With Two Spinnakers Flying

cap’n alex

19 February 2012 | somewhere in the South Atlantic

Ready to set sail for Brazil we stopped by the Ascension grocery store in Georgetown for our last ice cream and said our goodbyes to old and new friends alike. Joey drove the Patriot down to the pier to see us off. We waved goodbye as we dingied through the whitewash swell between the rocks and out to Bubbles. Once back at the boat we swam one last time with the massive turtles that circled us. Having no engine or windlass I used the dingy to tow the boat’s weight up to the anchor while Jack and Diego pulled it up. Then I rushed back on board to unfurl the jib just as anchor was weighed. We sailed out between the other anchored boats, blowing our departure horn all the while. With all sails set we were radioed on the VHF by Joey to wish us well as he watched us disappear over the horizon.

Back on the open water we immediately fell back into the routine of life at sea. Nesquick days were allocated, night shifts divied up, daily mileage guesses put in place, ect. For the first day and night the winds remained steady enough for a wing on wing (mainsail and poled out jib) sail configuration but by day two the winds lightned sufficiently for the sails to start flapping signaling spinnaker time.

We now have two spinnakers in our arsenal. Frankenstein (Frankie) is our original yellow and green spinnaker that has recently been put back together, hence the name, and Ocean Maiden, a red white and blue spinnaker named after the boat who gave her to us. We started out flying Ocean Maiden for fear of blowing out Frankie again and she served us well for a 50 hour run. With winds dying further we then decided to fly both spinnakers. Rigging up an extension on our whisker pole we poled out the Maiden to starboard while simultaneously raising Frankie to port. With the sun ahead and the wind behind we were rewarded with a kaleidoscope of colors shading the boat with the most canvas Bubbles has ever flown. The wind was blowing dead astern from 5 to 7 knots, with our boat speed matching whatever it would blow. It’s quite the balancing act to keep two spinnakers flying and we felt triumphant in pulling off the feat, triumphant enough that we had to take pictures, which required a line off the back towing us in the water 100 feet behind the boat so we could capture both sails in one frame. I don’t know if you have ever been towed through water at 7 knots, tried to hold on with one hand, frame and take a picture with the other, and try to breathe all at the same time, but I will say its not easy. We got the pic.

Our first few nights were dreamlike with star filled skies and calm seas. On night watch we would go back and forth from staring up to watch for shooting stars, or out to sea for flashing jellyfish (not for sure if its jellyfish but there is something out here that occasionally flashes brightly, lighting up a square meter of ocean). And then there were the birds. They would only land at night and at one point they occupied the outboard, wind vane, solar panels, boom, wind generator, spreaders and if he wouldn’t have moved, Diego’s head. Once landed, they showed no fear of us and we were able to pet each of them without reaction. At first cool pets, they quickly wore out their welcome with noisy chatter that lasted all night and poor toilet etiquette. And of course, like poor party guests, they were always gone by morning without cleaning up their mess.

As we neared the equator the consistency of the trade winds lessened and the frequency of mild rain squalls increased. On night six, with Diego at the helm, one of these rain squalls hit, blowing out Ocean Maiden with a tear across the entire length of the sail, from tack through to the clew. We were back to relying on Frankie.

On night 8 at sea we went through the South Atlantic’s version of the Bermuda triangle. It was raining and around midnight when things started to get weird. First our GPS went down (starting out saying it lost satellite signal then died completely) soon followed by all our instruments going out (wind data, electric compass, ect). Around the same time the wind backed causing our spinnaker to tangle. It took the three of us a while to get the mess down in the rainy darkness. The darkness was uncomfortable. Every other night up until this one had been full of stars and even with no moon the starlight would illuminate the boat and the sea giving us an awareness of our surroundings, but with the thick cloud cover and dense rain blocking the stars and moon it was pitch black. In fact the only time we would really see what was going on would be from the occasional flash of lightning.

We poled out the jib to carry on, but the wind shifted again and trying to furl in the sail it jammed causing violent flapping and a wild and dangerous whisker pole. Finally discovering that the spinnaker halyard was wrapped around the forestay from the earlier tangle we remedied the situation back to control. The rain through all this was monsoon like and in less than an hour we filled our 100 gallon water tank. Trying to sail once again the wind shifted to our nose (odd since that pilot charts show a zero percent chance of westerly winds for this area). We tacked trying to at least make some way but it seemed to shift again so we tacked again. This went on tack after tack as we tried to trim the sails to the wind, but to no avail. I was thoroughly frustrated, but Jack seemed to enjoy the action as it was much more like the regatta lake sailing he was used to in Georgia, although we weren’t actually going anywhere. Finally we took all sail in and looking up at the wind vane hoping for a clue to wind direction, only saw the indicator swirling in 360 degree revolutions.

Finally the wind died to nothing and not having an engine we all sat in the cockpit completely drenched waiting for the next squall line to hit but it never came. The GPS kicked back on and the computer generated estimated time of arrival based on our speed was blank, indicated that at our current rate we would never arrive at our intended destination. Exhausted and soaked we all retired to get some sleep in the rolly swell until some wind showed up.

The wind came just after sunrise. Diego had to jump overboard and untangle the fishing line from the rudder which had wrapped itself during all the circles we made the night before. With full main and poled out jib we sailed once again now making a steady 6 knots for the next 30 hours. Interuption…Diego just threw 3 flyfish at me that he found on deck. It is now cookie day and so I retrieved some hidden treasures much to Diego’s and Jack’s delight (I am trying to cut back). The wind lessened and so we put Frankie up again but his stitches are coming unraveled and after only an hour had to take him back down. It is now less than 70 miles to Fernando de Noronha (an offshore Brazilian island) and if the wind holds we should be there tomorrow.

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