BD Atlantic Crossing / What Really Happens #1 (Fatigue)

As with all endurance events, managing fatigue grows more critical over time. I hit a wall for a time the other night, and not too unexpectedly after 17 days of sailing with minimal sleep time. I thought I’d been dealing pretty well with the issue, and was feeling unusually good – good enough to actually wonder if perhaps I’d not been pushing myself hard enough. The previous couple of days had been too hot during the day to sleep much, so I suppose something was building up inside, but remained hidden behind the excitement of breaking through 1000 miles to reach Antigua.

Big waves at Sunset

It was around sunset. The winds typically calm down a bit then, though they sometimes change direction as well. Usually by midnight, they have settled in for the night, and the sailing is comparatively easy after that. The forecast was for an increase in winds to 20 knots plus though, so when the wind began to touch 20 knots, I was prepared for it. Otto (the Auto-Pilot) on the other hand, wasn’t too sure if he could steer it, as he/it steers to numerical data, and doesn’t have the added input of vision and kinetic balance, so when things gets wavy and windy, he often gets caught on the wrong side of the angle and loses control. We take a good smack usually when the boat comes around and goes out of control like that, at which point I quickly grab the tiller and “massage” the boat back on course before letting Otto resume his duties.

So that night, we held on until midnight waiting for the easing of the wind direction, but it never came. I was unable to relax enough to hand things over to Otto, so that I could get some sleep. That’s when I made a conscientious decision to change sails, by rolling up the A3 and setting the jib. The A3 is a large spinnaker, on what is called a “top down furler” … so there is a continuous line that runs around a drum at the bottom of the sail, and it essentially, like a roller shade, rolls up the sail. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  Well, in the year we’ve been sailing the boat, there has always been a bit of a twisting issue that makes this rolling process a bit more difficult than you’d like it to be. This factored into my decision because my experience has been that even at 15 to 18 knots, it’s about all I can do to get the thing rolled up. I wasn’t sure how much harder it would be if the wind increased. At 21 knots, I made the decision to go into the roller “program.”

The way this is done is by easing off the sheet entirely, running to the bow, sitting in rushing water and pulling on the line to furl the sail. This is accompanied by a furious amount of noise from the flogging sail, which consciously you get used to – but your sub-conscious doesn’t let go of the sense of impending doom until the last few wraps are finally contained.

Fortunately, I’ve enough experience to make sure I set up everything just right in advance. But no matter how much you prepare, there’s just no way to know how much strength and endurance it will take to make it happen, once the action starts. The first third rolls up rather easily … but then the belly of the sail starts to fill and you have to fight that pull with all your might before getting to the last few wraps to secure it all. This also happens in the dark, mind you, with you there on the bow crashing forward into a dark and watery unknown … only illuminated by a bit of moon and your own internal memory of where things are. You keep thinking — there are easier places I could be – but then you feel that sharp wind and you take a snout full of salty air, the adrenaline kicks in and you just DO IT!

Once that was all done, I cleared the lines and worked my way back down the deck to the cockpit and set the jib up. I found the proper course for the sail and trim and settled the boat down. I checked all the instrumentation, course and bearings and took a deep breath. It was after midnight, we had done our work and the new day had begun - time for my daily cookie!

With the jib and main set, the boat speed came down to 8-10 knots and I was able to get back to my sleep regimen (previously explained in my “Ode to the Kitchen Timer“). By daybreak and with the bright sun filling the cabin again with light and warmth, I’d gotten some decent rest, and got up ready to assess the situation and decide whether or not to reset the A3.

Comments are closed.