Category Archives: Transatlantic

Europe, we just can’t get over you!

 It’s been a while since we’ve done an update, mostly since RS has unbelievably been in the Canary islands for a full year. How did this happen?

 As those of you who have been following us for some time know, we were getting a bit sick of cruising. Jenny was getting tired of getting ditched by me in various places every few months, and I, after 22 years of continuous living aboard, had also found that I was enjoying myself less than usual. The disappointment of most of southern Europe (from a sailing perspective) sort of brought things to a head.

 So, we bought a house. Besides, the dog’s really too old to sail offshore at this point, we figured letting him spend the last of his days enjoying a home that doesn’t move around and a big yard to frolic around in was just the right thing to do for our old guy.



 Our plan was to sail the boat across the pond last year, basing her in either Maine or Rhode Island, taking summer cruises each year to Newfoundland and Greenland for the next few years. However, between the interminable wait for Jenny to get her immigration status for the USA and closing on our new home, we simply got too pressed for time to get across to the Caribbean without being rushed. There wasn’t really any hurry to get across anyway, so we enjoyed cruising the islands a bit and decided to berth her in one of the excellent marinas on Lanzarote.

La Palma – one stop on the abandoned Atlantic crossing



 Fast forward to the present day-Jenny is still waiting for US immigration to issue her permanent resident card. They lost her paperwork, so it has to be done all over again. We have no idea how long this will take. With the way things have been, we are assuming that she will not be able to leave the USA until sometime next year. Lost paperwork means that while she’s legal to be in the USA, somebody at a port of entry may not understand the situation and would deny her entry-this according to  our attorney.

 So, she’s stuck, and probably not able to sail to the Caribbean this fall. I was going to grab a friend or two (here’s looking at you, Andy), make the crossing, ditch the boat, and then fly home as fast as possible from the Caribbean to rejoin my abandoned wife. Sounds great, right?

 Honestly, coming back with the boat to the US never felt exactly right to either of us. So, during a recent call, we were discussing that we both regretted not spending more time in N. Europe. We missed Scotland, Norway, the Baltic, and plenty of other delights on our first trip through. Why leave?

 As is our way, we’ve changed our plans again, and we will now be keeping RS in Europe for probably the next few years. We’ll sail to England via the Azores next summer, likely using Berthon’s fine marina and yard in Lymington as our base for the first year.

 This feels very much like the right call to both us. It’s funny, we have been off the boat for 7 months. That’s all it took, and we’re back fully interested in getting back to adventuring afloat again. I’m surprised it took that long…

Marina Rubicon on Lanzarote





Jenny, badass.

I would like it to be known that I’m married to the greatest woman alive.

There’s a saying that’s been attributed to John Wayne, I think: ‘True courage is being scared as hell, and then saddling up anyway.’

I don’t think that Jenny was ever ‘scared as hell’, but the potential for the Atlantic crossing to be truly shitty was certainly not lost on her. Most women out there would have had their husbands find a few of their buddies to make the crossing, and then fly to the other side. Hell, I would have taken this option if it were a possibility! This is actually quite common for the longer crossings in the world of cruising. Let the boys do the long passage and then enjoy the sailing once it’s over with. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I have to say that I’m really proud of Jenny for taking this trip on.

Nice job, my dear. The next time we cross the pond, it’ll be in the trades, promise.

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Transat Part V – Crossing to Ireland

 “What? Piss off!”

 This was one of the first interactions that we enjoyed in Ireland.

 Some context is in order. A passerby on the dock stopped to check out the boat and have a chat. When he asked us how long it took us to get across the Atlantic, this was his response to our answer. It turns out that ‘Piss off’ is Irish for ‘Are you kidding me?’ in our own version of our shared tongue. I was quite amused. Obviously, this was delivered without malice.

After a week of hanging around St. John’s, the three of us tossed the lines just after dark. The storm we had been waiting for was finally past, and all looked good on the weather front.

 For the record, our crossing time from St. John’s to Dingle was 8 days, 18 hours and 48 minutes. Our best day’s run was 260 miles, and our top speed surfing was a rather exciting 21.8.

 The passage was much better than we had hoped for. Our decision to endure the somewhat excruciating wait in St. John’s was the right call, and we managed to get across with a minimum of fuss. After motoring/sailing south to dip around the ice zone, we picked up the south side of a secondary low that formed in the wake of the big one we had been waiting for, just as the GRIBs predicted. We had favorable winds up to about 35 knots for a couple of days out of that one, racking up our best day’s run for the passage.

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 Next up was a period of pretty calm winds, which we motored through.

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 Day 5-7 found us on the west side of a high pressure system, which was coincidentally moving at just our speed. We basically were close reaching right along the same pressure gradient for this whole time. We were finally able to point the bow toward Ireland at this time as well. We had been sailing more or less straight east for days as a result of my weather routing.

 Finally, the last stretch found us in a tighter pressure gradient, with winds in the high 20’s/low 30’s, which brought us some fine surfing conditions and our maximum speed for the passage.

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 In the end, we never saw even a proper gale. Being patient was a big part of this, but some good luck played a big part too. Forecasting isn’t worth much in these latitudes beyond about 3 days, so we were really grateful that the N. Atlantic gave us a pass. I’m humble enough to admit that this passage was one I was viewing with quite a bit more trepidation that any I’ve undertaken before. There are an awful lot of tales of some really trying things happening to very competent sailors on this route, and only a fool would be so arrogant to think that he’s such a stud that he couldn’t also fall prey to the nastiness that occasionally can happen on a passage straddling 50N in this particular stretch of water.

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 I’m glad to have it over with, and also glad that boredom was the biggest issue we had to contend with. A lost fishing float drifting by was enough to spur a good hour’s worth of conversation.

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 Not long after we arrived in Ireland, a whopper of a storm developed and crossed our track. It was very nice to be tied up in a tight little harbor rather than being out there for it. This, friends, is the big advantage of speed. We probably only sail the boat at about 70% of her potential, and can still rack up 200 mile plus days regularly.

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 We often get questions from folks who have spent all their time on smaller boats. Often, they think that our boat’s just too big to be managed by a couple, that it’s just a matter of time before we wind up in some kind of a situation where we’ll simply be overwhelmed by our big beast. Nonsense. Mind you, we have no quarrel with someone who chooses to cruise on a smaller boat. There are a lot of positives to that approach.
The truth is that the gear for these sailboats has come an awfully long way since the early days of cruising, and boats that were once the domain of big crews the size of linebackers can now be managed quite easily by mere mortals. We’re certainly sold on the benefits of a bigger, fast boat.
For those of you reading who are not really tuned in to the world of cruising sailboats, this is a very old debate, this big v. small question. We get quite a few passersby who declare flatly that we’re a little out of our heads to sail this thing with just 2 people. This is the reason for the commentary at the moment.

 Yes, we have to be a little bit more conservative than we might have needed to be on Star Path or Western Explorer, but the truth is that Rocket Science is far more manageable than Western Explorer was, and probably on a par with Star Path, which was a little 36′ ketch with tiny sails. It really comes down to weight. RS weighs far less than the steel boat did, and just a little more than the ketch.

 The benefits of some really good design also factor in here.

 Anyway, we’re finding Ireland to be very nice so far. A few more days here and we’ll cross over to England.

 More soon.

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Transat Part IV – Mac Gyver

So, we left St John’s late in the evening.

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When we started up the engine, it gave the slightest little hiccup, and then carried on as normal. I ran the revs up an down, waited a while, and wrote it off as our first really cold start in a while. Wrong…

We motored for the better part of the first night, about 8 hours without a hitch. Then we got a decent sailing breeze, shut the beast down and settled in for some sailing.

The next night, when it came time for our first charging session, I fired up the engine. It ran for a minute or so, and then promptly sputtered and died. There was also some new belt squeak happening. Now this was quite odd. We filter our fuel before it even gets to the day tank, and there was no sign at all of fuel contamination. But, we did get some truck fuel in St. John’s, from the same outfit that we got the stuff that caused a bunch of smoke in the exhaust last year, so I was fearing that we had a load of bad fuel.

Anyway, I set about the easiest first problem, which is bleeding the system, and discovered some air in the lines. How very strange. I got it bled, fired up, and the engine was running again, apparently ok for the moment. When we ran the RPM up to charging speed, the alternator belts started slipping terribly. A quick look at them revealed them to be totally slack. What the hell? 2 engine problems at the same time?

I figured that the sliding bracket had come loose, so I loosened up the set bolt, slid the alternator to the limit of it’s travel, and found that I still had some very slack belts. Not good. The big, what should be unbreakable, lower bracket had snapped right in two. Shit.

I carry a spare upper bracket, but the lower one? It’s 1/4″ gusseted steel plate, for crying out loud. We have a small second alternator on the engine, and we also have a spare brand new small one, so I knew I could get some charging going, but the big unit is the one we really need if we don’t want to run the engine way too much.

Time to get creative.

Out came the drill, cutting fluid, taps and wrenches. I drilled a hole in each side of the offending part. Next, I had to find a piece of steel to bridge the crack. I dug around a bit, until I finally came across a bicycle pedal wrench that came with our folding bikes. Perfect. I had to bend the jaws around a bit, but it was finally converted into an effective joining strap.

I tried to tighten the belts up, but my repair was too flexible. Failure.

I realized quickly that I needed to provide some vertical support as well. I first tried some line, but didn’t really have a decent strong point to tie to in the right place. I would have to support it from below. I first thought about employing one of the hydraulic mast jacks, but this seemed too complicated, so some shimming was decided on. I hunted around for some wood, ultimately settling on one of those West Marine thru hull plugs as my best candidate. I whittled a notch into it, pried the alternator up as hard as I could, and drove that sucker in. Success.

I’m happy to report that this arrangement made it all the way across the pond without a hitch. The crap we have to do to keep a passage going is sometimes rather unconventional…

Unfortunately, the air in the fuel issue is still happening from time to time, and I’m still struggling with that one. I’ve taken to bleeding the lines before starting up, and that’s been just fine. Once it’s running for a few minutes, it’s a non-issue. I’ll dig into it tomorrow. I’m sure it’s just a loose fitting somewhere that I missed the first time around. It’s nice to be at the dock and be able to deal with these things in a more leisurely fashion.

McGyver would have been proud, had he not been cancelled after a few seasons.

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Transat Part 3 – The Wait

We’ve been hanging around St. John’s for what feels like forever by now. There has been a low developing to our SW for days, which is forecast to bring gale force NE’ly winds to the Grand Banks. It will finally arrive tomorrow.

So, being the prudent mariners that we are, we’re sitting tight and letting it pass on by. Happily, we get to leave tomorrow evening. We need to go SE from here to get below the iceberg zone, so we’ll use the back side of the low to make some miles in that direction. The long-term forecast looks very good for the passage, so we’re optimistic that we’ll get across with decent wind and not too much excitement.

We’ve been making the best of our time here, but we’re honestly all going a bit soft in the head. Jenny bought a stuffed Dachshund named Roger, who has been accepted by all as an invaluable member of the crew, in addition to a little stuffed baby seal we’ve named Tate. It’s a bit of an inside joke. Sorry, Tate.

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Tim has become a Babylon 5 enthusiast, deeply engrossed in both the plot and amazing visual effects between games of solitaire.

Yup, it’s time to get moving….

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Transat Part 2 – Newport, RI – St. John’s, Newfoundland

After 3 days in Newport, our autopilot issues were finally resolved, thankfully under warranty, and we were able to get underway again.

I’m happy to report that in all of our digging into the pilot problem, we discovered that the NKE system does not send enough voltage into the clutch for the electric drive. The pilot had never worked right, refusing to develop enough power to steer the boat properly when the rudders were loaded up. Here was the root of the problem, and after some wiring changes, the pilot now works as it should. We put it to the test pretty well in some fast broad reaching in big seas, and it’s flawless now.

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So, the shorted out display ended up with a very good outcome.

Since we were all the way up in Narragansett Bay, our route to St. John’s was through the Cape Cod canal. This is a handy short-cut, avoiding all the shoals around Nantucket.

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We had a pretty comical display of waste of taxpayer money at the southern entrance. A small hard dinghy had been lost off of a passing boat, the owner of the dinghy had been identified, and there was no possibility of anybody in the water. Still, an inter-agency response had been organized, and we passed 3 state vessels, one USCG vessel, and finally a USCG helicopter also arrived on scene to assist in the recovery of a $200 dinghy. We got some good laughs out of this rather absurd display for some time.

We had a pretty mixed bag of conditions on the trip. The first 30 hours or so after Cape Cod had some strong winds and fast sailing, followed by hundreds more miles of dense fog and flat calm. The engine was called on for most of the trip.

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We made a single stop at Louisburg, NS, mostly for an oil change. We just spent a single night there, carrying on the next morning. There wasn’t a bit of wind for all but about 2 hours of this entire trip, and we had dense fog throughout.

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We didn’t see a damned thing until we were about a mile off of St. John’s. There, the fog abruptly lifted, and we were finally treated to a nice, sunny day.

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The foggy conditions have been more stressful than usual. Last winter, I purchased a new B&G plotter/radar. The radar is an absolute piece of garbage. I learned later that the 4G was much better than the 3G (which I got), but nobody bothered to tell me that at the time of purchase. So, we’re stuck with a total piece of crap until I can try to return the lousy radome for one which is hopefully better. I’m pretty annoyed by the whole thing. There’s only a few hundred dollar difference between the 2 units when you buy the whole setup, but to buy just the radome is a couple thousand. I really hope I can work out some kind of a swap.

Otherwise, all’s well on Rocket Science. We got through our work list in good time after we arrived in St. John’s, and we’re now standing by for a good weather window for departure to Ireland. We’ve got our eyes on a developing low, which may or may not bring strong to gale force headwinds on our route later in the week, so once that picture resolves itself, we’ll make the call on when to depart.

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St. John’s has been a pleasure to visit, as it was last year. Thanks to Tim’s SPOT tracker, some friends of friends, Ted and Karen, met us at the dock, valiantly took some really stinky laundry home and did it for us, and generally made us feel right at home here. Thanks, guys!

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A nice couple whom we met in Ramea last year also happened to be in the area, and we spent a pleasant evening with Louis and Joy. We also decided some exercise was called for and climbed up Signal Hill. Good times.

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That’s about it for now. There’s been a rotating cast of international boats passing through. We had the very capable Exploration 45 ‘Arctic Monkey’ alongside for a few days, enjoying hearing about their exploits in both the Arctic and Antarctic. We feel like we’re generally pretty accomplished in our sailing by now, but coming to places like this tends to remind one that there’s a whole other set of sailors out there who are doing some true adventure cruising. We’re feeling pretty lame by comparison.

Yours Truly,

Walton & Stettler (poor Jenny… she’s being tortured…)

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Transat, leg one-a bit shorter than planned

We left Charleston on Thursday, July 14th, with an intended destination of probably Halifax, but maybe all the way to Newfoundland if the weather looked good.

Our friend Tim joined us on Wednesday, we took care of some final boat chores, and got out of the 98 degree heat of Charleston just as soon as we could. Rocket Science has no AC, and life there in July is truly miserable.

The trip started out with some pretty good sailing. The first 24 hours saw us cover about 210 miles. Day 2 had some lighter conditions, so we dug out our smaller reaching spinnaker and picked up a bit of speed with it, for a little while, anyway. Jenny and I were down below when there was an unusual ‘boom’ up on deck, and we popped out to find the tack of the sail flying out over the water, no longer attached to the boat. This is usually a parted tack line, but in this case, the stainless ring on the corner of the sail had failed. None of us had seen this particular failure before. The soft bits generally are much quicker to go. But, the sail was undamaged. It did cause me to make the decision to make a pit stop in Halifax in order to have the loft there sew in a new ring. There is little if any service beyond there, after all. Oh well, these things happen.

Later this same day, we set the used racing code zero sail that I’d been boasting endlessly about, having scored a $10,000 sail for a mere $800. It lasted about 20 minutes and promptly ripped in half. Shit. We have 3 spinnakers, but this is the only zero we have, and I happen to really like the sail.

Jenny gleefully reminded me that there usually isn’t such a thing as a bargain when it comes to boat items (after all, BARGAIN contains almost all the letters to spell GARBAGE…). I concede that I might have let optimism triumph over experience in this case.

So, it was 1 sail toast, another in need of a minor repair. No biggie. Onward to Halifax!

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Finally, on the night of day 3, our new, high-dollar autopilot melted down. This was getting really tiresome, we are not really accustomed to a string of gear failures like this.

Anyway, we were 180 miles offshore, but straight south of Newport. It happens that the only dealer in North America for this particular French pilot is in Newport, so I made the very easy decision to divert north. I sent an email to them over our inmarsat straight away, and got a quick response that they had everything we needed in stock. What a relief. Being down a sail that we don’t really need is one thing, but being down our primary autopilot is entirely another. We have a spare unit too, but it doesn’t work as well as the newer one.

I’m thrilled to report that when we arrived in Newport harbor, we got buzzed by a friendly looking guy in a big skiff, and once he identified who we were, he came alongside to introduce himself as the rep for the pilot manufacturer!

Now, I’m sure that he wasn’t floating around out there just for us, but it was still pretty cool to have that kind of attention.

So, we’re here for a couple of days, getting our issues squared away, and getting some welcome rest to boot. Hopefully the pilot issue is as simple as I think, and we’ll be up and running quickly.

More later.

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