July 3

From The Deck Of Prospector 03 July 2015 12:30Z

Sailing update.  Human interest piece to follow in a separate post.

Sailing Conditions:

Wind Speed: 30-40 knots

True Wind Direction: 235

Sail Combination: Reefed Main and J4.

Boat Speed: 12.5-15 knots

Speed Over Ground: 16-20 knots

Distance to Finish: 2400 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 78

Water Temperature: 79

What a difference a day makes.  After our start on July 1 we enjoyed Champagne sailing conditions.  Prospector loves the Jib Top and Genoa Staysail double headed rig and we were sailing very fast and very comfortably.  Several of us remarked at the time that we would likely pay for that later.  Unfortunately the payback came far too early on July 2nd and 3rd.

As you can see from the tracker we spent the better part of the first two days heading to the southeast.  That was no accident.  Our big picture strategy was to get as far to the south as we could to get ahead of a cold front and ride it east.  Pulling that off kept us in stronger winds in advance of the front.  It would also take us to the Gulf Stream where we would pick up 2-3 knots of favorable current.  Forecasts indicated that the front would become stationary at about 40N.  With all that in mind we set an initial way point at 40        30n x 69 42 w at a warm eddy at the top of the Gulf Stream that would give us a 1-2 knot push to the south.

Things were going smoothly enough until the wind got light and went right.  This led to the first of many sail changes over the next 36 hours.  We took down the Jib Top we had put up at Brenton Reef and put up the fractional Code Zero (FRO).  This set up lasted an hour until the webbing for the FRO broke bringing all hands on deck for an emergency take down.  The JT went back up and we continued to the southeast.

After 75 nm and three more sail changes we found the Warm Eddy right where it was supposed to be.  Sailing in the Gulf Stream brings both benefits and challenges.  The benefit is favorable current.  The challenges are finding it and staying in it, together with frequent weather changes and numerous squalls.  We got a lot of both the good and the bad.  As soon as the water temperature shot up to 80 degrees and we picked up the favorable current we got our first squall.  The good news was we saw it coming and were prepared. 

Three hours after we entered the warm eddy we lost it and found ourselves in 2-3 knots of foul current.  We tried sailing to the north and we tried sailing to the south but nothing we did got us out of the foul current and back in to a fair current.  To make matters worse, the wind went left and got very light.  We were not happy campers.  We were giving up a lot of distance in our move to the south and struggling to make it work.  Our boat speed dropped to 10 knots and our speed over ground dropped to 8 knots.  Our tide gribs and satellite imagery indicated we should be in favorable, not foul current.  Our navigator was not a happy camper.  We looked though our portholes to check the keel and rudder for sea weed and found nothing.  Frustrations mounted as the other boats in our fleet were posting better speed and   sailing a better course.  They also seemed to be in the better wind we had headed further south for.  After a lot of debate we sucked it up, stopped fussing about and sailed to the next spot we thought the wind and the Gulf Stream might be.

At 0250 Z we found the Gulf Stream again.  We turned east and put up an A6 in 18 kts of wind.  Our boat speed increased to 12 knots and, in favorable current again, our speed over ground increased to 14 knots.  Our big picture strategy was beginning to work.  We began to gain back some of what we had lost to the other yachts in our fleet.  As we progressed further in to the core of the Gulf Stream the wind showed up too, building in to the middle 20’s.  Paul McDowell and Henry Little manned the helm as our boat speed increased to a consistent 20 knots and our speed over ground increased to 23-25 knots.  Water was washing over the decks constantly and everyone on deck was getting soaked.  They didn’t care.  They were enjoying the ride. 

Just as Paul and Henry began to consider reducing sail in the building wind a squall hit at 0450 Z.  This time we were not prepared.  All hands were called on deck to get the kite down.  We were too late, in a 40 knot gust the kite, new this year and a weapon for us, exploded.  We wrestled the remains below decks, counted heads to make sure all were aboard, which they were, set the J4 and reefed the main.

We are still in that combination now.  Flying down the track.  Going east at last.  Climbing up the leaderboard.  Our strategy finally  paying off.