44 16.07N 68 17.866W

Randall B Griepp
Tue 13 Jul 2010 15:30

July 11-12-13-14, 2010 

This is to recap the events of the days when we could not coherently communicate.

Wind, wind and more wind we found it all right, maybe more than we asked for or hoped for.

The last time I wrote we were sailing off shore into the waters over the continental shelf which in this area becomes the Georges Bank, the scene of the “Perfect Storm”. This is an area where weather and seas frequently misbehave beyond the imagination of people who spend their lives predicting weather. Before leaving Provincetown we had all sorts of information about weather predictions. The Skipper had talked to the Commanders weather routing service, the downloaded weather maps showed a Low pressure system coming up the east coast bound to cross Traveling Light’s course. As soon as we left the shores of Cape Cod we were greeted with swells of increasing size. The Skipper and I had ongoing debates about the size of the waves with quite a bit of difference in estimating height of the waves. What I thought was an eight foot wave was promptly downgraded to a four footer by the Skipper. I will have to invent a wave height measuring device to take the guess factor out of it. But after what we went through even the Skipper was impressed by the mountains of waves we plowed through. I think David was much bothered by the internal heaves coming from his stomach to care about the size of the waves. Initially the winds were calm we even had to motor to keep to the due east course to escape the brunt of the Low. By mid afternoon we put the first reef on the main and rolled up the jib 50%. The wind picked up from a fresh breeze coming from southwest in the morning to gale force with intermittent lulls before the arrival of darkness and the fearful hours of the night. It kept shifting around all night but we managed to sail on a broad reach starboard tack due east as was recommended by the “Commanders” to avoid getting hit by the brunt of the storm approaching, By darkness David was out of commission, and the Skipper was getting there. I felt okay, thank you meclizine. It did not work for David and the Skipper did not take it. The Skipper and I shared the night shift. Around midnight I spotted a boat on the radar, the first one since Provincetown, about six miles away and started tracking it. It appeared to be coming our way. I first saw his lights when he was about a mile and a half away. Red and green, white on the mast, fishing vessel. I changed course to let him pass us on our starboard side. He kept coming and suddenly changed course towards Traveling Light and in no time was upon us. The radar proximity alarm went off and scared the daylights out of me. I did not want to see Traveling light cut in half. The other vessel merrily went on its way crossing right in front of our bow. I could see the eyes of the guy driving the boat in the cockpit, now that is an exaggeration!  There was heavy rain through the night. At 4:00 am the Skipper took over the watch. We were at 42:08.55N and 67:40.132W heading 82⁰ making 7-8 knots in wind blowing from 180⁰ at 20 knots. I went to the MRI (that is the name Tulin gave the forward starboard cabin which was going to be my home during this trip) and noticed some wet areas on the mattress and suspected that the hatch was letting some water down into the cabin. So tired that I did not care and went to sleep. Around 5:30 am I woke up to a lot of banging and sloshing around the boat. I was literally lifted clear off the bunk as the boat went over the crest of the waves which were by now over 12 feet and breaking (my estimate), not disputed by the Skipper. As the boat lurched and the hulls banged over crest after crest of breaking waves sea birds went about their business completely oblivious to the mayhem around us. This is their element; man certainly is out of his element in the ocean. The boat was racing along in over twenty knot winds with the reef on the main shaken off. All hands on deck, in driving rain we took the main down to the second reef and rolled up the jib. First time I tried the foul weather gear on, it worked as advertised. The conditions were getting worse as predicted as the center of the low approached to the northwest of our position. We made a satellite phone call to the Commanders. We were caught in the south east corner of the low, where the winds are so much stronger because of the additive effect of the air flow around the low and the speed of the low moving over the ocean. He told us we basically had three choices; one stay the course endure the strong winds until 3-4 am at night, two go south and west (back) and reach better conditions around the afternoon or head towards Nova Scotia and seek shelter there. The third option would follow the path of the low and did not sound like a smart thing to do. We certainly did not want to go back. And so since the boat appeared to be dealing with the storm quite well we chose to stay the course. The Skipper finally gave in and started taking meclizine with some relief. Wind continued to increase and waves were coming off the bow from the starboard side. Looking in the MRI I found that the mattress and the blanket were completely soaked by all the pounding that the starboard hull took from the breaking waves as high as fifteen feet. MRI was leaking and out of commission for the rest of the trip. Wind kept blowing 20-30 knots with gusts higher than that. By 4:00 pm the waves stopped breaking but the high swells continued. The rain stopped and we saw for the first time a clear patch of blue through the gray clouds. At 10 minutes after midnight equipment trouble hit again. The starboard engine that was worked on during the stop at Marion overheated and we turned it off promptly. It also became evident that the alternator on the port engine was not charging the batteries and we were in danger of being left without any juice in the middle of a storm. So we had no choice but head for land again for repairs. Maybe Traveling Light was telling us something; that she was not quite ready to make it across the Atlantic. The rest of the story is really not very interesting. We had to negotiate our way through rocks in trying to approach Yarmouth in Nova Scotia following coordinates to two light houses that Emre e-mailed us. We did not have any maps of Nova Scotia. Once darkness started closing in we gave this idea up and decided to head towards Maine, Mount Desert Island Southwest Harbor for which we had maps and plenty of information. Even that was not easy, a night of sailing through large swells, followed by thick fog by daybreak and a mine field of lobster pods. Finally we made it to Hinckley yards in Southwest Harbor and had the muffler replaced the next day; it had melted during the overheating due to another broken belt.  We also found the problem with the port engine alternator, another loose wire. In a nut shell months of mental and physical preparation was undone by two loose wires, two broken belts and a scrambled old auto pilot brain. But that is sailing. Technology has made sailing so much easier and safer but also made it lot more complex. I came to appreciate the frustration of relying on machinery one does not completely understand. If there is a next time I will be better prepared. We will head back to Huntington from here since time constraints would not allow us to complete what we had set out to do.

The farthest point we reached in the Atlantic was on July 12, at 00:30 hour,   position 43:41.08N 065:59.80 about 250 miles northeast of Provincetown. For those interested in following how this “crazy idea” unfolded I have to report that it did not get a chance to unfold. Our ambitious plan turned into an extended coastal cruise with several pit stops and a foray into the Atlantic followed by a dash back to the continent. As long as the goal remains within reaching distance, one day I will make it happen. I , like my boat mates, of course am disappointed but enjoyed the whole experience immensely. I got to learn quite a bit more about sailing and boats and electronics than I started with. I saw the many faces of the ocean and the sea from its fury to breathtaking beauty shrouded in mysterious fog, from driving rain and howling wind, big swells and breaking waves in absolute darkness to the brilliance of the stars in the cloudless night. As to how my boat mates feel about the whole experience you will have to ask them. I am grateful for their camaraderie and perseverance. I tried to coax them to write a few lines without any success. So long for now until we meet on Terra Firma again.