Thursday, July 31, 2014

SHTP stories - July 10th

After I speak with Nathan I am in a very very good mood - even though I still hate all the Black Clouds of the world. Since I drove pretty much the whole of last night, I am starting to feel really tired.

The sunrise is beautiful though. I am also stressed about power. I am worried that I won't have enough fuel to last me to the finish and will have to drive even more than I have been. Then if I do drive less, I worry that my AP will fail...In other words, I am just tired, starting to worry about just about anything, and nothing.

As I walk forward, I scoop up a handful of dead fish of all sizes, mostly of the flying variety. Unfortunately, this will be true every day from now on. I get a fix, take a look at the barometer, remember that it is broken and calculate my ETA - probably 14th of July. Bastille Day. That'd be arriving in style.

The boat is still under blast reacher and main and it is doing over 6 knots so just fine. It looks like it is going to be a wonderful day so there really isn't anything to worry about. Perhaps it is just fine to douse the spinnaker in either uncertain or heavier breeze to get some sleep as the boat still goes. Maybe I am trying too hard. Is it the fastest way?

I need some food before I do anything as tired + hungry makes me absolutely ineffective and I know from experience that just a little food and sugar in my blood makes a world of difference. There is still some of these nutella on the go and I enjoy those spread on a bagel. Hmmm....delicious. With a glass of 'warm' milk (powder milk mixed up with water that is) - a fresh orange. A bit of Pellegrino water and canned pineapple. I will also eat the last egg that will be healthy to eat. From now on, every egg I take smells funny and I don't want to risk it.

After this breakfast of champions, I am ready for the day but definitely in need of a night's sleep. I just can't go back to my bunk though. I just need to hoist the kite and keep racing. It is a beautiful, beautiful day.

The only squall like thing I see on the horizon gifts me with a beautiful rainbow. I take a picture as I walk forward to drop the blast reacher, put it away, rig the twin sails and set up the spinnaker net

Wow - how do I feel about arriving soon? The first week, when it was light air and calm all around me, cozy under a cover of friendly clouds, I had wanted to spend the rest of the month out there. It was so soothing, so peaceful, so immensely beautiful. It was a place where no one could find me, a little cocoon of boat. Then I started racing and I wanted to arrive as soon as possible because a timely arrival meant doing well in the race. Now I am still racing but as the boat starts surfing and doing what she excels and is so fun, I have mixed feelings about arriving. I will not slow down, and I am definitely still a hard race mode - however, I will miss the fun.

Strange. I will not be getting bruises all over my legs, I will not be subjected to constant noises (the autopilot, water alongside the hull, wind in my ears, winches grinding up a line), I will not be alone wondering where the rest of mankind disappeared to, I will not be constantly afraid of my autopilot failing and leaving me last in fleet, I will not be on the lookout for whales anymore, I will not be smelling socks that smell like I have been wearing them since the day I was born.

I will be able to drink coffee again, I will remember what chilled drinks taste like - or how a shower feels like. More importantly, I will be able to just lie down and sleep without being worried about an accidental gybe or the boat broaching.

Just sleep. Collapse and sleep. 

Well, for now, no rest for the wicked. Time to get a chute up. It is a beautiful day.

I am so tired that the entire operation lasts the best part of half an hour...If I was racing around the buoys, it would be time to set the boat back for upwind sailing again as I'd be at the leeward mark.

But up goes the chute...and my national flag bids me a good morning. Crap, I didn't mean to hoist that one...I grabbed the one in the launch bag...but it is the only launch bag I have left...It's too light for France. I can't face dousing and setting up another kite right now so France will have to be up. There is a decent breeze and boat speed has increased.

The wind is up in the afternoon and I might get a couple of squalls in the evening too. I know that I am only trying to make myself feel good about my 'choice' of sail. I also know that I am tired as there is no reason to just pick the kite in the launch bag...

It'll have the do - and frankly, it is a happy day nevertheless.

I am now so distressed about power that I spend most of my day hand steering. It is a tad light in the morning but there is a decent surf and that boat accelerates nicely.

It is a super pleasant day, the boat is easy to trim, spinnaker a bit finnicky to trim because of the light air but the autopilot works great in these conditions so I spend a bit of time cleaning up below deck and I decide to make a bunch of videos to try to convey the experience.

Oh and I forgot to night but I can't remember which one. Maybe the 8th of July, the night right before the squalls? - I came in contact with a ship. The AIS had gone off and I see HORIZON SP displayed on the screen. I hail the ship by its name as I can see its light on starboard. 

'This is HORIZON SPIRIT, come in sailing vessel Elsie'
'It's Elise actually. How are you sir?'
'I am very well thank you.'
'May I inquire about your destination?'
'This is Horizon Spirit and we are headed toward Los Angeles.'
'Thank you sir. I was wondering if you could see me'
' I can't see you on my radar, where are you in relation to me?'
'I am about on your starboard beam right now'
'Ah, let me check. Oh yes, I can see your lights through the window.'

-- I am looking at my radar reflector up in the rig --

'Sailing vessel Elise, is there anything else that you'd like to say'
'No, I just wanted to make sure you were aware of my presence'
'Very well, good night then'
'Good night sir'

Once the kite is up I call Nathan - and while I am on the phone, a fish ends up on my lap! I precipitously catch it and manage to put it back out into the ocean. Phew...One life I will have manage to save.

I wrapped the spinnaker a couple of times (but not again the forestay) but the net saved my ass. Through steering low and then pulling the sheet, I could unwrap it. Each time I had my victory shout!

From time to time, more fish jump into the cockpit. I estimate that I have managed to save maybe 40% of the fish that hit the deck of Elise that day. That too was exhausting.

Before I left, I had a lot of questions about what squalls were. Since I had squalls pretty much every single night, when I wasn't fighting with Black Cloud, I figured I would try to capture a picture of them. Here is a typical tropical squall!

The night is getting very squally. The squalls appear in the evening and continue throughout the night. I decide to use them as a competitive advantage. A lot of people would take the kite down, put a headsail or just sail under main only but I figured that in heavy wind, I can sail really deep and surf FAST with the kite up. It is also a competitive advantage of the boat since the kite is small for the boat due to the fractional rig, the boat isn't really at the edge of control at all if you are hand steering. Different story with the autopilot. And a competitive advantage for me as I drive well under these conditions, and I enjoy it thoroughly.

I gybe the kite to take the squall on port pole. Surprinsingly enough, this seems a lot easier than when I gybe the boat fully crewed.

The only problem is that I really should be sleeping. I drive most of the night as there are squalls most of the night. At around 3am or so (PST as I am on California time), I am so tired that I decide to take the kite down. The wind is still up as I am still in a middle of a squall but my eyes are closing and I realize that I can't really steer anymore. I need a break. I can't ignore my body any longer. I feel pretty satisfied with the progress and the couple of squalls I have already driven through.

I am wet as there has been some drizzle but not much.

I run the lines as I usually do but I am so tired that I must have missed something, or allow both the guy and the halyard to get twisted. To my horror, I see a real parachute, flying fully loaded a few feet AHEAD of the boat, in mid air. The halyard has a knot in it and the guy has a knot in it. I usually keep a knot on the sheet as the guy is my 'relief' valve and that way, I know that I have an easy way to bring the kite in, even if all of the guy ends up overboard. Unfortunately, there is no way that I can bring the kite in right now, not even winching it. I try and then grab the sheet. Bad idea, I get serious rope burn on my left fingers doing this. The kite is still floating out there.

My mind is racing and I am starting to think about which line I should be cutting with the cockpit knife. Before I do this, I steer the boat a little too downwind and fortunately, the main for a short time depowers the kite. I rush to the low side and grab the sheet and pull on it as fast as I can. I can finally grab the foot. I voluntarily dump the kite in the water to make it heavy and prevent it from filling up again as the halyard is only half way down. I get a couple of sail ties and tie the kite in a little sausage. Meanwhile, because there is now no load on the kite, I have plenty of time to undo the knot on the halyard and the knot on the guy. After 10 minutes of wrestling with ropes, I finally get the kite in. It is completely soaked with salt water.

I clean up the lines, and I walk forward to douse the spinnaker net. I can't face putting up the twin sails as I am too tired. So instead, I rig on top of the twin sails the blast reacher and I hoist that. I use the spinnaker pole which was up already to pole it out.

I then have to rest for at least fifteen minutes in the cockpit panting. I am absolutely exhausted. If it has been more windy, would the rig have held up? Clearly, not being able to douse the spinnaker properly was not a skill issue. I even douse it in worst conditions in this very race. Fatigue is getting the better of me and I am letting it.

I leave the autopilot on, don't even think about reducing the gain - the boat is still in the middle of a fairly gentle squall but there is no rain at all.

I crawl down below. I am wet because I handled the spinnaker. I think 'any evening where I will actually go to bed with a dry butt?'. I push the spinnaker in the forepeak. I can't face packing it back up. I will have to deal with this the following morning. I collapse in my bunk, set up the timer for 60 minutes and sink into an agitated sleep.

I get up for a short while as my feet are getting rained on a few moments later. I close the companionway hatch and put a jacket over my feet and go back to sleep. I wake up two hours later, having slept through the timer, at sunrise.

Tracking Harrier during her return trip

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SHTP Stories - July 9th. Elise Vs. Black Clouds.

As I can't sleep anymore, I go back up on deck to see the last of the squalls (I might have missed one while I was sleeping) clear the horizon and the sun is getting ready to appear.

I haven't seen a lot of sunrises (but every sunset) since I left since I often would go to sleep in the wee hours in the morning and get up past daylight and my timer would not be synchronized well with sunrises.

Unfortunately, the sky doesn't quite clear up but I still get to see a timid sun confirm that it still exists before disappearing behind a low barriers of grey clouds.
I go back down below, feeling as grim as the day. That's just because I haven't had food yet and I prevent myself from getting coffee and I am still tired from the previous night. I managed to get three more hours of sleep (I know this because I set the timer at 60 minute intervals so I can count my hours of sleep easily without even looking at my watch.
Still feeling a tad grumpy so time for food. This morning, my breakfast is one orange, apple juice and milk and cereals.

Happy bunny after that...I wash the dishes with sea water in a bucket with a bit of REI ecofriendly soap. I then check my barometer (I checked my barometer once a day or twice and day, sometimes making note of changes). I must have still been tired as I stare at the barometer for a good 10 minutes, thinking 'something is wrong with this, I am just not getting a reading'. Revelation ensued. The hand of the barometer that indicates pressure reading, is now lying at the bottom of the dial. The barometer is completely sealed so I can't just unscrew it and fix it. 'Hmm, no wonder I am not getting a reading, that barometer looks really ill. It probably couldn't take the pressure.'
I then do my morning clean up. I don't have the pleasure of standing up naked in the rain this morning. It is super damp but it isn't raining. So baby wipes it is.

I checked the position reports - unfortunately it is too early for today's report but I have yesterday's. I get them over email and Nathan SMS them to me. I have made big gains over Libra and I am catching up to Archimedes. There is no way that I can catch up before the finish but I remember my goal to gain at least 40 miles on Joe before I finish (I will have gained 60 miles by the time I cross the line). I have also picked up one boat! Yay! I am not DFL anymore!

I call Nathan briefly. I feel like I can't spend too much time on the phone today. I tell him about the weather and the squalls.
I think of David Herrigel. I wish that he was still in the race. The early position reports show that he was doing really well and I had been really impressed by his start. I hope that he will do the 2016 race. This is something that I had told Nathan I was going to do. I even asked him to let Skip know - I will do it because 2014 is now officially unfinished business and because as soon as I started racing, I got the confirmation that I am just in love with this type of races, and that Elise is a great boat for it. The more I think about it, the more I think that I will do it in tribute to Wildflower, Skip's boat that disappeared in 2008, on his return trip.  Skip's writeup has been the most helpful tool I have had during this trip. I remember every single line of his writeup and every day I find a lesson in there that applies to me. I had felt devastated when I learned about his scuttling the boat. I tried to imagine my doing so to Elise and it makes me feel sick.
I feel proud that Joe is leading our fleet and doing well overall but I feel a stronger bond with David on Domino. We spoke only briefly but I feel that we are the same kind of racers. We just like to be out there and give it all we can. We both enjoy flying kites in heavy conditions downwind. I don't think that Joe enjoys it in the same way, although I haven't spoken much with him either.
For a minute, I let my mind wander toward 2016. I know Jiri wants to do the race and after what I have seen when he crewed on Elise, he is an EXCELLENT sailor and Olson 30 are really tough to beat in this race. Jiri also has a lot of sailing experience and like me, seems to really enjoy racing on small boats. He feels the wind, the sails and the waves, much like I do. He spends the time to listen to the boat, much like I do. He communes with the boat, much like I do. With David and Jiri in the race, I know that it would be a really tough battle. Even though I would register in 2016 to go for the win, I know deep down that it is very unlikely that I could achieve this with such great sailors in the race in my division. It would be a fantastic battle though and one that I would have two years to prepare for. I have never raced for trophies - I race for the win every time, but it isn't for the trophy. It is because I want to be a better sailor. All the time. And I only achieve this through racing. When I do well, particularly when I do well against very good sailors, I know I have improves and I draw immense satisfaction from that. Elise is a great boat but for the longest time I couldn't sail her to her potential. I was the limiting factor. Now, I am starting to show myself worthy of her. I still have a long way to go but I have moments of brilliance in a deep sea of soso-ness.
Back to today. I am still racing and I have more boats to catch. So I'd better get on with it. I grab some food, water, sunscreen and I ditch my headlamp in the mesh bag by the companionway.
I go up on deck.

All I see is clouds and there is a fine drizzle that greets me. Brilliant.

Everywhere I look, it is cloudy. Birds are still there though. There is a very nice fresh breeze and I should be able to make good progress that day with the kite up.

Flying the twin headsail but getting ready to drop them so I am releasing the windward sheet so I can remove the pole.

Everywhere I look, it says rain. In fact, it says rain where I am too as it is drizzling!

As I walk forward to take the twinsail down and set up the spinnaker net I stumble across a dead flying fish! Oh no!!! We had found one during Pac Cup too. I feel so guilty. I am not supposed to be out there. I am the foreign object disturbing these little guys in their homes. It is a really decent size one and for a moment I wonder if I shouldn't prepare it as sushi for lunch. But then I feel too guilty to do that and I throw the fish back into the ocean, hoping that it will at least help other fish eat that day.

My first victim. I will transform the boat into a fish serial killer for the next few my chagrin.

I get Libra up because the wind is still up but I assume that it will die down (I was wrong) and I drive most of the day. It keeps raining on and off. It's a bit chilly but I am not cold at all with my foul weather jacket.

I am starting to feel the effect of lack of sleep as I am not hungry at all during the day. I force myself to eat. 

I start smelling gasoline. There are only two places on the boat that carries gasoline so if there is a leak it must come from one of them. I check the gas cans up on deck, they smell clean and I see no leak at all. I go down below and I notice a small leak from the engine. I screw up the top a bit more and put kitchen towel underneath the engine. Fortunately I have oil absorbing towel which I put in the bilge to absorb the oil that dripped there. I also must sacrifice my last two yogurts as I don't want to risk eating gas-seasoned yogurts. I was keeping them in the bilge to keep them cool. The smell is still present, albeit light so I will not use matches, or the stove down below until it completely dissipates. I keep the hatch open for ventilation which results in a really wet cabin floor as it rains all day on and off.

Water temperature now is about 77 degrees F.

It is sunny for about 4 minutes and 27 seconds. I drink Perrier which reminds me of home. The spring and factory is near where I grew up. We even took a field trip there with school.

The hands that I burned on the first couple of days of the trip (very windy but very sunny and my only starry nights of the trip) is starting to peel off completely. Oh well. No infection though!

Toward the end of the afternoon, the wind starts shifting big time. Within minutes, I find myself pointing at Japan, well above my Northern fence. I have to gybe to port pole. I am just underneath a big black cloud but the rain has stopped. I am looking at the kite and wondering if I can gybe in these conditions since the autopilot is having trouble keeping the boat upright for more than a few minutes (I keep trying but the waves would push the boat to the side - I never rounded up this trip, while driving, but I nearly rounded up once thanks to the autopilot). I feel fairly terrified at the idea of finding myself on a vertical deck while at the bow, having to walk back to release sheets and vangs and all and get the boat back up.

In a flash I remember that I am racing and that if my efforts pay off, I should be catching up with Libra today. My fear dissipates in 30 seconds. I put the AP on and I count the number of seconds I have before the boat gets out of control, working with the wave pattern I have learned. I have 5 minutes in the best case scenario. That should be plenty of time. I set everything up for a gybe and walk forward, clipped on of course. I even let some of the topping lift go so I have no resistance at all from the pole. I gybe without any trouble at all and I come back. I am using the countdown timer on my watch and wanted to give myself 30 seconds to walk back, worse case, dropping the pole to the deck or clipping it onto both lines. I didn't have to do that. I had plenty of time to complete the gybe.

In heavier weather I gybe the main first, so I had done that and when I walk back to the cockpit, I just need to trim the kite on the new course.

About an hour later, the main gybes violently. Wow. I didn't see this coming. The wind has just shifted 50 degrees. I gybe the main back but I am now going to New Zealand so I need to gybe back to stay on course to Hawaii. The good news is that after I do that, I should be heading straight to the islands again and the boat is doing a consistent 8 knots, surfing at 10-11 knots.

I try the same maneuver, timing the waves and the autopilot. I gybe the main and walk forward. The AP gybes the main back. Shit. I thought I had enough of an angle to the wind to prevent a wave gybing the main. I can't tell with the mast head fly. I decide to gybe the kite anyway and then walk back and gybe the main again. A bit more tricky but the boat doesn't broach. I gybe the main again only to find out that the main gybed because that's actually where it wants to be. I have to gybe again!!!! I can't believe it!

Every time I gybe is a big effort and I am not super well nourished by now. I grab some sugar and nibble on moldy goldfish crackers for a while. I decide to wait before gybing hoping that the wind will stabilize. It doesn't and I continue to make way toward the wrong end of the world.

I walk back forward one more time for one more gybe. This time, it works.

Phew. I sit back in the cockpit and I continue on my merry way. About 30 minutes later the wind changes again. The first black cloud has passed and is replaced by another one. This one has rain with it, but not much. I swear out loud. I can't believe this. I wonder how many more times I will have to gybe. I decide to NOT gybe, it is too much work and I keep going, fully expecting that the wind will shift again. So I pay attention so that I can follow it.

Of course it doesn't shift. I am absolutely certain that the minute I walk toward the foredeck, it will shift. I consider dropping the kite. I hate the idea because the boat will slow down but I know that gybing with the twin headsail is dead easy. Not only are the sails taking the load off the main, but you can stay sitting in the cockpit and just gybe the main across. However, dousing the kite, setting up the twin sails is a huge and exhausting endeavor. So if I do it, I know that it probably means that I will be sailing with the twin sails up until the morning, after I have gotten some rest.

With a morose expression on my face I decide to do that and I sure hope my competition is in the same shitty conditions. I douse the kite without any problem. The kite is wet and heavy with rain and it dips in the water under its own weight. I walk forward to drop the net and put the jib halyard onto the twin sails. I set up the second pole with the spin halyard and hoist the twin sail.

By sunset I am in a really bad mood and I hate all the black clouds in the world. Fortunately, it looks like the super dark clouds are disappearing on the horizon and of course I feel bad because if the constant shifts stop, there is no reason why I shouldn't be flying a kite, except that I feel tired now...I decide to have some food even though I don't feel hungry in the least.

I think that I have dodged the black clouds and I feel happy even though I am still wet from the rain. No shifts for a while. After some food, the racer in me cannot resist putting the spinnaker back up. Plus the wind feels lighter now.

The spinnaker goes back up on port pole. Bad plan...As soon as I do this, the black cloud comes back. And it is bringing rain. It is called Murphy's Law. I swear in French outloud. 'Merde, putain de nuage, tu peux pas rester coucher pour une fois? Tu fais vraiment chier avec tes vents tournants.'

Unfortunately that seems to only cause angst in the cloud and it responds with a huge wind shift. 40 degrees. I am now on a tight reach, with a light air spinnaker in more air that I can handle the spinnaker with. If I want to continue to sail to the island, I need a blast reacher! I steer down so I can keep the spinnaker up...Unfortunately I am now sailing to Russia which I had no short term plan to visit.

I try swearing at the cloud in Spanish 'hijo de puta'. 

That doesn't work either. I am still going to Russia. I wonder what 'Fuck you' is in Russian and if that would work.

I am still racing and fresh from my meal so I do douse the kite. The blast reacher is still on deck so I unclip the twin sail, bungee it down, set up the blast reacher and hoist it. I am super tired after doing this. It is rocky, windy and wet.

Within minutes the wind changes and I now have to pole the blast reacher to keep it full to be able to steer to the islands!!!

15 minutes later, I need to gybe the main.

Holy crap. I am starting to hate that stupid black cloud.

And all I am seeing right now is black on black. The sea is black, the cloud is black. And it definitely is very breezy.

The sea is confused. The boat is surfing a little bit with the blast reacher up as from time to time we get lucky and pick up a wave. For about 45 minutes, clear skies and I can see the water. Some stars appear. I find myself thinking that finally, the nightmare is over.

Changing conditions are a real nightmare for the single handed sailors because you can't go to sleep if you have to keep changing your sails because the conditions change. It is actually easier to have the early day conditions: heavy wind but stable so you set your boat up and you go to sleep than what I am finding. The breeze is still up and I am now making very good progress toward the islands.

All these sail changes have left me absolutely exhausted. I go down below, and sleep on the floor since I am wet from the drizzle and I don't want to make my bunk all wet. I use the spinnaker as my pillow. It's wet too anyway.

I don't set the timer as I know that changes in boat trim, wind speed, waves, etc... will wake me up and somehow I anticipate that. I was right. Within minutes of closing my eyes and as I start imagining long white sandy beaches, the main gybes. 
'Darn, Nick (Nick is the name of the NKE autopilot), you are a professional gyber)'. I walk up to see that the wind has shifted again quite drastically. Technically I need to pole out the blast reacher on the other side to gybe the sail. I am tired though so I consider dropping it instead.

I cut that apple in half. I walk forward, remove the pole, head the boat up a bit and let the blast reacher fly.

I go back down below and get set up for more sleep. 

Minutes later, the main is flogging and the sheet from the blast reacher is whipping the cabin top preventing me from sleeping.

I understand that it will be hard to sleep. When I go back on deck, the black cloud of Death has returned. 

I decide to stay up and steer to it. I try wing on wing without a pole which is really tricky with the blast reacher. I don't even want to think about walking forward and putting the pole back up, so whenever I have to gybe, I then head up as if I was flying an asymmetrical kite to keep the blast reacher full. No messing around anymore. But the cloud cannot declare victory, I will change course as often as required, and gybe that main and headsail as often as required in order to continue to make good toward to the islands.

At some point, I stand up in the cockpit and show my fist at the cloud.
'So what is it you have with me you stupid cloud. Is that an Elise special? What do you want. A sacrifice?'

A few minutes later, I find myself talking to the cloud again. 'Are you doing this because I am French? Is that it?'

I swear that I am starting to hallucinate and see birds that end up disappearing into my sails at the light of the masthead nav lights. I am now screaming at the cloud.

'Dude, I really need to sleep now. I think that I am having hallucinations and that probably means that I need to catch up on sleep. You want a deal? I won't be putting my spinnaker back up before the morning, so you WILL delay my progress in the race. Would that work for you?'

'Hey shithead, drop that will you? It was fun for a minute but now this is getting old'

'OK, if you don't stop this in one minute motherfucker, I am calling the cops on you.'

'You know Zephyr? It's the God of wind. He and I are real close friends. You know, I can just ask Him to blow your head off.'

No change. I find myself hand steering all night, chased by a series of black clouds, all with a different set of wind configuration. In the morning I am super frustrated. I feel that I have waged a war all night with an army of clouds and that I have made no meaningful progress toward my goal and that I must have dropped further back in the ranking. I don't even bother to check my position or SMS position reports.

I am so angry at the cloud that I can't even imagine sleeping now. All I want to do is hoist the kite again and get back to racing. I force myself to sleep for a couple of hours and then I call Nathan to vent my frustration.

To my surprise, he greets me with 'congrats!! I just SMS'ed you the position report but you have just passed Libra and you have picked up another place in the overall standing!'

I couldn't believe my ears. I share the story of my night telling him that I spent the night gybing and changing sails while seemingly going nowhere made good (but going real fast to lots of other cool places) and that it was the most frustrating night in my entire sailing career - it looks like I kept the boat mostly pointing at the islands! Yay!! That made my day...

I look up at the cloudy sky and I say with a smile.

'Elise 1. Black Cloud 0'

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SHTP stories - July 8th. A night of squalls.

It's been over a week at sea and this is my second day of true racing. The wind is up and there are heavy swell, albeit confused, maybe because of last night's rain? When I get up it is still raining, so I use this time to clean up. Standing in the rain is great to rinse off, so I wash my hair again. I get some food, check my position and look up for position reports. Too early for today's report but I hope that my efforts from the day before will have resulted in some gain. The mileage is good for that day and significant more than my daily average beforehand.
Today, it is clear that given the conditions, it will be difficult for the AP to drive with the kite up, so I am breaking the day into two parts. Kite up and in cockpit all the time, mostly driving and kite down, twin sails up, resting, cleaning up, etc...
I call Nathan on the sat phone and tell him that the spinnaker was up for 16 hours, about 7 of those, without any AP help because of the conditions. It stops raining while we are on the phone and I am starting to see the end of the cloud cover a few miles away behind the boat. Soon, it will be sunny again. I am all excited on the phone - that first week was extremely helpful as it gave me perspective on my personal situation, I have come to accept it and am ready to move on. The second week was just 100% fun and except for one day, hard racing. I would either be smiling, or be laughing looking at cat butts near the nav station.
I try to get weather information but for some reasons, all the emails that I am trying to send get stuck in the Outbox of the email client. I give myself 30 minutes to try to fix this problem but I can't find a solution. The Internet link is just fine and I haven't done anything differently than what I have done in the past. Unfortunately, I didn't subscribe to weather info, so when I want weather info I need to request it, ie send an email. Since I can't send emails I can't receive weather info, even though I receive all the position reports just fine. I decide that the best thing to do is just keep going. Wind isn't a problem at all right now, there is plenty of wind, maybe over 20 knots looking at sea state and I have a heavy weather spinnaker should it further increase. 
I get enough food, drinks, sunscreen and clothes/sun protections within cockpit access, I walk forward to take the twin sails down and set up the net. I then set up France, the heavy weather spinnaker ready for hoist.

Port pole allows me to steer between 210 and 240 (240 magnetic is pointing at Kauai), 200 is my 'fence' so port pole it will be today. I can do 240 as soon as the boat surfs as the wind goes forward so I decide to drive to the kite today instead of trimming it and drive straight.

Hoisting the kite is a bit of a challenge as it fills up (I have let a lot of scope on the sheet but I did tie the sheet as I didn't want to end up with no line at all) too quickly, or in other words I am too slow hoisting it. I still have a few feet to go and I have a fully powered kite. I drive down a bit and square the pole which collapses the kite. At the same time, I pulled on the halyard as fast as I can to make the last few feet. The net is prevent the kite from completely wrapping around anything.

I then can pull on the sheet to trim it correctly and I adjust the pole so that it matches course to steer.

The minute the kite is up, the boat roars forward - there is a bow wave, even when it is not catching a wave and surfing. Base speed is around 9 knots and the boat will surf 15 knots easily again. From experience, I know that this type of boat speed and constant bow wave where the boat really takes off is achieved when there is over 23 knots of wind, so I am betting that I am seeing 25-ish knots of wind right now.

Not a problem, I have steered Elise in 38 knots around Point Conception. Turns out that the more wind there is, the faster she is and the more stable she is.

I take a few minutes to adjust to the new rhythm of the boat with the kite up. The boat feels more stable to me because it is faster, so some of the lighter swell becomes irrelevant, the boat just flies over it. I look up and get a feel for the sail. I think of Nathan, what he would do in these conditions, he's crank the pole aft, get max sail area and sail as far down as possible.

This terrifies me because Nathan is usually a more daring driver than I am. But today, I am racing and there is no Nathan on the boat. After I get comfortable with the kite, I decide to do just that. I crank the pole aft, reducing my groove and forcing me to hand steer for sure, I depower the kite but pulling in the twing on the sheet side and sit back.

I look at the knotmeter (I have a weakness, I am obsessed by boat speed) and it looks like I have gained a tenth of a knot. Over a day or even half a day, it is huge. I need to pay attention to the kite but the boat is fairly stable so driving doesn't require a huge mental effort.

The boat is just flying now. The power in the spinnaker is incredible - there is no rest. It feels as it the boat is sprinting to make up for its lateness. I am zigzagging between the swell, and at time the stern of the boat is lifted up, I look down as the boat is lying at a 25 degree angle down a wave and ready to fall down. It is the best feeling ever and what light boats are fantastic for.

I am happy as a clam and I nearly forget to eat. I figure that I wont' be able to keep the kite up for as long as the previous day if the wind doesn't abate to allow me to have the AP drive as fatigue is starting to make its effects felt since I slept through the timer the day before.

I still see a lot of bird but no marine sea life. I notice a smaller bird that's flying close to the surface of the water and I wonder how such a small bird can be so far away from land. Then I reason. 'wait, you're not a bird. you're a fish. I'm an idiot!!'

I keep a close eye on the compass as well as seeing water everywhere is very disorienting.  I am still on my way to Hawaii, about 5 degrees South of 240 which is fantastic. Putting the pole aft was a good move and surprisingly I am able to drive in the narrower groove.

I drive with the kite up all day. The evening and night is going to be interesting. I see squalls on the horizon and they start to surround the boat. I can see that some will pass to the side of the boat but it will be tough to avoid a few. Tough for the AP to steer in these I even have to pee in the friggin' cockpit!

These do look like regular squalls, the one I am used to. Strangely, I am still able to basically steer toward the island and I expect to be headed during the squall. I am on port pole and I really shouldn't jibe because I will otherwise find myself heading even further up (on a lift this time) away from the island. So I stay on this jibe.

I move the pole slightly forward to depower the kite a tad bit and to increase my groove in anticipation of the squall hitting - and also because my ability to head up a bit more will keep me closer to the islands without sacrificing speed in heavier winds.

Here is a squall with rain

The wind is slightly less toward the evening, I am estimating 17 or 18 knots or so. If there is an increase of 10 to 15 knots in the squall, I'd be facing about 30 knots which is fine. I have steered the boat in these conditions before, so no problem. I decide to leave the kite up.

Perhaps it is a competitive advantage of mine/my boat - able to steer in squalls with the kite up. I know that it means that I will not be able to sleep during that time as I can't let the autopilot handle that with the kite up. (something the AP can steer with a gain 5 with the twin sail, requires a gain of 8 with the kite up)

The first squall hits with a downpour and a freshening breeze. The boat takes off again. I check the time and this one lasts about 1.5 hrs. I exited left so even though I have lighter breeze coming out of the squall, it is not completely dead and within very short minutes, the boat is back to its pre-squall state. I used the lighter stuff to turn the boat and myself into night mode as the AP worked just fine at that point.

I see more and more squalls forming on the horizon. The second squall hits maybe 45 minutes later but I could see it come well before then and it seems that it carries more wind than the other but very little water. Trying to avoid it would have made me steer well away from the islands so even though it is tiring to sail through squall I decided to use them to my advantage that night. Just a tiny bit of drizzle and not even for the entire length of the squall. I am looking up at the spinnaker and wondering if and how I should take it down. Will this be the last squall? How long will it last? I am starting to feel tired for having driven most of the day.

Ultimately I decide to take the spinnaker down half way (but I don't know that yet) through the squall which will ultimately last a couple of hours. No water at all. A perfect take down behind the main. Nice work. I walk forward and I set up the twin sail at the end of the squall in the slightly lighter stuff - with all sorts of choice words about how big a chore that was...The boat stabilizes.

There will be two other squalls that night and basically, it will keep me up close to dawn. Exhausted, I collapsed on the cabin floor (I am wet from the drizzle and I sleep for a couple of hours. The batteries are well topped up and still have fuel from the first jug but it is becoming empty quicker now that I demand more of the batteries.

I can't sleep any longer for some reason. My senses are acutely aware that things are happening around me and they can't shut off my bodies so I stay below to rest but I don't get the sleep that I need. Mistake I will regret dearly later on.

And then it is another day!

Monday, July 28, 2014

SHTP stories - July 7th, encounter of the third kind

Later in the day, a massive set of clouds occupy the sky. They are not the friendly evaporation clouds that I have had for the past few days. The forecast didn't say anything about rain, maybe that's a very local anomaly.

A few black clouds carry rain water and it starts to drizzle so I put on my lightest foul weather jacket.

I protect the cabin while getting some ventilation. Note that the boat is doing a nice 7.8 knots.

and I protect my legs with the one person tent which looks like a sleeping bag. It is waterproof, or at least water resistant and it saves me putting on heavy and hot foul weather pants. I will have a wet butt for most of the nights starting from today though. So much so that I will start to count the days I go to sleep DRY.

Remember that the first few nights were wet and I slept on the floor to keep my bunk dry.
Then it was light and I slept on deck - and I did stay dry.
Then I will have squalls, drizzles or curtains of rain and I will go down...mostly wet!

I always look around, mechanically, as keeping a watch is a reflex, even though the VHF and AIS is on 100% of the time. We are required by race documents to monitor channel 16 at all times.

And to my surprise I see a SAIL!!!! At the exact same time an intership DSC call makes my VHF sound an alarm. I pick up the VHF mic and hail the sailing vessel who is most likely trying to call me and ask for identification, while giving Elise's name.

The other vessel is Elizabeth-Ann, the Westsail 32. Wow - what are the odds for two SHTP competitors to meet close to the halfway point, one week sail from everywhere.

Super super low. it is a big ocean and for a small boat like that, the horizon is 1 mile. For a ship, it would be more like 6 miles. (I set my AIS at 10 miles for the trip)

I don't know Gary but we start a conversation on VHF.

Gary: 'oh yeah, Elise. Nathalie. I think that I can see your tiny spinnaker'

(I feel offended for Elise - granted, the Express 27 does have a fractional rig and small spinnakers for their size compared to say an Olson 30, but this is a full size spinnaker and Elise is proudly sailing a real chute, not a 'tiny spinnaker' - we're not a 470 here...)

Me: 'actually, it is a full size kite, and yes I have had a spinnaker up since this morning. I have had some power issues so I hand steer a bit more than I had planned to. How has been your race so far?'

Gary 'very well, it was really rough the first few days though.'

Me: 'this is a real coincidence. The odds of us meeting are really low'

Gary 'yes, this is very cool though. Actually I have a question. I have never seen a squall, is this a squall?'

Me 'I am not sure, the wind is still fairly light, so I am not seeing a 10 to 15 knots increase compared to what I had before ending up underneath the heavy cloud cover, and I am not seeing a shift in direction either. Maybe it is just a little rain?'

Gary 'Makes sense'

I head up 15 degrees to meet Gary. We are so close - it is a magical and rare moment which I want to live fully. I won't be dropping sails or heave-to, but I feel like we should be able to see each other and speak without VHF help to really 'meet'. Observing Gary, it looks like Elizabeth-Ann is falling off a bit to cross Elise's new path. The wind has increased a bit and I am basically power reaching now, so sometimes it is a bit hard to keep the kite full, or I have to fall off when a gust hits. No big deal, we should still be able to sail within talking distance of each other.

Meanwhile, we continue to chat on the VHF. Small talk. Warm talk.

Once we are within voice distance from each other, we continue the conversation from one deck to the other.

I want to say something witty, like 'starboard!' asking for rights, but then I remember that I am on port tack so that wouldn't work. I can't think of anything smart to say.

Me 'I took some pictures of you, I will give them to you after the finish'
Gary 'I took a video of you coming over, I will also give it to you after the finish'

We are both standing at the back of our boats and waving at each other. Elizabeth-Ann has a poled out genoa and is sailing quite deep. The boat has a much higher rating than Elise, which means that it is a lot slower. For Elise to cross the path of that boat means that Elise is not doing well (and/or the Westsail is doing amazingly well, turned out it was both). In the position reports, I was mainly paying attention to my division and the top boats in the fleets. I will check the Westsail from now on.

Gary sailed a fantastic race.

Our paths diverge as we are on opposite tack. We will continue to speak on the VHF for a little while until Gary states that his dinner is ready. Thus far, I have eaten everything 'as is', and only warmed up water for one cup of tea. Before today, it was because I couldn't be bothered. My mind was elsewhere. Now it is because I consider this overhead. I am racing and any minute I am not spending trimming or helming should be spent eating, drinking, sleeping or planning the race. Turns out, it is tough to do but more on that later.

I take more pics of the Westsail, sailing away into a clear sky and I remain a few minutes enchanted by the encounter. I wonder what it will look like on the tracker. (by the way, I still checked in every day to do a 'I am alive and well' signal but the tracker sends a position report every hour regardless)

I then go back to focusing on the race. It has stopped drizzling.

The wind lightens up for a little while but another massive big black cloud meets Elise. Immediately, the wind increases and Elise surges forward. At the same time, a wall of rain falls on me and I am totally soaked in no time.

I focus on the kite. It is only early evening. I try the autopilot as this is more wind than I have had thus far with the kite but it has trouble keeping up. The swell is a bit confused too. The boat is now doing 8+ knots BASE speed and has acceleration/surf to 12 or so knots. The wind speed increases further and it is time to put the boat into night mode which requires me to go down below.

It was never a problem thus far as the autopilot could handle the spinnaker but tonight it is a bit much for it. I also worry about breaking the NKE autopilot which would most likely leave me with only a light air pilot (and for the next three to four days, I will not see light air at all). I take a few minutes to 'plan'. The boat will have a tendency to round up so I will steer a little further down than the current course and then jump below to first put up the masthead lights, the most critical item - second I'll pick up my headlamp. That way if I need to look at the compass, I can do it with the lamp. The instruments light up automatically so that's cool. 

I also need food for my dinner and early part of the night. There is enough water in the cockpit.

I start executing my plan having rehearsed outloud the steps 'masthead, lamp, food'. I have time to do the masthead when I feel a familiar motion that usually lead to a round down. I hadn't studied the wave pattern enough and there is one wave in an opposite direction which instead of pushing the boat to weather, push it to leeward! I run back into the cockpit (note that I can remain clipped in all the way to the nav table, so that didn't slow me down at all), push 'stop' on the AP and take the tiller. I manage to avert the mini disaster.

Only trouble is that I have only accomplished one third of my mission. This time, I study carefully the wave pattern and wait for the right moment to execute the rest of my plan which goes on without any problem. I already had my foul weather gear which is also my night gear at this point as the temperature has increased a lot, so I don't need to pick up any other gear down below. I am all set.

The wind increases further, the boat is now surfing at up to 14 knots. This is absolutely exhilarating. It requires a bit more concentration but the more the boat accelerate, the less load there is on the sail as the wind speed doesn't increase but true wind speed - boat speed == apparent wind which is the wind that the sails are seeing. So that wind decreases as boat speed increases. In some cases, the boat can go so fast that the sails cannot be kept full because the boat outruns the wind!

This has lasted for several hours now, the rain is on and off but not drizzle anymore when it does rain. The swell has formed and the surf is more pronounced. However, the seas are confused. There is not one dominant swell in one direction which had been my experience during pac cup 2008. Maybe I am not in the trades yet.

The boat and spinnaker require attention with the surf as the apparent wind keeps changing. I can minimize that by overtrimming the spinnaker a bit and by putting the pole a little forward (which reduces efficiency when the breeze is aft, but keeps the kite full when the breeze goes forward). I also twing in the sheet as there are waves that push the boat far to leeward and moves the whole kite to the leeward side. If I sheet in too hard, I choke the sail and reduce boat speed so I'd rather use the twin to reduce lateral movement of the sail. This works like a charm. It is also a depowering move and it makes steering easier. I can steer the boat with two fingers. Amazing design.

The power of the waves and of the spinnaker pulling the boat is amazing. I can't help smiling and talking to Elise about her performance.

'Yay girl! 15 knots! Way to go, now we have a 19 knot record to beat so let's keep working at this'

We only topped 15 knots that night so the record is yet unbroken. My personal record is 17 knots. Average speed is great though.

Racing requires mental concentration and I am starting to feel really tired. My meal was wet as I was biting into it. I look behind me and the black cloud still occupies the entire horizon. Actually the boat is engulfed in that cloud. I remember Skip's writeup (I will think of Skip every single day during that race) to try to avoid squalls. I am not quite sure where I would have gone to avoid the cloud now...I have no idea what the wind speed is but I would guess about 25 knots. Tough to tell with the surf as the apparent wind is all screwed up.

I look at my watch. It is 2am. The kite has been up for 16 hours and since about 7pm, I have been racing hard with higher wind speed. No wonder I am tired! 

I am not looking forward to putting up the twin sail but after regular tries at the autopilot, I have to accept that it doesn't work for more than a few minutes. The main problem is the swell pushes the boat in all directions and the autopilot cannot recover. It cannot also work the sheets of the sail. So sleeping requires me to take the kite down. As I am racing I hate this move. I reason that given that I have a top of the range autopilot, it is likely that my competition will have a similar situation IF they have the same conditions which is completely uncertain. In any case, I must sleep so I don't really have a choice. 

I worry that my dropping the kite will be difficult since I am tired. I eat a bit of candies to have a push of energy and drink half a bottle of water before taking it down. I run every line religiously and check it twice, particularly the guy and the halyard, the two lines that I will be releasing to collapse the spinnaker and remove the force it represents. I will use the sheet to bring the sail in. Singlehanded, and unless I am in the Bay and in light air, I usually douse the spinnaker in the companionway. The advantage is that I am close to the helm, close to all the lines, I can actually dump the sail below (I don't open the forward hatch in the ocean) AND, particularly in my case, since I can't hoist the twin sails while the kite is up (as going forward to remove the net right now given my AP difficulties would be difficult), I can blanket the kite behind the main to kill the sail while I grab the foot.

I time the douse during a surf (the sail will have less power in it). Off goes the guy, I gather the foot of the sail, reach for the halyard which is on the same side as the side the sail goes down on and release it. Nearly a perfect douse. The tip of the sail touched the water. Not my best work but everything went down without any incident.

I stuff the sail below after unclipping all the lines, clipping the sheet and guy together with the halyard so I can sheet it forward to whichever side I want it. I need the halyard for the second pole. It is my twin sail second pole topping lift. I have rigged a second downhaul.

I walk forward (always clipped in, and I have two clips so I can clip onto the new line without having to unclip from the previous line). Pretty rough now that the main only is up but the AP can manage with a high gain. I unclip the net and I roll it and attach it at the base of the mast, still attached to its tack so I can easily put it back up. I check the lines of the twin sails and I get ready to hoist it.

As it is now seriously blowing, the twin sails flogs like crazy on both sides. I have cleated the sheets but I can't cleat them tight as otherwise I wouldn't be able to hoist the sail. I usually hoist it from forward as I can then put the poles in. This time I have to return to the cockpit, hoist the sail, tighten the leeward sheet and then walk forward again to set up the pole on the windward side. I get whipped by the windward sheet. I set up the pole when I notice that in my haste to hoist the sail I have fouled the spinnaker halyard with the jib halyard. I can fix this by just moving around the spin halyard which I need to do in order to set the pole. It is still raining (it will keep raining until after daylight), it is dark and I am exhausted.

I put the pole back in the sleeve, open the clutch to lower the twin sail, bungee it down at the foredeck, go below and collapse on the wet spinnaker (it got rained on)

I set my timer for 45 minutes. When it wakes me, it is still raining, more drizzly now. I put on my foul weather jacket and I go forward to set up the twin sail.  I needed the rest. Given the conditions, it takes me forever to get everything set up, probably some 20+ minutes. Appalling performance! 

With a headsail, the boat is a lot more stable and it is easier for the autopilot to steer. I pray that the AP stays with me the entire race...We are still surfing at 10-12 knots on fully formed waves now even with the twin sail which makes me very happy. Base speed is more like 7 knots though, and some waves, we just aren't surfing anymore because the twin sails just lacks this couple of extra knots to allow the boat to catch them.

I check the batteries. I have enough for several hours of sleep. Putting the kite up for so long basically allowed Mr Fusion to charge up one battery nearly completely. I probably have 10 hours worth of driving in these conditions in there. 

Fantastic because I can't stay awake for one more second. I set the timer for 60 minutes but I will sleep through it completely and wake up after daylight to the same drizzle...I didn't take the time to do my evening fix.

Happy as a clam, Elise did well and we are sprinting toward Hawaii.