Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Day 1 – July 11, 2016

Please excuse the abbreviated nature of this post.  Power is scarce on a race boat and it is difficult to write on an often wet and heaving boat.
The Crew of Aeriagnie - Cecile, Ben, Rene, and Scott

We started the race at 10:30 on a foggy morning and tacked out the gate, keeping in the center of the ebb tide.  It was the first time we had sailed together as a team, but things went well with a minimum of hollering.  It was windy in the gate and briefly lighter outside as we headed for the southern edge of the shipping lanes.  The wind quickly began to build until we found ourselves in a full scale gale.  The wind blew from 35 to 45 knots all day and night, with 8 to 10 foot seas and green water breaking over the boat.  We were all wet to the skin and shivering.  We quickly realized that the secondary winch on the port side was slipping.  One of the first big waves knocked a
The Golden Gate on the Morning of Our Start
solar panel off its supports, shearing the set screws.  We tied it down with a piece of line and kept going.  We were escorted out of the bay by a pod of humpback whales.
Whale Escort

Umbrella Shelter in the Head
Scott and I were terribly seasick.  The weather forecast called for three days of that gale and we were all a bit dispirited.  The hatch in the head leaked so badly it was like taking a shower to go in there.  We started sheltering under an umbrella every time we used the head.  We were barely out the gate before the first boat dropped out.  A second boat dismasted the first night.

Day 2 – July 12, 2016

Morning dawned with clear skies and lighter winds.  
I started to feel somewhat better and soon Scott
Ben and the "Clothesline"
started to recover.  We had a relatively pleasant day of sailing with fewer mishaps.  Because of the broken winch, we had to cross sheet the genoa, so we had to crawl over or under the line every time we went aft to steer.  It made a good clothesline, though, and we had lots of wet clothes and bedding to dry.  We taped plastic over the head hatch and that stopped the leak.   This was fortunate because half our supply of paper products were already reduced to papier mache.  Scott and I had the midnight to 4 am watch.  We saw two ominous squalls, but managed to pass between them.

Day 3 – July 13, 2016

Scott at the Helm
The day was cloudy, but we sailed on under genoa, storm jib (staysail) and reefed main.  It was still chilly, but I finally dried out enough to stop shivering and managed to eat something.  I treated myself to dry socks, which helped.  I finally managed to get some quality sleep.

Day 4 – July 14, 2016

We awoke to another cloudy morning.  Another boat had dismasted during the night and two more had dropped out for other reasons.  Cecile complained that the communications schedule was cutting into her sleep, so we decided to change the watch schedule so that the morning check in and
Cecile on the Radio
evening standings report would fall during her watches.  This involved us extending the daytime watches by an hour each.  Scott and I were on from 8:00 to 13:00.  We were sailing nearly dead downwind, so were having a hard time holding our course.  With much swearing and yelling, we poled out the genoa and went wing on wing.  This worked well for an hour until Cecile came on watch and decided that we needed to move the pole to the other side so that we could sail a higher course.  That involved another hour long fire drill, but we finally managed to get things set by 13:30.  I had been fantasizing about what to do with the extra time.  I took a sponge bath, changed clothes, cleaned the galley, and finally got around to writing my blog for the first time since we left.  Photos had also been few, as things had been too wet and hectic for photography.  The night was very dark.  We couldn’t see the sails or the horizon.  Our only frame of reference was the too bright screen showing the compass heading.  At times, it felt like we were spinning in circles.

Day 5 – July 15, 2016 

Another Grey Morning
Morning found us still sailing dead downwind under steely skies.  Another couple of boats had dropped out or failed to start, bringing the total to eight.  We found our first flying fish on deck and fried him up and ate him.  The squid were not so appetizing.  We wallowed along all day and then put a second reef in after dinner.  Dinner was the Kalua pork I had made before leaving.  I also made a big green salad, which was much appreciated by our digestive tracts.  It started to clear just before dark.  There still was no sunset to speak of, but we could see the moon through gaps in the clouds, which made steering much easier.  We were in good spirits.  I suggested using the lid of one of our food containers as a red lens for the compass screen and that worked well.

Day 6 – July 16, 2016

Another day of slogging downwind under grey skies. We shook out the reef at morning watch change.   Somehow, I had envisioned more warmth and sun for this race.  The wind direction had shifted so that we were forced to sail west, rather than south, so conditions were not improving.  By mid-afternoon, we took down the staysail.

In the evening it got squally.  We were rocketing along downwind, trying to cheat south.  At times we reached 11 knots coming off a wave.  When I went below at 10:00 pm, I mentioned reefing, but everyone thought we could drive through the squalls.  Our racing fangs were sharp.  About 4:30 in the morning, I was driving when the boat rounded up and then dived back down hard.  The boom vang gave way with a crack and the main boom shot up in the air.  This was a good thing, since we then accidentally gybed, blowing the preventer block, but somehow avoiding taking out the running back and the mast.  All was chaos, as the crew swarmed on deck and we fought to get the boat back under control and put a third reef in the main.  We didn’t notice the vang had died until well after daylight.

Day 7 – July 17, 2016

After the excitement of our accidental gybe, we were very subdued the following day.  We proceeded
Our First Fish
west under triple reefed main and storm jib all day.  I was exhausted, having stayed up late on my morning watch to let Cecile and Ben catch a little of the sleep they lost when the vang broke and then been awakened early for my next watch to take down the pole and roll up the genoa.  Just before I was called up on deck, Ben and Cecile caught a Mahi Mahi.  He was flopping about underfoot as we changed the sails.  Eventually, Cecile filleted him and we put him in a bag to save for dinner.

Day 7 saw us reach the halfway point.  We had planned a party to celebrate the event.  I was so tired that I passed out and missed the entire production.  Cecile cooked Mahi Mahi and made salad, which they washed down with chardonnay.  I slept, although I did eat some of the tasty fish and salad when I got up for my 6 pm watch.  Tired as I was, I didn’t dare touch the wine until after my watch at 10 pm, when I sat up long enough to drink a glass of wine and munch a few Pringles.

Once again, the evening was squally with intermittent showers.  Cecile and Scott spent the evening hours repairing the boom vang.  They reformed the bent mast fitting and reattached the eight screws that had pulled out of the mast and then reinforceded the vang with three metal bands.  It seemed to be holding.  For purposes of race communications, we had remained on California time, but we were now so far west that it didn’t get dark until 10:00 at night.  Dawn did not show its face until well after my watch ended at 6 am.

Day 8 – July 18, 2016

Triple Reefed Main
Sailing inexorably west under dismal, cloudy skies was getting to all of us.  We finally gybed and headed for Hawaii, which improved everyone’s mood, even though we were still rolling downwind and now somewhat skeptical of our boom vang.  We pulled down the storm jib and poled out some of the genoa.  The weather continued squally.  Aeriagnie seemed to want to go 7 knots no matter what we did, but our progress slowed from 165 miles per day to 129.  We saw a ship in the evening and the moon came out during our late night watch, which was very welcome.

Day 9 – July 19, 2016

Buona Sera Passing By
On the ninth day, we finally saw the sun.  Not that we awoke to big open blue skies, but at least the sun played hide and seek with us all day.  I finally shed my fleece pants and big foul weather jacket.  We continued all day under triple reefed main and poled out genoa.  Buona Sera passed us with a big show of spinnaker that Aeriagnie could never have controlled.  Squalls came and went, but none of them dumped serious amounts of water.  In the evening, we had a bit of a sunset and even glimpsed a bit of rainbow.  We concentrated on sailing fast and covered 137 miles.

Day 10 – July 20, 2016

Ten days without a shower tied my previous record sailing from Cabo San Lucas to Turtle Bay in 2001.  We probably had enough water for bathing, but could never have managed it on the heaving boat.  It got warmer as we continued south and, though it was still mostly cloudy, I shed my long underwear and fleece jacket by afternoon.

Me Steering Through Squalls
We shook out the third reef about noon and the boat remained manageable.  I went below for a nap at 14:00.  I awoke at 16:00 with the boat slewing all over the course.  By the time I decided to drag out my computer, we gybed and it became nearly impossible to remain in my bunk.  It seemed like conditions were miserable but, when we reported for duty at 18:00, it was beautiful out.  We passed a very pleasant watch with only one big squall and lots of rainbows.  We had put the third reef back in before the squall hit, so passed a reasonable night.

Day 11 – July 21, 2016

Gin & Tonics in the Cockpit
It became apparent during the morning check in that tropical storm Darby was going to interfere with our arrival in Hawaii.  We discussed at length whether to try to speed up and get there before the storm or hang back and let it pass ahead of us.  The crew all agreed that we could never make it in time, but Cecile wanted to try.  We rolled up the headsail about 11:00 and motored as fast as we could straight for Hawaii until the radio hour at 17:00 when it became clear that the deadline for safe arrival had been moved forward from Saturday evening to 2:00 Saturday morning.  With 600 miles left to cover, we could never make it.  We turned off the engine, turned on the autopilot and made a round of gin and tonics. Our new goal was to sail as slowly as possible.  The weather was gorgeous and we all spent the evening lounging in the cockpit.
Our First Real Sunset

Day 12 – July 22, 2016

The weather was gorgeous all day and the wind cooperated with our goal of sailing slowly.  I had found sleeping on Aeriagnie very difficult, due to her excessive rolling motion and lack of padded surfaces.  With a gentler motion, I was finally able to catch up on sleep and I slept all day when not on watch.  Around dinner time, we caught two Mahi Mahi, the second of which bled all over the cockpit and the lines coiled on the sole.  I was covered in fish blood by the time we got that mess cleared away.

Scott with Our Mahi Mahi
After the 20:00 weather briefing, we reviewed our storm strategy, but decided to keep sailing directly for Kaneohe.  We believed that the storm would stay far enough ahead of us for us to continue without diverting.  We had been in last place for most of the race, but had moved up a spot.  We hoped the confusion about how to avoid the storm might improve our standing if we sailed a direct course while others were forced to divert.  The night was overcast and rained a bit, but remained warm.  The moon peeked out from time to time.

Day 13 – July 23, 2016

Despite the overnight clouds, we had another sunny day of sailing with slightly higher winds.  The 8:00 weather briefing failed to change our strategy.  We caught another Mahi-Mahi in the early afternoon, but only Cecile was disappointed when he got away.  None of us wanted to deal with more fish guts when the refrigerator was already full of fish.  Cecile cooked some of the fish for lunch and it was excellent.  We continued sailing straight for Kaneohe. The day’s standings showed us in 4th place in our class.
Flying Fish Make Great Appetizers

Day 14 – July 24, 2016

The weather continued clear and we sailed hard towards the finish.  Someone threw out the line and we caught two more Mahi Mahi within an hour.  I even hauled one aboard myself.  The cockpit was covered in fish blood and it got all over the lines and then all over us.  The crew issued a desist order after the second fish.

Sometimes the Floor Was the Safest Place
Once the communications boat reached the harbor, no one operated the radio net, so we didn’t know our standings for the day.  It seemed lonely out there without hearing from the others and we felt a little bit abandoned.  Scott made us a lovely dinner of curried fish and coleslaw and we shared a bottle of wine.  I saved my share until after my watch and used it to help me sleep.  Sleeping was always difficult for me due to the constant creaking and wild rocking of the boat.

Day 15 – July 25, 2016

When Scott and I came on watch at 2:00 am, Ben was seasick.  It was pitch dark and very disorienting and he had become dehydrated from sitting outside in the sun driving all day while Cecile handled the radio and other tasks.  Scott and I had been able to split the driving more equally and we were in better shape.  The moon finally rose later in our watch, which made it easier to steer.  Steering in the pitch dark with nothing but a number on an instrument for input was very difficult to do for long periods.

We Couldn't See Much of the Islands
With Ben out of commission, Scott and I had to drive most of his watches as well.  We all knew that this was the day we would finish, which helped us to keep going even though we were tired.  We had to check in when we were 100 miles from the finish, which happened about 10:30 in the morning.  The winds were the lightest we had seen thus far and we shook the last reef out of our main.  All day, we continued on the same heading we had been following for three days.  I felt like we were being drawn in by a tractor beam.  All we could see of the islands was a bank of clouds.  When we got close enough that we should have been able to see Oahu, all we could see was the shoulder of Haleakala on Maui.  We checked in again when we were 25 miles away. 

We never did see Oahu because it got dark before the clouds lifted.  The first we saw of our destination was the green and white flashing beacon that marked one end of the finish line.  The winds got lighter and lighter and we approached the finish.  It seemed like forever before we made the 5 mile check in, but at least the driving got easier.  The hard part was locating the finish line in the moonless night.  We had to line up two lights and then call the race committee on the radio when we crossed, all while writing down the coordinates and shining a light at the race committee.  We were very busy.  It completely escaped us that we should have noted our finish time, but it was around 22:30.

Shortly after we finished, we were met by an escort boat which led us down the Sampan Channel and through the coral fields to the Kaneohe Yacht Club.  It was so dark that even with our escort displaying a strobe light, it required concentration to keep him in sight against the shore lights.  The water was very shallow and the depth sounder indicated we should have been aground, but we made it without mishap.

Suddenly, we were in the marina and they were telling Cecile that, after having the whole Pacific Ocean to maneuver in, we had to back into a 20 foot slip.  She managed it handily and there were lots
Aeriagnie in Her Lei
of people on the dock to assist in tying us securely.

A large crowd of people assembled to meet us.  Our first visitor was the safety inspector who verified that we still had all the required gear.  Then we were presented with a participation plaque.  Ben’s family sent us a beautiful lei for the boat.  Finally, the lei and tray folks arrived with leis for each of us, mai tais, and trays of pineapple which we devoured immediately.  Tired as we were, we repaired to the bar for another round of drinks.  It must have been at least 3:00 am before we got showers and actually hit the hay.

Kaneohe Yacht Club

Greeting Committee (Not Ours, Which Was at Midnight)
Crew of Aeriagnie After the Race

1 comment:

  1. Woah! This is so cool! Thanks for taking the time during your busy trip to blog about it. Funnily enough, I was in Hawai'i at the beginning of my 9 week trip at the end of May, and I'll be moving to San Francisco next week... Great minds visit the same places, right? :D