What an amazing adventure I have had these past seven weeks! It’s not often someone gets a chance to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat these days…and I got to do it with an incredible group of guys. The first (and most important because he’s running the show) is Captain Dan, my big brother. I am so grateful that he not only has an adventuresome heart, but also that he has a generous heart and includes me in his schemes. Let’s cross the Atlantic…sure! Let’s cross the Mediterranean…sure! Morocco…Azores, why not?! Not only does he enable these experiences, he is an amazing traveling companion. It didn’t matter if we were provisioning the boat for our trip, wrestling the enormous spinnaker sail, or hand steering for 3000+ miles, his attitude made it fun. Work the problem!
Dan also has a great knack for choosing crew. Mattia, who comes from near Torino, Italy but currently lives in Malta, has become like family to us. Ever since he showed up on the dock in Lagos, Portugal he has radiated a positive and “can do” enthusiasm for every task at hand, even in the roughest weather and queasiest conditions!Quickly we realized he had hidden cooking talents and we all benefited from our own Italian chef for the duration of the trip. That is only one aspect of Mattia that we will miss! Our other European crew member is Andrés who is from the Galicia region of Spain. He is an accomplished 470 racer and we really appreciated his sailing skills! I was fortunate to overlap on watches with him and our conversations were always thought provoking and fun. Even though he was technically neutral, he did all he could to help fishing team Petaurie win! (Sadly, it didn’t happen, but we never gave up hope until we were pulling in to Newport) The boat sage was our last crew member, Uncle Pete! There was never a question he didn’t readily know the answer to (except perhaps how to spell Boutros Boutros-Ghali…) His photography skills are exceptional and I can’t wait to see the finished photos! It is such a privilege to spend time with Pete and it’s no coincidence that I was on the same watches with him (the perks of writing the watch schedule!) Thanks to each and every one of you for a trip of a lifetime!
We are southeast of Nantucket working around the shoals and lining up for a straight shot into Newport. We are currently sailing 6-7 knots in 15 knots of wind in……FOG. Fog and wind what?? And since the trip is almost done and I will not get many more opportunities, I can now let you know that we are using the Fog Alert Radar Tagging system. Called … well, work it out yourself. The VHF radio started emitting strange noises which we quickly identified as VOICES for the first time in 16 days earlier today. It will be a long night but we should enter Newport in the morning. Pete is currently steering a shockingly straight line in difficult conditions. The man has been there with me from the beginning. There are no words. Until tomorrow.
We are currently gliding across Georges Bank under engine with not a cloud in the sky and no wind to be had. We are in 70 feet of water. 70 feet! A few hours ago we were in 7,000 feet of water. This bank has proven to be one of the greatest fishing spots on earth. So, you may now ask, where are OUR fish? After losing both hand lines and most of the line from the negotiated Reel sharing accord, this morning we had some rather large ocean beast bend the rod in half and munch through the 120lb test line. Our fishing is now at an end. Sure, Team MATDAN could claim victory but it is not a satisfactory conclusion to an epic struggle. Let’s just agree that the fish won and that our collective efforts over the last 3,000 miles have been anything but stellar. They have been pathetic.
So, with a blush of embarrassment on our cheeks, we venture across a legendary fishing spot to the monotonous drone of the diesel that has accompanied our past 15 hours. Though the faithful diesel has propelled us 100+ miles, we are yearning to be free. This might occur in about 5 hours as wind is predicted to fill in later in the day. A last night of SAILING will be the orders no matter what the wind holds for us. Newport by noon tomorrow? We are close. We are ready. Another update tonight.
It has been a mixed bag of excitement and calm aboard Heldeleine this past 24 hours. Last night during our Dinner and a Movie Night (Master and Commander) Russell Crowe and the lads were fighting the French frigate and we aboard Heldeleine were still battling the current (not quite as risky an endeavor…perhaps?…), there appeared a cool breeze which announced the end of the current. Our speed rose in 20 minutes from 4 to 7 knots and we were off to the races. As the HMS Surprise sailed off for the horizon, we aboard Heldeleine welcomed the change of pace and the fact that we need not worry about a broadside clearing our gun deck any time soon.
Earlier in the day, a bit frustrated with the progress of this expedition, I, in my infinite wisdom, declared that the spinnaker would move us along quite nicely and that even though the wind was blowing 15+ knots against a lumpy current, we should haul up the beast. Laurie and I donned the life vests and after a violent twist was worked out, proceeded to have the sail flying. And fly she did! Hmmm. Our speed went from 4 to ……4.1. Damn. The Current must have thought it was pretty hilarious that we were attempting to muscle our way ahead. So, after 20 minutes of flying a light air sail in heavy air, I then regrew my brain and decided that the spinnaker should probably come down. As explained before, the spinnaker is in a sleeve that you haul down on to douse the sail. This works like a charm in the light air conditions that you are supposed to (when you have a brain) fly the sail. These were once again Not those conditions. As we hauled with all our strength to bring down the sleeve the sail in the high wind decided that it was enjoying itself so much that it did not Want to come down. A 4 foot rip appeared near the clew. Hello! The sail first twisted in on itself and then the sleeve twisted and then the entire mess tried to launch us into the air. Well, enough of that. Down come the halyard, into the ocean went part of the sail and there lay Laurie and I on our backs covered in a soaking wet and now extremely heavy rats nest of a sail. Muscled aboard and stuffed back into the bag to hopefully see another day. But that was before, now, along with Captain Jack Aubrey we had wind AND no current against us. The overnight was pleasant. The moon shone beautifully and the flying fish would occasionally come aboard to say hello before we scrambled to return them to down where it’s wetter, under the sea.
This morning dawned with decreasing wind and I awoke with the same word in my head that I had when I went to sleep a few hours before: Phantom…no, not that!…..Spinnaker! What perfect wind for a Spinnaker. We have a Spinnaker. A ripped, twisted, soaking wet and de-sleeved Spinnaker. Work the problem. Laurie removed the wet Clew where the rip was and left it to dry for 30 minutes or so. Andres suited up and the 3 of us then used sail repair tape (super adhesive Dacron material) to, well, repair the sail with tape. We then stretched most of the sail down the length of Heldeleine (the sail is 60’ long) and Andres slowly dragged the sleeve back down the length of the sail carefully arranging the bits and bobs in the right places. Up went the beautiful sail and double rum rations to the crew. Then…..10…7….4….the wind just melted away…..And stayed away. The lovely, if temperamental, sail was doused, bagged and stowed. And then…….
Then….my god, I just can’t say it….say it ain’t so, the…..yammering yanmar, the Iron genny, the main engine of Heldeleine roared to life with the intention to propel us forward for the first time in 2,000 miles. We are content that we have been true to the sailor’s creed but I got to tell you it does not feel good.
Currently we are heading northwest in 18 knots of wind going a whopping 4.5 freakin’ knots. WTF. Let me discuss last night and then our current thinking on this subject. The winds DID increase slightly to 22-25 knots as our current forecast had said. But what the current forecast did not say was that we would be entering the goddamn Gulf Stream 450 miles from he east coast. Actually we did not enter the main NORTHBOUND stream but one of the many eddies that send the current to the SOUTHEAST. So, our boat log speed (a little spinning wheel under the boat) said that we were currently traveling at 5.5 knots (the boat log is usual 2 knots slow and should really be 7.5 knots) THROUGH THE WATER but the GPS Chartplotter said we were doing 4.5 knots over the SURFACE OF THE EARTH. The current was costing us 3 knots of boat speed. Pretend you are in a row boat rowing your sweet tuchas off and the stream you are in is moving backwards faster than you can currently row. Not very pleasing to be working so hard, with water rushing by you, when you are being robbed of your gain by something as swell as a current. So there we have our fearless crew, sailing their little hearts out, pure of intention, the model of seaman-like rectitude (What ?), gallantly attempting to sail their small craft home to their loved ones who at that exact moment were craning their wee little necks to the east from Widow’s Walks up and down the eastern seaboard for a mere glimpse of a white sail in the distance but NO, I say, NO, WE the objects of their love and devotion will not be stymied from our sacred mission by a nasty, rotten and dare I say it, GODLESS fucking current. Newport by Thanksgiving.
How was last night you might ask? The words of Laurie Fink “A Terrible watch. 3 rain squalls with 30 knot gusts followed by no wind, heavy seas breaking over the decks completely drenching us, then at the end there were Rainbows and Dolphins. So…over all…not a bad watch” Kind of sums it up. I might add a bit of lightening on my watch to keep things fun….You try to take the good with the bad and the sea rarely disappoints in both categories. So we continue on the rhumbline for Newport. Winds will increase a little overnight (Always OVERNIGHT…!) and then should ease as we approach the Gulf Stream. I keep mentioning the Gulf Stream and maybe a quick definition for those who asked. The Gulf Stream is a north flowing stream of warm water that originates in the Caribbean and rides up the east coast of the US and Canada at a distance of between 60 and 250 miles from shore. It can be as wide as 60 miles and can have a current exceeding 4 knots. Once past the US and Canada it continues across the North Atlantic and is the reason why Europe (which is on the same latitude as Labrador, Canada) is not a frozen tundra. And here’s a cool history fact. The Gulf Stream was first documented by that polymath, enlightenment genius, Benjamin Franklin while voyaging to Paris. Which reminds me that we are looking forward to landfall in perhaps 4 days with Showers, Shaves and breakfast at Newport’s only ‘Benjamin’s’ Next report in the AM.
Oops, yesterday was the 19th not the 18th…with The NY Times Not being delivered to our boat yesterday morning (where the hell was that kid???) I am not quite sure of the date….
We are currently 653 miles from Newport and have sailed 1,637 miles from Horta on this leg. In total from Lagos, Portugal we are around 2,700 miles down the road. Just numbers.
Last night had its moments, one of them was sailing into a squall that produce strong winds, torrential rain and then ABSOLUTELY no wind. The boat, very slowly, turned in circles and so did the compass and chart plotter. This continued for a while with us in the center of the cloud formation just drifting along. I told Laurie to start the engine and get us out of this nebulous world and back on the road. 5 minutes later we were again sailing in 18 knots of wind doing 8 knots boat speed. This was the 2nd time the engine was on for less than 5 minutes and the 3rd time we used the engine was to go BACKWARDS to find and retrieve the drone. This has indeed been a sailing trip. Today has been a strong, fast day. With 2 reefs in the main and the jib rolled half way we have been cruising at 6-10 knots. This brings us to the reigning speed champion aboard Heldeleine…..ladies and gentlemen, from the land that has produced Matadors and Conquistadors, I present to you Andres Jimenez with a 2018 Heldeleine Transatlantic récord of 12.5 knots!!! Well done, my friend. He would say a few words but with the groupies and endorsement deals arriving, the poor lad has no time for the press.
Things are supposed to freshen up overnight and for the next 40 hours. Look to the live map to see if the record will hold! So, on we go.
Today’s update is about life aboard and the effects of wind and sea state. So, it is goodbye to the days of smelling the proverbial flowers and hello to hard on the wind sailing in the ocean. We will be in a crescendoing period for the next 3 days, reaching a peak early Sunday morning with forecast 20-25+ knots as we begin exiting the Gulf Stream. Currently winds are 15-20 from the SSW in an uncomfortable sea state. When people talk about the amount of wind it is always important to remember the sea state. It is the difference between a flat fast exciting ride and a bumpy, banging, unpredictable ride. We are preparing for entering the later and starting to adjust things aboard. On a practical level we will be on port tack and all objects on the left side of the boat that can fly or slide across need to be secured. Think of the boat inverted. Then again, let’s NOT think about the boat inverted. Off watch crew will find sleeping less comfortable (heeling to starboard, even 10-15 degrees, causes you to roll and must be thought about before you have that dream about ‘Wheeee…. I’m rolling down the beautiful lawn and then I’m hitting a big rock’) and starting to move around more strategically. Just pouring cereal into a bowl was super exciting this morning. Then There is On Watch. I just got off of 4 hours at the wheel and in these building conditions you are ready for a break. Mattia is there now and let’s hear it for youth, he is smiling and just gave me a thumbs up! I love this crew. Even the old parents aboard seem tough nuts to crack. Last night Laurie watched Pete topple off the windward cockpit seat and then bounce back up with a grunt and resume his watch. We are always in life vests and headlamps at night but for the next couple nights we will be adding a tether to fixed points in the cockpit and tricks at the wheel will be 1/2 hour on and 1/2 off with your partner. This is a marathon not a sprint. I guess this is why we are here. Mileage was 175 the last 24 hours. More to come.
It has been a fast but hard day of sailing today. The wind has been between 5-22 with 4-6 foot seas. When the wind decreases the seas have a greater effect on the ride. The opposite is also true that with a stronger wind the ride is bumpy but more predictable. The worst ride is very little wind and large seas. What little wind there is in the sails gets rocked out and the crockery gets broken below. So, far the next week you will be seeing 2 words written quite frequently. They are the collateral of “Harry Sucks” and they are HAND STEERING. Harry, the auto helm, has had difficulty this trip. Whether it is a compass issue or performance pressure, he has let the team down. About half the time he is OK but this next 1000 miles to Newport will be a challenge for old Harry. The latest forecast gives us 15-25 knot winds with higher gusts. The plan is to keep benefiting from this high pressure we have been riding for the few couple days (15-20 knots on a beam reach with 4-6 foot seas). Our next hurdle, in a few days, will be the Gulf Stream and a low pressure that should be just leaving the area when we arrive. I have a lot of respect for the Gulf Stream and we have been positioning ourselves south in order to ride the current north and exit in line for Newport. We will watch this very carefully (We are using Predictwind over an Iridium Go! Satellite Setup that is slow but so far excellent). Worst case scenario is a NE wind against the north bound Gulf Stream current. As in a low pressure. I have seen those waves (Bermuda Race 2012, right Steve?!) and they are sphincter tightening monsters that Heldeleine will avoid at all costs. Any of you Gulf Stream junkies out there are free to send a note our way if you see anything interesting in the next several days. So, hand steering will be the order of the day and hopefully we will be in Newport by next Wednesday or Thursday. But one day at a time. Regards!
We are past the halfway point between Horta and Newport with a mere 1100 miles to go. As you can see on our tracking, it has been a circuitous route to this spot. We have been forced this far south to avoid the high pressure system that kept drifting south. With winds in a clockwise rotation, the bottom of this high pressure system has provided us with winds from the east but only by adding hundreds of miles to the rhumbline. But hey, we knew that this was not going to be a cakewalk this time of year. Especially going this way. And so far we have sailed ever mile of this trip.
On the fishing front there was tragic news from Team Petaurie a couple mornings ago as their hand-line unspooled overnight with a complete loss of all their line. As astute readers will remember this is exactly what happened to the legendary Team MATDAN (2-time fish catching team champions….). Both teams have made peace with the fact that no foul play was involved and they now just assume that a very large whale named Wally, who has been following us closely, is the responsible party. With only the ship’s rod and reel remaining some extremely sensitive negotiations were begun to broker a peaceful settlement. With the involvement, by SAT Phone, of ex-UN secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a framework of cooperation has been signed. The provisions of the Fishing And Reel Treaty II or F.A.R.T. II, mandates that the ship’s Rod and Reel will be shared by both teams on alternating days with the great, magnanimous and most humble Team MATDAN taking odd days and the fish less Team Petaurie to try their luck on even days. We are currently broad reaching for home at 7 knots. Tally Ho!!