It’s very hard to distill a race like this into one blog post.
Naturally, there are the facts; the YellowBrick track and the Expedition log files that account for what happened, second by second. Then there’s my, subjective and emotional, version. And they don’t really match…
The data says it was a four-day rather tough race. Other skippers, who have done up to 8 races, confirm that this was one of the roughest.
But in my mind, it felt shorter than the 24-hour races I’d done before. And all the hard work, sail changes, and difficult tactical decisions fades into a very positive natural flow.
Out there, I tried to reflect on what was different, and I said out loud to myself “This is just a daily grind, just hard work, nothing special”. But now I see that it’s nothing like anything I’ve done before.
Before the start
I’ve never been this prepared for a race.
And I’m known for leaving no stone unturned.
I knew that the boat was 100%. I knew that I as the crew was as close to 100% as a could be (given the material I had to work with 😀). The big uncertainty was that I had never done a solo race longer than 36 hours, and I had never seen the Gulf Stream.
People kept reminding me about the last one.
The big topic was naturally the Gulf Stream, and how to avoid sailing in wind against the current. Frank Bohlen and other experts were pretty clear that going east of rhumbline would be the safest option.
Logbook – Friday 09:00 EDT
Start is at 11:00.
There are some low pressure systems forming north that will affect the race. Models are again very different so we’ll see what happens. Currently max wind is 30-38 knots, but at least it’s with us.
Biggest worry is entering the Gulf Stream, as wind against current can make the sea state really bad. So trying to pick the safest entry point and then gradually get into the better flow. Again, a balance between racing and preserving boat and crew.
Right now looking at 3.5 days.
Will try to do an update at least every morning.
Getting out of Newport
Finally race day!
Even if a few seconds at the start don’t really matter, I always try to go through the same procedure and ping the marks. There was a clear advantage at the pin end, so naturally, I had to nail the pin. Also happy to put on a show for the J/boats team out cheering and taking photos.
To bring a J/111 from Europe and race in their backyard was kind of special.
After crossing the fleet on port, the faster boats crossed tracks a few times. Naturally, the Class 40 was faster than all of us, but me, J/121 Alchemy, and J/46 Resolute were pretty similar and had close crossings a number of times before settling in on a long starboard tack.
To the Gulfstream
As promised the wind became lighter and lighter and there were a number of fog banks.
I put up the code 0 and stayed north of the fleet. I wanted to hit the Gulf Stream about 20 nm east of rhumbline, and all my models showed that it would make sense to stay north to be first into the NE wind when it hit.
In fluky conditions, I went back and forth between jib, code and even A3.
On two occasions I parked up, but the boats to the south seemed to have it even worse.
All night I was surrounded by whales blowing, and I also got a visit by an exhausted bird.
At 03:15 I got to the wind and at 06:30 it had stabilized at 20 knots from NNE. I thought I was perfectly positioned to the east together with Alchemy and most other boats on the rhumbline.
Logbook: Saturday 06:00 EDT
The wind is here. 20 knots from NE, so pretty much what the models said. Fast. But uncomfortable.
Yesterday was fantastic sailing, and pretty much a drag race on starboard. I opted for a more northern route both for pressure during the night, but also to be well positioned when the low came.
The wind was variable and I went back and forth between jib, code and A3. Parked up two times, but mostly had better speed than the boats to the south.
Add mist. And lot’s of whales blowing around the boat.
My routing, although I doubted it a few times, seems to have worked, as I’m ahead of the group going east. The only boat that I know dived south was the Class 40.
If everything goes according to plan I’ll enter the Gulf Stream at 16:00. Exciting!
PS. Did something happen with Abilyn? Saw him turn around and then lost his AIS.
Gulf Stream part I – not what I expected
A pretty grey day with winds between 22 and 28 knots. I took it carefully with main and jib but were still averaging 8 knots. Doublehanded I would have put up an A5 or something, but now I was just happy to make steady progress. The bad part was that I from 05:00 to 15:00 had an average of 1.3 knots of current against me.
But when I entered what I thought was the “real” Gulf Stream it got really bad. The following 11 hours I measured between 2,0 and 4,2 knots of current. Against me. And against the wind. This was exactly what people had been warning us about. 25-30 knots of wind against 3-4 knots of current. The seas were terrible and I was just happy that the angles worked out.
I tried to go even further east to avoid the current but remembered that the whole system probably was moving east. So after seeing 4,2 knots I just went south to get out of it.
None of my models had this northerly flow, and Jenifer Clark’s Gulfstream forecast directly advised on the route; “East has best favorable currents” and in general “favorable flows”. Glad to see that nobody knows what’s really going on :-)
My choice of going east had cost me significantly. Both to get there and then 45 nm extra spent in the current.
Logbook: Saturday 20:00
All is well on board. In my ambition to stay out of “wind against current” I went east and managed to find the 4 knots northerly against 25 knot of wind. Messy sea-state so I’m nursing both boat and crew and sailing with just the jib up.
So not in full racing mode. The goal here is to get there in one piece.
Try to hand steer a lot while still managing to eat and sleep. Pretty uncomfortable and wet. Wonder why we do this.
Have seen Alchemy ahead and Luna to the west. But now they to far for the AIS to see them.
Dinner: Beef Stroganoff.
Just 450 nm to go.
I remember life being pretty miserable here. Bumby and wet. Adverse current. Not really racing. I even took down the main for the night to get some decent sleep.
Gulf Stream part II – more like it
What a difference a day makes. And some sleep. And a decent breakfast.
Logbook: Sunday 04:00 EDT
For those of you that follow the tracker my performance in the last 24 hours has been really bad.
I payed to go east to enter the Gulf Stream at a place where the chance of adverse current should be low, and then I could go south after the bad sea-state was over. Instead I got 80 nm with 3.0-4.2 knots current going 330-360, WTF!
And this against 2-30 knots of wind. And I can’t see this in any models or the maps I got before the race.
I tried to go even further east to get relief, but no sign of any. Then finally I just had to eat it and pound south, straight against it,
Or bad intel.
Gave up a lot of distance.
But now I got 26C in the water and 5 knots of current going 110. Looking better. But still bumpy as we’re doing 9-11 knots with just the jib. Main might go up tomorrow as I’ve been able to catch up on sleep.
Wind should stay at 24-26 knots into the afternoon.
Time to catch some boats.
The wind was typically 22-24 knots, and I was doing good progress with full main and jib. I was looking at the pile of gennakers and was tempted to put something up. But my strategy here was clear. No risk. My time would come.
Logbook: Sunday 18:00 EDT
A long day with lots going on.
After being miserable about the current for a while, I put the hammer down. For 6+ hours I averaged 9.75 knots (11.6 SOG) and finally found current going the right way.
Full main & jib was plenty and hand-steered most of the day to keep speed up. Wind was between 20 and 26 knots. At the end I averaged 11.5 and topped out at 18. Wind gusted 30. Seas was huge and I avoided surfing several of the biggest waves for safety reasons.
Borderline condition, and I ended taking the main down. Need to fix the halyard cover + get some rest. And eat. Still doing 11 knots SOG. As I said, I’m not here to win, but to finish in one piece. And pushing to hard can be costly.
Had a rendezvous with Diantus. We talked on the VHF, waved and took photos. Otherwise not many boats around.
The models says that wind will go below 20 knots tomorrow morning, so then I hope for some champagne sailing.
260 nm to go
Bermuda – here I come!
As soon as the wind came down the A2 came up.
I had waited for this moment and I wouldn’t let it pass me by.
Did someone land in the cockpit last night?
Logbook: Monday 08:00 EDT
Good news or bad news first?
First god news is that the big A2 genaker is up and we’re doing good speeds on port gybe. Looks like one gybe and similar conditions all the way to Bermuda. Lets try and catch some more boats.
170 nm to go and ETA is tomorrow morning.
Second good news is that I’ve managed to both eat and sleep well, so just keep it up. Simple Minds are played really loud and life in general is good.
I managed to get through the nasty stuff without breaking anything on the boat except the main halyard extra cover. Should naturally replaced it sooner.
The bad news then? I think I might have cracked a rib or two when a big wave slammed me into the mast taking the main down yesterday. Hurts like hell, but I’m able to sail the boat at 100%. The ships doctor has ordinated lots of painkillers and also a “Swedish Fish” (the candy) whenever the skipper feels sorry for himself.
On the nature side of things; besides all the whales Friday night, I had a bunch of dolphins play around the bow just now. Found a flying fish in the cockpit this morning and had an exhausted bird take refuge on the boat for several hours. Small thinks becomes notable out here.
I thought I had figured out my weather models and how to get the most out of the remaining current, so Monday 11:00 with 155 nm to go I gybed to starboard for the final leg. Hard to call a layline this far away, but this time reality seemed to agree with my routing.
Skipper feels sorry for himself. Working on deck and being caught by a wave shouldn’t have been a problem. I usually hold on pretty tight, but now I was working with the main halyard in a position I wasn’t used to. Note to self: be prepared for a breaking wave at any time.
Logbook: Monday 18:00 EDT
Yup. Like any regular Monday I punched in bright and early and kept hammering all day. Sunny and nice, but winds are very variable with both wind cellsand patches of no wind.
Have been going back and forth between A3 (light reaching) and A2 (running in >6 knots). Quite a procedure to get one down and the other one up, running around the boat connected. And then someone need to pack them. Who? Looking at me?
I’ve passed a few boats, and I just got J/121 Alchemy showing up on my AIS. 15 nm ahead, but still I have contact. I think they were almost twice that ahead at one point.
127 nm to go.
Thanks for all advise regarding my broken ribs. No bruises, no blood in the urine, and generally feel very good except when I bump into things or when try special bowman poses (like jamming yourself in the pulpit to sort out the tacklines. PAINFUL! But I can scream out loud without anyone hearing.
After 500 nm, I’m asking myself if I enjoy this type of solo sailing? I thought the feeling of being alone for such a long time would feel different. I’m not hating it (I might have a few days ago) but I don’t get that special feeling I hoped for, or maybe feared, I might need some perspective before I decide.
Now wind is 6-8 knots from 260. Pretty comfortable now, but we’ll see what happens
Logbook: Tuesday 06:00 EDT
Best feeling ever: sunrise, an espresso and trucking along with the A2. And painkillers :-)
Last night I had J/121 Alchemy 15 nm ahead, an now they’re 12 behind. Maybe not in race mode anymore? We were doing similar speeds, but since I put up the A2 at 02:30 we’ve been faster than most boats around. I could have deployed it earlier, but I wanted some sleep to be ready for anything.
Wind is steady at 10-12 knots from NNW. Sea-state is good so the autopilot manages really well. We’re gaining more and more trust, me and “Frank”. He did’tr do well in the huge seas Saturday, so there was some yelling on my part. But getting to know him better (and playing with the settings) has improved my trust in him
He’s called “Frank” after “The Transporter”-movies. If yo know, you know.
Just 40 nm to the finish. I guess I lost track of time, and it sure doesn’t feel like I’m on day 4. I could just continue sailing like this for days or weeks. I guess that is a clear vote for this type of sailing.
But at the same time I really want to hang out with other people, have a few cold beers and some laughs. And being interrupted by silly texts from Molly and Anneli (daughter & partner). Miss them.
I guess it’s the contrasts that appeals to me.
I wonder if the weather is nice in Bermuda? I’ve never been there but many people seems to like it.
Anything that should be on my list of “things to do”?
Oh, I also need to know where I can find a really good barber?
I knew that the results on handicaps would be mediocre. The east/rhumbline route had clearly favored the small boats and me hitting the northerly current hadn’t helped. But I could still beat most of them on the water. My approach avoided the lighter air in the east and I didn’t have to gybe to get to the finish.
I really did it. I raced solo to Bermuda… Amazing feeling.
This is a good time to reflect on the experience. I still hasn’t decided if this is for me, but I enjoyed it (most of the time) and think I managed really well considering it was the first time I did anything like this.
I managed myself in the way I planned; routines, eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, etc. I felt energized and ready for what needed to be done and never became sleep deficient or hungry. I had short 15-minute naps during the day and close to shore, and longer 90-minute sessions offshore.
Every day a sturdy breakfast with either oatmeal or Greek yogurt and granola. For lunch, I either had sandwiches or a freeze-dried meal. Dinner was fantastic meals from Pinnacle Foods. Then I snacked a lot in between. Especially to keep the energy up on deck. I drank water, electrolytes, and sports drinks from Maurten.
I was able to shift between, and stick to different modes; “100% race mode” and “preservation mode”. This was very helpful to manage different priorities and not be frustrated by the lack of performance when taking the foot off the gas.
Boat setup. I’ve done over 25.000 nm with the boat so I know what maneuvers work and what don’t. I know our strengths and when to maximize them, but also our weaknesses and when to live with them. I also trust the boat and the systems, and very few things break offshore. This time it was just the extra cover on the main halyard, and we have decided that this should be changed before every major race (which I didn’t).
Time perspective. Never have I felt that such a long race went by so quickly. Typically you sit and count down the miles to the next rounding or how many watches you have left to the finish. Now I was in a state of flow for most of the race, and suddenly it was over.
Is this a typical solo sailor thing?
Not being careful on deck. I’m not sloppy, but I need to be more aware of what’s going on. Especially when the waves become huge.
Autopilot settings. The autopilot struggled downwind in big seas. No surprise. I need to spend more time learning how it really works, so I can sail faster and still go to sleep. Then, the J/111 is a tough boat to drive in those conditions, even with a good helmsman.
J/111 as a solo boat. Coming back to the last point. The Class 40, Figaro 2, and SunFast 3300 are all designed for exactly what we’ve been doing. They love 24 knots on the beam and have twin rudders that give them all the grip they need. The J/111 was designed for something completely different and I’m just stupid for racing it like this.
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight 😀