09 November 2018

A Day In the Life of a Cruiser's Paradise

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Friday 9 November... a glimpse of a typical day of the glamorous life of a cruising sailor. But I love it!

St. George, Bermuda

0615:  Alarm goes off because I love to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee; and I'm a morning person and like to start my day early. We often do not have milk so I'm trying to get back used to only a little sugar in my coffee.

I love getting up early and watching the sun rise from the cockpit. My favorite time of day.

0700:  We both jump off stern to bathe (currently tied to a sea wall so it's not nearly as nice as when we are in a pristine anchorage; but that will come later in the cruising; quick fresh water rinse in the cockpit (we are in major water conservation mode both because there is no easy access to potable water, and it's $0.25 / gallon from a hose... for everyday use including washing and flushing).

0730:  Resume lazy jack project that we planned out and began last night; confirmed parts and feeder line; my job is to go up the mast and feed the messenger lines down both port and starboard side of inside the mast; Bob hoists me and retrieves the lines at the base to thread through the pulleys; I then carefully attach the new jack lines to the upper pulleys without dropping the tiny pins or other pieces. We run the engine during this so that there is enough power for the electric winch. When done, we clean up all the tools and lines and admire the finished product. This project takes about 2 1/2 hours. Feels good to have another repair done.

Being hoisted up the mast is becoming a regular occurrence. We did it early in the day before the wind kicked up much and caused more swaying.

Lazy jacks re-rigged and ready to go! (Lazy jacks hold the main sail on top of the boom and keep it from spilling over on to the deck.)

0930:  Bob needs to turn attention to work and preparing for a 1000 teleconference. From the boat, we can only access a public WiFi for an hour at time which means we are constantly re-connecting. I make breakfast (hearty meal this morning to also serve as a lunch: potatoes/hash browns with onions; chicken sausage (only one as we are running low); eggs.

1030:  I go in to the Bermuda Yacht Service (BYS) office to work / day job.WiFi is better in the office and we can keep our lap tops charged up. (The solar panels on the boat are great but are not quite keeping up with our demand at this latitude; they will do better when we are further south.)

1045:  We are informed that we need to move Argon from the where she has been tied up on the seawall to another spot to make room for a cruise boat ferry that will be shuttling passengers. (It is actually a welcome change as we have been banging in to the seawall broadside frequently when the easterly winds kick up (which is most days). Our new location will be more protected (and happens to be where we were tied up in 2016).

1100-1130:  We move Argon off seawall (12kt winds pushing us in to the wall so we plan how to spring back on her stern to kick the bow out in to the wind). Just as we pull away from the wall, a power boat scoops in to our new seawall spot so we have to do a couple of loops outside the fareway waiting for him to leave. We finally dock and re-do all the lines and fenders.

Argon's new tie up spot.

1130-1215:  We carry the 60 foot inner headstay from our old spot on the seawall over to behind BYS along the catwalk. This headstay is awaiting a new inner stainless cable (one of the several repairs in progress from our recent passage from Newport) that has been ordered and should be on the island early next week. We look comical carrying this huge aluminum and steel piece and are kindly offered help by some tourists nearby.

One of Argon's broken head stays. We needed to move this 60 foot long piece of steel and aluminum to another part of the marina.

1230:  Bob returns to work. I try again to get started working in the BYS office.

Linda working in the Bermuda Yacth Services office where there is unlimited electricity, strong WiFi, air conditioning and a bathroom. What more can a working woman want?!

I am keeping my eye on the weather as I happily anticipate some much needed rain… should be coming late this afternoon. If it rains hard enough, I will enthusiastically be out in the rain with a sponge, brush and soap to give Argon a much needed, well overdue scrubbing. She has been caked with salt since our passage. The weather has been beautiful since arriving more than a week ago… but his also means no rain!

The weather has been sunny and comfortably warm. We eagerly await some much needed rain so that we can wash Argon as water is precious here and not readily available for things such as washing a boat.

1400:  I take break from work, return to Argon and makes popcorn as breakfast is wearing off. Return to working at the BYS office.

1500:  BYS office is closing unexpectedly early as the dockmaster is going to a "dropbox party" (aka funeral) so I get kicked out and return to Argon to finish up working the day job for the week. (I am working around 10 hours per week, usually a bit each day, which fits in well with the cruising lifestyle.)

1630:  Finish working on board Argon. Walk to the market to get few items (groceries are quite expensive so choosing carefully). Pop in to a couple of shops just to browse; inquire about a scooter rental for the weekend.The stroll feels good and as we have been here a week, there are several familiar faces. Locals commonly say "beautiful day". There seems to be three groups of people: locals, tourists and sailors. I like guessing who are sailors... I think it's kind of easy. We're not dressed as nicely as the tourists and our hair is, uh, more naturally styled.

1730:  Still waiting for the rain to come and wash away the salt an dirt. Make a gin and tonic but no ice cubes as we cannot get quite enough volts at this latitude to set the fridge/freezer high enough.  I help a huge catamaran with their lines as they dock right behind Argon. Start to feel chill for the evening.  Bob logs back in and works some more.

1830:  Email and message some friends and family. Send an update to the insurance company about our repairs. Draft a blog.

2000:  After going back and forth about whether to have dinner on board or out, we go out for a walk and have a light dinner nearby. Chat with some locals and sailors at the White Horse.

2200:  Finish blog. Watch downloaded Netflix (on the tiny screen).... I recently started Ozark. Bob is probably watching Tosh.0 or something intellectual like that on his phone. Still waiting for rain. Life is good and I am a lucky woman. Good night.

06 November 2018

Bermuda Passage: A Spot of Bother

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Friday 2 November - St. George, Bermuda (4 days after leaving Newport):  A contorted sixty foot aluminum headstay with a thick stainless steel cable interior lays out of place along side Argon at the seawall in Bermuda, just a stone's throw across the inlet from the Customs Dock. It is oddly twisted with a shattered roller furler at her distal end. The local and semi-famous rigger, Steve Hollis of Ocean Sails, comes wandering up with his two dogs on leash having already heard about our tribulations through the cruising chatter and says in his understated, polite manner "Well, well... looks like you've got a spot of bother here". Yup.

Argon's bent and sagging head stay, tangled genoa and jib, and lashed on roller furler upon arrival in Bermuda.

Newport to Bermuda...

... is a common passage for cruisers from New England to make this time of year on their transit to the Caribbean. On a decent boat, it's typically four to five days (~650nm/750 miles). The trick is that it is often difficult to find a window between weather systems of more than two or three days this time of year. The other challenge is that one must cross a 50nm wide river on the way:  the Gulf Stream.

We had our weather window and we had our excellent crew. The synopsis of the weather was that it was going to be difficult on the front end, then ease up as the passage went on. If we waited, things would have been a little easier at the start but we would have had more headwinds for longer at the end. We chose a departure date along with about 20 other boats from Newport Yachting Center.

Many sailboats gathering at Newport Yachting Center in late October preparing to head off shore to Bermuda as a stopping point on their way to the Caribbean.


Monday 29 October:  Uncomfortable Start, as Expected

We left the Yachting Center dock in Newport at 0930 and headed out to sea with a few other boats close behind. Immediately upon leaving the harbor, we encountered some fairly uncomfortable seas sailing high into oncoming 6-8ft waves. This was expected but that didn't really help make it any more fun. Jeff and Linda had a bit of an issue with sea-sickness during this time. Jeff won for sheer volume but Linda took style points. We were sailing close reach with a double-reefed main and the jib.

These conditions remained for the whole day but toward nightfall, the winds started to veer and we got a little more off the wind. Things got a bit more comfortable but not much. The wind eventually did get around enough to switch from the jib to the genoa initially on a beam then a broad reach. Helming required much physical exertion and concentration; certainly no autopilot.

Linda working the helm on Argon during the first day.

Tuesday 30 October:  Challenging but Fast

The wind continued to veer and the waves were not so head on. Argon screamed along at 10-12kts most of the time under a reefed main and the 150 genoa in 18-25kts of wind. At about 1700 hrs we were at 38N and just entering the Gulf Stream. As we watched the water temperature tick up from about 56 degrees to a balmy 76 we expected things to get nasty but surprisingly, the stream was relatively smooth... for now. Still requiring deliberate working of the wheel but seas were following and not dramatically erratic.

The partially enclosed cockpit kept us relatively warm and dry during the front end of the trip and our entry in to the Gulf Stream.

Wednesday 31 October:  The Finicky Gulf Stream Screams "I'm not done with ya yet!"

Note: No photos during the shit-storm.

At about midnight Tuesday night in to the early morning hours of Wednesday, Lance was working the helm hard as we were nearing the outer edge of the Gulf Stream while the rest of us tried to rest amidst the howling wind and roar of ocean against the hull. Bob took over from an exhausted Lance around 0100 and resumed the struggle still sailing very fast with a reefed main and the genoa when the sea state took a pretty sudden turn for the worse. We encountered some very steep and confused waves that were tossing Argon around pretty hard. Eventually, these waves started hitting our quarter and rounding us up into the wind. I was trying to rest down below to have the strength to get through my upcoming turn at the wheel but was kept awake not only by the severe motion of the boat and the normal loud creeks and sounds of water rushing against the hull, but also an unusual seemingly vibrato noise radiating down the port side chain plates where I lay. Bob began to struggle more with controlling the boat yelling some expletives when I jumped up to help.

Since we were carrying the powerful 150% genoa, it was very difficult to steer back off the wind and we found ourselves stuck beam-to the seas. When we were rounded up high into the wind, the rig was shaking violently. The cockpit was repeatedly flooded with large (and very warm) waves. At about this time I called down below for Lance and Jeff to join us in the cockpit. Bob was still at the helm when another large wave came rolling over the starboard coaming. Bob recalls looking down and seeing the autopilot display under water! Another wave rolled over the cabin house top and unfortunately spilled down below in to the galley and salon (as Lance and Jeff were suiting up). This wave set off our SOS Dan Buoy which inflated in the cockpit, its strobe light flashing. Bob thought, "well at least we know it works" whereas I momentarily panicked as I thought it was a spreader that had come down. In another few seconds, the LP gas alarm started going off... it was quite the cacophony! (We eventually ruled out a gas leak and determined it was due to the sensor that had gotten wet from the incoming water.)  All of these things raised the intensity of the situation... it was like being in a flight simulator when they start throwing in faults for you to solve under pressure. But this was no drill and we were hundreds of miles from help.

We attempted to roll up the genoa and found it very difficult to do so. Clouds obscured the partial moon obliterating the horizon making staying oriented extra difficult. We sacrificed our night vision and turned on the deck light for some forward visibility. This is when it was clear that something was seriously wrong with the rig. The outer headstay that carries the genoa is normally not extremely tight and has a bit of sag, but this was way beyond sag... it was bowed away from the boat in a large arch. The outer stay had come lose from the masthead. We fought to roll up the genoa as best as we could with Bob and Jeff precariously on the foredeck, Lance in the cockpit using all his might with the furling line and sheets. And me working the helm struggling to keep Argon downwind but not jibe. We attempted to put the jib out to relieve some pressure from the wind on the genoa but the jib was now getting fouled with the sagging and swinging outer headstay. Upon rolling the jib back up, it got horribly twisted upon itself as the waves and wind continued to batter us.

The manhandling of the genoa took all four of us working in orchestrated chaos... Bob and Jeff bravely spent quite a bit of time on the fore deck in the churning seas as Argon continued to get rounded up and crazy waves bombarded us from seemingly every direction. Although tethered in, I was petrified that one or both would loose their balance and be thrown over a life line only to be in a different type of peril. I managed the helm trying to navigate the waves (there had already been a few unintentional jibes earlier in the evening). Lance did all the line work from the cockpit including somehow eventually getting the genoa furling line coaxed with Bob and Jeff working the sail from the bow. All of this was done over the constant roar of the wind in the rig and the rushing of water against the hull.

Once we finally got the genoa mostly furled, Bob secured the furling drum to the bow with a dock line and we sailed along dead downwind still in complete darkness with just the reefed main to minimize the whacking of the loose outer head stay against the taught inner stay with only the reefed main. A few hours later at daybreak with some muscle and Lance's idea from past experience during a race, we got the jib untwisted and re-deployed... revealing a dramatic diagonal three foot tear about a third of the way up; but still providing a bit of power.

Bob back on the foredeck the morning after in calmer seas with the flailing headstay with partially furled genoa and the sliced jib.

We were soaked, physically spent, and emotionally fried. But encouraged that we had things under control. I was still massively nervous that the whipping around of the heavy headstay was going work it's way loose from the mast and come crashing down on the deck (and the crew).

Spectacular sunrise the morning after.

Conditions were expected to ease up over the rest of the passage and thankfully they did. The stress on our broken rig was reduced but we could not forget that we still had a headstay hanging by the halyard sixty feet above our heads. We could have chucked it (and the genoa) overboard by removing a pin at the bottom, but we decided that since conditions were easing so much, we would continue carrying it and hopefully salvaging the headstay. We periodically eased a bit of halyard out to spread out potential chaff spot as we fired up the motor on relatively flat seas with easing winds.

Recuperating after a difficult night

The weather was continuing to soften and we found ourselves in very light and variable winds under clear and warming skies all day. We expected the wind to continue to veer around behind us so at about 1400 we fired up the engine for what we thought would be a relatively short motor until we got a better wind angle later.

We have about 75 gallons of diesel at this point which should be enough for the rest of the passage, but not by much.

Sagging head stay with the attachment plate pulled away from the top of the mast.

Thursday 1 November: Lots of Sun and Shorts, But Low on Fuel

The wind did not veer and pick up as we hoped/expected - it stayed light and directly on our nose. We spent a lot of time stressing over the dwindling fuel gauge. Lots of typing on a calculator and frowning followed. The wind was definitely not going to cooperate and it was becoming clear that we would likely be motoring the rest of the way and would cut it very close with fuel. Our calculations, even being extra conservative, indicated we should have enough fuel but the gauge did not agree.

The lights of Bermuda were just beginning to illuminate a patch of the sky on the distant horizon. Our destination seemed so close, but it was still 10 or 11 hours away. The fuel gauge did not look like it had 10 hrs left in it... as it bounced between E and up to maybe 3/8. At this point, we killed the engine and turned off the tiny bit of wind as Bob was sure we wouldn't make it. Everyone woke up, and we decided to get a first hand look at how much fuel was in the tank... Bob and I pulled the cushions off the port settee and opened the access panel on the top of the tank.

Shining a flashlight down into the hole, and using a kitchen knife as a dip stick, we saw a very reassuring sight: the tank was still at about 40% (which was in line with our calculations).  By now we figured we had done about 75% of the required motoring so we were sure we would make it. We fired the engine back up and motored on (checking the diesel level manually via our sophisticated method one more time several hours later... just to be sure).

Jeff and Linda peering up at the wildly swinging head stay hoping it would not come crashing down.

Friday 2 November:  Bermuda In Sight and Arrival

All of this time, we still had the main sail up to try and get a little bit of lift, but now the wind was so light and directly on the nose, that it wasn't helping. At about 0200, in the dark cloak of night of course, Bob and I were on watch and we decided to lower the main sail. This routine maneuver turned out to be more stressful and hairy than it should have been. Our lazy jacks had broken at some point earlier in the passage and lowering the main just dumped the huge, slippery sail all over the deck. Bob first tried to bundle the sail with some sail ties but eventually resorted to dock lines. During this operation, Bob lost his balance and nearly had a good fall but managed to catch himself. It was just one more unnerving thing.

As we approached Bermuda on the final stretch, the wind kicked in directly on our nose. We did not attempt to sail both because of the amount of beating needed, but also since the torn jib would have further marginalized our VMG. We knew we had enough fuel to plow directly on.

Happy crew on the home stretch.

Our first contact with Bermuda Radio was an encouraging milestone 20 miles out still in the dark of early morning hours; followed a few hours later in the morning light of overcast skies with radio confirmation upon reaching Mills Buoy that we could proceed through The Town Cut in to St George Harbor and the customs dock.

Motoring through The Town Cut in to St. George Harbor with our sagging headstay, lose genoa, ripped jib, and messily bundled main sail.

A ritual upon arrival after a long passage is a toast with Dark-n-Stormy's. But Lance and Jeff jumped in to action as soon as we tied to the seawall taking down the damaged sails and removing the headstay. The DnS's would wait a bit longer.

Taking down the torn up sails for repairs.

Carefully lowering the head stay.

Evaluating the twisted head stay and busted roller furler.

We salvaged what we could from the outer headstay, including some of the furling drum parts, pins and other rigging hardware.  The foil itself was deemed trash. Bob borrowed a torch from Steve Hollis to try and disassemble it, but quickly switched to a borrowed sawsall to chop it up.

Bits and pieces.
Argon's happy crew with her busted, disassembled head stay.

Argon's neighborhood while awaiting repairs (view from the road leading up to Bermuda Radio).

Close up of the damaged carbon fiber where the attachment plate for the head stay pulled away from the top of the mast.

Now we are immersed in a full damage assessment as well as triangulating communications with the local rigger, Tartan and the insurance company. We are immensely grateful that we all made it to Bermuda with only minor injuries (lots of bruises), a broken but repairable sailboat, and relationships stronger than when we departed. Just a spot of bother.