Poking The Bear

I has been quite a day on Prospector.  After blinking twice on two attempts to sail to the southern edge of the big low pressure system pacing us to the northwest, at 0430Z, lifted by a right shift, we began to discuss gybing and trying again. 

Larry, Paul and Terry huddled and discussed the pros and cons of the move.  They decided to go for it. 

But, Paul had one condition, if we gybed Larry couldn’t change his mind and want to gybe back again in 15 minutes.  Paul knows Larry has a tendency toward gyber’s remorse.  Larry agreed and said he would go take a nap to avoid the temptation.  The order was given and we gybed to a northerly heading and started sailing toward the low again.  Before climbing in to his bunk Larry took a quick peek at his nav screens and immediately was happy with the decision.

This practice of sailing toward the big low is now universally referred to by the crew as Larry poking the bear.  For what it is worth Larry doesn’t really want to poke the bear.  Expedition, our navigation and routing software does.  Larry is just Expedition’s spokesperson.  For the last 36 hours every route Larry has run on Expedition has called for an immediate gybe to the north.  He has tried every trick that Peter Isler and Chris Bedford have taught him to convince the software otherwise, but it is adamant about the gybe.  That is why we have been looking for every opportunity do so.

After the gybe with our go to sail combination of a reefed main, J4 and Genoa Staysail, we were off to the north and sailing fast.  We awoke to an unexpectedly beautiful morning.  It was warm and sunny. The crew enjoyed their morning coffee and oatmeal breakfast on deck and everyone took turns driving Prospector in terrific sailing conditions.  Henry, gave Larry a new nickname, Longboard Larry, because he was having so much fun surfing the big sixty footer in mid 20 knot winds and a huge following sea.  Matthew busied himself taking photos and videos for us to post later.  Some of the photos will go up tonight.  The video will need to wait for us to have a faster, cheaper internet connection than our FB150. Larry turned the helm over to Paul, and went to do his thing at the Nav station.  We were still 36 miles from where we thought the southern edge of the low was, but the wind suddenly jumped to 30 knots, the limit we had set for our proximity to the low.  It was time to gybe back. Tery and Quinn quarterbacked prepping for the gybe, something not to take lightly in such strong winds and high seas.  They began by putting in a second reef assisted by Matthew and Andrew at the mast, Lucien and Scotty at the pit and Tim, and Dave in the cockpit.  Paul manned the helm with Henry assisting by calling the waves. The reef complete Bruce and Matthew went to the bow and struck the Genoa staysail. We were getting ready to gybe when the wind jumped to 42 knots, making gybing too dangerous. Tery decided it was safer to do a chicken gybe, performing a 360 degree turn to a tack, rather than a straight gybe.  The only problem with the chicken gybe being the risk of stalling the boat and getting stuck dead in the water in high winds and a big sea.  Completing the maneuver involved turning Prospector very quickly and backing the jib to pull the bow around, which with Paul on the helm and Tery on the jib, was executed perfectly. 

The chicken gybe completed we immediately put in a third reef in 40 knot plus winds.  Now sailing in a triple reefed main and just the J4 and a strong following sea, we were pointing straight at the finish line and going very fast.  The only issues were the waves and the weather. The waves had become bigger than ever, and made driving very challenging.  The weather was complicated too.  We were sailing with the low to our left, the warm front ahead of the low just ahead of us and the cold front trailing the low just behind us.  You could see these features very easily and didn’t need a weather map to figure them out.  Squalls were popping up and tracking from southeast to northwest along the leading edge of the cold front.

We were not in any danger, but were facing very technical and challenging sailing conditions.  Our ace in the hole was Prospector herself.  Flat and stable, she reveled in the conditions.  Her helm was balanced, she tracked straight and smoothly and she responded beautifully to each course adjustment.

The Prospector crew, a terrific bunch of sailors, was also up to the challenge.  We shortened the driving rotation, normally shared evenly by all, to Tery, Paul, Henry and Tim.  Larry went to the nav station to learn how to track the squalls on radar, something he had never done before, assisted by Jeff.  Colette made sandwiches to keep the crew fueled up.  Brendan called waves.  Scotty repaired a torn batten pocket on the GS.   Matthew, Lucien, Bruce, Dave and Andrew trimmed sails.  We adjusted the watch schedule to reflect the new rotation and began rotating people below decks to get some sleep.

Everything well under control we began to put up some big numbers in a steady 35-38 knot, with low 40 knot gusts, southwesterly wind.  As the sun set, we struck the J4 and put up the J5, our smallest headsail in 30 knot winds.  Quinn has a nickname for each of our sails.  He calls the J5 the Lindsay Vonn, because it is beautiful, tough and always comes through in the clutch.  The winds and sea are forecast to settle down over night, but we are trying to be as conservative possible as we sail on in a very dark, still very windy night in a pretty tossed up ocean. So, why did we really poke the bear?  It wasn’t all about the routing.  We wanted to sail left to take advantage of an expected left shift over the course of tomorrow.  Also, given the loss of two kites we can’t go toe to toe in a downwind VMG race, particularly with Snow Lion and to a lesser extent with Maximizer.  Nomad IV is so big she poses a whole different set of challenges.  What we have learned over the past few days is that Prospector loves pressure.  The more the better.  We have also learned that we can sail as fast, and perhaps safer in a big breeze, with a reefed main, the J4 and a Genoa staysail than we could have sailed with the A6 we no longer have available.  The track we are on is forecast to have consistent 30 knot winds for the next 8-10 hours followed by 25-30 knot winds for the 18-20 hours after that.  The winds on the track we left are forecast to be much lower.

We gained ground quickly today on the two yachts in front of us, Snow Lion and Maximizer.  We are now second in our class and sixth in our fleet.  We have sailed 1,858 nautical miles in just over six days since we started.  We have 1,242 nautical miles to go to our finish at the Lizard in Cornwall, England.  A lot can still happen, both good and bad.  We have a nice little race going and are looking at a potential podium finish in our class and top ten finish in our fleet.  Both outcomes are well beyond our most optimistic hope when we began this adventure.  We are proud of what we and Prospector, more to come on the mighty Prospector in a future post, have done so far and very aware of and focused on what we still have to do.

Midnight Watch

Ok, if you read an earlier post, you'll know that middle of the night watches haven't always been my thing but experiences continue to temper this. Sunday's 2200 - 200 watch is another example. The evening was outstanding and I thought I'd send my impressions for those not fortunate enough to have a similar experience. I know my writing doesn't convey the half of it.

New Destination

A lot has happened since our last blog and several of our planned blog topics have slipped astern given yesterday's events. As you know, Shearwater has withdrawn from the TransAtlantic Race 2015. We made the decision with heavy heart but, given the options and resources available, we felt it appropriate.

A frustrating day at sea today with a big high pressure blocking our path to the ice gate, so progress has been slow. This has allowed all onboard to take a little extra sleep. We are split into 3 watces of 2 people, with lloyd out of the watch system. This means we are on stby

for 4 hours (helping the on watch with manouers cooking cleaning, and for me weather routing, then we move to being on watch for 4 hours, when we are ondeck driving and trimming, and finally we get 4 hours off for sleeping, and repeat. Having lloyd out of the watch systems works well as he is a strong driver, so can jump on the helm at any time and bridge between watches.

The skipper awoke in buoyantly positive mood this morning! As he appeared at 0400 to take his turn on the helm Bernard helpfully commented that it had been light at 0300 and that we should possibly advance the clocks two instead of just one hour. The skipper then disappeared below to write in the log book.

On re-emerging he casually announced that it was now 0600 instead of 0400. One way of shortening your watch I suppose! This now puts us 2 hours behind good old Blighty. This positive mood evaporated however when he examined the latest weather Grib files announcing that he thought he would prefer to be further north.

He then re-ran the programme 3 more times and still remained indecisive. Should we gybe to get north? The unfortunate Bernard was awakened from his well deserved rest and was asked to double check. Together they decided to remain on our current course and gybe, if necessary, in 12 to 24 hours. Bernard was then allowed back to his pit.

We have been trying to regain a new route since we missed our initial weather window due to our mast repair delay. With that 5 hour delay,  we could not get ahead of the trough and was caught by the hole it left us to sail through.

07 July

The evening of the 6th and the first half of the 7th have so far seen little wind, no clouds and, with the exception of a few dolphins, a featureless sea. It’s looking to be a hot still afternoon and with luck the breeze will fill in before tomorrow.

Otherwise, life on board is good. Well fed, well rested, dry and not smelling too badly, everyone is in good spirits and waiting for wind.


Last night and most of today have featured slightly stronger breeze and, as a result, better sailing than we’d expected. The A3 remains our headsail of choice with a change from the Genoa Staysail to our J4 and now back to the GS. Just now, we’ve closed to within about a dozen miles of Comanche as measured to the next mark in the course associated with the Ice Gate.

It’s surprisingly warm on deck in full sun, the workload is modest and a number of us have remarked that it seems a bit more like Transpac conditions than a Transatlantic. Last night we spent some long hours diagnosing problems with our Automated Identification System, which plays a critical role in a number of ways: it’s designed to assist in avoiding collisions at sea, it is also a key component of our man overboard recovery strategy and an onboard requirement for participation in the Transatlantic, and it’s required for navigation within the English Channel.

Our own installation was working well when we left the dock on Sunday, but within a few hours of the start, we noticed that we were experiencing very short range and then as night fell we were unable to detect any of the fishing boats that were often within only a few hundred meters.

After eliminating all other possibilities, we concluded the problem was with the antenna. This morning, bowman Scott Beavis made a trip to the top of the mast and quickly descending to announce that nothing remained of the masthead antenna or the connector to the mast antenna cable.

We managed to put together a solution based on a dissected spare VHF antenna, a crimp connector, some rigging tape and a little underwater epoxy and after one more trip to the masthead, we’re back in business.


The Rambler crew assembled at Newport Shipyard at 10 a.m. The first order of the day was assembling all our post race paraphernalia for air shipment to England. The scene on the dock was fairly relaxed compared to the previous weeks near endless work lists. As we stowed personal gear on board and assembled for our pre-departure crew meeting, our impression was that the Rambler was by far in the best shape since being launched in late 2014.

We ticked through a quick review of weather, safety, watch system and a final thanks to the shore team for the outstanding preparation and with little fanfare, dropped the dock lines and motored for the starting area.

Narraganset Bay was surprisingly filled with spectator craft of every shape and size. Many made fly-bys with cheers, waves and kind words for our safety and results for our Transatlantic Race and future slate of events in the U.K., the Mediterranean and Australia. It was a great send off for a program that was conceived, constructed, commissioned and campaigned in Rhode Island.

It was good to watch Paradox get a bit into Phaedo during the Open Class start just minutes before our own, which was, thankfully, much less eventful. We enjoyed a stronger-than-forecast breeze with full main and J2 and then transitioning to FRO and Genoa Staysail.

Now, at 1930 EDT (2330 UTC), we’ve cleared Nantucket shoal, cracked off a bit and peeled to our A3. The crew has settled into our watch system, which is four watches of four, with four fresh crew coming on deck every two hours in rotation. That gives each of us a four-on/four-off routine, with navigator Andrew Cape, strategist Brad Butterworth and owner George David floating.

Wayne Meretsky
Transatlantic 2015

In the foreground, Simon Daubney (right, trimmer) talks with Josh Belsky (pit) about jib mode. In the background, left to right, the crew in hats are Stu Wilson (boat captain/trimmer), Stu Bannatyne (watch captain), Scott Beavis (bow), Andrew Cape (navigator) and Brad Butterworth (tactics).

Broad reaching at 20 knots

Off watch

Scott Beavis (left, bow) and Stu Bannatyne working to make the best of 3 knots of wind.

Dave “Naval” Shilton

My adventure on Dorade has been a very interesting one. When it comes to the weather, we’ve have had it all; mostly strong winds with a few days of very strong stormy conditions and the occasional light breeze.

Tuesday 1030EST 41 59N 59 46W Atlantic Ocean

If you saw our race start on Sunday, we were ON OUR BIKE!!...... no doubt about it, fabulous action !!

Well.... right now, 500nm down the track, THE TRAINING WHEELS ARE ON !!

Das Atlantik-Sturmtief hat weitreichende Auswirkungen und wird Einfluss auf die Regatta-Flotte nehmen. Abseits des Kerns und der von den US-Gribdaten prognostizierten 40 kn Wind, haben wir es in der von uns durchsegelten Randzone mit WSW 7-8 und teils sehr ruppigen sowie

Time:  1608 UTZ
Date: July 7,  I think that means that it is Tuesday
Latitude: 42 16.537n
Longitude: 037 48.345w
True Wind Direction: 250 true, but varying 10 degrees on either side of that
True Wind Speed: 30 knots, with lulls to 26 and puffs to 34
Sea state:Filthy.  Truly vile. Big swells approaching 30 feet, with intermediate crossing waves of 15 to 20 and then lots of slop.

After yesterday's update, we ran under the A5 chicken chute all day and all night. double headed with a storm jib and then two reefs in the main.  Yesterday's conditions were decent, with winds in the mid to high twenties and a relatively organized sea state.  Then early last night we saw a front come through with a 50 degree wind shift and we decided to take a hitch to the north. The gybe went smoothly, which was remarkable because it is the very first gybe or tack we had put in since before the starting line.  We had been on port board for over 1500 miles. 

For a while we were actually able to fetch the finish, but as the front moved through we got clocked and were headed more NNE. Still on favored board, but barely.

By dawn this morning, the winds were steadily in the high  20's to low 30s but  the biggest issue was the sea state. It is really, truly vile.  Giant rollers are throwing us around like rag dolls, and between the waves, the variation in true wind direction and the puffs, all combined with the fact that we are running as deep as possible to maximize VMC, means that we were constantly at risk of broaching or rounding up.  Pilot steering was out of the question, so we had some long and tense watches on the helm and even with two guys that are pretty experienced at this, we would round up at least once an hour.   

Finally, right after dawn we decided the frequency was too great and we wanted to switch down from the A5 to the solent.  Maybe a concession of our frailty, but it was proved to be a bit late since we then almost immediately broached.  Recovery in that sea state is an amusing exercise. Once you have ground on the new runner, broken the old runner, dropped the main and traveler, released the storm jib and then released the A5 (all while standing at 80 degrees heel), you then have to be prepared to jump on the tiller as the boat stands up and starts hauling ass at 15 knots down the next wave.  Then you need to quickly dump the water from the two tanks on the wrong side, fill the two tanks on the right side, move everything and clean up the mess. It cost us an hour and one coffee mug lost overboard.

Since then, it has been solent running with two reefs. We still see 11 to as much as 20 knots of boat speed, but we are well off the polars. We do, however, have more control.

Ever since I saw this low developing, my plan has been to try for the southern route, threading the needle on the bottom part of the low with out getting spat out into the Azores high.  I figured that sailing inside the low was going to be more about survival than actual racing and that I would deal with the VMG gybing to the finish that the southern route implied.  I also have seen the Canadian models be more accurate than the NOAA models for this entire spring and early summer, and those Canadian models seem to support my hypothesis.  It remains to be seen if I am foolish or wise, but you guys will be able to have a good yard stick in comparing Dragon's outcome and that of Stella Nova or Toothface who have chosen north.  So far, Stella has been able to maintain high averages, and my hat is off to them.  They four up on that boat, all great sailors, but they have to be working real hard at it.  Sea state will be even worse than here, water colder and more wind.

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