Saturday 23 May, passage Cayman to Chesapeake day 9: Accidental gybe gets us in a muddle.
This blog covers from late Friday afternoon through to Saturday all day. I thought there was already enough drama in yesterday’s blog for just one day.
First, a quick summary of the Swiss cheese effect. There are holes in Swiss cheese that you can see through on individual slices, but you cannot see through when multiple slices put together. Think of a slice of Swiss cheese as a problem catcher or net. Holes are failings that let the problem pass (let it continue) and the solid cheese is mitigation steps (or things you did right, to stop the problem). When you have a problem situation, a solid slice of cheese will kill the problem dead. If you have holes in your slice (the usual reality) the problem can get through and maybe get worse. The idea is to put as many slices (mitigation) together as you can, to reduce the chances of a apparently small problem getting through and becoming a huge problem. In all of the world’s human made catastrophes, the Swiss cheese holes were so many that the problem got right though, amplifying as it passed each slice.
Here are our Swiss cheese slices for today’s nasty event.
Late afternoon (Friday) sees us on a relatively gentle sail towards Beaufort. We are well out of the Gulf Stream now. It beat us and we surrendered to its boiling cauldron several hours ago. But the sea is still a bit disorganized due to Arthur’s swell, which is coming as big as ever from the NW. And poor Oana is still feeling pretty sick and no where near recovered from the frightening situation we had last night.
Having done 500 nm in just 2 days, this last 130nm NE to Beaufort seem to be taking forever with our SOG hovering on only 6 kts. We both just want to get there to rest and recover.
With destination firmly in mind, I zoom in on the plotter to have a look at Beaufort in detail. We don’t plan to enter the town, where the anchorage is very small, but instead aim for Cape Lookout inlet. A large expanse of water perfectly sheltered behind the dunes, right in the middle of the Cape peninsula. But when I zoom in, I remembered I’ve removed the chart data sim for USA, back in December. I didn’t think we were coming back here again! When I slip the sim back into the chart slot, the Raymarine plotter momentarily reboots then returns to what looks to be normal. [Swiss slice No.1: The radar has not restarted]. Good, now I can see the Beaufort area and Cape Lookout anchorage in detail.
By late afternoon the wind has started to increase and is forecasted to gently clock from S to WSW. We are currently sailing goose winged on a starboard tack. As it starts to get dark and the wind starts to clock as expected, I decide to gybe earlier than needed, so we can get the maneuver done while there is still some light. After the gybe Oana goes down for some sleep. But unfortunately, she doesn’t get long down there.
Within minutes of the gybe the wind has further clocked to SW and is now almost on our beam. That’s odd, this wind change was not forecasted to be rapid. But it’s now a nice 15 kts and I’m happy to gybe the genoa onto port tack (the same side as mainsail), where we will now have a nice fast beam reach. Having gybed the genoa over, I had thought to just leave the pole hanging out to port, secured by its guys and topping lift. But always keen to be tidy and prepared for anything, I decide to swing it in and get it stowed away.
Just as I’ve finished securing the pole, the genoa and mainsail start flogging (flapping) badly. The wind has suddenly moved yet again and is now way in front of the beam and also increased in strength. Uh ho… what’s going on? Back in the cockpit, Oana has come back up from her bed. She also sensed something isn’t right. We get the sails trimmed in for the new wind but very quickly it’s at 25kts and we are heeling over dramatically. This is where the hydraulic furling is wonderful. A few buttons pressed and we are well reefed on both genoa and mainsail.
With the sails back under control, it starts to rain. Heavy squall-like rain. “Why why why are we not seeing this on the radar?” I ask myself out loud. Oana looks at the plotter. “Well, the radar is not transmitting – that’s why”. Once she has it turned back on, our position is surrounded by the all too familiar purple of a squall. A big one. And we hadn’t even seen it coming. No lightening, no tell tail signs in the darkness. [Swiss slice No.2: We had not noticed the radar was off]. With the wind now screaming close to 30kts with sheets of horizontal rain, even our furled sails are too much. We are healed right over and things are starting to fall inside the boat. So we completely furl away the genoa and put the engine on.
Now that lightening has started, it’s a déjà vu of 4 nights ago when we were caught in a similar squall south of Florida Keys. With the genoa now gone and the engine keeping us on track at 40 degrees to the wind we are now fully under control again, just waiting for it to blow over and hoping lightening doesn’t strike us. 15 minutes later, our radar shows we are out the other side. The wind has gone back to its pre-squall SW direction, but is still up at 20-24kts. We are sailing nicely with just the mainsail but I keep the engine on till the lightening is clearly passed. We always put the engine during electrical storms. Once a Diesel engine is running, it will probably still be running after a lightening strike. But if you hadn’t had it running if/when you you get struck, there is a very good chance you will no be able to start it, because the electrics will be fried. It would be a good thing to have the engine running when all electrics and electronics have been blown by lightening. This way, after the strike, at least you can motor your way out of any navigational situation… in theory.
With everything apparently under control again, Oana returns to her bed. But yet again, not for long. After 20 more minutes the wind is back to 15kts and the forecasted direction. Time to turn off the engine and get the genoa back out. But first, I need to feather the damned Gori prop. [Swiss slice No.3: Gori prop feathering issue]. I say “damned” because very annoyingly it refuses to feather itself without a fight. This always seems to happen about 6 months after it’s service. Up till then it feathers, per the book, by slipping the engine in reverse while switching off at the same time. But right now, that would lead to the prop continuing to gently spin. Cloudy has no shaft brake and the Volvo automatic gearbox does not allow you to lock it in drive (both of which would stop the prop spinning). So, we have learned another technique. Slow the boat to 2-3 kts; stop the engine with reverse gear engaged; then power back up with the sails.
So I did all this. Except, in the darkness, I got disorientated and perceived the boat was stuck into the wind. So I kept tuning the wheel to persuade it to go off the wind. Suddenly, the wind instrument caught my eye. Cloudy had actually turned OK and we were now 180 degrees off the wind. “Shit shit shit! Turn the wheel back before we accidentally gybe”. But too late, the gybe has started. The boom rapidly swings over; the mainsheet car takes off at warp-speed and flies off the end of the track, treating the track end-stop and mainsheet clutch like cheap kids toys. The result is an unrestrained boom swinging wildly to port as the mainsail flaps in the wind.
Oana has heard it and is up into the cockpit like a shot. Happy that I’m still alive but then extremely frightened by the shear violence of Cloudy’s huge boom crazily swinging around. Cursing and screaming at myself, I manage to furl the mainsail away. But now, unrestrained by the mainsail, the boom is swinging even more wildly. I start winching in the mainsheet hoping and praying it’s still attached somehow to the end of the boom. At one point the sheet loops itself around the port pushpit solar panel and I’m sure it will be ripped off. But miraculously the sheet releases itself.
Finally, the sheet is winched in as far as I can get it. The boom is still swinging as Cloudy is rolling badly in the waves but at least its swing range is down to 1m over the aft cabin hatch. With some effort, and Oana frightened to death watching me trying, I manage to lasso a thick mooring line around the boom and secure the ends, each to an aft mooring cleat. With the hydraulic pressure released from the vang, the boom springs into one place, secured solidly at last. [Swiss slice No.4: Mainsheet traveler not secured, allowing it to accelerate along its track during the gybe.] [Swiss slice No.5: We didn’t have the gybe preventer rigged]
Relieved, Oana and I hug each other. That was seriously frightening. I always knew an accidental gybe could do serious damage. And here it is. It’s happened. I will need to do a full investigation on myself and be tried in court by Oana. It’s not going to be pleasant! This one goes to the top of our list for most frightening experiences on Cloudy Bay.
With the boom restrained we continue our journey. Without sails, Cloudy is rolling really violently. 25 degrees one way then the same the other. With the genoa out it’s a little better but not much. So we live with the horrible rolling motion for the next 6 hours to Cape Lookout. I haven’t wanted a sailing passage to end this badly for as long as I can remember. So I dare not even thing how Oana was feeling.
At 6am we finally make it to the anchorage. It’s very peaceful, thank goodness. 6 other boats anchored with lots of space between them. With the hook in the sand, we clear the cockpit and head to bed. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.
I wake at midday by violent wave slaps on the aft hull. Oana is still sound asleep. As I poke my head out the cockpit I’m shocked to see literally hundreds of boats, anchored, rafted-up and speeding around. That explains the stern-slap. We are back in the world of inconsiderate power-boaters 🙁
It’s a Saturday and this beautiful anchorage is clearly popular with the locals. I can’t help but think “social distancing… 🙁 ” as I see large gatherings on the beach and multiple people gathered on each boat.
Before Oana wakes up I try to get Cloudy looking normal again. I clean the heads (which over flowed again with the rolling) and de-salt the cockpit. Put the cushions back out and hang towels to dry. Just as it looks OK, a very sleepy Oana appears. She is going to need a lot of hugs today. And, assuming she is still speaking to me (!) I will happily administer them.
We take it pretty easy the rest of the day. We are both a bit like zombies. Tomorrow we do damage assessment and start repairs to the mainsheet system. Today the priority repair is the coffee machine, which did a suicide dive bomb on the galley floor last night. And this morning it is kaput! But we can’t live without good coffee, so that gets fixed first!
Late afternoon, 80% of the boats have left back to town and the anchorage returns to peace, except the odd boat with music and loud people enjoying themselves. It’s actually pleasant to hear that. It’s been months since we last herd enjoyment. But none of that has any chance to stop us sleeping tonight.