I was up at 6 AM and saw that as expected the wind had veered and we were on a beautiful heading, 120T, doing close to 5 knots with a wind that had strengthened to maybe 17 knots. Over coffee I kept thinking about how I would bring in the whisker pole. A regular spinnaker pole has a cable running along its full length by which one can "fire" (release) the latch at a far end of the pole by pulling on the cable at any convenient place along the pole. However I could not set this up on the whisker pole because of its variable length. I would have to fire the latch by pulling at the loop of cord right at the end. Therein lay the problem: how to get the pole off the halyard. I went on deck with a series of fallback plans. I needed to avoid a mistake lest I wind up with a mano a mano struggle with the sheet under load for the pole, a struggle that I would not win and possibly wind up with a broken nose, black eye, or worse. The first plan one was to reach the firing loop with the boat hook, pull back to open the latch, then lift the pole off the sheet. I pulled hard enough to fire the latch but I could not lift the end of the pole off the sheet. Then I went to the cockpit, eased the sheet, and started rolling some headsail. The plan was to lower the stakes by reducing the pressure on the sail. I managed to do this but it was not pleasant watching the headstay jerking violently and the headsail snapping at its leech during the operation. Then I disconnected Jeff and let the boat steer itself into the wind. I let out a bit more sheet and back on the foredeck managed bring in the sheet and lift the pole off quite easily because the latch had indeed been opened.
The next phase was to set up the sail configuration for heavy weather which not surprisingly meant putting up the trysail and staysail. I wasn't being rushed so I did this slowly and deliberately, making a few improvements as I went along.
One of the improvements was in response to a valuable tip from Jim Putt, which was to use both sheets on the trysail. The weather sheet could be use to control the distance of the back of the sail from the centre of the boat, which would be too great using the lee sheet alone. This involved some minor rerouting of the weather sheet, which must deal with the wind steering control lines in its path.
I had expected trouble in raising the trysail because the track was on the weather side of the mast with the wind pushing the sail into the boom. Fortunately it proved to be amazingly docile, even when it cleared the boom and the wind caught it. So far it has been a very easy sail to manage.
I then spent 20 minutes tidying up the cockpit lines. I wind all lines in loose loops around winches. If one of the loaded winches has to be used to adjust the line tension I throw to loops of rope off the winch and get to work. At the mast I use the spinnaker rings, bollards, and mast steps as belaying pins. The "granny bars" at the mast are the shrouds which are athwartships and close to the mast, as well as the safety rope that I have described before. Today I simply pressed my back to the shroud while I hoisted the trysail throughout the heavy rolling.
Managing the cockpit lines has become more complicated with the advent of the trysail and staysail. The big issue is that there are not enough winches and bollards (cleats) to permanently assign on a one-to-one basis. On the current port tack, for example, there are three sheets under tension but only two winches. I had to carefully unload the headsail sheet and put it onto a cleat which it is sharing with another line. On a starboard tack it is worse because in addition to the three sheets there is also the roller furler line under tension, so it must be carefully transferred to a bollard. (This boat had no bollards on the outside of the coaming when I purchased it and I don't know how they managed to sail it. I've put two on each side and could use a third because frequently I have to double up on a bollard.) The manipulation of these lines invariably results in crossed lines when they are required, so every tack, gybe, and sail changed must be carefully planned ahead of time to make sure that the required lines, winches, and bollards are free and available.
This work took two hours and I thought it might be a good time to run the engine and heat the cabin before the wind picked up. While waiting for the kettle to boil for a cup of hot chocolate I squatted in front of the heater warming my feet and tingling hands. This engine, with its reliability as a source of electric power and cabin heat with thate great little Red Dot heater have been one of the joys of this cruise. Great investment.
Considering that we are at lat 45S I must confess that the weather has been milder than I had expected. I am seeing cabin temperatures in the low 50's. Crossing the Tasman Sea in winter was much worse, with temperatures consistently near freezing (or worse, for all I know). We had no heater, unreliable and grainy weather faxes, no self steering, totally inadequate battery capacity, very limited communication, and a well meaning but inexperienced captain. (In Fremantle I might have a medal struck: The Pachuca Order of Valor to present to the crew, Brenda and Arnold, who endured these conditions.) Improvement in equipment aside, I remember saying twice when we were at Eden in Australia that I was more afraid of the Tasman in winter than the Horn in summer. So far - and that is a very important caveat - so far that observation has been correct.
At noon we were at 44S50, 110W04, giving us a n-n distance of 95 miles in direction 110T. The Christmas wishes of friends for good winds had come true. We were just a shade over 1700 miles from the Horn and just east of the longitude of La Paz which was 4000 miles directly north. The wind was about 15 knots from the north and we were making about 4.5 knots on course 125T which exactly what I had been wishing for. The boat was ready for any gale that came along, which was possible because the barometer had dropped 10 hPa in 24 hours. All I needed to do was to roll in the rest of the headsail and rely on the trysail and staysail. The pressure cooker dish of kidney beans, lentils, and corn had been very successful (for those who like rice 'n beans) and I heated some more for lunch. The rest I would put away for another day.
At 2.30 PM I had a look at the situation. The wind had veered more to the north and picked up speed to about 22 knots. The boat was regularly exceeding 6 knots and was handling it well, with no wave slamming because we were running diagonally to the wind and seas. However, I was concerned about the headsail as usual and decided to roll what little there was of it in to avoid having to do it later when the wind hit 30 knots. Winding the sail in was easier than I had expected which suggested that there had not been very much pressure on it. This slowed the boat down by almost a knot but I had no regrets because I very much wanted to have this sail see me to South Africa. I visited the foredeck to make sure that the staysail lines were ready for a gybe that would have to be done in the middle of the night when the high winds would clock back to the NW the W then SW. While I was up there I stood up holding on the a shroud and watched the long procession of big grey waves making their way to the boat. The scene looked pretty wild, with drizzle blowing sideways and big rain clouds on the horizon. I savored the moment and would try to keep it in my memory. The grib file took me to noon the following day and even then the SW wind would be at over 20 knots. I was comfortable with the sail plan of the boat and as far as I was concerned Bring It On because I was enjoying the good progress that we had been making. We had coped through two heavy gales in the Tasman lying ahull and side on to the weather. In one of our brief forays to the cockpit I had then noticed the wind speed at 55 knots. I figured that properly hove to with the current sail plan Pachuca would be able to weather 60 knot winds in relative comfort.
At 6 PM the wind speed was varying. At one point it was well above 25 knots and the boat was moving at 6.2 knots. A few minutes later the wind dropped and the boat speed fell back to 5 knots. Regardless, the boat was moving amazingly smoothly through the water, with no sign of undue agitation or stress, though once in a while the hull would be clobbered by a well targeted wave and water would sweep the deck. Our course was averaging a very good 125T.
At 9 PM we were getting 30 knot winds as predicted. Things got rough out there and the boat got knocked around a bit but nothing serious. The wind charger had overheated and was free wheeling to protect itself. At times I saw boat speeds in excess of 7 knots. According to the grib file we were at the peak of the wind and it would shortly moderate somewhat.
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