26/35N 16/42W 7 knots north wind, spinnaker, full main, 8 knots, on course of 223degT. Last night, we sailed close aboard Gran Canaria Island in the Canary Islands. We sailed to the east fo the island to not sustain the lee of the easterly breeze. The lights of Las Palmas shone brightly, planes took off and landed at the airport, ships came and went from the port.
It was almost exactly 30 years ago that I sailed my first trans-Atlantic passage, Sardinia-Gibraltar-Canaries-Barbados. My dad had had a heart attack, had survived, but couldn’t go offshore anymore. I took a leave of absence from my job as a defense analyst in Washington, DC and went to get the boat for him. What an adventure! And what great memories of a fine voyage with 5 aboard, my first time offshore as skipper! Last night I called Jon Chorey, one of my shipmates from that sail, by satellite phone while passing Las Palmas, to relive the memory, and we did. These are special occasions and must be remembered. Also, I called my mother, who followed all of my Dad’s voyages, and my subsequent ones, because these happy memories provide happy moments for her now, too.
After passing the island, it was time to set the spinnaker, (3000 square feet) as we had a long downwind stretch forecast by the weather models. The wind was forecast to diminish slightly, but instead it increased slightly. So there I was, in the dark, in 24 knots of wind with masthead spinnaker up, a full mainsail, a boat going 17 knots, and an autopilot that was usually holding course but not always. And I was faced with the dilemma of how do I get the spinnaker down if and when we have so many wipeouts that I just can’t stand the suspense any more?
The boat did broach several times, but I learned that if I turned off the autopilot at just the right moment, grabbed the tiller, and yanked it hard, I could save the boat from broaching. This happened several times. Between near-broaches, I hand steered and re-programmed some of the parameters of the autopilot, all the while making 15 knots. I was sailing “on the edge”, and it was both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. But the moon shone, and the stars glittered, and maybe it would be OK.
Still, I was faced with the daunting task of how to get the spinnaker down and put it away. The spinnaker is in a sock, the whole thing is hoisted, and then the sock is hoisted to unveil the spinnaker. It is snuffed in the reverse. But if I ran forward to grab the snuffer and pull it down over the spinnaker, the boat would wipe out before I could finish the task. Then an idea… bring the snuffer line all the way to the cockpit, put it on a winch, and grind it down when you want to and can be within reach of the tiller. I tried it – it worked! Amazing!