Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The crossing.... we made it!

Well the short version is we made it! The first half was a breeze, easy fun sailing with dry, warm weather and more time on our hands than we knew what to do with. We had to work on the second half but it was a really great experience. Warning it is pretty long but lots of people have asked so here it is....

Perfect sailing upto Bermuda, we just left Double Bruyn to it with the trade winds
On our 4th day, about 500miles out of Peurto Rico, the chain plate for our starboard side stay failed. We were sailing well at about 7 knots upwind and suddenly had a big bang, the stay went slack and half the chain plate was sticking out of the deck (the chain plate is a stainless plate bolted to a strong part of the boat like a bulk head). We were quick to tack and take the load off it, but it was a good wake up call - something like that could easily break the mast.
It took most of the night to clean up and fix and Paul did a great job of replacing the rotten section of the bulkhead with the wood we had on board.

The rotten bulkhead above Pauls head that used to hold our chain plate
We never were really able to get much in terms of weather reports, but we did hear about tropical storm Barry on the US east coast before its effects came our way. With about 2 days warning we had plenty of time to prepare the boat and were definately ready. The rain was torenchal and wind a bit over 30 knots + gusts. Even though we carried only a small amount of main and jib we still averaged 7 knots and covered 150miles in 24hours, our best for the trip at the time. Meggie (our autopilot) did all the hard work while Paul and i stayed warm inside drinking cocoa and listening to music!

With 1500miles remaining on the 7 June our brand new autopilot packed up. After a few hours of pulling it to pieces we found a small plastic cog the size of a 5cent piece with a few broken teeth. Funny how such a small piece of plastic could cause such a turning point in the trip. From here to the Azores either me or Paul would need to steer the boat. We went from having all the time in the world to no spare time at all because of the bloody cog!

We started a 2hrs on - off watch. Although we were exhausted for the first few days we did develop a good routine. The watches ended up being 3hrs on - 2 off, with the hour overlap for getting in out of wetweather gear, sail changes and coffee etc. All in all after eating etc we´d usually get 4-5 hours sleep / day.

Not too stoked with our Raymarine autopilot that we bought for the crossing

On day 13, as we were nearing the high latitudes we were hit with another gale system. The first day the winds were similar strength to the previous gale (30-35knots) only this time we were sailing into the wind and waves. The wind was so strong we took the mainsail completley down and reefed the jib to about 1/4 of its size. We made little boat speed, struggling to make progress with the rising swell.

Inside the boat felt like a submarine with water passing every window as the bow dug into the waves. And outside it was exhausting steering the boat and so wet we may as well have been swimming. About every 10 minuteswe´d get a bigger than normal wave over the bow that would fill the cockpit and we´d have to stand upto our knees in the icy water for water always felt like minutes before it drained.

The wind continued to build into the 2nd night of the gale and just after dark broke the roller furler for our headsail. We went from having a 1/4 to full size jib up in 40 knots of wind. We started the engine to try and get some control of the boat again, but that stopped a few seconds later when the broken furler line wrapped around the prop. With no headsail, too much wind for our mainsail and now no engine, our last option was to stop the boat with our sea parachute. We were always reluctant to use the chute as we´ve heard conflicting stories about their effectivness (often they have to be cut free and can also end up getting tangled causing far more problems). But in this case we had little option.
We didnt have much luck deploying it however - a few seconds after it filled, the rope on our brandnew Westmarine chute snapped under the load. And to brighten the mood i´d also caught my hand between the rope and winch and cut my fingers. Paul summed it up pretty well in the log book with `We are now laying ahull, nothing is organised and we´re completely disabled until the morning, drifting Nth at 3knots. Not ideal!´Laying ahull (that is, bobbing around with no sails or control), is not only incredibly uncomfortable but also really tolling on the boat. With waves hitting the boat side on, and no sail up to counteract the rolling, huge loads are placed on the rig, fittings keel and rudder.

I dont think either of us slept much that night (the matresses and blankets were so wet i slept in my wet weather gear) and overnight we drifted 16miles in the wrong direction. However, someone felt sorry for us and as the sun came up the wind and sea started to drop. Happy days.

Pablo looking like he´s going skiing for the day - it was really cold in the high latitudes
The next day we sailed very little and just worked on the boat. We fixed the furler, i cleared the rope from the prop and Paul patched up the sails. We also noticed over half the strands on our backstay had snapped at both ends so was very close to breaking. As we have no running backstays there would be little holding the mast up if this broke. We rigged 2 temporary stays, (one from the spreaders and one from the top of the mast) and using the deck winches took the tension off the backstay. This also meant that for the remaining 1000 miles we couldnt use our mainsail.

Underway again we had good sailing conditions, wind and current in our favour finally! We were however getting concerned about the amount of water in the boat. During the storm we had water slushing across the cabin floor the whole time, but i´d always put that down to the waves flooding the cockpit, spilling through our lazarette. Now, 3 days after the storm and in sunny weather with flat seas, we still couldnt walk inside without getting our feet wet. Our bilge pump had been on so much it burnt through its wires, and sometimes we´d empty as much as 200ltrs of water in buckets before going on watch.

The problem we found was with our rudder. While laying ahull in the storm we had sheared the bolts that supported the rudder shaft in the cockpit. This in turn caused a side to side movement and broke the stuffing box (a brass housing with teflon used to stop leaking past the rudder) away from the hull. This could have been quite bad if the movement continued and broke or cracked the fibreglass as now only would we loose our steering but it could take on alot of water.
We cut a section of the cockpit out and screwed timber in place to support the rudder. After supporting the top section we were able to re-attach the stuffing box. The fix was a rough and quick one but with a few adjustments along the way got us to the Azores.

Our quick fix with what we had on board
With 100 miles to go our spinaker pole snapped. This didnt really worry me and i always found it a hassle to use, but it left Paul sulking all morning about our crappy light duty aluminium pole (he says hes going to make our next on our of heavy duty bamboo).

A not so happy Captain Pablo
We arrived in Lajes, Flores after 2700 miles and 22 days at sea. We had a very relaxed customs/immigration visit and not long after were in the pub for a big meal and our first beers in a month (yes we actually didnt drink for the whole trip).
Despite all her problems Double Bruyn is really a great boat and fully served her purpose. However, we´re not really sure what to do with her now and we may well leave her in the Azores. The rudder and rig need some serious attention and Paul and i are out of denero. We figure we´ll try crew to Europe and work hard to save some pennies for next years Mediteranean cruising season. This is also a really nice place so it would be fun to do up the boat here. But these plans change everyday so who knows what will happen, leaving it in Portugal is another possibility - obviously we missed the AC in Valencia.
No more rice and beans for me, happy chappy
Looking back on the trip although sometimes we found it hard we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was not uncommon when spirits were low to be reminded by a pod of dolphins or a whale off the bow that we were somewhere pretty special. I remember sometimes being cold and wet at the helm with aching arms and legs struggling to stay awake, and wondering why i had an ear to ear grin on my face!
It was also pretty humbling arriving in the Azores and seeing the kinds of boats others sailed across in. There was certainly a crew that crossed with far less than us.
The Azores are great and we´re enjoy being on land again, will post some more photos soon. Cheers!