Bermuda to Faial

Ocean Gem
Geoff & Eileen Mander
Sat 27 May 2017 08:00
Date: Saturday 27th May 2017
Time: 09:00 (UTC-1)
Position: 35:50.81N 39:00.94W
Distance to Faial: 517NM

As expected during Thursday night the wind picked up. It also rained quite a lot. We were bowling along under triple reeled main and 3 or 4 rolls in the jib. I was in my bunk trying to sleep and Nat was on watch. There was a strange sound, like something falling onto the deck followed by a scraping noise.

After a few minutes Nat woke me and said I should come on deck. There I found that the jib halyard had fractured somewhere close to where it was connected to the shackle that in turn was connected to the head of the jib. The noise I heard was caused by the remainder of the jib halyard slipping away through the mast eventually depositing itself in an untidy coil on the coach roof. The halyard is part rope, part wire and the break had occurred in the wire strands. The scraping noise was caused by the wire rubbing on the coach roof. Whoops! We now had no jib halyard. The only thing preventing the jib itself from falling down we're the reeling turns we had taken around the luff foil.

It was dark, wet and stormy and the seas were pretty rough, not conditions to be bouncing around on the foredeck trying to sort this problem out. So we rolled in the rest of the jib to secure it for the night. We would attend to it in more detail when conditions improved. It was a measure of the wind strength that the boat was still sailing well under just a triple reeled main.

In the morning we discussed what to do. Repairing the fractured halyard and then going up the mast to try to feed the line back through the mast was too difficult whilst we were still at sea in rough conditions. We could drop the jib and then raise it again using the spinnaker halyard. But we still had a working staysail and a cruising chute. The staysail has its own halyard but the cruising chute would also need the spinnaker halyard. If we used the spinnaker halyard for the jib then we couldn't easily use it for the cruising chute. So we opted to leave the jib where it was, fully furled but without a halyard and then proceed to Faial using the stay sail in strong winds and the cruising chute in weaker winds. If we were to encounter weak headwinds then we could always use the engine.

The winds moderated a little Friday morning but it was grey, misty, raining and cold. Clearly we were being primed for sailing in Northern Europe. We continued to sail on in a roughly ESE direction waiting for a front to pass through when the winds would veer to the NW and we could gybe towards Faial. It didn't arrive till late afternoon (several hours after the forecast had predicted). After it passed conditions improved, we had sun and the sea calmed.

We sailed NE throughout the night but by around 4:00am the wind died so we turned on the engine. We are now motorsailing towards Faial under full main and staysail.

Anyone looking at the track of our process across the Atlantic may wonder why our route has so many wobbles in its track. In fact Nat joked that we would have to call it the travels of 'Geoff Meander'. Here's the reason why:

In the Northern Atlantic there are two dominant weather patterns. Somewhere between Bermuda and The Azores lies an area of high pressure. Winds travel clockwise around a high pressure system and generally are of relatively low strength. If we want sail eastwards then we need to be on the north side of this high pressure area.

At the same time, every few days, a low pressure system exits somewhere along the eastern seaboard of the US or Canada and skittles along the northern side of the high pressure system travelling in a northeastwards direction towards N Europe. Winds in a low pressure system travel in an anti-clockwise direction and are often strong, frequently of gale force.

Clearly to get winds pushing us to the east we need to be below the centre of low pressure systems and above the centre of high pressure. So there is a sweet spot, somewhere north of the high pressure system and south of the low pressure system where we will get the winds we want; eastwards in direction, not too strong and not too weak. As the depressions progress towards us the winds increase, so we tend to turn southwards to avoid gales. As. They pass we head northwards again to get winds strong enough to sail by.

Weather is rarely this simple and a number of other factors make this strategy difficult to get right, but it hopefully explains why we don't just sail in a straight line to our destination.