[Kyle] Day 8
In the wee hours of the morning the wind started to increase again, until it finally leveled off at about 30 knots. The seas grew increasingly large and once again we found ourselves in rough, strong conditions, this time from the East. It seems that the very air that had pummeled us so badly realized it had passed us, stopped and came rushing back for another swipe at us. This made any further easting difficult and we shaped a course that slowly, grudgingly turned South. I wanted to have about a degree and a half of longitude East of our destination so that it would not be necessary to sail close to the wind once we finally hit the trade winds. So far we were about 100 miles West of that goal.
The wind was forecast to turn against us and we needed to get as far East as we could before the window shut on us. This made for some very uncomfortable sailing, we sailed at about 75 degrees to the wind and waves which is as much as we could tolerate in the 15'+ seas. The boat got slammed hard by waves that had many times her mass, in response she bends and flexes and distorts, she will come off a wave and slam down hard and the mast will oscillate back and forth sending the vibration through the rigging, and also sending my mind through everything I know about metallurgy and stress fatigue. I also find myself thinking of all of the dozens of people involved in the manufacture of this boat and her many components, only one had to be disgruntled or lazy or incompetent or careless to really mess up our lives out here.
Later that evening Maryanne and I were at the table just getting ready to eat some very hot soup when a wave made the table jump and throw Maryanne's soup into her lap. She ended up with 10 square inches of 1st degree burn on one thigh, and 2 square inches of 2nd degree burns. When the soup hit her she leapt up to keep the rest off her, and threw the soup everywhere, the boat was already getting to be a shambles from all the pounding, this did not help either of our moods. [Maryanne] Burn was not that bad, and we have a medical kit aboard to save an army, so no need to worry about me! The soup was good. Luckily there was plenty more in the pot).
[Kyle] Day 9
More of the same. We needed to stay as far east as we could in order to not beat against the trade winds later. We were crossing a stationary front and the winds were in the mid to high 20's (knots). We were getting as close as we could to it but the chop was miserable. Both of us were getting sick of all the pounding and were in pretty bad moods - fortunately not at each other. The weather is also gloomy, overcast and gray, which does not help. Neither of us were looking forward to our watches. Not 10 minutes after Maryanne went on for the night watch, just as I was climbing into bed, it started to pour, then the wind came up and she had to go on deck to reef - poor woman.
Well the forecast looks like we'll have to sail close to the wind all the way there. These islands had better be nice! We were at the latitude of mid Florida, it was warmer but so far nothing seemed very tropical with gray clouds and rain on and off. It did calm down a bit during my afternoon watch so I took the opportunity to give the inside of Footprint a good clean and tidy. It was especially good to get all the salt we had been tracking in off the floors (Footprint alternates between having a perpetual coating of brine in most weather, and big grains of salt everywhere like a margarita glass in the sun). In the afternoon the wind started veering to the South, requiring us to turn a little west (wrong way). If it did not fill in from the East again soon we would have to tack and go NE to keep from being pushed too far West - we'd worry about South later.
Here is pretty much how it went: King Neptune (as the Sarge) "All right, you lilly liver'd .. Um .. Lilly livers! Enough with the insults! Today's drill: Shortening he sail. YOU! Go put a reef in that mainsail". "Right away Sarge". I go up on deck and work through the methodical process of putting a reef in the mainsail (which actually reduces its size) I'm back in just under a minute. "How was that Sarge?", the Sarge, mocking me "how was that Sarge? That, son was the worst job of reefing that I have EVER seen! I've seen barnacles grow faster than that! What were you doing reading a book?! Plus you were looking the whole time, hardly any sport in that. Next time I see you looking, you are going to get a wave in the face - here comes a gust - go put another reef in and this time LETS SEE SOME HUSSLE!! Go! Go! That's it, faster, faster! Did you just eyeball me?, You'll get a wave for that. What ARE you doing? Stop sliding all over the deck on your back! Grab hold of something! NOT THAT! Grab hold of something useful! You are supposed to be reefing and it has already been 12 seconds - what is WRONG with you?" I arrived back in the cockpit, soaked and panting. "How's that?" I dared to ask. "Well son, that was a little bit better, but it was still the 2nd worst job I've ever seen behind your first attempt. Have you noticed that the boat stopped moving, now get up there and shake out those reefs, get back here, trim those sails, you'll never get anywhere if you don't trim those sails". I was about to plop down, exhausted when I noticed Sarge with a mischievous look on his face, gazing East: "Swabby" he says without looking away "what's this I see coming?....."
And so it went on like this over and over for 24 hours. As soon as either Maryanne or I would sit down, something would come up and we'd have to get up again. Neither of us got to sit still for more than 3 minutes at a time.
There is one good thing though, we can now reef or un-reef on a wildly bucking boat with little traction as waves crash over us, in the dark, in less than 15 seconds, without even waking up.
After yesterday we are naturally very suspicious of the weather. The intensity of the wind has stabilized but the direction was all over the place. Must be trimming drills day. Today had us the furthest from land we would be for the trip: 450 miles from Bermuda and St Croix respectively. It has been a long time since we have seen anything other than seaweed, we have not even seen a bird in several days. Just as Maryanne came on for her evening watch the wind shifted South (South?! not good for our course) then died, then it started pouring - where is the nice Weather - I thought we were supposed to be in the tropics?
I was quite pleased when I came on at midnight to see that Maryanne had coaxed about 10 miles east out of the light south winds before heading back south on the east side of the 60 degree west longitude line that we have been struggling to stay over since Bermuda. This area is supposed to be known as the NE trades but so far we have been bashing into 900 miles of SE winds, so every bit of east helps our approach angle. We don't want to find ourselves struggling up wind to clear reefs as we approach in the night (rather downwind in daylight!).
Towards sunrise, the sky cleared up and the wind picked up, slightly from the ESE. I unfurled the screacher and we were able to sail fast on relatively flat seas. In the morning we saw our first blue sky in a week. It was calm enough that I decided to have a go at fixing some of the damage up the mast from the day two storm.
I only got about 5' off the deck in the bosun's chair when the light swell had me swinging wildly. Maryanne attached another line to me to help control the swinging and determined to do the job, I continued on up. By the first spreaders, 15' up, I was pretty much completely out of control. I had my feet clamped around the baby stay, one arm on my hoisting line and one on a shroud - leaving none for work.
Maryanne was at times getting pulled completely clear of the deck trying to hold me down. Every now and then I'd lose grip of something and go swinging in huge wide arcs; occasionally just getting my head out of the way as I would slam full force into the rigging, which would the send me spinning wildly the other way. I had to use all of my strength to try to regain control. I finally got into position, hanging sideways from the chair with my feet clamped on the baby stay and both arms around the spreader. I was so tired from fighting to stay in position that I found I could not control my hands well enough to do detail work. I was not about to go back down until I'd done something, so I spent several agonizing minutes holding on for dear life and trying and failing to fix the part. Eventually I was successful (in 1 of the 3 planned jobs) and started down. The ride down was worse than the ride up, because I was totally knackered and could not get through it with brute strength any more. When I got back on deck I could not do anything but just lay there mumbling over and over that that was awful and I was NEVER going to do that again. Fatigue and the calm conditions meant that for the first time in a week or so, I slept like a rock through my whole off watch.
The weather has been improving - definitely shorts weather now - if only the NE trades would stop blowing from the SE.
I came on watch to a gibbous moon lighting up the boat so well it seemed like just after dusk. The sky was clear and the seas were relatively mild. Maryanne mentioned as she went off watch at midnight that she had been waffling for 30 minutes over weather or not to switch to the screacher. After she went to bed, I went about my usual settling in routine; oriented myself, tidied up a little, pumped the bilges, and then decided I would roll up the genoa and unfurl the screacher (the boat was moving along nicely). Once done, I was just on my way inside to straighten up a bit, when I heard a scraping on deck. Usually this I caused by slack line on one of our preventers, but I had just re-secured those. I grabbed a flashlight and poked my head over the cockpit roof to see what was making the noise and was horrified to see our furled genoa swinging around the deck. The forestay it was furled on had either come undone or had broken, leaving the mast with nothing to keep it from falling backward except from the force of the wind from behind and (since we were using it) the luff wire in the leading edge of the screacher.
I called for Maryanne, who had just stirred because of the noise and had also noticed the same problem - she was already half way out of bed.
The genoa/head stay combination weighs maybe 100lb and was flailing around the forward deck like a loose hose, scraping and banging along the way. I was able to tackle it and eventually found the most stable position was to put the furling drum at the bottom in a leg lock and hold on tight to the rail with both arms. I was still getting thrown around a lot and was using all of my strength to keep it from hitting anything (that combined with yesterday's trip up the mast has left me bruised all over). Maryanne loosened the backstay tension, turned the boat down wind, grabbed a bunch of shackles and spare line and joined me on deck. The first priority was to get a line on the furled Genoa and keep it from flailing around. We were lucky that the forestay had not broken, but just disconnected, and that all the pieces of the connection were simply sitting on deck; including the busted split pin that has caused the problem in the first place. Normally the head stay/back stay tension on the Gemini is set so loose that there is noticeable sag in both when the boat is at rest. The tension is adjusted by the backstay tensioner(s) for what is required for sailing conditions. We expected because of this, that all we would have to do was manhandle the forestay back in place and reconnect everything - simply adding a new split pin. When we tried, though, we were about 3" short (probably because of the sag of the furled genoa stay?). We loosened the genoa halyard, cranked down tight on the screacher halyard, sailed directly downwind (no, not west!), yet we still needed 3 more inches. Maryanne made a chain of heavy shackles and connected the forestay temporarily back to the deck - but I was not satisfied.
There were supposed to be 300 more miles of downwind sailing to port, but what if we had to go upwind? I didn't trust the rig with 3" of shackles pasted on it.
By now the moon had set and it was dark. I reluctantly decided I needed to loosen the back stays and check stays (all holding the mast back) as much as I dared by unthreading the turnbuckles as far as I could without actually disconnecting them. 30 minutes later, we had narrowed the gap to 2". It was as if suddenly the boat grew.
After thinking about it for a while, we eventually came to the terrible conclusion that the back stays would have to be disconnected completely. We were both so frightened by the idea that we considered just leaving the rig patched with the shackles. We were still more than 300 miles from the nearest land, though, and had no way of guaranteeing we would not encounter rough seas or strong winds along the way. We HAD to do it, but the thought made our skin crawl, like deliberately taking all the lug nuts off a car and trying to make it to town on a windy road. Disconnecting the backstay is disconcerting enough in a quiet boat yard - we were in the middle of nowhere.
We pulled down the main sail, centered the boom and cranked down on the main sheet. It and the topping lift from the back of the boom to the top of the mast, once the backstays were disconnected, would support the mast from falling forward. Once the stays were disconnected (yeesh!), we gradually eased the mainsheet until the gap was bridged and we could get the forestay back in place with its original hardware. I connected one half of the backstay (it is in an upside down Y shape) but found the other half 3" short. We cranked down on the mainsheet until I was certain the topping lift would snap (It's ¼" rope - not meant for this role) and we were still an 1" short. Luckily there are two holes in the plate that attaches the back stay to the stern. We used the spare, and ran a small piece of line (small to fit through the hole) from there through a lead to a genoa winch - we cranked that sucker until we thought it too might snap - eventually I was able to get the threads on the turnbuckle - connecting the back stay back to the boat - the boat was back together - it was 4am.
With no more 2 person jobs to do, Maryanne went back to bed while I went around re-tensioning and securing all the stays and lines properly. By the time I got the last of the tools put away (apart from the one wrench dropped overboard) the sun was up. I had let Maryanne sleep in a couple of hours but I was fading fast. I had to get some sleep.
When Maryanne woke me up for my afternoon watch, she reported cheerfully that she hadn't broken anything and that absolutely nothing happened, and that the trade winds were now from the NE - yay!
Just before she went to bed, we saw our first bird in over a week, a lone frigate bird, flapping gently up wind up at about 200'. The nearest land to us, still over 300 miles distant, is the island of Barbuda, which has a frigate bird nesting colony which we hope to see soon.