Atlantic Crossing, August, 2001
After a solid month's work on maintenance and modifications (new fuel storage tank, better smokestack & smokehead, remounted windlass, smaller dinghy) to Orbit in the historic boatbuilding town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, I was about ready to head for Ireland. I found a street musician, Jonathan, with no sailing experience who wanted to get to Europe for crew, then left Halifax in late July. He wanted to learn, though, so he worked out well.
Had an easy six-day sail to the rugged and charming, commercial and fishing port of St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. This is a laid-back, friendly city where you just find a space along the seawall and tie up downtown...there are no marinas.
We stopped in St. John's to buy fresh food, take a little break, wait for a headwind to go away, and get an exhaust shutoff valve, as the engine had once again taken seawater in through its exhaust system. This happens when it is rough enough for waves hitting the side of the boat to force water up thru the muffler and into the exhaust valves.
A couple of days later (August 2), we left St. Johns in the late afternoon, motoring northeast in a light swell, hoping to avoid a possible gale forecast for the next day (which we did avoid).
East of Newfoundland (also South), on the Grand Banks, we were escorted by a pod of killer whales.
These killer whales are big, and somewhat intimidating when they come up from behind and then breathe when only a few feet away.
We had good tailwinds crossing the Grand Banks, and for almost the whole trip (mostly Force 3-5 SW-NW), so were able to make good time.
The diesel stove was working well with the new smokestack & smokehead, and was nice to have while in the cold waters east of Newfoundland. Farther east, the Gulf Stream (or North Atlantic Drift as it is then called) warms up the area considerably, and night watches are more pleasant.
Charging system connections caused some problems, and had to be cleaned a few times. The weather was almost always overcast, and the solar panels were not able to keep up with electrical use underway (especially if it was foggy and we used the radar). So the engine was run every 1-3 days for an hour or so to charge the battery.
Five days out the jib suddenly came down into the water. The jib halyard block was held aloft by a 5/16" stainless steel wire strop that just broke. I should have known better than to leave stainless steel wire, especially old stuff, as part of the rigging (I had replaced all the galvanized wire rigging earlier. Stainless steel wire, while not exactly rusting, has a tendency to fail without warning, and is subject to fatigue if flexed repeatedly. Galvanized wire doesn't fatigue nearly as easily, and visibly rusts so that you know when you need to replace it.
At the time, it was too rough to consider going aloft to re-rig the jib halyard, so we waited for a calmer day. Going aloft in any kind of a sea is brutal. You hold tightly onto the mast and rigging wires and ropes high above the deck, where the motion of the boat is much quicker. It took two trips aloft to re-rig the jib halyard as the first time it was too rough to get anything done after reaching the top...needed both hands at all times just to hang on.
The Windpilot self-steering system was its cantankerous self for most of the crossing (it worked correctly about 80% of the time). The gollywobbler ended up wrapping around the foremast, when there was an accidental gybe while the Windpilot was steering. This required another trip aloft (fortunately it was not a rough day) to clear the sail so it could be lowered, and replace the gollywobbler throat halyard, which had chafed thru.
Almost every day, dolphins came over to play nearby. While really enjoyable to look at, they are not easy to take pictures of.
The jib required a lot of sewing due to chafe damage, and we used an old jib for a couple of days while stiching the regular one, until the old one blew itself to shreds in a minor squall.
As we got farther east, we got away from the excellent weather forecasts the (American) National Weather Service & US Coast Guard provide (on shortwave station NMN). The NWS HiSeas forecasts only go as far east as 35 degrees West. However, their description of lows, fronts and highs allow you to figure out pretty well what weather is coming your way (since the weather generally goes from West to East in these latitudes) for several degrees further East.
East of about 15 degrees West, the BBC shipping forecast is available a few times a day. After listening to them for a while, you get a clue as to how long they are valid for (as far as I could hear, they never said), so that you can have some idea of what they mean when they say "later". Closer to Ireland, 24 & 48 hour forecasts are periodically read over VHF radio.
Towards the end of the trip, the rudder became stiff to turn. Could not see any reason for this, but a few days later, tacking just before the only gale of the trip, the Edson worm gear linkage broke.
Without the steering gear, we were still able to control the rudder by using the rudder limiting lines that had been installed at sea many months previously, after we lost the steering in another gale. That was enough for heaving-to during the easterly gale that followed.
The gale was not a big deal. At times the wind felt like it was Force 9, when driving water made it painful to face the wind. However the driving water could have just been rain being blown almost horizontal, not spray being blown off the wave tops, and the seas never developed beyond Force 8, so it was probably just a Force 8 gale. Basically a wet experience (it is amazing how many leaks do not show up in mere rain, but require a wave dumping aboard to be noticed).
After a day of the gale, the wind went back around to the west, and we had an easy sail into Kinsale, Ireland (on the Irish Sea, near Cork). After 18 days at sea, we were really looking forward to some fine Irish beer, and Kinsale is a wonderful place for that.
Approaching Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland
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Copyright Richard Hudson, 2001