Sunday, September 20, 2009

The trip that was...

With my governor Adam kindly giving me a 3 week window off work I wasted no time leaving Brighton, sneaking out early afternoon on the Friday with Pete and William. On route to Falmouth in typical fashion we encounted headwinds whole way and must have added a third more miles to the trip with our long tacks up the channel. No complaints though, the sailing was fun and it was great to spend time taking the piss out of the cabin boy's Pete and William. However after two days it is fair to say the temptation of cold beer in a Plymouth pub proved too strong and we cut the trip short with a pit stop 48hours after leaving Brighton.

Jess arrived at the boat on the Tuesday and after many more rushed and last minute boat jobs we finally slipped the lines on Thurday 20th August. The conditions were far from ideal (20 – 25 knots SW and a very confused sea) however it did feel bloody good knowing that we were finally underway.

Neptune gave us a hard time leaving the Queen’s land – Poor old DB was getting well bashed about and progress was minimal. In the middle of the night (when all these things happen) Jess was on watch and the furling line snapped. Suddenly we went from a nicely reefed head sail to our full 140% genoa out in over 25knots, not ideal! Our only option was to get the monster down and we were forced to fly the storm jib for the rest of the night, resulting in a boat speed so depressing i struggle to document it. At this stage I was seriously thinking we’d have to stop in France, the boat was getting a right hiding and both Jess and I were knackered. As well as this I wasn’t sure if we could fix the furling in those seas and progress was rubbish without a proper head sail. The next day however a break in the weather lifted our spirits and I had a crack at the furler. With that job completed we were back doing our whopping 3knots over ground again, happy days (kind of!).
Fixing the furler with the strom jib on the new forestay
After a 3 day slog often against wind and tide we finally made it across the continental shelf and into the Bay of Biscay. The sea state was good, sun was out with dolphins on the bow, and although the wind was on the nose progress picked up without having tides to get in the way.
Second day into Biscay however I got word from Dad and Steve that we could expect a bit of weather. 30 - 40knots + gusts directly from where we're heading (of course!). It was the aftermath of hurricane Bill from the US and although had obviously diminished considerably was worth being prepared for. Below are the weather maps of old Billy with our Biscay position.
As the wind started to build progress stopped and we hove too with 3 reefs in the main and our little storm jib. After locking ourselves inside we actually found the boat surprisingly comfortable (despite being very healed over) and i was well rapt with this sail setup. And although the wind generator was howling away (sometimes producing 40amps for the batteries!), we were even able to enjoy a night a the cinema watching a bootleg copy of Slumdog Millionaire ;-)
The DB with sails set for bad weather

Over night we were blown 10miles north, resulting in DB's worst ever 24hr run of 55miles. We didn't care, given the conditions we felt lucky to feel as good as we did and i was very relieved to have not broken anything.

The next 2 days were fantastic sailing, with the wind backing to the north as we cleared Biscay. Dad had told me very casually to expect a blow of upto 30 - 35 knots, but its not on the nose son! Hmmm while we didn't exactly share his enthusiasm we were looking forward to a few decent runs and the sailing would be fun.

Swell was building and eventually our trusted autopilot Captain Dan decided to pack it in. Almost comical, 997 miles out of Brighton my plague of 1000mile autopilots was yet again in full force! The swearing and threatening Dan with keel hauling wasn't helping, and while Jess's calm approach of talking nice and lightly pressing his buttons worked once, it was short lived.

I must say i was beyond frustrated with the failure as i had spent ALOT of money and time trying to sort a reliable solution. Double Bruyn is a story of 'Do it 5 times, do it right'. Now about 5 times after trying to fix these techo autopilots i'm getting a windvane :-)We were sailing well as the wind and sea built as forecast. With 2 reefs in the main and no head sail, we were racing along continuously at 8 knots, surfing at 10. Hectic was the best way to descibe it, and below is a quote from the logbook detailing 30seconds on the helm: While trying to steer a course of 190deg, the boat catches a wave and rounds up to about 160. Then when trying to bring it back on course a wave hits the side and swings it round to 240deg, where the boat gybes..! If it doesn't gybe we go back to steering our 190 course and begin the next 30secs, all while sailing at 8-10knots.

This went on for about 40 hours, all the time Jess and i doing 2hr watches. There always needed to be someone concentrating on steering the boat, and in those conditions the boat would go off course in seconds if you weren't paying attention. To make matters worse, the constant waves filling the cockpit killed the outside speakers, and eventually after water breaking both the ipods we had no music to distract us. We did however, cover a record run of 165miles in 24hrs, with 85 of those done over night 1800 - 0600 :-)

The storm blew over after about 2 days and we were left with a nice breeze and blew skies, although i think we were both too tired to enjoy it. I woke up for my watch late and when i came on deck found Jess asleep at the wheel in the cockpit (hard to get the staff isn't it!). With better conditions and little enthusiasm to keep this watch routine going I set about trying to get Meggie (our old autopilot) back on the job.

A 'Jess' watch compared with the 'Jon' watch.

The captain maintaining a good lookout and the 1st Mate catching up on some sleep ;-)

After hours of tinkering and having little joy getting Meggie back on the job, we had a crack at combining the two units (I have to say this was Jess's idea, as while at the boat show with Smarty, Raymarine convinced us this wouldn't work). Although not quite on the first attempt, we did manage to get the two to talk and keep course, with Dan's drive unit being the brawn and Meggie's computer as the brains. Nervously we left them to it, expecting anytime for it all to go tit's up. We cleaned up the boat (which was now a terrible mess) and both caught up on sleep, eventually accepting that perhaps we had our AP back! We figure Dan just had the hump about being the 3rd wheel and wanted someone to play with ;-)

The New and Improved..... DAN AND MEGGIE AP!

The rest of the trip was great - Fantastic sailing, warmer weather and a few fish on the line as well. With the wind dead behind us we gybed our way down the remaining miles to the Canaries. I did have a little mishap with my cruising chute that left me wimpering like a lost puppy - When setting the sail i let go of two of the controlling lines, leaving them dangling well off the boat. We were sailing along at a great rate, and couldn't see any easy way to get the lines back on board! When we depowered the sail it ended up rapt around the mast and rigging, and it wasn't long before i shed tears at the sight of my beautiful red genaker being ripped on the spreaders. Jess did a great job of temporarily patching the damaged areas (while the captain exhausted the ships supply of tissues) and before long we were back on track sailing a great course under Jonny's favourite sail :-) Having not read or researched any marinas in Tenerife (I only picked it really because there were cheap flights from Gatwick) I got in touch with the oldman to try find us a place to stay. Turns out that there really weren't many, and what was available was far from cheap. Hmmm, so much for forward planning... I remembered William on his Atlantic circuit opting for La Gomera, a smaller quieter island on the west of Tenerife and figured we'd check it out.

After 14 days land came into view and we were racing along with a few knots of favourable current. Perhaps it was because we were so excited at the prospect of land and maybe weren't paying great attention to the sailing, but within 10 miles of ending the trip we came very close to broaching and putting the mast in the water. We were enjoying 8 - 9 knots of boat speed with obviously too much sail area, when a big gust came and put the boat right over on her side, filling the cockpit with water. It took about 10 minutes to get the headsail down and boat under control again, a good reminder that you really can't relax until your at the dock!

La Gomera turned out to be a great decision, the island is beautiful and undeveloped for the Canaries. What a great trip it was :-)

Aside from my autopilot issues i get more and more pleased with the boat every mile we do. When Paul and i sailed across the Atlantic to the Azores 2 years ago we hit a similar storm to what we had this time in Biscay. Although we learnt alot that trip we severally damaged the rigging and rudder by putting the boat under too much stress during heavy weather. Now with more experience, new sails and inner forestay the boat is much safer and more comfortable in similar conditions. The 2nd gale we had on this trip was tough, with the wind directly behind us it was difficult and tiring sailing. But even your best blue water cruiser would have the same complaints, and since we covered a new 24hr record and didn't break anything i guess the DB proved herself in these conditions too.

Trying to find the airport in Tenerife (It did take some time to get used to being back on land)

Big thanks to Nae and Smarty for such a top effort with the blog updates, Steve William and the old man for all the weather routing, and of course my 1st Mate Jess for staying awake on watch :-)