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Thread: Jacqueline report - long post

  1. #1
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    Default Jacqueline report - long post

    What an experience, I am still processing, it was very good, very bad, and very weird depending on the phase.

    As the fleets started I foresaw a great adventure. I had overnighted offshore only several times in my sailing life and never as a singlehander. I felt pretty confident I was up to it and would be able to do what was necessary to finish safely. I knew I could drop out at any time I felt uncomfortable but no question, I went into the race with “summit fever”. I was going to finish come what may. For me, finishing was the game. I also realized the further offshore you get, the less useful dropping out became.

    I remember one of the fellows at a recent seminar mentioned he had gotten to within 20 miles of turn around and dropped out due to electrical problems...not me baby, 20 miles out and I am swimming to the turn around. This bravado, I now realize, was foolish in the extreme.

    Day one was pretty uneventful except for a transit through the Farallons which kept me up late in light wind ensuring I didn’t hit anything. In retrospect I should have stayed clear and rounded north or south. Had the wind died completely I would have been drifting around the rock pile sweating bullets all night. I got through eventually and sacked out comfortably in the cockpit.

    Day two was an exercise in extreme frustration trying to put the Farallons behind me. I began to hate the sight of South Farallon and did not get it below the horizon until dark. Got good sleep that that day . By the way, I am having the readings 1.5 and 2 Kts ripped out of my speed instruments, I never want to see those numbers again….ever.

    Day three and four involved slowly moving through multiple light wind cells slowly continuing the move offshore. Beautiful starry nights. Reasonable sleep both nights but a deficit building esp on night four. There was some kind of a fishing trawler or Russian spy ship or something wandering hither and yon without an AIS so I was stressed out and couldn't get much sleep.

    Day five the wind finally began to fill in and I got round 126.40 about 3:30PM. 4 days and some hours to travel 200 miles!! But the forecast is for increasing winds on the way back so that will be easy peasy. I was a little troubled by the OCENS forecast of 20 - 30 Kts by late Monday into Tuesday morning but we are off the wind, I have been out in these conditions, not comfortable but not a problem.

    As as we went into the night things started to get rough with TWS heading toward 20 Kts. I had not reckoned on the boat essentially being broadside to the seaway and it was uncomfortable sailing. The AP was hanging in there quite nicely but I began to hear a periodic grinding noise from the AP drive at about 2:00 AM Tuesday morning. I knew this would only get worse and would lead to failure but I just let the thing grind along. No way I was going to attempt a drive replacement in the middle of the night, 20 Kts of wind and fairly short period 6 to 8 foot seaway. I’ll do it in the daylight. I was on the third reef at this point. Got zero sleep.

    Then daylight came and holy crap, who took the ugly stick to that beautiful seascape of yesterday? TWS was gusting to 25Kts and the boat would no longer carry the triple reefed main and the jib. That’s an interesting conundrum for Mr. “I will finish come what may”. After long consideration of say, 30 seconds, I decided to strike the main and go for it on jib alone. After all, we are on a reach and the jib should provide plenty of drive. This actually worked pretty well. The boat was nicely balanced and I was making 5 to 6 knots.

    Progress seemed to pass in scenes. Scene one: pressing forward at night, Scene two: Over powered at dawn and dropping the main, Scene three: The cauldron. Sailors will recognize scene three. It is one of those days where the early morning sun is illuminating the surface and provides an awe inspiring glimpse of nature. When it blowing 25Kts it is more of a - wow I have to get across that - glimpse of nature. Most of the old hands will say “yea yea, whatever” but for me it was a very clearly enunciated “holy shit”. 6 to 8 foot seaway, some breaking with quite impressive visual effect and I get to sail right through that mess.

    And then, of course, the AP drive packed it in. Quick glance at the plotter, 103 miles to go. OK, well I just have to find a quiet rest stop to settle down and do the drive replacement. I had a complete spare drive on board. This is if I had the required 3mm hex wrench which I thought I had. Emphasis on thought. Somehow in the rush to get ready I had not checked that I had a right hex wrench. I tried every wench on the boat. None would fit. OK, well, it ain't the end of the world gotta hand steer for another twenty hours haven't slept for about 30 hours now. Piece of cake.

    So I managed to get through the cauldron, cockpit got filled only once, a little breaker snuck up on me, and the many more miles necessary to reach a point 45 nm from the gate. I got the main back up in about 20 Kts TWS and had a great ride in pitch dark up to the Farallons.

    Then I entered the Twilight Zone. Things got really weird and I am not exactly sure what happened. I knew I was in serious sleep deficit and that my judgement was impaired so I wanted to be really careful about the Farallons and making sure I cleared them safely. I tacked around for half an hour at 1 in the morning convincing myself I had things straight. I passed the Farallons and began to obsess about the exclusion zone. I wanted to parallel the zone but found myself inside it. I was having trouble reconciling wind direction with plotted heading and I just got sucked into this complex mystery trying to figure out why the plotter was lying to me. I had recently done a plotter software update and thought,I probably need to reboot. I switched off the plotter and it came up with no cartography!! Damn Raymarine! I knew you were lying when you told me I could do the SW update and not loose the cartography! Inexplicably I stopped the troubleshooting right there and switched the unit back off. Turns out I was just at maximum zoom and the plotter was displaying everything within 50 feet of the boat, which was nothing.
    So I went to my backup plotter which had to be handheld in the cockpit and has a smallish screen. I have not used this Garmin extensively for several years so I got lost in menus and screen clutter and so forth. I did not make much progress in resolving my nav issue.

    The next thing I remember - I am not making this up - is I was in a significant seaway staring at a coastal roadway with car traffic on it. I am thinking to myself, where in the hell is car traffic anywhere near the Farallons and I was actually coming up with some answers. Oh, that must be people going to work at the research station. Yea, like there is a highway on South Farallon. Then some guy in a truck must have seen my running lights and , God bless him, positioned himself right ahead of my boat and started flashing his lights. I got a grip and turned South, the trucker then raced down the road to my new heading and started blinking his lights, oh for God’s sake, Ok, I turned north, trucker heads back up the road and starts blinking his lights again. OK OK, I tacked away into the blackness behind me and left the roadway in the darkness astern. At no time did I bother to look at the compass.

    I swear the above actually happened. I spoke to Brian B. today to see if we can take a look at the raw tracker data since the race track has been taken down and I am also trying to find sources for AIS data which might provide a lot more resolution. I was probably to mile off the beach.

    I think what may have happened is I reached to point where my body/mind just shut down and I may have drifted in a south easterly direction from the Farallons to the coast.

    Then it is blank out again and I find myself working on getting in the gate and finishing about 10:00 AM. I call Jan and ask for finish support. Tell her I am about 30 minutes out. It is very hazy but I can see some kind of structure in the haze so I am good, no plotter reference required.

    About two hours later I get a VHF call from Brian B wondering when I was planning to reach the gate, the race committee is waiting to wrap things up. I tell him right outside the gate, bet there in a few. he says, that’s odd, AIS have you down south of Pacifica but whatever, get here soonest.

    So I finally pull out the plotter and find I am about 15 miles south of the gate. Get my act together sail up there, and finish.

    So I don’t know if the beach encounter was a dream or was real but it sure felt real. Hopefully I can get some data to confirm. If it was real, and I had been a few miles further South that could have been a very bad thing.

    So that’s my story.

    PS. I was in full on hallucination mode. My helm assembly turned into Popeye the sailor man and my son was peeking at me from behind the mast. It was sort of entertaining to be honest. The auditory side was also going strong. Every noise was turned into something meaningful. I would screw something up and a wave would say "good job Mike". The autopilot looked like a little stick man until he turned traitor.

    PSS. Thanks to the Race Committee and Jackie for being there when I finished. I really fouled things up with regard to timing but they were there wehn I finished. Many Many Thanks, Mike
    Last edited by mike cunningham; 07-17-2015 at 06:47 PM.

  2. #2
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    Brian B. just sent me an e-mail and said he looked at tracks. He did not think I could have got closer than 2 miles to the coast. The road thing may have been a dream and I was essentially asleep at the wheel and adrift for several hours. Wild!

    That would explain me waking up in relatively calm seas and low winds. Not sure why I assumed I was at the gate, but I did.
    Last edited by mike cunningham; 07-17-2015 at 05:27 PM.

  3. #3
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    pogen is offline Sailing canoe "Kūʻaupaʻa"
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    Holy shit. Thanks for writing this. The last miles of the race are definitely the scariest. I'm not surprised that you mis-perceived the distance to the auto traffic on the coast, that can be very hard especially with darkness, fatigue and fear factored in.

  4. #4
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    Yea, crazy, but it was an adventure that's for sure.

    Congrats on the win! I am in awe you finished in 4.5 days, heck I had just gotten out there by then.

  5. #5
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    Mike, thanks for the report I figured something had broke just was hoping it wasn't your rudder or rig.

  6. #6
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    Thanks Rick, a big lesson I learned is there is another piece of equipment on the boat called the skipper. He or She is breakable and you have to be very mindful of that.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the posts. I am still processing the whole event. I was lucky to have a boat that sailed well in light airs....but after a few days of baking in the sun and going no where started to wonder what in the world I was doing (at one point fell into a deep sleep to awaken and find I had made a lot of progress....EAST ;-).....beware wind mode on autopilots....lesson learned). Like you I found the transition from 0-5 knots....to 25 knots building seas and dark a challenge especially sleep deprived. Overall the support of the society made all the difference. Very impressed to see the tracks of Temerity and Lightspeed!!!
    Chris
    (Ventus)

  8. #8
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    If Mike's account of the 2015 Longpac is not a wake up call for the SSS, I am not sure what will be an appropriate catalyst for action. Hallucinations and disorientation are not uncommon experiences for solo sailors. Once experienced, the vessel is no longer under command. The USCG requirement to always maintain a watch becomes just another rule to be ignored. Bill Merrick (Ergo - Ericson 35) had a similar experience in the 2006 SHTP and ultimately needed to be rescued and towed by the USCG. Wen Lin (Wen Le Mer - Swan 48) thought there were other people on his boat in the 2004 SHTP and after communicating this to his partner by satphone was rescued by the USCG and his boat sailed back to the harbor once they were onboard. A relatively famous female singlehander lost her boat on a Mexican coast when she experienced autopilot failure and was asleep. An "A" list French ocean singlehander lost his rather large trimaran sailing onto the rocks in France after a long and difficult Atlantic crossing. The list goes on and on.

    What's to be done? First, the SSS needs to address the issue directly and acknowledge the problem. Then, training needs to be mandatory for all participants to address the onset of extreme exhaustion which is unique to solo sailing and find out what techniques can best deal with the issue. Why are the sailors not heaving to and buying time to get needed rest? Why are the sailors continuing to approach the coast under difficult conditions instead of turning away from the worst of the weather and waiting for it to pass? This simple solution would have saved the vessel Wildflower from being scuttled on a return trip from the SHTP. Why is there no mechanical alternative to electronic autopilots (windvanes for example) that actually work more effectively as the wind gets stronger? Clearly, the requirement for AIS both transmitting and receiving is long past due and would at least alert other vessels to the presence of SSS boats that are essentially adrift.

    I applaud Mike's candor in telling it like it is. His account should not be ignored.

  9. #9
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    Steve, this is not a "wake up call for the SSS." It is helpful for skippers to know what happens if you don't keep track of your sleep, but each of us goes to sea of his/her own volition. We can go with or without it being an SSS event. I'll probably do a "LatePac" but you may not know about it until after I get back.

    Ease off on the "nanny state" approach, okay? SSS doesn't and shouldn't legislate how we each sail our boats.

  10. #10
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    Solo sailing is at the higth of personal responsibility. SSS is a wonderful organization to help a solo sailors hone his/her skills. The Farallones is to qualify for the LongPac and the LongPac for the SHTP. Any sport is not without risk. Perpetration and knollage is what SSS is all about.

    First for me redundant autohelms and a sleep stragity are at the top of the list. A backup autohelm for repairs to primary and needed rest. Second a solo sailor MUST learn to sleep. For me just 5 min every 20-30 will help and with a autohelm even in bad times you should have the ability to rest.

    Practice, practice, before any offshore race is a must and you can practice your sleep stragity anytime at home with a timer and an old movie...Rick

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