We are departing today to sail to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and then on to San Francisco. The conditions look fair but can change quickly this time of year, so we'll be keeping a close eye on the weather. We experienced significant delays in Hawaii. The minor repairs took over three weeks to complete due to parts and professional resources availability. We were delayed by 4 hurricanes, and several crew scheduling conflicts and cancelations. We now have the boat fully ready, prepped and provisioned for this ocean crossing and visit to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the Great Pacific Gyre, a large whirlpool like current structure covering thousands of miles. Debris, or trash, collects there and is easiest to see in calm weather as high winds and seas disperse the debris and make it difficult to see. We will find what we can and post it here, on our Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram.
We are carrying sample kits and research equipment for University of Hawaii, NOAA, NASA, Smithsonian, and other research institutions. The equipment includes satellite trackers that we will attach to larger debris so the debris, can be tracked and studied, biological sample kits to collect fresh water and coastal organisms that have adapted to living on plastic in the middle of the ocean, water sample bottles to collect sea water at different depths to study the micro-plastics, and data input to test statistical modeling of the larger debris locations within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We will be posting as much photo and video as we can via our low bandwidths satellite connection.
The last days of the Pacific Cup race were quite busy. Since the spinnaker halyard broke we couldn't sail directly down wind so we had to sail at steeper angles off the wind, Gybing back and forth across the rhumb line instead of directly toward the finish line. I'm very late in posting this blog entry, but we are all safe and finished the race on July 23rd.
The last few days of the race were full of making water, managing electricity consumption and allowing the solar panels to charge the batteries as much as possible during the day so we could sail through each night. Since our alternator failed several days earlier the solar panels have provided all of our needed electricity. It's important to note the we turned on the engine, for battery charging only - not propulsion - for a total of 6 hrs during the race. During those 6 hrs we realized that they alternator had failed and much of the 6 hours was spend trouble shooting the problem. Since we couldn't correct the problem at sea we never did turn the engine on again until about a mile past the finish line. I'll detail more about the needed repairs in a later post. the solar panels generated enough electricity to run the water maker 6-10 hours each day, the fridge and freezer several hours each day, the navigation and communication equipment, and necessary lighting. The solar panels did this while charging our 1000 Ah house batteries so we would have energy during the night. We turned most all of our navigation equipment except for the low power LCD screens that display our instruments, wind speed and direction, boat speed, depth, heading, and auto helm on occasion.
We sailed toward the finish line gybing along the to eventually cross the finish line @ 1724 on July 23rd for a transit time of 14 days. We had a great time, worked hard, and sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii to achieve out common goals.
Congratulations to my crew for a job well done, and thank you all who helped make this possible.
Now, on to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!
We rig the lines we need while under way at sea much of the time. Splicing, putting eyes in lines, adding shackles, routing lines. We only have lines on a boat, no ropes. The difference between a rope and a line is that a line has a specific job, like a sheet. A sheet is a line that controls a sail. The jib sheets are lines that pull the clew, or aft end of the jib, back and in or can be let out to create more of a curve in the sail. A halyard is a line that pulls a sail up on the mast. The main halyard pulls up on and holds the mainsail up. Seb has been doing a lot of rigging while underway to accommodate changing conditions or setting up new or maintaining existing systems.
Rigging at Sea - Seb
Part of the Pacific Cup race to Hawaii is a downwind race. For downwind sailing, many boats will make use of a spinnaker sail and these sails are not attached to the forestay of the boat. They are rather attached at the top of the mast with a spinnaker halyard, at the tack of the sail with a tack line and have spinnaker sheets at the clew of the sail to control the angle of the spinnaker. Otherwise it is free to fly. To further help control its shape, we can use a spinnaker pole which is deployed on the opposite side of the spinnaker sail. This pole has its own set of lines to control its height and angle. On Blue Moon, our spinnaker pole was delivered a few days before the Pacific Cup race and so most of the rigging of the pole had to be done underway. So we bought enough lines and shackles and blocks before we left and I have been setting these up as we converge on a workable rigging plan. To connect these lines to the pole I used trigger snap shackles so if there is a problem we can release the lines from the pole quickly. I’ve been eye splicing the lines to those shackles today and yesterday and whipping the lines to prevent fraying. I also made a peeling strop which is a line to help secure the tack of the spinnaker while we jibe. As we journey to Hawaii, we can make different types of lines to solve issues that come up (like a line breaking or re-routing certain lines using various blocks if we need to).
Navigation is the critical element of sailing. Without navigation sailors would be hitting rocks, other vessels being caught in winds too strong, or being swept away in the wrong direction in a strong current. Its critical that a good and capable navigator is onboard. The main tools of the navigator are the maritime charts, and the weather forecasts. Here is a link to one of the weather forecast pages we use: http://googleweblight.com/?lite_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nws.noaa.gov%2Fos%2Fmarine%2Fradiofax.htm&btnGo=Go
The carts we are using are on the bottom of the Voyage page at www.svbluemoon.com the charts can be clicked on the get and expanded view. A good description if the difference between a chart and a map is that a map tells you where to go, a chart tells where not to go.
Marye Ellen has a bit more information on navigation here:
This Pac Cup has been a challenge from the navigation perspective. We left San Francisco in heavy winds and swell to be greeted on Day 4 with a very fast and comfortable beam/broad reach. On Day 6 we encountered unexpected light conditions. I have been analyzing the Ocean Prediction Center briefings twice daily to figure out the best route to keep us out of the light wind areas. The high pressure ridge on the Pacific has been moving around, so finding the resulting winds is like catching a moving target (kind of like Harry Potter chasing the golden snitch). If you are wondering why our track has so many squiggles, it's because we have been making many course adjustments to chase the wind. Today is Day 9 and we are sailing well in winds about 12-15 kts on a broad reach with about 800 nm to the finish. When we cross longitude 150W, I will be navigating on Chart 19007 (Hawaii to French Frigate Shoals).
It's beautiful out here! We have been treated to spectacular sunsets and sunrises, full arc rainbows around the squalls, and crystal clear starry skies with shooting stars. Seb caught a bluefin tuna that made a delicious dinner. I have been playing with the sextant doing celestial navigation LOPs on the sun and planets. So much fun!!
Cheers for now,
The day starter for me at 0345, I’m scheduled for the 0400 watch and helm shift. The night was incredibly beautiful with a crystal clear sky, the ocean and waves rhythmically slicing past, and light warm winds. The spinnaker was up and the main was out and on a small preventer. I like to sail headsail only when the conditions are right. They were this night. We centered the main and put her away. Without the effect of the mainsail on the wind coming off the spinnaker, the spinnaker was free fill with wind, settle in and pull us along. I tightened the after guy, loosened the sheet and eased the tack line pulling the spinnaker pole to windward on our starboard side. The spinnaker gently followed by coming around a bit and squared perfectly in front of Blue Moon’s bow to drive us deep down wind. An asymmetrical spinnaker on a spinnaker pole to the tack and poled out to windward to get a deep downwind angle is a fairly new approach and it was working perfectly. We had the mast light on to softly light up the spinnaker which not only gave us the ability to see and manage the spinnaker but also presented this beautiful giant canvas in front of us. We could see every star, every constellation, the arms of the milky way, it was incredible. Nathan suggested we turn off the mast light to see more stars and to see if we could sail the spinnaker by the bright moon and star light alone. I enjoy the idea of two people looking up at the moon or a selected star from different places at they same time as a way of seeing it together. Seeing more stars and flying the spinnaker by starlight and the moonlight sounded like a great idea so I we turned off the mast light. The spinnaker was easy to see against the star lit sky. The edges clear and the tack and sheet easy to manage as she was set up very balanced with Blue Moon comfortably in her sweet spot dancing in the swells and loving the wind. She was all on her own, so balanced we didn’t need to touch anything.
There was a sudden pop and a bang and the spinnaker was gone. Just like that. The halyard had broken and the spinnaker fell onto the sea. Nathan and I jumped to grab the spinnaker and Marye Ellen went the wake up more crew to help. Nathan was grabbing and untangling the 5 lines that keep the spinnaker flying. They needed to be released so we could gain control and bring the spinnaker back onboard. I was laying on the deck reaching over the port side pulling as much of the spinnaker out of the water as I could. We got her back onboard and safe after about an hour of untangling and repacking. She appeared undamaged but soaking wet. The spinnaker halyard had come apart at the spliced eye, and they halyard had fallen through the center of the mast. The halyard would need to be repaired and run up the mast again as soon as the conditions allow for someone to climb to the top of the mast and re-run the halyard. We’ll do this at sea in the next couple of days and get the spinnaker up again.
The night before, we were running the engine so its alternator would charge the batteries as we made water through the night to recover from our fresh water loss. The batteries started reporting a drop in voltage meaning that somehow the alternator was depleting the batteries instead of replenishing them. We are still working through this electrical issue. Have plenty of water now and are making water every day in excess of our consumption thanks to the solar panels. The solar panels have been providing enough energy to run all the boat systems and make water, with enough energy to keep the battery bank to a good charge level.
The wind is still low, but it has improved to where we can make better progress toward Hawaii.
When sailing across an ocean, one looks for certain qualities in the vessel they choose for the journey. She should be structurally sound, be of a shape and design that will not easily capsize, offer adequate space for the occupants and their provisions, and keep water on the outside.
Many sailboats meet these criteria and Blue Moon is no exception, so when you are 1,000 nautical miles from the nearest piece of dry land and you hear the automatic bulge pump kicking on every half an hour to drain water from the bottom of the inside of the boat, you take notice.
Another oddity was the high rate at which we were using our fresh water stores. Initially, it seemed like we were simply not being careful enough with our consumption, but once we took note of the regularly-cycling water pressure pump and bilge pump, it was time to do some detective work.
Finding a leak on a boat can be surprisingly challenging and often involves a process of elimination. To begin with, we open up the floor panels in the main salon to expose the lowest part of the bilge where any water that enters the boat eventually accumulates. Then we taste the water in the bilge; not a pleasant task, but it helps determine whether the leak is fresh water, salt water, or something else. Our fearless captain Salty Russ took a draft of the swill (I swear he seems to enjoy it) and deemed it to be fresh water. A-ha! Mostly likely this is where our excess fresh water consumption is ending up. But from where is it leaking?
At this point, one can picture an hours-long montage of images of the crew pulling up floor panels, removing wall panels, piling bed cushions up in the main cabin, and sticking their heads, hands, and a fancy little endoscope in every corner. A desire for a dry boat and adequate drinking water can be very motivating. Marye Ellen commented that the chaos looked much like it did many times while we were at the dock preparing for the race. She was right!
Eventually, we did discover the source of the problem. The water heater expansion release valve was leaking about a cup of water per minute! The fix was a bit of ingenuity by Tim. He scavenged a one way check valve from another part of the heater to isolate the heater from the main fresh water system. Brilliant!
About an hour later, most of the boat was back in tidy order, tools were put away, wet areas were cleaned up and our water woes were behind us. hopefully for good!
I didn’t believe it. The crew told me several times that they thought there was a fresh water leak. I didn’t believe it. I know this boat very well and most of the time when somebody says something is broken, it’s not. Its’ usually because there is something in the way, or a line is bound, or the particular piece of equipment needs just a little TLC. Some things just need to be talked to and given a very gentle nudge. I talk to my boat a lot. Almost every piece of equipment has a name, usually a female name; Jenny, Rita, Betty, Kate. Silly I know, but it’s true. When the main sail wouldn’t come out the answer was, “Don’t try so hard; she’s in distress.” Letting up some tension caused the mainsail to run out free and easy. “Don’t use a winch handle when you can easily pull by hand,” I often say to the crew. Most everything on the boat can be done by hand with a little help from the winch at the very end to snug things up, if at all. So when the crew told me they thought there was a fresh water leak, I listened to them, checked what they said and found no validation in or for support of their complaint. ‘”The water pump was running too much which means there’s a leak,” they said. Each of them. Whenever a crew member has a question or states a concern, I always investigate with them. We all learn and they are put at ease by fixing it or learning how things work. The overactive water pump was not apparent whenever I investigated with them. “The water system was fine, maybe some overuse and we should conserve more,“ I thought.
I am very careful with the fresh water systems and have taken extreme care to make certain that our water system is more than adequate for us. I cleaned the tanks, had the water maker serviced – 3 times—created step-by-step documentation on how to operate it. Had that documentation verified and updated by someone not familiar with the system and updated any missed steps if they couldn’t get water going. I installed a water purification filter and spout for drinking water (I asked Tim to do this for reasons I’ll explain below), converted the heads to sea water flush instead of fresh water to preserve fresh water for drinking and cooking. I tested and repaired the sea water galley foot pump so we could have sea water to wash dishes and fresh water to rinse. I verified that there is a Y valve to the foot pump so sea or fresh water could be chosen in case the fresh water pump failed. The only thing I didn’t replace was the water heater. It was acting up several months ago and I couldn’t figure out why. I drained it, serviced it, and made sure it was ok. It worked fine after that. Other than that was the expansion tank. An air pressurized vessel that provides pressure so that the pump doesn’t have to run as much. It was low on pressure so we pumped it up and all was good. So the water system was fine in my mind. The system was sound, redundancy in place with 2 independent tanks, 2 levels of water purification, water conservation steps implemented, water making capacity tested - I even keep a log detailing how much water is consumed per person per day whenever sailing off shore so I know what water capacity to plan on, and we tested the water maker under way at sea several times. So when the crew was concerned about a water leak and the fresh water pump didn’t act odd when they tried to show me, I put it in the back of my mind to monitor and be aware of instead of taking more aggressive action.
We made a lot of water. We made close to 90 US gallons of water a day, some days more. We needed to make water every day. The solar system barely kept up with the electrical demand and we ran the engine to charge the batteries because the water maker was taking so much electricity. We were consuming more water than was normal.
This morning started early for me. I went to sleep last night just about midnight and I woke up at about 0230 to check on things in the cockpit. I said hello to the crew on watch, had a couple laughs, and helped adjust the sails a bit. I went back to bed about 0300. My watch started at 0600 so I woke up at 0545 and was in the cockpit a little before 0600. The sun hadn’t come up yet. It was a clear night with some clouds over the horizon. Nathan was on helm and the wind was shifting a bit so we decided to Gybe, definitely a two or more person job with an asymmetrical spinnaker on a tack pole to windward and a preventer on the main. The pole was delivered a day or two before departure and was rough rigged while at the dock and the finishing rigging was done at sea by Seb and Larry. It was a new system and we were all learning it. Nathan, new the rigging, and I executed the Gybe well with increasing speed on the new tack. The wind was low however, and the seas calm with 3 ft. swells at about 18 seconds and very small wind waves driven by the 6 to 9 knot winds. We were making headway at about 3.7 to 4.1 knots SOG. Creeping along. The mainsail was out and she was restless in the light wind and being backed by the wind coming off the spinnaker. I like sailing headsail only so we put the main away. Instantly the spinnaker calmed down, stayed full of wind, moved directly in front of Blue Moon and pulled us about a knot faster. The rig was much more quiet, almost silent. The only sound was the ocean against the hull as we cut through at 5 knots. Nathan had finished his watch and went to his bunk for some well-deserved sleep having spent another night awake on watch and at the helm. Marye Ellen had started her watch and since the spinnaker was flying very calm and without any human help she went below to the navigation station for weather workup and navigation work. I was alone on the fore deck loving the sound of the waves dance against the hull as the spinnaker pulled us along through the ocean. I tested every line, every knot, adjusted the spinnaker several different ways with the 5 lines that control her. She was dialed in and needed no help to fly. I returned to the cockpit and took some pictures of the beautiful sunrise, the ocean and unfortunately some trash floating by. It was quiet and peaceful. At that moment I heard the bilge pump discharge, sending about a half of a gallon of water over the side. That’s a lot of water having had very little rain and no waves crashing over the deck in days. I went to the bilge and saw some water occasionally flowing in the sump/bilge via a feeder tube leading from somewhere aft. The water looked clear. I tasted it. Fresh. I filled a coffee cup about a third full and drank it. Fresh. I put more water in the cup so I could take it to Marye Ellen just in case I was too much of a bilge rat and couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and brackish water. I asked Marye Ellen to smell it. “Fresh,” she said. She must have thought I was working with the water maker and testing the water for salinity. I said, “Take a drink.” She asked where it was from and I said ‘the bilge’ she scowled. I said, “It seems fresh doesn’t it?” She agreed. I drank it. “There is good fresh water in the bilge, we have a leak,” I said.
We all worked to open every compartment, removed the mattress from every bunk, opened every access panel, crawled back into the stern where the steering quadrant rotates the rudder post. Everywhere there was a fresh water line we looked for leaks, touched it, traced it for water drops. We inspected and cleaned every part of the bilge to identify new water from residue left from the prior week. Nathan searched every bilge supply tube to make sure he knew where any drop of water might be coming from. We used the 0.5mm lighted inspection camera scope to inspect areas we couldn’t access. Larry ran the scope along the fresh water line in its entirety along both sides of Blue Moon. No leak. Water was still being fed to the bilge. Nathan and I removed the master bunk under which the water tanks are mounted, Two 335 liter tanks that work independently. We opened the access and inspection ports and inserted the scope in tank #1: dry. Tank #1 should be dry, it’s the working tank. We knew we were empty and I had started making water. When we run out of, or are ow on water , I turn off tank #1 and begin making water in it. I then turn on tank #2 for a couple hours so we have water while the water maker catches up and we have water in tank #1, then I switch off tank #2 and switch on tank #1. This way tank #2 is always at least 75% full as it is replenished by the overflow when tank #1 is full. This way we never use more than 60% of our fresh water and a nearly full tank #2 could last us several days if needed. Tank #1 was empty and water was entering from the water maker just as planned. We inserted the inspection scope into the inspection port of tank #2. Dry. Empty. My first thought was of Tim, I had let him down. Tim crossed the Pacific to Tahiti some years back and his water tanks became damaged leaving him with no fresh water for two weeks. He collected as much rain water as he could and kept himself and his crew as healthy as possible without fresh water. A challenging experience is a massive understatement. I didn’t want Tim, nor the rest of the crew, to have to worry about water. I was mortified to see that tank #2, our safety margin, was dry.
We do keep emergency water onboard. We have about 14 gallons of fresh water in about 12 separate containers that are protected and stowed in the bilge. This water is for emergency only and is not to be touched otherwise. We needed to get our original water plan on track. We needed to do this by finding and stopping the leak, then making more water to keep up with demand.
The condensation from the fridge and freezer as a source of the fresh water in the bilge were ruled out. Those drainage lines fed into the bilge from a different direction we found out, after working through a few T junctions and identifying the condensation source. Tim makes quick work of repairs by not only executing quickly to the corrective action, but identifying root cause of the problem quickly as well. We spent hours looking at every possible location. Then Tim said ‘it must be coming from over there’ and pointed to the port side just toward the back of the dining table. Then it hit me, I knew what the problem was. “The water heater is over there, behind that panel. Take the screws out and also the screws at the back of the dry locker.” Tim and Nathan had the panels off in moments and there it was, the offending leak. The high pressure overflow valve on the water heater was flowing even though there was no hot water in the tank. Something was wrong with the pressure valve and it was allowing water to flow out. We secured the water and Tim had re-routed the fresh water lines into a loop cutting out the water heater. The leak was stopped. Needless to say we were all very relieved to have found the source of the leak and stopped. Now the work to make water begins. We’ll need a lot of electricity and the solar panels are still catching up from being at less than 50% capacity for a few days as the result of wind damage caused by 40 knot winds on day one. We will need everything they have in order to make enough water. Until this trip, each solar panel array’s biggest power day was 1Kwh each. They have produced 2Kwh each on full solar days on this trip. We’ll need it all to keep the electronics going, make water, and keep the batteries topped up for enough electricity to get us through the night and into each solar day. To augment electrical power generation we will use the alternator on the diesel engine. We will not use the engine for propulsion. Even though winds are low and other boats are using diesel powered engines for propulsion we will not. However, I did expect that we may need to charge the batteries with the engine alternator at some point so this is what we set out to do with the plan of making water through most of the night. We started the engine and began charging the batteries. The engine usually gets the batteries to over 13 volts within an hour, then continues to fully charge the batteries further as long as it’s on. After an hour the batteries showed no increase voltage, no charge. We increased RPMs a bit and ran some other minor checks. Nothing helped. It was getting late, near midnight and me and the rest of the crew had been working hard all day. I had been up and working since 0545 with only a few hours of sleep prior. We needed rest. Shutting off the water maker and reducing power consumption in a few other areas would allow us to make it through the night. We’ll solve the power generation problem tomorrow. Now it’s time for a beer and some rest.
Winds 4-8 knots
Seas calm, swells 3ft at 20 seconds. No wind waves, wind ripples with no white caps.
Sea Water temperature 77°F
Marye Ellen taking a sight of Venus with the sextant. Celestial navigation is an important part of ocean sailing.