30 November 2018

A Slow Boat To Antigua


Another name for this blog post could be "Chasing the Trades (but never catching them)". Not only our pre-departure forecast, but also our daily weather updates continually assured us that our winds were just a bit further ahead. But alas, the easterly trade winds were like a tempestuous debutante who decided not to show up for her party (until the last 50nm - sigh).

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Despite tremendous anxiety about our fuel and a frequent feeling of vulnerability, there were abundant joys including fascinating sunsets to starboard with simultaneous moon rises to port every evening, each one spectacular but different. And with a full moon mid passage and scant cloud cover, we were blessed with illuminated nights and could even sometimes see our moon shadows in the cockpit. In addition, there were calm seas for most of the passage and we were able to relax for long spells (definitely not the norm for our off shore experience). The indescribable deep blue encircling as far as one can see is mesmerizing.

Moonrise to port, and sunset to starboard every evening.

Ultimately, what we thought would be a six (or seven) day passage with some motoring during the first half and good sailing during the remainder, was nine days of continual evaluation of how best to make southerly progress in contrary winds with limited fuel and electricity. A veil of anxiety lay over us knowing we did not have diesel to fall back on and also rationing the electricity. I think we are better sailors for this experience, certainly more humble.

The Journey

​"Sunday is a good possibility" said Ken McKinley. That sentence in an email from our weather router got us in full-on preparation mode.

Capt. Bob Damiano

We had been sitting in Bermuda for a couple weeks getting repairs done, and waiting for a weather window.  And now we had one.

Argon in a prime location on the seawall in Bermuda before departing for Antigua.

This was going to be the longest double-handed sail we had ever done (950nm). And after a not-so-great experience coming over to Bermuda from Newport, we were a little bit nervous. The word among the cruisers in Bermuda was that most everyone was going to go Sunday 18Nov with some people leaving Saturday evening prior. Indeed, there was quite a line at the customs dock first thing Sunday morning.​​

A to-do list taped to our nav table had all of the check boxes checked. We had done a lot to get ready to leave from Bermuda not even considering all the repair work we had to do because of the damage we sustained coming over from Newport. Apparently, we were ready to go.

A flurry of activity kept us busy the two days before setting sail for Antigua.

We knew this was not an ideal window given the predicted amount of light and southerly winds which would require substantial motoring. But we liked that there were no "rigorous" winds or seas expected. We calculated and re-calculated the likely amount of diesel that would be needed and ultimately determined that we had enough with about 30% margin. An over-arching message in the forecast was "just get to latitude 24 asap and you will begin to catch some easterlies". As we would later learn, we should have over-planned for fuel. On a down-wind passage, if the forecast wind direction is off by 10 or 20 degrees either way, it's not a big deal. But on a passage where you know things will be upwind a lot of the time, 10 degrees is huge - and this is well within the expected accuracy of any forecast!

Passage Notes

Following are some day-to-day notes made during the Passage from Bermuda to Antigua in November 2018. I also include some of the daily "letters home" to our friends and family.

Sunday 18 Nov: Day 1

This morning I woke up at 3 a.m. and had the butterflies. This was really happening today! Linda said she was appropriately nervous - enough to keep her alert and on her toes, but I was pretty much a bundle of nerves. Why am I not in my lovely home in Newport soaking in the frickin hot tub!!?

Linda posing with Her Majesty's Customs Officer after checking out of customs.

Fresh from lessons learned on our previous passage, we really wanted to be careful and cautious, do things right and avoid mistakes. But, as we were pulling out of St. George Harbor we realized we had forgotten to lower the Bermudian courtesy flag and didn't want that flailing around during the passage. I went on deck (just as things were starting to get a bit bouncy as we were leaving the Town Cut) and lowered the flag. I let the flag halyard slip out of my hands and watched it get nicely fouled in the lazy jack lines. Ugh... To be sure, this wasn't really a big problem, but this small thing psyched me out because we made our first goof before we even got out of the cut! I was later able to unfoul that line in calmer seas.

Day one was mostly sailing very fast with a nice northeast wind behind us and a sea state that was quite manageable, although a bit uncomfortable.  We had four to six foot seas with an occasional eight for fun.

Out in the open water with Bermuda visible a few miles to the north. This would be the most wind we would have for the next 9 days.

After a fast start, sailing would become quite slow for the next many days.

Mostly calm seas made for nice conditions for sleeping in the cockpit many nights.

Energy Management

A complication with leaving from Bermuda on a passage that's going to require a lot of motoring is that there is no shore power in Bermuda to keep batteries topped up. And you can't sit there and run your engine for hours (wasting fuel) before you leave. Things were overcast on the day of our departure as well as several days prior, so the solar panels did not do a lot for us. Thus we were starting out with an energy deficit. We figured that once we got more south with sunny days, the panels would do their thing, but another lesson learned later is that the panels don't work so great when sailing due south because the panels are shaded by the sails for a good part of the day!

The charge in our batteries became an important detail in our lives. On top of our usual consumption, the Fleet One satellite system was also running which can suck a bit of power (depending on how bouncy things are). The result of all this was it we were running a little lean on voltage the first night and we did have to run the engine on idle for a bit just make some electrons - this was engine time, we had not planned on.

Wind was in the high teens and low twenties and just at, or slightly forward of, the beam. We erred on the side of caution and kept the main reefed most of the time and because of that, we gave up a bit of speed. This may have been a small mistake as getting south fast was the mantra for this window.

I didn't feel very well for most of the first day and night. I think it was probably nerves and a little bit of sea sickness. Linda, as usual, was rock solid. After midnight, the winds dropped more than expected and we got into quite a dead spot for a lot of the next day. So this meant we had to fire up the engine a bit sooner than we had planned. We immediately began tracking our engine hours.

We were beginning to have a bit of anxiety about fuel capacity. We resumed our (re)calculations and thinking about how we were going to use the fuel we have.  On this trip, we carried one extra 5 gallon jerry jug in to supplement our 77 gallon main tank (in hindsight, this is embarrassing). We made a satellite phone call (cha-ching!) to Ken to discuss the situation. He advised that if we could just get to latitude 29N, we should find some Southwest wind and sail a decent angle in for a while. But as we approached 29N, it was still really dead and we were resigning ourselves to motoring overnight (which we really had not planned on doing).

Jethro commenced to cypherin'.

I was down below resting and trying not to think about diesel, when I heard Linda shut off the engine and roll out the jib. That was a great sound to hear! I came up, looked at the wind gauge and saw a nice 12.6 knots of wind at a decent angle. We sailed beautifully all night and our spirits were buoyed. Winds were mostly constant 10 to 12 kt.  As Ken predicted, this SW wind started exactly at 29N and not a second of latitude before! (This would be about the last time we caught the wind as predicted.)

first of our daily sat messages to family/friends:
Good morning.
Pos 30:6.6n. 64:11.68w

Winds currently very light ne. Resisting motoring but sailing very slowly (<5kts). Until 0300, was making very good speed.

Trying to reserve fuel for the coming headwinds.
Seas very flat, partly cloudy.

Yesterday was fast. The boat feels great with the new rig. Seas weren't very high, but uncomfortable. I didn't feel well most of yesterday and overnight. Linda was fine and a great skipper as usual.

Was very cloudy and rainy until about 1am which made things a little less fun. Then we got some nice moonlight and we should have some sun today. 

We're doing fine.  Love to all

Tuesday 21 Nov: Day 3

Early Tuesday morning it became clear we were not going to be able to to continue sailing much longer.

First Light, Tuesday.
Eventually, the winds faltered and backed a little bit to the south so we decided to do some motor-sailing just to try to maintain a reasonable angle south.
Good morning.
Pos 28:23.7n. 63:29.0w

We had a slow day yesterday with more motoring than we would have liked. We were getting a bit concerned about fuel capacity. We called Ken on the satphone to discuss. He thought we'd have a decent sw wind once we hit 29n.

As soon as we hit 29n, we got the wind we expected and we sailed all night after that.  We got headed off a bit and were able to do only 140-144 degrees so we have crossed east of the rhumb line a bit. At 0400, we hit some good squalls that brought a nice westerly component and we were able to go 180 with really fast speeds for a while. We're going to want to be east of rhumb anyway when we hit the trade winds around 22n later in the week.

Wind is such that we are able to continue sailing at 145-ish. With every hour we're sailing, fuel becomes less of a concern.

Winds are generally light (although I'm pretty sideways at this moment). We're sailing as high as we can and will eventually switch back to motor sailing as the wind backs more.  Seas very flat. beautiful sunrise. Air is 80-ish (87 inside the boat)

All is well. Boat is still performing like the beast she is.

At about 1300 on Tuesday, after evaluating the latest weather update email and becoming sad, we decided to stop the engine again and sail as high as we could. I did a spacewalk to adjust the jib clewboard for the light air. We expected winds to back a little bit to the south or maybe east of south later and then we'll evaluate if we want to put in a tack. It felt great to be sailing again - even if it was only 4kts. Linda took a nap down below and I sat in the cockpit enjoyed the beautiful sky and water.

Every morning and evening provided a different flavor of a reminder of why we do this.

We sailed nicely again until about 1900 when the wind just got around in front of us too much and it wasn't worth being off to the east anymore. At this point we picked a waypoint on 24 north latitude and decided to just make a beeline for it with the engine focusing on the "just get to latitude 24N" part of the forecast. We calculated it would be approximately 40 to 45 hours of motoring. And we are pretty confident we had about 65 hours of capacity at the moment. This was the part we actually planned on motoring over.
One of the indicators that would rule our lives for the next week.

According to Ken's latest email, 24N is where we should expect to see some Easterly component winds with the winds backing more and more to the east the further south we go. At about 2300, I relieved Linda from her watch and I'm sitting in the cockpit under a moonlit sky listening to the engine whir along at 1900 RPM, looking at our speed over ground in the mid to high fives and a COG of 162 degrees. Status quo for a while. And for a change the sound of the diesel didn't cause me anxiety because I know we have enough fuel now since those easterlies will kick in at 24N. At least they should...


Linda was determined to catch a fish along the way. We bought three lures in Hamilton, Bermuda and I rigged the smallest one on the handline and let it out. As soon as I sat down, we had a hit and as I started reeling it in, we could see that it was a Mahi. As I was getting ready to lift him into the cockpit, the swivel on the new lure failed and away he went. Two lures left... Over the rest of the passage, we tried both other lures - sometimes at the same time and with a teaser line. Only one of them was effective as we got a hit with another small Mahi. This time, he shook the hook out himself during one of his jumps. Thus no fresh Mahi for this passage.

Linda deploying a trolling lure on the handline (yoyo).

Wednesday 21-Nov:  Morning Day 4

Linda finished up the overnight watch and I came up about 0700 to yet another beautiful sunrise. Winds picked up last night to the mid teens we were motoring straight into them which slowed us down considerably. We considered falling off and sailing a little bit but decided to just keep plowing forward on our straight line to 24N.  At this point we had run the motor exactly 30 hours total since filling the tank. The boat got a nice power washing the prior night in a strong but short rainstorm.
Good morning.

0845. Pos26:30.6n. 62:17.7w

Winds are 9-12 due south now and a little oncoming chop is developing. We're doing low 5s now.

Plan is still to make it to 24n at about the Antigua longitude and hopefully sail from there as the wind develops an easterly component.

We feel good about fuel now but will certainly switch to motor sailing if and when the wind gets off our nose.

In fishing news, I put one of our new lures on the hand line and before I could sit down, we had a mahi on. As I got him near the boat, the swivel on the brand new lure failed. Linda is determined to catch a fish, so she has both remaining lures out - one on the hand line and the other on a pole.  I think she's just slowing the boat down for nothing.

We and the boat are well.  We are about 130 nautical miles behind our estimate between all the dead air and slow motoring.  Hopefully we will have a fast finish starting late tomorrow.
At around noon, we started seeing some possibly encouraging signs that the wind is backing and getting a little bit of an easterly component. Will anticipated the update from Ken within the hour to confirm our next move and hoping the wind backs as predicted. And the sooner the better!

A lot of hours on the Autopilot on this passage.

This was to be the first of many more frustrating times where the wind just didn't follow instructions.

As Linda was coming off her afternoon watch and I was going on mine we decided to open up the fuel tank and have a look at exactly how much fuel was in it. Fuel gauges on boats are just about useless especially when the boat is rolling around in a seaway. The best fuel gauge is the engine hour meter, a calculator and intimate knowledge of your engine's burn rate at various RPMs. (We track and graph our burn rate each time we fill the tank with diesel.) To our pleasant surprise, the tank was at about 60%. While we had it open, we decided to pour in our 5.3gal Jerry jug of additional diesel.

At this point, there are 130 nautical miles left get to our waypoint at 24 North. Our present speed and pessimistic calculation showed we would need about 26 hours of motoring. Then, figuring a pessimistic burn rate of 1.2 gallons per hour and we should need about 31 gallons. We're going to make it! To 24N anyway...

The access port opened on the fuel tank for measuring (and filling). We used a measuring tape to assess the amount of diesel in the tank which is way more accurate than the fuel gauge.

I remained fixated on the wind dial as it's still stubbornly on the nose. Occasionally, I am seeing signs that it's going into the eastern quadrant a little bit, but then it doesn't...    Really looking forward to see the Dial at 11 or 10 instead of midnight or 1. Linda says that the vertical wind arrow on the chartplotter is like an extended middle finger. (We're north-up people.)

Thursday 22-Nov: Day 5 (Thanksgiving)

I woke up to yet another disappointing wind direction. The wind is stubbornly not backing yet to the southeast and continues to be on our nose. We are still 38 miles north of 24N and we continue to strain to see a favorable trending, but to no avail. We manually assess our fuel by opening up the tank again in case we need to motor even further south to catch some wind. But we realize that it may be time to start slowly beating our way south under sail which will put us further behind when we are supposed to catch those easterlies. At this point in the passage, we are a good 36 hours behind where we thought we would be by now and we still have a long way to go!

Thanksgiving Sunrise
As I lay down to try to take a nap after my watch in the port side bunk, I thought nothing would make me happier than to be thrown out of bed by a nicely healing boat! I thought of attaching the lee cloth, but then thought why bother?
0720. Pos 24:33n 5 61:34.2w

Happy Thanksgiving

We motored all night. Winds were light so we made good speed.   A few times the wind teased us by backing a bit to maybe 170, but overall still pretty much due south or very slightly east of south.

Still hoping wind fills in from a more favorable direction when we reach 24n around noon.  We opened the tank yesterday at 1700 to do an accurate measurement of remaining fuel.  At that time we had 45 gal remaining which for us is about 40hrs. We also dumped in our 5.3gal jug at that time. We're hoping to only need it for another 7hrs or so until much later when we pull into antigua.

Update... linda just reported a good trend in the wind.  We might switch to motorsailing now!

We're fine. Tired, but fine. Very flat calm seas. I keep dreaming I'm still at the dock in Bermuda

And linda is still fishing.

Still optimistic about landing a mahi!

When we got the latest weather update, the news wasn't great (again). The elusive backing to east was going to happen a little later in the day and it was going to be very light wind. So it sounds like we will be motoring throughout the rest of the day not stopping at 2 p.m. like we planned. On top of that, there were going to be a couple of dead spells still to the south of us that would require a little bit of motoring. Diesel anxiety is starting to set in again as 24N was no longer when we would meet up with the easterlies.

We considered several options and just decided to turn the engine off and sail as high as we could on a port tack for a minute while we collected our thoughts. We noticed that the course over ground projection line landed right on the British Virgin Islands and we thought well there's an option. Linda called Ken on the sat phone (cha ching!) had a little chat with him and we decided that we would still try to make as much southerly advance is we could today and put off any decision on diverting to another destination until later. Ken thought that we should be able to sail pretty well overnight tonight.

Thanksgiving sunset at the start of a great night of slow but smooth sailing.

The great sailing overnight that was predicted came true. It was actually one of the most wonderful overnight sails we ever had in nice winds of 10 to 12 kts close hauled and flat seas under an incredibly bright moon. We set the autopilot in Windvane mode to have it follow the wind around to the east as it (hopefully) backed.  Our track traced out a gentle arc as wind continued to back through the night. For the moment, the wind was actually following instructions and we enjoyed the serenity.


Friday 23 Nov:  Day 6

In the morning, the air was light again and we assess again about if and when and how long and what rpm we would run the engine again so we decided to take another direct measurement from the tank with our sophisticated measuring tape. Now, we had about 32% of the tank or about 24 gallons remaining. We were wishing we had about double that.
Current pos.
22 49.160 N  61 36.882 W

Were able to stop the engine Th afternoon... those winds we were optimistic about Th a.m. did not materialize thus motored more than expected (again).

Have been sailing close haul since Th afternoon averaging almost 5kts in 6-10kt SE winds. (Bob is channeling Lance with lots of sail tweaks.)
More slowly ~3kts starting as couple hours ago. Course generally 185. Very flat seas, long low swells from SE. Seas very calm and beautiful... not physically stressful at all... quite relaxing (except for knowing our motoring options are dwindling). Had planned on no more need for motoring once we hit 24N but has not been the case. Also learned yesterday that we have to get through another dead spot that is developing later today.

ETA looking like Monday a.m. (1.5 days later than planned). Keeping option of diverting to St Maarten or VI if winds do not fill in from the east enough.
continue to troll for mahi or wahoo... no luck yet.
We sent our emails home and to Ken with our status and even though the wind was light, we decided to sit tight and sail very slowly, preserving diesel, until we heard back. We were determined to make this a no-diesel day. We want to be careful about when we use the remaining fuel that we have.

Reading conditions (quite rare on off shore passages).

The weather forecast for today sounded promising. We expected the wind would back more to the east and in fact maybe even go slightly north of east for a short time this afternoon. We were really looking forward to getting some good boat speed and putting some of our east back in. However, just like many other times in this trip the wind was just relentlessly south and never quite backed as much as predicted. We continued to lose ground to the west and we were now a few miles west of the longitude for the Antigua approach (not where we wanted to be). Like the prior night, the winds were expected to increase overnight thus we held some optimism.
We just received an encouraging weather update. Winds will continue to be light (but good for sailing 4-6 kts; and periods faster) as the direction improves with more easterlies. We likely will not have to use engine/precious diesel anymore with the exception on briefly Saturday evening.

Thus although we are delayed, and would prefer more speed, it is actually quite relaxing with the very modest swells of crystal blue water, warm sunny skies, moonlite/bright nights. I'm even reading a book today while lounging in the cockpit.

And we are confident in being able to make Antigua, and not diverting to St Maarten or Virgins.

Linda (and Bob)

PS. But still no fish!!!! Please send fishing luck my way through the ethers  :-)  :-)

Just as we were getting discouraged about how much we were getting headed off to the west the predicted lift seemed to come at first about 10 degrees and an hour later we were lifted almost 30 degrees!  It was a little late, but it showed up and it was awesome - we were thrilled! By this point in the passage, we considered 5kts a really fast boat speed!

Passage burritos!

I came back on watch at about 2300 and Linda was still doing a nice angle like 160-ish and we had already gained about 10nm of east. Within about a half an hour the winds started to build and next thing you know we had our hands full with 15kts close hauled sailing! It was almost time to reef the main! Linda came back up helped make some tweaks and in about a half an hour the wind dropped back down to around 9kts. Unfortunately it also seems the the whatever this little disturbance was eroded some of the lift that we were getting.

We got so used to things being so calm and easy we actually committed the mortal sin of having some port lights open to get some ventilation down below... and we got a good reminder why you really shouldn't do that when we jumped off of a wave and I heard a big splash down below. No harm done, but we did get a good splash on the port side settee.

Cleaning up the salt water from the wave that came splashing in the open port hole.

Saturday 24 Nov:  Day 6

I woke up to nice but light sailing conditions with light winds and fairly flats seas. We weren't going very fast but we were still making a good angle south towards Antigua. We were also very encouraged see the we are now under 250 nautical miles away from our destination. That almost feels like a day-sail now! Although slower than planned, we should be in Antigua Monday! (Not)
24nov 0730

21:04.2N. 61:30.2W

Good morning.  Im sure the question on everyone's mind is "how many times has someone got hit in the crotch by a flying fish?"  The answer is "only once so far"

Yesterday, we were expecting winds to finally back to the east in the afternoon. That didn't happen until 1700 so we were getting a bit discouraged and wondering if it was ever going to happen. When it did, we got a great lift and  were able to reclaim some east under sail.

Yesterday was a zero diesel day.

Overnight, winds built and we again had a pretty fast night.  We were in high 6s low 7s and at a great angle.

As predicted, the wind has veered back to sse and is light this morning.  Sea is pretty flat but a tiny bit of chop is stealing speed from us.  We are really slow right now and doing a course over ground of about 190 (so giving back some of our hard won east).

We expect a dead spot today and so will probably motor on low revs for a bit. We will use that time to get some of our east back. 

270 nautical miles to go!  We are at Antigua's longitude now, but we are sliding slowly west due to the wind direction.  We won't change a thing until we hear from ken with today's outlook.  For now just sailing slowly as high as we can.

We've been using the autopilot in windvane mode. Last time we tried that, it worked horribly, but that was before all the firmware updates. It's working beautifully now.

I've been ordered to go back to sleep as soon as I send this.

Saturday Night - ugh...

I started my watch about 1800 on Saturday night. We had a pretty good day making decent progress under sail and putting some east in the bank. Winds were light and expected to veer a little bit around on our nose overnight to SSE. We now had 200nm left to go (in a straight line).

We were not approaching 20N (and had expected to be sailing nicely on those easterly trade winds well before now) when winds started to get very light and we noticed a lot of patches of dark clouds through the moonlite. Eventually, we were becalmed and we decided to motor on slow revs to make any forward progress and maintain steerage (vs just bobbing in the still waters). In the moonlight, the water looked like glass. More fuel anxiety ensued. And looking at the chart plotter, seeing how far away we were from any land, makes one feel quite vulnerable.

All dressed up but no where to go!

As a dark mound in the sky approached, Linda called me up from my rest to prepare for a potential squall. Sure enough, the winds would go from 1 to 20kts in 30 seconds requiring quick reefing and careful steerage in the now pitch black conditions. And torrential rains accompanied these winds making it quite challenging to stay oriented. Both of us were very tired by this point rarely having more than a couple hours sleep at a time for a week now. I was definitely having an Are we there yet? moment.

Exhausted and a little worried about our limited options in making good southward progress.

Reflecting the next day on what happened last night...

After the third squad rolled over us, it left us with a very southwest wind (wrong direction!). We had to tack to the southeast. This southwest wind up against the prevailing swell from the east, made the sea state absolutely miserable. We were both exhausted, and it was impossible to sleep and now we were frustratingly loosing some ground.

Every passage has a moment of despair, and this was it for both of us. This wind shift was not expected (not to this degree anyway) and we were now sailing way off course and making virtually zero progress toward our destination and just generally feeling very discouraged and vulnerable. We were very aware that we could not outrun bad weather approaching should that be in the cards. My kingdom for some diesel!  On top of this, we had gotten a high data usage alert earlier from the satellite provider (well in to the 4 digit of dollars). This just demoralized us more as we try to be smart about such things.

We spent most of the next day consoling each other as we drifted further and further east with virtually no southerly progress toward our goal. For the first time in many days I took a Stugeron because the motion was nasty. That would have helped me sleep if it wasn't for the constant loud banging into waves every minute or so. 
Good morning.  We had a bit of a rough night last night. We expected winds to veer to sse overnight, but they actually veered further to ssw.  This happened right after a period of dead calm intermixed with squalls with high winds and heavy rain. We were forced to tack to the east until this morning when we could see signs that the wind would back to the east again.  It seems to be very gradually doing that (good). The sea state was awful last night when the wind went to the south west quadrant. We're pretty exhausted today.  Still possible to land antigua tomorrow night if this wind ever gets more from the east.  Backup is that we're pointing right at st Maarten now while sailing as high as possible.

Pos 19:30.6N 61:19.2W

Im becoming a fan of airplanes 

At daybreak (Monday), the wind was still relentlessly southwest and we both felt defeated and exhausted. Finally, at about 0700, I noticed the first inkling of the wind backing east of south - just a little bit.  Soon, we were able to tack southwest again. As we did, the sea state improved drastically and things felt better in a hurry. We spent to the rest of the day sailing as high as we could and our projected course over ground line was hitting somewhere between St Maarten and Barbuda. Sailing to St. Maarten was now plan B again.

So close, and yet we just can't point where we need to. Those last 200nm were hard fought.

Monday's weather update predicted the wind was going to back all the way to east southeast in the evening but south of latitude 19N. We were still about 10 miles north of that latitude so we weren't seeing it yet. We were really hoping it would happen.

At one point, we decided to do some motor-sailing to both charge the batteries and make some more direct progress to 19N. We fired up the engine and... uh oh... it sputtered and coughed a bit.  "Something's not right", said the skipper. I was ready to shut it down, when it finally smoothed out.  We must have gulped a tiny bit of air at some point. This is exactly what we don't want to have happen as we're pulling into a harbor, potentially at night!

Tracking position, fuel measurements, wind direction on paper.

Monday morning at daybreak, I'm sure this is a total shock, but the winds never backed to where we expected them too. We are about 35 nautical miles north of Barbuda (about 80 miles from English Harbor, Antigua) and at our current angle we were not going to make it east of the island. I got a good night's sleep while Linda manned the helm working to stay as east as possible. Knowing that land should be in sight soon, our spirits are lifted.

Another epic sunrise on Monday. First light and sunrise is always a treasure, especially on difficult passages.

Around mid day, it's obvious that we're not going to see this predicted easterly turn, so we looked at our options. I considered again just bailing out and going to St. Maarten. We knew for sure we did not want to use the engine for any propulsion after our hard start the previous night. The solar panels are working very well at this angle and the batteries are being topped up nicely.

I was not convinced we would ever be able to make a better angle than 200 (on a starboard tack) so I drew a "safety line" on the chart from the southeast tip of Antigua (a lee shore) at about 205 degrees to determine how far east we would need to be to make it. It wasn't pretty.

We were determined to still make Antigua. We decided to put in a long tack to the east and see if the wind would back later in the day. The latest weather update had the wind backing (really, this time for sure) to east and even ENE in the late afternoon and evening (after a dead spell). We ended up putting in about 20 miles of east by the time we were done.
Monday 0530
Pos 18:19.3N 61:44.6W

Good morning.
And keeping with the theme of this passage the wind never backed as far to the east as it was supposed to. Wind just doesn't follow directions sometimes or ever on this trip it seems.

We had an easy gentle night last night.

We're currently about 35 nautical miles north of Barbuda and about 50 nautical miles north of Antigua. The only issue is that we're a little bit too far west. We will sit tight for a bit before we either do a tack or do some motor sailing to the east. Other option is to come down the west side of the island and pull into jolly harbor on the west instead of English harbor on the south.

Still have 23gal of diesel in our pocket too.  Will definitely do some motoring anyway to charge batteries.  We've learned that sailing due south is not so efficient with our solar panels. They are shadowed by the sails for the best part of the day.  We finally turned the fridge right off yesterday and used up just a few perishables in there.  Warm soda from now on.

The good news is we will be in sight of land today and we're already hearing a little bit of VHF traffic. Expect to arrive overnight tonight unless we have to do a big long stupid tack which will make it perhaps this time tomorrow. We would prefer to arrive daylight anyway. Linda did a long watch last night and I got plenty of sleep.  She will probably sleep for a good spell today I hope and then we'll figure out how we're going to get were we need to go.

next message will hopefully be from cheap Wi-Fi and Antigua.

We're doing 3 to 5 kts sailing as high as possible into light air. After the last 5 days, this feels like the new cruising speed of Argon.  I haven't seen us do 7kts since the night we left Bermuda.
At about 1500, the backing was indeed happening, yipee!!! And we did what we hope is the last tack to south for final approach to Antigua. Now we were just waiting for the winds to build as predicted (and you know how winds always do what they're predicted to do).

Things are tuning our way!

This time, the wind followed directions perfectly! (That tempestuous debutante showed up to her party!)  We sailed an easy beam reach all night in 9-12kts of wind on flat seas. It was almost possible to forget the frustrations of the last many days as the lights of Barbuda were visible (land ho!). We were both too excited to sleep much.

Smiles tonight. We'll be there in the morning!

As the lights of Antigua lit up the west, we saw a few other AIS targets (first time in many days) behind us (and passing us). We knew those guys had been through the same stuff as us and were now having the same great reach to the finish line.

The home stretch??

At sunrise Tuesday morning, we were just making the turn (now downwind if you can believe that) around the southern coast of Antigua. As we approached English Harbor, we went into standard operating procedure about dropping sails and motoring in but not until we were almost in the harbor to minimize our fuel usage. In our minds, we were hoping the engine wouldn't slurp some air and stall out at the worst possible time (but neither of us mentioned this worry to the other). Just in case, we kept a screwdriver handy to open the air bleed valve on the fuel pump!

Final approach to Antigua English Harbor on Tuesday morning!

We're going to make it!!

The engine started and ran fine, and within a few minutes we were dropping the hook in English Harbor!

It was a long time coming, but we made it here after 9 days at sea.
We were tired, and excited, but there was no time to chill out. We had work to do:  Commission the dinghy, get cleared into Customs, put the sailbag back on, get to town and buy a local Sim for our travel phone. I fired up the bullet and looked for some wifi... nuthin'. To send our final shore email, I just temporarily turned roaming on in my main phone.  Later, we purchased a Flow Sim card and put it in the cheap travel phone. So far, so good.

And now, it was all worth it.  As I walk around Nelson's Dockyard, I don't miss my lovely Newport home at all.

The track of the whole passage.

Lessons Learned

Clearly, the big mistake here was fuel planning and not factoring in enough margin for error with the weather forecast. We had enough fuel for the forecast, but we know that weather predictions are just estimates, especially several days out. And we did not factor in enough fuel for in case much more motoring would be needed (which it was). On a passage this long with as much expected motoring as we had, we should have had about three or four Jerry Jugs of extra fuel (not just one). This would have made all the difference. Because we spent so much of the passage going so slowly, we were too late getting to latitudes where the wind was better. So the problem just cascaded:  The slower we went, the harder it would be to go fast later.

We were also very lucky that there were no impending nasty systems that we needed to outrun.  We couldn't outrun anything on this passage. Luckily, although it was a slow passage, the conditions were very safe and benign most of the time. Even the nasty Saturday night we had probably felt a lot worse than it really was.

We didn't download nearly enough podcasts for the passage.  I had to listen to the same Bugle about 4765 times!

One thing we did right was continually strategizing, tracking and carefully using the fuel we had. And finishing the trip with easily enough to motor safely in to a harbor.

For now, we're enjoying Antigua which is one of our favorite places.  We're working with Stan Pearson of Antigua Rigging on affecting final repairs to our rig. In the meantime, we are happy to be stuck in Antigua!

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.