It was a simple mistake. It was also a stupid one. One that could seriously affect the success or failure of this mission, making my isolation feel all the more acute.
The morning was cold and wet with thick, black pockets of cloud in all directions. It was obvious there would be many squalls today, so I got my gear on – shoes, PFD and jacket and made sure I had a solid breakfast and the boat was prepared.
The first squall hit around 9am HK time. It was coming from exactly where I wanted to go, making positive VMG tough if not impossible. To make matters even more challenging, once the squall had passed, the wind died to almost zero knts and what wind there was shifted through 40 degrees making progress challenging at best and all the more reason to not turn around when a squall hit as I’d erase many hours of hard work.
I decided to sail into the subsequent squalls, feathering the sails to ensure I didn’t lose too much ground. Or at least that was my intention. After lunch I was in the midst of the third squall of the day with a TWA of about 15 degrees and gusts of 25+knts when out of nowhere, there was a 40-degree wind shift and a gust of 30knts, which backwinded the jib, immediately spinning us around on a dime. I had no steering and the sheets, and the rigging were in all the wrong places. I honestly thought the rig was going to be ripped out of the decks and held on for dear life, waiting for something to snap. Thankfully it didn’t and a few minutes later the boat was facing downwind, so I went with it for a while and collected my thoughts.
After the 4th squall hit late afternoon I decided to follow my plan of the previous day and put the third reef in the main, furl the jib and motor into the weather as I was seriously tired by this stage and rather disheartened if I’m honest. Pioneer Channel was going to take me a month at this pace.
Complementing the grey, windy, and wet drama of the weather was Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick. All 135 chapters. I’ve taken to listening to audio books when the weather is bad as it’s a nice distraction and helps to both calm me down and also pass the hours while I’m watching the weather and anticipating the changes and adapting appropriately. Next up is Dickens but I haven’t decided whether it’ll be Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. Given Moby Dick is 20 hours I’ve got a few days to make up my mind.
I’m now in the single digit latitudes north, meaning the equator is just over a week away. Another huge milestone. Not only because crossing the equator at sea is a rite of passage for mariners of all kinds, but also because it means I’ll be out of the monsoonal wet season so far less squalls. It also means I’ll be away from the danger of typhoons. I’m starting to feel like I’m pushing my luck out here as each day gets me a day closer to the peak of the typhoon season and while I’ve had trying conditions with weather, a tropical low pressure system is a whole other story so the celebration when I do cross in a week to 10 days will be one of both excitement and great relief. It also means I’ll then be in the southern latitudes and home will only feel that much closer (and safer).
By dusk, the weather had calmed again so I decided to try to sail some more. I was exhausted from the days efforts which, on the back of 19 days of sleep deprivation, was resulting in my decision-making process being flawed and my mind was quite foggy. I took what I thought were all the bungies and sail ties off the main and started to raise the halyard. A few moments later I heard a giant tear and I knew exactly what had happened. I’d missed a sail tie and as I looked up towards the main, my heart sank, and I cried out in despair. I just put a 1-meter long rip in my main sail. My primary form of propulsion, the functioning of which was a prerequisite to get me home.
The enormity of what happened hit me immediately. I took three deep breaths and reminded myself what the great French sailors of old did when they had a major issue at sea. They’d get the boat settled and have a cigarette or two, while they calmed their nerves and worked out a plan. So… I dropped the main and lashed it to the boom, made a cup of tea (close enough to a ciggie) and just sat down at the helm and slowly drank the warm, soothing brew, while I gazed aimlessly into the dark of night, alone with my thoughts.
Was this a serious issue?
But could it be repaired?
Did I have the sail repair material I needed?
I calmed down slightly and started to work out a plan. It was now night-time, and I decided it wasn’t a great idea to try and fix this in a hurry. The hole was so large that I only had enough of the heavy-duty adhesive Dacron to try and fix it once, so I needed to get it right. I also needed rest. Everything would look better with some rest.
My sleep was fitful, and I couldn’t shake the butterflies in my stomach, but I got a couple of hours in between AIS alarms going off and large waves. Tomorrow would be another day and I needed to trust in my ability to be resourceful and fix the problem. At least for now I was heading straight for Pioneer Channel at 132degrees, albeit under engine.
I’ve got this, I told myself. Even if only by my fingernails, I’ve got it.
Postscript: Please excuse my typos and poor grammar of late. Very tough to type in these conditions and my brain isn’t functioning at 100% due to exhaustion (and being thrown around in a virtual washing machine while writing)