The winds shifted more on our nose making the sail uncomfortable by morning. We had reefed the main and Shelby was not happy. It was the previous evening into the night where she exclaimed she was seasick. Giving her opportunity for rest and time to adjust, Joe and I had taken night watches. It was now that Joe was starting to not feel well due to a cold and noticeably not eating much or anything at all. I explained that it was his role and responsibility to be sure to get rest and eat to stay strong for watches. It had worked out well for the RI to Bermuda passage that the crew had only 3 responsibilites, eat, sleep, watch, repeat. I felt this was extra critical that Joe stuck to this because Shelby couldn’t eat and I was not getting much rest since I was doing night watches and attending to Shelby during the day; going down into the cabin was too much of a struggle for her but she could eat, etc. if she stayed up on deck. On top of that I started to get a headache, which I noticed happened the first day or so of each offshore passage I had done this year.
Once the weather picked up and Acedia was pounding more into the waves, Shelby concerningly asked if the boat was going to stay together!? I laughed as I was getting used to the creaking and groaning of the stress on the hull from the waves and weather. I had explained that I actually had that same thought and concern when sailing the 44’ Swan to Bermuda a month prior. I had never heard a boat twist and shutter like I had on that trip. Whereas I couldn’t know for sure, I was pretty confident that the noises were caused by normal ocean sailing stresses and that she was a pretty solidly built boat. In fact my friend John Keane said once he was out on Greenie’s boat hammering it so hard that he could smell hot wood with the hull flexing! Though it probably didn’t help Shelby’s concern that prior to departure, Joe had joked numerous times about what we were going to do when the keel fell off.
Shore Update Day 4
Acedia made terrific progress east in the last 24 hours so they are going to crack off a little and head directly for Antigua today, picking up some boat speed. There was also a slight improvement in the wind direct forecast for the balance of the trip so they might just get their wish: “All we want for Christmas is wind on our beam.” The waves are down quite a bit so that’s making for a more comfortable ride.
The forward hatch continues to leak, though less than on the RI-BDA leg after all the work Melissa put into it. The screw holes appear to be the culprit. There isn’t a large volume of water coming in, but enough to make the v-berth wet and unusable. “Worst case is I just have to go to the laundry mat and dry out the boat again.”
The Spot tracker is not really working but they will continue to try to post position updates. At 11:09 AM Eastern this morning, they texted their position: 26° 19.661’ N, 061° 45.904’
Shelby’s still doing well on the day watches and is feeling a little better, as is Joe.
This day seemed to be really nice as finally Jon claimed that we had gone far enough east that we could fall off the wind again and have it be at more off the beam! This helped for a bit as we were no longer beating so much into the wind making such a bumpy ride. I was really hoping that Shelby would get some relief; after all soon after the phone call from Jon and we adjusted course, rainbows appeared on our stern! It was such a beautiful day and I was eager to celebrate the change in course, I decided to jump in for a swim! After I jumped in, Joe followed for a refreshing dip as well. It’s always glorious to jump into the water on warm days at sea!
That evening things started to turn to the worst. It was about 1100 and I was off watch when I could hear the autopilot alarm. It had done that a few times on the trip to Bermuda but it righted itself almost immediately after. Without me knowing it, Joe was attempting to make adjustments to the boat systems to try and troubleshoot the issue. The alarm was low battery. What I didn’t realize was that the seas and winds had picked up to be the biggest and heaviest yet. After the alarm sounded again, I woke up and looked around outside. Joe explained what he encountered and attempted to do when I immediately claimed that the autopilot was if anything being overpowered. The seas were too much for my old pilot on top of that wind.
I took the helm. I took the helm and was a bit shocked as to what we were encountering. I was shocked that the autopilot hasn’t just turned off and tried to keep up with the conditions. These seas were well into the 15’ range and sometime after I took the helm, a squall came upon us. The seas were huge, wind was strong, we were triple reefed and I was so happy to have had the sail work that I had done to my main this past summer!! Francis is a good friend and a solid, knowledgeable offshore captain; he was one friend who was priceless this evening as he advised on the sail work (ie, the third reef point) that was certainly necessary out there!
At some point into that night, one of those 15-20’ waves broke over Acedia’s port beam. WHAT?! Now that was something I had never encountered, but I knew from readings that this was not something you let happen. It was not a wave big enough that hit that could have knocked Acedia over nor rolled her, but I knew big braking waves over the beam were what cause such unwanted situations. So I was on the watch out. I became intent on watching and studying every wave and taking them more toward the bow and correcting as we surfed down the other side. I immediately teared up (see there is crying in my sailing world!) overwhelmed with emotion and was so happy for the one evening I had gotten together with my great sailor friend Gina. She had described an experience of hers going through rough weather and 20 foot seas. I had asked her how she handled it, like as in was she scared? She claimed you just do it; you don’t have time to react with fear.
And I was out there just doing it. I laughed as I teared up thinking about little Gina at the helm of her 54’ Saskiana and as she described steering up the waves and then jumping to turn the wheel to correct course down the waves. I was so grateful for every sailor social event prior to taking off this fall as I learned so much from each. It was Gina who I was channeling that evening out there up on deck at the helm in the middle of the ocean as Acedia took every gust and wave with grace. She had it under control, as I got comfortable and confident out there in pure amazement knowing this came with the help of all of my friends.
Knowing that hand steering was going to be challenging, never mind hand steering through that weather, I stayed up at the helm for the next 5 hours for the thrilling ride. I was nervous because I knew I had gained comfort and confidence in the boat and handling her, however, I didn’t know if Joe and Shelby would take over with as much ease. Were they strong enough to handle the weather? After all, they both made it clear that neither one of them were comfortable nor wanted to be out at sea anymore.
When Joe came up, I decided I had probably had enough; I had to give up the helm at some point! So, I had him sit and study the waves and how I was steering into them and then course correcting as we surfed down them again. I stayed up on deck for a little while as he took the helm in order to assist or answer questions about the new challenge. Upon morning, Shelby took a turn at the helm and we gave her periodic breaks to eat and take a rest between Joe and I.
Shore Update Day 5- Christmas Eve
The wind picked up to 25 knots with gusts well over 30 yesterday and last night, which has made life on board less comfortable. To compound matters, the autopilot is not functioning well so the crew has been hand steering since 11 PM last night and they are “miserable.” The increased wind has brought rougher seas which aren’t doing Shelby’s seasickness any favors and larger waves are crashing over the deck.
The Spot tracker is posting their position more consistently over the last 24 hours so hopefully we see more of those for the balance of the trip. They are past the halfway point with about 428nm to go. We anticipate their arrival on Antigua sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Two of the four weather models we are studying show diminishing breeze on Saturday so they just need to bulldog it through Christmas and hopefully the autopilot will be effective in the reduced sea state. The crew could definitely use some cheering up so if you have time today and tomorrow, I would encourage you to visit the Iridium messaging page<https://messaging.iridium.com/index.php?> and send a brief note to 8816-2143-7906. They may not reply, particularly if many of you send them a note, but I think your holiday well wishes will help them get through this difficult stretch.
And well, that was the state of things on Acedia. Everyone hated being out to sea at this point, except me. I just hated the morale. It’s tough when things are rough but completely manageable but the crowd is miserable. I cooked and cleaned to make it easier on Joe and Shelby. I attended to their needs. Joe was sick and made it clear he was being strained having to do watches and hand steer. I gave him the days to sleep as much as he could except when I needed him to give Shelby rest from her day shift. Since she was sleeping through the night and could only be awake up on deck, I had to give her extended day shift, but with short breaks. Despite the fact that Shelby clearly was not comfortable with the conditions, both emotionally and physically, she knew and made clear that she had to and intended to pull her weight as crew. This was the only amount of positive energy I received from either of them. I was so grateful to have Shelby aboard, sick or not!
Jon had not told me that he had summoned support from the Acedia fans receiving his daily emails. However, after the sat phone blew up with all sorts of encouragement and well wishes out there, I knew he had let people know it was a struggle out there. I just read a post today about Donna Lange receiving news of all the thoughts and prayers pouring in for her (during extreme rough conditions as she was passing outside the Cape of Good Hope on her second solo circumnavigation) it was noted that when she heard this she had a good cry. I know exactly the feeling as I, too, had a good cry as the messages started to come in. A few in particular were very inspiring and helped put things in perspective. It was great to hear from everyone, Thank you!
And the challenges continued. While conditions were particularly rough, Joe started questioning if we could just divert to a different island and that it was too much strain to hand steer more than 2 hours. He wanted to be anywhere but on that boat. However, we were in the middle of the ocean. I assured him that diverting then to a different island would be pointless. We had to get through this to get to the vicinity of the Caribbean where there were other islands and we were on a beam reach- the best point of sail! I did the 2 hour on/off night watches with him which made sleep minimal.
The constant push back, questioning, and alarm was incredibly wearing on me; we were offshore on the ocean, this was a true offshore experience, the conditions were rough, but not unmanageable. Acedia and her crew were not ever in immanent danger, Acedia wasn’t getting knocked over, she was intact and her systems all worked except for the superfluous, nice to have autohelm. Arguably hand steering was no more than simply babysitting the wheel. Acedia was so well balanced that when sailing along and not up and down a huge wave, she held course and steered herself. I needed the support I received from Jon as we spoke daily and he was able to advise me. At one point I remember telling him I was afraid it was going to start just being me up at the helm all night because it was being indicated that that was what was wanted. When I specifically needed some words of encouragement, he was there and provided strict instructions to Charge! The crew had signed up for the trip and they had to step up. With that, I continued to take on the challenge, full speed ahead and energized, yet exhausted.