This was, without a doubt, the BIGGEST FREAKIN' SAIL I'VE EVER HAD! As a matter of fact it was one of the biggest adventures of my life. And I've had some big ones.
There was no major storm, no need to deploy the JSD, no knockdowns, actually nothing crazy at all. In fact, the conditions were pretty mellow - even to the point of a dead calm. BUT, none of that mattered. I now have 500+ miles of blue water sailing under my belt...and for me, that is freakin' BIG! Way beyond my personal "limits" to that point.
I made tons of mistakes...learned a hell of a lot...and am ready for more.
Here's how it all went down...
Route: Galveston Bay to South Padre Island
Rhumb Line Distance: 240 nautical miles
Boat: Pacific Seacraft 37 Crealock - Cutter
Class: PHRF Non-Spin B
Throughout my illustrious posting career on sailing forums, lots of crusty chumps have mocked the fact that I sail in a lake - and, therefore, "have no idea what it's REALLY like to sail in the deadly ocean". Sure, they had a point, but, as I assured them, they were still chumps. It always seemed that this "insult" was as much about squelching enthusiasm for sailing in big conditions as it was putting me in what they thought was my place (like that
ever works). So, this "puddle sailor" decided to see what the oceanic hubbub was all about...and simultaneously prove to said chumps that lake sailors could indeed survive in blue water.
On another front, we often see questions from newbs asking how to go about finding crewing opportunities - with the answer always being..."just go look, bonehead". So, about a year ago I started mouthing off in the forums about wanting to do a true ocean race. Funny thing is...someone took me up on it.
That person was none other than RTB - a good pal from SN and his other forum haunt, cruising.stuffiminto.com. He put me in touch with his friend James, with whom he had done a race in the fall. James was now gearing up to do this one and needed some back-up crew. That's when my GMail begging began. Finally, James relented...
THE CHECK SAIL:
He agreed to meet me and take me out on a check sail to see whether or not I sucked. I drove to Kemah and met him and his son, Matthew, on his immaculate Pacific Seacraft 37 Crealock cutter. Having heard a lot of great things about the PSCs, I was excited about sailing her.
We prepped the boat and motored out into the bay. The temps were in the mid 90's and the wind was in the 15-20 range. So the bay was pretty chopped up. James drew us up into irons and directed me to raise the main as Matt headed to the bow for the jib hoist. I happily cranked away on the main halyard but the slugs bound about 1/2 way up. So I started grinding...and grinding...and grinding...and...good lord...grind....ing...and...gri.....good...lor...p ant...gri...nausea...gr.. Finally, it was up and tight. Then, of course, it was time for the 110. Back to the grinding...and...I almost went into convulsions. I drained a liter bottle of water in nothing flat and slowly recovered, trying to hide my wimpiness from the skipper.
We were finally canvassed up - and that freakin' PSC was as solid as a rock, hitting 7+ knots pretty easily! I was definitely impressed. Wasn't this supposed to be one of those 4KSBs?
To my sheer delight, James wasn't happy with this scant amount canvass in the 20 knot gusts - so we also hoisted the yankee. The rail was now in the water and we were still comfortably cruising along at 7+. Seriously awesome.
I was in charge of trimming the jib, so James went forward to check the tell tales...they were perfect. Sail trim is one thing you get pretty good at on a lake. So at least I had that going for me. He was happy, and I was in as the trimmer. Booyah! I finally had my chance.
We sailed for several hours, with many successful tacks and gybes, then dropped the sails and headed back in under motor. I began tying down the main at which point I promptly fired one of James' mainsail bungees straight into the water. He just shook his head, rolled his eyes, and sighed.
It would be the first of many, many mistakes.
Over beers back at the slip I had the pleasure of meeting RTB and his wife. Very, very cool people. We laughed about all the forum crap that's gone on over the years. Upon finding out about my sordid forum career, James, a member of one of said forums, squinted a bit and asked exactly what it takes to get oneself banned. I stammered...took a giant drag of beer...then explained that it was all about "right versus wrong" and "truth standing up to power" and "not playing behind-the-scenes games" and "sailing with stones and not being some sensitive Nancy who pouts a lot" and.... He just shook his head, rolled his eyes, and sighed.
"Just calm down on the forums until after the race. I don't want anyone to know that 'Smackdaddy' is on my boat."
1. One of the main things I learned on this outing was that I'd need a better GPS (I was using my iPhone which was way too hard to mess with under sail). And, more importantly I'd need a hands-free solution for lots of water while racing. I bought the Garmin Foretrex 401 wrist-mounted GPS, and a 2-litre camel-back pack that fit very nicely under my pfd. Both were invaluable on the trip.
2. I was also concerned about getting seasick. I've been on a lot of boats in a lot of conditions during my time in the South Pacific and have only ever been sick once. But I didn't want to chance it on the race. So the day before the sail, on the advice of my dad (a pharmacist) I took an over-the-counter med called "Bonine" to test for side affects. No problems or sleepiness, so I took it again the morning of the sail and, again, had no problems with side affects or sickness. I never had any problems during the entire trip and would highly recommend it.
The crew for the race was seriously impressive. First there was Susan, a freakin' NASA engineer (wow) who had several long distance ocean races under her belt including the Quingdao to Vancouver leg of the last Clipper (very wow). Then there was Bruce, a retired fireman/EMT and current delivery captain with over 16K miles under his belt. Then there was Scott who was an experienced main trimmer who had been racing with James and Susan on another racing yacht in Kemah. With James, Matthew and myself, that made a crew of 6.
We all met on June 4 at 0800, stowed our gear, and prepped the boat for the push off at 0900.
It was clear that James and Matthew had done a tremendous amount of work since the check sail. The boat was completely geared up with radar, SSB, AIS, Chartplotter, life raft, JSD, new standing rigging, new running rigging, you name it. It felt great to be sailing with a skipper that wanted his boat to be the best and safest it could be. There were no corners being cut here.
As a bit of background, James is about to do a circumnavigation on this fine PSC. He plans to leave before the end of the year and push around the ball - through the Panama Canal and around the Cape of Good Hope. He was using these races as a shakedown for the boat, its systems, and his learning curve. Seriously smart, able, and committed dude. He inspired a good deal of confidence.
0900 came and we threw off the lines and started backing out of the slip. Just as the boat was nearing another on the opposite side of the fairway, the wheel locked up tight. James put some quick muscle into it and saved the day - as the autopilot gear housing fell off and sprayed some parts across the cockpit sole. Gear failure 30' into the 500 mile trip. Oh boy.
The duct tape came out as we started motoring across Galveston Bay to the line...a trip of over 4 hours. It's a big bay.
There were something like 18 boats in the race - all monos except for a single tri in the multi class. We were in the PHRF-NON-SPINNAKER-B class along with 5 other boats.
We arrived at the starting area and scouted the line and did a quick wind test. It was a very light SW 8-10 knots, right on our nose. This was going to be tricky...and slow.
We stowed the baby-stay, then hoisted the main and the 150 genoa (James had replaced the slugs, so I didn't convulse this time) and started milling around with the other boats. We practiced a couple of tacks to get everyone in the zone. I blew my first tack with a bad wrap on the winch. As I frantically worked to clean the sheet, James firmly let me know we'd need to do better than that. I focused. The next couple went better - but still not super smooth. I was quickly discovering just how much more line you have to pull on a 37' than on a 27'.
We watched the countdown closely as our class start neared. James got us in a good position for the line, but we were just a little early and had to relax the sails and tack away. This time Bruce, the other jib trimmer, wrapped the sheet on his side. We were not exactly a well-oiled machine. As the seconds ticked down, James pulled the nose through another tack to the start - and this one was flawless. We squeezed out a couple of competitors and crossed the starting line 3rd, close behind our competitors. But then things got hairy...
We all had to tack back and forth in a narrow gap between a jetty and the shipping lane. Being that Galveston is one of the busiest ports in the world - that meant A LOT of insanely huge ships. Remember, this was my first time on a sailboat around full-size tankers. I couldn't believe my eyes.
We were trying to line up the best tack to clear the jetty. And this line took us into the channel. There was another sailboat behind us about 100 yards, and a ginormous incoming orange tanker just entering the channel. So timing was critical. James pushed as far as he dared into the channel with the tanker bearing down on us and the other boat sneaking up to port. It was getting a little scary. He called for the tack...
The lazy sheet hung up in the turning block, and when Bruce released it, the spin was too fast on the winch and I got my second over-wrap at the most inopportune time. I'd blown it again. James, very understandably so, was not happy. We were in a bad spot.
I worked quickly to free the wrap and sheeted in the genny and we were moving again...just in time to clear the tanker, but not in time to avoid having to bear off to allow the boat behind us to push by on its starboard tack. I had cost us pretty dearly on that one. And I was feeling like a chump.
We finally cleared the jetty and set our course for South Padre Island 240 miles away. James had Susan relieve me and sent me forward. He came up a couple of minutes later and I apologized for blowing the tacks. Now, on the one hand, James can be a hard-ass. He expects things to go well and will let you know when they're not (which is what you want in a skipper). On the other hand, he's a pretty patient and laid-back guy who doesn't want to beat you when you're down. He just said, "We all need to get better. Learn from those mistakes and don't make them again."
I was now motivated. And I'd gained even more respect for this guy.
1. I still wasn't quite sure what I was doing wrong on the winch. I had tried different combos of wraps from 3 wraps, to even a single...which helped avoid the over-wrap, but didn't provide enough friction. The single also created a delay in throwing on additional wraps prior to tailing and grinding. I wanted to get this figured out.
Susan was the one that helped with that. First, to my relief, James actually had an over-wrap during a tack, and being the gracious dude he is, said, "Well Steve, I guess that's not as easy as it seems." Then Susan had a wrap. So, I was wriggling off the hook a bit.
She noticed that the tailing arm on the starboard winch (the one I'd been on) was not oriented correctly, which pushed the tail outboard. She changed that. She also noticed that a pretty high upward angle was needed during a fast tail to avoid a wrap. And she was right. After this, we had no further problems with the tailing. I just wish I'd known this stuff prior to the start!
Just part of the learning curve on an unfamiliar boat I guess. At least that's what I keep telling myself. I mean, the only other alternative would be that I suck. And, well, that's just not possible.
RACE - DAY 1:
With a pretty lousy wind forecast to 20 miles out, we decided to head south to see if we could find more air off-shore. The wind was supposed to shift back to the south the following day, but remain very light closer in. If we could find 10-15 knots 40 or so miles out, we'd be "in tall clover" as James likes to say.
On the way, I finally got to see what I'd wanted to see for a very, very long time...dolphins swimming along-side the boat I was sailing. (Pics are not great with the iPhone - but it was very, very cool.):
Definitely one of my favorite memories.
James set shifts of 3-crew/3-hours. My crew mates were James and Matt. And the the other crew was comprised of Bruce (watch captain), Susan and Scott. We ran the jacklines, tethered into the cockpit pad-eyes, and took the 2100-2400 as the others went below to rest. The seas were calm, 1'-2', and the sky was clear as the sun began to set. I had packed individual meals in ziplocks (all light stuff like fruit, cheese, bread, boiled eggs, etc.) and enjoyed my first meal under sail in the Gulf of Freakin' Mexico, baby. Booyah!
A competitor to port on the horizon...
Another ahead of us as we head off-shore:
Making slow progress:
1200 came and we went below for some sleep as the other crew took over.
RACE - DAY 2:
We came back up at 0300 to a fairly good breeze (8-10 knots) and decent SOG (5-6 knots). Bruce, Susan and Scott had done a good job keeping us moving along. They went below for some rest as our group settled in. There was just a sliver of a moon showing - so it was pretty dark. The seas were still only in the 2' range, so things were mellow. The chartplotter showed our course and speed and the AIS and radar were clear:
We discovered that the compass light was out. So we were just working the wind southward, steering by Scorpio, and checking our compass heading every few minutes with a red-lensed flashlight and backing it up with the heading readout on the chartplotter. This latter method was not that cool because of the slight delay as the numbers updated. I definitely prefer the compass and/or stars.
Even so, we were able to get the sails trimmed such that we could literally let go of the wheel for several minutes at a time and maintain a steady course. I was continually amazed at how well that PSC 37 sailed. It really is a great, great boat.
We were now about 20 miles out and had lost site of Galveston. However, there were quite a few lights ahead of us...which meant one thing...oil rigs.
Now I've had this thing about oil rigs. After reading about them on all the forums...specifically the unlit ones crouched out there waiting to sink your boat...I was pretty nervous about these things at night. The consensus has always been that you want to get away from these as quickly as possible. And I was definitely up for that. But, for now, we were heading right into them.
These rigs seem to come in several flavors as regards knowing where they are in the dark:
1. Main Platform: No missing these bad boys, day or night. They are wicked huge, brightly lit, and you can hear them humming a couple of miles away.
2. Remote Platform: Smaller towers with a helicopter pad on top. These feed gas and oil back to the main stations (from what I gather) and typically have a set of double flashing lights on top with a loud 2-second tone at 5-10-second intervals via a speaker somewhere. (We would end up hearing these tones for most of the night.)
3. Single Risers - Lit: These would typically have a white or amber light atop the riser. The light would typically blink, but not always. So you had to pay close attention to make sure it wasn't a tanker's steaming light.
4. Single Risers - Unlit: These are the ones you fear...especially on a dark night.
The #1 flavor in daylight:
The #2 flavor in daylight:
So, we were weaving our way through a fairly crowded field at 4-6 knots with 7-9 knots of wind when the worst possible thing happened...the wind literally DIED...down to 2-3 knots. With the 1 knot current, we were doing way more drifting than I was comfortable with in the midst of all the hull-threatening obstacles surrounding us.
At one point toward the end of the shift, Matt was at the helm working to keep us moving when the light breeze shifted and backwinded the genny. As we worked to tack out of this heave-to, I noticed a blinking bouy only 20 yards off our port stern - and we were headed right toward it. We worked quickly to milk the crappy breeze for a tack and were only 15' away from the bouy when we finally got our momentum back. WAY too close for comfort.
Though we finally made it out of the maze of rigs and those maddening tones, the wind refused to cooperate, staying below 3 knots. We were still moving, but barely. And it was hard to keep the sails filled with the swell. This was not at all my idea of "racing". But, I guess that's all part of the game.
0600 came and we turned the helm over to the other watch and went back below for some sleep. It had be a pretty stressful few hours.
Dawn on Day 2:
Changing of the guard:
We came back up at 0900 and the wind built back up a bit, 7-9 knots, so we were moving again...albeit more slowly than any of us would have liked. I took the wheel as the other crew went below for their rest.
Here I am rockin' the helm IN THE FREAKIN' OCEAN YO! (not that much different than a lake actually):
And our SOG at 5 knots in 7-9 of wind (not horrible for a blue water cruiser, eh?):
Then, as the sun continued to rise, the wind continued to fall. 6 knots, then 5, then 3, then this:
DEAD FREAKIN' CALM!!!! I mean NO wind. The seas were glass. And we were about 50 miles out at this point! Our gamble had not paid off. We were screwed.
This went on for the rest of our watch and half into the next. By noon we had a decision to make. The weather forecast showed that we weren't going to have anything over 5 knots for the next 6-8 hours. Doing the math, we knew that we were going to miss the 1200 cut-off the following day for the race. Furthermore, Scott and Susan had a flight to catch the following afternoon.
So, it was either get DQ'd for starting the motor in order to get to South Padre in time for their flights. Or it was get DQ'd for staying under sail for the next several hours and missing the cut-off. We took a vote. And me being my stubborn self (who didn't have a flight to catch), I wanted to chance it. I was soundly out-voted.
So, we cranked up the motor, cranked up the Muddy Waters, and started making 5 knots toward South Padre. At least the underway breeze knocked the edge off the 97 degree heat.
One thing that was strange was that we'd seen no ship traffic at all during our run. Passing by Corpus Christi we thought for sure we'd see something...but thus far...nothing. That is one big ocean out there...even in the Gulf.
I was just about to wake up from my off-watch nap when I heard the dreaded words from some unseen voice, "I just took a crap in the head and it won't flush." At first I thought it was just a horrible dream...then I heard the frantic pumping and a stream of expletives. Great. We had indeed been visited by the head troll. That Raritan was super stuck and super funky. Oh well, at least it was really hot and still so the cabin could fill to the brim with the simmering bouquet.
It was Susan who took charge and fished a bucket out of the lazarette. Did I tell you above how cool this chick is? We'll she's cool. Very cool. She had us all fouling that bucket regularly in no time. Brilliance. Pure brilliance. Of course, at one point when Matt was unsteadily walking his soiled bucket toward the cockpit in a building swell with a particularly relieved look on his face, we quickly evacuated the cockpit. You don't take chances with the bucket. Especially Matt's bucket.
We motor sailed for the next several hours into the early evening. At this point we were only 40 miles or so from South Padre. As the sun began to set, a mighty "hallelujah" burst from the cockpit as the wind began to build...8...then 10...then 12. We shut off the engine and were once again doing what the boat was meant to do. It was so nice to be rid of that incessant diesel rattle.
As night fell, we were back on our shifts making 6-7 knots toward the finish.
1. Though oil rigs are indeed spooky, they're not nearly as bad as I'd imagined. You just have to stay on your toes.
2. Sometimes, you're just screwed any way you go (e.g. - turning on the motor versus missing the cut-off). Fortunately James wanted everyone to have a good time more than anything. And we definitely did.
3. I learned that the helmsman should not be messing with the chartplotter, AIS, etc. while driving. Several times one of us would focus on changing screens or something and immediately head the wrong direction with sails luffing, etc. Drivers should drive. Period. Someone else should mess with the toyz.
RACE - DAY 3:
The wind and seas continued to build until we were seeing gusts to 20 knots and seas of 4'-5' on our beam. It was about 0300 and Susan was at the helm fighting the rolls and gusts. She felt that we were starting to get overpowered with the genny and full main - and that if the conditions continued to build, we'd start having some difficulty. So James told Matt and me to head up to the bow and change out the genny for the 110.
Drawing on her racing experience, Susan walked us through a quick-change technique for the headsails...removing a few of the lower hanks of the genny and connecting a few of the upper hanks for the 110. That way, as the genny comes down, the 110 is ready to start going up immediately. Sounded like a great plan.
So, I put on my handy-dandy Energizer headlamp, pocketed some pliers for the tack-shackle, clipped into the jacklines and made my way with Matt to the dark pointy end. The waves were not that big (I was later informed - see below), but were choppy and steep as we neared South Padre. So there was a lot of motion on that bow...and a nice amount of spray. I was seriously digging this! "Yahoos" were enthusiastically offered up.
We followed Susan's instructions for the quick-change and called for the genny to be doused. Matt called for the pliers and swapped the tacks of the sails as I moved the halyard to the 110. Then he started in on removing the rest of the genny hanks. It was here that we ran into trouble that I should have foreseen.
When Susan and I had initially bent on the genny, 2 or 3 hanks had been especially difficult to open wide enough to bend on. This was due to a couple of reasons. First, a couple were just plain sticky with corrosion. We had lubricated these when we ran across them prior to the initial hoist. But the other issue was that James had increased the size of his rigging a bit. So his forestay was thicker than it had been. We'd had to crank on these hanks with pliers to open them enough to bend on as they had never opened this far before. So now, though the oil had worked, these 2 or 3 still wouldn't open wide enough by hand to come off. Back to the cranking with pliers as the boat bucked and snorted. And goodbye quick-change. Still, it was nice having that bright red light from my headlamp to help us see what we were doing.
We finally got the genny unhanked and I started tying it off to the leeward rail as Matt finished hanking on the 110 and called for the hoist. The sail rose about 15' and stopped. A yell from the cockpit told us to check the halyard. I switched my headlamp to full spotlight mode and shined it up into the rigging. In the bouncy seas, the halyard had flipped behind the starboard spreader. I should have kept tension on it after I'd swapped it, but got too into the hank problems and took my eye off the ball. It really is amazing how many things you have to watch at the same time when things are a little sketchy. I asked for slack and flipped the halyard back around after a few tries and we finally hoisted the 110. The boat loved it and we were back off at 7+ knots toward the finish.
As the sun rose at 0630 the wind stayed fresh and in the perfect direction to take us across the finish line with only 1 more tack.
Getting close in 15 knots of wind:
Seas starting to calm back down to the 3'-4' range:
I definitely missed the "yahoo" factor from the previous night. I had been so jazzed on adrenaline after the sail change that I drove the boat for another hour after my shift had ended. It was just too fun.
At 0730 we performed our final tack into the channel and crossed the finish line. It had taken us right at 63 hours for the whole trip...about 13 more than we had estimated. And that was WITH the motor! James had made a good call on that one.
I texted my wife that we had arrived and got the following replies:
Wife: "Woo hoo! You didn't sink!"
7-Year-Old-Son: "I Thoth you. Sunk."
I obviously do not yet have a stellar reputation in my family as an able off-shore sailor.
1. The Energizer headlamp is pretty sweet. The red light is a little strong, but is very handy for the bow at night. The other settings, flood and spot, provide good strong light for checking the rig, looking ahead of the boat, etc. If you have trouble with hanks in the beginning, you'll keep having trouble with them...especially when you need them to be trouble-free.
2. The SPOT tracker is a cool invention. Its use would have relieved a lot of the family's consternation. Although for the cost, you need to be doing a lot of off-shore stuff for it to make sense...at least for me. I'll keep looking for alternatives.
3. Even if the waves look really big to you because you sail on a lake...don't mention this. The other sailors just laugh and talk about the 30 footers they've seen off the coast of China, or in the Gulf Stream headed north in November. You do the math and realize that that's 24' higher than what you're seeing. Then you soil your foulies. Trust me.
THE BEACH PARTY:
After squaring away the boat, and before Scott and Susan headed out to catch their flights, I blessed the skipper and crew with dearly-coveted BFS hats - explaining what BFS was all about. I'm pretty sure there was not a dry eye in the cockpit as everyone realized the historical significance of the moment. (I was also pleased to note that none had been tossed in the dumpster afterward.) This sail, at least for me, had been what BFS is all about. The best sail ever.
I called my wife who'd driven down with our boys and asked her to come pick me up and take me to our hotel. I was freakin' spent and needed to hit the shower and a nice, comfy, air-conditioned bed for a long, long while. The beach party and bonfire started around 6, so I had some time.
The family drove up and it was then I realized how worried my wife had actually been. Those text messages above were not just joking. They'd been pretty concerned about us. We obviously had had no easy way to casually contact anyone while off-shore (though we had the SSB for urgent use). And we'd all estimated arrivals for the previous evening/night. Furthermore, there were not SPOT trackers nor had there been updates on the race website. So, the loved ones awaiting everyone's arrival had no idea what was going on out there. Needless to say, they were pretty happy to see me. Which is always nice.
I had a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, etc. then hit the super-comfy bed at the hotel while they all went down to the beach. I slept for hours.
Later in the afternoon, I went down and had a couple of beers with my wife around the pool, the headed down to the beach with the kids. I was truly amazed at how beautiful South Padre was. I'd spent plenty of time on the beaches near Corpus Christi and Galveson - and they kind of sucked. Brown water, grayish sand. Just nothing special. And I'd always heard about South Padre - but assumed it was just like the other Texas beaches. Not the case at all. It was like a piece of the Caribbean in Texas. Beautiful white sand beaches, clear, blue water, and a great, laid-back environment:
The boys playing on the dunes:
The bay from the Port Isabel side looking toward South Padre Island:
The beach from the ocean side:
Beautiful blue water:
And a strange warning on the bridge that I still haven't quite figure out...
That night, we were treated to a fantastic beach party and bonfire by the race organizers. It was really the perfect ending to this race:
My supermodel wife playing the social butterfly...
(Told you she's hot.)
Everyone hitting the booze and food. Good times:
It was during this event that we found out that several of the boats had dropped out and motored back to Galveston when the wind died. In fact, only 2 boats of the 18 completed the race under sail. Everyone else in the fleet had motored like us. Knowing that, we all felt a bit better.
The rundown of the event:
The winners of the race got to light the bonfire that night:
It was a great night with tons of really fun people. I can't remember exactly how many autographs I had to give out. But I was, of course, happy to accommodate everyone.
The last event was a brunch at the Port Isabel light house. Good food and bloody marys made for a nice morning.
The much-needed shade:
And the lighthouse:
I spent the rest of our time at South Padre hanging out with the wife and kids. We hit the two museums in Port Isabel (awesome), then hit the beach with our boogie boards. It was a pretty magical time.
We're definitely going back to SPI. And I'd recommend it as a great Texas destination to any cruiser. Awesome place.
Prior to departure, we had another potentially serious gear failure. James had noticed a good deal of oil in the bilge the day before. Never a good sign. He'd dropped diapers in the bilge to soak up the spill and looked around the engine but couldn't see where it was coming from. A pro mechanic had changed the oil just prior to the trip, so we were guessing that maybe the pan gasket was leaking. I headed to WalMart and picked up what we thought would be PLENTY of oil for the refill and extra for the trip back (6 quarts). The engine was spec'd at holding 10 quarts. When the oil was still not showing on the dipstick after adding 4 quarts - we knew we'd been extremely lucky. The low oil light had never illuminated during all the time we motored during those 2 days, and we had obviously been dangerously close to seizing that thing. We bought another 6 quarts. In the end, we added 7.5 quarts to the engine.
Now it was time to start it and see where the problem was. We hoped and prayed it wouldn't require another day or two of repairs. We fired her up and heard James yell from below for us to shut her down. The oil filter was leaking like a sieve. We drove over to Napa, picked up a couple of filters and replaced the damaged one (deformity at the gasket which broke the seal...don't know how the deformity happened...but...). A new filter and we were golden and ready to shove off. That's the kind of engine problem you want to have.
I won't bore you with all the details of the return trip. However, we were able to sail all the way back to Galveston, 240+ miles, ON A SINGLE TACK IN 37 HOURS!!!!! As a matter of fact, we hit 9 knots SOG during the final night!!!!
Check out our GPS track!!!:
RTB_2011_R - Google Maps
As you see with the track, the last of the batteries for my GPS died as we were nearing Galveston - but it did a great job of tracking us the rest of the way.
The winds were a steady 10-12 knots from the south the whole way. It couldn't have been more perfect.
Minus Scott and Susan, there were 4 of us on the trip back, taking 4 hour shifts of 2 crew. I was matched with Bruce this time and it was fun getting to know him and get some good advice on navigation, ice cream, and women. The guy has sailed some incredible boats and has been in a couple of serious BFSs (60 knots headed up the East Coast from the islands). He too was impressed with the PSC 37.
Here are several pics from the trip back:
A Waquiez 41(?) from the race, leaving with us. That boat smoked us. Within a day it was completely out of sight.
Still flying the 110 with 12+ knots of wind and 2'-4' seas. Freakin' perfect!
The infamous bucket:
Another perfect sunset at sea:
A life jacket we spotted in a floating line of seaweed. Fortunately for us, it was was empty. Hopefully it was just a stray. I didn't want to think about the other possibilities:
The only other thing that differed from the race route was that we finally crossed paths with a tanker underway. THOSE THINGS MOVE FAST!!!! I'd always heard this - but seeing it is a different thing. We were about 50 miles outside of Corpus at about 1000 when we saw it headed our way on the AIS. We adjusted our course and watched as it lumbered into view. We passed within 1.5 miles and it still looked freakin' huge, moving alot at 15 knots or so. I now understand why you want to stay the hell away from those giants.
We arrived at the mouth of Galveston Bay at about 0300 and awakened James for the drive in. There must have been 30 huge ships anchored just outside the channel. We definitely had to stay frosty with all those lights. Once we got into the bay proper, I crashed in preparation for my drive back to Austin.
It was, without question, one of the biggest adventures of my life. No, it wasn't about some crazy F10 storm that we battled. It was just about sailing offshore for 500+ glorious miles. If you've never done it...get out there and go for it.
I'm completely and thoroughly hooked on this whole BFS thing now. I just had no idea until this race how right I'd been all along.
Bite me AFOCers! I'm an ocean racer. Heh-heh.
OTHER LESSONS LEARNED:
1. Pay more attention to the little things. For example, we forgot to unwrap the reefing line tails when raising the main. Not good.
2. All my gear worked out perfectly. No complaints on any of it. All the great advice I received in my "Go Bag" thread (What's in the "Go-Bag" for Crewing?) was right on the money. The only thing I didn't have a use for was my waterproof iPhone case. I thought I'd use the iPhone way more than I actually did. It's limited battery life, and my Garmin Foretrex 401, made the iPhone a far less important tool in the box.
3. The camel-back pack is a seriously awesome tool for when you're too busy to take a drink break. I stayed perfectly hydrated the whole trip...in 95+ degree temps.
4. My water-proof fanny pack was indispensable. It contained stuff I needed handy while sailing (seasick meds, headlamp, gum, knife, etc.) as well as emergency stuff if I happen to go overboard (handheld VHF, strobe/flashlight, GPS, additional knife/leatherman, whistle, etc.).
5. The 24 hour sailing was not as bad as I expected. I was definitely tired after 3 days of it during the race - but it was tolerable. Now, 2-3 weeks of it would probably be another story. Maybe I'll see someday.
6. South Padre Island rocks.
7. The Pacific Seacraft 37 Crealock cutter is an incredible boat. Very stable and still fast. James is a lucky man.
8. I AM DEFINITELY GOING TO DO THIS AGAIN! Hopefully in the fall.
So stay tuned!