ATL CRX Lesson: The Decision to Stop

“Do what you would do if the kids and I were with you.”

This was probably the best advice I could imagine anyone giving Yannick in the moment.  He was really wrestling with the decision of whether to pull out of the Atlantic and into the Azores to see if we could get the auto-pilot on Andanza repaired or to keep making way hand-steering toward France.  As it stood, we were about a day and a half away from the Azores and about eight or nine days away from France with four capable, albeit a little tired, crew.

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This crew member, in particular, is a little crazy.  Dancing at the helm is the absolute best way to hold a hand-steering shift.  

We weren’t even sure, yet, whether the auto-pilot could be repaired in the Azores and Yannick was rightfully leery of docking his 46-foot catamaran.  That was one of the primary reasons he wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop. And, now he was debating doing it in a port that may be of no help to him with a crew that had only docked the boat once before.

“There are less variables out here,” I remember him saying.

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On the other hand, the crew was growing more tired with each two-hour shift and we were still many, many miles from France.  When Yannick reached out to his wife, who was “singled-handing” her own rather daunting journey—impressively juggling a move halfway across the world into a new home with two very small children in tow—Clothilde gave him the best guidance I believe any wife could in that situation and I will forever admire her for it.  Although she wanted Yannick home, she needed him home, Clothilde told him to act as if she were there with him so he would make the safest decision.  Hearty are the French.

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While I would love to say this softened and persuaded our Captain, apparently the French are also stubborn as Yannick was hell-bent on getting his boat across the ocean as safely yet efficiently as possible.  While he did want to make the best decision for everyone, he also did not want to stop.  I believe even Yannick will tell you, what finally swayed him was a rather stern discussion with Phillip, ever the Marine, who felt it was time to step up and say something.

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“You have no reason to risk the boat.  That’s what I told him,” Phillip relayed to me later as I was holding my shift at the helm when he and Yannick had their discussion.  “We have plenty of time to stop for repairs, the weather doesn’t look any less favorable a week from now and, by stopping, we’ll make the last leg of the voyage with a rested crew and, likely, a fully-functioning auto-pilot.  There’s simply no reason that justifies the risk.”

“But you guys said you could do it,” Yannick said.  And he was right.  We did.  Because we probably could.

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“But that doesn’t mean we should,” Phillip told him.  And he was right too.

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Phillip and I have experienced this phenomenon on occasion during a passage.  It’s usually not one thing that goes wrong that puts the crew and boat in immediate jeopardy.  It’s usually a series of events.  Mostly minor in the beginning.  Just a small failure or some system that gets finicky, requires your attention and must be monitored, adjusted or repaired more often.  Nothing major just something that strains you a little, and then another that strains you a little more.  Then the weather turns gnarly.  It’s hard to see or navigate.  Then another system starts giving you trouble.  And before long, you’re much more tired than you realized.  You haven’t been sleeping or eating as well as you had before and THAT is when something bad happens, perhaps because of a poor decision you made because your judgment has been weakened or perhaps just because it is the next bad thing that was set to happen and now things are more than you can handle, particularly in your tired state.  For Phillip and I, it seems this is how you find yourself in trouble out there.  Not usually from one catastrophic occurrence, but a series of them, one after another until you can no longer control the situation.  I remember discussing this recently with Andy Schell and he agreed.  As he has far more many miles under his hull than we do,  I believe it to be true.

Were we fine at the moment?  Hand-steering in two-hour shifts with a capable four-person crew?  Yes.  But it was the first in a sequence of events that could have occurred.  It was the start of a series.  And Phillip—wanting both himself to have a safe and enjoyable journey across the Atlantic, but wanting more to see his friend Yannick sail his boat safely across the ocean—took decisive action to try and stop the series before it began.  “There’s just no reason to risk it,” he told Yannick.  While we were essentially strangers when we signed up as crew for this passage, over the course of each blue mile, a friendship grew and I know Yannick appreciated Phillip’s honesty and perspective.  By that point, Yannick trusted and respected Phillip and I think, looking back, he will say it was the right decision, although that did not make it an easy one.  After the men emerged from what I was told was a pretty tense conversation in the cabin, the Captain decided Andanza would be stopping in the Azores.

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It seemed fate agreed with us as it wasn’t long after Yannick made the decision that I was able to get the folks at Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services on the satellite phone and, without much hesitation at all, they said with confidence they could either repair or replace Yannick’s electric RayMarine auto-pilot.   They kind of chuckled at me asking so many times.  The crew of Andanza had yet to be awakened to the wide range of serious boat repairs MAYS tackles on a daily basis.  It makes sense.  It’s the first big marina folks come to after 2,000 nm across the Atlantic Ocean.  I now know we all underestimated their capabilities because we did not yet know the state many boats are in when they reach the shores of the Azores.  We met sailors there who had lost their forestay, cracked their boom, had two feet of water in the bilge, on and on.  Our auto-pilot failure was child’s play to them.  Laughable almost.  It’s no wonder the MAYS folks were chuckling at me.

“Yes, we can fix your auto-pilot.  Yes, I’m sure.”

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“Okay we’re coming!”

While we hated it for Yannick.  None of us wanted his boat to suffer issues and for him to have to put his ocean-crossing on hold for repairs, but once the decision was made (through no fault of ours), I think each member of the crew will readily admit he was very excited to dock in the Azores.  Phillip told me before we left Pensacola he had heard other sailors say there is something magical about the Azores.  Sharing a drink with your seasoned, salty crew at Peter Sport Café, walking the docks littered with insignia from the hundreds of boats that have come before you and looking out in every direction at the vast blue of the Atlantic.  Now that I have seen it, I wholeheartedly agree: there is something magic about the Azores. Up next on the blog, I will share all that magical place has to offer.

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But first, landfall!

“Is there a troll down here?” I remember Phillip asking me.  I was sleeping in my berth when we made landfall.  I peeked my head up out of the hatch and saw it on the port side.  Thick lustrous trees.  Mountains.  Houses with little red tile roofs.  A whole hillside looking back at me.  I instantly thought of what we must look like to them.  A weathered, salty catamaran making our way in to port.  Tired and weary we were no more, though.  The sight of land invigorated the crew!

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Phillip had the GoPro in hand and I’m so glad he captured this moment.  Yannick cracks me up.  Twenty-one days at sea, thousands of miles of nothing but blue, our first sighting of land and the Captain says …

 

 

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2 Responses to ATL CRX Lesson: The Decision to Stop

  1. Dana Wheeler says:

    I’m trying to decide between taking the boat (23’ Precision Sail boat) to Texas or Florida to sail this winter. Can you recommend guidebooks, charts and or comment.

    612-889-3242

    Dana

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