Atlantic Crossing Part II Days 33 – 35: All Hell Done Broke Loose

 

Tuesday July 22, 2014

It’s plainly apparent the front is on it’s way and going to hit us tomorrow.  Today we had the winds pick up to a steady 15-25, and bringing growing seas along with them.  Even though I never put on a seasickness patch though, I took the new movement very well.  The 4-6 ft seas didn’t bother me very much, and other than losing my balance a few times as I crept along the cabin, it was still quite a nice ride.  Especially since our speeds have finally picked up to a normal cruising rate of about 5 knots.  If we could only keep this for the rest of the way to the Azores, I’d be one happy girl.  There’s still just a little over 800 miles left as the crow flies, and if we could arrive a week from now…..sigh.  But that will probably never happen.

For one thing there’s a stationary gale sitting smack between us and Horta.  We’ve been watching it for a few days on the weather now, looking at the grib files showing 40 knots of wind in that area, and wondering what kind of seas it will leave for us when we hit that spot even after the gale is gone.  Only..it’s not leaving.  This morning when Matt was getting the daily updates he saw the dreaded STNRY symbol right next to it.  Looks like we’re going to have to find a way around the thing, which unfortunately could mean adding up to a couple of hundred miles overall.  This thing is not small and we no not want to get caught in it’s path.

It amazes me how many close calls we’ve had with other ships out here. I’m not talking about coming within one mile of each other, but on actual collision courses. Today we had to call up a tanker to alter course because our AIS was showing that we were going to come within 230 ft of each other. This is not the first time this has happened on our crossing either. It’s the third. Just another reason why I’m so in love with our AIS and I don’t think I could ever travel without having at least a receiver.

*Excuse the terrible photos in today’s post, they were transferred from video.

7.22.14 (1)

7.22.14 (2)

 

Wednesday July 23, 2014

Wow, what a difference a day can make. Yesterday we were comfortably cruising along at 5 knots under a 15 knot breeze, and gliding over 4-6 ft waves. Today, all hell has broken loose*. Well, comparatively from what we’ve been experiencing so far. My night shift brought an increase of wind that was getting slightly worrysome after we hadn’t seen anything over 10 knots in well over a week, and although I couldn’t see the waves through the darkness I could tell they were growing as well. Our sleep schedules for the day were now all screwed up since I had a terrible time trying to fall asleep at 8, and Matt while trying to do something nice for me, let me sleep until almost 3 am instead of getting me up at midnight. This means I finally was able to experience a full sunrise and see the frothy goodness of the Atlantic that surrounded us.

All in all I know it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be, but along with sustained winds of 25-30 knots, something we’ve experienced plenty of during our travels and we can get past although I can’t say we like them, the building waves were what was getting under our skin. Twelve feet from trough to tip, these were the largest waves we’d ever come across. Although Serendipity was taking them like a champ, rising up on them and cresting down, we were keeping a steady speed of 6-7 knots with just the tiniest bit of sail up, and even surfing down a few waves at over 8 knots. Exciting for just a little bit, until you remember that one of these monsters could broach you, throwing you on your side and not giving you enough time to recover and right yourself before the next one crashed down on you. The drouge was creeping up in our minds as something that might have to be used if conditions continued to build, but at the moment there was one more issue on hand.

According to our Weatherfax, the Low pressure system between us and the Azores that we’re trying to avoid has now extended itself even further south and still directly in our path even though we spent all of yesterday making extra miles south that we wish we didn’t have to, just so we wouldn’t have to encounter it. If we were doing this poorly in a front, we had no idea what a gale might do to us and we had no intention of trying to find out. Waiting for a large tanker to pass us through the overcast haze, we cranked the wheel 40 degrees south and Matt began making all the necessary sail changes while I stood gaping at these massive waves that were now coming almost directly on our beam. Matt assured me that as long as they’re not breaking, which they weren’t, they wouldn’t knock us down. Our speed dramatically decreased down to four knots, but we figured it would still allow us to get about 100 miles south in the next 24 hours and out of harms way.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the cabin, each of us fighting for a spot on the low side while the other person was stuck on windward, bracing themselves in any meas necessary as we were constantly tipped on our side and back. Sleep was unattainable and so we spent the day in a zombie like haze where we counted down the hours until the next day might come and bring some respite.  Or maybe I was the only one in a zombie like state.  Matt spent a good few hours on high alert as cannonballs of water exploded against our hull.  Sometimes the sound was so deafening that he would begin to start checking the inside seams for water leaking in, positive that the last rouge wave had begun to tear Serendipity apart.  For myself however, I just kept repeating the mantra of ‘Boats are strong, it’s the sailor that’s the weak link’.  Serendipity was going to get through this.  Therefore, we would too.

rough weather on the Atlantic

stormy sunrise on the Atlantic

viewing waves from the deadlight

 

Thursday July 24, 2014

What a difference a day can make…again. Yesterday evening the conditions had begun to calm and  we were left with a steady 11-13 knots of wind that were pushing us along at a comfortable 4 knots of speed and helping to keep us just enough above the decreasing waves to ride them as they rose and fell.

When I woke up this morning and the sun was shinning, and at the moment all things felt still, I was extremely excited, thinking that we were back to our almost glass waters while still making close to that 4 knots. Which after calculating the remaining distance between us and the Azores yesterday of 750 miles, would have put us there in about 8 days at this comfortable and attainable speed. Finally, a countdown I could handle. But, first moments can be deceiving. While waking out of my slumbering stupor, ready to make myself a cup of coffee and actually enjoy it without the worry of it spilling all over my lap, or worse, my face, as waves came to throw us on our side, I was sorely mistaken. Those swells were still there. And our speed…a diminished 1.5 knots.

Getting my morning briefing from Matt, he informed me that the winds had died down even further from the 8-10 knots I had been experiencing on my night watch, to a measly 5-6 knots. The headsail was rolled in, as I actually should have done on my own shift, since the only feat it was accomplishing was to make an unholy racket and threaten the seams of which I had just sewn after it blew open during the storm our first night out. The reality of my morning that I was now left with was a double reefed main and a course that was left completely up to the whims of the Atlantic as we couldn’t even keep the autopilot steady and instead had to lock the wheel and drift along at one knot in whichever direction the meak wind and swells felt like pushing us. Swells which, as we’d finally get a little bit of wind in the sail and start gaining momentum, would throw us on our side just enough to spill all the air out and leave us wallowing instead. Incredibly frustrating. Now my steadfast of 8 days is beginning to look more like 12-14. One of the only bright sides is that we have an abundance of sunshine being soaked up by our solar panels which means that hopefully I’ll be able to loose myself to the boob tube this afternoon and forget that I’m in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean drifting along at 1 knot.

 

*The title of this post is a quote from my all time favorite movie.  Any guesses what it is?  I’ll give you a hint, it stars Katharine Hepburn and Sydney Poitier.

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7 thoughts on “Atlantic Crossing Part II Days 33 – 35: All Hell Done Broke Loose

  1. Tankers move for you? Interesting because by maritime law and the sheet laws of physics and economics, usually small sailboats have to move for them. How do you convince them?

  2. We’ve never actually asked them to move, they just seem to do it on their own. What typically happens is I call them on the radio and say something along the lines of “This is sailing vessel Serendipity. We’re currently 6 miles off your port bow holding a course of 97 degrees, and I show a near collision in 48 minutes. Please advise what you would like us to do.”. And every time they come back saying “Sailing vessel Serendipity, we will be altering our course 5 degrees to starboard”. Maybe because we do it so far in advance it’s not a hassle for them?

  3. We love our boom brake, it’s especially great for jibing. I’m not sure if we’d say it’s enough on it’s own though, we also use it in combination with our boom vang, our set up for a preventer when we need it. Personally, I love having the two.

  4. Sorry, just can’t let this one go. Regarding Sharon’s comment “by maritime law and the sheet laws of physics and economics, usually small sailboats have to move for them.”

    Maritime law is clear: Sailing vessels under sail have the right of way over powered vessels unless the powered vessel is restricted in maneuvering. For example, confined in a channel or an aircraft carrier during launch and recovery operations (heading into the wind). Said restricted in maneuvering vessel must be displaying the appropriate day or night markers. So, in Jessica’s instance, the tanker must be the one to alter course.

    The watch standers on the tanker may not have even been aware of ‘Dip’s presence (small boat + big ocean + not much sail up = hard to see). Jessica gave the tanker a good heads up at 6nm and 48min prior to closest point of approach. While economics may dictate a straight line, a 5 degree change for a few minutes should be no big deal for a vessel in the open ocean.

    One must keep in mind the laws of gross tonnage though. Big vessel crushes little vessel every time.

    Jessica, I have been enjoying your blog.

    -TC

    PS: Next time you catch a fish, pour a shot of alcohol into its gills.

  5. Thanks for the tip on the fish. I’d heard that before, but I think we were so surprised to get the mahi on the line that we didn’t have time to think of what steps to take we got it. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Trans-Atlantic Q&A | Matt & Jessica's Sailing Page

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