Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hauling the Mail on a Flat Reach - Balancing the House of Cards

I am finally experiencing the textbook reaching conditions these boats are built for. All of a sudden, the pain of working through and around the low pressure system for the first few days seems a sensible trade.  It was a painful baptism by fire but Le Pingouin (LP) and I are better for it.  We are forging a great bond, but more on that later. I don’t have all the answers yet to her full cadre of personal charms and challenges. I can tell you that this boat flat out “hauls the mail” on a flat reach and I have never soloed such a weapon. 

My Finot 50 (Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America) was a fantastic boat and deserved retirement as a movie star (Charlie St. Cloud), but this thing feels like wielding Excalibur.  Sometimes I have to just stop… and say there is something just not right about doing 22 knots in 20 knots of breeze on 60 foot monohull.

“Should I really go lie down right now?” 
“What would happen if we hit something right now?”

It is fantastic to experience and I although the fleet and I will share many videos from offshore, I still don’t feel like enough people have felt the raw exhilaration of such an experience. At least this was my feeling alone by myself on a beautiful full moonlit night.


All of the above comes with a counterpoint.   There is a scary backside.   These boats are incredibly powerful and seem barely manageable by one person, despite all of the sailing I have encountered alone at sea.  It does feel at times as if you are constantly balancing a house of cards; that when, and sometimes it will, come tumbling down; your race boat or life could well be over.

That kind of moment occurred on board LP the other night when my yet to be named, and super necessary, port autopilot lost power to the drive motor.  While I was lying down on the floor next to the nav station the boat steered through a gybe (steered through the wind from behind) which instantly left everything, including the powerful sail plan, swing keel and yours truly all on the wrong side of the boat.  It was a sudden and violent maneuver with the boat slammed to its side far enough that the sails lay flat against the sea. A fleeting moment passed quickly in the chaos as I feared hearing the crack of the carbon mast exploding, leaving the boat’s rig and my dreams of a circumnavigation to fold. I am familiar with this type of situation, and so are other solo ocean racing sailors, but it has never happened for me like it did on this boat.  In my dazed and nearly asleep state of mind on a dark, rainy night, the event was so violent that I initially thought my keel had snapped and the boat was going turtle. 

I was able to resolve the mess and slowly pick up my cards and build my house again. LP gave me a break by not letting anything break.   Now we have another bit of respect for each other.  Initially I thought the batteries had drained low enough that the hard working autopilot wasn’t being given enough to eat, but while moving along yesterday on the other autopilot, a thorough inspection revealed that a power wire to the drive motor had come loose and was only intermittently making contact.  Yes, I was the one who wired the pilots myself, so I felt pretty darn stupid upon this discovery.

All’s well that ends well. Excalibur is an incredible weapon but can easily cut both ways.  On a lighter note, let’s get back to the fun part; anybody have any mail they need delivered?


BVL and LP