEI 3
Wednesday April 17, 2013
Day 12, 36 05S 15 35W SEI=4
I lifted the floorboards to fetch a screw driver and found the bilge alarmingly full of water and fuel. We cleaned it up but about 20% of our remaining fuel is missing. Onora's bow has a flat bottom; when she comes off a wave she slams down. The port fuel tank was full so the pounding must put a load on the tank fittings but I can't find the leak. These conditions rule out pulling up the floorboards so the search will have to wait.
The water seems to be from leaky porthole gaskets. The ports go underwater when we heel - looks like the window on a front loading washing machine - so I have tightened everything up and am crossing my fingers.
Still 1650 miles to Cape Town and blowing 23 knots; three reefs in the main with half of the jib furled in; close hauled and beating into the sea washing over the deck and crashing into the pilot house windshield. The crew is reading and listening to Patricia Barber's soothing jazz. The running lights are on and dinner will be served shortly - easy to cook pasta replaced shepherd's pie when today's forecast of high winds and waves came in.
When Tristan appeared on the radar we called and talked to Andy Repetto, Tristan Radio, who confirmed that conditions ruled out landing before Saturday or Sunday. It was good just to hear another voice. Andy later called to ask if we had heard a man over board distress call which we had not. In these conditions recovery would be difficult but if called upon we would, by the law of the sea, be obligated to join in the search. We stood by on the radio but heard nothing more; each of us had thoughts about what a simple slip might mean for us.