BATTLE WITH GULF STREAM, LOADS ON SAILBOATS

Current Time: 2AM – 6:30AM

Current Position: North 37 degrees, 54 minutes West 68 degrees, 55 minutes

Hi, Everyone:

Only 230 miles from the Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown. At the rate we are going now, which could change – as you all know by now – that means landfall sometime on Saturday morning. But don’t take that seriously until we are closer. I’ll keep you appraised. Right now we are (hopefully) on the tail end of a battle with the Gulf Stream.

The good news is, there is plenty of wind. The jib is partially reefed, and the mainsail has the first reef in, but we are still doing 7 – 9 knots. As always, Horizon’s speed smoothes out a rough sea. The wind waves are coming from one direction; of course – they’re coming from the same direction as the wind. A tall, long, swell is coming from the opposite direction, and I spotted a third swell this afternoon, coming from yet another direction.

The Gulf Stream, as most of you probably know, is a warm current that sweeps along the east coast of the U.S., mostly in a northeasterly direction. But it varies, sometimes going southeast, and sometimes creating eddies that separate from the main current and become self-contained circular cells, with current flowing either clockwise (forming to the north of the general flow – “warm eddies”) or counter-clockwise (forming to the south of the general flow – “cold eddies”). The only reason I know this is because I studied up on it in a book we have on board, called Tropical Cruising, before we arrived at the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is notorious in the sailing community for creating difficulties. You don’t want to take it lightly.

You know you’ve arrived at the Gulf Stream because the water temperature, which we can display on the autopilot system’s digital display, goes from 77 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27C for our Cape Town buddies) to the low 80’s (28C) in a matter of a few minutes, and then goes as high as 84.5 (30C) and stays there while you are going through the stream. At least, that’s what happened to us. The water temperature now is back down to 77 degrees, so we are officially out of the stream as far as the water temperature goes. But we are still being swept to the east by the current.

What Philip did was use the computer-generated “map” of the Gulf Stream that Chris sent us [see below], to find the best place to cross, a place where the stream was narrow and flowing in a northerly direction. Which meant that instead of pointing straight for the barn, at 345 degrees on the compass, the sea horse had to turn left a bit – 30 degrees – as it crossed the stream. Our compass heading, which the autopilot is maintaining, is 315 degrees.

GulfStream_12Jun.gif

Philip wanted to enter the Gulf Stream at North 37.20, West 68.33, but we got to warm water about 25 miles before we reached that point. Once we hit the warmer water, we turned left to get over this northeasterly band of current as fast as we could. On the map, to the east of this narrow band, the stream’s width increases and bulges up to the north. We did not want to get sucked into that section.

The current, while you are in the Gulf Stream, sets you off your course. So you think you are going north, when in fact you are going northeast – or southeast, if you get stuck in one of the southerly flowing sections. You have to compare your compass heading on the boat’s instruments with the compass heading on the GPS. [I just realized I’ve been saying “GPS” in all these updates. I should say here that GPS stands for Global Positioning System, the satellite-based system that pinpoints your location by sending a signal from an installed or handheld unit – in this case a hand-held device about 3,5 inches wide by 6.5 inches tall by 1 inch thick – to the satellite, which then feeds the data back into handheld unit. The GPS tells us where we are, how fast we’re going, what our compass heading is, our seal-level elevation, and more.]

We have been sailing upwind – close to the wind direction – all afternoon. I just eased the mainsail out a bit – more outboard of the centerline of the boat – because we were getting into the 9’s, and we want to take it easy on the boat these last few days. I also had to roll up the jib some more. The cockpit is well-illuminated by the moon, which is behind us. There are hardly any clouds.

Earlier today, there were many clouds, dark ones with a bit of rain in them, which affected our speed. There were times when we dropped to 2 and 3 knots, so we had to resort to the engine. And, of course, as soon as we turned on the engine, the boat sped up again to 7 knots, and the propeller started cavitating. It makes a different sound when this happens. Basically it’s not “biting” the water the way it does when it’s at full power. I don’t even want to attempt to give you more data than that, because the more technical readers will roll their eyes and shake their heads, so if you’re really curious, please see what Mr. Google has to say about propeller cavitation.

I’m writing this sitting at the navigation station desk, not the settee (the couch along the aft port wall of the pilothouse) where I usually sit. I can’t leave the instruments right now. I’m watching several things at once. Our speed, of course – on the onboard instruments and the GPS. I’m comparing what we are getting from on-boat instruments with what the GPS is telling me. I’m also looking at the temperature of the water, which isn’t critical anymore, unless it shoots up – which would tell me we slipped back into an area of the Gulf Stream. I’m checking the wind direction, which I see by looking up at the wind vane at the top of the mast, and seeing what the sails are doing. And more, but you get the picture.

——

Well, it’s 4:30 now. I’ve been spending most of my time changing sail configurations. The wind is strong and variable. It eased for a bit, causing me to roll out the jib again, but it came back – and we were going over 9 knots easily. I’m trying to keep the boat under 9 knots for this last few hundred miles. The GPS heading – the direction it saw us going in, over the ground – was starting to agree with our compass heading on the boat, which meant that we were no longer being carried east by the current. The speed it was showing was starting to agree with the speed we show on board. We get this data from a tiny plastic impeller (like a steamboat paddle wheel, only about 1/2-inch blades) sticking out of the hull just a bit underneath the port head.

Still no traffic, although Philip has said several times that once we get closer to New York, it will be like stepping onto a waterway freeway, and scanning the horizon every 10 minutes is more important than ever.

The rising sun is starting to add its own light to the sky. Now that I have more visibility forward, I can see that we are starting to sail under a big, black cloud, which may have rain in it and may change the wind’s speed and direction. The water temperature is getting cooler, it’s down to 76 now.

Yep, we’re slowing down, and the wind direction changed. Just came in from adjusting the jib and the mainsail for the new wind direction. Looks like the rain is all to the east of us, and I don’t imagine it’s coming this way, because the wind is from the southwest. We’re slowing down quite a bit now – 5 knots – and when that happens, the smooth, non-jerky, zen-like comfort you get with 8 knots goes away. I’ll be right back, need to roll out more jib and get us going faster.

I’m back again. At the rate I’m going with this Update, I will be sending it tomorrow. Better finish. Conditions appear to be stable at the moment, but I’ve been fooled before.

I wanted to talk about one more thing that I’ve seldom seen addressed in sailing guides: Load. The loads on all the components of a sailboat are significant, and invisible until you know what to look for. I learned to respect them on our 37-foot monohull, but my respect has reached a whole new level on this two-hulled, 48-foot performance machine. This boat often reminds me of a bow and arrow, just before the archer releases the arrow. Lines holding things in place can get so tight they feel like steel rod when you touch them.

Lines set that tight, rubbing against something, can chafe right through in a matter of hours, as you know from reading earlier posts. Lines under load, that you are taking off a winch, can take your finger off if you don’t do it correctly. I had a close call this afternoon, as I was easing out the jib sheet (the line that holds the aft-most corner of the sail, the “clew”).

When you ease out the jib, so you can either get more “belly” in it to suit the wind direction, or because you want to roll up the front edge of the sail (the “luff”), you have to ease the jib sheet. The jib sheet (again, holding the aft-most bottom corner of the sail in place) is wound around a winch, and locked in place at the top of the winch. The line is made secure by slipping it between two plates at the top of the winch drum that have just enough room between them to accept the line. The facing surfaces of the plates have teeth in them, and the distance between them increases just enough to hold the line as you slip it in. There’s more distance between the plates at the outside edge of the plates, and less distance closer to the drum. The line doesn’t slip out, once you’ve pulled it tight between the two plates.You typically take three turns around the winch before pulling one turn of the line between the two plates.

When the wind isn’t very strong, there isn’t as much load on lines. When the wind increases, the loads increase dramatically.

When you’re rolling in the jib (making it smaller), you can have one turn on the winch while you ease out the jib sheet. It’s still under control, and there’s even a bit of friction from that one wrap around the drum.

If the wind is stronger, you better have two turns on that winch. One turn doesn’t provide enough friction to counterbalance the load – and the line will go flying off the winch, out of control. You’ll have a sail flapping wildly around in the strong wind, and other lines getting tangled up on the jib sheet, or the jib sheet going where it doesn’t belong, like under the horn of a cleat (those T-shaped metal things [there’s a better word, can’t think of it right now] on the edge of the deck, used to secure the boat to a dock). If a line that is supposed to go to a winch gets caught on something somewhere else, you can have a real mess on your hands. It’s those loads. Everything has to be under control at all times.

“The sea is very unforgiving of small mistakes,” is a saying that rings so true when loads are involved. All you have to do is forget to secure something that is under load – or could be under load, if conditions change – and that one small mistake leads to something else getting out of balance with the loads involved, and you’re in a “bad news dominoes” situation. One bad thing leads to another.

If you do get into trouble, the fastest way to get out of trouble is to say to yourself, “Where’s the load?” And get that load under control, fast. Really fast. There’s no time to think it over, you have to figure it out and fix it before the out-of-control load does a lot of damage to the boat or its people.

Friction can be your friend when it comes to loads. That one extra wrap around the winch makes all the difference when the winds are strong. Friction is what makes knots work.

Most people don’t like the concept of “control.” They don’t like others controlling them, and they don’t like controlling themselves. We all fight that. But control is the essence of good sailing. It’s the only way to balance all the forces involved, so they work in your favor and keep the boat safe.

Several of you have asked about the food and the garden, and re-entering the U.S. I’m mentally prepared for whatever they request. Most of the food left is in cans and sealed packages. There’s only one partially-filled bin with onions and a few sweet potatoes, one butternut squash, and a few other things. Very sparse at this point. And food in the fridge and freezer. We’re harvesting the plants completely now, eating them in our salads. Whatever is proper, when we check in, that’s what we’ll do.

The sea horse is heading straight for the barn now, we appear to have won the battle with the Gulf Stream, and the boat is zinging along at 7 – 8 knots. Yes, I’m going to miss being out here, and yes, I want to do it again as soon as we can. Not a two-month crossing with no Internet, but the usual cruising – anchoring and day sailing – with bandwidth for work, new places to visit, and new foods to try. 🙂 There will be other ocean journeys, but they will most likely last 2 weeks. I doubt we’ll ever have a 2-month, sea-only journey like this again. Now that I’ve done it, and found it to be such a pleasure (remember, I’m sitting dry and comfy in the pilothouse of this unique boat, while we glide over 10-foot swells at 8 knots), the shorter trips will seem like child’s play. But I admit it. I did some growing up on this trip, which proves you’re never too old to get better.

Much love. I’ll miss you, too.

Philip and Kristin

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