Ch. 6: First Sail of the Trip

Now did that happen at 8:58 a.m.?  8:59? Heck no!  It happened at 9:02.  Right after the start of my shift that morning.  Are there times that I like to hear that piercing elongated beep of the high-temp alarm on the engine?  Sure, right when I’m about to crank the engine and right after I kill it.  Not anywhere in between.  But, that’s what the crew of Andanza heard at 9:02 a.m. May 29th, as we were making our way out into the Gulf.

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The word “cut” hit my brain first so that’s what I did.

While Johnny only said to “cut it back” when he heard the alarm, alarms freak me out so I kind of jumped at the kill switch.  Phillip looked at me a little funny and I just shrugged.  At least I killed it instead of revving it up or something worse, I thought.  You’re supposed to cut the engine when it overheats, right?

We cranked the port engine to keep us going and Yannick jumped down into the starboard engine locker with Johnny in tow to eyeball everything.  When nothing visibly answered their inquiries, they tore down Yannick’s bed on the starboard side—the first of many, many times Yannick would have to do that on this trip (he got surprisingly good at it!)—and inspected the engine from another angle.

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Where’s Johnny??

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Two hours in and they were greasy.

Phillip and I had dealt with an overheating engine on two occasions previously: 1) where the thermostat was defective and was not opening up completely, and 2) when we (seriously) thought a snail got sucked up against our thru-hull and temporarily blocked the raw water intake.  Seeing no snails around this time I mumbled (very un-confidently I might add) something about the thermostat.  This high-pitch, hard-to-hear tone of my voice was later coined by Yannick as my “recommendation voice.”  We’ll get there.

It was also Johnny’s first instinct to replace the thermostat, so that’s what he did.  The rust-colored coolant they had drained from the engine was then poured back in and we then waited for her to sufficiently cool so we could re-crank the engine to see if she held temp.  While Yannick had many (many!) spares aboard the boat, an entire new coolant system for the engines, he did not.  The crew had a very depressing conversation while waiting for the engine to cool about potentially pulling right back out of the Gulf to order and wait for a new raw water pump to be sent from Italy if that was the problem.  Those darn Italian engines!  No one even wanted to consider it.

Hoping while waiting that the cause was indeed just the thermostat, this sparked a conversation between Yannick, myself and Phillip about the defective thermostat we had once installed on our Niagara and how we discovered it.  The thermostats on these engines are really pretty cool.  It reminds me of those springs they put in people’s arteries to hold them open and prevent clots.  In other words, something that works automatically simply because of its property elements.  Don’t quote me on this (or feel free to offer your two cents in a comment below) but it’s my understanding the thermostat automatically regulates engine temp by using the elemental properties of wax.  Yep, wax.  When wax heats and melts, it expands.  The thermostat capitalizes on this property by relying on the automatic heat=expansion to push on a piston that opens a valve and allows coolant to flow in.  Once the engine starts to cool, the wax contracts, shrinks down and a spring pushes the valve back closed again.

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See?  I think that’s cool.  It was also nice for Phillip and I to be able to bring some experience to the table by relaying a thermostat-related event that had happened to us and the “thermostat trick” (Annie term) we had learned in the process.  I’ve uploaded the video from this entire starboard engine overheat incident as well as the thermostat trick Phillip and I taught Yannick that day in this week’s Ch. 6 (Patron’s Extra): Thermostat Trick:

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I kind of joked lightheartedly about this in None Such Like It—mine and Phillip’s first passage as delivery crew—when I imagined Kretschmer’s response to a similar situation:

“Orange fluid starts to pour out of the faucet in the head and he’d say: “Oh, that’s nothing, just some compensating fluid for your alternator.  A slight over flow.  I can fix it with a toothpick.”

While the thermostat trick may sound kind of normal to those who have dealt with a defective one.  For someone who has never experienced it, the proposition might sound like a toothpick fix for “compensating fluid.”  I found it almost unbelievable Phillip and I were actually gaining experience by simply being on boats when things broke.

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Things break on boats?  Noooo …  Of course they do.  So, “while you’re down there” Mitch, fix it!  Ha!

Using the thermostat trick, we found the thermostat Johnny had just taken off the starboard engine on Andanza was not opening all the way, so it was not letting enough coolant in to sufficiently cool the engine.  Put in a new one, whose wax contraption does its job and—voila!—a properly cooling engine.  That was our fix that morning and, thankfully, we seemed to have saved ourselves a potentially costly and time-consuming repair.  I honestly think we kind of collectively willed the starboard engine to just work that afternoon.  And, thankfully, she did!  And she held temp!  Hallelujah!

It seemed the Wind Gods were proud of our will power as the breeze started to freshen in the early afternoon and we hoisted the spinnaker.  It was actually Brandon who had encouraged us initially, during one of our very first test sails on the Freydis out in Pensacola Bay, to raise the spinnaker with his famous: “Alright, time to fly the chute!”  I’m not sure why, exactly, Phillip and I haven’t been more inclined to fly the spinnaker on our boat—having owned her three years now and never raising the chute once—but I believe, after hoisting it on Yannick’s boat and seeing how truly simple and easy it can be, Phillip and I will be far more inclined to do so on the Niagara when the winds are right.  It was nice Brandon had encouraged us to raise it with him on the Freydis, though, so the Andanza crew could all get a good feel for the process of raising it, unfurling it and furling it back up before we set off on this passage because the crew was all smiles and elbow nudges as we confidently pulled the spinnaker out, raised it up and began to unfurl her.

Spinnaker

I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful on a boat than a spinnaker flying.  There’s just something magical about it: sheer canvas filled with possibility and potential.  The billowing green, white and red filled me with the same kind of child-like awe I had when I saw an entire horizon of spinnakers during the Abacos Regatta I did in 2015.  So many colors, vibrant in the sun.

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“I never would have thought,” Phillip laid a hand on my shoulder as we both stood at the bow of the boat just watching the spinnaker.  “That would have been the first sail we would raise on this trip.”

A true sailor, that man.  I love him for the way he sees things.  The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, but Phillip—of course—saw it that way.  It was true.  While technically, we did sail over to Ft. McRee for the “last hoorah” sendoff with friends the night before, for Phillip and I, this trip (as does any voyage from Pensacola) had not truly begun until we headed out the Pensacola Pass and started to lose sight of the shore.  Then we’re not just day-sailing.  We’re not just tacking back and forth for fun in Pensacola Bay.  We are GOING.  And the first sail we hoisted to get us to France was the spinnaker—the big, billowing, green, white and red spinnaker.

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That was a pretty cool feeling.  We made decent time that day too, around 5-6 knots with a nice breeze on our stern.

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Once we were settled into passage, making good way, our very next mission was to have a safety briefing with the crew.  Yannick called us all into the cockpit, had us bring each of our respective ditch bags up and we went through to account for and discuss use of all of our respective GPSs, flares, the EPIRB, etc. and how best to respond to emergencies.  We also talked about how to stop bleeding and treat wounds, cuts or other significant injuries like fractures, how to respond to a fire aboard, radio for help, etc.  Yannick had a great resource he used to make sure he had covered all of the necessary safety topics:

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http://www.safetics.fr

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I tried to find an English version … sorry.  It seems only French and Italian at this time.

Yannick also set off a “man overboard” on the chart plotter and it was shocking to see how quickly the boat and the “man” separated.  If you needed any motivation to move slowly and cautiously on deck, set off your MOB and watch “yourself” get immediately swept away.

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With that minor major chore done, the crew was officially on passage, on schedule and free otherwise to fill the time as they pleased.  It was around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  I remember it vividly.  It’s the same feeling I usually feel when Phillip and I leave our dock and head out into Pensacola Bay and the sails have been raised and trimmed, the lines in the cockpit cleaned up, we’re on a steady tack—at least for the next foreseeable amount of time—and you realize time is yours.  You are sailing.  The boat is handling everything and you are free to do whatever you want to do.  I often just sit and stare at the horizon and the water swishing by the hull for a few minutes doing nothing other than that.  Just appreciating the movement of the boat and looking out.

looking out

And, while it is always an incredibly freeing feeling when Phillip and I are just headed out on our Niagara for a day sail or over to the anchorage for the weekend, the feeling now was magnified.  Because now I was going much further.  Now I might not see land again for thirty days.  The next time I did, it might be France!  All of those realizations fell down on me like feathers and I closed my eyes and let them brush by and pile around me, then I sunk into the soft pillow of my own freedom.  My shift having ended at noon, I wasn’t on again until 2:00 a.m. so I had plenty of time to just soak it all in.

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I laid on the trampoline, closed my eyes and let the sun seep through my eyelids and listened to the hulls cutting through the water.  That was the moment the passage truly began for me.

 

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I opened a book I had been reading off and on for the last three months—one I had enjoyed but had always struggled to make myself sit down and open again.  What with all the important things I could clack around and conquer on the computer when I had a solid, pumping wifi signal, why sit back and read when I could be productive, right?  It’s hard sometimes, when work is so available to make it go away.  Well, now I had no signal.  I had no internet and all of my work, at least for the next foreseeable amount of time, was done.  All of those hours Phillip and I had spent the past month clacking away on our computers late into the evenings, working on Saturdays, working on Yannick’s boat, our boat, all of it allowed me now to open a book and with the gentle background of babbling water underneath me, just read.  I read for three straight hours that afternoon, completely enthralled in the story.  I read mostly every day all day those first days on passage.

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I could have worked some then, writing content for clients, editing photos, making movies, but I didn’t.  I just read and finished a book, in two days, that I had been struggling to read for three months: Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival (on recommendation of Brittany from WindTraveler – thank you Brittany!).  It was glorious.

“Steaks,” Phillip said, snapping me out of the mini carnival that afternoon on the tramp.  “We definitely have to do the steaks tonight.”  We had so many provisions on board, the decision of what we should have for dinner was often difficult, but I knew he had hit the nail on the head with this one.  Grilling out on the starboard transom and enjoying a group dinner in the cockpit was something we wouldn’t always be able to enjoy when the weather turned snotty or the winds and temps were too cold, so although a glassy Gulf did not offer much in the way of speed, it did offer a spectacular calm setting for a gourmet meal of grilled steaks in the cockpit.

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Yannick put on some French music to really get us in the mood and the crew cheersed “Sonte!” to our first night on passage and watched as the chute continued to remain taut and full and pulling us along at 5 knots further and further away from shore.

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The crew decided to leave the chute up for the night as the wind prediction was so low.  The sail actually billowing too much and requiring a crew roust in the middle of the night to furl and pack her away was actually a bigger concern than being overpowered.  We were expecting some very lackluster winds in the Gulf for the next few days.  I almost couldn’t believe as I laid down in mine and Phillip’s berth that I would be waking up in a few hours to hold my first night shift on Andanza.  The thought of being alone at the helm, in complete and total control of the boat, was—to be honest—a little frightening but also exhilarating.  Often some of my favorite moments on passage with Phillip had been during my night shifts.

“Here I go!” I whispered to Phillip as I left him snuggled down in the warm covers and stepped out of my cabin at 1:45 a.m. to get ready for my shift.  Before going to bed, Phillip and I had made sure all of our “night gear” (our life jackets, head lamps, our EPIRB, a flashlight, etc.) was readily accessible in our locker by the stairs so we could easily don and doff by our berth.  A surge of excitement pumped through me as I started suiting up.  This is really happening.

I found Johnny smiling up at the helm.  At what?  I don’t know.  It could be a million things: just the fact that we were out there, making way to France, or because it was his first night shift, too, or maybe he had just heard a dolphin or … anything.  An inexplicable smile was not an uncommon sight on that boat.  We had a brief chat about the conditions and how his shift went.  “It’s nice out here,” Johnny said as he headed down below to rest.

The wind was holding at a nice 10 knots on the starboard stern and the chute was moving us along slow and steady.  That was all I really needed to know to take over.  The auto-pilot was doing all the work, the batteries had got a lot of juice from the solar panels all day, so the boat was totally self-sustained for the time being as long as the wind and auto-pilot held.  Those were the two things I really needed to monitor.  Otherwise, it was sit, listen and enjoy the night air.

The wind was cool but not cold.  I was wearing a light fleece and leaning out from the helm so I could feel the wind on my face, hear the water dancing lazily against the hull and see the faint starlight on each chop.  The stars that night were so crisp, each one a startling white contrast against the vast black of the sky.  It was actually easy to lose focus on the instruments with a free open gallery spread in every direction above you.  They managed to keep pulling me back, though, with a gently billowing sail and light, finicky winds all throughout my shift.  While a steady ten knots of breeze on the starboard stern holds the chute just fine, when the winds would sink down to eight knots, then seven, the big, ethereal chute would billow and luff and threaten to collapse.

I hate to say it frightened me a little, but it did.  I knew if the winds were not holding strong enough to justify keeping the spinnaker up, I was to wake the Captain and suggest we drop the sail.  The crew would then be roused and we would drop her.  Nothing to it.  But, what if the wind were to die fairly suddenly and the spinnaker flopped and flailed at the forestay, caught on something and got snagged.  The spinnaker sometimes seems, to me, like a fragile silk sheet up there—just waiting to go astray, drag her beautiful body across something treacherous and sharp and rip a horrid hole in her center.  And I was sure, each time the winds dropped below eight knots, that was going to happen on my shift.  But, as soon as that thought entered my mind, the wind would puff back up to ten or so and she would hold steady another fifteen minutes before torturing me with these types of nagging hypotheticals again.  It was a beautiful shift, mesmerizing yes, but also tiresome worrying over the delicate spinnaker like that.  I’m sure I did it to myself, but it’s not like you can just turn it off.  Plus, the worrying kept me alert so I indulged it a bit and sat in awe that we were really flying the chute overnight, our first night on passage.

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Phillip seemed to share my sentiment when he came up ten minutes early for his 4:00 a.m. shift and looked first thing out at the green, glowing canvas in front of us shaking his head a bit in disbelief.  I just smiled back at him, knowing exactly how cool this trip felt so far.

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Video extras from our passage are available each week on Patreon with free access as well to my complete Atlantic-Crossing movie once it’s complete.  It’s almost 90 minutes now about I’m about 80% done.  Whew!  Editing, editing, editing …  Thanks to my many followers and supporters who make this all possible.  Get inspired and get on board!

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One Response to Ch. 6: First Sail of the Trip

  1. Pingback: Ch. 7: Best Shower of My Life | Have Wind Will Travel

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