We have begun our 5,000+ sailing trip to Greece.
And I’ve begun the trip I’ve wanted to complete since I was a little kid. Sail across the Atlantic Ocean as Captain of my own sailing vessel. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.
I wrote most of this blog on our trip from Virgin Gorda (BVI) to Bermuda, but unfortunately for everyone, I couldn’t post it until now – as I sit on Ondine in St. George’s Harbour Bermuda.
Just as we were about to leave the BVIs, our Starboard Engine failed. OF COURSE. Sometimes I think Ondine is cursed. But I know it’s just the same with all boats. Fortunately we are a catamaran so we have two engines – we really only need one – hell we don’t really need any as we are a SAILING boat, so we’ve left anyway. We’ll fix it in Bermuda. We’ve got great solar panels, a lame wind generator, and an uppity generator that can keep the batteries charged without the engines so who cares.
On our first night out two things happened: First of all, while Emma-Kate was on watch (and I along with everyone else was asleep), she came down below and told me “the sail made a funny noise”. We went up to look at it – it was pitch black, so we were shining lights up and down the main sail and everything looked fine. Then we came back into the cockpit and there it was: our main sheet (the rope that controls the main sail) is attached to the boat by a series of blocks (pulleys) and cars (pieces of metal that run on a rail so you can move the sail from starboard to port). A shackle that holds one of the blocks to a car had broken. There had been no special “event”. It was just twenty years old and its time had come. Fortunately, it’s a big piece of equipment and there are three blocks attached to two cars, so one was still in place. We jury-rigged something to help support the one that was in place and I went back to bed. Here’s a pic:
I figured that was all that would happen to us for the night.
I was up on watch next. And half an hour into it at about 1am, I was caught completely by surprise as the wind suddenly went from a nice 15-20 knots to 40+ (that’s about 45mph) in less than five seconds. The waves were suddenly 12 feet high (and felt worse) and we went from a comfortable 8-9 knots to an uncomfortable 14 in no time. Worse, as I was not expecting this squall (my bad, I should have, I was warned that there may be some by the weather service we use: Commanders Weather) I had left all the sails up. I immediately turned off the auto-pilot (I’ve heard horror stories about Cats who left them on in those conditions) and let out the main sail. Then I had two choices: point up into the wind, put on the engine and take the pressure off the sails, maybe heave to. Or head down wind and just go with it. I opted for option two and we were off to the races. Ondine handled it like a pro. We were averaging about 12 knots on the GPS and I saw 15 as we raced downhill pushed by the waves and the wind. Needless to say, I didn’t bother with sail trim – other than to make sure that the sails were NOT trimmed as we were going fast enough thank–you-very-much. We saw 35-40 knots winds for about half an hour. And then it “calmed down” to what we’ve seen since which is about 20-25 knots or Force 6 on the Beaufort scale. Emma-Kate came up after about 5 mins to ask if “all was OK”. I said “NO!” and we rode it out together. God Bless Emma-Kate.
At day-break we headed into the wind and put the massive reef into the sail that I should have put in at dusk. For once, our Leisure Furl system that I’ve been cursing since we bought Ondine was terrific. It was simple to put in the reef. And just as we put it in we were hit by another squall. But this time we didn’t need to alter course. We just held our position and kept going. Once again we were seeing 12 knots but this time we were going in the right direction and were firmly in control.
We’ve got a guest on board (Richard Parsons) a friend of a friend (thank you Grant) who has really wanted to complete some big open water sailing. And it has been great to see his ear-to-ear grin as we get the big wind and sea conditions and we speed towards our destination.
As we talk about speed, we’ve now completed the trip and we made it in 4 days and 4 hours. That’s 839 miles. Or about 210 miles per day on average. That’s definitely the fastest trip we’ve ever done. Thank you Ondine.
Unfortunately, due largely to the speed and the wave direction, this has been one wet ride. The true wind has been just in front of our beam (about 80 degrees to be exact). But with our speed the apparent wind – ie the wind we really experience on board – has been in front of us, from about 60 degrees. And has added about 5 knots to the wind speed we experience. Thus when it’s blowing 25 knots from our side, we experience 30 knots in front of us. The waves have been coming at us from the same direction as the apparent wind and they have been 10-12 feet high. Thus we are continually getting big “green water” as Ondine’s twin bows dip deeply into the water and the waves come up over the trampolines, over the entire salon and dump into the cockpit. Needless to say, despite the warm weather we’ve been wearing foul weather gear. I got caught in that first squall wearing shorts and a T-shirt and after one minute I looked like I’d gone swimming in them! Thanks to this drenching, Ondine has shown us that she has some leaks in some unexpected places that we’ll need to address when we get to Bermuda – ahh more work on the boat, how unexpected.
Probably the most frustrating part of the ride thus far have been the smells. I’ve worked so hard to make sure that all of the smelly bits of Ondine: the black water systems (toilets etc) and gray water systems (sink and shower water) are in good working condition, but as soon as we got underway, Ondine STANK. It was so depressing. Depressing for me, literally retching for poor Emma-Kate. Somehow now that we’ve been sailing for 48 hours the smells have gone away (mostly), but there must be some way to avoid them. I’m going to take another look in Bermuda. Though it looks like that Bermuda work list is getting pretty long: Fix the starboard engine, address about six different leaks, address the gray and black water issues, provision, add another ditch bag as our bigger crew (eight people) won’t fit into one life raft (at least we do have two life rafts) and a bunch of carpentry stuff to keep things more secure.
And the highlight of the trip so far? The little fairies that I keep seeing jump on board. When you peer off the twin sterns of Ondine at night, she churns up the water, and small photosynthesizing organisms generate little luminescent light shows in her wake. I’ve seen this lots of times. But with the water coming over the bows, every now and again, once of these little creatures comes over with it, and you see this little “fairy” jumping up and landing on Ondine. Keeps me entertained for hours.
But this is just the beginning: First Bermuda, then The Azores, then Gibraltar, then Sardinia followed by Sicily and 5,000 nautical miles later we should be in Greece. I’m pretty confident we’ll have some more adventures to tell by then.