to begin.


as wicked storms rolled into spring park bay tyler, mike and i would plop a 6 ft sunfish into the angry, angry waters. our knowledge of sailing was nonexistent, and our ignorance made us fearless. 3 high school kids were beyond capacity for this mighty boat. and when the gale force winds got the better of our overzealous heeling, we'd capsize.

stretch, stretch to save our fallen crewman, scramble on the belly of the boat, and then heave all our weight on the keel to flip the beast back over.

soaked and with furious gray clouds above, we sailed onward, only to repeat this joyful turmoil.

ooh the beginning.

the answer to a legit experience on the ocean sea comes from a 35 ft ketch named cappella. she's on her way home to sweden. as of 2.17.11 mats, the 45 yr. old captain, is awaiting my arrival in st. vincent & the grenadines.

the following gnarnia is an attempt to document the journey from the southern caribbean and beyond.

i am no writer, i've never sailed in salt water, i haven't journaled in years, i have no idea what to do when i return home…but…i just bought my first pair of shorts in like 10 years…so…

these entires are meant for myself and anyone remotely interested.

this is.

The Valinor Collective

Thursday, July 14, 2011

the final leg. passage to england

for whatever reason, the passage from the caribbean to the Azores is like the big shebang. the one errbody gets stoked about and when you pull into one of those tiny islands in the middle of the atlantic, you feel soo accomplished, so relieved. like you just crossed the effin ocean. i mean, you did, but in reality, you've crossed 2/3 of her. depending are where you go, there's still at least another 1000 miles til mainland europe. we expected 1300 of pleasant southwest winds from behind that would comfortably push us to our destination in southern England. we're to arrive in Portsmouth in less than 14 days.

a God laughs when sailors make plans. as we pulled out of Horta on the 23rd of june, a God began chuckling.

as we cleared the island of Faial, hoisted sails, shut off the engine and began harnessing the wind, the island fog lay behind us and the sun shone above blue skies. it was afternoon, the wind was pleasant, in the right direction, and sitting in the cockpit, slighly bundled in cozy gear, my anxious tum tum, doubts, fears and worrys were being eleviated. the volcanic islands got smaller and smaller astern and fear was being replaced with condfidence. stunning sunset with calm seas and perfect winds. stoked for this final leg. to england we go

we were off to such a baller start. i took it as a good omen. more clear skies. fantastic mornings and evenings, a constant brilliant sun, calm seas but with enough wind for a 4-6 knot average. meals were easily made, and the solitude it gave of only 2 on board was therapeutic.

someone always needs to be on watch. we got down on the classic watch system of 4 hours on, 4 hours off. ideally, the one off watch is catching up on sleep while the other tends to Capella's course. ideally. but, often he rest you get, if you can fall asleep, is never more that 3-3.5 hours. assuming the 12am-4am, 8am-12 and 4pm-8pm  watches, i was the one with the most darkness Charlie Murhpy.
i was all about it, during that midnight darkness a burning red red crescent moonrise rose, the most intense shooting star seared the sky and left sparky trails as it died, nearly all constellations were recognized and memorized as the mikly way reflected itself on the calm, black waters. phosphurescence was of the most vivid, glowing green i'd ever saw or imagined and the marine life was equally as stoked about the radiating seas as i was. packs of dolphins frequently came to say wadup throughout the night. their accompaniment recognized by the glowing green tube of water that was created as they darted around the hull. away, back, under and around Capella. like tron. their bottle nose outline, back, dorsal fin and tail easily seen as the glowing, glowing green illuminated their bodies. it was unreal.

with those glass nights, the horizon that couldn't be distinguised and thousands and thousands of stars gave the feeling of drifting in space. effortlessly drifting in space. happy to assume the night watch at first.

the days were spent making bracelets, eating, sleeping, sitting, fishing, sailing or reading all three bourne books. who is jason bourne?! what do you know about treadstone 71?! who is carlos?! what happened in marseille?!the fertile, nutrient enriched waters we crusied through was some sort of highway for marine life.  sea turtles, toitles, i like toitles...kevin loves america because there's a lot of toitles... and whales. whales whales whales. about a bakers dozen bob. their insanely loud blowhole spouting, pressure releasing noise alerted us of their presence. heart fluttering and so stoked, scanning the waters, scanning, scanning and there. deep, dark blue backs surfacing, shots of water fly into the air, they mozy up and then melt below the surface. saw single ones, couples, packs from afar and one, in the golden morning sun surfaced, not evenkidding, less than 100 feet from the boat. my gasp and "oouuughaa!" must've scared him away, it was the last we saw of that close encounter, but mats managed to snap a hot pic. concluded it was a sperm whale? sperm.

(no justice)

ish started getting real around day 4 or 5. or that chuckle became more sinister sounding.  through short wave radio we're able to snag a simple weather file once a day. if lucky enough to make a connection. its a snap shot of a given time of day, so by comparing the file between 2 days we can assume where these systems are heading. not that we could outrun weather, but once a day isn't nearly enough to form a stratedgy. we'd take whatever came. high pressure systems, massive, massive systems of weather produce wind in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere. calms are on the outside and get stronger toward the middle. and by massive, i mean upwards of 1000 miles wide. they can move quickly but if on the wrong side, they hinder any progress.
we got stuck on the eastern side of one. north winds, northeast winds, north, north. not good when wanting to sail northeast. a couple days of dead calms, zero progress and minor annoyances we finally skirted through it and onto the other side. taking 7 days to do about 350 miles...not good...south and southwest winds prevailed with moderate speed and we began progressing toward the smell of fish and chips and proper english accents.

low pressure systems come from gnarnia. they pack the worst punch. strong strong winds on the outside and spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. called depressions for good reasons. a low pressure system came from the west and sandwiched itself between us and the high pressure system we were riding. with the winds from both systems colliding into eachother, what was experienced was insanity.

the warming, comforting morning sun hid behind gray skies, stars were shy and the winds gradually increased. our speed picked up along with the seas and nights were illuminated by the crashing waves against Capella's hull. bashing waters would retreat in a massive radiating blanket of greenish white. at 6 knots our wake was a billowing plume of phosphurescence. when a wave crashed into the cockpit, vivid sparks of green trailed down the drains. these high, eradic winds gave the auto pilot a hard time staying on course. and so, the auto pilot anxiety began. that effin beep. beepbeepbeepbeep. mechanically, evil heart stopping beep. always at the most inopportune times. cooking, peeing, pooping, relaxing, whatever. that damn beep meant Capella needed assistance getting back on course. manual steering her until she found her way again. often not hard, but other times a real bitch.

the gennaker is this giant thin materialed sail that is awesome for downwind travelling. a valiant sight when hoisted and properly working but when the wind shifts, she's instantly turned into a huge hassle and potential nightmare. dark clouds were on the horizon as my midnight watch approached. we attempted to bring down the gennaker in darkness before any unexpected wind changes effed us up. in night darkness, harnesses buckled on, tethers locked to the side deck we clutched and hobbled to the bow. in the day's windy turmoil the line that brings down the gennaker got wrapped, or knotted or tangled or something stupid in the mast. pulling and pulling in darkness. nothing. the clew edge of the sail flapped so violently it disodged the metal halyard free from the sheet sending this gigantic sail viscously  waay out to the side of the boat. nothing could be done. quick decision forced us to collect the entire sail by hand and i slowly lowered her down. working quickly and scooping fast to not let any part of the sail the water. a tiny section caught in the water could turn into a giant mess as the sea steals the entire sail away. got her in, lashed her down, back in the cockpit. my 4 hour night watch began. the problem would wait til morning to get sorted out.

more sail problems. a downwind, high wind, rolling sea tack was attemped solo. the sheet let out too fast and too much and the genoa, the sail in the bow, got wraped around itself like 6-9 times. total disaster. a cupped section of the sail was free and capturing all 20+ knots of wind, flapping, flapping, monsterous roaring flapping. mats awoke to the violence and failed to set it free. so totally effed. looked awful. taking responsibility for my eff up, harnessed in, clambered all the way out to the tip of the bow on the bowsprit. pissed up off sail flapping flapping. fearful the thing would tear apart, i analyzed the sitch. and with good timing, brute strength, luck, a jammed finger, one hand clutching for balance, the other unwrapping, she finally was free. untwisted and like nothing ever happend. no idea how the sail didn't rip apart. collapsed in the cockpit, heart pounding and exhilerated, another crisis averted.

seeing the worst of the low pressure system by day 13 or 14, winds were averaging 30-35 knots and gusts were over 40. the swells and seas were abosolutely wild. completely monsterous. completely immense and no words or pictures could portray the sheer magnitude of what we were sailing through. in the through of each wave, looking up at the pure, gray evil that come rolling astern, there's nothing to do but stare at it and watch it pick Capella up  and ride the surf down. watched our speed climb to 11.9 knots surfing down one swell. thats insane. no idea how to measure wave height but, were at LEAST 20-25 feet. conservatively.
the wind was ferocious and because of the eradic layers of giant waves, the auto pilot stood no chance and that effin beepbeepbeepbeep was common. hand steering for over an hour one morning, trying to get us on an acceptable course, a rogue wave kicked us sideways down the biggest wave i'd witnessed yet. we slid sideways, the wave crashing into the cockpit overflowing all around. never seen so much water in the cockpit. steadied her off, tacked and we were soon somewhat calmer. as mats rested, the most intense seas were being stirred up as i chill alone in the turmoil  anticipating another rogue wave....beeepbeeeeepbepbepbeepbeep...

even more sail problems. 404 am, just got cozy in my bunk. relieved to feel the warm blankeys and relief from responsibility of being on watch. "ahhndy?!" he said. "yeea"..."we got a problem." because we were downwind, the main was always fully extended to one side of the boat. we rigged a line that prevented the main sail boom from flying from  one side of the boat to the other. blown off course, the wind shifted to the other side of the main sail, violently backing the entire thing. so violent it ripped the top and middle of the sail clean off the mast. our main sail had separated from the mast. wtf. jumped into warmer rain gear, harnessed up and scurried out to assess the damage in the morning light. of course fierce winds and high seas. slackened the halyard to begin bringing down the sail and i collected what sail i could grab. the wind ripped it off more and she got snagged in the metal spreaders of the mast. hoisted sail back up, yanked her free with one hand, the other bracing for balance, spider legged to get good leverage. free from the mast a gust ripped the entire top half of the sail off. entirely. the halyard free, she shot out 20 feet to starboard flapping violently, angrily. sooo soo loud. the noise was overwhelming. impossible to bring her back in. nothing working. we steer into the wind as best as possible, i let the halyard fly, sending the entire sail farther out, but with enough slack to haul in the sail inch by inch with all my strength. adrenaline  juices flowing, strapped down the rest of the collected wrecked sail and we both sat in the cockpit stunned. just sitting. asessing what the fuck just happened. damage was done. about 500 miles to go and no main sail.

a solid 72 hours of wet, cold, draining, exhaustive weather. watches rolled into the next. cyclced through soaking wet, cold socks and sperry's and damp rain gear. less than 3.5 hrs of sleep at a time. beepbeepbeep. the weather started taking its toll. never able to relax and always on edge, just waiting for auto pilot freakout beep. we ened up splitting the night into 2 hour watches which was more than enough time being alert in the wet, cold, dark cockpit. mountains of water crashing in and rain drilling your back. my first moment of real fear induced by sleep deprivation, wetness, unpredictable waves and mental instability. slept like the dead and awoke a new man. day 15 and slivers of sun shown through. the sea calming and winds easing. we'd passed the worst of it.

to charge some batteries and motor us out of the confused seas left over by the last few days, the main engine was up and running after a lil mid atlantic starter surgery. before long, she over heated for an unknown reason and then got jammed in reverse. of course. seized in reverse and no way of getting her out of gear, we now had no engine. engineless and about 300 miles to go.

Portsmouth harbor was too dangerous to come into with no engine and no main sail. we had to skip Portsmouth and head all the way down the english channel another 100 some miles to Dover. through the heavily traficked waters. the constant changing tides with us, against us, with us, against us...every 6 hrs or so..when the tide was with us we made 4,5,6 knots, when against we'd do 1.5, 2, sometimes stand still. mildly annoying when so close to our destination.

the last day of sail aboard capella. my final moments after 4.5 months with her. coming to an end. blessed with a gorgeous last day. sunny skies and good winds as we cruised the coast of southern england. its rolling green hills to portside and town after sea town drifted passed. relishing the last 36 hours aboard, i opted to stay on watch til 10pm to catch my last sunset under sail. awoke at midnight to assume my regular hours til 4am under a near full moon, and awoke mats at 6am as the sun came up. the white cliffs of Dover grdually being revealed. found energy in the anticipation of landfall and the bittersweetness of it all. that last cup of tea in the cockpit with Dover due ahead and morning light made the drama of the past 18 days oh so worth it. none of it mattered anymore. soaked in those last moments as the wind died as the tide drifted us inland. drifting. ironic way to end the whole ordeal.  no sailing, just drifting, calm seas just a mile from Dover.

soaked up the last Capella vibe before calling up Dover port control for a rescue tow into harbor. they came. we were rescued. and placed into a soothingly placid berth in Dover marina around 8am. morning sun aglow.

this last leg. THE leg of the atlantic. the one that sealed my journey aboard Capella is complete. proud to have done it on 2. thankful to have done it on 2. meant to be done on 2. the original 2.

atlantic. conquered. m effers.

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