The storm trysail, and other odd bits seeing the light of day for the first time

We’re now in the process of getting ready to cross the N. Atlantic. Basically, when I come back from Alaska, the plan is to take off immediately when I get home from work and sail straight to Halifax or Newfoundland, take a short breather, and then continue on from St. John’s to the UK, unless the iceberg situation demands a more southerly departure.

We are in pretty good shape as far as boat prep goes for this passage. We’ve been actively sailing the boat for long distances with only short breaks for years, so she’s already in fully seaworthy shape. We’re pretty damn picky about the maintenance of the critical bits anyway, so all of the important systems have never seen any neglect in the first place.

The engine’s been looked after, the mounts, injectors and heat exchanger have been replaced in the last year. The standing rigging was completely replaced last year, the runners the year before. The sails are still like new, and we have disassembled the entire steering system, including dropping the rudders and rebuilding one of the pedestals, and have replaced any suspect parts there. We don’t write too much about maintenance on our blog, but it’s constantly happening here on RS, so that keeps the list easier to handle.

However, the transatlantic passage is a different beast, and some additional things need to be addressed. It’s a pretty high latitude crossing, and the possibility of encountering some truly nasty weather is higher on this trip than any we’ve done previously. And of course, we don’t have the option of seeking shelter anywhere once we set off. We need to be ready for anything we’re dealt.

So, a few additional items are getting dug out of lockers, inspected, and rigged.

The first is the storm trysail. This is a small, heavy sail which has its own dedicated track on the mast. When the wind gets too high for the main to be carried, this sail is called into use. Our mainsail has 3 reefs, each very deep, so the likelihood of this being used is pretty small, but in extreme weather, it’s generally better not to have the expensive main in use anyway. Storm sails are strong and cheap.

Unfortunately, the sail had been sitting at the bottom of the sail locker for years, and the slides for the mast track were almost all corroded beyond repair. So, I had the pleasure of spending the better part of a day replacing them all, sitting out in the cockpit with my needle, webbing, and sailor’s palm.

I also hadn’t ever rigged it, since it’s just not a sail that’s called into use in the course of normal coastalish cruising. If you’re making a 5 day passage somewhere in moderate latitudes, you’ve really pulled a bonehead move if you wind up needing your trysail!

Anyway, we got it hoisted and fully rigged up, so this sail is now ready for use. Let’s hope it lives a long, happy life at the bottom of the sail locker.

Item 2 on the list is the Jordan Series Drogue. This is a long line with a series of little cones sewn onto it. It is deployed off the stern. The purpose is to create drag in strong following winds and seas. This is to aid in steering control, giving a gentle tug on the stern to keep it into the weather, and also has the benefit of slowing the boat down. One of the more hazardous conditions that can occur on these goofy little sailboats that are wandering the world’s oceans, particularly ones with the capability to surf the way RS can, is that in really severe weather, the boat can surf down the face of a big following sea at tremendous speed. The problem is that one can stuff the boat into the back side of the wave ahead, resulting in a rapid deceleration, followed by a loss in steering control. This can, in the worst case, allow the boat to turn sideways in the trough only to get plowed over by the big breaker that was just left behind. Not good. If you ever look at the more dramatic video of the offshore ocean races, the ones when large amounts of water are blowing down the deck, this is generally what’s happened to these guys. We’re not really in for that kind of action.

We actually had something similar happen to us on Western Explorer off the coast of California. We were sailing downwind in near gale conditions. The seas were running maybe 12 feet, when I heard a roar behind us. I looked back in time to see a full on rogue wave behind us, maybe 30 feet tall and nearly vertical. I turned off the pilot and hand steered straight down the face of it, surfing our ultra-heavy steel monstrosity down the face of this thing, managing to keep her straight and not get rolled 360. Jenny, the dog, and all of the bedding in the aft cabin wound up airborne and landing in a heap on the deck. She popped out the hatch assuming that I was probably dead, only to find me completely soaked, grinning like an idiot. I was just happy to still be breathing with an intact boat!

The drogue keeps this all a little more manageable.

Now for those of you who have come to care a bit about us either by choice or birth, it’s probably time to make a little clarification at this point.

We haven’t lost our minds here, nor are we heading off on some kind of a suicide mission. Our boat is very seaworthy and fast, having been designed and built to handle even extreme conditions. (See the ‘technical details page for construction specifics). We have satellite communications for receiving weather offshore, and making routing decisions on the way, and we are making this crossing at the best time of year. We also have loads of experience, and are fully capable of this undertaking. Heck, we’re even bringing a third hand along, who is probably a better sailor than Jenny and me combined.

Further, it’s only 1600 miles or so from St. John’s to the SW tip of Ireland, so this is a trip that we can accomplish inside of 8 days in decent conditions. We will certainly be making sure that we get off the Grand Banks and into deep water with a decent forecast at the very least.

In the meantime, we’re chipping away at all the little jobs that we need to do so that all’s ready to go. Good times. The weather’s nice too.


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