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.

TRADE WINDS?

November 19, 2008

The Trade Winds and tales of idyllic tropical downwind sailing are only stories told by old sailors to lure the young and naive. Sailing for 18 days and we have yet come upon such fabled conditions. Our voyage is an up wind struggle, the breeze continuously in front of the beam. We are riding the edge of one or more frontal systems, making our way east-southeast trying to avoid the worst.

The cheeky winds play with us. At times, it gusts up to 30 knots, chopping the heads off waves like a guillotine sending salty spray into the air and forcing us to arm-wrestle the wheel. It then drops to a whisper leaving us to the mercy of the rebellious waves as they toss the boat around. Sometimes the wind is courteous, blowing just right allowing the boat to reach hull speed and ride the waves with a gentle role.

We are surrounded by cumulus nimbus clouds. Large, their bellies black full of rain. Short and heavy downpours hit us washing the boat as we pass under the clouds. During the day, the heavy rain can be seen in every direction for miles. Rainbows, created by the bright sun shining through water droplets, radiate brightly all around us before disappearing. At night, lightening lights up the night sky and the heavy clouds obscure the moon and stars. Sheets of rain conceal the horizon creating a dark void into which we sail.

New York to South Africa (10 of 46)

The mood of the crew is good as we all get along and have distractions to keep us occupied. Today (November 18) we caught three dolphin fish – our first; Captain John acted like a little boy who had caught is first fish ever. We ate well having fresh fish for lunch and dinner. We give thanks for their sacrifice.

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Yet, despite the good humour , frustration seeps through the crew. The crew is tired of the upwind sailing, excellent it may be; tired of the inconsistent winds making sail selection difficult; and tired by not having the trade winds promised by everything we read.

We have lost a week, perhaps more, by not having the expected conditions that have reduced our speed significantly, as we fight the wind and waves. Everybody wonders how long it will take to reach Cape Town.

Hope prevails, however. We know that part of sailing is being at the clemency of the winds and having to deal with what is dealt us – that is part of the adventure. So we continue to sail to the edge of the world in search of the fabled trades.

FANTASTIC SAILING

November 14, 2008

No doubt you know, if you have been following the Falcon GT blog, that we have past through the heavy weather to find ourselves having some fantastic sailing. The winds have been variable, normally ranging from 8 knots to 20 knots, since about November 10. The deep navy blue seas are now flat with deep long swells and the winds are more to our beam allowing the boat to slip smoothly through the water. The acrobatics down below are no longer required, allowing us to prepare better meals and sleep more soundly. At times, when lying in my bunk, I cannot feel the movement of the boat; only the water rushing, like a waterfall under the hull.

Well rested and feed, the crew has been busy cleaning, doing laundry, and making minor improvements to the mechanical systems of the boat. More fruit and vegetables with the onset of decay were thrown out. There were mutated oranges that had grown a green fur and when tossed overboard they exploded like a toxic smoke bomb on impact with the water.

Along with the exhilarating sailing, the scenery has been spectacular. On November 12, we watched the sunset ignite the eastern sky ablaze while, at the same time, the full moon rose to the west painting its skies with pastel pinks and blues. The next morning, during my watch, we sailed into rain showers. It was wonderful as the fresh rain washed down on me. I could taste the salt being washed out of my hair. Massive rain clouds surrounded us as far as the eye could see; tall with grey white tops and their bellies black and heavy with rain. Behind us a rainbow glowed created by the morning sun.

New York to South Africa (13 of 46)

There is a darker cloud forming, however. We have been informed of a depression forming off the coast of Africa that could develop into a big storm. It is still too early to call, but we are making good speed East Southeast in hopes of missing whatever happens to develop.

EAST WIND

Sunday November 9, 2008

It has been the same for the last 5 days – the same east wind, the same big waves with their white froth hair, the same constant salt spray, the same starboard tack hard on the wind. For the last 5 days, the boat has been rocking back and forth, and from side to side.

New York to South Africa (4 of 46)

Down below it is physically taxing walking from one end to the other. The simple act of going to the bathroom is an acrobatic challenge that requires a few hundred calories of energy. More then the physical challenge is the mental fatigue of this sameness. It was not supposed to be this way; fighting against the wind day in day out. The crew longs for the trades and running with the breeze.

Nevertheless, there are moments that all the fatigue and frustration disappears replaced with wonder and pleasure. Like seeing the sunrise during morning watch and witnessing the waking of the day with salmon pink skies turning to fire yellow that silhouette the grey black cumulus clouds; watching the black sea igniting to dark pink, red then burning yellow until everything turn to silver grey – the sunrise over.

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WITH THE HIGHS, THERE ARE THE LOWS

November 6, 2008

With the highs, there are the lows. From watching, with delight, dolphins dancing off the bow to watching, with frustration, twenty feet of angry wave smack the boat we are in one of the lows.

Against the norm of a west wind, it has been from the east at a steady thirty knots. Therefore, to get to the trade winds we have had to be hard on the wind for the last three days under reduced sail and speed. It has taken its toll.

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The boat is like an amusement ride we can’t get off; bouncing, tossing and turning in all directions as the waves and wind play. The bananas and tomatoes, which hung in nets in the galley, have been unceremoniously tossed overboard. Their corpses battered to a pulp by the relentless pounding leaving their bloodstain against the wall.

The crew has faced little better. Everybody, except me, has been sick. The constant jarring movement makes it difficult to do anything. It takes great effort to do the simplest of tasks as you use all your muscles to keep yourself from flying across the inside of the boat – not always with success. As a result, there has not been much activity. Each person will grab a small bite when hungry but spends most of their time sleeping and reading (or in Doug S case sending email after email on the ham radio). It is quiet below except for the sound of the water against the hull and the wind in the sails. I too sleep and read. I do some video and photography but it has been too rough to download the images to my computer.

Fine salt covers everything on deck. It comes from the constant spray of water as the boat punches through the waves. That everything includes the crew. Every time I lick around my lips, I can taste the salt stuck in my unshaven face.

New York to South Africa (7 of 46)

Yes, it is tedious right now. People are not jovial and all are wishing for a change in wind direction that we know will come; but there are moments, when on watch, that the wonder of the sea grabs you. The power of the wind and waves, the expanse of the ocean, and the small flying fish, like silver bullets breaking the surface of the water streaking through the air to disappear a few moments later into a wave.

THE FIRST FEW DAYS AT SEA

After having left in a rush due to a favorable weather window, we have done just over 140 nautical miles in the last 22 hours and our current position as of 1:19 pm standard Eastern Time is 40.15.405 N by 70.57.794 W.

New York to South Africa (1 of 46)

The first night out was wonderful. After passing through the Narrows Bridge, we set sail then settled in to watch the sun dip below the horizon. The night was clear and our distance from Manhattan increased more stars started to show themselves – by midnight, the sky was full. We had cool SW winds that averaged about 25 knots with chaotic seas. The boat running with the wind with full jib and reefed main averaged about 8 knots.

Earlier in the evening, the phosphorous was in full display. The waves off the bow and trails off the stern glowed a Halloween green as radiant gems danced in the surf.

The winds have been good and stiff. We reduced sail by putting a second reef in the main and putting up the staysail instead of the number 1 jib. The boat is responding nicely to the sea; much better then she sailed in Lake Ontario. The weather has been very good. The skies have been blue with a scattering of cumulus clouds. The sea is inky blue with foamy tops blowing off the 2-meter swells. The spray is covering the boat with fine salt now and everything is getting a little damp. This salt has me a little concerned about my cameras but I’m still getting some decent photographs and videos.

New York to South Africa (3 of 46)

I had my turn at watch this morning from 6 am to 9 am (our watch is 3 hours on and 12 hours off); and got my highlight of the trip so far – a pod of 20 or more dolphins welcoming us to the Gulf Stream. Magnificent! I sat on the bow for a good 15 minutes in awe as they surrounded the boat breaking the surface of the water and passing under the bow of the boat while looking up at me. It was a real joy for me to see them do their acrobatics along the front of the boat. There have been many sea birds, like shearwaters, around skimming over the surface of the water. They, like the dolphins are a delight to watch.

New York to South Africa (5 of 46)

BRONTE TO NEW YORK VIA THE OSWEGO AND ERIE CANAL

Twelve thirty October 14, 2008 the Falcon GT slipped out of the dock while family and friends waved us off. Captain John, his brother Doug, and I were on board while Doug S. and Stuart, jealous, would join us in New York at the end of the month. The weather was rough with strong northwest winds as we ventured out of the harbour escorted by Towarf.

The conditions would have been fabulous for a sail but the trip down the canal and its low bridges required the mast to rest on the deck horizontally. In the bumpy waters, the mast swayed its wooden supports groaned under the strain. As the boat bucked and the mast rocked, we discussed finding a closer port for the night. However, the winds lightened and with the mast more securely fastened, we decided to head for Oswego. Heading east, a bright big silver full moon rose in front of us while a
salmon pink sky bid good night to the setting sun in the west.

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Twenty-four hours later, we arrived at Oswego and called US Customs. At 7:00 pm, a friendly and courteous agent greeted us and by 8:00 pm, we had cleared entry to the United States.

Our trip from Oswego and through the canals to the Hudson River would take us five days and 30 locks. Rising 175.3 feet through 10 locks then dropping 420 feet through 20 locks. Our first day in the inland waterway greeted us with grey skies and rain, but cleared by the end of the day. The remainder of our time in the canal we had blue skies, nights with bright stars and mornings with frost on the boat and ground and mist on the water. Autumn colours of yellow, orange and red pressed against the shore and up the hillsides. Herons sprinkled the shoreline hiding amongst the fallen brush. Homes and cottages dotted the shoreline, some large and well-kept while others were run down having seen better times.

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Along with enjoying our surrounding, we met some wonderful people. There was the sailing family on Gromit who were struggling with engine problems limping their way down south. And Chris, the lockmaster at Fort Plain, NY, who gave us a tour and offered the use of his car which we declined preferring to stretch our legs. There were the tourists who, while we rose or sank in the locks, would talk to us with fascination about our planned trip and wished us the best with our adventure.

Monday October 20th, we have traveled through the canals and have entered the Hudson River. Our first stop was in Catskill, New York at the Hop-in-Nose Marina. It was a strange rundown place; old boats past their prime and workers forgotten in time. Nevertheless, it was recommended for stepping the mast and that’s what they did in a professional and friendly manner.

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With the mast up, we headed down the Hudson for New York City. The weather had changed from clear and sunny to cold and windy. The Hudson River banked by coloured autumn was wide like the open ocean with large swells and white caps that stirred up the olive green waters. In some places, the river narrowed backed by steep hills of rock and trees and large mansions looked down upon the river traveler.

With the help of sail, motor, wind and current we raced down the river, seeing 10 knots on the GPS, and made our grand entrance to New York City

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That part of the trip seems so long ago now. We spent over a week at the Liberty Landing Marina, New Jersey across from the cityscape of Manhattan. We ignored the lure of the big city and spent our time preparing for our voyage.

Now I am sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with five guys in a small boat enjoying the adventure that has finally started.

Preparing for the Voyage

It has been a hectic few weeks as the departure date – October 14 – looms closer.  Everybody involved in the trip have been extremely busy – depressingly so.  Stuart and I have been working on provisioning the boat with food for the New York to Cape Town leg.  A lot of thought, work and time have gone into doing this.  I hope the crew is appreciative and don’t complain about the food they get.  After all, we did ask for feedback and got none.  I will dedicate more on this in the future as it is a big component of planning for a voyage of this magnitude.

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Each one has put in time in getting the boat ready and to celebrate there was an open boat on October 4, which was well attended.  You can get more details here.

Besides the boat, I have been getting my personal live in order.  Its not easy dropping everything and leaving for a few months, there is a lot to work on and it raises the stress levels and sucks the energy right out of you.  Perhaps I will revisit all that in a future blog, but right now, I just don’t have the time to be reflective.

The plan is to update this blog once a week or so during the voyage.  For more frequent updates and position reports go to www.sv-falcongt.blogspot.com.

Canoeing in Algonquin

 

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On September 3, my brother and I did a four-day canoe trip in Algonquin Park.  During our small adventure, we faced a wide range of weather conditions starting the morning we arrived where heavy fog snuggled the area like a thick down blanket.  We could not see or hear anything, but by the time we left with our rented gear from The Portage Store the morning air was fresh and the sky was clear.  Rusty, my brother and I paddled the canoe like drunks trying to walk a straight line.  Loons welcomed us with their calls as they watched us with more curiosity then fear.  Throughout the trip, loons would come within a paddle length of our canoe.  Never before had I been so close to these iconic birds – it was fantastic and a highlight of the trip.

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By the time we reached our destination at the eastern end of Burned Island Lake, 5 ½ hours of paddling and four portages had passed.  The high cirrus, then cirrostratus clouds hinted at the weather to come.  Tired and sore we rushed to set-up camp while, close to shore, a loon feed its young.

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The rain waited patiently until we started cooking dinner.  The first night left us tired with stiff backs and in bed by 8:00 pm.

On the second day, we emerged from the tent to brilliant blue skies.  After breakfast and always in the company of loons we explored the lake in our canoe.  We moved camp having stumbled on a more idyllic spot among a stand of tall pines and chattering red squirrels.

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We relaxed our aching muscles around the small crackling fire as the day wore on and by late afternoon, the clouds returned with the threat of rain.

After another sleepless night on hard ground, dawn welcomed us with light rain.  As morning passed on, the clouds darkened and rested on the treetops.  The wind, out of the south, whipped up to hurricane force.  The trees screamed under the strain, the lake frothed with anger, and our small tent looking like a balloon trembled with fear.  Our moods sagged under the strain from the lack of sleep and foul weather so we wasted the hours trying to sleep.

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Then by mid afternoon, the wind changed direction – coming from the southwest.  The new current of air blew our dark mood away revealing the surroundings in a new light.  No longer menacing the clouds danced atop the trees showing off their many glints of silver.  The trees sang with the wind and the waves added rhythm by crashing on the shore.  The musty damp earth and decaying detritus of our campsite now had a sweet smell.  All around us, vivid colours came to life.  The moss and lichen, covering the rocks, were an intense green against the rusty brown pine needles littering the ground.

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With moods buoyed, my brother grabbed his sketchbook to capture the beauty of the dramatic scenery while I played with my camera.  The evening finally brought an end to the wind and we enjoyed our last night sitting next to the bright fire watching the flames dance in the darkness while the loons sang their beautiful songs of the north.

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Website Updated

Unfortunately is has been awhile since I have even looked at my website.  But I have been busy preparing for the sailing trip and the blog has taken a back seat as I prepare.  Also I spent a few days up in Algonquin on a canoe trip.  I’m going to try and post something about that trip along with some pictures next week (hopefully).  I have, finally added the planned route of our trip to my website.