These are the voyages of the sailing vessel Pétillant. Her original eight-month mission: to sail from Baltimore to France via Florida and the Bahamas, to successfully navigate the shoals of the French douane, to boldly go where few Maine Coon cats have gone before was completed in 2008. Now she is berthed in Port Medoc and sails costal Spain, France, and the UK during the summer months.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bermuda at last

This is a running log of the days at sea, from Stuart to Bermuda.

May 8, 2008

The first day of the trip started out quite well. We left the pier at 1210 pm, with the tide going out, and made it out the St. Lucie inlet with no problems, not even running aground in front of Mannatee Pocket. We turned left, put up the sail, and had a glorious beat to the NE with 18 kts of indicated wind. Art put out a fishing line and we waited. The sun was shining, we were doing 7 kts, and all was well with the world. Art thought he got a nibble around 4 PM, and then at 5, rxc saw something moving quite quickly thru the water across the back of the boat, and Art said that it looked like a fish was going after the lure. Sure enough, he then got a strike from a 4-foot long mahi-mahi. He set the hook, and off it ran, jumping and moving on both sides of the boat. He kept the pressure on, though, and after about 30 minutes, we landed him. A big male mahi-mahi, all different colors of the rainbow. He changed colors before our eyes, and it took some work to subdue him, but in the end we did, and now he is just a pile of fish-steaks waiting for the pan.

About the time we landed the fish, the wind shifted more to the NE, and the seas turned lumpy, so it became impossible to cook anything. We even had to turn on the engine to make it across the Gulf Stream, which was pushing us too far north. We eventually ended up rolling in the sails, and motoring thru the night till the wind clocked around more to the south in the early hours of the morning on the 8th. Up went the sails, and we have been reaching along since then doing a steady 7 kts thru the water, 6 kts over the ground. It looks like we have caught a back eddy of the Gulf Stream that is against us.

The noon-noon position shows us making 6 kts on average, which is great. The wind is still clocking some more, and while I am writing this, I am receiving the WEFAX on the SSB, to see what is coming.

We had a little bit of queasiness on board, and breakfast was mostly cereal. Lunches have been sandwiches, with wonderful bread from Mr. Bread in Stuart, and we hope to have fresh fish tonite. Nathalie warned us that the fish event would be messy, and it was. It was a good thing we have the salt-water wash-down, to rinse away all of the fish debris.

The boat is doing well, but we discovered some leaks up forward, through the hatch and down the windlass, whenever we get some water on-board. These will have to be looked at when we get to Bermuda.

May 9, 2008

Good night passage. Winds gradually shifting to south, and boat is riding much better. Seas are about 6 feet , with occasional larger swells, but boat riding well. Blue skies and puffy white clouds this morning. We are now thinking about installing the preventer before the winds clock completely astern. The main is slatting occasionally as the swells pass, and the jib is also starting to be shadowed by the main.

We cooked up the mahi-mahi last nite, and it was great. We will likely have more today, since the fish was so big. Breakfast included some choc chip cookies made by Mary before we left they are quite super, and I really need to get that recipe from her.

French lessons with Nathalie are progressing quite well. We are learning a number of new French words, and customs. We are also teaching her some au courant boating terms that she did not know. We are getting along quite well. Chick commented that we are also developing a routine where we don’t have to be together all the time, but are able to go off on our own to take naps or do other things. I noted that I am doing much more sleeping than I expected. It is hard to get any real restful sleep, with the boat motion and the sounds of the waves against the side of the boat, so you need more sleep to make up for the fitful nature of it all.

Our watch schedule is 4 hours each from 6AM to 6PM and then 3 hours from 6PM to 6AM. This works quite well, and Nathalie is also helping with the watches, because it is not possible to do much cooking with the size of the swells we are seeing. We are a great group, working well, and having fun.

May 10, 2008

Another great day at sea. The wind has clocked even further and we have furled the genny because it was not contributing much (we do that with things that don’t contribute). Art and Nathalie saw a whale yesterday, but I was asleep, and did not respond to the cries of “Whale ho!” They also noted that we have been attacked several times in the night by flying fish. I noted one of them on deck this afternoon when we were checking out the rigging. It had turned quite stiff, and was only usable as bait, which we do not really need now. We had more mahi-mahi last nite – still quite good, and we still have quite a lot of it. We all took showers today, and feel much better with the salt washed off. We also had to run the engine to charge batteries, and we used that opportunity to make water for 3 hours. We are still on the central tank, and it appears that this crew does not use much water at all. We could probably have made it all the way to Bermuda on the water in the tanks, but it is nice to have the watermaker available.

Lunch was steak with Roquefort sauce, and Caesar salad. Quite nice. I think that overall, we are not eating as much as we anticipated. Maybe that will change during the next leg. The boat is doing well, as are the crew.

May 11, 2008

First excitement of the trip. The wind has been gradually clocking towards the north, and we have been adjusting our course to deal with this. We have dropped the genoa because it was non-productive, and have been running thru the nite with the main up all the way. Last nite, we went to bed doing about 5 kts, with a sizeable swell running from directly astern. Rxc was awakened about 4:00 by a significant increase in boat motion, and noticed LOTS of lightning around. LOTS of lightning. He went to the foot of the hatch, and asked Art whether he needed some help, because it looked like a blow was coming on. Art thought that he could work his way thru the cells that seemed to have popped up, so rxc went back to bed. Chick has been sleeping on deck, and he was also awake, so all seemed OK. At 5:30, Chick came below and woke up rxc with the comment that they needed some help up top. The lightning was still quite spectacular, and the windmill was making some amazing sounds as it dealt with 42kt winds. Everyone agreed that they were really praying that the lightning would not strike, and it did not, so maybe there really is something to this prayer thing…

Art had the engine running, and wanted to reef the main, so rxc helped get in, at least a double reef. During this evolution, the wind wandered all over the place, and so did the boat. The movement was quite exciting, but since they had lowered the enclosure side curtains, they managed to stay dry in spite of the strong rain that had fallen. After about 45 minutes, the winds dropped to 4 kts, and it was time to roll the main all the way in, and motor. We have been motoring since the change of the watch at 6 AM, and made a lot of water with fully-charged batteries.

We had a late Sunday brunch of bacon and eggs (quite tasty!) and a good French lesson from Nathalie. We also found out that this trip with be Art’s first meeting with Nathalie’s parents, who live in Paris. He has learned how to say Bonjour and enchante, and Nathalie has hopes that he will be able to say some other things to them when we arrive. So this trip will not just serve to relocate the boat, but also to arrange for a meeting with the inlaws.

Nathalie is gradually re-organizing the galley, as we figure out what is stowed where. Now that the seas have flattened out, this is now possible. Dinner last nite was a fantastic paella with the last of the mahi-mahi. Just right before an exciting nite of sailing.

We motored quite a bit today (it is now 5:00 PM), and decided to shift fuel from the jerry jugs to the main tank. This evolution went well. Unfortunately, we then decided to check the fuel filters, because the engine was surging a bit. Rxc decided to check the pickup tube first, and found that the tank is REALLY full, because he had some diesel spill out of the tank. This caused a quick halt to fuel filter changes, until we burn down the fuel level in the tank a bit. We think we got all of the fuel that spilled.

May 12, 2008

More excitement. The first evening watch last nite was rewarded with a spectacular lightning show that lasted from about 7 pm to 8:30 pm. We watched a large squall line drift down on us from the NW, and we headed a bit more to the SE to try to avoid it. We only received a small amount of rain during this first bout with these cells, but the next watch from 9-midnite was not so lucky. LOTS of rain cells, and LOTS of rain. At midnite, the skies cleared, and we stopped motoring, putting out the mainsail and a bit of the genny. This increased boat speed quite a bit, so that when the 3AM watch came on, the boat was doing a steady 6-7 kts. The 3-6AM watch watched the winds continue to build, to 30-35 kts, and the boat speed built to 8-9 kts, with following winds and waves. The waves also built steadily, reaching easily 9-10 feet.

This caused us to reduce sail even more, to a scrap of main and a scrap of genny, and the boat speed dropped down to the 6 kts range, until about 7 AM, when the building winds(30-35 with gusts to 45 kts) and seas caused us to furl the main entirely, and just leave out a bit of the genny. We could not keep the boat on a steady course towards Bermuda otherwise.

It is now 11:45 AM, and the wind has dropped a bit. The NWS says that we should be seeing 20-30kts, with seas of 11-17 ft., and it appears that they are correct, for once. Yesterday, they said that we should be seeing 25 kts here today, and 40 kts tomorrow, but it looks like tomorrow arrived a bit early. We still think we will make it to St. Georges cut tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon before dark.

Conditions are too rough to do much cooking, but we will have cup-of-soup for lunch. The side curtains in the cockpit have been a godsend, because we have already had several breaking waves pound against the stbd quarter, and the enclosure has kept the worst of the weather out of the cockpit. We still have to wear foulies, because the corners are not installed, and the overhead zipper leaks, but we are not totally miserable, and at least it is not cold.

May 15, 2008

Well, it was premature to announce “excitement” on May 11, or even May 12. Rather, up to that time, our experiences should have been labeled as “unpleasantness”. We were not scared, but the motion was miserable, and we were having trouble sleeping well. On May 13, all that changed, in a few seconds.

We had been watching the weather charts coming out of the NWS, and they foresaw one low after another coming out of the US, heading east, and piling up winds of 30-40 kts down in the area where we were sailing. The winds were favorable, at least, coming out of the W-SW, but with wind comes ocean swells, and 30 kts of wind over a long fetch can generate some mighty large swells. We did not mind the wind, but the swells made the sailing quite difficult, especially since we were headed dead down-wind.

On the morning of the 13th, we were headed about 082 degrees with the wind dead astern. The winds were supposed to build thru the day, to 35-45 kts, and the seas were supposed to be 15-18 feet. We had the jib out a bit, and the main as well, but eventually we gave it all up because they were flogging too much as the boat jibed. We had lots of fuel on board, so we decided to run the engine at low speed to maintain steerage, and we let the autopilot guide us to the waypoint at Gibbs Hill. The autopilot was doing well and we surfed down the front of the waves all day. We had the enclosure up in the cockpit, so we did not feel the entire force of the wind. We also had some breaking waves over the stern and the quarters which were mostly stopped by the enclosure. The winds continued to build, and the maximum speed that we saw was 55.5 kts.

But overall, all was going reasonably well, considering the conditions. Around 2:00 PM, however, right after lunch, we were about 40 miles from Bermuda, discussing something (no once remembers quite what) when the boat took a great lurch to starboard and laid over on its side. The side curtains on the stbd side kept a LOT of water out of the cockpit, but we still got quite wet. The boat eventually righted itself, but did not steer away from the waves, so Art grabbed the helm, and found that he had no steering. Not good.

We opened the emergency tiller access and looked down to find the quadrant broken away from the rudderpost. There is a clamp with a key in it that attaches the quadrant to the rudderpost, and it fractured in two places. Photos are available on flikr. We got out the emergency tiller, and rxc and Chick rigged lines from the tiller to the winches and tried to use this to steer down the front of the waves. Art called Bermuda harbor control, and let them know about our situation. We even got out the EPIRB, and prepared for the worst, if necessary.

Art then joined the steering effort, and figured that if he sat on the deck with his back against the seat, he could push with his feet. This was a great improvement, because the previous method using lines was not able to respond quickly to the waves, and it also kept pulling the emergency tiller up off of the rudderpost. Rxc sat on the opposite side and pushed with his feet, and together they managed to steer a course generally in the direction of Bermuda. We kept checking in with Bermuda harbor control every two hours, and kept pushing the OK button on the SPOT device, and eventually we made it to the Gibbs Hill waypoint, where we were able to put up a bit of jib to make the steering easier. At that point rxc and Art figured that they could steer the boat by themselves, pushing with feet, and pulling with shoulders, so they alternated for an hour at a time to steer to the entrance to St. Georges harbor.

When we got to the entrance to the harbor, it was not possible for the helmsman to steer a straight course thru the cut, so rxc took the tiller between his legs and used thigh-power to muscle the boat into the harbor. We then had to anchor in the quarantine anchorage, because we arrived at midnite, after customs was closed. Art handled the helm while rxc and Chick handled the anchor. We set 175 ft of chain in 30 feet of water, surrounded by some very LARGE traditional sailing ships and a fair number of racers and cruisers, had a GREAT pasta meal, and then crashed for the nite.

Next day, we had to retrieve the anchor and motor over to the customs dock, where we tied up to do paperwork. We tied up ahead of a boat that had her jib completely blown out. There was also some others in harbor in the same condition who had come up from the south , beating to weather(extremely unpleasant) in the same conditions we had seen going downwind. They are still there on the customs dock today, so they must have had some other major issues to be allowed to stay on the customs dock.

We, however, being hardy sailors, checked in, cast off, and (still using the emergency tiller) proceeded to the regular yacht anchorage, where we are currently set.

We have luckily found an unguarded WiFi access point, which has given us internet access while we are here. Once again, the external antenna has proven to be a major asset. It is seeing lots of access points that the laptop cannot, even including the large cruise ship that was here till noon today. We tried to hook into their system, but it is password protected. And there does not seem to be any public WiFi service here in St. Georges, which is strange, given the wide availability of such systems in the Bahamas. There are a few internet cafes here in town, but we don’t have to schlep the computer there, with this access.

With the internet access, we were able to call Dorothy and jlm and let them know where we were, and how we got here. We were also able to contact Jeanneau in Annapolis to order a new clamp, which was supposed to be delivered here by Monday. Unfortunately, we just received an email that they sent the wrong part, and the one we want is back-ordered. We sent them photos of the broken part, which is how they figured out that they had the wrong one(!) So, we are not sure now how long we will be here. The weather is nice, but not as warm as Florida (not sultry), although we have noticed that people can grow bananas here, so it doesn’t get cold.

We did laundry yesterday, and today we dropped off the side curtains to be re-sewn at the sailmaker in town. There are LOTS of boats still here who should have left a long time ago. They are trapped by the weather, which is now showing ANOTHER LOW coming out of the US, and what appears to be a major storm developing between here and the Azores, where we are going next. Talking to locals, it appears that the weather this year is unusually rainy and windy. They said that one cruise ship had lost someone overboard between the US and Bermuda, and they were never able to find him – the helicopters could not cope with the conditions.

So, we are here for a while, waiting for parts. At least this is something we can fix ourselves, and does not require hauling the boat.

More to come as things develop.

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