Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Being a liveaboard

Today I introduced myself as a livaboard for the first time. Not in an ostentatious way, but merely as the most direct way to describe my situation to a mechanic. That was fun.

We have been on the boat just over 48 hrs at this point. Day 1 was hard, but 2 has been better. We flew out Sunday (day 0) after an all-nighter spent packing and preparing the house for the renters. We had 7 bags and carried on a 50 lb sewing machine. I am supposed to be taking it easy after my back injury during the Bermuda 1-2 race which was hard to do. We took a bus from Boston airport to South Station. Graciously some former liveaboards, Sandy and Sidney Van Zandt, means t us at the train station and forced some pizza into us before we passed out. 

Monday was one thwarted project after another. I couldn’t get the propane working. The sensor to detect stray gas (a big deal on boats because propane is heavier than air and will settle in the bilge until BOOM) had been flooded with salt water and I was determined to save it. The kids had a broken shelf in the V-berth. The countless smack landings after being launched off a wave in the race had broken a bracket. I glued it but it cracked a second time when I tried larger screws. The kids are stubbing their toes on floor boards that have swollen and won’t sit flat. AndvI tried to take the kids for a dinghy ride with our new outboard but it wouldn’t start. And all this “fun” is just making my back hurt.

Fast forward to today and it’s like you can’t give me a project I can’t solve. The propane works, shelf is up, the floor boards are in, the fridge works, I have a plan for building a plan for how I’ll stow and secure the sewing machine and I have figured out why the outboard won’t start. Each of these successes involved someone helping me out and I am fortunate to find such generous people. The list of repairs is still long, but making progress has buoyed my spirits. 


Sometimes fixing things on a boat involves getting into small spaces. Having little people onboard is going to prove useful!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Field report from the Bermuda 1-2

They can’t really teach you how to sail single-handed. They can teach you how to sail, but when you’re actually single-handed, there’s no teacher. And being alone makes all the difference. It seems to completely change things having even one other person aboard. So I suppose the only way to learn is to just do it which is exactly what I am doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to learn everything I can before coming out here. From owning small boats to bigger ones, sailing lessons as a kid (alright that was just because I didn’t have my own boat) to an ASA class as an adult (so they’d let me charter), racing my own boat and crewing on passages. I’ve developed self-sufficiency by attempting many of my own boat repairs. I’ve read books on sail trim, engine repair, storm tactics, you name it. Most sailors don’t read these books.

As soon as I did my first passage as crew with 59-North I knew I wanted to do more. But I also wanted to create my own experience. I want to understand the big picture as well as the details, how everything goes together to create and manage a boat that is propelled by the wind. I wanted to understand and be responsible for decisions involving routing and weather. Of course you’ve got to own your own boat for that.  If you simply want the experience of sailing I do not recommend that you buy your own boat because there is always someone you can go sailing with or some opportunity to rent a boat. Let someone else deal with the expense and the commitment. But if there’s no way around it, you need to get your own.  So I bought one which an offshore racer and sailing coach told me was a sought after boat for the Bermuda 1-2.

The Bermuda 1-2 is a race from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda. You race out there single-handed and back with a partner, thus the 1-2. They hold it every other June and get around 30 crazy souls to do it. They do make it a learning experience. They have requirements in regards to how you’ve prepared your boat. They make you demonstrate that you have sailed the boat alone in the ocean. They have a safety list and an inspection which is not only an inventory review, but a long discussion about what-ifs. They have seminars on the Gulf Stream in which they discuss the eddies surrounding the stream and its meanders and how we use satellite infrared and altimetry data to predict those variables. They promote cooperation within the competition and encourage continued communication at sea. And then they set you out there.

Shortly thereafter things begin to break. For me my autopilot stopped working an hour before the start. I didn’t tell anyone for fear they’d say not to go. I’d fixed it before and I had a back up, a wind vane, a mechanical device that steers to the direction of the wind. I got it working again but my repair lasted a day into the 5 day race. And even though I had a wind vane, I had not learned to use it. Another loss was the central computer which uses GPS to position me on a computerized chart. I resorted to a hand held Garmin GPS and paper charts which, like everything else got wet so the only way I could mark my position was to dab with a sharpie. GPS was registering somewhere because the computer was able to give me speedover ground as well as speed through the water. I could no longer see other boats on AIS, a tool by which boats broadcast their position to avoid collision, though I was later reassured by another competitor that others could still see me.  I eventually found a way to get radar working again although I began to worry that messing around with things would jeopardize what electronics did work. That is the problem with all this system integration—one thing goes snd everything else follows. Besides the electronics, I have two issues with sails. I lost use of the Solent, my “lower gear” head sail for winds over 20 because the halyard on the newly arranged system chafed through. And I ripped the luff of the mainsail because I had something tied to the mast when I tried to shake out a reef, something I had told myself not to do. And I was measuring sea temperature with a cheap fish tank thermometer which I dangled in the toilet. The probe got sucked into the flushing mechanism and and I could not get it back. It went down with the next poop.  

Of all these, loss of autopilot was the most significant challenge, but it proved to be an opportunity as it forced me to learn the wind vane. The way it is with the wind vane you can’t just set your direction. You have to first set the sails, then you find the best direction to go with this sail combination. If that is not the direction you want to go, you reset the sails and once again find the groove of that sail set. Once you have found the right groove, you angle the vane directly into the wind which of course changes on its own and varies with direction and speed of the boat. The vane is also behind you so as soon as I would turn around to check if it’s angled right, I went off course. Then once I had everything lined up, I’d engage the vane. But that means getting a little metal peg into just the right hole and the holes are moving with the waves. Then when you get it in the right hole, which might take several tries, you watch and fine tune. Sometimes it is not right and you start at the beginning again. This took hours the first several times.

The vane steers according to the apparent wind.  That is the wind across the deck of the boat which is the combination of the real wind and the wind created by the boat speed. As the wind changes, the apparent wind changes and the vane has to be realigned slightly. This also means that if the boat slows down, such as when trying to accomplish sail changes, the vane cannot steer the boat well.

I had intended to use the wind vane as my steering devise this trip. If the autopilot had not failed I would have used it a lot less. In those times when it took hours, or when i set the vane but it would fall off course and start heading towards a jibe, I would have resorted to autopilot rather than work through the frustration and figure out what I was doing wrong. Human nature being what it is and given how tired I am I would have taken the easier route.

And as I am trying to figure all this out, the ocean tosses my 15,000 lb boat so that it lands with a smack and a shudder. Inside the cabin I hear the creaks and imagine it being ripped apart by the wires that hold up the mast and restrain the sails. I am always wet, soaked if I’ve recently been on the foredeck, though I still try to avoid the deluge of salt water that periodically comes flying into the cockpit. Comfort is hardly a consideration, though I do try to maintain a corner of dryness in my bunk. Outside all I can see is ocean in every direction. Nature doesn’t care if I live or die. It will just convert me to another form. It is not so much a battle with nature as cooperation with nature, doing what I can to stay on course within the limits the environment creates.

Factor into all of this the fatigue. I am trying to walk and cook and repair things on a platform that rolls, yaws, pitches, heaves, surges and sways. I have had my dinner flung threw the air and my body flung through a closed door. Something I want will be just out of reach but considering the energy it would take to muscle myself out of whatever seat I am wedged into, and the need to time my movements with those of the boat, I just look at it. 

Sleep deprivation adds to the fatigue. They say we are supposed to wake up every 20 mins to scan the horizon. Twenty minutes is how long it takes for a ship to appear from over the horizon and run us down. There are a few immortal people this 20-minute cycle seems to work for. The rest describe being dopey and stupid by the end of the trip. It seems there are a lot more bad stories from this polyphasic sleep delirium than there are of people getting run over by ships. To each his own, but poor sleep does is not going to help decision-making. I did get some sleep, more when the AIS and radar still worked, and I forced myself to stop for meals.

Combine the equipment losses, the fatigue and the challenging environment and it all begins to take an emotional toll. It’s draining and can be overwhelming. I am physically tired, sleep-deprived, bashed about and alone as they start taking my tools away.  My mind was prepared to think about sailing fast but is distracted by problems. I’m digging out manuals and spare parts, texting people on land, wedging myself into corners of the boat. Once I lost the ability to shift gears of my motor which I realized because I could not put it into reverse to feather the propeller after running the engine. Several hours later I had it figured out that I could shift by gaining access to the engine through a storage locker and manually push the transmission lever, using a hammer as a hand extender. These random problems keep coming up. The ocean is so rough on my boat that screws holding up the ceiling panels fall onto the floor. The repairs never stop.

Seven other boats have dropped out so far. I have no idea what they encountered. We each have to make our own decisions and far for me to second guess someone else’s. Most of us know every inch of our boats. We have spent over a year preparing them. I had what I considered “my team” which included professionals, who I paid, dearly, and also fellow sailors who helped because they’d once been in my shoes. Everyone on my team has been interested in my goal and invested in my success. Each helped me learn. So it is giving up a lot to turn back.

Single handed ocean sailing seems to be all about dealing with problems alone, sometimes fixing them but always accepting them. It is about dealing with very tough situations in a hostile and unrelenting environment. I find rare moments of comfort, but for the most part I’m uncomfortable . It is about knowing when to be exceedingly focused and making deliberate decisions.  It is about being safe because consequences are dire and help might not be there in time if at all.

The potential for injury is another threat. Short of a problem so severe as to require evacuation and loss of the boat, I need to keep my body going. Cuts and scrapes that are not going to heal while bathed in salt water frequently need dry bandaids and Neosporyn. After twisting my knee I was extra careful for a few days and supported it with an ace bandage. I consciously avoid risks, like going out into the cockpit unprepared during a storm, which for some reason I was foolish enough to do when I had crew onboard. 

I learned that emotions can run intense while alone out on the ocean. The highs are amazing. The lows are devastating.  Good thing is, my mind does hold onto the lows and I tend to remember the highs. The highs may be moments of contemplation when I see nothing but water around me or holding onto the dodger with both hands, watching the power of Atlantic gale as my boat rides over waves the size of small houses. At times the sailing is unreal, like gliding under stars on a smooth sea in a sensory deprivation state because I cannot see further than 5 feet off the side of the boat. And then there was the whale, who on a grey, quiet morning surfaced less than a boat length away and alerted me to his presence by his loud breath. I wonder how long he had been watching me, another sentient being but one at home in this territory.  At the other extreme the lows can be numbing. When a big problem is discovered, adding to the litany of others that I am working to solve, on top of the fatigue, I feel overwhelmed. My movements and decision making slow down. I do not feel anxious, but I am extremely methodical out of concern that any poorly thought out plan could make things worse. I have a conscious awareness that I am on my own. It’s worse when it’s all my fault, which it usually is. But even if it is something like the yard forgetting a cotter pin, I own the problem now. For little things, like having the granola I have just put in a bowl flipped across the room as I am reaching for the blueberries , my emotions come out and I’ll curse and swear. But the big problems numb my emotions. I postulate this occurs because expressing anger or feeling anxious is going to do nothing to solve the problem and is a use of energy that I cannot spare.

Many other people report experiencing voices. That did not happen to me, but I wonder if it is a similar phenomenon as my intense emotions given that hallucinations and emotions both involve the limbic area of the brain.


So here I am, continuing on with a wounded boat. Exhausted but energized. As far away from anyone, but as close to nature as I can be. Needing to communicate through writing and looking forward to the text messages from friends and my wife. I am trying to figure out single-handed sailing. I’ll have to do this race a few more times before I do. It’s test of everything you’ve got - boat, body, skills, knowledge, problem solving and emotional control.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Splicing halyards and making soft hanks


Gryphon is getting a new mainsail and genoa made out of a composite material that does not stretch.  This material was once only used for racing sails, but they claim to now make them durable enough for ocean passages and cruising.  To get the most out of the new sails I have made new halyards and sheets out of rope with less stretch than double-braid, the material my old stiff halyards are made of.  This non-stretch, lightweight (aka expensive) rope has to be spiced in different ways because, unlike double braid rope in which both the core and the cover contribute to the strength, these high-tech ropes are built of an incredibly strong core material and the cover is simply for protection.  I spliced an eye in the halyards with a core to core splice.  I spliced an eye at the end of the genoa and Solent sheets by first stripping the cover off the last 10 feet of the line then I put a brummel eye splice at the end.

Gryphon is also getting a Solent sail which will be set on a stay running parallel to and just behind the furled genoa.  The Solent stay is made of a rope called Dyneema which is just as strong as wire and which will stow easily when I want to use the genoa.  To hank the Solent to the stay I have built soft shackles.  These will chafe the Dyneema stay less than bronze hanks and will save weight aloft.

Construction
I never had much luck with fids but I had a break-thru after coming across the splicing wand and instructional videos by Brion Toss.  Prior to this project I had used his tool to make double-braid eye splices.  I followed his instructions for the core to core splice, also known as a class II.

Splices work like a Chinese finger trap -- the harder the pull the harder it grips.  By the same principle, during construction they must be kept loose.  Brion Toss encourages to "massage, massage, massage" which is great advice because it keeps everything loose.  Sometimes I can tell where things are too tight, but it can be difficult to tell and working the entire rope gets to all the places where material is getting pinched and preventing assembly.  When I was trying to force a fid, I ran into problems with the cover getting too tight. I am able to keep things looser with the wand than I had been able to with a fid, but I started following his advice only after I bought the wand.

Finished core to core.  Empty cover has not yet
been cut off
I should have bought longer ropes because I made some mistakes and had to cut the rope.  I had five halyards that needed splices.  I think I did a total of 18 splices, wasting a couple feet each time.  At one point I wrote to Brion Toss with a picture to illustrate my problem and much to my surprise we had a pleasant email conversation that led to my better understanding. He helped me find two things I was doing wrong.  I was starting my taper too early and I was not pulling the eye made by the core through the cover far enough.  When I finally got it right I did a new one on each halyard.  

In this picture you see the cover forming an eye with two legs.  One leg is thick and straight, the other is limp.  The core (which you cannot see) comes up the straight leg, goes around the eye, then goes back into the stright leg.  The core is buried within itself inside the straight leg.  The limp leg gets cut off, then you need to do something to finish it off.  I used a whipping.

For the sheets, the primary goal was to eliminate the need for a bowline at the attachment to the clew.  I have a lot of things to snag on the foredeck and the bowlines catch them all.  I chose to use a long Dyneema loop and attach it with a cow hitch (aka luggage tag).  To do so I stripped the cover off the end of the sheet.  The construction is simple.  I used Premium Ropes.  You must determine the shortest distance from the clew to the winch, because stripped line will not hold in a winch. I created the eye with a brummel splice which locks into itself and then buried in itself.

The picture shows the white cores which run inside the green covers and the blue cores which run inside the white cover with blue fleck (barely visible).

An additional benefit of this design is that the last section of line will weigh down the clew less, especially since the core does not hold water, but the cover does



I ran across a clean way to do reeving eyes on sail anarchy.   The eyes in these pictures are just cover.  Before tucking the cover, draw out some core.  After tucking, draw the core back in and it will lay on top of the tucked cover.  A whipping then holds it all together.








 The essential part of soft shackle construction was to make them all have the same inside diameter under load.  I read that their reliability is dependent on the stopper knot.  I used the D-splicer video and the Diamond knot video at Premium Ropes.  I tried to tighted the knot evenly with an awl, then used a table vice to draw them tight.  The vice made could make them 1/2" - 3/4" longer





Line choices
Main and genoa halyards:  Robline Coppa 5000 9mm, chosen because Technora cover and it does non-slip in clutches
Genoa halyard:  no snap shackle attached as this will secure head of genoa on furler and will seldom be dropped.  The screw shackle will more dependable offshore.
Spinnaker, Solent and Staysail halyards New England Ropes Endura Braid 8mm
Genoa Sheets: Endura Braid 10mm because it will be handled a lot
Solent sheets:  Marlow Club 10mm because Endura is expensive
Soft shackles:  3/16" Dyneema

Essential tools

Essential tools.
Good scissors save a lot of tedium
A small awl and learn how to do a Marlingspike hitch to draw whipping tight.
Splicing wand.  I held it suspended horizontally in a table vise.
I did not buy the D-Splicer but made my own.  Tim from Sailcrafters showed me how, using a wire bent in half with the two legs stuck into a halyard stopper ball that is then filled with epoxy (blue ball in picture).
My wife suggested I use the sailing gloves which were a Godsend in avoiding blisters when working the cover back over the core.  

Friday, March 29, 2019

Here we go

We’ve made the decision to go. At least I think we have. Kate still says she’s not 100% sure yet. Admittedly there is a lot of uncertainty, but how could there not be. Gradually we are working through our lists and things are falling into place.

The dream actually had started to fade a year ago. Not because of barriers, but because things are good in Minneapolis. I have a job I love which I probably won’t get back, Kate and the kids are strongly connected to school, we have friends and routines—it’s not a life we want to jeopardize by taking a year to live on a boat, a year that will go by fast. But the kids are going to be 8 and 10 this summer. This is our window. 

Unless you’re new to this blog, you know this trip will be the fulfillment of a 10-year plan which has included a practice boat (the J/27), Caribbean charters, sailing and swimming lessons for the kids and a steady collection of supplies. I’ve read books and been a regular follower of podcasts. I have sought wisdom from anyone willing—racers, cruisers, mechanics, riggers, sailmakers. Whatever I could fix myself, I tried, and if I couldn’t, I watched. I was able to get the guy who wrote the book to help me with my splices. We have now owned Gryphon for 3 years during which I have sailed 4000 miles and spent 135 days aboard (counting days on the hard recovering from the hurricane).

With all this experience, what is important about the trip has changed. When this dream started it was about the physical aspects of life on a boat -- the wind in the sails, the remote anchorages, clear blue water.  Now I have come to appreciate Kate’s priority which has always been the human element, how we learn to work together and get along as a family on a small boat. I look forward to homeschooling and exploring with the kids. I have a crew to take care of. This trip will be the biggest challenge of my crew leadership to date.

What I need to be doing right now to foster crew unity is to be active in planning and preparing the non-boat tasks. We keep our to-do list as a Google doc. We try to escape weekly to a coffee shop to go over it (which usually means adding to it) and making sure we have those sit downs needs to be a priority. The first priority is developing a homeschooling plan and that involves meeting with teachers and choosing what educational materials we’ll bring on board. But we also have to get ready to rent the house which means clearing out 15 years of stuff and what about the cats and did you know hybrid cars, which we each own, can’t simply be stored or the hybrid battery dies. And what about the time consuming task of copying all our CD’s, using our old laptop that we do not want to replace until after the trip, so we can listen to them on the boat. And how do we maintain contact with people at home and how do we establish contact with other cruising families.  The list just grows.

As for the boat, should be ready to go. I am doing some upgrades related to a race which I set my sights on when it looked like we were not going to do the trip. My continued participation in this race, the Bermuda 1-2, certainly complicates matters because it will take up 3 weeks during the month before we want to go.  There’s a good argument for not doing it, especially given how it distracts me from the trip. On the other hand, I could not have made the changes which have so dramatically enhanced the seaworthiness of this boat without the focus this grueling race has elicited in me. I have assembled an expert team who have advised me about questions I did not even know to ask. They include a boat builder, a sailmaker, a consultant, previous race entrants and my crew. There is no way I would have assembled this team, who worked together in design and construction, without this premier event as a goal. The family trip will be safer given this preparation. I think it would be bad luck to back out of the race.

The kids seem onboard. My 10-year-old son Leif is always talking about what he’ll bring and projects he’ll do. Ruby, 8, is content with the promise of a puppy when we return. 

The start date we are hoping for is July 15. We do not want to let too much of the summer slip away by dragging our heels in Minnesota. We can’t start much earlier because the guy who I am really hoping will take my psychiatry job prefers not to start until July 20. ( I can do coverage over the phone for a week.) Then we’ll go north towards Martha’s Vineyard and Maine, eventually coming south again to be in the Chesapeake by October. 

Here are the lists:
Boat Prep
    -JWBC
        Clean bilge and under floorboards after flooded
        Strip varnish around cockpit 
        Repair stbd rubrail joint
        Convert to 2-line, 3-reef system
        Solent stay and set up
        Rebuild wheel brake
        VHF speaker at helm
        Manual bilge pump inside (required for Bermuda 1-2)
        Recalibrate Raymarine wind instrument
        Replace autopilot control head
        Install stern light on wind vane
        Service windlass
        Install USB outlets
        Energy system install
        Service seacocks which were underwater after Irma
        Repair cracked board under floor
        Espar heater tune up
      -energy system
Bruce Schwab about energy plan
for battery
        -my rigging projects 
      -Halyards
Order lines
input from Wickhams Cay Rigging in BVI
build eye splices and Reeving eyes
             -build soft shackle hanks for Solent and drifter (Hood MPG)
             -sheets for genoa and Solent 
stripped ends with naked Dyneema eye splice luggage-tagged to clew
      -Storage: food, kids storage, bags (homemade)
      -Iridium Go install
Play around with at home
practice with PredictWind 
    -Make Chair hammock 
    -Purchases planned
        Rocha 44# anchor
        Shaw and Tenney oars for hard dinghy
        Inflatable Dinghy and 8HP outboard
            Dinghy purchased/Will looking for motor
  
     -At boat
  -sew solar panels in place
  -service winches, 7 of them
By 1/27: purchase dinghy
*Cars
    -second key fobs for both cars
    -re-call
    -Care of prius
    -Sell Jetta
    -Insurance
    
*Career
    -Kate
        -renew license
        -CEU
    -Walter
        -replacement at Monticello
        -People Inc Notice

*Cats
    -Home
-Wags and Whiskers
-Feline Rescue, 
-Hockenberry,
-mom and dad
-John’s family
-Madonna
-next door
    -Vet

-Holiday
    -make holiday bags for christmas
    -decorations for each holiday
    

*Communications
By 1/27: explore Kids4Sail postings
    -Boat card
-Friends
        -Tanya
        -Jenny P
        -Erin
        -Steve/nancy
        -Heather
-Goodbye
        -Milda---list of neighbors
Maryann lunch
        -stoop party
        -birthday party
        -Lilly and Malcolm
        -Ruby’s friends
    -Gram Jam
        -Budget
        -home improvement
            -pipes
            -bathroom
        -strap
            -bed downstairs
            -cleaning person
            -shower chair
            -bed rail
    -how to use phone via Iridium Go satellite connection
    -cell phone plan

*Education
    -satellite school from MSP, waiting for call back
    -advocate to come back at Barton
Letter advocating return done by 1/27
Consistent with Open Curriculum 
Retain sense of community
Maintaining connections while on boat
    -letter to teachers
    -inform current teachers
    -curriculum
Read homeschooling posts by SailingTotem
Brain storm curriculum
Family meeting
        -timeline: including 
-Registering (Full Report) 1st day of school until 10/1/19,    
               Order Standarized test September, complete in november???
-Buy Curriculum  
-Music
        -Make music video on the boat 
    -Books

Rent house

many small repairs

Sunday, October 7, 2018

No Guardrails

Single-handed ocean sailing affords a primal connection with the natural world in which you are completely dependent on yourself and your boat.  Any assistance is hours or days away.  I have intensely prepared myself and the boat for this experience given the significant risks.  As a means of introduction I have begun to enter offshore single-handed races. These offshore events have focused my preparation through specific entry requirements.  They've got me reading books, some of which scare me; networking with like-minded sailors, who generally assume I do not know what I am doing; and working with professionals who just charge a lot.  Gradually I am wrapping my mind around the reality of being out in the ocean alone. 

In no other sport do we personify our equipment as we do in sailing, referring to our vessels as "she."   That reference acknowledges the reliance we have on our boat to carry us safely.  But the safety of our boats is only as great as the thought and effort we put into preparation.  An overlooked detail can cause quite a few things to unravel.  Therefore our reliance is actually on ourselves, by way of how much attention we have paid to preparation of the boat.  The safety of the boat is no better than the preparation we put into her, down to the last shackle. It all comes back to self reliance

The nature of racing itself is valuable because crossing a body of water quicker is safer.  You are exposed to weather variables for less time. 

You either have to start off with smaller races or they'll let you do a “qualifying passage” and jump ahead.   I decided to do both.  There are some events that I want to do in the next year and I want to be allowed to register.  The risk of only planning one qualifying event is that sailing plans don't often seem to go as planned.  Indeed I, along with everyone else, dropped out of the race due to lack of wind 90 miles into it, so would not have been long enough to qualify.  Even my qualifying passage almost could not be completed due to problems I will soon describe.  

They probably make you do it to test your nerve as much as anything.  You’re a long way out there. For my qualifier I sailed straight out, southwest into the ocean 50 miles, starting from Northeast Harbor, Maine. I turned back and came within 15 miles, near a rocky outpost with a lighthouse called Mt Desert Rock, but had to go back out again because it not only had to be 100 miles, but I had to be out 30 hours and I was back too early. At one point I was standing on the companionway ladder when I heard, before I saw, a whale come up for a rather loud breath of air less than a boat length away. He must have known about me well before I knew about him.  He dove and resurfaced four more times — either that or he had four friends — before he smoothly lumbered away.  The cruising guide shows silhouettes that portray how much of the whale is under water when you see them surface. This guy was probably 35’ long, or about the size of my boat.

In the morning I woke (more on sleep later) to find a large clevis pin on the deck.  This pin was one-half inch in diameter and 1.75” long.  Pins like this are used to attach the wires which hold up the mast so finding a loose one is bad.  It was obviously used to secure something substantial, although what that was was not immediately apparent to me. The wind was thankfully light.  I had an odd sense of unease, with no sight of land and a boat with something possibly very wrong. I counted the shrouds which were all there.  I banged my palm on them and they were all holding.  I remember thinking “Crap, if my mast comes down I am going to have to motor back and then my qualifier won’t count.” I then went downstairs to plot my position. I’m not sure why I did that, but there is something comforting about plotting position. Afterwards I have wondered if my first instinct should have been to drop the sails. Instead I was just taking it in.  Then I saw it, the boom vang laying on the deck. My vang is an extendable rod and was still attached at the base of the mast, but it had fallen free of the boom. Easy fix and I was never in danger. The vang prevents the wind from lifting the boom and, close-hauled in light winds, does not come into play. However, if I had dropped the sail to relieve stress on the mast, the boom would have smashed my dodger, bending its metal frame, and jeopardized my ability to handle worse weather.   Later it would settle in that whoever put my boat together missed something/  What else did they miss? It could easily have been a lot worse. I prefer a higher margin of safety.

Fast forward a few weeks and I am on underway from Somes Sound to Rockland to participate in my first single-handed race. It is 110 miles long but all within 20 miles of shore.  The mast and its supports have been inspected by a different yard and I have a few new pieces of gear to play with. The trip to the start is 40 miles with light wind directly opposing me, so I am motoring, but I don’t expect to go anywhere in a sailboat without something breaking. This time the autopilot stops working.  The ability to have a mechanical device steer the boat so a single person can do the litany of other tasks is vital enough to the single-hander that when I mentioned its failure to the other single-handers that night at our pre-race meeting, the story got everyone's attention.  Fortunately I had saved the old, cracked electronic control unit that came with the boat after I had proactively replaced it a couple years ago.  When I swapped the current one for the old, it worked. Good to save spares.  And a windvane.

It became clear at the Maine Rocks Race that I need to work out sleep.  For my qualifier I had set a timer, allowing myself to try and sleep for 2 hours. I had laid awake through three of these before falling asleep.  For the race a seasoned competitor, who didn’t buy my argument that Mortessier seemed to let himself sleep, told me I needed to sleep in 20 min segments, in-between which I was to get up for a quick scan, not even fully awakening, then go back to sleep.  Getting horizontal, he said, was essential. So beginning at sunset I started attempting rest periods in my bunk.  But my mind wasn’t turning off — how could I make the boat faster, could I actually win, was it safe to have my spinnaker poled out while asleep, what was that unusual noise? If one of my alarms went off I would have to get up, but then I would reset the timer on the iPad.  I eventually switched off my VHF but I am not sure I should have done that.  Serenade of the Seas, the 900 for cruise ship, had probably been trying to hail me well before my AIS alarm sounded, notifying me that we were on a collision course. They turned and blew their horn in what I figured was annoyance with me.

I know I fell asleep once, but am not convinced I slept more than that.  When I got tired of trying I would just get up and sail the boat.

I've rationalized that during my previous offshore passages (3 so far) I have not slept the first night, but after a while I get into a groove and sleep as soon as I hit my bunk.  Hopefully I can repeat that during longer single-handed passages, but with other crew on board I get 4 hours to sleep.  I am not convinced I need to or even can keep cycles as short as 20 mins.  And with an alarm on my AIS transceiver, a radar guard zone and and off-course alarm on my autopilot I wonder if I have to.  So sleep issues are still a work in progress.

I did feel good about my ability to prepare the boat and to sail the boat.  It gave me confidence that I did not find glaring omissions in my preparation.  I was a bit clumsy with the spinnaker pole, but it was brand-new to me the day before.  To be extra safe I thought through my maneuvers obsessively before carrying things out, and for the most part they all went smoothly. I screwed up the gybe to put me on my final approach to Mt Desert Rock.  In the dark I went to put the new spinnaker sheet on the winch and found I still had another line on it. In the moment it took to get things straightened out the big sail started to wrap around the headstay. Another time I was up on deck with my headlamp and stepped on a jib sheet and causing my foot to slide out.  I was secured to the boat with a harness and tether, but still did not like landing on my butt in the dark.  

I rationalize the intimidation I feel with the presumption that it would be foolish not to feel intimidated.  There are no guardrails, no reliance on someone else’s liability. Out here I am completely reliant on my boat, my preparation and my presence of mind.  There is ample reason to feel intimidated. 

One of the wonders of sailing is getting the boat into the “groove,” in which the sails are working together to create aerodynamic lift while the water flow over the keel creates hydrodynamic lift.  It’s a balanced and powerful sensation that, with skill, can be sustained. But I don’t have to go into the ocean for that. Being out on the ocean adds a sense of separation, but also connection.  Out here the immersion in nature is complete, a visceral connection to a power greater than myself.  The spiritual association is unavoidable.

You’re tired, constantly damp, nearly always busy. It is not a physically restful vacation, but it does clear the mind.  Maybe there is something to the Nitsche philosophy that hardship leads to understanding oneself. I come back from offshore sailing trips feeling alive