19 March 2022: Look Ma, No Hands!
19 March 2022
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
Calabash Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
17 knots upwind
Balmy but blustery
Dry, thank goodness!
The last two and half weeks in George Town had been somewhat productive.
I managed to change the backstay while I still had Micah to winch me up the mast (the last of all the standing rigging now changed and brand new thanks to New England Yacht Rigging shipping me the goods to Florida and to Sailing Totem for coaching me through installation and tuning). Though it was not done without a bit of tears and blood – yep, blood!
I will be happy to be done working with wire for a while and so will my poor delicate fingers.
I was also so, so determined to install the autopilot for the next leg of the trip as I knew there would be some longer passages with no shorter options available. However, I was thwarted once again in the end due to a custom bolt on the Raymarine not fitting with my steering quadrant. After a coaching session with Sailing Totem to discuss and trying a few of the obvious (and not so obvious) work arounds, it was decided that the time of year and seasons dwindling to head south was more important than upgrading from my semi-reliable wheel pilot to a linear drive autopilot.
With two days later looking like a great option to leave George Town, I put the auto pilot project aside and instead Jamie coached me on balancing my sails to hold course in case my wheel pilot should fail on a long passage. At least I would have options to continue on making miles in that event. So I borrowed some water and fuel jerry cans and pulled anchor at Chat ‘N’ Chill and moved over to the town side.
Water was free at the dinghy dock in George Town so I carted about 70 gallons of water to Tala in the dinghy. The fuel station was also nearby so I topped up about 40 gallons of diesel and my dinghy petrol as well. I definitely made more work for myself as I did not realise the small bit of diesel the gas station attendant got on the outside of the jerry can would turn my entire dinghy into a slippery, death trap. I managed to get all the jerry cans aboard with only one minor incident (major bruising with one slip, but bruising is minor in the scheme of how sketchy it was) and use my siphon for the first time to go from jerry jug to fuel tank. It worked quite well and, while the fuel siphoned, I could manually fill my water tanks on the starboard side decks. It was an entire day and many, many exhausting dinghy trips hauling all of this! I returned the jerry cans that evening to buddy boat, Pianissimo, who was headed the same direction as me. I spent the evening changing the oil and early the next morning took the oil to the disposal near the dinghy dock and did a bit of a last minute grocery shopping top up in town. I tried to achieve the balance between having the food I needed/wanted on board for what could be up to a month without a shop and not spending my life savings on the exorbitant grocery prices in the Bahamas.
Me and Pianissimo departed the anchorage early in the morning for a full day sail up to Long Island. The forecast was not ideal but it was pretty good and I wanted to use the actual good weather coming to move onwards from Long Island. Once I finally got out of the cut at George Town, it was a long motor into the wind to get out of the cut and be able to point in the direction of Long Island, I was able to throw up the sails and point towards my destination when holding a pretty close-hauled upwind angle of sail. I was pleasantly surprised that it would likely only be one tack if the wind angle held all day.
My first task of the day was to practice balancing my sails as described by Jamie.
I knew how to tell which sail was overpowering the other from a visual I had in my head of one of the wind vane roosters that sit on top of those old school hip-roof barns (described to me by another cruiser years ago, I cannot recall who it was but it has stuck with me ever since).
If you were to push harder on the nose of the rooster (your jib on the sailboat), with the push being the wind, you would have to steer against the wind to counter that. So you know if you have to constantly steer into the wind your nose (your jib) is being overpowered in comparison to your mainsail.
If the wind was pushing harder on the tail of the rooster (the mainsail in this case), your nose would constantly be pushing up into the wind and you would find yourself constantly turning the helm downwind. So if that is happening you know your mainsail is overpowered.
Now the jib is easy to balance you just let the sheet out and spill a little more air. But the main I have always had trouble with. Jamie’s advice was TSV (my new acronym to remember the order). If the main is overpowered first step is to let out the traveler (‘T’). If it is still overpowered then you can next ease the mainsheet (‘S’) and lastly if it is still needed you can release the boom vang (‘V’).
Throughout my miles so far, I would say the mainsail is often the one overpowered (and this was the case again as I waited to see which way I had to steer to hold a straight line) so I started with easing the traveler. I was often intimidated to touch the traveler because I do not love the style of clutches and worry about my ability (re: strength) to pull it back to center and ease it slowly (not with a bang) if I needed to while there was wind in it. However, the ratio of the pulleys was better than travelers I have used in the past so there was no issues! All of a sudden the traveler intimidation was gone!
There was a solid amount of wind so I also eased the mainsheet and had the vang slack as well.
But the end result was that I found that sweet spot to lock the wheel, hold course and stay that way for a few hours with no wheel pilot engaged! Yahoo!
This was excellent news as my next passage was an overnight passage after Long Island and reliance on the wheel pilot and its tempermental behaviour these last few months were plaguing my mind. Also, now that I could balance my sails, the wheel pilot would not have to work as hard when it was engaged and thus less likely to fail to steer in the first place. I dropped the anchor in Calabash Bay feeling pretty bloody pleased with myself.
It was great to have had a short half day sail on my own again as you tend to build these things up in your mind more and more each day that you sit at anchor. And I had been sitting at Georgetown for over two weeks and spent over a month since I had truly sailed alone (I no longer had a prisoner down in my torture chamber). On arrival to Calabash, I tucked up as close to shore as I could for protection and a good night sleep and dove on the anchor. As I had arrived at the lowest tide possible, I confirmed I had space under my keel (just) and that the anchor was set. This anchor check was less motivated by necessity and more because the water was so clear that I now had an excuse to jump in and get wet!
I spent the afternoon making some food for my next passage and later that evening when Pianissimo dropped anchor I was ready to retire early. I wanted to be fresh and ready to go for my first solo overnight sail!
“What a lovely surprise to discover how unlonely being alone can be.”
– Ellen Burstyn