The Passage

How do you sail a five-day passage 300 miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean?  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Here’s how the instrument panel recorded our journey: IMG_4882

 It really wasn’t that bad.  We had good weather, and Sophia sails herself, practically, she is so well-balanced.  When going to windward, even in 25 knot winds, you can simply set the wheel where you want it, and it will not move.  The boat rounds up miraculously and keeps herself on course.  Naturally, the winds clock around and you have to be vigilant.   And going downwind, it’s best to put the boat on autopilot, our lovely friend, which steers much more efficiently than a human.

That lovely friend failed after two days at sea, along with all of our other electronics, including the VHF and SSB radios.  For a few agonizing hours, we couldn’t hail our beautiful buddy boat, Seahorse (A Bruce Roberts 43) , or anyone else for that matter.

We were sailing in the Sargasso Sea, and Seahorse had galloped  about five miles ahead during the second night.  Larger and heavier than Sophia, she easily made 9 knots, while we had to reef in our sails and keep to a safer, slower speed, about 6, under those conditions.  

Seahorse sailing off into the sunset the night we lost power

After our friends lost sight of our mast light, they took down some sails and waited for us, but we didn’t know it, since all of our communications systems were down.  

I was on watch while Ryan dozed below, and waves kept breaking across the bow.  It was exhilarating, yes.   There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about being the only person awake on a vessel so far out to sea, where you are not just under, but quite obviously within, the bright tapestry of the Milky Way above, and there is no way to discern the line where the stars begin at the edge of the sea.  I basked in the hugeness and beauty of the universe, and felt intensely alive.

But I have to admit that I also registered a steady and palpable current of sheer terror.  That night when the radios failed and the sea roared up and over the dodger and poured straight down into the galley, I decided it was time to wake Ryan.  “I think we might need to reef some sails,” I said.   “And you might want to put your foul weather gear on, since it’s pretty wet out here.”  Not exactly to my relief, he agreed immediately that it was time to reef, and helped me to do it.   In my sleep-deprived frenzy I steered up straight into irons, and we ended up having to tack out of it and sail in the opposite direction until we got going fast enough to tack back on course. We lost about an hour, I guess.  Ryan stayed up with me until we both settled down and Sophia regained a safe speed on autopilot.  Then he returned to bed.   

Did I mention we rigged up a lee-cloth on the starboard settee for sleeping while passaging?  It got quite stuffy down there after four days at sea, but it was still incredibly comfortable to be in it.  The boat rocks back and forth like a cradle, and you feel wonderfully warm and secure and happy, even if the winds are screaming above.   That is where Ryan went.

I hunkered down again under the dodger (so named because you crouch there, dodging waves? I wondered) and attempted to quiet my mind by reading.  I set a timer on my watch to alert me at 13 minute intervals, when I got up, stretched, checked the instrument panels, peered out into the night in all four directions, and curled up again.  We still hadn’t made contact with Seahorse, and there was nothing to do but sail on.  The instruments were still working, and we had an Automatic Identification System that also functioned, and an operating bilge pump.  It had failed, frighteningly, along with the manual backup, earlier in the journey, but Ryan fixed it.   I watched the dawn unfold across the sea and sky, and welcomed the sun.  When Ryan awoke again we made coffee and soon spotted Seahorse, a tiny stick against the horizon.  We motor-sailed until we caught up to them, and then put our heads together about the problem, which turned out to be electric.

We had run our batteries down too far, and they were not charging, even with the motor on.  The Honda 2000 came to our rescue. Ryan hauled it up to the foredeck, plugged it in, and slowly but surely the house batteries began to fill up again.   After they got high enough to hold a charge, the VHF and SSB radio came back on again.   Of course the latter blew up again, after we made land, but that’s another story, and not as interesting.

Faithful Seahorse stayed closer to us for the rest of the journey.

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