Entries Tagged as 'Blue Water Sailing'

The End

March 6, 2009 marked the end of our sailing voyage for most of the crew and for me closes this chapter – for now. For the next 3 months I will be exploring as much of Australia as I can. You can catch up on the Falcon GT by going to the Falcon GT website.

cheers,

Southern Ocean

To anyone with the fascination with blue water sailing the Southern Ocean is an ocean that sets the imagination alight. Now where the Southern Ocean starts is up for discussion but sailors believe it starts at the Roaring Forties. Australians consider the sea below the continent the Southern Ocean.

Two Oceans

Stories of angry storms with howling gale winds and waves described as liquid Himalayas; where boats are pitched-poled and dismasted sends shivers down any salted sailor. But those same stories are what ignite the imagination of adventurous seamen. They dream of sailing to the ends of the world and the crew of the Falcon GT was no different.

Over the seven weeks of sailing along the 40th parallel, the Southern Ocean would reveal it many moods, some unexpected others confirming it as the wildest place on Earth. Introduction to the Southern Ocean was gentle. We reached the Roaring Forties in light variable southerly winds ghosting along steal blue seas with kind swells. Having pushed into the mid forties we finally ramped onto the westerly highway, riding the massive systems that quickly move from west to east. And like a highway there would be times that we would be speeding along surfing down steep waves or stopped dead still in a windless vacuum.

We found that the Southern Ocean is not all wind and waves, but as weather systems moved through a predicable pattern would emerge. With approaching lows the days would be gray as leaden clouds covered the sky, soon letting loose their load of steady cold rain. Winds build and steadily blew around 20 to 25 knots as the seas would build but never in a frighten manner. Under reduced sail, it was a miserable time. Steady rain and the odd breaking wave everything became wet. It was a lonely time to be on watch with the cold damp seeping through the layers to the bone. Cold and wet, those not forced on deck stayed below sleeping, reading and trying to stay warm and dry.

SO-1

This weather would be replaced by a series of cold fronts. As the fronts passed, the rain would stop revealing blue skies and warm sun. Winds continued to blow 20+ knots, but squalls would pass through and black clouds would obscure the skies and horizon and winds would instantaneously reach 40+ knots. Waves now steadily grew bigger and bigger. Sailing was a mixture of exhilaration, fear and some frustration. As we surfed down the waves, boat speeds would go into the double digits. Foam boiled around the boat and the sea hissed. Standing behind the wheel the feeling was exhilarating. But the feeling was tainted with fear with the knowledge that we were sailing on the edge. The wind was directly behind – Falcon GT was running dead down wind. Any loss of concentration and we would jibe sending the boom swinging across the deck in a violent and saddened explosion. Or we could broach with the boat propelling into the wind – even with the rudder turned with all our might – exposing our beam to the onslaught of the breaking waves. Between the squalls, the wind would drop to a clam 20+ knot and the sun would shine. However now we were under canvassed. Not enough sail area and the boat would lose speed and steering became a challenge in the wild seas. Frustrated we would curse the lack of sail, but looking around and see the darkness approach the next squall was not far.

SO-8

SO-12

It would this type of weather that would see us end our sailing early sending us to Apollo Bay, Australia seeking shelter and relieve. Of all the cold fronts, we had seen this was the worst. Regularly squalls would pass through, coal black clouds obscuring the sky and screaming winds would reach into the mid and upper 40+ knots. At one point, we recorded 59 knots of wind. Sailing with only the staysail it was a mixture of heart pounding exhilaration and white knuckled fear. Now the waves became mountains, their breaking tops looking like jagged snow covered peaks. The gusting wind would chop the top off waves, looking like driving snow in a winter storm. All around the boat, waves would break into large patches of white. At times, the waves would break on top of us filling the cockpit with white obscuring the helms man from view. Numerous times, waves would break off our quarter sending the boat on to it side and throwing us around. The boat planned down the sides of mountains. I hit a speed of 19 knots while steering and Doug G. has the record of 23 knots of boat speed – hull speed is a mere 8 knots. Taking our turn at the wheel for two hour at a time, we broached, jibed and surfed. It took a toll over the hours and that is when we decided to go to Apollo Bay.

Once the cold front passed through the calm set in, winds died and clear skies returned. This was our rest day(s). Cloths would be hung out to dry and friendships renewed as we all hung out in the cockpit enjoying the break in weather and waiting for the next system to come.

And so it would go, calm to ideal sailing to cold, wet miserable sailing to white knuckled sailing. The Southern Ocean has it all. But in its final send off it ensured that its reputation as a wild place on the edge of the world would be secured.

Wildlife in the Southern Ocean

It has been about a week since the Falcon and her crew reluctantly left Simon’s Town, pushed by schedules and impatience. We have reached the 40 degrees latitude – the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean, and roaring it has not been. We ghost along, heading east, in light variable southerly winds that are cooled by the Antarctic. The steal blue sea is calm with gentle swells (no liquid Himalayas – yet). The sun, when not hidden by the low grey clouds, is hot and the Milky Way is bright and crystal clear. We wait for the westerly winds driven by the train of lows expected in this region, to push us more quickly towards Australia. For now, sailing has been relaxed with everybody enjoying the weather.

In the last week, the wildlife has been spectacular. Outside False Bay, on the day of our departure, we saw seals everywhere floating and swimming on their sides with their flippers high in the air. Once again, a large pod of dolphins graced us by leaping out of the water as they quickly passed us by. One morning, shortly after dawn a lead grey fin appeared right next to the boat. As I peered down the shark twisted and turned showing its white belly and unsmiling mouth as it looked up at me. Then the shark turned and slid away with a lazy motion disappearing beneath the dark water. I had just seen a Great White.

And there be whales. Doug G, John and I were sitting in the cockpit soaking up the southern summer sun when looking out the stern I saw the water erupt like a volcano. “Whale”, I shouted and everybody went for his camera. For the next entertaining half hour, the whale (species unknown) followed us close behind, every few seconds broke the surface of the water showing us its dark blue back and white belly, and smiling face. The show concluded by a clear out-of-the-water explosive breach mere meters away, which my camera caught only the resulting huge splash. As the whale swam off it offered two encores of it breaching as it disappeared into the distance leaving an elated audience.

SO-3

The seabirds have been our constant companions and they are a joy to watch. There have been varieties of petrels and albatrosses, which continually follow the boat. This includes the large and very rare Wandering Albatross with a wingspan of nearly 4 meters. With long slender glider like wings, the albatross mesmerizes as it silently soars mere centimeters from the water surface following the swells then rocketing for the sky and back down again; doing so all around the boat. Given how rare they are (an estimated 8,500 breeding pairs left) we were blessed to see three of them together doing their graceful flybys and I feel intensely privileged to have seen these birds as they are destined for extinction due to current human fishing practices.

SO-2

SO-4

The Roaring Forties is not what I expected given what I have read. So right now, I am enjoying the show waiting for the Southern Ocean to reveal its true self.

BLOG UPDATED

Currently I am sitting in an internet café – a restaurant really (a very good one called Pescados), rushing before they close to update my blog with stories and photos from the New York to South Africa leg – see below. Tomorrow, Saturday January 17, 2009, we are off sailing to Melbourne Australia; leaving first thing in the morning. The boat is ready and the food is packed.

As an aside, Doug S and I escaped and went for a hike into the mountain by Simon’s Town (the extent of our exploration of South Africa). It gave our legs a good last work out before the sailing trip and it was a pleasure to smell the aroma of the dirt and vegetation before filling our nostrils with salt air.

New York to South Africa (51 of 52)

New York to South Africa (52 of 52)

Cheers

SIMON’S TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

It has been eight days since we landed in Simon’s Town, South Africa and it has been a wonderful place. The boat is resting up at the False Bay Yacht Club. The people there have been wonderful and extremely helpful. Everything we need to prepare the boat for the next leg to Australia is there.

New York to South Africa (46 of 46)

We have spent our days working on the boat or running errands so, regretfully, I have not explored the area as much as I would have liked – an opportunity missed and a reason to come back.

As I write this I am sitting outside of the club looking out seeing the bay surrounded by rocky shrub covered mountains, which when the wind blows are covered by thick blankets of white clouds. Buildings dot the foot of the hills around the bay and rocky outcrops and white beached meet the cool waters of False Bay. The weather is very much like the Mediterranean; cool nights and warm days chilled by a strong breeze.

New York to South Africa (50 of 52)

Most of what I have seen has been only on the rain going to Cape Town from Simon’s Town and back (to check in and out of emigration and customs). All we saw in Cape Town was the touristy waterfront with its malls and restaurants (very nice if you like that sort of thing).

New York to South Africa (47 of 52)

New York to South Africa (49 of 52)

Simon’s Town is a small, and is the location of the South African navy. The main strip is near the water and is mainly tourist shops restaurants. There are no large hotels or resorts here. Above the main street, working up the steep hillside are the houses; small blending beautifully in with the natural surroundings. Looking at a pamphlet on exploring Simon’s town there is lots to see and do, from going on scenic hikes to cage diving to see great white sharks. There are also less adventures thing to do like wine tours and seeing penguins along the shore.

After day of working on the boat and having a couple of cold cheap beers at the club, we would go and eat at one of the many restaurants. The food has always been very good and the service excellent. And the cost? In a word – cheap. With an exchange rate of 1 Rand = 0.1245 Canadian dollars, food, wine, beer and services are surprisingly inexpensive. We normally spent between R100 – R150/person of a multi course meal leaving us stuffed and happy. The cost for boat maintenance at the yacht club has been a surprising pleasure. And it only cost us about R200 to do the laundry of five guys who just spent 69 days at sea.

I wish I could spend more time here and explore, hiking in the hills and along the Cape and swimming in the cool waters. At least I have enjoyed sitting at the club letting the morning sun warm me up while gazing out at the bay and sunlit mountains. The pace of life is relaxed here and has that feel as a place that Earnest Hemmingway would have enjoyed.

THE DEVIL WIND

January 8, 2009

I now know what hell would be like. Take your favorite activity select the most unpleasant part of that activity and make it never ending. For me it would be sailing. Sailing upwind on rough seas at a 30-degree heel and never reaching land.

After the storm, we continued eastward hard into a southeast wind. But we were not only going east we were slowly going north. We wanted south; the devil wind had us and tormented us. Frustration built as the tried crew with sunken eyes looked at our track. East was good, the miles towards Africa declines quickly. It was the fact that we were heading to Angola instead of South Africa that darkened our mood. The wind would mockingly shift slightly allowing us to go southeast toward South Africa. Moods would quickly rise, calculating the short days to port; then just as quickly the wind would shift back once again forcing us just north of east. Our temper turned with the wind back down into the dark gloom, the shortening days growing long again. The days and wind shifts continued, never ending, and like the swells, our frame of mind rolled up and down.

New York to South Africa (35 of 46)

Tiring of this torture the evil wind shifted allowing us to bear straight for our target. But there was a price. We had to sail hard on the wind (nothing new), pinching, squeezing to the point of luffing the sails to make our mark. The wind in the rigging sounded like the call of the dead. Add to that the minions of sharp and steep waves whipped up by the wind. The boat would continually fall on to a back of a wave and land with a bone shattering impact. Below, it sounded like the hammer of Thor against the hull. Everybody would flinch, wondering if the rig would give way. Each time our beast of burden slammed against a wave it would shudder and stumble to a stop, then pick itself up again and continue to carry its physical and emotional fatigued crew to their destination.

It never seemed to end. Was I in hell to sail into the wind against bounding waves for the rest of eternity? It felt like it. For 17 days, we struggled trapped on an emotional roller coaster that we could not get off. Then, as if given a reprieve, the southeast wind died replaced with a northwest angel that allowed us to sail on a beam reach around the Cape of Good Hope under blue skies and a setting sun. Beneath a clear night sky with a bright moon approaching full, we motored-sailed into False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town, South Africa for a well-deserved break and rest after 69 days at sea.

New York to South Africa (39 of 46)

New York to South Africa (40 of 46)

New York to South Africa (46 of 46)

KNOCKDOWN IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC

Be careful what you wish for. It is a tired old and overused cliché, but in our case, it was appropriate. December 19, it was the middle of the night and I was on watch trying to sail; but there was no wind. The GPS showed us going nowhere with 0 knots over the ground. I sat behind the wheel doing nothing and wishing for wind. At the end of my watch, I went to bed leaving Doug S. at the helm wishing for wind.

The next morning, on December 20, the breeze had filled in and for the remainder of the day pleasant sailing under 20 knots of wind; our wish came true. This continued into the next day. Conditions started to change during my shift when the winds, coming from the east, started to build to over 25 knots. The crew tucked in a double reef and furled in the jib. As the evening passed the winds continued to grow, peaking at 35 knots; Doug S was on watch. Before I retired to the aft port bunk to try to sleep, I asked Doug how everything was. He response was, “We need a forth reef”. Near the end of his shift, the boat was running 12 knots with the wind. We were now heading north; we wanted south so John decided to drop all the sails and go bare poles.

Early the next morning, December 22, I crawled out of my windowless cave to see that we were in a gale – wind speeds were hitting 55 knots. The door to the cockpit had been closed and dogged down. Looking through the door window, I saw John, Stuart, and Doug G sitting in the cockpit. I put on my foul weather gear, opened the door and struggled out. The wind so loud that it felt like a hundred freight trains screaming inches by. Looking out I saw the chaos the wind inflicted on the ocean; we were surrounded by mountains. One moment we were in a deep valley looking up at the mountaintops with sheer cliffs that looked like sheets of ice; the next the boat was sitting on top of a wave like the Ark upon the mountain. Bright sunshine shone through the wave tops just before they would break in a white froth making them look like majestic cathedrals perched high in the air, the colour of aquamarine, like thick pieces of broken glass.

New York to South Africa (33 of 46)

New York to South Africa (32 of 46)

29 degrees and 53 minutes south by 16 degrees and 37 minutes west at about 8:00 am GMT, the boat like some great beast that had been shot staggered and lost its footing under a collapsing wave; then fell to port and slide down a wave. Time stood still.

At that moment, after having tried to take some video and pictures of the raging sea, I was back in the port aft bunk trying to sleep in spite of the turmoil outside when I felt the boat fall over. I sat up and braced myself thinking, “We are going to roll”. Looking out the bunk opening, I saw water pouring in.

Doug S was standing between the galley and the pilothouse by the navigation station, looking aft. Bracing himself as the boat started to slide he looked out the port windows and saw nothing but blue water. When the water started pouring in Doug S quickly shouted, “The windows are ok, it’s coming through the vents” easing everybody fears.

Captain John was in the aft starboard cabin said he felt a slight disappointment towards the boat for being knocked down. Later all agreed it that the boat had preformed admirably in the conditions. John’s brother, Doug G, was a sleep on the starboard settee and was initially unaware of the situation.

Stuart had the worst view of it all. He was outside at the helm trying to maneuver the boat over the gigantic waves. Nevertheless, the one wave, collapsing underneath, caught the boat pushing it on its side. Stuart, who was thankfully tethered on, was thrown to the port rail. He found himself underwater, from hearing the screaming wind to tranquil silence. Staring at the surface, seeing lines, floating debris, and the blue sky above, he told himself, “Hold on, hold on, hold on”.

Time had stretched as the knockdown happed, but then with a shudder it snapped back as items in the cabin flew from starboard to port. Books, ipods, unsecured tools, and other fragments flew through the air like missiles and impacted with a crash. The laptop barely missed Doug G as he woke with the realization of what just happed. Everybody checked with each other to see if everybody was ok. John opened the door and screamed, “Are you ok Stui?” A wild eyed and slightly shocked Stuart responded that he was fine and continued at the helm.

We had survived a knockdown in the South Atlantic. The waves and winds continued for a bit but within a few hours, the waves decreased in size and the winds were below 20 knots. We had suffered no injuries and the boat suffered no damage; with sails back up, we continued onward to South Africa.

New York to South Africa (34 of 46)

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

December 18, 2008

It has been about 2 weeks since we entered the Southern Hemisphere. During that time, the propagation of the ham radio has been poor. Only now, in the last few days is it coming back. The blog updates have been done by sat-phone.

New York to South Africa (21 of 46)

A fair bit has happened since I last wrote. I shaved my head and started to grow a beard – I always said that when I lost my hair I would grow a beard. Wildlife has been plentiful and a joy to see. I observed a Cory’s Shearwater hunt for flying fish. The seabird would dance about the boat swooping within feet of the hull to the top of the mast then back down, its wings slicing the water as it rode inches above the waves. Then up into the air again, craning its head back and forth looking and changing direction in an instant. The bird would then suddenly stop, collapse its wings and dive disappearing beneath the sea; then up again to start all over. We saw bright pink jellyfish sailing by against the deep blue sea. We watched a pod of dolphins on the hunt, jumping high clear above the waves as they raced by us quickly disappearing into the horizon. I heard, in the middle of the night alone on watch, the breathing of whales. The deep blowing whooshing of the breathing hole sounded like they were right next to the boat. But on the moonless night I never saw them.

We saw our first landfall as we past 12 miles east of the Martin Vas Islands at the breaking of a new day. The jagged and stark cliffs gray against the morning light – oh how fun it would have been to go exploring a place few will ever see.

New York to South Africa (25 of 46)

The weather and wind has been kind and cruel. After crossing the equator (see story below) the sailing was fantastic. Again, we were hard on the wind but the ocean was flat and gentle and the boat put the miles beneath us day after day under blue skies. We started counting the days to Cape Town. Then the winds shifted. First, it was good as we could fly the spinnaker and sailed with it for a few days. But the wind died as the boat glided along the edge of a frontal system. On our portside, towards Africa, there were blue skies. To our right, towards South America, the clouds were flat and steel gray. Now we struggle to make our desired heading to Cape Town. The winds are variable, both in strength and in direction. We try sailing on starboard tack but we head towards Argentina, so we try port tack only to be heading northeast towards Northern Africa. We continue to sail the best we can and enjoy our surrounding waiting for more favorable winds that will come our way. This is ocean sailing and we deal with it as our anticipation and desire of landfall grows with each passing day.

New York to South Africa (26 of 46)

DOLDRUMS

December 9, 2008

The Inter-Tropical Convergence (ITC) Zone, or the Doldrums, was not what I expected. I expected bright blue skies, a brilliant burning sun with intense humid heat and no wind; all punctuated with violent squalls hitting us with driving rain and wind.

Entering the ITC Zone happened at a distinct point. We had been sailing under spinnaker for two whole days in what we have called the NE trades. Then on November 30, late in the morning (mid afternoon local time – we have not adjusted our clocks since we left New York) we saw a gray wall in the distance. Approaching it, the wind quickly died to a whisper. Heavy showers doused us as we entered the gray boundary. On the other side the rain stopped. It felt like we had entered the twilight zone.

New York to South Africa (12 of 46)

The days spent there were colorless and dull. Sunrise and sunsets were void of color and there were no rainbows. Dark low clouds blanketed the sky and the sea was an inky black. Everyday, as the hot and humid hours passed, the clouds would build into great dark gray fortifications where the rains would come. Quickly gloomy steel curtains circled the boat, our universe shrinking to only a few hundred feet. Then the rains would come hard and fast. Raindrops hitting the water by the boat looked like glass shards spread across the water. Waves would smooth out looking like distant gentle rolling hills shrouded in a morning mist. During these downpours there would be, on deck, five naked men hooting and hollering with delight like children playing in the summer rain.

New York to South Africa (18 of 46)

Through out we had wind, contrary to the stories told about the doldrums. During the day, the breeze was light at 3 to 6 knots and in the evenings, the wind built to 13 knots at times. The squalls were gentle. Rains were heavy but the winds never went above 20 knots. The boat was always moving as if pulled by a string; ghosting along making slow and steady progress south with sails full. Never did the sails or crew feel the frustration of being becalmed.

On December 4 at 13:57:42 ship time (17:57:42 GMT) we passed the equator. Celebrations by the crew involved John acting as King Neptune and his brother, Doug, playing his sidekick; doling out playful punishment for crimes against the sea. After we ate chocolate cake and drank champagne. By late evening a South-Southeast wind picked up to a steady 15 knots, gusting to 20+ knots. We were sailing fast once more hard on the noise. After 4 days of surreal sailing in a monochrome world, we had left the ITC Zone as quickly as we had entered it.

BECALMED

November 26, 2008

Becalmed. A windless sea is a sailor’s worst frustration. This is where we found ourselves; like men in a parched desert looking for an oasis we searched for wind only to find mirages under clouds.

The first day (November 21), we welcomed the lack of wind. The calm gave us rest from the weather we had. We soaked up the morning sun, enjoying fresh fish cooked in beer batter. By midday, the wind filled in and the boat was cruising at around 6 knots. Rested, we settled in as the evening approached, relieved that the wind had returned; but the wind was only playing a cheeky game with us. Early in the morning, the breeze had faded away to nothing. The sails whipped back and forth angrily in the long deep swells, cracking like whips. Curses of frustration from the man on watch were heard below while others tried but failed to sleep. In despair, the engine was turned back on, the iron sail pushing us forward.

Day 2 (November 22), the wind continued to hide from us and we motored on, eating up diesel. The crew makes the best of a situation we cannot control. Stuart took a shower in the rain and Doug G. reeled in another fish just in time for lunch, its bright metallic green blue quickly fading in death. However, the lack of wind and fuel consumption weighed heavily on everybody’s mind and the crew discussed whether we should stop at the Cape Verde Islands for fuel. Piracy, the headache of customs and time delays make us hesitate. As we talked, the engine died. Silent, we look at each other. Tank 1, 200 gallons, has run dry – one third of our supply. We had not anticipated the use of so much fuel so early, relying on the northeast trades, which have yet to show themselves. We need the fuel to punch through the doldrums at the equator. Cape Verde Islands now looms as the only option.

Day passes into a clear moonless night. Stars cover the sky from horizon to horizon. Far, far in the distance, the horizon would flash with light from the thunderstorms ranging over Africa. The ocean was calm as a sheltered bay. Seabeams glistened in the darkness, washing off the wake of the boat. A glow came off the rudder like a hot phosphoresce plasma trail from a jet engine. We motored through the night.

Day 3 (November 23) and the eastern sky glowed brighter, the sun rising a bright orange yellow fireball shining through the low flying clouds. In the west, a heavy bank of rain clouds burned light yellow at their tops, against the light blue morning sky. Lower, their colours changed to pinks then purples then grey as their bottoms met the sea. There was now a whisper of a breeze but we still motored on. As the morning sun rose in the sky so did the wind growing steadily, finally reaching 13 knots. Quickly we turned off the engine and sails set, the boat bucking with joy as the she pranced along at 6 knots.

It is now November 26 and we have been continually sailing, the winds having returned. It is not a strong wind at only 13 knots, sometimes dropping to 7 knots. We are still sailing hard on the SE wind waiting for the NE trades, but we will take it, happy the winds have returned, talk of stopping at the Cape Verde Islands has dissipated along with the sailor’s word frustration of being becalmed.