Saturday, November 25, 2006

Squalls, Squalls, and More Squalls

We are heading south to Madeira to weather the storms and to swap out our shredded mainsail. The seas today remained turbulent, but Bud (yes, we were so impressed by its performance that we named our drogue) and Bob kept us on course. Although the winds were not as strong as yesterday, we were constantly bombarded by squall after squall. We would unfurl the big jib and then moments later have to take it down when 40+ knot gusts hit. All day long we tended to the sails, constantly trimming and changing them. Finally as the sunset, the seas calmed down and we pulled Bud back on board. The winds continue to shift to our front and fade as the low pressure system falls on the Azores. We are making slow, but steady progress towards Madeira. We'll probably arrive early Monday morning at this pace. We are really looking forward to stepping onto solid land.

Friday, November 24, 2006

95 knots!

What a day! We woke at the crack of dawn with the tell-tale beeping that Bob, our trusty auto-pilot, had been overpowered. Sure enough, the winds were howling above 40 knots and the seas were swelling to over 20 feet. We scrambled to put on our foul-weather gear and headed outside to manually steer and adjust the sails. Just as we brought the situation under control, a squall came out of nowhere. Winds gusted above 95 knots (that's right...over 110 miles per hour!) and the seas churned with 30-feet breaking waves. I've never been in such gusts in my life! The howl of the wind alone was a deafening, high-pitched shrill, let alone its extraordinary force. With our harnesses jacked to the deck safety lines, we held on for dear life until the squall calmed. Even after conditions quieted, waves were still over 30 feet and winds above 40 knots. Squalls continued to overtake us every half an hour or so. An enormous wave even twisted our camera rigging mounted on the stern (don't worry Craig, we were able to get everything back into place). Flying just our small trysail, we hove-to until we could further evaluate the situation.

When we went below we found that the cabin was in disarray with several inches of water sloshing out of the floor boards. Because the boat was heeled over at an angle, our bilge pump could not remove the water. We cut a garden hose and rigged a makeshift wet-vac using the bilge pump and removed most of the water from the cabin. At this point, we called our weather service and asked for their prognosis. It wasn't good. The storm wasn't forecasted to dissipate over the next a few days. And even if it did, another storm system will likely take its place. They recommended heading south as quickly as possible to avoid the second storm.

Unfortunately, the waves were just too strong to get any steerage under sail or motor. The back of the boat would get tossed around by the waves, and the boat would become overpowered as we tried holding it downwind. We were in utter despair of the thought of heaving-to for a week to wait out these storm systems. Wet, cold, and tired we gave up and went down below. After a brief nap, we woke up refreshed to tackle this problem.

We began reading our heavy weather sailing books for tips and suggestions. We knew that we had to drag something to keep the stern from slipping out from under us as we crested the waves. But what and how? The answer was on page 77: we needed to rig a drogue system. We waited for the winds to die down below 30 knots, and then sprang into action. I grabbed the helm and took us downwind to begin surfing the waves. Walid ran to the bow and unfastened our anchor chain and line. We tied the free end of the anchor line to the other end of the chain to form a gigantic loop. We then fastened the side of the loop opposite of the chain to the stern docking cleats. Pushing the chain overboard, we began dragging this loop of anchor gear behind the boat. The results were immediate and remarkable! The drogue acted like a stabilizer against the waves, keeping the stern of the boat under control. We now were able to make way under sail. The give and take of the stern lines kept us pointing straight as we rode the waves.

We are now heading south as fast as possible to the small island of Madeira, just off the coast of Africa near the Canary Islands. If the storm continues to develop as forecasted, we will take shelter there and swap out our mainsail. If it dies down, we will likely continue to head east towards Gibraltar.

Today was an exhausting and trying day. We went from a state of pure exhilaration, to complete despair, to one of renewed hope all within a matter of hours. To celebrate the conclusion of this difficult day, we broke out the chocolate truffles that Manolis and Gergana gave to us the night before we left. Ah...a little bit of heaven in the midst of the tempest!

One Sea-sick Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving! We give our best wishes to everyone as they gather with their families and feast to their heart's content. People have asked if we had any special plans for today. Well, the turkey that we've kept cooped up in the cabin is pretty sea sick, so I think we'll spare him. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any freeze-dried turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy when we were provisioning. But we will give thanks as we're eating our pickled eggs and spam tonight. In fact Walid and I put together a top-ten list of what we are most thankful for at this very moment. Drum roll please...

10) GPS technology; Even though Columbus did it first using the stars, we'd much rather have Garmin covering our backs.

9) Dog-bowl technology; We eat all of our meals out of them. Nearly indestructible and they do not tip over.

8) Long-lasting deodorant; Although Walid seems to prefer au' natural.

7) Sticky-back tape...even better than the original! If only they could make entire sails out of this stuff!

6) The quarantine chamber that is now keeping the stench of Walid's socks out of the main cabin.

5) The untippable, indestructible, incredible mugs that we almost didn't buy.

4) Staying afloat; Only a thin layer of balsa wood and fiberglass keeping us above five miles of ocean.

3) Our "Heavy Weather Sailing for Dummies" handbook; Never leave port without it!

2) Bob; Our faithful auto-pilot that keeps us on course and braves the storms.

And the number one reason we give thanks on this day is...

1) Our loving families and friends; We are very fortunate to have the support and encouragement of our wonderful families and friends. We love reading your emails and the fact that you are keeping us in your thoughts.

Thanksgiving Waves

I've included a plot of the current wave conditions. Looks rough. I've not heard from them today and assume dealing with 20+ foot waves takes precedence over emails.

It looks fortunate they got past the Azores Islands before those 35-40 foot waves moved in, that would have been 8 times as bad. I'm assuming here "badness" to be a cubic function of the relative difference in wave height. ;-)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Last Straw

The winds continued to build over night. We woke up from our slumber to place another reef in the mainsail. But winds gusting above 40 knots and 15 feet seas were just too much for our battered, triple-reefed main. The trailing edge of the sail shredded just above the third reefing point. The bad news is that unlike the previous tear, I don’t think that we will be able to repair this one (oh, our previous repair held up just fine!). The good news (depending on your perspective) is that the winds are forecasted to blow above 25 knots for the next week. Because the tear is along the trailing edge, we can still use it for a downwind run. If the winds shift to a beat, however, then I think it will shred. Nevertheless, we decided to take it down completely and put up our small trysail.

Taking down the main and rigging the trysail was quite an ordeal. A squall came out of nowhere and we did the swap in 35 knot winds and 20 feet seas with a torrential rain pour. It felt like the rain was coming at us from the side. Waves crashed over the bow and the side of the boat. We successfully rigged the trysail and lashed the main to the boom, however.

The weather has calmed down for the moment, but the forecast does not look good. The low pressure system has strengthened, but still remains far north of us for the time being. It is likely to move east and then south over the weekend, just about the time we are approaching Portugal. At that time our weather service is forecasting 50+ knot winds and 20+ feet seas. We might have to heave-to or try to take shelter at port if these conditions arise.

First Picture from Sea

Shane and I have had some challenges getting a picture uploaded from the on board highdef video camera but have finally met with success! They look happy, healthy and amazingly beardless. I was expecting more facial hair by now :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Second Reef and Staysail

The low pressure system has moved down a little earlier than expected. Its center is approximately 400 miles north of us at the moment. We are catching the tailing winds of its southern edge. The seas and winds have steadily increased throughout the day. We just woke up to take down our large jib and hoisted a smaller staysail in its place. We've been running all day at 8 to 10 knots with our main reduced down to its second reefing point. The winds are now gusting above 30 knots and the seas are swelling over 10 feet.

Yesterday, the bolt that we replaced to keep the mainsail in the mast sheered off again. We've been on the same tack for several days now and the lines and sails are showing some signs of wear. We've been adjusting them and changing course every now and then to keep the wear even.

Forecasts are calling for the low pressure system to follow us east for a few days before heading south. We are currently setting a pace that hopefully will allow us to outrun it (as my mom asked, "It's a racing boat, isn't it?"). We should reach the Strait of Gibraltar just as it falls down behind us. We have our storm jib and trysail ready, though, in case we have to weather it.

Hello to Mr. Haas' Math Class in Liberty!

Greetings from the North Atlantic! We are cruising along at a steady eight to ten knots trying to evade a storm system coming at us from the north. Our sails have torn; we've been buffeted by gales; and almost run over by tankers. It's been quite an adventure so far!

My brother asked me to convey to you some applications of mathematics and why studying it is worth your time. You might notice when you look at our course on iBoat Track that it seems we've gone much further north than we needed to on our voyage to the Strait of Gibraltar. Why wasn't the shortest path a straight line? Now look at our track using Google Earth. Does it make sense now? Many problems arise when trying to project a three-dimensional surface such as the Earth onto a two-dimensional surface like your screen. Although a line is the shortest path between two points in general, if you are constrained to travel on a sphere the shortest path is along a great-circle route, i.e. a course that divides the sphere into two equal halves. All the maps of the world that you've seen have limitations in representing long distances. Some maps preserve distance better than others, but distort other features in the process. Can you name three ways of representing the three-dimensional Earth onto a two-dimensional map?

In the mean time, listen to my brother. The math that he is teaching you will take you far. Perhaps across the Atlantic, to the moon, or even beyond!

Running with the Big Boys

Today we passed within a mile of a very large American freighter heading west. I think it was scared of us because as we drew nearer to check it out and take pictures, it kept on veering away! Our little boat can be pretty intimidating I must admit.

We have been making excellent progress on beam/broach reach these past couple of days, averaging just shy of 200 miles a day. The storm system that we are trying to outrun is providing us with very cooperative tail winds. A low pressure system currently off the coast of Newfoundland is forecasted to join the low pressure system hovering over Ireland in a couple of days. It will then most likely proceed south along the coasts of France and Spain and meet up with us about the time we are passing through the Strait of Gibraltar.

We saw sea birds for the first time since we left the Grand Banks. The Azores are just a day’s sail southeast of us at the moment. A high pressure system typically resides in the Azores that we can duck into if the weather gets too bad.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Half Way To the Med

The winds were perfect today, allowing us to cruise along at a steady eight to ten knots. After making a small touch-up last night, our sail repair is holding up nicely. We flew the spinnaker for most of the morning until the wind picked up to around 15 knots. We are slightly behind our intended schedule, but with the forecasts looking favorable over the next few days we should make up a lot of time.

We approached the half-way point of our 3000-mile voyage from Boston to the Strait of Gibraltar today! If we continue to average eight knots we should arrive in little over a week. A low-pressure system is coming down the coast of Ireland from the north, however, and we are expecting some rough weather (40+ knot winds and 20-feet seas) as we approach the Med. We have our storm jib prepared and tri-sail ready if we need them. The more distance, however, we travel over the next few days, the more likely we will be able to miss the storm. The race is on!

Posted for Shane by Craig