22 June 2022

Day 18 - Discovering Petronella

One thing good about sailing all day, every day in all kinds of weather is you get to learn what makes your boat tick.

Helena and I have about 7000 blue water miles on Petronella, so you would think we know her pretty well, but our eyes have been opened on this trip.

The reason is pretty obvious, and has been obvious to me during our last few trips up and down the coast of the US. First, your choice of course is VERY constrained when coastal sailing, particularly on the east coast of the US. You are hemmed in not only by the coastline on one side, but by the Gulf Stream on the other. You pretty much have to steer straight up or down the coast, no matter which way the upwind is blowing.

And since the prevailing wind also blows up or down the coast depending on the season, you end up spending a surprising amount of time with the wind either dead aft, or dead on the nose, or (most often) with no wind at all. So, yeah, I know a lot about how Petronella sails dead down wind and motoring. We generally tried to avoid sailing hundreds of miles upwind.

So, if you told me that Petronella, a 25,000 lb steel ketch, could routinely make 7 and even 8 knots, or that she could easily sail hundreds of miles up wind in pretty frightful conditions, I would have laughed. No way.

Well that's because she just wasn't in her element. She just didn't have the space she needed to show me her stuff.

Anyway, I've learned more about how to sail Petronella in these last few weeks than I did in the past few years.

Last night the wind continued to blow 20 knots on the beam, and of course the waves continued to mount. Now, call be a coward, but I don't like sailing in the dark with big waves rolling in from the side. Particularly when I don't know how big the waves will be at, say, 2 am. 2 am is not a good time to take action, in my opinion. I like to have my strategy worked out before the sun goes down. A plan that will hopefully take us through the night without too much strenuous on deck activity, and preferably with an easy get out of trouble rip cord I can pull if things go south.

Earlier in the trip, I probably would have just hove to for the night. The weather was that bad. But this time I decided to try something different, a technique I think is called fore-reaching.

We were already down to three reefs in the main, and just a scrap of jib, and the mizzen of course, so we had the right amount of sail up. I just didn't like those big waves hitting us broadside and rolling us over 30 degrees. Particularly when we were doing 7-8 knots. It was just too easy ti imagine some sort of spectacular crash.

So I pointed Wanda, our Aries wind vane, so that we were pretty hard on the wind — a course change of only 20 degrees or so, which headed us more East than north east.

Then I eased the main sail out until it was almost luffing. This de-powered the main and slowed us down to a more reasonable 5 knots. We were also angling more into the waves, taking them on the shoulder of the bow, instead of broadside.

This felt much safer, and if things really got hairy, all we'd have to do is roll in the last bit of jib, haul the main and mizzen in tight, and we would be hove to.
That worked great. We had a comfortable, safe night, and in the morning, when I could see the waves again, I gladly got us back onto a beam reach, powered us back up to7-8 knots, and roared off to the NE.

It's been like that all day, but I think the wind is gradually tapering off as we penetrate into the heart of the Azores high.

We need a different plan for tonight!


  1. We are enjoying reading your blog and following your transatlantic journey. Thx for alerting us about KALYRA, didn't know they were crossing. Send regards from Chris, Bill& Flaco on PLOVER.
    Fair winds to both of you.

    1. Oh, we were just talking about you with Trip and Nicole. Glad you are following.


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