Sailors Run rockets away from the Horn with 35 knots of wind on the port beam, thanks to a low that is creeping along just to the south. The strong north wind promises to hold us down to this more southern and colder route, though I hope to escape and get further north to 48 degrees south, where life will surely be more comfortable. Icebergs are located not so far ahead of me and a bit further to the south, and these babies are huge, like 17 miles long and six to eight miles wide.
Toward the end of Day 49, I notice several tears have appeared in the genoa. On closer inspection, it looks as though there is no way the sail can tolerate being partially rolled in on the furler, as this would place abnormal amounts of strain on the Dacron that after just five years is showing signs of degradation from the sun.
I roll the damaged area on the sail in a ways and carry on, not wanting to attempt to pull it from the furler in these stronger wind conditions. Now I must wait for lighter airs to make yet another repair on the genoa.
In the wee hours of the next morning, in much calmer conditions, I pull the genoa out of the foil and spread it out on deck where I labor away for several hours adding three more patches, all while sliding about on the foredeck and greatly appreciating the high toerails on my boat. At last, I hoist the sail aloft and trim it back in, picking up several knots of speed that are much needed in the calmer wind conditions.
DAY 55: CHRISTMAS EVE 24hr run: 144nm. Position: 53°06’S, 46°15’W. Wind: 12-40kts. Seas: 6-8ft. Cabin temperature: 44°-51°. Barometer: 984mb.
I am looking forward to a great Christmas Eve as the winds are filling in and building up the seas, meaning we can once again cover some fast miles toward home. Around noon, while inspecting the genoa, I am dismayed to see three new tears starting to open up. I pull the genoa down off the furler, not an easy job while running before 17 knots of wind, and watch as one of the tears goes from 3in long to 18in during the process.
Once again I am sliding around on the foredeck sewing on patches. Fortunately, I am able to cover two of the small tears with one patch. My contact cement is no longer a liquid, so I have to resort to silicon to hold the patches in place while I stitch them.
After about an hour and a half, I struggle to get the sail back up on the furler and trimmed in. While admiring my not-so-beautiful patches I discover three more tears. Once again I pull the sail off the furler and go through the patching drill. Fortunately, the wind has died down a little, and it is much easier to get the sail back up and flying.
Now my right thumb is killing me, as I have been doing so much hand sewing that the fingernail is cutting into my thumb, and it never gets a chance to heal up. It seems I cannot do anything without using it or jamming it into something. By the time I get everything cleaned up and put away I am pretty knocked out. Celebrating Christmas will have to wait for Christmas morning.
DAY 56 — ICEBERGS! 24hr run: 157nm. Position: 51°36’S, 42°50’W. Wind: W 25-40kts. Seas: 12-18ft. Cabin temperature: 44°-51°. Barometer: 992mb.
Christmas morning starts out like a fire drill when the winds build to 40 knots, and I am anxious to get out there and roll in the little bit of genoa that I have out and drop the mizzen altogether to get the boat back under control. Sailors Run is ripping across the ocean, heeled way over on her port side. At last, we are back sailing in a civilized manner, even in the powerful winds that have now backed down to about 30 knots.
Once below I start the coffee percolating and get things ready for a nice breakfast. Suddenly we are slammed by a rogue wave on the port beam, and I watch as the coffee pot flies across the galley, spilling water and grounds everywhere—Merry Christmas!
It is time to go outside and get the Spot locator device from its bracket on the stainless steel sternrail. As I push open the double companionway doors I feel like I’ve entered the world of Oz, as right before my eyes is a huge iceberg, over a mile long and some 800ft high. My knees shake as I gaze in disbelief. We have already passed it and could have easily have T-boned the thing. It appears to be about a mile distant, but once I get the radar up and going I see it is actually four miles away; its enormous size makes it seem that much closer. The berg is very visible on the radar, and even at a distance of 16 miles I am still able to see it. (It was with the radar that I could determine its size.) Our track shows that we passed within two miles of it. We have truly lucked out.
DAY 57 — NO FISH FOR ME 24hr run: 132nm. Position: 50°22’S, 40°16’W. Wind: WNW-SSW 10-20kts. Seas: 6-8ft. Cabin temperature: 44°-51°. Barometer: 992mb.
The winds have dropped way down, and we are sailing along comfortably toward our destination, sometimes even under sunny skies. It looks like a good day to fish, but this is soon brought to a halt by several very creative albatrosses. They alight in the water behind the boat, then take in their beaks the line that runs from the transom of Sailors Run and simply float back astern, with the line being pulled rapidly through their beaks until the lure comes up to the surface and then cracks them right in the head. I know it is merely a matter of time before I hook one of these beautiful birds, so I frantically pull the hand line aboard. For now, fishing seems out of the question and I must resort more to my canned goods. There seems to be an infinite supply of these, although I have already run out of chips and most fresh vegetables, not to mention the all too few beers I had brought.
The first of my three propane tanks is now empty, and it is a little alarming that the tank that was lashed to the stern pulpit somehow seems less than full. Oh well, we will see how long this one lasts—I can only hope we are at least one-third of the way through the voyage.
You may think that 45 degrees is not very cold, but when everything you wear is damp, there is no heat on the boat, and it’s time to reef a sail in winds that often blow at 40 knots or more, you find yourself only able to work outside for about 10 minutes at a time. You must have a plan of action before you head topside, for if you don’t finish it within 10 minutes you are going to have to bail out and go warm up your fingers again.
The genoa now has 11 patches sewn into it. It has already blown any chance of getting around the world in 150 days, and I can’t help but wonder if it will survive the voyage at all.
Day 62, and it’s New Year’s Eve. I decide that I had best stay home this year. After all, it is never hard to feel like you are sloshed on a boat, as staggering and spilling things is an everyday occurrence.
The Monitor windvane is doing a great job of keeping us on course. Even though at times the wind might shift by as much as 20 degrees, I have found that if I am just patient we are usually right back on course within an hour; the distance lost is also pretty insignificant given the scale we are operating on.
Early on during Day 64 I find myself sailing in much lighter winds and must roll the genoa all the way out to keep our speed up. Unfortunately, I immediately see three more tears in the sail—so down it comes again. In the process of repairing it I discover three additional tears, and this turns into an all-day job, in the middle of which I have to endure a squall that pelts me with hail as I struggle to keep the sail on deck while it is patched. Down here in the Southern Ocean, wrapping your hands around a hot cup of coffee means as much as drinking it.
A couple of days later the refrigerator goes down, and I start to understand the balance of nature. With the loss of the wind generator I was concerned about meeting my energy needs, but now that I have no refrigeration this is no longer a concern.
DAY 67 — MORE DAMAGE CONTROL 24hr run: 174nm. Position: 47°22°S, 47°22W. Wind: W35-45kts. Seas: 15-20ft. Cabintemperature: 44-48°. Barometer: 1014mb.
Today I’m startled awake by a wildly flapping sail on deck. The staysail has torn free from the metal tack pennant that holds it down to the deck. This is easily remedied by replacing it with a 1/2in piece of line.
Later, in a full gale, the boat suddenly comes up into the wind and all the sails begin flogging about wildly. At the same time, I notice the steering lines from the wind vane have gone slack—the stopper knot on the servo rudder has chafed through—so I turn on the electronic autopilot as I retie it. Soon we are once more sailing along briskly with the wind vane in control.
After a wild ride throughout the night when winds reaching 45 knots and waves up to 20ft high make sleeping nearly impossible, I am much relieved as conditions abate in the early morning. When I go on deck to shake out a reef, I see several of the slides on the new mainsail have been ripped clean out of the mast, and some others are broken. Then I discover something that really sends a shiver up my spine—there, right before me on the new gooseneck that I had made in Mexico, is a large crack; an obvious sign it is about to fail. Well, you can jury-rig lots of things on a boat, but one of the most dangerous is a gooseneck, as the forces on it are so great. If your repair fails, you could be severely injured and possibly even killed.
After much deliberation, I decide to free-fly the main and lash the boom on deck. I put one reef in the sail and hang a single block from the reef clew on the leech, giving me a two-part purchase to the block with a becket on the main traveler. Once again our performance has been hampered, and at this point, I feel like the line from the song “Three wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along.”
To top it off, the winds go light, and when I roll the genoa out I discover yet another tear in the sail. I am totally exhausted, so I roll it back in, after which we are soon once again sailing in storm force conditions with the wind is gusting to 65 knots. I take in all the sails and run on under bare poles alone. This storm is forecast to produce 35ft waves and 55-knot sustained winds, but fortunately, we are on its upper shoulder and should see somewhat lighter conditions. Still, we must prepare for the worst.
During the night we are slammed by a huge wave and water is forced below through the butterfly hatch, drenching my bunk. Fortunately, my computer is in a plastic bag and that keeps the water away from it. Afterward, I pull the shower curtain out of the shower and hang it from the hand rail along the overhead and now feel much more secure in my bunk, as it will be protected from future invasions of water.
Day 76 is a milestone as we draw abeam of the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and are able to pass in reasonable winds from 6-20 knots. Today I make tuna sandwiches from the cheapest bread I could find in Ecuador and it still tastes as fresh as the first loaf I opened some 83 days earlier. I’m sure a better bread with fewer preservatives would be hard as a rock by now.
On Day 81 I lose contact with my wife, Debbie, as there appears to be a dead spot for Sailmail just east of Africa. This is also my source of weather info, so now I watch the barometer and seas for any clues as to what might be coming my way. Now that we are in the Indian Ocean I’m a little more concerned, as this ocean tends to be the more dreaded one for many offshore sailors.
So far we have sailed 11,586 nautical miles, and we have 2,640 miles to go before we pass Cape Leeuwin on the southwesterly tip of Australia.
DAY 86 — SOUTHERN OCEAN GALE 24hr run: 140nm. Position: 45°35’S, 48°36’E. Wind: NW 45kts gusting to 55kts. Seas: 18-30ft. Cabin temperature: 53°-55°. Barometer: 984mb.
Sailing in the Southern Ocean requires staying on top of the ever-changing environment. A typical day aboard Sailors Run involves four to eight sail changes. The reason so many are necessary is the rapidly changing strength of the wind, which can go from 10-40 knots and back again in a matter of hours. The weather here in the Roaring Forties brings a deep low to your area every two to three days, usually with gale-force winds or worse.
Today the low we have been sailing in has deepened and appears to be moving over the top of us as it is now blowing 30 knots. Sailors Run has just turned up into the wind, so we have a steering problem.
I scramble to get my foul weather gear on and climb into the cockpit. Immediately it is obvious what is wrong, as we have what looks like a silver salmon dragging along behind the boat, which in reality is the servo rudder of the wind vane. I engage the electronic autopilot and go below to manufacture a new tube section to get the wind vane going again.
The vane gear does an amazing amount of work steering the boat and is perhaps the most valuable accessory I ever put on Sailors Run. Thank god I got it fixed, as the barometer continues to fall and is reading 984mb. The wind is now blowing 45 knots, gusting to 55, the seas are running 20-30ft high, forcing me to sail more south than east to keep these huge waves on my stern. Sailors Run was being slammed every 20 minutes or so on the beam by breaking waves, and water was finding its way below. Now that the waves are on our stern the only thing that happens is that the cockpit is filled on a regular basis.
This storm is one of the worst I have seen on the voyage so far. It stays on us hard for 18 hours, then the center of the low passes over us for about an hour and a half and we ride out the back side of the system. A storm such as this has an amazing amount of rugged beauty, with all the colors of the sea and the white foam of the breakers cascading down the face of the waves. Frightening it may be, but it also makes you feel totally alive, and you find yourself just staring at these amazing forces in action for hours on end.
DAY 87 — HALFWAY! 24hr run: 115nm. Position: 45°44’S, 51°16’E. Wind: SW 8-35kts. Seas: 15-20ft. Cabin temperature: 46°-55°. Barometer: 1010mb.
Today is a very special day, as we have arrived at the halfway point of our circumnavigation. Well, at least mileage-wise I believe this to be halfway. Time-wise it could be different, as no two days of sailing are the same. All things considered, though, this should put me across the finish line at Bahia Caraquez, Ecuador, on or about April 22, 2016. I will have also celebrated my 70th birthday on April 17. Of course, the real party will be in Bahia with Debbie and friends.
It is some days later I am reminded that here in the Southern Ocean the forces of nature rule and you are just a visitor who becomes engulfed in all that nature sends your way.
On Day 96 we encounter our worst storm so far, with winds gusting to 65 knots and seas that occasionally are 50ft high. We somehow maintain a degree of control by dragging our Delta drogue on 400ft of ¾in nylon line with 20ft of 3/8in chain at the drogue end to keep it well down in the sea. We hit our fastest speed of the voyage—14.1 knots—before streaming the drogue. The storm is upon us for nearly 48 hours, and many large breaking waves engulf Sailors Run. To start with I have only two of the three storm boards in the companionway, with the outside louvered doors shut, thinking we were secure. But one particularly large wave climbs aboard, filling the cockpit and forcing green water through the louvered doors that cascade below decks like a beautiful waterfall, leaving several inches of water sloshing about on the cabin sole. It isn’t until several days later that I learn this waterfall has taken out my radar unit and—worse—water also had gotten into the control box of the electronic autopilot, taking it out for the remainder of the voyage.
At last, on Day 107, we pass our third cape, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin. I must admit that this voyage is rapidly becoming one of survival for both my old war horse, Sailors Run, and one weary sailor. I have already lost about 20 pounds and am starting to believe that it is possible to be scared skinny. I can only guess what may lie ahead, sailing south of Bass Strait, Tasmania and New Zealand.
Next month: Can things get any worse for “El Jefe” Hartjoy and Sailors Run? Believe it…
Miss the first installment? Read Circumnavigation: Alone Around the World—part 1 here.