Sails

Transatlantic: Day 17

We are moving! Another day of 90+ nautical miles and we are quickly gaining on the next place we can make landfall!

Yesterday, some clouds warned us that conditions were going to be deteriorating. Today, those conditions arrived and we were ready!

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With our staysail and trysail set, we are ready to handle any conditions that could come our way.

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While I’m not a fan of squalls, and I’m really not a fan of squalls in the dark, squalls at sunset are breathtakingly beautiful! The colors of the sunset mix and combine with the moisture in the air from the clouds. What would have been another ordinary sunset was a world of pastel and surreal but all in front of our eyes!

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Having our storm sails set and ready took the fear that loomed in my mind and shut it away! We were ready for the winds that could accompany a squall and all we had now to do was enjoy the beauty that was being presented to us hundreds of miles from civilization.

On a side note, an easy way to judge how bad a squall will be is to look at the rain coming out of it. If the rain is vertical, there probably won’t be much wind. If the rain is slanted, then that is the direction of the wind.

Do you see the flaw in this method of observation? What if the rain is slanted towards you? It looks like the rain is falling vertically and you would expect no wind, but in fact it could be quite tremendous and catch you off guard.

These clouds were all around us and the rain in all of them seemed vertical. The lack of white caps also meant that there was little wind at the moment, but it is always best to reef down in anticipation and simply lose a few knots of boat speed for a while than to be caught out at sea with too much sail up!

Transatlantic: Day 15

The winds have arrived!

If someone tries to fear-monger you into getting a giant and expensive diesel motor for your sailboat because they tell you that you will "DIE” in the doldrums from running out of food or water, don’t listen to them.

Sailboats have made their way through the doldrums for millennia without a diesel motor. All you need are the right kind of sails! We have nylon (spinnaker material) sails for just this purpose. We have a drifter and a light air mainsail which give us a full suit of sails for these windless regions of the world.

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The best way to get out of the doldrums is to sail straight through them in the Gulf Stream. The current will keep pushing you along and you will make it through this region in about a day.

If you are like us and wandered too far from the stream, you are going to spend some more time in this region of the Earth. We spent a grand total of 4 days crossing the doldrums. Once we were on the Northern border of it, the Westerlies (winds that consistently blow from the West) popped up and began carrying us along.

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We were going downwind, and the mainsail kept fighting the windvane with weather helm. It also stole clean air from the jib, making it really annoying to us.

With the sail lowered all the way, the boom would shimmy and scoot around, making a really annoying noise and chaffing on the canopy.

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Our solution was to lower the topping lift and let the boom rest on the bimini. The friction of the boom on the rails held everything still and made for some peaceful times in the cockpit. The jib filled with clean air and produced lee helm that the windvane loved for our course.

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To make this moment even more special, we got a great sunset to match our moods as night befell us!

We were once again on the move!

Transatlantic: Day 13

Doldrums: No wind today, no wind tomorrow, no wind anywhere.

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In 24 hours, we sailed a grand total of 17.8 nautical miles. That translates into an average of 0.74 knots.

There is no wind out here, and then a squall will come up on you. This gives you a significant push (or so you think) until it passes and you realize that you have only sailed a few feet from where you once were.

We fly our light air sails and slowly make our way through this windless region of the Earth.

Wind Speed and Sea State

The Beaufort Scale is used as a method for judging wind speeds based on sea states. Wind drives the formation of waves, so the stronger the wind, the larger the seas will be.  

The problem with this is waves take time to form, and in the beginning, the sea state will be relatively calm compared to the photos of the sea states that correspond to each Beaufort level.  

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Here, we see a view of the ocean on what looks like a mildly choppy day. There are scattered whitecaps and bits of spray flying through the air. The winds were sustained at 50 knots with gusts of 83 knots.  

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Since the winds cropped up out of nowhere, the seas did not have time to mature into the towering walls that you would expect with these winds. 

These conditions are Force 10 and should produce waves of 29-41 feet! These waves look no taller than 6-10 feet.

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Why the discrepancy? Well, a few factors can come into play here. First is duration of the wind. Second is depth of the water.  

The water in the picture is about 400 feet deep close to the shore and 4000 feet deep just a bit past the shore. Deep water allows waves to mature into their full size without breaking, as the water is deep enough to support the wave and allow it to move without interruption.  

The second is the duration of the wind. At the time of this photo, the winds had only been at this level for about an hour. To fully mature into the giants of the Beaufort scale, they would need at least a full day.  

If you find yourself out at sea in horrible conditions like these bit feel like putting off reefing down to your storm sails “because the seas don’t look all that bad”, consider how hard it would be to reef once they pick up! 

Reef before the storm hits they way you are safe and prepared for the winds and seas to come! 

Alternative to a Tack Horn

Part of reefing is getting the tack cringle onto the tack horn, it’s how you secure the tack of the sail while reefing! How else would you do it? 

The struggle with this old method is that the horns can hook and poke holes in the luff of your sail as you raise the sail, and you have to get your tack cringle over the horn in foul weather. When you combine the situation of high winds, a flapping sail, and a pitching deck; suddenly getting a little ring over a little horn doesn’t sound like a fun idea. 

Alternatives exist, where a strap with rings on the ends will be sewn through the cringle, so that you can simply place the ring on the strap over the horn, as the strap is easier to manage than the stiff luff of the sail. 

All this got me thinking about alternatives to this debacle. What about taking a very strong dyneema line and simply tying the tack in place? 

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I used a 7mm length of SK-78 dyneema with an alpine butterfly hitch tied in the middle to give the tack line an appropriate purchase point. The line simply passes through the tack webbing, through the bight, back through the tack webbing and back through the bight, then through the webbing one more time to tie off just below the alpine butterfly hitch.

Having a long length of line means that I can reach the tack webbing with ease from a distance, and the purchase system lets me pull the tack down tightly.  The dyneema is very strong and able to hold the forces of the sail with ease.

It is imperative that the tack line run down and forward to keep the forces mostly vertical on the luff of the sail. If the tack line does not have a forward component to it’s pull, the luff of the sail will be pulled aft with no countering and it will rip your luff off the luff track.

What we do is tie the tack line, tension the halyard with the winch, then set the clew line for the reef. This way, the clew line is acting on an already tensioned and set tack, resulting in a stable reef setup with zero risk to the sail during sail raising.