Day 165 – Bashing to Windward

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 27 May 2022 07:03
Noon Position: 24 25.1 S 090 14.6 E
Course: WSW Speed: 4 knots
Wind: SSE Force 5
Sea: moderate to rough Swell: SSE 3 m
Weather: mostly sunny, warm
Day’s Run: 70 nm sailed, 28 nm made good

The last 24 hours have been spent bashing our way to windward against a
strong S’ly breeze, which at times has approached near gale force. So far we
have done a lot of bashing for not a lot of ground to windward, only 28
As you may recall, yesterday forenoon we had reduced down to the staysail
and two reefs in the main. As the wind continued a steady force five all
afternoon and increased slightly to force six in the evening, we remained
under this sail plan for the rest of the day. At sunset I was planning on
putting in a tack to make some ground back to the west but when I looked
around, with the wind still strong out of the south, I decided to leave
things be. Sylph was snug and reasonably comfortable with the
staysail/double-reefed main combination and I had rigged a running backstay
to relieve some of the stress on the mast caused by the staysail. It was
going to be quite a bit of messing around to tack, not to mention wet work,
before it would all be done. I would wait for a more propitious moment.
That moment came at 0230. The wind appeared to be easing so I climbed into
my leaky foul weather gear (the trousers are the problem), dropped the
staysail, set a scrap of jib, unrigged the running backstay, and attempted
to tack. The first attempt was unsuccessful. We didn’t have enough speed to
make it through the waves. Sylph stalled and fell back onto the starboard
tack. I allowed her to pay off a bit to gather some speed, waited for what
in the dark seemed a break in the seas, and then brought the helm over. This
time we made it through. I trimmed sails, tidied up and retired below.
Unfortunately the easing of the wind proved to be only a temporary lull and
even with only a little bit of jib set, about 15%, Sylph was powering over
and through waves with a regular crash as she landed on the windward side of
them. I confess that while I am pretty confident in Sylph’s toughness, the
voyage has clearly been long and demanding and being so close to home I
would be disappointed if we failed to realise our objective due to a major
gear failure. Consequently I am wanting to sail relatively conservatively at
this stage so as to avoid any such failures if at all possible. Thus, at
0500 I decided to roll up the jib and effectively heave to with just the
double reefed main.
The crashing stopped and Sylph’s motion eased but now I had a different
problem. When heaved to Sylph will at times tend to fall backwards which can
put a lot of load on the rudders (main and windvane self-steering). In
particular I was concerned about the windvane rudder. I thought about
locking it off but then thought that might only make things worse. While I
was procrastinating on this problem I heard a loud report from aft. I could
tell straight away there was in fact a problem with the windvane as the
tiller arm was swinging back and forth independently of the what the vane
was doing. This had the potential to be a minor disaster but on closer
investigation I was relieved to see that the problem was that the control
knob bolt had worked itself loose (and presumably over the side). The bolt
could be readily replaced. In fact I have a little tin of handy windvane
bits and pieces and in it I was able to find a suitable bolt and a piece of
brass tubing that would keep the windvane operational. So the control knob
is fixed excepting that for now I cannot change the windvane’s gears but
have set it for the middle gear which is the most versatile.
With this problem sorted I thought that it was probably better to keep Sylph
moving. So I have now unrolled a bit of jib again, eased sheets slightly and
set Sylph up for a close reach to the WSW. We are going the wrong way, i.e.
away from Australia, but my thinking is that there is no point trying to
bash our way to windward against this strong breeze as we make very little
ground in the desired direction while sailing lots of miles and putting a
lot of stress and strain on the rig. Rather, I think it is better to wait
for conditions to ease and/or for the wind to shift into a more favourable
sector. And looking at my latest weather fax I think we are more likely to
find such a breeze to the west of our current position.
All is well.