Epilog

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:

52 South

Some highs and lows of the trip:

Highs:

  • 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

Lows:

  • 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.

Introspection

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.

An Albatross Surviving in this Turbulent World with Dignity and Grace

Charleston

Sparrow Unloaded and Cleaned up in Charleston

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…

Last Day at Sea

31N, 78W

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.

Wild Squalls

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.

1,000 Miles Left

22N, 64W

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.

Sargasso Sea

Not a lot to report. Still just bumping along in the trades on a beam reach. Weather will shift around a bit over the next week, but looks like a straight line into Charleston. I’d guess arrival on the 9th or 10th as I’ll slow down a bit. Relieved I’m not heading north up to Newport. Doesn’t look fun up that direction. Getting cooler in the evenings. I have that funny sargasso weed all over the deck, along with minnows. Odd there are no birds here.

Moved on to the Western History of Law. Surprisingly interesting!

1560 miles to Charleston.

Charleston

7N, 45W

Wind came back. It’s been 20-30 on the beam for 36 hours now. Sloppy seas with an impressive amount of water coming over the deck. Rather uncomfortable going, reading is tough along with typing. So a little music today: bringing the 70’s back with Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens. Cat hasn’t aged well. Salt N Pepa on the other hand, you are doing just fine girl.

Lost two mainsail cars, so I had to steal two from down low. So Sparrow continues on reefed. Currently 3 reefs in as we bang along so not a big deal. It does mean though that I won’t be trying to get up to Newport this pass. I don’t want to risk needing to pound to weather and losing more cars in bad weather.

Perhaps a breakthrough with a destination. Looks like Sparrow is heading for Charleston. Someone should look up Brad Van Lieu and let him know his old boat (Balance Bar) will be in port in two weeks. I think he should have his storm jib back.

I’m having a lot of reflections on this project. Successes and failures yes, but more importantly how the alone time has provided for self-reflection as I enter the last third of life. Being cut-off from the constant media buzz has been amazingly healthy and productive. I will write more about this later after I’ve had time to distill things down. Or perhaps not. Sometimes I wonder what I should be discussing on a sailing blog!

2400 miles to Charleston.

#turnoffthemedia

Back across the Equator

2N, 38W

Yup, north of the equator after a few months down south. Winter, oh boy.

Progress is slowed. 3-5 knots of breeze from all over the place. Forecast shows a steady 15-20. Sloppy cross-swell. Sparrow has two reefs in, a tight mainsheet, and tighter angles to keep the banging down. I knew the forecast was too good to be true. I assume this is the ITCZ. Brooding clouds around, heavy with rain. We had a terrific rain last night where Sparrow and I got a much needed washdown.

An event occurred early in the evening of the 21st. Apparently the hydrogenerator hit something at 10+ knots and broke loose from it’s bracket. I heard nothing so was unaware of anything until I noticed there was no charge to the battery. I went aft to pull the prop out of the water when I found the whole unit dragging by the lifting tackle. The electrical wire sheared off where it exits the fin. I was lucky not to have lost the whole unit!

A repair I suspect would require disassembly of the lower housing to extract the generator motor. The electrical wire needs reconnecting to the motor/generator. There is a nub sticking out that I may be able to get a needle through to fish a string as I pull the motor. I think there is enough wire to simply reconnect the wire to the generator. Then straighten the pin, remount the unit and wire it back up. Not really worried about it as I have enough fuel to keep the battery juiced up. Perhaps I will make an attempt in smoother seas.

Working our way through the slop, hopefully the tradewinds will return soon and we will be off again.

#covidsucks