Get ready for it to blow! These weren’t super heavy winds but they were on the nose and had Plaintiff’s Rest really heeled over during the second night and day of our voyage to Cuba. Our Niagara 35 proved she was up for the task though, practically sailing herself across the Gulf. Follow along as we share some storm sail tactics in here as well: rigging up of the inner forestay, setting the second reef in the main and checking for chafe on the furling lines. Hope you all are enjoying the Cuba Voyage series!
Clearwater by Sunday morning was going to be a two-day, three-night haul. The longest Phillip and I had ever undertaken together, but we were excited about it. Invigorated by the challenge and adventure of it. But, it was early in the trip – we were still feeding happily on excitement, adrenaline and the thrill of taking sailing selfies!
Look at me! I’m headed out to SEA!
We had a great sail out into the Gulf. The tide was coming out at the Pass and, even with a strong southeast wind pushing against us, it pretty much gushed us out of the pinchpoint at 4 knots. We motored through to be sure to stay in the channel, but once we were safely out, we cut the engine and clocked over southeast.
It was around dusk at that time, and I learned another of many important lessons in sailing. Don’t try to eat light when you’re sailing. “Oh, I’ll have the salad greens with the low-fat dressing, please.” No. That’s not going to cut it darlin’. We had been working on the boat all morning, packing up the last of the provisions, re-tying the Jerry cans and the anchor, running the solar lights, packing more provisions, filling the water tanks, etc. A lot of up and down the companionway stairs, hauling heavy items here and there, in general, some hard work. And, allst I had was a bowl of cereal and a little salad under my belt. Probably around 600 calories … total, and I’d probably burned about 2,469.82 calories, approximately, by that time. I was starting to feel a little pekish and convincing myself it was not seasickness. I’ve crossed the Gulf before, in 4 to 6 foot seas. I don’t GET seasick. But, I just felt weak, a little queasy, a little weird. Then Phillip mentioned the idea of dinner and it sounded like some grand revelation. Food??Why yes, yes I would like dinner! And, let me tell you, I ate my friends. I started inhaling and choking down my fair share and thensome of the tuna salad we had brought for dinner while Phillip eyed me suspiciously as I shoved heaping forkful after heaping forkful clumsily into my mouth. And, he told me I needed to eat more. “You need to eat before you’re hungry,” he said. And, he was right. I should have stock-piled some energy hours ago. But, I wasn’t going to let this happen again. I started eating! A handful of almonds, three handfuls of pretzel crisps, followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter Chex, trail mix, some snap pea crisps, some more almonds, before I finally just gave it up and inhaled a calorie-dense protein bar – much like the kind boxers scarf when they’re trying to get to the next weight class. I was ravenous, carnivorous, OM-nivorous. Eating anything in sight with unabashed abandon.
But, within minutes, I felt better. Much better. Food. Who knew? Ladies – it doesn’t matter if you’ll be slipping into a bikini later, if you’re sailing, you’re burning it off. Eat early and eat often.
Unfortunately, the wind was right on our nose all evening and into the night. We were taking long tacks back and forth, trying to make our way upwind but not making much ground. While underway, we entered our coordinates, as well as our heading, speed, the sea state, weather and other note-worthy items, in the log book.
The afternoon sail was nice, albeit not very productive, i.e. we didn’t make much ground toward Clearwater, but it was a comfortable sail. After the sun dropped down, we donned our safety gear and settled in for the evening.
Later in the evening, the wind picked up to 15 knots, and we put the first reef in the main, followed by the second, followed by a reef in the Jenny. The sea state was probably 4 to 5 foot waves, thoughout the night, which made for some rough wave jumps and crashes on the boat, all of which sound entirely manageable in the cockpit but horrific down below. When we started taking our two-hour shifts, it was hard to close your eyes and try to get some sleep when each wave sounds like the hull is cracking in half. It’s not, and some part of you deep down knows that, but another small part also asks “Are you sure? Was that a crack? Maybe I should get up and check … ”
That first night was pretty rough. We rode waves up and down, crashing water over the bow, and occasionally spraying us in the cockpit, and took turns getting fitful, disjointed pockets of sleep. But, the true champion that night was Otto — our auto pilot. That guy. I mean. Damn! He held through howling 15 knot winds and rolling 5 foot seas. He held much more than I ever thought he was capable of. He would, of course, on occasion, lose his ability to grip the wheel. It would spin freely under his belt, his motor screeching out trying to stop it, and then he would follow up with a cackling cascade of beeps to let you know he was losing it. As much as you wanted to curse him. (Okay, I did often – “Damn you Otto!”), you really couldn’t. He held the wheel probably 80% of the night. I mean, a little slippage was allowed. But, the problem was, if you weren’t at the wheel the moment he slipped, by the time you jumped back there, clipped in, got your bearings and turned Otto off it was sometimes too late. He’d fallen too far off course and you were in a jam, having to turn the boat around in a large circle and catch the wind with a forceful pop around the backside. Needless to say, it was a long night, and was certainly hard on the boat.
We woke the next morning to find out just how much. Phillip was holding the sunrise shift and when I started to blink to, thankful to see light pouring in through the windows, Phillip heard me stir, and shouted down to me, “I’ve got bad news.” Oh-no, I thought. That’s just what we need. I scrambled up the companionway to see what he was referring to. And, there it was, the remains of our lazy jack lines (on our new stack pack) strewn haplessly across the deck. The eyelet on the spreader that held them up had snapped clean off.
Well, they must be called lazy jacks for a reason. Perhaps we could handle the not-so-lazy route for the rest of the trip. In all, considering the night we had, it seemed a minor loss, really. One day down and only one piece of (lazy-slash-luxury) equipment down. We shrugged our shoulders and continued south. What do you have in store for us Day Two?