The Voyage to Nowhere

Heavy Weather and Boat Problems (continued)

More wave pictures. Even though I have spread the wave pictures over a few pages, I took all the pictures on June 1 during a four-hour period (from midday to late afternoon).



Wednesday, June 2, 2004 (Day 7 of the Juan Fernández Passage)

During the gale, we all browsed the ship's library for heavy weather information. Among other things, there was a pretty good "Safety At Sea" booklet that had good practical advice simply presented, which we all read and discussed. After studying the Beaufort Scale of wind speed, David thought our gale was a Force 7 gale, Marcie thought it was Force 8, and I though it was somewhere in-between, but closer to Force 7.

We all estimated that the wind blew steadily at 35 knots for several hours, with higher gusts. Altogether, the wind blew higher than 25 knots for a total of about 17 hours (including the hours at 35 knots), long enough to build very steep seas. After decreasing to 20 knots for six hours, the wind picked up again to 25+ knots for another 11 hours, including three hours at 30 knots or more. The total duration of the worst unpleasantness was a little over a day and a half (read that as a day and a half of stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep). The lowest barometer reading during the gale was 1012 mb (29.86"), compared to a typical value of 1028mb (30.33") in this part of the Pacific High. During the whole event, our GPS kept track of our peak boat speed, and believe it or not, we maxed out at 20.2 knots! That's a pretty amazing boat speed for a big heavy cruising sailboat, and it demonstrates how powerful the winds and waves can be. Note that this wasn't our speed through the water, but our speed in three-dimensional space, conceivably from surfing down a wave while the wave itself surged forward.

We were hove-to under triple-reefed main and reefed staysail for just over 24 hours, including all of last night and part of today while we waited for the seas to calm down. By afternoon we decided the seas were safe to travel, although with the autopilot broken, now we would have to hand-steer the remaining 1,500 miles to the mainland. It was my watch, and I was a little nervous (as usual) at the prospect of hand-steering this big heavy cruising boat on the steep but no longer breaking seas. As a matter of fact, I have never hand-steered Nine of Cups, since up to now all my watchstanding has been using the autopilot.

Thankfully, David helped out and set up Nine of Cups on an easy reach. By trimming the sails and the rudder position, he found that the boat would hold a heading all by itself, with little or no hand-steering required. The boat wandered a little, but the overall effect was quite remarkable—you could hold a general course for hours without hardly touching the wheel, even in heavy seas. In this configuration, the boat would track the wind, so if the wind direction changed, the boat would steer a new course. I found this whole process to be a revelation and very comforting—the boat not only wasn't finicky and demanding, but in fact the process required no more effort that when using the autopilot. On this point of sail, the boat self-steered itself almost like it was running on tracks—such is the benefit of a heavy cruising boat with a seven-foot draft and a robust underbody.

Beaufort Scale of Wind Speed
ForceDescriptionWind Speed (knots)Wave Height (feet)
0Calmless than 1flat
1Light Air1 - 30.25
2Light Breeze4 - 60.5 - 1
3Gentle Breeze7 - 102 - 3
4Moderate Breeze11 - 163.5 - 5
5Fresh Breeze17 - 216 - 8
6Strong Breeze22 - 279.5 - 13
7Near Gale28 - 3313.5 - 19
8Gale34 - 4018 - 25
9Strong Gale41 - 4723 - 32
10Storm48 - 5529 - 41
11Violent Storm56 - 6337 - 52
12Hurricane64 - 71more than 52

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