Atlantic Island Voyage 1998: First Passage, 6 September

Captain's Log, 6 September 1998

Position: 39d 37m North, 32d 29m West. Flores 62 miles, bearing 93 
degrees true.
Wind SW at 15 knots, we are holding our speed to 4 knots to make an 
early morning landfall.

Last entry was several days ago, and it is difficult to know where to start this one. For certain, we will not book with this cruise line again: the steady diet of humble pie is becoming monotonous. After Bonnie passed, we had 3 nice days in which to regroup. We cleaned up the terminals on the electric ram, which got that autopilot back in action. That bought us time until the wild, random post-storm seas subsided enough to allow us to work, at which point we hove to and replaced the frayed steering cable. 

By that time we were getting very frequent radio weather bulletins from the NWS and a daily set of fax maps to track Danielle's progress. She, too, had originally been predicted to track much further north, but each update put her track closer to us. Our basic game plan was to turn more southward now, rather than follow the 40th parallel along to just before the Azores. We also drove the boat harder than usual to widen the distance as much as we could. That produced a casualty, in the form of a broken upper spreader on the mainmast, caused by winching up the mainsail at night, not seeing that the halyard was wrapped against the spreader. We normally do not do that maneuver in the dark if we can avoid it. This was my goof, so at the same time we hove to to fix the steering cable, I went up the mast to clear the pieces of spreader. At 40 feet up the mast, backing off screws between 10' arcs, and periodically whacking up against the mast, out of the depths of the dumb song and jingle neocortex, came "There's one thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie/ Serve it up, nice and hot, maybe things aren't as bad as you thought./ Momma loves rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, Be-bop-a-re-bop rhubarb pie." When Garrison Keillor sings it, everyone laughs, and the show goes merrily on. Didn't work for me, somehow: I still had to get those damn screws out, and eventually did. Then on we ran, lickety split, looking over our shoulders.

This time, Danielle's path put her about 300-350 miles north of us, and winds of up to 45 knots were predicted. We’d heard that before, and figured we'd better assume worse. As Tristan Jones said, there are 4 kinds of sailors: dead, retired, novices and pessimists. Even though our steering system, and the boat in general were perfectly up to actively running with a gale, as we did the other night, we felt it more prudent to ride it out under storm anchor, which would be easier on us and the boat.

Once the barometer had clearly begun its dive, and the wind hit 30 knots and climbing, we deployed the 18' nylon parachute and 550 feet of chain and 3/4" nylon rope. The parachute is a heavy ballistic nylon, designed for just this purpose. If you jumped out of a plane with it, it would hit you on the top of the head. It took about 2 hours to set, and another several hours of fiddling until we had things just right. While a "passive" tactic, it actually took a lot more work to set up than simply dropping sails and running, as we did before. However, it is a much more controlled situation, and it was miraculous to be at a dead stop, watching the bow cleanly part these huge breaking crests, while we sat dry in the cockpit eating bonbons. It did feel unnatural somehow, and the tradeoff was that the motion was quite horrible: pitching, yawing, rolling, corkscrewing in every combination, especially later in the storm as the wind swung from southwest to northwest, and we got waves from different directions. The wind did indeed get into the mid to high 40's around midnight, and by daybreak was dropping below 30 at times. We spent about 2 hours hauling in all the gear, and were back under way by noon. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, the only casualty was a chewed up rail forward where the anchor chain jumped out of its roller. We will rig a pin there for next time (if there is a next time), along with a few other improvements, but overall the system worked as advertised, and we spent a somewhat better night than before. On a comfort scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being Eating Cherry Garcia ice cream by the pool, and 0 being public evisceration and beheading at the Tower of London, I would put this one around a 3. What we did the other night was perhaps a 1. Night shift in the ER would be up around 5 perhaps. 

The weather has steadily moderated since then, and we are caught up on our sleep. Now we are cleaning up and preparing for landfall tomorrow, at which point the "is it worth it?" meter will go more positive. We are still looking over our shoulders at Earl, but at this point it looks clear.

Now, of course, we know why the hurricane tracks go up to Newfoundland and trail off, and we really did get past the true hurricane track on about day 4. However, there is still 
the matter of these ex-hurricanes, embittered by their failure to wreak devastation in Florida, and looking for one last chance before they are completely spent. God forbid we should ever encounter an actual hurricane in its prime.