And the Spinnaker Is Down!

Mel has another Sea Story to tell. Initially, this blog post was not going to have anything interesting in it. Things had been going well with the Parasailor up. Mel was in fact straining to be clever by composing her post with the following tidbits when the Event happened:

We saw some Atlantic spotted dolphins last night! We wore them out quickly, as we were going ten knots.

What is “salt air” anyway? Is it really salt suspended in the air? How does that work?

When the spinnaker is up and the autopilot is on, you can steer the boat with your mind. At least that’s what Mel must think, as she spent her night shifts staring at the chartplotter and mentally directing the boat back on course when a wave made it turn 30 degrees the wrong way. (Ten percent of the wind is composed of Mel’s worrying.) Eventually the autopilot does what she commands. This is how Mel sails.

Greg has called the odd swings through 60 degrees that the autopilot does with certain wave combinations, “Crazy Ivans.” It’s a reference to an historical tidbit involving Russian submarines. You know, calling the autopilot a Russian name somehow just feels right.

Mel was thinking such deep thoughts this morning when a monster wave came up right behind the boat. It had a steep dropoff, and for a moment Mel was looking straight down, thinking the boat was pitched forward 45 degrees. But the wave rolled on through (they tend to do that, waves) and, as Marvin started leveling off, she checked the autopilot to make sure there would be no Crazy Ivans and the boat wasn’t heading up into the wind, which might put too much stress on the spinnaker.

Just as she started to relax, as the boat was right on course, she saw the apparent wind bump up to 24 kts. Before she could process this, THE SPINNAKER EXPLODED.

Oh fine, it tore. But when something makes that sound, Mel calls it an explosion. To get a sense of what that was like to experience, imagine that the United States started printing 50-ft high $15000 bills that you could sail with. And then imagine the damn thing ripping in half in front of your eyes. Loudly.

So we are back to downwind sailing with a single-reefed main and jib. If we keep the wind angle at 120 degrees, we can make 8.5 kts this way in our 17 kts of apparent and 22 kts of true wind. Mel has realized that she counted the wrong things earlier. Instead of fingers, she should have been keeping track of “means of locomotion.” The denominator here is 5, counting spinnaker, main, jib, and engines. We were briefly down to a numerator of 4 when the mainsheet buckle broke, got back up to five when Greg fixed that, and we are now back down to 4. Oh wait, the denominator is bigger than that. Forgot about the sat phone and SSB to call the Coast Guard. And the oars. Hey, 8 out of 9 ain’t bad!

Mel likes to do math to distract her from the giant waves.

We have a buddy boat crossing with us, ZigZag, that left Dania Beach just before us and skipped Bermuda. We have been exchanging Sea Stories over email. It is comforting to know that we are not the only boat experiencing…setbacks. We are sure now that boat repair must be the main industry in the Azores. We should arrange a meetup with champagne in the chandlery! I bet they have a special room for that. Glad we are getting there ahead of the ARC! (That is 240 boats crossing the Atlantic and blowing out their spinnakers together. Egad!)

Boat stuff: 212 nm in 24 hrs. The spinnaker costs $71 per nm this hoist. For those who like to budget. Waves 6-9 ft.

One Response

  1. Burnettsahoy!
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    […] Spinnakers are bastards. No detail can be spared, or disaster may ensue.  We have learned to closely follow our checklist, which was developed over several spinny raises.  It is very important to get straight which way the guy and sheet run relative to the lifelines when you are setting up for it.  When raising, we know that the guy can get snagged on our navlight.  We know that our old poly spinnaker halyard can stretch more than you think once the sail fills, and so we always would check to see if we could pull it in afterwards, as two feet of halyard flapping in the breeze chafes quickly.  Once up, we watch the wind and waves closely.  Wind vane mode on the autopilot works well to minimize gybing and maximize speed, although it can be too sluggish if the apparent wind angle gets greater than 160 degrees.  The spinnaker can be trimmed in wind shifts by just the tiniest tap on the electric winch button.  Our spinnaker flops around too much in apparent wind of less than 6 kts, and we know that there is no single number to give for the max wind speed you can fly it in, as it depends on the wave height and frequency.  Big, frequent waves lower the limit.  We’ve also learned to periodically check the pins of the shackles holding the blocks, as they can work their way out.  When dousing in light winds, we run just the windward engine, we keep the wind angle at around 135 to make sure the sock stays away from the jib, and we let the sheet fly free, almost all the way out, before pulling down the sock.  As dousing proceeds, Mel (at the helm) rapidly (but not too rapidly) pulls in the sheet and adjusts the guy so that all that loose line doesn’t wrap itself around a prop or the jib, and she watches the boat speed to make sure we maintain maneuverability on the one engine, which takes about 3 kts.  She makes an extra effort to check the port line, which is in a blind spot from the helm.  See?  Spinnakers are bastards. […]

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