Saturday, November 18, 2006

Almost Road Kill

The sunset today was spectacular, followed by full complement of stars. I was sitting below writing some emails when I glanced up at the radar above the nav table. Usually empty, I saw a speck about eight miles straight in front of us. We couldn't see much of anything on the horizon when we looked outside the cabin. After hailing several times to an unknown vessel without avail, this half-asleep voice with a thick Russian accent crackled across the VHF. We identified ourselves as a 38-feet vessel under sail, and they responded that they were a 500-feet bulk freighter heading our direction. We pleaded jokingly for them not to squish us and they considerately obliged. We passed starboard-to-starboard several miles apart. It's a big ocean, but evidently not that big.

Sail Repair for Dummies

Today was a very productive day! The winds died down last night to a stand still as we entered the Gulf Stream. What a difference in temperature between the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream, though! In fact, we thought about going swimming today (we could definitely use baths). Instead, we tackled the daunting task of repairing our torn main sail.

I knew my junior-high, home-economics class would come in handy some day! The rip wasn't as bad as we previously thought. The tear was a little over a yard long, but very clean along the trailing edge of the sail. First, we buffed the area around the tear with sandpaper and then cleaned it with acetone. We cut out several circular patches of sticky-back tape to secure the ends of the tear. Next, we placed long, rectangular patches along the length of the tear to hold the two edges together. We then added circular patches to the seams of the rectangular patches. Finally, we laid large rectangular strips over the entire tear and smeared the seams with epoxy. I don't think she'll win any beauty contests, but we have confidence that other parts of the sail are likely to give way before our repair comes undone.

While the main was down and the winds were calm, we decided that it was a good time to refuel. In planning for the trip, we were concerned that we would not have enough storage space for the diesel required to make a trans-Atlantic. We budgeted running the engine to recharge the batteries for four hours each day, consuming roughly two gallons of diesel a day. We provisioned 62 gallons to last a thirty-day trip. To our pleasant surprise, the RPM required to recharge our batteries was much lower than we had planned. Instead of using two gallons a day, we have been using only one. So, we actually have enough fuel for a return trip if we so desired (don't worry, I don't think we're that crazy)!

The winds for the next three days are going to be terrific. They will be a steady 10-20 knots from behind. With our repaired main back in action, we have resumed averaging eight knots of speed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Red Sky at Night...Sailor's Delight

Well, the old adage is partially true. Last night's sunset was a brilliant mural of reds and oranges. The wind today is blowing a steady 20 knots, and we are cruising along on at a very fast broad reach. The sky is overcast, though, and rain poured down this morning during a brief squall. A low pressure system is moving down from the north over the next few days. If we continue our good progress, we should be able to regulate the wind speed using the Azore highs as a buffer.

Today is definitely an inside day. I spent the morning learning how to tie a monkey's fist. Hey, you never know when a big ball of rope will come in handy. Besides, with a name like monkey's fist, it's a knot that everyone should know. I'm now acclimated to reading down below and am making good progress on the book Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. I suppose that it is particularly relevant to this adventure.

We're still experiencing email issues. We are not sure if the emails that we have sent out over the past few days have reached their recipients. We seem to be receiving emails just fine, though.

There She Blows!

Today was a gorgeous day with plenty of sunshine and cooperative winds. We flew the spinnaker all day on a beam reach averaging 7.5 to 8 knots. The high pressure system now lies beneath us and is blowing us straight towards Spain.

The Grand Banks are an amazing ecosystem of bountiful variety. At first we thought that the sea birds were following our boat, mistaking us for a fishing vessel discarding unsuitable catch. Instead, they we were actually stalking schools of dolphins and other fish hoping to get scraps of their fallen prey.

We sailed today through a huge feeding frenzy with hundreds of dolphins (as far as the eye could see) leaping through the water. At the same time, we saw two fountains erupt from the sea a few miles away. We eagerly watched as the spouts came toward us, surfacing every few minutes. Two whales breached less than a hundred yards from our stern, blew magnificent sprays, and rolled over onto their backs. Every now and then we would see them surface in the distance as they continued their journey north.

We are about to sail across the south-eastern edge of the Grand Banks on a course that will take us north of the Azores. The wind over the next few days is forecasted to blow at 10 to 15 knots from astern. We hope to bang out 200-mile days if these conditions persist.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Shane had mentioned a lot of you following his and Walid's adventure through this blog wanted to post comments. I have set it up so anyone, not just blogspot members, can post now. I'm sure Shane and Walid would like to hear from everyone. Comment away!


Back on Track

After three days of beating into a headwind, we now have winds from the south east and have resumed our course. The high pressure system is moving beneath us and we are catching winds from its trailing, clock-wise edge. We should have three more days of this perfect wind as the system moves south and the winds shift to our tail. The rip in our main sail has not worsened, but we are losing about a half a knot because we can’t remove the third reef. Once the winds shift behind us and we are flying our spinnaker, we should be able to take the main down to repair it.

We are crossing the southern edge of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the moment. The weather is gorgeous with sunny skies and calm seas. Earlier in the day we passed through a choppy patch of sea littered with sea gulls going crazy. As we got closer we realized that we were sailing through a feeding frenzy of various fish and dolphins. A pack of 30 to 50 dolphins began leaping beside our boat in unison. They would synchronously jump out of the water and race each other to the front of our bow. We have some great footage and pictures, but unfortunately our limited bandwidth connection cannot support the upload.

We have been having trouble sending emails. I have been trying to reply to as many of your emails as possible, but I’m not sure which ones are getting through. We have been able to receive emails just fine, and we really appreciate your support and encouragement. These past few days have been really rough.

If you haven’t checked out our progress using Google Earth, I would highly recommend it. Thanks goes to Seth and Craig for setting up such a cool visualization of our journey!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Last night was quite an experience! For those of you following our route, you might have noticed that we actually went backwards yesterday. We encountered 40+ knot head winds a little after dusk. We had our mail sail triple reefed and were using a small head sail. Even so, the boat was overpowered by the strong winds and large seas. Our main sail tore just below the second reef. We think we will be able to repair it once the winds calm down in a couple of days. Not too worry, though, the sail is still strong above the third reef and we have a spare main just in case.

With the wind striking us head on, a strong current pushing us backwards, and terrible swells, we back winded the jib and hove-to. I think the deciding factor was when a big wave crashed into the boat causing Walid's bunk cloth to tear. Because he was on the high side of the tack and leaning against the cloth, he crashed to the floor and into the table. When he woke up he was terribly disoriented, a bit shook up, but not seriously injured. Anyway, heaving-to essentially stopped our forward motion and made the boat drift with the seas. What an amazing difference it made! I wouldn't have believed that it would become so calm inside afterwards. I slept like a baby and had very vivid dreams for the first time in days.

We are back on track now. As the high-pressure system moves down in front of us, the winds are backing and we should be able to make up for lost time. We are currently moving at 6 knots right on course for our great-circle route. The seas are still pretty strong, but not as bad as last night. The skies are overcast, but there is no rain and the sun is flirting with us from behind the clouds. We played a board game (thanks Brian and Renate!)and read for most of the day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Real Time" Google Earth Tracker

Seth Hollub did a great job last night setting up this Google Earth .kmz file that reads the GPS info off of the iBoat website and builds this .kmz file to match it:

Download it here: Gryphon KMZ

You will need Google Earth installed to view it.

The permalink over in the Links section will let you get to this at anytime as well.


Monday, November 13, 2006


The winds shifted overnight to a very strong head wind.  Consequently, the waves started bashing into the front of the boat and I didn’t get much sleep last night.  The storm hasn’t really materialized, but we are catching the bottom of a high pressure system that is producing steady 15+ knot winds and 5-10 feet seas.  With the wind beating against us progress has been slow because we must continually tack the boat back and forth to make way.  Clouds have covered the sky and the air is very saturated to the point that everything is covered with a layer of water.  Waves continually crash over the bow of the boat, flooding the cockpit area with sea water.  It is very cold outside, but very comfortable (other than the moisture) inside the cabin.  This weather should continue for the next 12 hours or so, until the high pressure system moves in front of us.  At that point we should see southerly winds and make great speeds on a beam reach.  We haven’t broken out the chocolate truffles yet (a special thanks to Manolis and Gergana), but today has been one of the more miserable days at sea.  Our spirits our high though as we grab the helm, waves crashing around us, and blast “Magic Carpet Ride” over the stereo.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Google Earth Track Added

Every 24-48 hours I plan to update the "Track us with Google Earth" .kmz file in the Links section on the left with the latest tracking info. Its much nicer to look at and you can see how deep the water is :)

If you don't have Google Earth grab it at:

The perma link on the side of the blog to the kmz file is:

If you have Google Earth installed all you need to do is click on the .kmz link and choose Open with Google Earth.


So Long and Thanks for all the Fish!

We were visited today by a school of dolphins. They played in our bow wake for over an hour! We saw them in the horizon at first, and then they progressively swam closer. They were very curious, looking up at us from the water. What a remarkable animal!

Posted for Shane

The Calm Before the Storm

The winds are very light today and we are flying our large downwind spinnaker. A high pressure system is moving northeast below us and will be followed by a low pressure system in the next day or two. Winds around high pressure move clockwise while those around a low pressure system move counter-clockwise. The result for us will be this double vortex funnel of wind, something akin to the ball return at a bowling alley. The weather reports are a bit conflicting at the moment, so we will see what happens. Yesterday, we had a section of our main sail snap out of its track. The bolt holding it sheared off, but we were able to quickly repair it. All sails are doing great today. Best purchase of the trip so far: a $20 wide-base coffee mug that doesn’t tip over.

Posted for Shane

Dousing the Spinnaker

For the first time last night the winds changed from a steady tail wind to a shifting head wind.  We had to wake up several times to douse the spinnaker and tighten the sails.  Last night was also bitter cold.  I was wearing four layers of fleece and a jacket, but the wind pierced it like knives.  Today is another beautiful day at sea.  The swells are at a minimum and we are cruising along at a steady five and a half knots.  We have been averaging 6.38 knots along a great-circle route to the Strait of Gibraltar.  This route has taken us north along the coast of Nova Scotia and we are now approaching Sable Island.  (Actually, we just wanted to stop by Matt’s parents in PEI to restock our fridge!)  For those of you following our route via iBoatTrack, don’t worry, we are not off course.  We are actually slightly south of the great-circle route to get better winds and weather.