Monday, August 4, 2014

August 4 Position Report

8/4/14 Wandering Dolphin POS

10:00 Anchorage Time / 1700 GMT
N47 04.44  W144 18.92
COG 031T
SOG 4kt
DTG 852 nautical miles

Wind: SW 8-10
Pressure: 29.85
Temp: 71F
Sky: overcast
Seas: 4-5 ft
Sails main and jib set.

On A Gale and a COLD Swim in the Deep Blue

The day before yesterday we prepared the boat for a gale.  Now the interesting fact is that in nine years and about 25,000 offshore miles under Wandering Dolphin we have never been in a Gale on her.  This is mostly due to good weather windows and routing as well as relatively short sails (10 days or less until the big passages started in March).  On our passage from Costa Rica to Hawaii we did have some weather when cold fronts passed through but never a sustained gale.  I have been in gales multiple times on different deliveries with our oldest son Jimmy, EmilyAnne and even Benny but those were deliveries and by their very nature you don't get to pick the perfect windows and usually the time of year is not ideal.  We often left the NE coast of the US with ice on the decks on different boats we were taking south.

On this passage, from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest, you are guaranteed at least one gale so we were prepared.  I have often been asked about my tactics in storms and, again, mostly because most of my offshore miles have been on deliveries, my tactic has been to turn and run downwind under storm sails.  This tactic has worked well in everything from full keeled mono hulls to catamarans and in wind up to tropical storm force (60 knots one time) and 25 ft seas.  The biggest danger when running downwind in huge seas is the tendency of the boat to pick up speed and surf down the waves which could cause a pitch pole or end over end flipping of the boat.  If that happens you can K.Y.A.G.B. (Kiss Your Ass Good Bye).  To avoid this you use a speed reducing drogue off the stern to slow the boat down.  I chose a Delta Drogue which can also be used in an emergency to steer the vessel.  My tactic for Wandering Dolphin was going to be the same.

I have read "Storm Tactics" by the Pardey's in which they make the case for heaving-to with a sea anchor as the best way to handle heavy weather.  I have heaved-to many many times for all kinds of reasons from diving to fix the prop to just having a nice dinner without the offshore motion but have never used it in a gale.  This time the gale force wind was going to be from the north east so to turn and run would have meant losing ground so we decided to heave to for this storm.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the extra money before we left for a sea anchor so I decided to just heave-to in our normal fashion but put the drogue out off the bow as a sea anchor.  It seemed like a pretty good compromise and worked well in up to 30 knot winds but as soon as the wind hit 40 and the 45 the bow was pushed off and the drogue just did what it was designed to do, pull behind.  In the highest winds the drogue pulled all the way under the boat and snagged on the prop.

Heaving-to for the gale was by far the very best way to handle a storm, even without a proper sea anchor the boat just shrugged off the seas and created its own slick to windward which prevented the big waves from breaking near the boat.  Believe it or not it made riding out the storm a comfortable experience.

When the storm was over I was faced with the problem of the drogue being caught on the prop.  Part of the problem, of course, is that you cannot see anything under the boat so you can't tell if the rudder is in trouble too or what.  Beck had the idea to put the Go Pro on its long stick, stick it under the boat and have a look.  This worked perfectly!  We could watch the video and see the problem.  The drogue had indeed wrapped the prop and was actually trailing behind it pulling.  It was, however, not a danger to the rudder.  My fear was that if we increased our speed at all it would pull the prop shaft out and then the boat would sink through the shaft hole.  We put out a little jib, just enough to give us steerage but the auto pilot didn't like to hold the course because the drogue kept messing up the water which was flowing over the rudder and the boat would lose steerage every ten minutes or so.  Our Auto is a smart old guy (really old by the way 1989) and he soon figured out that the steerage would come back so he would just beep at us every ten minutes or so to let us know what was happening and then get control himself again.

There was no way I was going to get into the water in the 10-12 foot seas right after the gale so we just sailed slowly through the night always checking the prop shaft.

This morning the seas had dropped to five feet or so so we raised the main (for stability) and heaved-to.  We put a big fender on a 30 foot line behind the boat and I put on my shorty wet suit, fins and mask and got in the freezing cold water.  I knew from the second I got in that I would only have one shot at freeing the prop.  The water was too cold to stay in long enough for a second dive.  Saving the drogue by unwinding the prop would have taken multiple dives so I knew I would have to cut it away.  I carry a saltwater SpiderCo knife with me at all times offshore and it proved its worth today.  I dove under and cut through about five lengths of webbing that were wrapped on the prop and freed the prop.  I was in and out of the water in about three minutes but still was very close to hypothermia even with the wetsuit.  Rebecca had hot water waiting and ready and we padded my body with hot wet towels then dumped the rest of it over me, I rushed below, dripping water all over and dried off in the warm cabin.  Even with all of that and drinking hot tea it took about twenty minutes for my shivers to go away and for me to feel warmish.

Lessons learned:
*Drogues are great but not to be used as sea anchors.
*I will buy a proper sea anchor and use the "heave-to under sea anchor" tactic in storms.
*GoPro is a useful piece of equipment.
*Stay out of the cold water.

Hey! Whales!  Swimming right beside the boat!

Ave a Great Day!  Warming Up,
Captain Tofer

1 comment:

  1. You guys have cool heads in a crisis. Glad you're OK.
    Jenny A.