Well, not exactly a voyage of discovery, but surely a new episode in the life of 'Billy'?
Originally, I stipulated a minimum crew of three experienced sailors. As most dreams go, this was another pipe dream. I was picked up at the Portland Airport by the two current crew: the boat owner and a young woman named, Kate. Both of them professed to have significant sailing experience. The boat owner stating, "I've sailed most my life!" However, neither had been offshore, an entirely unique playground.
When we arrived at Ilwaco, on the Washington coast, Kate gave me a tour of the boat. While viewing the head we noticed there was no shower hookup. We queried 'Billy' about the lack of washing facilities. He replied, "I have a solar shower." Gee Billy, the Pacific Northwest really doesn't provide sufficient sun for a solar shower in November. This was my first clue that this guy was missing a few coy from his pond.
After a good night's rest, Kate showed me the shore facilities and I cleaned up. Later, she expressed the feeling that her gut was telling her that this trip was not for her. She added, "When I don't follow my internal feelings, trouble usually follows." I understood her sentiment and supported her in following her gut. She packed her bags and headed for shore with a sigh of relief flowing from her mouth. My mistake was in not following her!
After her departure, I took a turn around the boat's deck to see how the 36 food sloop's lines were laid out. I found her jib sheets run through the turning blocks on the boat's stern rather than the blocks on the toe rail. Her main halyard was run through a make-shift block on the starboard deck which prevented easy access to the bow. Then, I spotted the tennis ball on the lifeline stanchion. Hmm, apparently Billy, who has "Sailed most his life" doesn't know how to rig jib sheets and who knows what else? My second clue!
Beware the sailor who places tennis balls on his lifeline stanchions!
The following day was met with gale force winds and a small boat warning issued by the local Coast Guard station. We laid over on Thursday waiting for clear weather to depart the Columbia River. We discussed being short handed, but, foolishly, decided we could make it with a crew of two. Four hours on watch and four to rest; we hoped would be a watch schedule we could handle. Fools abound where the sea meets the shore!
The Cape Dory was built on the Massachusetts coast to withstand the intense winds of the North Atlantic. She had a full keel that added to her stability in rough seas. The mast had a separate track for a storm mainsail and a storm jib was part of her sail complement. Built in 1980, Renovo was a sturdy, blue water cutter that was ready to ferry us across the 2250 miles to the distant islands.
Clearing land at 1 pm on Friday, November 7, 2014, we picked up a freshening wind from the south and set a course of 235 degrees for the Sandwich Islands. The wind strengthened to 20 knots and we began our extended voyage with good speed, a mild sea, sunny skies, and smiles gracing our faces.
At 3:30 am on the third day out from the coast, I heard a yell for help from above. In shorts and a tee, I ran up on deck to find we had been slammed by a gale with winds blowing 40 knots and gusting higher. We had a single reef in the main but the boat was unmanageable in these furious winds. I took the wheel, as 'Billy' had a habit of accidentally jibbing the boat two or three times a night. We brought the main down to a double reef and rolled the genoa up to storm jib size. The boat could now be steered in an almost straight line and we continued our night's sail sprinting through the waters of the North Pacific.
During the next week, we encountered winds from every direction. Occasionally, we could sail directly toward the islands but much of the time was spent sailing directly south or west, hindering our passage to the southwest. As we were changing the watch on the evening of our eighth day at sea, 'Billy' turned to me and asked, "Should we be out here?" Gee, Billy, if you're going to ask a question about the propriety of a voyage, perhaps you should ask it before leaving port! "What?" He continued, "Is this the right thing to be doing?" His next question was even better, "Do you think we'll make it?" I don't know Billy, were you planning on dying out here? With no doubt in my mind, I responded, "Of course we'll make it!"
When equipment continually breaks and you've been told your companion had to be rescued by the Coast Guard, it's a major clue that he may not be a knowledge- able sailor.
Billy (not his real name) was allowing his lack of confidence and experience to become apparent. He had originally left the Canadian Coast in September with his younger brother as crew. They had planned on making the transpacific trip until a storm threw them back toward the coast of Oregon. Billy explained that severe winds buffeted the boat causing him to deploy a drogue from the bow which later became tangled in the boats prop. If he deployed the drogue on the bow how did it get tangled in the prop on the stern?
I asked Billy why he deployed a drogue and he replied, "to stabilize the boat." I asked how strong the wind was blowing? He responded, "It was reported as 50 knots." I told him you don't throw out a drogue in a moderate wind. His lack of competence was again becoming evident. Third Clue!
I noticed that Billy always wore his life jacket when he came up from below, even in the cockpit. He clipped into jack lines whenever he ventured on deck. While it is prudent to don a life jacket in stormy conditions, I could sense some fear in his movements and see it lurking in his eyes. Surprisingly, with his overt concern for safety, Billy completely ignored the purpose of the handrails on the cabin top, securing a boat hook to them on the port rail and an awning on the starboard side. With those items in place, it was impossible to grab the rail for safety. Gosh, Billy, what do you think those rails are for? Decoration?
Constantly jibbing the main will have a deleterious effect on your equipment.
Blocking handrails can be a pernicious practice and is the sign of a novice. What are those things for, anyway?
Departing the Washington coast in November, the night time temps were hovering around 45 degrees. As mentioned above, on the third night out we were hit by a 40 knot gale. Adding the wind chill factor to the temp. results in a wind chill of 27 degrees. No wonder my finger tips were numb when we reached Hawaii.
If you're planning a transoceanic transit, make it during the year's warm weather months. There's a reason the Transpac and Pacific Cup (from San Francisco) are sailed in June.