Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Journey Home


Contessa 26 “Red Admiral”
Newport Rhode Island - Praia da Vitoria – Falmouth.



It's Sunday 31st July, 2011 and I have been made most welcome in Newport for the past ten days whilst recuperating from my first trans Atlantic, making some necessary repairs and general preparation work for my return journey.

It was with some sadness that I departed Newport, I could describe it as that "I don't want to go home" feeling that I recall as a child nearing the end of a holiday, it's not that I don't want to go home or, necessarily, go to sea but nevertheless I feel a somewhat reluctant traveller. Perhaps it's because I have been made to feel so at home by Dianne and Norm Bailey, Shirley and Jack Ellis, the staff of Newport Yacht Club and so many of their fellow members, they have been tremendous in their endless kindness, support and hospitality, I cannot thank them enough.

Red Admiral departed Newport at approx 14.30, we motored past the yacht club pontoon, saluted by a canon from George, I have never had my very own "one gun salute", a lovely memory, thank you George and the dock office crew.

We are at sea now, full main and genoa, a close reach and a gentle sea, clear skies and the sun just setting, we are heading for the "No 2" buoy off the South Western tip of Marthas Vinyard and I am eating Clam Chowder for supper, cold, straight from the can!

The inevitable fog banks appear around Nantucket Shoals with a handful of shipping lanes for good measure, a most tiring combination for the single hander, my arrival in this area some 12 days ago made all the more difficult by a damaged wind vane and failed electronic tiller pilots!

Day 3.

Late morning, the sun burns through the fog and fresh coffee is brewed, I bought a cafetiere just before leaving. We are sailing free of the wind with a gentle swell rolling us around, the genoa is poled out and the new tiller pilot is working hard against the rolling swell, the solar panel plugged in trying to keep pace with the tiller pilot. At 17.39 I notice we have 1739 Nm to our Azores waypoint with the island of Terceira some 200 Nm to the East of that.

We have slipped off the US continental shelf and traded up from dark grey sea to ocean blue, the Stars and Stripes have been packed away until next time, who knows when. With a wall of cloud both ahead and astern who knows what the evening holds?

It held an electrical storm, I unplugged the vhf antenna but we still have a 30ft aluminium lightening conductor sticking up in the air... I'd have a job unplugging that! With the distinct feeling that there was little else I could do I sat in the companionway and watched the lightening show whilst boiling the kettle for a cup of tea.

Day 4.

It's the evening and with the deterioration in the weather I have pulled the shortwave antenna up the mast and plugged in the radio, it is my intention to listen to Herb Hilgenberg on 12.359 MHz, he is more commonly known as "Southbound 2" and for many years has broadcast a marine weather net for voyagers of the Atlantic Ocean, before leaving Newport I asked Norm for Herb's frequency. As I plugged the antenna in and dialled the frequency I heard a voice saying "I know you only have a receiver and a SPOT device but if you have copy on me I would appreciate a SPOT report so I know you are listening, otherwise there is no point in continuing with these broadcasts", now who could that be I wonder? Just how many people are out here in the Atlantic with only a SSB receiver and a SPOT device? And how would Herb know about me if indeed it was me he was talking to? There could only be one reason, it had to be Norm Bailey and sure enough my prediction was confirmed in a later broadcast.

From that evening onwards I was a daily listener and every evening Herb would steer me safely towards my destination. The initial advice was to turn immediately South East and get South of 40 degrees North latitude, away from a low pressure system that would have given me two Easterly gales, there's a lot to be said for having your own personal weather router!


 Day 7.

For the past two days we have run South East, reefed down and the one piece storm hatch fixed in place to prevent spray from blowing into Red Admiral's cabin, a lesson learned from our experience of beating to Newport for the best part of 43 days!

Day 8.

After the initial rough weather, the wind and waves moderated, for a moment we had light head winds promptly followed by a large veer in the wind direction and a three hour monsoon of rain! Still, we turned it to good advantage, with a cockpit that doesn't entirely self drain the bottom six inches turned rapidly into a bath tub... I had a full head to toe hose down, the laundry got done and my foul weather clothing had a fresh water rinse, right in the middle of all this a turtle swam by, lifting up its head to look at Red Admiral in utter amazement, they seem such an ungainly traveller surrounded in all that ocean, perhaps that is what the turtle thought of me?!

Day 10.

The days are rolling by, which is surprising when there is so little to see, there are the flying fish though, incredible in their flight, I had no idea just how far a flying fish could fly, assuming they would be more fish than bird... I was amazed to see one fly from the face of a wave, turn hard right and fly on for another fifty yards before diving back into the ocean!


 Day 13.

The light airs have returned only downwind now, the spinnaker has had an airing for days and nights at a time. I haven't seen a soul now for seven days and life is easy going, the boat is sitting upright, cooking is a piece of cake compared to the journey West to Newport, and sleep is plentiful when you're not being bounced around in your bunk! There is some news to report... Herb tells me there is a low pressure system converging on our course, it has deepened and been designated "Tropical", consequently he has asked me to slow down and let it pass ahead of us, apparently my use of the spinnaker has kept pace with this system so it's now time to throttle back.

Day 15.

The wind has indeed picked up, the spinnaker and full mainsail was replaced with a triple reefed mainsail and no head sail whatsoever. During the night I woke with a bang! it was the boom gybing over and with the wind vane steering I jumped out into the cockpit to sort things out. I gybed the boom back over but something wasn't right?! I was fighting like hell with the tiller and the moment I let go the boom gybed once more, kneeling on the aft deck with a maglite between my teeth I found the problem, a small universal joint had become detached, quickly reconnecting it and gybing the boom once more onto it's proper course Red Admiral sailed on and I retired to my bunk.

Day 18.

Finally I have spotted a ship, it's been 9 days now since I have seen any sign of life other than sea life. I contact the ship "Iris 2" by vhf and request they relay a message to Herb on the SSB. It was a difficult conversation, I was not entirely sure of their nationality and certainly didn't speak their language but with regular repetition of the message we got there in the end. All I had to do now was wait patiently for 19.30 hours Zulu (UTC) and await their communication with Herb. Right on time I heard MV Iris 2 communicate with Herb, it was as difficult for Herb to understand as it was for them to understand me but most of the message got through with the exception of the one piece of information I wanted Herb to hear... that I was going to Terceira, prior to this message Herb only knew I was making for the Azores.

Day 19.

We are now heading North, the tropical system has withered away, the winds are light and forecast to remain so. Herb tells me there is a high pressure ridge lying to our North and if we can climb above it we will have light South Westerly winds to blow us to our destination some 400Nm away. At the time I was not too sure of this strategy, I could sail directly to the Azores at 3 knots from my current position and light winds often make sailing to windward beneficial, we increase the apparent wind speed and with a smooth sea the conditions are favourable. But as time moved on the wind became lighter and our only option was indeed to head North of the high pressure ridge.

Day 21.

During the night a change in the breeze, full credit to Herb, as we tracked North we came under a line of cloud and found our high pressure ridge, the breeze filled in and with the spinnaker set we're averaging 5 knots straight down the rhumb line. We have also been having reception problems with the SPOT tracker, Herb has been commenting on the lack of position reports, this is through no lack of sending messages but something to do with the SPOT system itself, perhaps it's an area of poor satellite coverage... who knows?!

We are seeing some amazing sunrises and sunsets, the colours are truly amazing!


 Day 23.

The wind is more changeable now with cloud banks coming through, bringing gusts and bursts of rainfall, it's all rather exciting and unpredictable when you have a spinnaker flying and a wind vane doing the driving. We are only 100Nm or so from the Azores archipelago and there is more sea life present, pods of dolphin make regular appearances, the more boat speed we have the more they tend to stick around.

Day 24.

And we can now see the first islands of the Azores, Flores and Corvo, I have engaged the engine for the first time since leaving Newport. This period of calm lasted several hours but the breeze filled in during the evening such that we could sail between the islands on our way to Terceira. I spotted a fishing vessel during the night, another reason to remain more vigilant now that we're surrounded in rock! Once clear of the islands we have another night at sea at least. The sea is so beautifully clear, I manage to shoot some wonderful video of the dolphin playing with Red Admiral's bow and a small shoal of fish that have been swimming along with us for a few days, where they get the energy for this is incredible!

Day 26.

After a quieter night with no Islands to avoid or fishing vessels to change course for we are closing on the island of Terceira, as we approach from the West our destination, the port of Praia da Vitoria, lies on the Eastern side of the island. We are running quite close to the shore and I can see clearly the makeup of the island, the landscape is very green and cultivated with what appears to be terraced fields, small communities of houses scattered along the coastline and plenty of waves breaking on the shore. The final hours as we skirt the island's Northern coastline are spent motor sailing, rounding the North Eastern corner and I make my preparations for arriving, the mainsail is flaked across the boom, fenders and warps are bent on and my first duty upon arriving is to call Norm Bailey.

Having arrived in Praia da Vitoria there was little time spent sightseeing, for the most part it was sound sleeping all night long followed each day by preparation for the next stage of the journey home. I had an e-mail exchange with Herb, he now knew a little of my circumstances, sailing alone, in a small boat and the limitations of my receiving equipment. He was, however, able to offer some expert advice to improve reception with my home made antenna, notably adding 24 feet of wire to the 33 Feet I was already using.

It is now Sunday 28th August, 2011 and after 3 nights in the marina, Red Admiral and I are on our way North East, heading for home with a fair wind and as I look over my shoulder a large black cloud hanging over the town of Praia da Vitoria... we got away just in time! Within hours of leaving we almost run down a whale, it must have been half asleep but at the last minute it leapt out of the way and then followed us at a safe distance for several minutes.

By the evening I am tuned into Herb for our daily update only to discover that things have changed, a low pressure system over Europe has changed course and is creating gale conditions along the Portuguese coast, Herb gives me two options: 1, head back to Terceira and sit it out for a week or 2, head North West to avoid the worst of the headwinds. Being rested and keen to press on I take the second option, sure enough the wind comes on to the nose and builds and before long we are triple reefed and bouncing our way to windward.


 Day 3.

We have been set a boundary of 26 degrees West longitude and Herb wants us to stay West of this boundary, stray too far to the East and we expose ourselves to winds above the 25 knots we are currently experiencing. It seems only fair then that the wind prevents us from maintaining a course to the West of this without putting in a tack to the West, due West in fact, pointing us directly at Newport Rhode Island! And so it is that we shape a course that resembles an inverted question mark and all in the name of gale avoidance.

Day 5.

A beautiful sunny day, the wind has abated and life is so much more pleasant, I am enjoying the change! There is another low pressure system to our North, a long way North but it affects us all the same, so we are pacing ourselves in the hope it will dissipate. In the meantime Herb has asked me to continue in a Northerly direction until 44 degrees North latitude where we turn East to avoid the worst of the weather.

Day 6.

The wind in now Westerly and we are broad reaching to the North East, there's plenty of breeze so there's no spinnaker involved, all the same we are making good speed, averaging 5 knots, and all the while keeping our eye on the weather and staying South of 44 degrees North. Later in the day and the breeze veers with the arrival of a frontal boundary, all predicted by Herb. So now we are sailing South of East and nicely converging on the rhumb line from which we diverted all those days ago.

Day 8.

600Nm to our waypoint to the South of the Scilly Isles. We are now a mere 35 Nm from the rhumb line, the sky is infinitely blue and the wind right behind us. Last night Herb told me to expect gale force conditions and to expect them at midnight tonight! I've had a good night's sleep and feel well rested in preparation for tonight's foul weather, having extended the antenna I am still receiving Herb's weather broadcasts and as I close the European Continent I can now hear the BBC radio shipping forecast so one way or another I have an idea of what's coming.

Day 9.

We spent the whole night double reefed under a clear sky and a three quarter moon, waiting in anticipation of the impending gale... all to no avail! disappointed? no, if Herb is going to be inaccurate I am happy for him to get the gales wrong!

Day 10.

We are creeping North but for the most part heading East, Herb has set us a new Northern limit of 46 degrees, as each day goes by it seems there's another low pressure system threatening to bring foul weather, the good news, as far as my positive outlook is concerned, is that the winds are all South Westerly, as we track North East it means we run with the weather.

By night I fall sound asleep and wake to discover we are sailing back towards Newport! The wind vane has no sense of direction and slavishly follows the wind, usually a bonus but not when the wind becomes variable and the only crew is sound asleep! Fortunately the conditions didn't last long and the breeze filled in once more from the South West.

Day 11.

We are goose winged for one of the few occasions this entire voyage and we are sailing straight down the rhumb line to the Western Approaches of the English Channel. The weather has turned grey which seems appropriate given we are heading North in latitude and summer is heading South. Herbs broadcasts are getting more difficult to hear though still readable which is surprising given how far East we are, he even commented how surprised he was that I could still hear him apparently people with dedicated SSB equipment struggle this far East!

Day 12.

Last night the word "Storm" got a mention and once again Herb gave me two options: 1, to turn South East and head back towards the Spanish Biscay coastline or 2, take down sails and stream a drogue etc whilst riding it out. I took a look at the gps, our distance to Falmouth, 330Nm and my understanding of our possible average speed, with all that in mind I took the third option... hoist the spinnaker and get go-in!

Day 14.

The race is on now, the gale force conditions didn't arrive, the low pressure system that was predicted failed to materialise, but just to keep the pressure on there's more talk of impending foul weather, the tail end of Hurricane Katia! I press on, holding all the sail up I can within limits, my own self imposed sense of how much is enough without being too much for either the wind vane or my little red boat. There is a distinct lack of shipping which ought to be a comfort as we approach the busiest shipping lanes in the world but somehow leaves me wondering when and if?!

Day 15.

We're on the Continental shelf, the depth meter confirms the gps position and the foggy horizon creates camouflage for a grey ship heading out into the Atlantic! as if I needed a reminder to keep my wits about me. We press on making good speed, averaging over 120Nm per day in our little red boat with its long keel, so beautifully described by Judge as "A plank on its side"! Herb has noted my "third option" and also the increase in daily run, he calculates I need to be in Falmouth before midnight tomorrow and we have 125NM to go.

Day 16.

We are closing the land, I have no idea visually it's so grey and visibility is poor, I only know this by my un-erring faith in the gps, it's not until I am within 3 miles of the Lizard that I spot the rocky shoreline and the light itself, flashing. there's plenty of shipping now, most of which is heading for or from Lands End, a couple of gybes are required to avoid two ships and then we are altering course for Pendennis Point and the safe haven of Falmouth. It's 18.00hrs and once again I am running through the list of seacock open, engine on, fenders, warps etc.

By 20.30hrs I am tying up, alone, in the dark, with a little rain to keep me company and a phone call to my old friend Norm Bailey!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Singlehanded Transatlantic 2011


Contessa 26 “Red Admiral”
Singlehanded Transatlantic 2011


Tuesday 31st May
We departed Bridlington a little after 3pm, Barbara and Keith Poole waved me off from the pier end, it was lovely!
The wind is on the nose so we’re heading out to sea, Bolton the wind vane is steering, the batteries are both fully charged and within 3 hours of departure I have affected my first repair having ripped the GPS off it’s mounting whilst exiting the companionway, already I am regretting leaving my cordless drill with Helen and Nick!

Wednesday 1st June
We arrived in Lowestoft at 10pm, having no wind for an hour or so as we made our approach to the Cockle buoy, we motored from there on, the wind filled in from the South and plenty of it with a strong tide against the wind the Yarmouth Road was choppy but we shipped no water, the new beam held and the windows didn’t leak.

Friday 3rd June
We departed Lowestoft at a little after 5pm on Thursday with the new North Easterly breeze filling in and a fair tide taking us South. It was a relatively easy night, a few ships here and there but nothing to concern us. At 6am Friday morning we were closing Ramsgate with a fair tide building under us I made my decision to continue. Down to the B2 buoy and off to Deal Pier, we passed Dover at 9am and Dungeness by 1.30pm where disaster struck… my hat blew off my head and away it went, oh well, it was a tight fit and uncomfortable for it, still the least it could have done was stay tight on my head!

Sunday 5th June
We arrived East Cowes marina at 9am Saturday morning, safely tied up my mind went to jelly and my legs along with it, a sure sign of exhaustion. Lowestoft to Cowes was by far the longest coastal passage of my singlehanded experience. I stumbled and tripped my way around the deck whilst squaring all away. Sinking in to my bunk I woke for a shower and a walk to Cowes for coffee and then up the hill to spend the evening with Paul and Nicki Wells. I slept solid all night long, missed the BBC Shipping Forecast and now sit waiting for a repeat by Solent Coastguard on the VHF.

Tuesday 7th June
I arrived Monday evening at QAB marina, Plymouth, why do I come here? It is possibly the most expensive marina in the UK and has nothing to warrant it, I simply must find somewhere else.

After a lovely evening in Cowes I departed the following midday with the tide sluicing us out the Solent for our old friend Bill, Portland Bill, whom we met as we often do with a foul tide and an hour or more sailing backwards, another habit I have to break. We finally broke free of old Bill and sailed on through the remainder of a rain spotted night heading for Start Point.
The dawn broke, the rain had long faded and as Start Point grew nearer the wind slowly died away. After an hour or so of zephyr chasing the new breeze filled in on the nose and built steadily to a force 6 with white horses everywhere. It took a further four hours to reach Plymouth Breakwater and was my first real opportunity to test Red Admiral’s new beam. I left all sail up where normally I would have reefed, there was a short choppy sea and the toe rails were regularly awash but Red Admiral soldiered on, no signs of complaint were evident but the cap shroud on the starboard side could do with a tweak.

Wednesday 8th June
Though the sun shines with the odd rain shower here and there, the wind has not abated. I’ll spend another night here, as I do not wish to start out in to a South Westerly force 6. I’ve made good use of the time stocking up on supplies, buying a large piece of sail cloth from a local sail maker and talking to helpful man at Allspars regarding rigging. I was in a hurry to leave Cowes and put a small tear in the mainsail much to my annoyance, but I have since repaired it and not a bad job for my first sail repair. The shroud has been tensioned, some spare split pins bought from Allspars and a local Chinese supermarket provided some interesting alternatives to help vary my diet at sea.

Thursday 9th June
It’s time to go! The wind has eased though it is still from the South West. I leave at 10am and set the spot tracker off as we sail past the Western end of Plymouth Breakwater, approximately the start point of the Jester Challenge.
The first day is gusty, reefs in both sails are in and out all day long and progress is slow as we beat to windward. By evening the wind has eased and though still on the nose we can almost make our course. At midnight we are passing the Lizard so I grab the chance to send some final text messages.

Friday 10th June
It’s a busy day today, the wind has picked up again and the reefs are in and out. One of the control lines on the wind vane has parted so I switch to an electronic tiller pilot whilst I fit a new one. The sea is kicking up and slapping Red Admiral, with two reefs in each sail and a building breeze I bear away 20 degrees but a close hauled course doesn’t make for a comfortable sail and red admiral is getting wet down below. To make matters more interesting, as darkness falls the LED tricolour navigation light fails!

Saturday 11th June
And that’s the way things remained, I’ve checked the instrument panel and the cables that exit the coach roof and enter the mast base, no signs of any chafe so I can only assume the problem lies at the masthead.
For the remainder of Saturday and Sunday the wind blew hard and the sea state was unkind, both the cabin and myself are soaked, I bailed a bucket of water from all the lockers and the bunks are soaked through.

Monday 13th June
Red Admiral’s lucky 13! The wind faded through the night and the sea has subsided, a chance to get some rest and make more of an effort to eat well. I leave all three reefs in the mainsail and with a full genoa set we barely make two knots but I am catching up on sleep.
By morning the wind has lifted us and for the first time we are sailing straight down the rhumb line with full sails set at close to hull speed. I’ve just recorded the first video diary of the trip, hopefully more to come. Red Admiral and I are drying out and the solar panel is sun bathing on the side of the cockpit coaming.


Monday 20th June
Not for long! You may wonder why I haven’t written all week long? Headwinds mostly, sixes and sevens and without doubt the worst storm I have ever endured. That week ago when the wind lifted us to hull speed and a rhumb line course was the last we saw of such idyllic conditions. First the wind faded altogether and did not fill in for several hours of slatting sails. When it did fill in it did so gradually and built all day to a full gale. There was no sea immediately evident, the gale blew harder and appeared to lay most of the waves almost flat, covered in spume as the evening drew on.
By midnight I was sitting in the cockpit in case the wind vane suddenly failed, with no genoa and a triple reefed mainsail we sailed on at 1.5 knots, approximately 50 degrees to the wind. I sent a SPOT message just in case people back home were keeping an eye on the weather and hoping it would put their minds at rest.
From that moment on I was in the cabin wearing full foul weather gear with the one piece hatch clamped in place. As day broke the wind had reduced but still at gale force with a large sea running from irregular angles, I tried to put Red Admiral on a new course as the wind had veered some 90 degrees since the storm began, she was having none of it and neither was I, the seas were large and Red Admiral soon felt as though she would run away out of control and at the mercy of the waves. We simply sat it out until later that afternoon, with less wind and reduced wave height I had better control and the wind vane could cope too.
From that day on until today we have had nothing but headwinds, force 5, 6, and 7, regularly reefed and an uncomfortable sea, rarely if ever to lay the rhumb line, the past week has been tiring both physically and mentally.
Today though, some brighter prospects, the wind has eased and even lifted us for several hours, the sun has shone for most of the day, the batteries are charged and I have eaten and rested well.


Saturday 25th June
During that week I also managed a shave and a stripped wash on the foredeck, it was rather bracing but I needed it after ten days or so without either! Soon the breeze began to fill in and after a pleasant morning and early afternoon a band of heavy cloud appeared and signalled more foul weather. Having only just washed, changed and dried Red Admiral out I was in no rush to spoil things, I had crab and sweat corn soup with noodles on the stove and wanted time to enjoy my meal prior to setting the storm jib, so I bought myself some time and furled away the genoa.
With dinner consumed I set the removable inner forestay and hanked on the storm jib. Once set I began reefing the mainsail until all three reefs were in. We were early but well prepared as the bank of cloud moved in and whistling through the rigging began. After a few hours I was beginning to think I had been over cautious, this opinion soon changed as the wind began in earnest. It continued all night and for most of the following day, blowing 5, 6, or 7 and a corresponding sea state.
I was beginning to get a little tired of it all and wondered if the wind gods would relent a little, that evening they did and not before time, I was by now exhausted and falling asleep on my feet. I slept for two hours that night, with only force 2 or 3 of wind I left two reefs in the mainsail and a reef in the genoa. I woke, had a quick look around, yawned and went straight back to sleep, doing the same thing again an hour later, getting a total of 4 hours sleep that night, it felt like luxury!
As a result I felt altogether better today, we have ambled along all day in fine weather, making 2.5 to 4.5 knots but rarely on the rhumb line. It has taken me longer to reach the South Western end of the Azores Islands than I would have liked but we are nearly there and the beam and bulkhead have done us proud. I have seen dolphins, a whale, flying fish, birds and almost no shipping at all.

Sunday 26th June
Just before darkness that night the wind freed us to sail the rhumb line, then a little more, with each lift in the breeze I was able to bear away until early this morning when we found ourselves beam reaching and pointing right at the waypoint “Gulf Stream” some 1389 Nm away.
I’m sitting on the companionway step with the sun on my back, it won’t last long there’s all manner of cloud around us, who knows what we’re in for?!

Monday 27th June
How wrong can you be? It did last, all evening long and the night was quite calm too with just a brief reefing session at 2.30am, one in each sail. The wind has continued to free us, which is not ideal, we now have a following sea which disturbs the wind vane and causes yawing, the genoa collapses occasionally and snatches at the fairlead as it refills.
We are 9 miles low of the rhumb line and running parallel with it, with the next waypoint 1254 miles away and an empty horizon all around this is nothing to worry about.
I’ve used more gas than expected but this morning used the last of the skimmed milk, the corresponding drop in tea and coffee consumption will turn the gas situation around soon.
The last of the fresh fruit was consumed today, a lonely kiwi fruit, I have orange juice in cartons and I take a multi vitamin and mineral supplement daily. If this weather holds tomorrow I might try the spinnaker, somewhere in the back of my mind there is a record of the fastest crossing in a Contessa 26 of 38 days, set in the 1970’s during the OSTAR, it would be nice to beat that!
I turned the cockpit into a bathtub today, starting off with a shave and then a shampoo… very refreshing!

Tuesday 28th June
This fair wind sailing is more conducive to writing, we had our fun with the spinnaker for a couple of hours but the wind vane didn’t really share our enthusiasm, with the extra speed we succeeded in starving the wind vane of wind to drive it, a catch 22 if ever there was one.
The night continued in the same vane, without the spinnaker, gentle and restful. Today there is little change except for more cloud cover, hopefully this will signal an increase in the breeze. Two ships passed by during the night but otherwise it’s very quiet out here.
Before Red Admiral left the barn in Bridlington, my Goddaughter and her little brother, Isobel and Eddie, came to visit, they brought with them a collection of paper boats they had made for me, today I took two of those paper boats, wrote my position along with Red Admiral’s name and Isobel and Eddie’s address on them and then jettisoned each one in position 41 degrees 31 minutes North, 35 degrees 18 minutes West.

Wednesday 29th June
With a rising wind most of the night on Tuesday, I was reefing until third reef in the mainsail and just a scrap of genoa. We were headed also and today have not laid the rhumb line, instead we are 18Nm to it’s North and unable to lay it by 40 degrees.
The reefs came back out later this afternoon and we are now close hauled with full main and genoa, waiting for an opportunity to tack.

Thursday 30th june
Wednesday night was steady, a reef in the main and genoa, quite a few sleeps I seem to remember. Today has been endless blue ocean and skies, very light conditions, on the wind and a true beat too. After lunch it was so calm I decided to sleep and did so for the best part of two hours undisturbed. Waking, I found us on course and plodding to windward at 1 to 2 knots.
There is no signs of life out here, neither bird, sea or human, not even so much as a distant ship.

Friday 1st July
2 little paper boats deployed in position 41 degrees 42 minutes North, 40 degrees 43 minutes West.
Phew, what a day, it all started out very grey and drizzly but this afternoon It is clear blue sky and sunshine. The wind is light and on the nose, what happened to all that dream run sailing?!
I’ve started a tacking log for my approach to the Gulf Stream waypoint, it’s hard work when your VMG is as low as 2 knots and you have 1400 Nm to go!

Sunday 3rd July
Saturday night was a busy one with little or no rest, reefs in and out and tacking at regular intervals. I’m really not sure of my strategy regarding tacking, it’s one thing when you’re racing around the cans but upwind in the ocean for 1400Nm is another?!
As a consequence of the night’s effort I am tired today and it’s my birthday. I opened a card from my sister Heather, Jon and Penny (the Airedale Terrier). I’ve spoiled myself with three slices of fruit cake, baked by my sister, but it’s felt like another long day when you’re slogging away to windward, I’ve just about had enough now and could do with a change in the weather. I feel like I want to be in Newport, which would be fine were there not 1300 Nm to go!

Monday 4th July
Yesterday proved to be a tough day for me, having had a good night’s sleep I’ll put it down to being over tired, today I feel much brighter in spite of the continued headwinds.
That said the wind has shifted today, very slowly, as the making tack is now on starboard and not on port. The cursor on the GPS screen is finally pointing vertically and I am hopeful that the wind will continue to lift us so I can ease the sheets and increase speed, straight down the rhumb line.


Tuesday 5th July
The night was a quiet, gentle beat to windward and I fell in to a deep sleep, not entirely sure how long but possibly a few hours went by without waking. During the day the breeze died away and a few hours went by totally becalmed. I took the opportunity to bathe and change my clothes, although I only have the one pair of shorts and these are now torn from pocket to thigh, I am beginning to look a little threadbare these days!
In the afternoon the breeze finally filled in and on the beam for a change, how happy was I. It’s evening now and we are fetching along nicely though the adverse current is knocking our speed down a knot. Mushroom risotto is nearly ready and I have decided today to ration my tea drinking as I am running low on water.
Two more paper yachts have been deployed in position 41 degrees 03 minutes North, 45 degrees 09 minutes West.

Wednesday 6th July
It was another comfortable night and the breeze persisted. Better still, I woke during the early hours to an increase in the breeze and a lift, enabling us to bear away with a reef in the genoa to calm things down. We have since barrelled along at 5 to 6 knots all night and day, I’m milking it for all I can to get us nearer to Newport, without over stressing Red Admiral of course.
Soon the distance to waypoint will read 600Nm and I can celebrate with another slice of fruit cake! The battery on the camcorder died this morning, sadly no more footage until Newport.

Thursday 7th July
We had a good sail all evening until the early hours when a large rain cloud caught up with us, one minute we were blasted with wind and rain, the next we were in a hole without wind and the sails hung, slatting. This lasted no more than a couple of hours, then we were back on the wind but we could mostly lay the rhumb line.
It’s sunny again today, the solar panel is out and coping admirably with our charging needs, I haven’t needed the engine yet. More rationing will be required if I am to reach Newport without running out of water.
Friday 8th July
The reefs in each sail, set during the night, were shaken out this morning. I keep sleeping past my 6am SPOT message schedule because it’s 3am here, and then I start to think about breakfast, which is very odd when it’s still pitch black outside!
It’s been a quiet day for weather and just about everything else, my mind has turned to the return journey, which I feel could be too late to avoid the hurricane season. It will not surprise me if I have to leave Red Admiral in Newport, which is not what I want to do but… safety first!

Saturday 9th July
That’ll be a month at sea then! Day 31 to be precise. It was a tiring night but self inflicted, after relatively light winds during Friday there was breeze during the night and I stayed out on deck to make the most of it, finally giving in around 3am.
As a result I was exhausted and had a vivid dream that ended abruptly as I woke at 4.30am hammering my clenched fist against the inside of Red Admiral in the belief I was fighting off an aggressive dog! There was no damage done to Red Admiral, just a sore hand for an hour or so.
Today has seen steady progress until late afternoon when we fell, in to a foggy hole, flogging sails and nothing to do but have a shave. By 7pm the wind filled in, a beam reach followed by a beat.
I made Paella whilst Red Admiral made steady progress, only after dinner did I notice a batten in the mainsail had chaffed it’s way through it’s pocket, half in, half out I quickly dumped the mainsail on deck to retrieve the batten before it disappeared for good. I found another batten in similar condition so for now we continue with only two out of four battens in place.

Sunday 10th July
Just as Saturday evening was drawing in so did the wind, an armful of genoa was furled away and then a first reef in the mainsail, immediately followed by another reef in each sail, finished off with a third and final reef in the mainsail.
It was all fine at first, reaching straight towards the waypoint but it didn’t last long. Soon it was on the nose and soon after we couldn’t lay the rhumb line. It stayed that way all night long and it was a long night, most of which was spent keeping an eye on our course, whilst bailing the bottom of the cockpit and pumping the bilge.
By late morning I was exhausted and falling asleep whilst standing or sitting, banging my head on two occasions. It had blown a full gale for sure but by now it was abating, with a long spell of rain I drained a beaker full from the reefed mainsail and drank the whole lot down, delicious!
It is evening now and the winds have been light all day, though the clouds above us look promising.
Down to my last 10 litres of water.

Monday 11th July
We’ve had gentle breeze for most of the day until later this afternoon, a large wind hole has engulfed us, I took the opportunity for a stripped wash and dried off in the sun.
The lack of wind on a regular basis is playing heavily on my mind, it all revolves around water, of which there is possibly 8 litres left and we still have 700Nm to go!
By early evening the breeze has filled in once more, it feels like a daily trend but I hope every day doesn’t have the doldrums in the middle of it. I have had the last piece of my sister’s cake today and the last tin of tuna, it’s all coming to an end one way or another, let’s hope the wind remains.

Tuesday 12th July
The wind did remain, in fact it built steadily and began to lift us to the point of hoisting a spinnaker. This of course created a problem, given the Navik wind vane’s dislike of running under spinnaker, we simply sail the wind out of its vane, it loses all it’s sensitivity and all hell breaks loose!
No matter I thought, we’ll switch to one of the tiller pilots. With a good breeze blowing on the port quarter we were barrelling along under full main and spinnaker all night long. 6, 7 and 8 knots were standard and I spent the whole night bar two, 20 minute breaks, driving to avoid flattening the batteries.


 By morning I was of course exhausted but we had bitten off a chunk of our distance to waypoint. By midday the doldrums reappeared but fortunately were short lived, we are now hard on the wind with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, though not able to lay the rhumb line.
It’s evening now, still on the wind though the waves have subsided somewhat, full main and genoa, the waypoint is 106 Nm ahead but again not quite able to lay it.

Wednesday 13th July
After a steady night only disturbed by a moonlit reefing session the dawn came with a slow release of dark cloud cover to reveal champagne sailing conditions, blue sky, fluffy white clouds, sunshine and salt spray.

I think we’ve just hit the Gulf Stream proper, lots of weed in the water all of a sudden and only 50Nm to go to my Gulf Stream waypoint. It’s certainly getting warmer down here and that doesn’t help my thirst for water, approximately 6 litres left.
After a series of short sharp rain squalls we now have almost 12 litres of water! Enough food for a week and, having changed to the last gas bottle today, a weeks worth of gas.
The Gulf Stream waypoint has just appeared on the GPS screen, it’s only 8Nm away and that leaves 520Nm to Newport.

Thursday 14th July
It was a gentle night, sliding along at 3 or so knots, I slept well and regularly, missing my 6am SPOT message by 1.5 hours.
The wind has remained light all day, it was bright and sunny first thing but midday has brought cloud and the threat of more rain, though the extra water is always useful.
I’ve just eaten pasta with tomato pesto, I find the orzo (rice grain shaped) pasta delicious, it’s funny how a shape can change our eating experience.
A little more breeze just now and the air carries a thundery feel about it, I guess it is the start of the hurricane season after all.
We’ve just had the most wonderful display of dolphin ever, pity I have no battery power for the video camera. 484Nm to go.

Friday 15th July
The night was easy going and the morning also, it is now dusk and between the two we’ve had a full gale of wind and large seas. I sailed in to a wall of dark cloud and all reefs went in both sails in quick succession. We’ve been sailing 10 or so degrees free of the wind all day and with a swell on the quarter for most of the afternoon, it feels as though we are planning to windward!
It’s been quite stressful all the same with an awkward motion and regular bailing and bilge pumping required.
It’s dark now and I am tired, the wind continues to whistle and the swell is still with us just somewhat reduced.
Perhaps 3 or 4 days to go now, 373Nm and a full moon to guide us.

Saturday 16th July
I managed some regular sleeps last night with regular horizon scanning between them, shipping is all the more evident now as we close the United States coastline. Still too early to sight land but soon the depth of water beneath our keel will shelve rapidly.
I’ve shaken a reef out of both sails to keep us moving along, the motion is a little awkward as can be evidenced by my handwriting!
The sky is clear blue and barely two litres of water left.  The wind appears to be slowly lifting us towards the rhumb line having headed us yesterday evening.
It’s almost 3pm local time and the wind has increased and backed so we now quite a distance from our rhunb line.

I made Thai green curry with rice for my main meal, the only other food of the day is porridge first thing and a glass of water in the afternoon. That’s about all I can spare myself, I am staying out of the sun and avoiding tea as it will only serve to dehydrate me, anything to prevent that is worth while.
I’ve made a yellow Q flag, cut from the back of a yellow t-shirt. As soon as I spot land it and the stars and stripes will be hoisted on the starboard shroud, my first ever outing for such things.


Sunday 17th July
It’s been a difficult day with gale or near gale conditions all night long and all day today also. I have the storm jib set on the inner forestay and a triple reefed mainsail, we cannot get anywhere near the wind, which blows from Newport it seems. Either North or South is our best course to windward, depressing and concerning all at once, given our water situation. With the bad weather and the Gulf Stream I have managed to sail backwards into the Atlantic a total of 17Nm!
After porridge in the morning , my one meal of the day is cooked with sea water, it tastes pretty disgusting and does nothing for my appetite. Newport is still 343Nm away.
Having had some rest I shook out one reef in the mainsail and we are now making progress against this heavy sea. However, there is a price to pay, Bolton the wind vane has partially collapsed and is no longer usable. A tang holding one of the support stays has sheared off, this put pressure on one of the main bracket tubes, this too has sheared through, I have retrieved the paddle from the water, lashed the remainder of the wind vane to the aft mooring cleats until more suitable weather permits a complete removal.


 I immediately plug in my one remaining electronic tiller pilot, the other had failed earlier in the voyage, within 6 hours a wave washed down the deck and swamped the tiller pilot. With no wind vane and no electronic tiller pilots I was left to hand steer or lash the tiller and balance the sails in the hope that Red Admiral would sail her self along, assisted by her long keel, to my pleasant surprise that’s exactly what she did!

Monday 18th July
I woke at 9.30am from a deep sleep, refreshed I looked at the GPS screen in somewhat disbelief, sadly, during my sleep Red Admiral had sailed through the wind, with the storm jib aback we had drifted 20 miles back in to the Atlantic!
On a more positive note the wind has abated and we have clear blue skies with which to charge the batteries.
At midday I managed to get a message through to Norm Bailey, past Commodore of the Newport Yacht Club, via a container ship “Violet”, informing him of my situation but at this point no assistance was necessary.


I hand steered for much of the day and early evening, tired, I lashed the tiller once more though this time only to windward allowing Red Admiral some freedom to correct her own course should she round up to windward. There is still a heavy sea running but with a reef in the genoa and two in the mainsail we are still making almost 5 knots in the right direction.
285Nm to Newport.

Tuesday 19th July
I managed a little sleep and then a series of rain squalls came through for a period of hours, not a significant amount of rain, just enough to catch a cup full of rain at times which I drank straight down.
I hope you’ll forgive the detail but this morning I had a bowel motion, which I consider a positive given the poor state of my diet and general lack of water.
The sky remains overcast, not the glorious sunshine of yesterday but there are no tiller pilots to drain the batteries.
Late morning, during a rain squall, I was able to catch as much as a litre of water, as a result I made myself a bowl of porridge and taken a multi-vitamin tablet washed down with a cup of water. Red Admiral continues to sail herself under lashed tiller much to my pleasure.
It’s all gone foggy, all reefs have been shaken out, 204Nm to Newport and the depth display reads 100 metres, signalling the end of the Atlantic Ocean. The radar reflector is hoisted and in spite of how tired I feel I am in two minds whether to sleep or not?!

Wednesday 20th July
The fog stayed all night long but we held our course and sailed with the tiller lashed. The fog lifted and the wind died slowly throughout the course of the day until we fell in to a wind hole as far as the eye could see.
It was with 199Nm to Newport that I concluded: It is untenable to consider outside assistance involving, possibly, the US Coastguard, for the sake of a few litres of water just to claim some personal record or achievement, when sat beneath ones feet lies a perfectly serviceable engine! To that end and at 1300 hours local time today that I switched on the engine and we now motor to Newport at 4+ knots.
Sad though this is I feel I can satisfy myself that, at an absolute minimum, I have witnessed the whole of the Atlantic Ocean pass beneath my keel.
After approximately 5 hours of motoring, the engine died! My first thought was fuel, the primary fuel filter was as clear as a whistle, the fuel tank also, next the small fuel filter on the engine itself… it was almost dry, a sure sign of fuel blockage? Or maybe just an air gap that prevented fuel siphoning through? One good suck on the fuel line with a vacuum pump and fuel came pouring out! All connected up, the air bled through the system and she started first crank.
Whilst all this was going on the sails were pulling us along the rhumb line, we were now sailing as fast as we could motor so I’ll save the fuel for later.
It’s evening and we’re under engine again, I’ve checked the fuel level with the aid of a torch pressed against the side of the tank, 15 litres at least and with 10 litres in spare cans we’re ok for fuel.
I tried the LED tricolour, it flickered on briefly and then faded and died.

Thursday 21st July
I have cold wet hands, it’s foggy again as it has been all night long, I am tired through lack of sleep, the tiller is lashed and barring the occasional wander we remain on course.
Only 100Nm to Newport.


I have managed no more than 3, 15 minute sleeps all day and it is night time once more. We are through the Boston TSS safely, in spite of the fog, during which the wind piped up, as soon as we cleared the TSS I slammed a reef in the mainsail shortly followed by a second, the imbalance in the sail plan caused the headsail to go aback followed by a gybe whilst I was at the mast… much fun?! All sorted and settled down in the cockpit we are now romping towards Narragansett Shoal at a steady 6 knots, tiller lashed and an ETA at the No 2 buoy of 14 hours. We should be in Newport by tomorrow evening. By then I will be exhausted, hungry and with a raging thirst!

Friday 22nd July
The evening wasn’t too difficult, I had the engine on for a while, which would have been fine had it not died again, the same problem of fuel starvation.
It’s warm and sunny today now that the early morning fog has lifted. My mobile phone has a signal and I have started to receive text messages of congratulations!
Closing on the No 2 buoy off Martha’s Vinyard, soon I will be able to contact Norm Bailey regarding my arrival time, he plans to meet me in his motor cruiser “Trooper” with water rations.
The evening is drawing in and the wind is dying once again, I can hear Trooper calling me on the VHF but he cannot hear me due to my VHF setup, a fact I didn’t fully understand until I had arrived in Newport.
I can see Trooper and flash my torch in its direction, soon we are united and leaping from Trooper’s cabin, my sister to surprise me!
With Red Admiral tied to the Newport Yacht Club dock by late evening we had finally made it, Plymouth to Newport Rhode Island, 43 days and a handful of hours, exhausted and elated at one and the same time!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

For The Love Of Jordan

Personally, I was never a fan, not my type you might say. I could however see the merit and understood the fascination of others. So now, after much deliberation and the lack of anything better to do, I have finally succumbed to the idea of dragging one around like many others.

The Jordan Series Drogue was invented by Don Jordan for the purposes of survival at sea, protection from large breaking waves that might otherwise capsize or pitch pole a small seagoing craft.

I won't go into the science of it now, that will unfold as things move along. But for now we have the makings of a project, to build our own, a long length of double braid rope, splicing fid, sample of sail cloth, sail maker's thread, stainless steel thimble etc.


Having studied a selection of you tube videos I settled on Andy Wall for his clear instructions of a double braid eye splice, the results of which you can see above.

There's a small fabric cone on it's way to me, whether I buy another 79 or sew my own remains to be seen.