Monday, June 22, 2009

Passage Review

[Kyle]First the stats. St George’s, Bermuda to Baltimore, Ireland.
  • Depart Bermuda: May 26 2010, Arrive Baltimore: June 18 2009
  • Distance traveled (through the water):2800nm
  • Ideal route distance from start to finish 2691nm
  • Time under motor 6.1 hours (4 for battery charging, one for in and one for out of port). Approx 4 gallons of fuel
  • Total passage time: 22 days 23 hours 50 minutes.
  • Average miles per day - 121 nm
  • Average speed approx 5kt.
  • Max distance covered in one hour 8.31 (day 15, 27kt of wind). Maximum instantaneous speed we noted 13.2kts, which I can verify as I was at the helm and hand steering at the time. The boat showed no tendency to swerve during this speed and was very stable.
  • Min distance traveled in one 1 hour period: 0.09 miles (day 9, 1.6kt wind) – We were still moving!
  • Min distance traveled in one day: 73.23nm (day 9)
  • Ships sighted (approx, from memory): 5.
  • Propane usage: 1.5 tanks (approx 30lb), used for cooking and refrigeration.
  • Water usage: We left with 180L in the tanks plus 150 in jugs. We’d intended to use the jugs for drinking water and the tanks for washing/cooking, but the jugs ended up being too cumbersome for easy access/pouring, so Maryanne tended to use tank water for her drinks. In the end we used 38L out of the jugs (for drinking) and arrived with about 60L remaining in the tanks (used 120L from tanks). We also used an additional 12L from the solar showers. We used our seawater tap at the galley for washing up (saving the freshwater for a final rinse only) so this helped reduce our water usage. Water usage was higher during the first few days due to the heat (drinking more cold drinks). Average use 7L a day (we think this is quite low). So we arrived in Ireland with much spare water, but this also saves us rushing around looking to get our tanks filled.

Achievements / highlights
  • Broke 8, 9 and then 10,000 miles on Footprint – amazing one passage equates to a ¼ of all the miles we’ve done with Footprint.
  • Seabird swims by us, several times.
  • Dolphins! So many times.

Key moments of stupidity
  • Not cleating the main halyard before I cut it! This caused hours of “fun” trying to recover it.

Items to repair/replace
  • Autopilot Motor – we really should have had a spare, but we misunderstood the manufacturer phrase “no user serviceable parts” and somehow interpreted it as we had to replace the WHOLE autopilot and could not replace parts. I’m not sure how we made that leap, of course you can purchase spare motors and one would definitely be aboard in the future.
  • Sticking drive leg, tight control lines causing resistance on steering – to resolve.
  • WHAM radio remote mic (fails to recharge or work with rechargeable batteries)
  • Centerboard control lines (chafed through, most likely during times being hove to after autopilot failure).
  • Masthead light (still to verify, but may be same failure as on way to Antigua where the bulb broke from its bayonet fitting – not sure why this should happen).
  • One handrail to fix/replace, and a thorough inspection of davits and mount required.
  • Oven brackets rusting and screws not biting well – to replace/secure.
  • Galley cupboard sliding doors – Perspex/plexiglass broken – to replace
  • Enclosure snaps, chafe, and bolt rope bracket to repair/replace.
  • Helm seat attachment fittings (holes enlarging and weld breaking from rocking back and forth).
  • Speed wheel plug to find / replace (it floated somewhere in the hull during our flooding, and is not yet recovered/found).
  • Leaks on all 4 hatches
  • Main halyard sheave – suspect broken, it is no longer running smoothly.
  • Espar heater – fuse replacement required
  • Identify / seal leaks from stern lockers/rudder lockers into boat
  • Identify /seal leaks from forward (hull deck joints?).
  • Master Berth locker latches

I’m paraphrasing of course, but I remember Tony Smith saying something about how he did his North Atlantic crossing as he knew some idiot would try it sooner or later. While admitting that it could be done, he did not necessarily recommend it should be done. I think, having done a similar route ourselves, I would share the same sentiment. The boat seems to be a very stable design and even in conditions that were terrifying, both hulls seemed solidly glued to the water surface (possibly helped by our high loads since we live aboard). The boat also took several pretty bad hits from big waves and seemed to be able to just brush it off. However, an Atlantic crossing is definitely not for the faint of heart and I would echo Tony’s recommendation not to attempt it without getting very familiar with the boat and making necessary modifications prior to leaving. Some of the things we did that I consider invaluable were: Line control traveler/genoa tracks, and preventer. The enclosure and the helm seat were essential, as are jack lines and tethers. I also believe we would have had a real power consumption issue and would have to run the engine more (limiting range for emergencies) if we had not switched our incandescent lights to LEDs. We had also sailed the boat considerably before we left, and exposed ourselves to longer passages and rough weather. By the time we set off, we knew exactly where to place our hands and feet, and had a good muscle memory for all the activities needed to sail the boat essentially single handed.

I do believe that in 80% of the conditions in which a mono-hull would be uncomfortable, a Gemini remains stable and livable. However, the other 20% of conditions are also awful aboard the Gemini (possibly worse in a mono-hull). Movement is so bad at times that nothing can be achieved without holding on constantly and there are too many open spaces with no decent hand holds – especially when crossing from one side of the boat to the other (cockpit, foredeck and inside between hulls). Loose items are readily thrown around. Another disconcerting issue in rough conditions is the noise and motion; with the two hulls on slightly different wave patterns there is a lot of bending, flexing and creaking along with wave pounding, all of which can be nerve wracking. It is such a complicated shaped structure that although not concerned about the boat stability as a unit, I did spend several sleepless nights worrying about how much stress the parts working against each other could take.

I was hoping when we set off that we would be able to enjoy the days of solitude and reflection, but since conditions turned out to be so rough, (always a possibility we had to be prepared for) this really amounted to an exercise in endurance. The seemingly constant cloud cover prevented seeing the constellations. The forced hand steering towards the end of the trip removed any remaining opportunity to reflect on the passage.

Overall, I feel pretty satisfied with the voyage. It is incredible to be here in Ireland and to look out from the pub and see our boat anchored in the harbour. Because of the conditions on route, I feel like we earned it well and have no sense that we got away with anything by having an unusually easy passage, although I fully realized things could have been much worse. In fact, here is an excerpt from an email from our friend JD, “Dave and I have been following the blog and also plotting your position on to evaluate the upcoming weather and sea conditions. I'm sure it’s no news, but you had your very own major low pressure system in tow for most of the trip. I looked all over the world and even in the Southern Ocean, the weather was not as severe as your conditions! How fitting that the first land you would see is Fastnet Rock (from the famous disastrous race in the 70's).”

Because I can’t know what would have happened if conditions had been worse or if something more critical had failed, I’m reluctant to recommend it to anyone else. I think anyone planning to make an eastbound temperate passage in a Gemini would need to be prepared to make an ocean crossing regardless of the boat type. It is almost inevitable that at least a few days (or more) rough weather is going to be encountered. I have no way of being sure, of course, but I have to assume for the sake of prudence that we got lucky to a degree with regard to breakdowns, etc. Even so, it still required a good bit of creativity and ingenuity (as well as a good stock of tools and spare parts on hand) to keep things from turning much worse for us. Our main philosophy is to inspect everything as often as practical in order to catch things early. This has saved us on numerous occasions, most often from things that start off as minor, such as seizing wire, cable ties or split pins breaking, of which we have tons of spares.

Maryanne and I have been planning this crossing for a long time and it feels strange to have suddenly put it behind us. The passage itself in many ways felt like a series of 30 mile sails between naps. Our furthest point from land was when we were 575NM from the Azores and Ireland, respectively, but since we are so used to sailing the boat out of sight of land, it never really felt like we were out that far. Once we wake up from our off watch, it’s a new (half) day and everything begins anew, so we keep sailing. What else are we going to do? The weather also provides a means of reducing the apparent size of the Ocean. Even though the whole thing is just a huge expanse of water at sea level, I keep a constant mental map of the weather patterns, which causes me to mentally subdivide the entire ocean into regions of wind and wave and high and low pressure systems so that our ‘region’ only feels like it’s 100 or 200 miles across.

I certainly could not have done it without Maryanne (nor her without me, I hope). Maryanne is not in any way someone who was dragged along for the ride but has been a full and valuable partner in the entire endeavor. She has a childlike wonder about the world and has a fun and cheery demeanor, but she takes her job as seriously as an old sea captain when things get dicey. I can leave her at the helm at night in frightening conditions knowing that she understands the responsibility of having our very lives in her hands and that she has the skill and knowledge for the job. She has always been right there in any kind of emergency putting the full force of her considerable intellect and talent into solving or helping me solve the problem. I sleep better knowing she’s out there with me, keeping an eye on things

It really wasn’t until enough of Ireland was in view that I could see it constantly and clearly that it began to dawn on me the magnitude of what we’ve done. I was able to gaze at the hills and realize that somehow, after all those years of thinking about it and planning for it, we had made it happen. They looked like any old hills, but there was something fundamentally different about them that I understood intellectually. These hills were not merely far away, they were on the other side of the ocean. Once we finally got ashore, it seemed like we’d come a long way indeed. The climate was different, the geology was different and everybody’s accent was different. At the pub in this sailor’s town, when even the salty sailors would buy us a round and introduce us to yet more people who congratulated us with pats on the back and warm handshakes, we started to get a real feeling for what we had done. Then, of course, we had checked our email and saw all of the good wishes and support we received, and began to feel like we had Mission Control behind us the whole way.


NautiG said...

Excellent write up, as usual. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.

It looks like you guys took an almost direct line route from Bermuda to Ireland. Having traveled the East Coast of the US, I know there is a traditional time of year and route to take in order to avoid the worst weather and have the easiest passage, ie leave the Chesapeake in October, head down the ICW to Beaufort, and sail down the coast, peaking into ports when bad weather approaches.

Is there a more traditional route and time of year for crossing the Atlantic, which would have helped to avoid bad weather? I know you guys like to sail (not motor), and you mentioned that the pilot charts predicted average 10-15 knot winds on your route. Is there a route where one is more likely to be stuck in the doldrums, but less likely to get the snot beaten out of you?

It must be incredibly bittersweet to have completed the passage you planned for years. What next challenge after crossing an ocean?

Gemini Catamaran Split Decision

S/V Veranda said...

We've been following your updates as you made the crossing. All I can say is ...Wow. I'm relieved that you've arrived safely. Enjoy that side of the *pond*.

Mommy Dearest said...

What you wrote about Maryanne brought tears to my eyes, Kyle. And I know she would write the same thing about you. You two have now set the gold standard, in my book at least, for the perfect marriage.

I assume you are about ready now to challenge the chores, boat fixes and sail to Cork pretty soon. What are your immediate plans and do you still have the scruffy beard?? Hehe.

SV-Footprint said...

Hi Scott... You are quite right, there is indeed good and bad times to travel the same route, and alternatives to that route.

The month we chose was the safest time in the year for the route we chose (per pilot charts, and per Jimmy Cornell). That is after the winter storms and prior to hurricane season. There are two recognized routes to cross the Atlantic from here.. One direct, via the more northerly latitudes (as we took) and the other via the Azores.

The Azores route is preferred by many as it splits the journey in to two roughly equal parts. However the first part involves high chances of no wind (so you have to carry extra provisions and water, or as many do enough fuel to motor most of the way there - not really an option for the Gemini). Having made it to the Azores, you then have to head North in predominantly westerly winds, so for comfortable sailing you have to pick from much smaller ideal weather windows for the Northerly part of the passage.

For more info you can refer to Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes" where he explains all this (and many other routes) in great detail.

A few days before we left, the ARC Rally left Bermuda for the Azores. (The ARC Rally is a rally you can join for a huge fee, and then make the passage accompanied by other paying members and with some support at the ports of call, and with regular SSB check in - not enough for the money in my mind, but helpful hand holding for those nervous about such a passage). At least two of ARC boats returned damaged to Bermuda (while we were at sea) after some heavy pounding, and one did so without its mast.

So, the moral of the story is you can work with the stats, but it is no guarantee. I think we were unlucky. When we left the forecast was good, but of course the forecasts won't predict too far into the future with the accuracy we would ideally want - so again, we have to work with the stats.

We're glad to be here, safe and sound. Our return journey (eventually) is via a different route again, and (according to the stats) should be much milder... We'll let you know then.