09 June 2022

Day 7 — Hove To!

Today the wind just seemed to creep up, and up and up.

My first concern of the day was that we were headed straight for a bend in the Gulf Stream. My first priority was to keep us out of this Stream, which was famous for horrendous seas in nasty weather. We had to turn northeast to keep north of this looming menace.

I said yesterday that windvanes don't really steer boats like autopilots. They are designed rather to make the small adjustments required to keep a boat on a particular course. The only way to get n that course was to trim the sails properly.

My problem was that the mizzen sail, being at the back of the boat, wanted to turn the boat into the wind, like a weathercock. I wanted to turn the boat away from the wind, but Wanda wasn't strong enough to fight the power of the full mizzen sail. Solution: take the sail down. And shift the drive of the boat further forward.

Except I wanted some mizzen up if we needed to heave to later. Compromise: reef the mizzen. There was just a chance that would change the balance of the boat enough to turn onto our new course.

So, on with the foul weather gear (good French stuff I'd bought over the winter) and out on deck to take a reef in the mizzen. This accomplished, I was happy to discover that we could then lay the right course.

Meanwhile, the wind rose to 15, 18, 20, 25 knots. Petronella was barreling along at 7 and sometimes 8 knots. I marvellled at her strength and agility, even heavily loaded as she was. She just seemed to glide over the crests of each 10 foot wave, standing up to the fresh breeze, barely heeling more than 15 degrees. Likewise Wanda, our sturdy Aries wind vane steerer, held a steady course through the increasing fury, when an error or misjudgment in steering could cause a big crash. She was steering much better than I could. What a machine! To be hurtling through a maelstrom with such confidence and such grace… and it was all mechanical. No electrons were being used to create this perfection. Merveilleuse!

But the strain was enormous. If something broke…

"But she's so strong," I thought. "This is nothing compared to the Southern Ocean."

So we carried on, finishing a 145 nm run at noon, and then beyond, as the weather got worse and worse.

I'm not sure what triggered my decision, but all at once I knew it was time. We still had a long way to go. It was not the time to break something. We would bank the miles taken from the storm and heave to — essentially park Petronella for the night.

It was easily done. I'd been preparing for this minute for the last few days. All we need do is furl the jib, and Petronella — a Collin Archer type literally designed to heave to in the stormy North Sea — just turned gently into the wind at a 45 degré angle to the waves, slowed down, and stopped. That was it. We were hove to, taking the waves on the shoulder of the bow, gently rising to them, ans swooping down the backside, ready to take the next on. All without need of feeble human aid.

We breathed a sigh of relief. Instantly the boat was more livable. She moved slowly and gracefully over the waves, standing nearly up right.

And that, folks, is why I prefer a real sea boat. She'll go as fast as any boat with her waterline in a stiff breeze, and when you've had enough, she'll take care of you, and deliver the benefits derived from literally thousands of years of development.

Technology? Yeah, that's real technology in action.

Later on, we played cribbage in the cabin, and listened to the wind howl, and were glad we weren't fighting Mother Nature any more. Tomorrow is another day.


  1. Hi You two- Paul and I are following you everyday. Glad the waves and sea are calming down.

    1. Yes, the beginning of the trip was pretty hairy! It got better.


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