The Rudder Fails
The Rudder Fails (Days 7 to 9)


Day 6 had gained another 106 miles on mother ocean, a distance that seemed infinitesimally small when looking at the total of 2,700 nautical miles between Cabo and the Marquesas. But is it cumulative thing, similar to watching your new Ficus tree grow; one doesn't measure the height every day, rather one notices after a few months that it is a couple inches higher.

On Jen's watch last night we passed a ship, but did not need to make any course changes. Our rule if any ship gets closer than 6 miles, or appears to be on a collision course, the person on watch must wake the other. Things can happen quickly with a massive ship traveling at 25 KT which is essentially the speed you water ski behind boats! The inertia is so great that it can take them 2 to 5 miles to make a course change and even longer to stop. Thus even if they see us from the horizon, it may well be impossible for them to avoid a collision. Course changes by huge vessels to avoid little fiberglass sailboats are highly unlikely, so the onus is on us to get out of the way. If there is little wind, we have no choice but to wake Sven and motor out of harm's way, and Sven sometimes refuses to wake.

We made good speed the first part of the night with a 10 to 15 KT NW wind, which then tapered to 5 or 6 knots on my sunrise watch. I noticed a lush warm breeze blowing through the cockpit full of water vapor, like the air on our Caribbean vacations. Something was changing so I flicked on the Tridata to check the sea water temperature. Sure enough it had risen suddenly in the last day to 82oF (28oC) and we were at last in the true tropical waters with sufficient warmth to support lush coral growth. The air temp was also at 80oF (27oC ) meaning I could wear only shorts and light T shirt while on watch at night; a far cry from the full thermal gear we needed when leaving Cabo just a week ago.

For a brief period the wind shifted to NE, but was still only around 8 knots and we were once again rolling, rolling, rolling, in the huge Pacific swell. Was this the start of the elusive tradewinds I had been looking for day after day? With the sea water temperature change and wind shift, it could be I thought. So we put up the huge genny and attached a whisker pole to keep it from flopping and deflating in the swell and light wind. This pole attaches to the mast at one end, and to the bottom corner of the sail at the other end (the clew). It is a big aluminum pole 4" in diameter and 20' long, and it can be a dangerous weapon when attached to a sail flogging in the wind. The trick is to keep the wind out of the sail, attach the pole to it and wrestle the other end to the mast and clip it on. Problem is that even the slightest wind in the sail, induced by rolling or a stray gust, produces hundreds of pounds of force at the other end of the pole. Add to that the fact you are standing on a pitching deck, slippery with a week's worth of slimy salt accumulation, and that you really prefer to keep all fingers attached, makes this task one of my least liked. Even more than bleeding Sven. Believe me, my list of disliked tasks is extensive. I won't allow Jen to be near the pole, because with her light weight I can see her being flipped overboard like a piece of laundry pegged to the lifeline. She is better off at the helm manually keeping the wind out of the sail for me.

The poled out genny worked and we slid through the deep blue Pacific waters at a manageable 5.5 Kts. By late afternoon the wind backed to the North and piped up to 22 Kts. We howled along at 6.2 KT with me refusing to wrestle the pole down in the wind. Fortunately it eventually dropped to light again, and I was able to say in my old salt wisdom that I knew it would, and that's why I didn't take down the pole. Jen gave me that nod again. This wind shift snuffed my brief excitement that we may be in the tradewinds. I'm beginning to wonder if the tradewinds are a phenomena akin to the green flash at sunset. You never quite see it but know it must be there since everyone else sees it. Then you tell the next person, "did you see the green flash?" and they say " no, that's BS", but you know within four or five more sunsets that person will be preaching the green flash to his or her companion. And yet none of us actually saw it. I'm starting to wonder if a bored Christopher Columbus stood on the deck one night while flopping in fickle winds, and said to his gullible first mate "have you noticed the tradewinds?" to which the first mate replied "no, that's BS". Then years later the first mate is captain of his own Spanish galleon and, standing on deck one night with his first mate, says "did you notice the tradewinds?"....... No true sailor would ever admit to not having sailed in the "tradewinds", and the rest is history.

At the start of the eighth day we had covered another 101 miles and had chipped a total of 741 NM off the crossing, leaving a mere 1,959 nautical miles to go! Now I realize fully why sails were outdated as a means of propulsion over a century ago. Traveling by sail is like a malfunctioning time machine; you are a physically a month older before you reach your paradise vacation, and mentally several years older. It is now clear to me why air travel caught on and I'll never again complain about being shoe-horned into a seat and fed peanuts for 8 hours - it's luxury. But then sailing is romantic right? About as romantic as the green flash.

The morning watch found the wind gone, and the genny banging badly with the ying yangs. So I sumo-wrestled the pole to the deck, wearing just underwear to make it authentic. Then nonchalantly raised the spinnaker - a feat I would have boasted about a couple days ago. That worked for a while, but then the spinnaker kept deflating in the swell and sending huge shock waves through the boat as it re-filled suddenly with air on the next swell. The only way to stop it was to steer directly downwind by hand since the manual self steering or electric autopilot were not quick enough to prevent the spinnaker wrapping around the headstay. By now, both Jen and I are completely sick of banging sails and the mixture of huge swells and variable winds. No combination of sails seems to prevent it. Give me bamboo shoots under the nails any day, as long as it will make the boat move along without banging and crashing. Soon we were becalmed, the temperature was up to 87oF (30oC) in the shade, tempers were flaring, and I was running with a huge sleep deficit. Definite ingredients for the sequel to Dead Calm. We downed all sail and drifted, beaten into submission by Neptune who, no doubt, was having a great laugh. The next logical step was to wake Sven. But he too was tired and still suffering from gas (air in the fuel) so I used my last vestiges of energy to open up his jugular once again. The sweet sound of the Swedish diesel filled our ears with hope and generated a relative 4.5 KT cool breeze as we powered through the calm mumbling "to heck with nature". For an hour Sven gave us relief, charged the batteries and allowed us to make some fresh water. Late that afternoon, after another bout with the spinnaker, we decided to sail a beam reach (with the wind perpendicular to the boat) to give us a rest from the ying yangs. It didn't matter that we were sailing 40 degrees off course, we just needed stability. Sojourner sat stiff in the water and sped along at a fabulous 6.1 KT without a hint of ying or yang. We kept that course for almost 12 hours and actually got some good sleep and, more importantly, re-charged our mental batteries so we could continue.

That night while checking in to the Pacific Seafarer's net on ham radio, we made contact with our friends Kathy and Barry from the Tayana 42 "Joss". We hadn't spoken to them since Espiritu Santo Island, and as usual it was great to talk to them. They always objectively analyze the commentary of events we offload on them, pulling the positives from the huge pile of downsides and concluding that no matter what, there will be a pot of gold waiting for us after this crossing. They are good people with an open mind and a zest for life that should be an example to all of us.

After a night of quality sleep, a mere 77 nm under our belt and the start of day 9, we re-evaluated our course of 250 degrees magnetic. It was decided that although good for our health, it was no good for our destination as it would give us way to much westing from which we couldn't recover without beating against the wind. So it was 215M or bust, and bust we did! While rigging the genny with a pole and setting the main, we could not gybe the boat to bring the main over. So I unhooked the Monitor self steering and switched to wheel steering. As I spun the wheel I felt no resistance, and immediately checked that I had switched off the hydraulic bypass. When I found that the lever was in the correct position, my heart skipped 5 beats and my hair follicles started churning out gray hairs at 1mm per second. Our steering had failed 818 nm from shore, and with no way to turn back against the winds. It reminded me of an advertisement for a personal injury attorney I once seen in the Yellow Pages; Call 1800 WHAT NEXT.

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