Thursday, April 25, 2013

On to Boston (almost)

[Kyle]We spent another day hunkered down in Onset Bay waiting out unfavorable winds. Ordinarily, we would have used the extra time to explore. A big bay like this would have been well suited for setting up the sail kit on the dinghy and just pottering around the various nooks and crannies. The weather was just dreadful, though. That idea, or anything else that would have required venturing out of our heated cabin or, at the most, our rain and wind protected cockpit, had no appeal. We were glad we were already safely anchored with some time to spare so that we didn’t have to be out in it.

Days like these are one of the things I like about how cruising keeps us closer to the weather than most land-based pursuits, because we’re affected by it more. I like how I know the wind and rain are caused by a low-pressure system over Cape Cod that brings cold Atlantic air over the land where the moisture is squeezed out on us. How a cold front will be here tomorrow that will bring a wind shift to the south-west and clearing skies. The full moon is tomorrow, which means high tides and strong currents. With this knowledge, I can figure out which way Begonia will be facing at sunrise, so I know which way to tilt the solar panel to catch the first rays of the sun in case I’m still stuck in my warm bed when it happens. Better solar panel placement means more electricity, which affects how we can live our subsequent day. The weather, the Sun, the wind, and the stars are all things that have real importance in our lives as cruisers far beyond the level of trivia for the drive to work or to know what’s happening outside the window. {Maryanne: Kyle is abundantly cautious about our power consumption and monitoring. There were times on Footprint that we'd be low on power and need to implement disruptive conservation methods. E.g. at anchor I'd have to ration my computer usage to an hour a day, under-way we would only use the autopilot about 1/3 of the time (or less), and would not use the radar unless absolutely necessary, etc. So we were used to monitoring and being aware. We had no idea how Begonia would be. She has a bigger battery bank, a better wind generator, and more solar panels, but she also uses more power (the fridge works on 12V electricity), so it was something we'd have to wait and see. Luckily so far we have yet to have any enforced power conservation periods. Life is good, but I still appreciate Kyle's efforts to ensure they stay that way by tilting the solar panel just so!}

Usually, on a nice day, there’s a huge drive to get out of bed early in order to make the most of limited time to explore. Then it’s go, go, go until we arrive home tired and famished from a day of climbing a big hill or taking in historical spots.

Lousy days have an appeal of their own. They provide an enforced convalescence that would never be voluntarily taken when the weather is good and there is much to do. On these days, we get a chance to sleep in without the guilt of missing something. (I never realized how tired I was). We have time to talk and potter and read. Eventually, with nothing to do, we’ll spontaneously start taking care of minor, neglected jobs. The heads will get cleaned, the fuel filters changed, and that intermittent light will get rewired properly.

This rainy day, Maryanne made something elaborate for dinner the long, slow way while I read to her to keep us both entertained. When we were done eating, we switched and she read to me while I cleaned a mountain of dishes. All the while, the wind was howling and rain pelted the cabin top. The windows were so covered with raindrops that it was hard to see anything other than vague, gray shapes outside. Every now and then, I would forget where I was. At one point, when it was really coming down hard, I looked out astern past our solar panel and thought, “Wow, the weather’s so bad, I can’t even see across the river.” I was still expecting to see the Hudson back there with the Empire State Building beyond it.

I checked the forecast for the next leg. It looked like the next afternoon would have a twelve-hour window of nice tailwinds for the last push to Boston before turning on us again. At daybreak, the wind was still howling in from the wrong direction, although the rain had decreased to a cold drizzle. Our wind generator has this cool (or annoying, depending on your perspective) feature where it shuts down when the battery bank is full and it’s no longer needed. As the batteries discharge, it restarts and runs for a while until coming to a stop with a telltale clunk. The clunk can be annoying, but I like knowing it means our batteries are topped up. The wind had been strong enough over the last couple of days that it had only run a couple of minutes every ten or so, even with heat and computers going. By morning, it had not run for hours.

As afternoon approached, the wind made its predicted shift to the southwest and the sky began to clear. We put the mainsail up and motorsailed into the Cape Cod Canal on one engine at the last of the opposing current (and with a slight delay for the rail bridge). Within thirty minutes, the current was helping us along. Currents in the western end of the Cape Cod Canal are so strong that the only sensible thing is to go through with them in our favor. Unfortunately, with a subsequent trip up the coast, the currents end up being exactly against us for pretty much the remainder of the trip, although no more than a knot or so.

Entering and passing through the Cape Cod Canal - a sunny (but cold) day

Once out of the canal, we flew up the coast. Even against the foul current, we ate up the sea miles. The Athena is such a marvelous boat at sea! We were sailing downwind, but into opposing current, as well as oncoming swells left over from the previous few days and Begonia just flew over them smoothly. The wind slowly picked up and we reefed and reefed again, well before it was strictly necessary. I conservatively estimated that we wouldn’t make it to Boston Harbor until 2:00 or 3:00am. We dropped anchor around 10:30.

I had originally expected to anchor in the lee of Long Island (The Boston Harbor one) just as the wind died and backed to the northwest. Instead, we had arrived just as the southwest winds peaked. This left us completely exposed to the full force of the wind and two-foot chop. We set the anchor anyway, backed down hard and then put out more scope as insurance. It was pretty uncomfortable, but we knew it should only be temporary.

Maryanne had the special combination of being tired and being worried about the anchor in the bucking boat. She suggested I set an anchor alarm on our chartplotter. There would be enough wind to run it all night. As I was setting it up, she managed to find a cool iPhone app that will do it for us. We could leave the chartplotter off and save power by using our more miserly phones. Maryanne had previously installed a 12V outlet in our berth mostly for keeping our iPhones topped up at night. Throughout the night, as gusts hit, we were able to see from the comfort of our berth that we had only moved a meter or two before swinging back. We could then go back to sleep.

By early the next morning, the wind had shifted back to the northwest and decreased. The tide went slack and then began to ebb out of the harbor. Begonia slowly drifted from one side of her anchor to the other. At the appointed distance (50m), the anchor alarm went off. I had expected this as we had a lot of chain out. Groggily, I looked at the little screen. We weren’t at 52 or 55m and holding. We were at 63, then 64, 65, 67, 70, 71. Oh, Shit! Suddenly, it was all hands on deck. Battle Stations! We got to the cockpit as Begonia came to a gentle stop at the other end of her rode at 80m. Whew! Good drill everyone! Back to bed.

When we finally did emerge for good, we found glorious blue skies, bright sunshine and flat seas. For the first time in a long time, we skipped firing up the heater to take off the morning chill. The greenhouse effect in the cockpit enclosure was more than adequate to warm the boat up.

We had another day of enjoying doing nothing in particular. Mostly, we mused on how completely different the weather was from two days before. As the day progressed, I found one job or another to keep me occupied. Eventually, I decided to use the calm weather to refurl the sails. In the height of the previous night’s winds, the mainsail especially had been clawed down in fistfuls and shoved into its cover. I decided to raise it fully and bring it down slowly so that it could be flaked neatly along the way, making it fit into its cover better.

As the sail was nearly fully raised, there was a bang and then the halyard went limp. The mainsail came rumbling down the mast. I heard two bangs and then two splashes. Well, that’s not good. Our mainsail halyard has a 2:1 purchase. The end is tied to the top of the mast and the mainsail is raised on a pulley (called a block by sailors) After some investigation of the wreckage, we determined that the axle on the block had corroded through, splitting it and causing it to part. The mainsail was fine, the halyard was fine, although it was stuck in a loop at the top of the mast, but we definitely need a new block.

Broken block leaves the halyard at the top of the mast for Kyle to recover - what a brave guy!

Unlike the evening before, it was now flat calm. I rigged our TopClimber and went up the mast to grab the halyard with the help of a boathook. We made a temporary fix to the main just so we could raise it and stow it neatly. We are so glad the block didn’t explode the night before when I was cranking up the luff tension after reefing. It wouldn’t have been a huge problem – we would have just had to continue under motor – but it would have been at night in rough seas, instead of while anchored on a sunny day. Begonia is only about half as fast under power, though, so the trip could have been a lot longer.

Maryanne timed the big dinner to coincide with sunset and the rise of the full moon, which we got to enjoy in the cockpit. As I write this now, she’s researching halyard blocks and I’m facing a mountain of dishes.

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