Ahead of the front
It’s been a busy 3 days getting Sparrow re-rigged, but we are mostly there. Just some more reefing lines, need to un-freeze the engine controls, new plumbers putty on the kelp cutter where it comes through the deck.
Good news is the battery was still charged and the engine fired up. The NKE wind instrument is stuck on 21.8knots for some reason. No matter, I will proceed with just compass mode.
High tide here is around 6 am and 6 pm. Awkward as I need to swing by the fuel dock. We will see.
There is a cold front moving though overnight. Things settle down by Sunday night, so I’m planning to depart either tomorrow night or Monday morning. High tide is at 7am Monday so that seems more likely for fueling.
I won’t be able to post enroute, but I will have the tracker on and you can text me on that also.
Sparrow and I will be heading north up to Portland for the winter, oddly enough and hopefully have some work done on here to address the mast track, kelp cutter and rudder bearing issues, among many other things. The North loft in Charleston (thanks Ervin!) is almost finished repairs on the delivery main and jib. The plan is to limp up there with the main no higher than the second reef as the track is ripped at the 3rd spreader. Timing is for the second half of October, when hopefully the hurricane risk is dying down and perhaps a weather window will appear.
Gotta say, this trip has me a bit nervous with all the perils within the 1,000 miles: Cape Hatteras, Gulf Stream North Wall, Nantucket Shoals, shipping and fishing boat traffic. The Southern Ocean might be scary, but it’s scary in a predictable way with no traffic. I’m thinking just no sleep between Nantucket and Portland with likely fishing boats with their AIS turned off. In the fog. Then there was the last time I was in the Gulf of Maine in October off Cape Sable aboard Zimaz…a bad day.
I’m flying in to Charleston on the 13th, then it will take a few days to rig up Sparrow and look for a favorable weather window.
Please wish Sparrow and I fair winds and luck with traffic.
The adventure with Sparrow was marked with toil, unplanned damage, and discomfort but the strong memories made it all worthwhile.
The toil began with the refit, of course. I initially thought with the business and children, I would be using professional help, but I ended up doing much of the refit work myself with the able assistance of Eric Lambert when I ran into something that was beyond my skillset. Eric was instrumental with the emergency rudder, autopilot installation design, alternator installation, and other electrical design thoughts that were so very helpful. The toil continued during the journey, but that was the point, right?
What I hadn’t counted on was the damage that ensued. The loss of downwind sails was somewhat predictable, but the coachroof cracks, mainsail cars and track, rudder bearing, kelp cutter, block pulling out of the deck were all unpredicted disappointments that trashed my overall goal of getting around the world. It demonstrates that no matter how much you prepare, you must battle-test everything on the boat thoroughly before attempting a voyage like this. Julie at one point asked me: “Does anyone make it around on the first try?” Pretty much sums it up.
Discomfort? Sure. It’s what I signed up for: cold, damp misery in the South. No real surprises here, except that for some reason, I never felt queasy or seasick. Normally I’ll feel funny the first 2 days, and again when in rough seas especially upwind. This trip was marked by none, to which I credit the waterline length, narrow entry hull form, and water ballast.
Ah, but the memories. One intention was to experience life’s highs and lows; to feel all that life offers sentience. This one got checked off. One strong memory is just ripping through the Southern Ocean. Here is some raw GoPro footage that makes the waves look small:
Some highs and lows of the trip:
- Greybeards down in the Fifties
- The grace and dignity of the Albatross
- Rounding Cape Horn
- Anchoring safely in Puerto Williams
- Swimming in the South Atlantic
- Losing the Code 0
- Cracks in the Cabintop
- Close reaching for 3 weeks into 20-30 knots
- Cracks in the rudder bearing housing
- Kelp cutter tube leaks
- Mainsail rip
- Turning block ripping out of the deck
- Argentina rejection
When you are faced with a challenge or adversity, how do you handle it? Do you look for a way to get out of it? Avoid it? Face it head-on? Alone in the Southern Ocean there is no escape, you have to deal with what comes. Therein lies the beauty. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
How much comfort do you sacrifice in pursuit of large goals like caring for those around you, advancing your career, or sailing around the world non-stop? How much of your micro-managing boss can you take before you quit? How much traffic before you move or find another job? How long do you care for your spouse with Alzheimers before seeking professional care? There are no right answers in the yin-yang of comfort vs achievement. We must all make choices when things are worthwhile, or when they are intolerable. Crying, screaming, pouting, complaining, drinking, or eating dark chocolate peanut butter cups does nothing except distract you from what you should be thinking and doing to either make things better or move on.
After the turning block ripped out of the deck in the Straight de la Maire, I had reached my limit. That was the moment that I felt Sparrow wasn’t going to make it, or it she did, it would be not worth the time and misery. I didn’t cry, scream or eat chocolate. Turning for the Beagle Channel was without hesitation. As it turned out, the mainsail car system and jib luff would not have survived the trip around. I would have been sailing under staysail alone and catching rainwater by the Indian Ocean.
In the end, Sparrow and I sailed 17,000 miles over 90 days at sea, with another 30 days in Puerto Williams.
The 4 months of time allowed me to ponder my foibles, my strengths, what I like, what I don’t. I’ve been able to come to certain realizations about myself that I doubt I otherwise would have. Like a fish trying to see water, truths about oneself are hard to discern and the uglier ones are even harder to admit. It has taken me decades to learn that the way I was raised is not the best way to be in the world. The culture I was raised in taught that competence was what mattered, and emotions didn’t. I also learned I have nice-guy syndrome. I’ve been too eager to please putting my own needs, wants and desires to the side. On the relationship front, these outlooks and behaviors have caused much difficulty. I’ve realized I am so flattered by any woman who takes an interest in me that I try too hard to make it work. I put my own needs aside too easily in an attempt to please my partner. In that process resentment builds. I need to be more honest with myself, more self-aware, and pay attention to my feelings and be more forthright about what’s going on with me.
Obviously, I like a challenge: it just makes life more interesting. When I do hard things, I can live with myself more easily. I become more content with life. I’ve realized what I’m really after in life are amazing experiences. Amazing experiences can be any number of things in life, so maybe the key is to figure out what they are for you and make them happen. Amazing experiences can be quite simple, others difficult.
For me, they are things like
- Adventure travel (duh)
- Great movie, podcast, or book
- Great coffee, a latte, or wine
- Learning a new concept
- Sitting at anchor with a boatload of friends
- Being with those you love in great conversation
For me, amazing experiences occur when I’m not distracted by the outside world and am able to set it aside. I’m able to focus on what is in front of me. Amazing experiences occur when I do things with people I love, kinda doesn’t matter what. And then there is doing something fresh and unusual. Taking the Road Less Traveled. Memories stand out more. Hiking underneath thunderstorms is more amazing than with benign weather.
Maybe for you an amazing experience is the time in the car taking the kids to school. Or fixing the clogged drain. Or getting the seats you wanted for the Big Game. Maybe exercising your hard-won knowledge in some way.
So now I’ve resolved to consciously make amazing experiences happen to have a full life.
It took much time, but with my reading list I now have a much better sense of who we are, where we came from, and the structures and institutions that have evolved and grown with us over the centuries. The Liberal Arts are needed now more than ever as humanity appears to wane.
Re-entering land life has been harder than I expected. I expected to jump right into the kids’ lives, the business, meeting up with friends. Instead I’m finding myself very alone. There is no one to talk to about “those 4 months”. No one can really understand what it was like, so I’m left alone. Much, much. much more so than when I was on the water.
On the other hand, I have so much gratitude for “simple” things of modern life. Electricity! Potable water! Good coffee! Those around me! Everyone who gets up, goes to work and contributes! The comforts of modern life are a damned miracle, and I am so grateful to all those who make it all work.
Hopefully with Project Sparrow I’ve also shared and passed along something for my children and others around me. To do and experience discomfort to gain accomplishment in life, to take some risks, to do things that are hard and push to see where your limits are.
Sparrow is lying in Charleston, waiting for someone to lead her into another adventure. As for the future, for now I have no sailing plans…but Pauline Carr’s Antartic Oasis lies on the coffee table.
Thank you for joining me on my journey.
Sparrow ended up motoring the last 120 miles in dead calm seas but also fighting a Gulfstream eddy, arriving in Charleston at 6pm on the 10th, right at high tide to gain entrance to the Charleston Harbor Marina. Customs arrived shortly thereafter and that went without a hitch. Huge thanks to Julie who came out and was there on the dock to greet me!
Julie and I spent three long days first emptying Sparrow’s contents into a minivan, then cleaning up the mold and putting away the sails and rigging. A fourth day allowed me to remove the watermaker and pour some epoxy. Then I got to hit the road and drive across the US with a van load of smelly laundry and assorted pieces of boat stuff. I arrived back in Thousand Oaks on the 17th with a messed up back thanks to the driver’s seat.
Sparrow suffered more mainsail car and track damage the last few thousand miles despite staying reefed down. The upper carriage failed a third time, and horrifyingly tore up the mast track. I will need to figure out how to source some sections of this unusual track, and procure a new carriage system and headboard.
Slowly easing back into land life, somewhat discombobulated. So great to see the kids and some friends.
Working on an epilog, I will be posting much more on my reflections of the journey, including more photos and even videos of the Southern Ocean now that I have bandwidth.
Now if I could get some help figuring out where to put all the boat stuff…
Getting through that cold front the last few days was not fun. 25-40 knots for 36 hours. At first it wasn’t too bad and I thought it wouldn’t last that long, so I ran off for a while. Then when it didn’t back off I had to head back up to a close reach. Jib needed to be rolled in, but the furling line broke – at night of course. I had two choices, either bear off and try to bring it down to put the staysail or storm jib up, or bear off a little, luff a little, and try to get by. I decided the risk of putting the sail in the water at night was too great (I bent a headstay doing this once), so I bore off a little, luffed a little, and got by. It took many more hours for things to calm down than I had anticipated, but the jib appears OK. It was actually the most stressful night of the trip, worrying about the jib and mainsail cars. There were a few times I was hanging in mid-air in the cabin, holding on to the rail as a 40 knot squall rolled by. Not my finest moments. Poseidon got his punches in for sure, with an assist from Yours Truly.
Public service announcement: make sure your furling line doesn’t break in 30 knots, at night. You can’t re-thread the drum while the sail is on, even after a half hour on the bow. Don’t ask me how I know.
So yesterday was characterized by calming but big (12-15’) and confused seas, and things were back to normal by afternoon. Thank goodness.
Really wild squalls in the area today. Never experienced anything like them. 30 knots from one direction, 30 feet over, 30 knots in another direction. Poor ocean didn’t know what to do, and neither di Sparrow or her skipper. Reefed down and held on. Tried to let it pass, but it was in no hurry. I looked up expecting a funnel cloud, but no such explanation. Left with 3 reefs and full ballast tanks, I forereached for an hour or so so the thing would move on. It did so reluctantly. In the turmoil, Sparrow managed to damage another mainsail car and a stanchion. Moving forward tentatively, scary looking sky this afternoon.
In other news, my last micro USB cord gave up. The salt air/seawater has gone through at least 4 cords of this type alone. This means I no longer have means to charge the Garmin tracker or the Kindle. The Garmin tracker will give up in about 24 hours, but I think I may still show up on http://www.marinetraffic.com
The Kindle is a bummer, but we are only 3.5 days away, and I do have one last paper book to digest: From Enlightenment to Revolution (Voegelin). It’s dense, probably why I’ve put it off.
Which leads me to another learning on this trip. Charge cords really don’t like sea boats. The devices themselves are typically fine, it’s the charging that takes them down. Every charge cord, of every type (USB-A to micro-USB, USB-A to mini-SUB, USB-A to USB-C, USB-C to USB-C, laptop charge bricks) has failed at least once. So the lesson is, hard-wire everything with heat-shrink connectors. Here is a list of devices with charging methods that failed:
• Laptop (Charge brick, USB-C to USB-C, USB-A to USB-C)
• Satphone (USB-A to mini-USB, 12v socket to connector)
• Inreach (multiple USB-A to mini-USB)
• Handheld VHF Radio (hard-wired charge dock)
• iPhone (multiple USB-A to lighting)
I thought a laptop was a better solution as I could set everything up in my living room, practice with Expedition, etc. I didn’t think enough about the charging weakness. Next time a hard-wired fanless mini-PC with a nice monitor, rugged keyboard and mouse.
Don’t depend on your phone or tablet for anything. Salt will get up in the charge port and then it’s done. If you have one onboard, store them in a baggie and be careful. A growing problem is these days more and more things have an app to go with them. My Victron charge controllers and battery monitor, and the NKE system for example. There are work-arounds but they cost money, of course.
650 miles to Charleston.
Yesterday morning I was being chased by a big line of squalls. At first frustrating as they caused fickle winds from different directions and speeds. Then I learned to go with it and gybed a lot, having fun in the rain. Early afternoon things settled down and presto! Back to champagne sailing. Lovely, romantic moonlight sail last night with the light dancing off the clouds. The never ending light show continues. Even a ship came by to light up the horizon and add interest. Nothing like going 10 knots in smooth seas. Nothing. Not even Space Mountain at Disneyland.
I’ve come to appreciate Sparrow a lot. She makes quick work of sloppy seas. Glides down waves with glee. Easy to add or decrease sail. I’ll have to figure it out when I get back, but Sparrow may be averaging 200 miles a day while I baby her. On this count it will be sad to see land and have to end this adventure. Sadder still to part with her, but someone can have another amazing adventure with her.
Six days to land. Drinking in the last seconds.