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Day 1578
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Final Log Of a 44 Day Solo Sail Across The Atlantic

Apr 5

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4/5/2013 1:17 PM  RssIcon

3/3 - I did catch a fish finally.  In doing so I discovered two big mistakes that I’ve made.  First, everything in the engine compartment and cockpit lockers is covered with exhaust soot.  I think I described it already, but in short, my exhaust is held together with a tin can, silicon, and hose clamps.  It loosened up enough to allow exhaust to fill the engine compartment and leave a black grime on everything.  I realized this reaching for the five gallon bucket I use to help clean fish.  The second, and far more unforgivable mistake, is that I forgot to restock my larder with wasabi.  I’ve got months worth of soy sauce, but sushi just isn’t the same for me without that delicious, green paste that in the right ratio can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up in extreme ecstasy.  I’ve got about a tablespoon left of the dehydrated wasabi powder, but it just doesn’t pack any punch compared to the toothpaste tubes of premixed wasabi.  Damn it.

The fish was a medium to smallish mahi mahi.  I was happy to catch him, but unfortunately could only keep the back strap filets.  She was carrying an excessive number of intestinal parasites that had worked their way into the belly meat.  The upper filets were clean and I cooked them a bit more than usual just to be sure, but I hate the waste of taking a fish and not being able to eat the whole of it.  Oh well, no way to know before hand.  Today I had another big hit on the last of my high dollar lures, but as of now I have no fish nor a high dollar lure.  I am back to fishing the cheap plastic squid bodies stuffed with an egg weight and rigged with a simple stainless steel wire leader.  Not fancy, cheap, and generally effective.

The days roll on and so does Jargo.  I’ll keep making miles to the West until I can take a better angle on the equatorial crossing.  I’d like to meet the 00 at as close to a right angle as possible to minimize my time in the doldrums.  I’ve also been out of radio range for days now.  I made my first connection to stations in Chile and Trinidad.  Signals are too weak to transmit data so who knows when updates will finally get through.  The blog posts are long and require a good, stable connection to transmit.  Another 1000 miles or so and I should be back in range.

19 days at sea and my fresh produce is quickly turning into something other than, “fresh”.  I culled my herd of potatoes this morning.  I don’t know if there is anything that smells worse than a liquefying potato.  I think I understand how the Irish felt during the big potato famine.  Still, my tomatoes, cucumbers, acorn squash, and cabbage have held up well.  I’ve got a good weeks worth of veges left not to mention several apples and oranges.  The store bought bread has about had it so it is near time to fire up Jargo’s bakery.  Hot biscuits, pancakes, and bread it is.

3/5 - I am 09*S and still some 600 miles from the equator, but still it feels like I’ve hit the doldrums.  Today is something of a milestone.  With 21 days at sea and over 2900 miles this is officially my longest passage to date.  I’ve still got 2800 miles to go and a good three weeks of sailing before I make landfall.  The wind has eased and I am creeping along at five knots.  It doesn’t seem like such a big drop from my moving average of 5.8 knots, but nearly 20 miles a day adds up quickly. 

Yesterday proved that cheap works.  At least on fish.  I hadn’t put the new lure into the water for an hour before I had another mahi mahi on the line.  While I am grateful for the fish, mahi is my least favorite of the big three pelagic fish most commonly caught on passage.  My personal favorite would be one of the many kinds of tuna species.  There is nothing quite as nice to me as a big, beautiful, red tuna steak seared perfectly on the outside and cool and raw on the inside.  Second would be a wahoo.  There flesh is really a nice firm white flesh that holds up well as sushi or in more robust dishes.  And still nice, but a distant third is the mahi mahi.  They filet easily, but the flesh isn’t as firm as a wahoo and doesn’t have much flavor on its own.  Still, any fish is better than no fish.

At the half way point I am not yet anxious to be done, but a bit of passage lethargy is starting to creep upon me.  I still start each day with a my coffee and Spanish lesson, but I’ve slacked off the guitar and exercise.  It may be the fact that this far North the heat is really starting to become a factor.  Even in the shade of the cabin I am beginning to sweat.  No covers are necessary at night and soon and have to try and find some extra life in the batteries for a small fan.  With the wind continuing to come from directly behind me there is little airflow in the cabin itself.  The sea water is nearly 90 degrees and bucket showers provide nice relief during the day.  I am contemplating going for a swim if I find myself becalmed in a flat sea crossing the equator.  I’ve never left the boat on the open sea and still not sure I am up for the challenge.

3/6 - Entropy: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline of a system from an ordered state into disorder.  Maybe you just call them gremlins.  Jargo is requiring I keep a close eye on all her systems these days.  A turn around the deck yesterday revealed a small Allen head bolt laying on deck.  Huh, now where could that have come from?  Inspecting the jib furler I found the gaping bolt hole.  Sadly, it appears two had worked their way out, but only one was found still on Jargo.  Getting the tools, loosening the jib tension, wrenching things tight, and everything is back in working order.  Three out of four bolts ain’t bad. 

Today, going to adjust the spinnaker pole, I realized the lower anchor bolt holding the mast track in place was gone.  The pole was slowly wrenching the heads off the remaining bolts.  Only two of the five remain with the upper anchor bolt.  I found the missing lower anchor bolt, but also found that the track is now warped and that the threads have stripped out.  I managed to bend the track back into place and essentially “pin” the lower bolt back in place.  I need to drill it out oversize and rethread the hole for a larger bolt.  What I don’t have is a tap and die kit that would let me thread the new hole.  Not sure yet what I’ll have to do to get this patched up.  I may just drill the oversize hole and use the threads on a steel bolt to thread its own way into the soft aluminum mast.  Not a nice way to do things, but I can’t let that track get torn off the mast.  That would mean no more spinnaker pole and on a downwind run that is a required bit of sailing kit.

I’d write more, but I need to go take a look around Jargo to see what else entropy is slowly, or more rapidly, taking apart.

3/9 - I don’t even know where to begin.  I’ve basically been down for the count since the7th.  A large part of the protein I provisioned with was made up of vacuume packed, smoked chicken breasts.  For weeks they’ve made excellent eating.  Sadly, a week before expected, they started to turn.  For hours I refused to believe I was ill and carried on with my day. Eventually, weak, with the shakes, a fever, and extreme exhaustion I lay down and tried to rest as much as possible.  It took 36 hours for my body to process through the tainted meat.  Fortunately Jargo and Nature demanded little of me during this time.  That isn’t so much the case now.

Last night lightening was visible on the horizon for hours and hours.  The wind was very still, but I  continued to ghost along with sails set wing on wing.  Somewhere around 04:00 I woke to a noise I knew could only be bad.  The temporary fix to the spinnaker pole mount had failed and the unit had nearly wrenched itself off of the mast.  Too tired and without adequate light or power to enact a permanent repair I furled in the jib to await morning.  It came a few hours ago.

With the light of day building I again inspected the problem and began gathering the drill bits, hardware, and backing block I needed to tackle the problem for good.  First I wanted to get fuel for the generator to run the electric drill and coffee to fuel my synapses.  As I sat contemplating the repair and soaking up the thick black fuel it hit.  Not an idea, the first big squall of this passage.  The winds built to 30 knots and steadily boxed the compass.  Over the past few hours I’ve reefed the main, eventually dousing the old rag, and sailed in every direction on the compass.  I’ve settled somewhat on a yankee jib and am reaching to the West.  Ordinarily this would be fine, but after 25 days at sea I am now only 120 miles from some islands that lay due West. If the wind doesn’t return to the SSE I’ll need to tack back to the NE.

As the storm petrel flies I am only 225 miles South of the equator.  This may be my new normal for some time.  Equatorial crossings are seldom boring.  So far I’ve spent the day in the pouring rain and pounding wind.  It is too warm for foul weather gear so I take the rain on my naked flesh. The sting of a rain drop in 30 knots can be tolerated due to the fact that I am bathing in fresh water.  There is a certain pleasure in facing the elements in the raw.  I believe it is the feeling of being part of the environment and an actor of Mother Nature as opposed to being cordoned off from the environment and fighting against her.

3/13 - One month and one day is now how long I’ve been at sea.  At 2* N latitiude I’ve crossed the equator for the forth and final time of this journey.  I still languish in the doldrums, but have settled into a peaceful combat against my latitude.  I’ve passed the point where the SE swell meets the NE swell and steadily I am finding the occasional NE trade wind breeze.  Pushing as much North as possible I hope to find them in full before I turn more Westerly and resume a direct course towards the Antilles. 

My HF radio shorted out on me in one of the infamous doldrum squalls.  I don’t know yet if it was from a leak into the radio box or if the extreme humidity and general dampness of the whole atmosphere that lead to the shut down.  It took me several days to think through the issue before I found the courage to open things up and take a closer look.

Upon pulling the radio from its recessed mount I began taking things apart.  As I’d feared to hope the problem was a simple blown fuse.  All I needed was a basic 20 amp fuse to plug back into the main power input and I’d be off and running.  Not so easy at sea.  Tearing into all the old inventory I eventually did find a 10 amp fuse.  It was the largest.  It worked to power the set for a few minutes before blowing.  A final and very deep search revealed one 15 amp fuse.  So far it is running the radio, but I hesitate every time I push the microphone to transmit.  To date, I’ve still not been able to make contact with the closest radio relay in Trinidad.  I am too far from any other stations for email so I’ve been radio silent for over a week now.  The solitude doesn’t bother me so much as the desire to let loved ones know that I am well.  Since I told them I’d be checking in I hate to think they are worrying over my silence.  At least the SPOT tracker seems to continue sending updates so that should provide some reassurance.

Otherwise, the days slip by with the Kindle in my hand.  The sun warms me through and I stare at the never ending cloud machine that seems to be the equator.  Be it in the Indian, Pacific, or now the Atlantic ocean the equatorial sunsets fueled by the incredible, towering formations of clouds blow my mind.  At times I almost feel like I am on some strange vacation.  I haven’t had that sense before on this trip.  Perhaps it is because now I know there is an end in site. 

3/19 -  I am through the doldrums with just enough fuel to keep the engine purring long enough each day to fill the batteries.  Though nearly dead, they continue to hold enough charge to keep my tricolor navigation light burning at night and the autopilot firmly driving the helm.  All thoughts of exercise, Spanish study, and guitar playing have vanished.  Winds are 18 - 22 knots just abaft the starboard beam.  The seas have built into a ragged three meters and the motion is anything but pleasant.  Waves constantly slam into the beam sending water cascading across the deck.  New and unknown leaks have developed.  The most infuriating is a small drip that coalesces with each big wave on deck.  It is only a drop or two, but so positioned that it falls directly on my head, neck, or shoulders as I try to sleep.  The only fix is to pull the offending port and reseal the whole thing.  That is not an option at sea. 

Amazingly some of my fresh provisions have made it thus far.  Last night found me chowing on a pot of chicken soup.  The chicken came from a can but it was boiled with fresh onion, cabbage, and carrots.  Not what I’d make on land, but at sea it was a true pick me up.  Don’t underestimate the value and benefit of comfort food at sea on long passages.  A warm, well cooked meal can make a huge difference.  Same with simple routines like brushing your teeth and bathing.  Sadly, now that I am out of the doldrums little time is spent in the cockpit.  With the wash coming over the side everything is soaked with salt water.  Confined to my 6 ft 3 in  bunk x 22 in is where I spend the majority of my time. 

I’ve been 35 days at sea.  One look in the mirror and no one would doubt that I look the part.  Infuriatingly I still cannot get the HF to pick up a relay station.  Correction.  I did connect with Chile last night long enough to see that there are 14 messages waiting for me.  Sadly the connection failed and could not be reestablished leaving all 14 messages unread and waiting.  Like the chicken soup, messages from friends and family go a long way to breaking the monotony of long passages.  I continue to hope that no one worries and that my SPOT updates show that all is well and I continue to make progress towards the USVI.

I’ll continue to try and connect and hope that one day soon I can download and read the backlog. 

3/20 - Jargo resonates with whale song.  Not much renders me dumb struck, but the site of 30+ whales, or very large dolphins, has done so.  The sound first made me begin looking for the air leak in some pressurized hose I didn’t know was on board.  Walking from stem to stern I realized the noise wasn’t localized and was coming from everywhere at once.  Whale song.  Climbing on deck it was obvious.  I was surrounded.

The largest will go easily 20+ feet.  They are more than half Jargo’s length on deck.  I’ve never seen them before and dearly wish I had a reference on board that would identify them to me.  The bodies are very streamlined right to the head.  The face has no bottlenose like so many dolphins, but is torpedo shaped with a slight downturn to the rounded tip of the head.  The bodies are long, round, and black.  The dorsal fin rises less than 12 inches from the back and has a rounded shape much like you’d find on a surfboard,.  Nothing angular exists on these animals.  They are exquisitely beautiful.

To start I thought it was only a small pod of six.  As minutes rolled past more and more began to appear.  Their forms visible in the crests of each wave as they rode down the swell and under Jargo at incredible speed.  As there numbers multiplied so did their rambunctiousness.  Ten, then a dozen, then two dozen gamboled into the air and onto one another as they raced through the surf.  Nearly an hour later I still hear them.  I stoped watching only long enough to record this incredible moment.  Just when this passage was beginning to drag along comes a moment like this.  In a flash, the beauty and my awe of the sea returns.

3/24 - My 40th day at sea and this morning I find everything is all right with the world.  The BBC is telling me about war, assassination, and national bankruptcy, but in my sphere of influence everything is just fine.  Opening my eyes slowly there was a different quality to the light.  It is simultaneously soft, yet warm and intense.  The powder blue sky is immense and contains only a smattering of isolated cumulus puff balls.  Lazily I rise off my sea birth just long enough to climb the companionway into the cockpit and collapse on my thai seat cushions.  In the open air I lay still and watch the clouds scud across the sky while the sun warms my exposed flesh.

The HF finally connected to the Trinidad relay station and I downloaded the 15 waiting messages.  No news to report which is the best news possible.  It is a real relief to know that everyone is fine and carrying on with the status quo.  My time in isolation allowed my imagination to wonder and not every thought that materializes is a positive one. 

One point of frustration has arisen.  Due to the backlog of emails it took nearly 90 minutes to download all the messages.  That is my weekly quota of relay station time gone.  Already I’ve received a message telling me to cut down on my time or be disconnected.  Frustrating considering I couldn’t connect for over three weeks and as soon as I do connect they cut me off for using too much time.  I may send a message to the system admin informing them of the situation.  I’d hate to drop off contact just as I’ve established the connection.

In a strange twist I’ve started reading two books on topics I’ve not considered since long before I started the circumnavigation.  The first is on motivation and how to foster it without destroying the creative spark required for complex problem solving.  The other is on asset protection and the myriad of complexities that go along with that particular field of law.  Business books. 

Four plus years ago one version of myself quit a lucrative job and sailed away from the fast paced grinder of corporate software sales.  It seems like every mile that has passed under the keel has taken me further from the values I held when my uniform was a suit and tie.  Reading these books it seems maybe I didn’t sail so far away from the world I knew after all.  Returning to land in a few months, broke, I find my motivation to begin earning and saving is fully fueled.  It is my hope that the lessons I’ve taken over the course of 40,000 sea miles won’t simply vanish.  That the drive of the old self can blend with the new values of the returning self.  That the balance between the two along with a new profession can keep at bay the dissatisfaction found in my previous working life.

The US Virgin Islands are less that 700 miles away.

3/26 - Damn it!!!  Back in Richards Bay, South Africa I had to pull my stove to fix a broken gimbal.  That is what lets the stove surface stay horizontal even when the boat is rolling onto 20 and 30 degree angles.  It turned into a fun day playing with a welder and pop rivet gun over a few beers with another cruiser.  Our collective brain trust came up with a really good working fix and the stove has been in operation since.  Until today.  Reading in my bunk I heard one of those noises that you just know isn’t good.  I jumped up immediately to identify what had broken.  Sure enough, the other gimbal just gave up the ghost.  With no welder or pop rivets to set it right I’ve had to make due with propping up the broken end with a couple of thick books.  At lest it was just a Robert Ludlum book, nothing I care much about.

Other than breaking stoves it has been pretty relaxed.  I am wing on wing again heading dead downwind towards Antigua.  I should thread my way just South of Antigua and North of St. Kitts, past Saba, and on to St. John.  Only about 400 miles to go or three days sail.  In expectation and out of general annoyance I drug out the little Honda generator and fired up the hair clippers.  In minutes almost two months of hair and beard where floating on the breeze.  When you are rationing fresh water there is nothing like a close clipper shave and trim to make life more comfortable. 

Meals are getting more interesting.  I cooked my last egg for breakfast about five days ago.  Of the five eggs still in the fridge three of them were too rotten to trust.  They tend to get hairy on the outside and turn brownish black inside.  When you start getting uncertain there are two tests you can run on an egg.  Cracking a bad one directly into a breakfast pan full of corned beef or bacon can really ruin your morning.  First, eggs shouldn’t float.  Get a small glass of water and drop the whole egg in carefully.  If it rises to the surface and stays there you’ve got a bad one.  Very bad.  If it sits horizontally on its long axes eat that egg.  If it sits vertical, well, it is probably good, but I’d still use the second step.  Test two, simple.  Just crack the egg into a small glass before dropping it into the pan.  You have to do this one at a time of course to keep from ruining a good egg with a bad one, but it is well worth it.

Back to breakfast.  Yesterday it was chicken vindaloo over rice.  Today I managed some musili with canned peaches and a little UHT custard.  I did find a few beets I’d almost forgotten about and they are perfect.  These things last forever and make excellent long term provisions on boats.  I’ve got some TVP or textured vegetable protein, basically ground beef substitute made from soy protein.  I am going to cook it up with the beets and onion with some canned stewed tomatoes as a pasta sauce for lunch.  I had a bad experience once with TVP in the past.  This stuff is pre seasoned with onion and garlic so we’ll see how it goes.  (I still hate TVP)

3/27 - Given the option of 35 knots of wind or five knots I’ll take the 35 every day of the week.  I am trying to keep my frustration in check, but it is proving difficult.  Only 230 miles from my destination the winds have died down to almost nothing.  The sails are rigged wing on wing and the boat is rolling in the remaining swell.  With each roll the sails dump their wind only to “pop” open again as they fill.  This generates large shock loads and does far more damage than even gale force winds if they are consistent.

Checking my fuel I barely have enough to continue charging the batteries and fridge for two more days.  There is no chance of motoring the next 48 hours to get into port.  Lucky for me there is one other option.

I am sailing through the windward islands of the Lessor Antilles.  My current course would have taken me within 15 miles of Antigua.  Around noon I altered course to sail directly towards English Harbor, Antigua only 70 miles away.  Even at my measly pace of 3 knots I should be able to make landfall tomorrow late afternoon.  That will put a period on my Atlantic crossing.  It also gives me a chance to jump overboard for a swim, shower, and to take on fresh food and fuel.  And think of me what you like, but while I wait for the breeze to return I am going to drink my fill of beautiful English ale.  It has been weeks since I’ve had a cold beer.  I think this crossing deserves a celebration.  Lets see what the island of Antigua has to offer.

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2 comment(s) so far...


Re: Final Log Of a 44 Day Solo Sail Across The Atlantic

Well it must be cool to drop the hook almost to the spot where you made your first landfall. Watched you from the start and followed you around on line. Was just in Isla a few weeks ago, by plane, and go there once a year at least. Sailed there a few times and hope to again someday soon.

Congrats. Looking at your first sets of video from the first crossing I guess it seems a bit less intimidating now. Glad you made it ok. Must be a great feeling of accomplishment. You have seen the world in ways few people have.

So head down to Mininos and have some of that great conch cerviche the best on the island. eat there every time.


By Terry Boykin on   4/23/2013 1:08 PM

Re: Final Log Of a 44 Day Solo Sail Across The Atlantic

Hi Lee. Your logs on this passage have been a great read. I wonder why long solo passages hold particular fascination? The whale encounter sounds awesome. Hope those cold English ales lived up to expectations! Cheers

By Joseph on   4/26/2013 3:48 AM

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