Recife Ho!

11S 33W

Almost up to the turning point where Sparrow can start heading to the NW. Maybe tomorrow if the wind holds. Four days of banging upwind has yielded a lighter breeze on the beam and we are back to champagne sailing as of yesterday morning! Sparrow can be such a delight. Smoothing the seas with her ballast, going an easy 9 knots in 10 knots of breeze. Decks aren’t quite dry, but they will be after I turn the corner. I think today marks 3 weeks since heading out.

I’m taking Recife wide to avoid traffic and fishing boats. I just sleep better. Also, I remember reading years ago to give the Amazon Delta room as tree trunks wander about. No idea if that’s still true or if it ever was, but I shall sleep better. Not as hot as I thought it would be here.

Shipping traffic is different. All the ships are in no hurry moving at 11-13 knots. A guy came up behind me last week and it took him 2 days to pass me. They never hail me, never change course so I do if prudent. Ghost ships.

The equator beckons. The Big Dipper was in her glory last night, pointing at a star below the horizon.

Riding North

It’s been a couple of days since posting, but not much going on. Wind continues to be from where I’d like to go, but less than 10 knots and smooth seas so a rather comfortable, delightful magic carpet ride. Really treasuring the moments out here. Hoping for a lift as Sparrow heads north, so we will see.

Finished up the highly acclaimed Rites of Spring, about WWI. Not a recounting of the war, but more a discussion about the culture that gave rise to it, the culture of the times, the horrors of infantrymen both in the trenches and when they tried to assimilate back into society, and the culture that led to the rise of Hitler. To be honest it felt like it provided few answers to why the catastrophic war happened. For great background on the war itself, Dan Carlin’s podcast Hardcore History is terrific. He gives you detail for what happened and a feel for the horrors of that war. Many view WWII as a
continuation of WWI, at least in Europe, and I think that’s right. Perhaps the why of the war is still a bit of a mystery. Finally, I have no idea why I’m writing about this.

Anyway, that wraps up history on my list. Now I’m on to philosophical underpinnings of politics and law. Great stuff.

Still 1,000 miles from Recife.

Waiting for Wind

Not much to do out here but rock out to Salt N Pepa! That’s right, Salt N Pepa rocking the South Atlantic! Now get your Shoup on. Spin it on the platter and get that booty moving!

Whatta Man whatta man whatta very fine man. Yes he is!

Oh and yes, photo taken today.

What Went Right

Sails – Hydranet rocks. My Main and jib still have mostly good shape after an abusive 15,000 miles. You can stitch it when you need to. Doesn’t delaminate. Recommended for any offshore boat.

Mast, Boom, Rigging – Only failure was my own doing, leaving the jib halyard on the clutch. No significant chafe. Loving the blocks I soft-shackled onto the outer main reef points.

Deck gear – Anderson 5200’s are great. Harken black magic blocks amazing, even old ones.

Water ballast system – All pumps, tanks, plumbing, valves all good, great to have to keep the boat on her feet and stay comfortable.

Engine & alternators – All good, no problems.

“Home Brew” 400 AH 12v LiFePO4 Battery & pseudo BMS – flawless performance. Amazing power at hand, 200 amps in no problem. My homebrew BMS even worked as a backup battery monitor when seawater ate the Victron.
Electrical wiring – No failed connections. Not one. Design worked as intended. Since I designed and installed the wiring I’m going to take a victory lap on this one. Masthead, deck, steaming, running, and interior lights all still work. Not one failure except the reverse polarity switch for the tricolor/anchor light that got hit with seawater.

Watt & Sea Hydrogenerator – once I learned how it talked to me, all good worked well.

Zamp Solar panels – yup, all good

Repair Stuff
Tools – I took almost every tool I needed, the exception being files to file down mainsail track car guides in Puerto Williams. This was needed as Sparrow apparently has a custom track. For power tools I took a drill and grinder with an inverter to charge the batteries. I might add a small reciprocating saw (I took a hand saw) and sander if I were to head offshore again. A wood chisel oddly ended up being a very useful tool.

Leak repairs – Supplies carried included amalgamating tape, plumber’s putty, epoxy putty, LifeSeal, Splashzone, EternaBond Tape. All was used to varying degrees to stop leaks.

NKE Instruments & Autopilot – I’m impressed with this system. Autopilot with L&S hydraulic drive has had no issues. Not one after 15,000 miles and it drives non-stop. The wind, heading, boat speed information is well damped out of the box. Displays fully
configurable. Almost never an issue. Truly impressive. Then again, I did the install. Oh, yeah – high fives all around!

I did have problems with two pieces of the system. The ultrasonic speed would drop to zero in light conditions (boat moving say, 4 knots or less), then come back after 20 seconds or so. Autopilot doesn’t like this, but luckily it only happens in light air. The other problem I have is with the WiFi box. I had a lot of trouble getting my computer to stay connected and eventually gave up. I’ve been using a handheld VHF for GPS data to support navigation and routing. I understand NKE has an updated WiFi Box now. Even with these issues, I can heartily endorse NKE.

Vesper Watchmate 850 – Been on the market for years but it’s a great low power unit for offshore sailboats. The more I use it, the more I like it.

Furuno Radar – Solid as expected from Furuno.

Echomax XS Radar Reflector – great to get respect from ships, and alarms trigger sooner than AIS gets picked up. Not a big deal – 60 miles instead of 50, but still, good to know something is in the vicinity.

Dell Extreme Laptop 7424, and windows Tablet 7212 – Both still work great after 3 months in a crappy environment. Of note, I did have problems with the chargers though both for the computers and phones. Since all my hard wired gear had no problems, next time I would hard wire a computer and backup.

Expedition – The routing flexibility is impressive. I do lots of different routes for passage planning. Great software. Used Squid for European model weather, no issues there either other than forecast accuracy in certain areas.

Garmin Inreach – No problems. Tracking stayed on all the time.

Iridium Certus – I am putting this on the what went right list, but I have mixed feelings about this system. First, it worked as intended. Connections were always solid and fast. The downside is there is no controlling what your computer – or god forbid phone – does once it connects. It’s basically an open connection to the internet. Windows and other programs will want to start downloading updates and who knows what else. There are firewall settings and 3rd party software to try to control this, but you have to be thinking about it all the time. The firewall settings are not for the faint of heart. It’s not a simple system setup. The result is you will pay dearly for all the data that gets sent back and forth that you couldn’t care less about. It’s on the list as it worked as intended, but it was a poor user experience. The reseller I went through could have done a much better job with going through how my system was setup.

Mintaka Duo Barometer – No problems, calibrated with LAX before departure and appeared dead on with forecasted GRIB pressures in Southern Ocean. Wish I had mounted it in a more visible location.

Patagonia Capilene is still the standard
Old Musto HPX pants from 2012 still going strong. Amazing. Gill OS1 jacket solid.
Muck boots perfect.
Helly Hansen Skagen decks shoes great. Yes they stink like every other pair on the planet, but they stick to the deck and stand up to my abuse.
Heavy weight Fleece pants (hard to find)
Darn Tough wool socks
Seal Skin socks for low pressure systems
Wool hats a must at high latitudes, and wear in the bunk.
Wichard jacklines and tether – I like that they are rugged and purposeful Spinlock Deckvest – Comfortable, and luckily I didn’t have to test it.

Klymit inflatable pillow – who cares if it gets wet?
Klymit air mattress, the bigger one
0 degree tall Coleman sleeping bag with Goretex sleeping bag shell – very good in Southern Ocean
Jetboil & welder’s sparker – totally reliable
Peak Refuel dehydrated food – Better than Mountain House
Hand Coffee grinder – fresh ground coffee makes a difference! Basic wool blankets to hide under when you have no heat at 55°S. Bose SoundLink Revolve + – Sounds great and holy crap it still works!!!

Other Gear
Headlamp – Fenix HL50R – pretty much the last word in headlamps at sea. Always worked, never a fuss, battery lasts a long time. Downside: heavy.
Binoculars – Fujinon FMTRC-SX, the last pair of binoculars you will ever buy. Delightful optics. Heavy but weight doesn’t bother me. Gill Deck Bags, 60L – Rugged and everything stayed dry inside. Used to store supplies, parts, tools, food,…

Funny, looking at this list, what was left to go wrong? Well, boats are complicated…

South Atlantic Bliss

29S 33W

The great sailing continues. 5 knots of wind, 6 of boatspeed, basically on course. Could be going faster if I emptied the ballast tank and had racing sails. With her crazy sail area to displacement ratio of 45 and relatively narrow waterline beam, Sparrow is bliss in these conditions. Very exciting to be north of the 30 degree parallel! Recife is at 7S, so still a long way to go but more than halfway there!

I get more time on deck today, putting my chair in the shade while daydreaming and reading. It’s a good day when all you have to do is finish a book and admire the changing scenery with sooty shearwaters. The shearwaters have been with Sparrow for some days now, I zone out watching them perform their graceful ballet in the swells. My skin is telling me I may be getting too much vitamin D.

A little drama yesterday. Wind popped up to 20 knots and Sparrow was romping comfortably at 12-14 knots. I looked down into the cabin and noticed water under one of the windows forward. “That’s weird, a window leaking?” I thought to myself. A few minutes later after opening the electrics cabinet, I see a stream of water spraying out of the kelp cutter tube. Turns out someone had tried to fasten the electronics cabinet directly to the tube by putting holes in it. Fine if Sparrow is not moving, but move fast enough and seawater will rise up the tube. I slowed Sparrow down to under 10 knots by deep reefing, then plugged the hole with a screw and butyltape. Then noticed still more water is leaking down the tube. I remove a holding bracket and yes, find two more holes in the tube hidden under a bracket with water spraying out. Keep in mind this is where Sparrow’s main 12 volt distribution panels are, along with all electronics, including VHF, AIS, Radar, radar reflector, battery monitor, clocks, barometer, NKE instruments. This water ingress has been a major source of problems. Indeed yesterday my voice capabilities are now shut down. The satphone charger succumbed to the seawater, along with the phone used for the main satcom system.

Stunning that there were 4 different direct leaks with that tube, including the deck penetration. Stunning that whomever built it didn’t see it coming, and left the holes in the tube. One of the niggling projects in the back of my mind before I left was to move the entire electronics cabinet over to a proper nav station to starboard, and cut out and plug that tube. The interior could have a lovely table in the center with comfortable seating around it. It just seemed too much effort for little gain so I left the existing setup. The sea always finds your weaknesses. Pretty amazing I haven’t had more electronics failures. I don’t know whether to be mad at myself for taking so long to find all the leaks, or mad at whomever did this setup. It’s similar to the seawater flooding down into the aft compartment through the rudder bearing. A ridiculous setup that should never have been built. Another one of those niggling things that I didn’t address before I left. Anyway, Hopefully all is well there now, and I won’t have any more issues with seawater spraying into my electronics.

Shortly I will write a long post that describes everything that is going right and what has worked well. There is lots to discuss there.

Now off to enjoy the shearwaters, work on a book, and work on my sunburn.

Passing 40S Parallel!

I’ve been slowing down intentionally waiting for a pesky low pressure system pass by to the north. Basically just waiting for the last 2 days while we get tossed around in some of the most confused seas I’ve ever seen. Quite the washing machine in the cabin. Except instead of getting clean, I just smell more and more funky. What is that smell, anyway?

One funny thing I’ll mention. The gooseneck pin is still falling out. Apparently when the boom moves from side to side it slowly unscrews the top nut. I should have had Steve drill a 3/32” hole in the pin so a cotter pin could retain the nut. Amazing how the sea finds any little detail amiss. So, it looks like the gooseneck pin holder-upper will be reinstalled. Didn’t see that coming, except I did keep the pieces for some reason…

Sparrow will soon cross the 40S parallel! This would be a sort of demarcation for the end of the Southern Ocean. It won’t feel like it until this low passes by (cloudy and rainy today), but still it’s warming up! My fingers and toes aren’t numb anymore! I can’t see my breath! Hopefully we will experience some champagne sailing soon, and I can enjoy beverages out in the cockpit again. Maybe even the sun will come out.

No regrets about not continuing around. It was an unfortunate set of occurrences, but the right call was made. Doing my best to enjoy the remaining month at sea. Getting some great reading done.

Small Gale & Another Full Gale on the Way

48S 48W

Yesterday Sparrow found herself in a small gale – 35-40 knots. Not normally a problem but the furling line parted at the bow and the jib unrolled completely.


I spent about 3 hours up on the bow dealing with the mess. I ended up taking the sail down and putting up the storm jib. Very rough. Poseidon apparently had to throw one more punch from the 50 South latitudes before I escaped to the 40’s. I managed to have seawater go up my sleeves and soak my only fleece tops. So now I hide under blankets while below and race north for warmth.

Today we are seeing 25 knots from a favorable angle and I’ve kept the storm jib up with double reefed main. Seas unusually rough.

Fast moving low coming off the coast coming at Sparrow. Looks like I’m going to get blasted. Will be an interesting couple of days.

All OK aboard.

Inelegant Departure

Lalo, the Director of Cedenas, Cmdr Guerrero of the Naval Armada, and Rene came out to Sparrow with bread and gifts, to retrieve the dinghy they had loaned me, and with a starting battery. They were gracious and lovely as always, and I was sad to have to leave them.

The starting battery was necessary due to a big mistake I made. The last few days had been without sun, and I had been charging all my devices and not looking at the battery meter. I ran the battery down to the point where the engine wouldn’t start. With lithium that means REALLY low. Sparrow left with a jump starter, but it succumbed to sea water on the way down. Sparrow also has charging options: sail off and use the hydrogenerator, or even wait for the sun to shine. I could have sailed off the mooring. Still, it was a humiliating lesson. Making mistakes is a huge component of sailing and I still make them all the time. The trick is to keep them from being major or life threatening. Natures way of keeping us on our toes.

Speaking of mistakes, I had another near-miss departing. I untied the last line and Sparrow started to move. Much more quickly than I anticipated. I panicked and rushed aft on the boat she was rafted to and had to make a little leap, clutching the lifelines to get back aboard. Then rush back to the engine controls to put her into gear as the shore was fast approaching. Not the smooth departure of my dreams. Then of course I ran over a big patch of kelp.

I had hoped to head West to see some glaciers, but the weather would have none of it. 25 knots on the nose and Sparrow’s 20hp engine is just not up to the task. I don’t recall wanting a big honking engine with a three bladed propeller to match before. So unfortunately no glaciers for Sparrow this trip. As I write I am passing Isle de Estados on my way east after a long sleepless night going through the Beagle Channel. I shall gybe soon to pass south and east of the Falklands. The weather looks good for the next few days, but there are two lows coming off Argentina later next week that I shall have to keep an eye on.

Still struggling to find my sea legs. I guess it always takes a few days.