Isbjorn - Isbjorn Offshore: Mr. Andy's Wild Ride
May 23, 1245
Dolphins! All around us, dozens of them jumping & flipping & talking! You can hear them bouncing their echo-sounding waves from inside the boat. They streak alongside us, grey torpedos just beneath the brilliant deep-blue wave crests.
Thane & Brenda are on watch. The seas are down considerably from the past two days, but then that's relative. It's still blowing 20-25, gusting over 30, and that feels like a respite. We're on day 4 of three reefs in the mainsail. Mia shook out a bit of genoa this morning. During those three days we cracked 170 miles made good, each day...
I'm cooking some rice for lunch, Mia's sorting out some video and clearing the camera memory cards, David is reading & Mac is chillin' in his high side pilot bunk.
The barometer is on the rise as the big gale to our north moves east. We've been riding the southern edge of it for three days now, maybe too close for comfort. It's been a wild and fast ride.
Last I wrote we'd just had our windshift, the cold front passing overhead and the cooler, drier NW'ly filling in behind it. That first night we carried two reefs in the genoa with the triple reefed mainsail as the wind continued to build.
By Sunday afternoon the seas were up, but not huge. Isbjorn sailed faster & faster as she surfed down the face of each passing wave, regularly cracking ten knots for a few seconds at a time, the rig shuddering wth the acceleration. By nightfall the wind was touching 30 apparent, and that in a deep broad reach. Isbjorn careened through a black, moonless & starless night.
Around 2330, just before my watch was to start (I was in bed but hardly asleep), Isbjorn crested the top of a big wave just as it broke. The boat was thrown sideways on her beam ends, not quite a knockdown but a wipeout for sure. I stuck my head up through the companionway. David & Mac were on watch, one of them huddled under the dodger for shelter, the other at the helm, on standby in case 'R2-D2', our reliable autopilot, crapped out.
A glance at the anemometer quickly got us into action. The wind, still NW, was a steady 35 knots apparent, touching 39. 'We saw some sustained gusts to 43,' shouted David through the steady hum of the wind aloft. 'And had one surf to 14 knots, for a WHILE!' He exclaimed. There is proof of this in the speedo log, which recorded it.
With that, we struck what remained of the jib. That breaking sea that wiped us out was enough to tell me it was time to slow old Isbjorn down for the night. We carried on through the darkness, running under triple-reefed mainsail alone and still making 7-8 knots, in less danger now of wiping out again. The weather was gnarly, but I didn't think dangerous, so we carried on rather than heave-to or set the drogue.
As much anxiety as I'd had the day before (which I wrote about) about this very scenario, I was strangely cool and indeed enjoying the power & beauty of nature. It always seems to be that way - anxiety is a product of worrying about an 'unknown future'. In the 'known present', it disappears. 'Take care of today, and tomorrow takes care of itself.'
By noon yesterday (Monday) the worst has passed, but the seas were even bigger, topping out conservatively at 15 feet in the biggest swells. Isbjorn rode them like a duck, only occasionally heeling hard to the few that broke right underneath us. R2 handled the helming without fuss. We rolled out 1/3 of the genoa to dampen the rolling and put on some speed. Isbjorn carried on through another day of sustained 30 knot winds, the squalls, which were coming more regularly by then, topping out in the high 30s. All along, despite a few squalls which had some rain and wind in them, it was a 'fair-weather' gale, which I think made it easier mentally. Bright sunshine & puffy clouds in daytime, brilliant stars at night amongst the clouds, and no moon to dilute the view.
We were sailing at almost the same speed that the low was tracking east, so we stayed hooked into the NW'lies for some time (indeed we still are). In the tumult, we managed three days of 170+ miles made good, without hardly trying.
I just finished my lunch bowl of rice. I was hungry after my 9-hour sleep last night, the first real sound zzz's I'd had since our windshift on Saturday.
Our next challenge (after de-salting & drying out boat & gear) will be threading the needle between a small area of calm once we lose the backside of our gale here, and the next depression currently marching east from Bermuda. To avoid the calm we need to get north...but to avoid another gale, this time forecast to blow from the SW, we'll need to stay south. It remains to be seen how well we can balance that...until then, full-steam ahead!
Read more Isbjorn adventures at 59-north.com/logbook.