SHIP OR STAR? NEW LESSONS. MOTORING.

Current time: 3:52AM

Current position: South 1 degree, 12 minutes, West 30 degrees, 59 minutes

Hi, Everyone.

Golly. So much to say and so little time. I want to finish writing a piece for a client on this watch, or at least today. I’ll have to type fast.

First, we are motoring. Only one engine; you can do that on a cat. The autopilot adjusts. We’re using the starboard engine because we’ve been using the port engine to run the generator each day. Matthew’s most recent emails tell us that the doldrums extend to about 0 degrees 30 minutes north, and if we go north, we’ll find wind. He also said there should be wind by Friday.

The captain figures it’s ok to wait several hours for wind – we’ve done it many times on this trip – but not days. It’s hard on the boat and the people, with the swell keeping the boat in continuous rocking and rolling motion, and the sails and boom and mast and halyards all slapping around.

Although, I will say, that this boat still makes progress when the digital readout says “zero” wind and “zero” boat speed. We still make about a knot of progress, just in the swell and just with the sails full. It’s still pretty noisy; the sails are the most quiet when there’s wind in them and they are happily doing what they were designed to do. But we still make progress, even with no wind. Quite rare, and one of the many nice things about the Atlantic 48 boats.

Philip is getting some well-deserved sleep. Very busy day. Yours truly learned some important lessons today.

First lesson: Double-check the basics, especially when you’re tired. After a long night steering in the squalls, I was getting ready to gybe the mainsheet just after the sun rose. I loosened the preventer, which is a line that holds the back end of the boom in place so the boom doesn’t swing around (and bounce up and down) in the waves, disturbing the flow of air over the sail – and putting too much pressure on the mainsheet (the line from the boom to the traveler, as I’ve described before).

As soon as I released it, I turned and checked the autopilot display – and saw that the wind had shifted, so there was no need to gybe. That’s when I should have turned back to the preventer and re-secured it. I didn’t. I forgot all about it. A few minutes later, Philip was up, and we started having our morning discussion. A bit later, I was trying to get some sleep – something I do after my 1AM to 9AM watch – and the mailsail seemed particularly noisy. Then there was one larger noise, and Philip running around on deck.

Well, it turns out that a line holding one of the mainsheet pulleys (blocks) had broken – because there was simply too much pressure on it, without the preventer there to take the pressure off. Sigh. Philip is now making a replacement for the line, and in the meantime “jury rigged” (a sailor’s term for making do until you can make permanent repairs – I’m pretty sure that’s how you spell it) until he could make the actual replacement.

Second lesson (two, really): When going into a squall, tie things more securely and shorten sail. We were in no wind most of the morning, heading for an obvious squall. It was a very dark set of clouds, and it was shaped like a horseshoe or an arch, with us going up into the top of it. I got everything ready (so I thought). All hatches were closed, I was suited up – bathing suit and windbreaker – and I thought about the sails and wind angle. Philip was taking his pre-watch nap. I admit I probably got a little cocky – I’ve enjoyed the thrill of steering through squalls, surfing the waves and enjoying the boat’s power, especially after periods of no wind.

The demarcation line for squalls is as clear as if you drew it on the water with a marking pen. It’s a black line you can see in the distance. We were still ghosting along in 2 knots of wind, and got closer and closer to the squall, then finally I could see the dark edge of the wind, and then I was in it. The wind increased immediately to about 17 knots, and thus began a very wild ride.

The main and the jib were fully deployed, so there was plenty of power. The rain was coming down in stinging, horizontal sheets. It was hard to see the display – which I was using to steer to the apparent wind (keeping the combined wind, and wind made by the boat’s progress, at a certain angle to the sails).

This was a big squall – I estimate that we were in it for more than an hour, doing 7 to 12 knots. I could not leave the wheel, steering was too critical. So when it was time to make some sail adjustments, I stomped three times on the cockpit floor (the berth is just to the side of the cockpit, so it’s easy to hear!) and Philip came up. I needed him to adjust the main, I think; I don’t remember now.

As we worked together in the cockpit, the wind increased to 25 knots, and we were flying – doing 12 knots and higher. I should have asked Philip to come up before we got into the squall, and reef the mainsail together so we would have gone into the squall with less sail up.

As our speed increased, it became obvious that the Code Zero sail, which was not deployed, but was in its sock and tied to the trampoline with long pieces of webbing, was starting to come loose. As the boat rose and fell in the waves, the trampoline also rises and falls – and the code zero was acting as a sail, being picked up and slammed down with the trampoline. The foot of the sail, which was not in the sock, wanted to go flying. And started doing just that.

Double sigh. My fault entirely – should have really secured it, with more sail ties, and used them to tie down smaller chunks so nothing could get caught by the wind – or we should have put it down below in the forepeak, before the squall.

I knew it was a nasty squall, and I should have been more careful. So now the captain had to go out on the bouncing trampoline, with the spray flying and the sheets of rain, to gather in that sail and secure it properly to the trampoline. As he did that, I tried to steer as carefully as possible, keeping the boat as close to the wind as possible – to slow her down. It turned out OK, but I won’t do that again.

Also learning new lessons about ships at night. Imagine that you are a white object floating in darkness. There is no moon, only zillions of stars and the Milky Way, a soft archway overhead. Some nights, you can tell where the horizon is. Not tonight. The dark sky and the dark water are continuous, all one.

We are in a shipping lane, so I’m keeping a sharp lookout for traffic. The question is, is that light over there a star? The stars here come right to the horizon, and when you look at them through the binoculars (especially from an ever-moving boat), sometimes it looks like there’s a red light there. I don’t know what causes that, but it is significant, because the way you tell which way a ship is going – at sea, at night, when you’re trying to figure out how to stay out of its way – is by its white, red, and green lights.

On a boat, port is always red and starboard is always green. If a large ship is coming straight for you, you should be able to see its white “steaming” light – which tells you its under power – its white navigation light, and a red and green light on either side of the white light.

If the ship is turned so that you see the red light, that means you are looking at its port side (port is the left side of a boat when facing the bow) and it is traveling from right to left.

If the boat is turned so you see its green light, that means you are looking at its starboard side (right side when facing the bow), and it’s traveling from left to right. The other thing you must always do (another lesson) is immediately get a compass bearing on the ship, so you can track its progress using the compass, and tell if you’re on a collision course with it.

Tonight, as soon as Philip went to bed, I saw a ship about 40 degrees off our bow. I saw only two white lights, one on top of the other, which I assumed to be their steaming light (the high one) and their navigation light (the lower one). Then I saw a red light, and thought, Ok, they are going from left to right, and will hopefully cross our bow before we get there (I assumed he was going faster than we were). I think I didn’t see the red and green light together when he was coming straight for me, because of the ocean swell. That’s yet another complication involved in ship spotting.

I decided to turn on the radar, and saw the ship clearly in the display. I hit the “standby/transmit” button, which sends out a signal. Then I went outside again, and saw that the ship had turned. Now I was seeing its green light, and the ship was coming closer very rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that I remembered how Matthew always said, as a captain on deliveries, that he preferred to be awakened than allowed to sleep when there was a serious question, so I roused the captain. By now the ship, which I think was a tug pushing a barge, was literally 5 or so shiplengths away, and he slid past us on the starboard side, then quickly faded from view over the horizon behind us. I was surprised at how fast he was going.

I think he was really coming straight for us, but my hitting the “transmit” button – and possibly our steaming light – alerted him to our presence, and he changed course to just slip by us.

So now I am stepping outside every few minutes and checking, and checking the radar, and trying to determine if that light in the distance is a ship or a star. A sliver of a moon has just risen, so it’s easier to see the horizon now.

We opened the Halfway Box today. It was delightful. A real treat. I’ll have to save that for tomorrow, though, because Shloma is waiting for some copy from me – and I want to get it done.

Much love,
Philip and Kristin

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