After 14 days, 2000 nautical miles, and way too much excitement, we ‘re finally on dry land! A passage as long as this is difficult if everything goes perfectly but is infinitely more taxing when things don’t go as planned. Things certainly did not go as planned for us.
As we set sail from Cocos the winds were extremely favorably, 25-30 knots out of the east-southeast, and we were able to put away a lot of good miles in our first two days. Towards the end of the 2nd day, during my watch, the mount for the autopilot ripped out of place. The mount had also broke apart on our way to Cocos, and Jesse had made a repair in Cocos, but it didn’t last long. We tried a few different fixes but the swells were making it too rocky to really make a good repair and we eventually gave up; there would be no more autopilot for the rest of the passage. If we would have had to hand-steer the remaining 1800 miles it would have been extremely miserable, but luckily we have a wind-vane that we were able to fall back. A wind-vane is basically an analog version of an autopilot; it doesn’t use any electronics so is more reliable but can only hold the boat at a certain angle on the wind, not a particular course like an autopilot.
On the third day the wind completely died for about 8 hours, so we each did a 3-hour shift hand-steering while we motored through the ocean. The sun was out an it got pretty hot so we stopped the boat for about 10 minutes and we all jumped in for a swim. It was really refreshing but also a little bit eerie to be swimming in such vast and deep waters.
For the next three days the winds picked up to again and we made extremely good progress, averaging around 175 miles per day, mostly using the storm jib as our only head sail. Towards the end of the sixth day we noticed that the top our Genoa sail had blown out. The Genoa sail is our main head sail and the sail that provides most of our power, especially in lighter winds. We would still be able to unfurl it about 40% without exposing the damaged area of the sail, but not being able to use the full Genoa meant we were going to sacrifice a lot of speed, especially when the winds went below 20 knots.
Both of the problems we’d had to this point were unfortunate, but not disastrous. Our first true disaster struck on the seventh day at sea when the lower shrouds on the port side blew out. The shrouds are what hold up the mast, and when they go the mast loses it’s stability and is at risk of breaking. A broken mast, while 1000 miles away from the closest piece of land, is a very serious situation. That’s how boats get lost.
We were all sitting below eating breakfast and chatting when the shrouds came crashing down on the deck. We ran up top and saw the sickening sight of the mast flexing and bending like a piece of wet pasta. This was the first time at sea that I was really scared.
The next several hours were pandemonium, but Jesse, to his credit, took action right away and put us all to work. Nigel grabbed the helm and began steering us downwind to minimize our motion in the swells and the stress on the mast. While Jesse and I were getting the bosons chair ready to send him up we went through a jibe and the boom came swinging straight for my head. I was extremely lucky to just duck under it our else we would have had to deal with a serious head injury in addition to everything else.
Once we got everything sorted I hoisted Jesse up the mast with some lines. He tied the lines around the first spreader, where the lower shrouds used to be, and then came down and tied the other end of the lines to the deck. We winched the lines tight and were able to get the mast mostly stabilized. While he was up the mast he had to hold on tight with each swell that hit us while the mast flopped around helplessly. It was a terrible thing to watch and there were several times when I was sure the whole thing was coming down.
Once the mast was temporarily secured we spent an hour or so brainstorming different ways to McGiver a more permanent fix. We eventually decided to wrap a spare tow strap around the top of the spreader and to attach two shackles to that, each with the top of the original shrouds attached to them. We attached the bottom of the shrouds to the deck and used track cars to get better angles. All of this was winched tight from the cockpit. The final product was a spaghetti bowl of lines running along the port side as well as the cockpit, but the mast was finally stable.
The whole situation had taken about 4 hours to resolve and everyone was completely exhausted, physically as well as mentally.
The Obelisk has an in-mast furling for the mainsail, which means that with multiple lines as well as the tow strap wrapped around the mast we could no longer unfurl the mainsail. Without the mainsail our progress would be slowed and the boat would rock much more in the swell. The next day we sailed very conservatively with only the stay sail up, keeping a close eye on the mast and rigging. Everything was holding up fine but we weren’t making great progress, averaging just around 5 knots despite 20 knots of wind.
The next day, our ninth at sea, the intermediate shroud on the starboard side blew out. It had been chaffing as a result of the compromised port side rigging, so once again we had an unstable and wavering mast. Luckily we had a spare running back stay on the starboard side that we were able to use to as a replacement, and we hoisted Jesse up the mast again to make the repair. At this point scaling the mast in rocking seas in the middle of the Indian Ocean had become common procedure.
For the rest of the trip the winds were light to moderate and out of the east, so we sailed with an improvised wing-on-wing setup that proved pretty quick. We had as much of the Genoa as we could to starboard and the stay sail to port with the wind vane keeping us downwind. We averaged close to 6 knots for the next 4 days and arrived on Rodrigues on Saturday, our 14th full day at sea.
On the afternoon of the 14th we finally arrived at Rodrigues, and think I speak for everyone when I say that each beer we drank that night was among the tastiest we’ve ever had.
This passage was extremely eventful, which is not something you hope for at sea, but I couldn’t be more proud of how everyone handled the adversity. Things could have been much worse, but everyone stayed calm and worked together to solve the problems as we encountered them.
Nigel and Annie had understandably had enough excitement at sea and have decided to finish the rest of their travels by air. We’ve lived together in close quarters for over two months, sailed over 4,000 miles, and had lots of great times together and they’ll certainly be missed. Luckily we met a couple of French guys on the day we arrived who were looking for a boat to crew on to Mauritius, so they’ll be joining us for our next passage. So far Rodrigues has been amazing and We’ll be spending at least 10 days here, making repairs and soaking up all the luxuries of dry land.