The Final 1,000 Miles

Date: March 11, 2017, noon Position: 21 23.37 N, 68 53.11 W

The moustaches are gone, and we are at sea once more. Privateer is laden with fresh provisions for her final 1,000 ocean miles, bound for Florida. We plan to haul the boat out of the water ASAP upon landfall so I can return to Minneapolis, Taz, and a very pregnant Kelsey! The forecast is a bit tricky, with many intense lows spinning off the US East coast. At 1,000 miles, this passage will be one of our shortest this year, but possibly the toughest.

We left BVI after 6 days. The timing worked out well, as we weathered an intense NE system that swept through the islands. It was great to be safe in harbor while the winds howled. At one point, a Hunter 34 sailboat broke free of her mooring and slammed into shore. I rowed out into the storm to her with a long coil of line, determined to pull her off the rocks. Another cruiser with a 30hp outboard saw me and came over to help. While he pulled with the outboard, I was able to turn the helm over and steer her into deep water as she grated off the rocks. We towed her back to her mooring and barely managed to hook her back on in the high winds. By this time nightfall was approaching, and the winds were increasing. Good thing she didn’t spend the whole night bouncing on the rocks!

We met up with my friends on the Josefina, the Swan 86 that I sailed from Fiji to NZ last year. It was great to catch up with those guys, and they offered me a crew position which the timing unfortunately doesn’t work out on–bummer! We did our laundry on the Josefina while sitting below-decks in the air conditioning, using the hi-speed internet, and enjoying meals put out by the cook. It’s a whole other world on a super-yacht!

Clearing out of Customs was an equally, if not more-so, nauseating experience than clearing in. I have never met ruder and more unhelpful officers than in that office in the BVI (and I’m from the USA). They’re probably related somehow to the pee-pee lady: extremely harsh demeanors, with massive chips on their shoulders. It was a teeth-gritting experience to get through the charade without losing my temper. They didn’t stamp our passports out or give us any exit papers, so hopefully we don’t have any problems clearing in to the US.

As we sailed away from Soper’s Hole, we met the fresh NE breezes–the tail-end of the big system that just blew through. Seas were lively and we made way on a beam reach. Right off the bat, I had perplexing issues with tuning the Monitor. She would pull the tiller one way, but not the other. I kept making small, and then bigger adjustments to the tiller blocks and air vane. We went along well for about 5 hours, but then the boat started rounding up in the higher gusts. Strange. A few miles more and at mile 36 out of BVI she rounded up a final time and I looked back to discover the Monitor rudder trailing, once more, by her safety line. Only this time it wasn’t the shear tube–it was the swivel mount above the hinge! The Monitor has suffered a fatal blow for this passage. This breakage is not repairable at sea. We quickly recovered the broken parts and brought out the electric tiller pilot. Fingers crossed that the electric pilot can steer us through the final 1,000 miles! We are putting it to the ultimate test. The Monitor people need to know that they should recommend carrying a full spare rudder and shaft for circumnavigating boats. The optimistic brochures of sailors bragging that they went around the world using only one set of control lines are either untruthful, or their product was used as an auxiliary to a hydraulic autopilot… At any rate, thank god this didn’t happen in the middle of the Indian or Atlantic ocean!

The electric pilot does a wonderful job at steering the boat in a perfectly straight line, however this is not how mother nature blows her winds. Unless we make constant adjustments to sail trim, the boat is always sailing slightly off of her optimum wind angle to the way her sails are set. Also, the wind angle must be constantly evaluated in order to prevent the risk of an accidental jibe. What this all translates to is that the boat sails slower through the water on her straight line, rather than the gentle “slalom” track the Monitor gave us when she kept the sails pegged on their optimum angle. After about 24 hours the winds gradually died away, until we were making barely 3 knots through the water. After growing tired of lurching and slatting around in the swell we were forced to fire up the “iron jib”. We rattled on for the next 24 hours in fair weather and slight seas.

Finally last night, a fair breeze sprang up from the NE, and we took off under sail again! All night long now we’ve been charging along at 6-7 knots under the bright full moon.

The winds are forecast to back around to the SE, then SW and W, and then blow harder out of the NW-NE in a few days time. All the way around the compass… Our strategy is to make all of our northing now before the bigger blow, so that we can run down to the SW for the final leg. I am worried that the electric pilot will be overwhelmed in the North winds if they are stronger than 17 knots, and that we may have a few days of hand-steering. I’m trying to set ourselves up with plenty of sea room for a heave-to if need be, not for sea-state, but for the option of not having to hand-steer for 48 hours… Hopefully this good breeze lasts long enough before going light again so that we can keep the motoring to a minimum. The hours go by a lot slower under engine than they do under sail!

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