Poking The Bear
I has been quite a day on Prospector. After blinking twice on two attempts to sail to the southern edge of the big low pressure system pacing us to the northwest, at 0430Z, lifted by a right shift, we began to discuss gybing and trying again.
Larry, Paul and Terry huddled and discussed the pros and cons of the move. They decided to go for it.
But, Paul had one condition, if we gybed Larry couldn’t change his mind and want to gybe back again in 15 minutes. Paul knows Larry has a tendency toward gyber’s remorse. Larry agreed and said he would go take a nap to avoid the temptation. The order was given and we gybed to a northerly heading and started sailing toward the low again. Before climbing in to his bunk Larry took a quick peek at his nav screens and immediately was happy with the decision.
This practice of sailing toward the big low is now universally referred to by the crew as Larry poking the bear. For what it is worth Larry doesn’t really want to poke the bear. Expedition, our navigation and routing software does. Larry is just Expedition’s spokesperson. For the last 36 hours every route Larry has run on Expedition has called for an immediate gybe to the north. He has tried every trick that Peter Isler and Chris Bedford have taught him to convince the software otherwise, but it is adamant about the gybe. That is why we have been looking for every opportunity do so.
After the gybe with our go to sail combination of a reefed main, J4 and Genoa Staysail, we were off to the north and sailing fast. We awoke to an unexpectedly beautiful morning. It was warm and sunny. The crew enjoyed their morning coffee and oatmeal breakfast on deck and everyone took turns driving Prospector in terrific sailing conditions. Henry, gave Larry a new nickname, Longboard Larry, because he was having so much fun surfing the big sixty footer in mid 20 knot winds and a huge following sea. Matthew busied himself taking photos and videos for us to post later. Some of the photos will go up tonight. The video will need to wait for us to have a faster, cheaper internet connection than our FB150. Larry turned the helm over to Paul, and went to do his thing at the Nav station. We were still 36 miles from where we thought the southern edge of the low was, but the wind suddenly jumped to 30 knots, the limit we had set for our proximity to the low. It was time to gybe back. Tery and Quinn quarterbacked prepping for the gybe, something not to take lightly in such strong winds and high seas. They began by putting in a second reef assisted by Matthew and Andrew at the mast, Lucien and Scotty at the pit and Tim, and Dave in the cockpit. Paul manned the helm with Henry assisting by calling the waves. The reef complete Bruce and Matthew went to the bow and struck the Genoa staysail. We were getting ready to gybe when the wind jumped to 42 knots, making gybing too dangerous. Tery decided it was safer to do a chicken gybe, performing a 360 degree turn to a tack, rather than a straight gybe. The only problem with the chicken gybe being the risk of stalling the boat and getting stuck dead in the water in high winds and a big sea. Completing the maneuver involved turning Prospector very quickly and backing the jib to pull the bow around, which with Paul on the helm and Tery on the jib, was executed perfectly.
The chicken gybe completed we immediately put in a third reef in 40 knot plus winds. Now sailing in a triple reefed main and just the J4 and a strong following sea, we were pointing straight at the finish line and going very fast. The only issues were the waves and the weather. The waves had become bigger than ever, and made driving very challenging. The weather was complicated too. We were sailing with the low to our left, the warm front ahead of the low just ahead of us and the cold front trailing the low just behind us. You could see these features very easily and didn’t need a weather map to figure them out. Squalls were popping up and tracking from southeast to northwest along the leading edge of the cold front.
We were not in any danger, but were facing very technical and challenging sailing conditions. Our ace in the hole was Prospector herself. Flat and stable, she reveled in the conditions. Her helm was balanced, she tracked straight and smoothly and she responded beautifully to each course adjustment.
The Prospector crew, a terrific bunch of sailors, was also up to the challenge. We shortened the driving rotation, normally shared evenly by all, to Tery, Paul, Henry and Tim. Larry went to the nav station to learn how to track the squalls on radar, something he had never done before, assisted by Jeff. Colette made sandwiches to keep the crew fueled up. Brendan called waves. Scotty repaired a torn batten pocket on the GS. Matthew, Lucien, Bruce, Dave and Andrew trimmed sails. We adjusted the watch schedule to reflect the new rotation and began rotating people below decks to get some sleep.
Everything well under control we began to put up some big numbers in a steady 35-38 knot, with low 40 knot gusts, southwesterly wind. As the sun set, we struck the J4 and put up the J5, our smallest headsail in 30 knot winds. Quinn has a nickname for each of our sails. He calls the J5 the Lindsay Vonn, because it is beautiful, tough and always comes through in the clutch. The winds and sea are forecast to settle down over night, but we are trying to be as conservative possible as we sail on in a very dark, still very windy night in a pretty tossed up ocean. So, why did we really poke the bear? It wasn’t all about the routing. We wanted to sail left to take advantage of an expected left shift over the course of tomorrow. Also, given the loss of two kites we can’t go toe to toe in a downwind VMG race, particularly with Snow Lion and to a lesser extent with Maximizer. Nomad IV is so big she poses a whole different set of challenges. What we have learned over the past few days is that Prospector loves pressure. The more the better. We have also learned that we can sail as fast, and perhaps safer in a big breeze, with a reefed main, the J4 and a Genoa staysail than we could have sailed with the A6 we no longer have available. The track we are on is forecast to have consistent 30 knot winds for the next 8-10 hours followed by 25-30 knot winds for the 18-20 hours after that. The winds on the track we left are forecast to be much lower.
We gained ground quickly today on the two yachts in front of us, Snow Lion and Maximizer. We are now second in our class and sixth in our fleet. We have sailed 1,858 nautical miles in just over six days since we started. We have 1,242 nautical miles to go to our finish at the Lizard in Cornwall, England. A lot can still happen, both good and bad. We have a nice little race going and are looking at a potential podium finish in our class and top ten finish in our fleet. Both outcomes are well beyond our most optimistic hope when we began this adventure. We are proud of what we and Prospector, more to come on the mighty Prospector in a future post, have done so far and very aware of and focused on what we still have to do.