Our Journey to Bermuda

Exactly one month ago today, Sam Cox and I did this thing.  We sailed a 21-foot--a Mini Transat 6.50--from Newport, RI to Bermuda.  After 5 1/2 days in the North Atlantic Ocean, we completed the passage, arriving in St. George's on June 24 at 0230.  By far, the toughest part about this passage was making the decision to untie our lines from the dock at Newport Yacht Club, point the boat towards Bermuda, and leave behind the protections of land.     

Swirling about Newport in the days leading up to the official start of the 2016 Newport-Bermuda Race (June 17, 2016) were talks of 40+ knots of breeze in the Gulf Stream, wind against current, with higher gusts (potentially 60 knots) in squalls.  Top meteorologists and tacticians were telling well-prepared crews that June 17 was a bad day to sail to Bermuda.  The entire Gibbs Hill fleet withdrew.  Skilled sailors were dropping off boats otherwise intending to race.  We overheard one professional weather briefing where the pros basically told those on the conference call, "We don't know what the f**k is going to happen out there."

We had a tough decision to make.  Sail to Bermuda.  Or go home.  Like all sailors did in the days leading up to June 17, we analyzed all available information, and talked with sailors much more skilled than we in order to make the most prudent decision.  Through our interactions with folks like Chad Corning and Rich du Moulin, we learned some interesting differences between the most readily used weather models--GFS (Global Forecast System),  ECMWF (European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasting), and OPC (Ocean Prediction Center).  For example, we learned from Rich about how GFS does not accurately predict wind speeds above 30 knots, and that one should expect 120% of the forecasted wind speeds according to GFS.  We learned from Chad about how, compared to the other models, the OPC model includes the most human input.  None of these models were consistent with the information we were receiving from the proprietary models put out by PredictWind, who has been supporting us from the beginning.  PredictWind showed the low pressure cell off the coast of South Carolina, but forecasted no more than 30-35 knots in the Gulf Stream when we were expecting to cross it.  

I also considered the tear-inducing words of friends, who suggested--based on nothing more than concern for our well-being--that we abandon our venture.  Lawrence Cutler shared with me his experience sailing in 60 knots during the 2010 delivery back from Bermuda.  Others asked me to think of my kids.  Coupled with the uncertainty in the forecast, these words led to a debilitating physical stress that nearly brought me to the mat in submission.    

Luckily, we had Rob Windsor across from the dock from us at Newport Yacht Club, and I had a chance to talk with Clay Burkhalter following the NBR Skippers' Meeting.  For anybody reading this post, these two names should be very familiar.  Rob is an experienced racer, and active sailor on the Class 40 circuit.  Clay Burkhalter, also an experienced racer, participated in the Classe Mini circuit and finished 12th out of 84 sailors in the 2007 Mini Transat.  Both Rob and Clay gave us the most objectively reasonable advice we could hope to receive.  They said, just head down to the Stream and, if it's gnarly, bail out, and head home.  Although obvious in hindsight, this alternative was nowhere on my radar.  Rob and Clay's advice was the sledgehammer I needed to break through the concrete wall of physical stress that separated me from the ocean, and from this journey. 

We passed Castle Hill on June 18 at 1400 with our bow pointed towards Bermuda, having delayed 24 hours following the official start of the Newport-Bermuda Race.

Once on the ocean, my physical stress gave way to psychological bliss as I was able to free myself from the pains of the past and burdens of the future as I focused on the present--that is, until the hallucinations set in.

We went for it.  We f***in' went for it.  And we accomplished something; we accomplished our goal.  But rather than tell you more about our journey, let me show it to you.

And P.S., PredictWind was spot on.  We topped out at 28 knots of breeze.

Standing by...

It's June 17, 2016, at around 0800.  Today is supposed to be the start of the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race.  However, no later than 1100, the OA is scheduled to make a decision whether to delay the official start on account of some gnarly weather that is expected to hit the fleet while in the Gulf Stream.  Gnarly being sustained winds of 35 knots with puffs into the 40s, and potentially into the 50s and 60s in squalls.  A low is expected to park right over rhumb.  

More impactful than the breeze is the sea-state.  The expected TWD (true wind direction) for this breeze is E-NE, which means wind against current in the Stream.  The result is monstrous, steep, square, breaking waves--problematic yet doable for a heavy displacement boat; problematic and downright insane for a 2,500 lb. Mini Transat (to the say the least).  Yes, these boats are designed and built to cross oceans.  But even official Classe Mini events are delayed in big breeze--most notably the 2013 Mini Transat, when the OA delayed the race because of 50 knots and 4 meter waves off Cape Finisterre.  

We have no intention of putting our lives at risk by sailing into the Gulf Stream with the potential for 40-60 knots wind against current.  My 6-year-old daughter says to me yesterday, "Daddy...I hear some bad weather is coming.  Maybe you should just drive home."  I'm not ruling that out.  But right now, we are standing by.  Gear is offloaded from the Jeep and into the boat, food and water is organized and stowed, precious cargo has been loaded, and we have enjoyed Gosling's rum at Newport Shipyard in 100% approved, top choice swag designed by dear ol' dad.

The decision to stand-by is obvious.  Over the past few days, I have talked weather with sailors who, collectively, have hundreds of years of experience sailing offshore, and interpreting weather models--folks like Rob Windsor, Rich du Moulin, Clay Burkhalter, Chad Corning, and Lawrence Cutler.  Here are some choice quotes:

Lawrence:  "Josh.  With all due respect.  If you leave on Friday, you're a f***in' idiot."
Clay:  "Josh.  50 knots in the Gulf Stream will be...challenging.  Maybe head down there.  Dip your toe in, and bail out if need be."
Rob:  "I'd go...but I'm an idiot."  [Note:  Rob is not an idiot, but any stretch of the imagination.]
Rich:  [stares me down with an expression that I took to mean what Lawrence told me to my face].

The camaraderie up here in Newport, like the sunsets, is inspiring.  


The Way of the Weekend Warrior

Back in July, with "real life" obligations heavily competing for my attention, I felt a strong urge to crush miles aboard my 21-foot Mini Transat, Abilyn, because that's just what you do when you own a Mini Transat.  But I was also motivated by something that pro sailor and co-founder of 13Fifty Racing, Jesse Fielding, said to me in Newport during the VOR stopover.  He called me a name, and, in an anti-Marty McFly kind of way, I sought out to prove him right.  In total, I sailed nearly 600 miles over these three weekends between my "real life" obligations to see if I had what it takes to be called a weekend warrior.

On May 6, I traveled up to Newport with my wife to see the Volvo Ocean Race.  It had been just four days since I launched Abilyn for her third season on Long Island Sound.  Fellow Mini sailor, Tony Leigh, and I sailed Abilyn from Brewer Pilots Point in eastern CT to Larchmont, NY--a delivery that included temperatures in the mid-30s (F), very little breeze, an outboard that died 20 miles out of the marina, and my first experience with SeaTow (which was great, by the way).  But I digress...

Up in Newport, after catching a ride in Jerry Kirby's RIB (thanks to Mr. Clean and his connections) to see Abu Dhabi and Dongfeng gybe duel to the finish off Fort Adams, I had a chance to have coffee with Jesse Fielding and Will Gammell.  Jesse and Will head up 13Fifty Racing, which, if you don't know, is the best shot we Americans have right now of seeing an all-American team in the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.  But 13Fifty Racing is about much more than the next VOR--like OakCliff Sailing and the old All American Offshore program, 13Fifty is about expanding the distribution channel for American sailing talent.  

During our java session up in Newport, Jesse says to me, "Josh, you're like the ultimate weekend warrior."  Jesse is a pro.  I am not.  Although, I occasionally dream about what it would be like to sail full-time.  At least according to America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Jerry Kirby, this would mean giving up life as I know it.  I called up Jerry many years ago during a particularly bad day of desk jockeying, similar to how Bobby Bouche called up Captain Insano after a bad day of waterboying.  The exchange went something like this:

Josh:  "Jerry, what does it take to be a Volvo Ocean Race sailor?"
Jerry:  "Josh, what do you do for a living?"
Josh:  "I'm a lawyer."
Jerry:  "Well, Josh.  If you want to be a Volvo Ocean Race sailor, you have to stop being a lawyer, and go sailing."

Jerry's logic is undeniable.  And I'm still a lawyer.  

As I left Newport, I grinned from ear to ear because my VOR experience was nothing short of spectacular--out on the water to see the lead boats finish, great food all over town, a fun race village (by no means immersive, but fun), watching Team Brunel check out Comanche with one crew member announcing, "Too big for me!", and a top 10 spot (worldwide) in the Musto Grinding Challenge, which I'm guessing was not a competition in which many Aussie footballers participated. 

I imagine that my feelings toward the stopover were shared by many of the 124,999 other sailing enthusiasts who visited the race village.  But as I drove back over the Newport Bridge, smiling, I also thought about Jesse's comment, and what it means to be a true weekend warrior.

Although Urbandictionary provides more than a few colorful definitions (relating mostly to binge drinking and drug abuse), the most general definition of "weekend warrior" appears to be as follows:

However, in my view, there's more to a weekend warrior.  A true "weekend warrior" is not somebody who simply participates in an activity in their spare time, but rather is one who espouses a higher level of dedication.  A true weekend warrior is one who:

  1. strives to maximize the amount of spare time available to participate in an activity while at the same time remaining dedicated to his/her "real life obligations (which are usually focused on career and family);
  2. desires to excel at that activity, not just participate; and
  3. needs to engage in the activity as a core component of their existence.

These principles can be distilled into a single concept--passion.  Indeed, for one who possesses this passion and who also places a high value on "real life" obligations, living the way of the weekend warrior--notwithstanding the term's pejorative origin--is an unequivocal expression that neither pursuit is trivial, and that each is undeniably essential to their happiness. 

Now, one caveat.  Under this definition, for example, Hap Fauth, owner of Bella Mente, could be considered a weekend warrior.  But it would seem almost dirty to refer to Mr. Fauth as such.  The term "weekend warrior" naturally carries a socioeconomic connotation, the limits of which are beyond the purview of this "blog" post.  But I will venture to say that nobody who owns a boat in the Maxi 72 Class can or should be considered a "weekend warrior."

Folks like Peter Beardsley, Doug Lynn, Guy Rittinger, and Tristan Mouligne--these are true weekend warriors; ordinary folks with non-sailing day jobs who are passionate about the sport and who push themselves to be better sailors by doing what they can to maximize their time on the water (and who obviously do not own a boat in the Maxi 72 Class).  Being a weekend warrior is the ultimate badge of honor for the everyday, non-professional sailor.  

So when Jesse Fielding pinned this badge upon me, I naturally thought about whether I was worthy.  I thought about whether I was succeeding in balancing my "real life" obligations with my passion for sailing and my ambitions for the Mini.  The fundamental ability for me to balance sailing with "real life" has been made possible only because of the system my wife and I have employed in our family.  Simply put, we support each other.  However, during the 2015 season, with a career transition, that balance tipped in favor of "real life" when I chose to focus on work and forego my bid to race Abilyn to Bermuda and back as part of the 2015 Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race, a race for which I qualified in 2014, and which was my primary goal for the 2015 season.  

But a series of weekends in late July gave me a chance to rebalance the scales;  three weekends, two back-to-back offshore regattas with starting lines 150 miles apart, 255 miles worth of sailing just to get to those starting lines, and work and family responsibilities mixed in between.  

After coordinating logistics with my wife, who, to the surprise of some, fully supports my sailing ambitions and Mini adventures, I set off on July 18, a day after I gave a presentation on Mini sailing at the Storm Trysail Foundation's Junior Safety at Sea Seminar, where I stood on my soap box and told the juniors to go explore, for the ocean never closes.  

Saturday, July 18
Outward Bound

The plan was straightforward:  Ride a 15-20 knot westerly from Larchmont, NY to Newport, RI to get ready for first of the two regattas, the New England Solo/Twin Championship, where I would be competing in the solo/spinnaker class.  At best, the transit would be a 120-mile sleigh ride downwind.  At worst, a 120-mile motor on a 2.5 hp Yamaha short-shaft outboard with a 0.25 gallon inboard gas tank that requires manual refills every 50 minutes.  The actual passage was somewhere in between, consisting of a nice downwind ride where we reached speeds of 13-14 knots, jib reaching while my co-skipper completed some "real life" work in the area of structured finance litigation, and motoring on glass while lounging on the Fatboy beanbag chair and chomping on jerky.

The highlight of the transit was the aural and visual display we were treated to while blasting against adverse current with the large Code 2 kite up through the bottleneck known as The Race.  The scene was nothing I had experienced.  From all points of land in my field of vision, both on the Connecticut and Long Island shores, fireworks filled the moonless sky, acting like a radar to show us the silhouette of Fishers Island, Orient Point, and surrounding shorelines.  And, while the CT fireworks were illuminating the kite enough for me to check the telltales without a spotlight, the proximity of the charges being launched on Long Island's north shore let us feel the shockwave of the explosions, which in turn amplified the sound of the hull pounding through the tidal rips.  "Like sailing through Beirut," noted a friend.  The same.  

Sunday, July 19
Newport Arrival

Twenty-two hours after leaving Larchmont, we ghosted into Narragansett Bay under a blanket of heavy fog, and tied up at the Newport Yacht Club where Abilyn would rest for five nights before the Solo/Twin the following weekend.  After lunch at Newport Shipyard and giving my friend a quick tour of Bannister's Wharf, we were on our way back to NYC--via the Mega Bus to New Haven, Metro North to Grand Central, and NYC subway back to our respective homes--mine being across the East River in this neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Monday-Wednesday, July 20-22 -

Non-sailing responsibilities.  Wife, two kids, two dogs.  Work.  3 AM nights to compensate for the days I'm out of the office.  

Thursday, July 23
Back on the Road

On the road back to Newport via rental car.  What should have been a 3-3.5 hour drive turned into a 7-hour test of patience, most of which consisted of just getting out of the City.  Once parked at Newport Yacht Club, I immediately began readying the boat for the regatta.  Rigged her up real nice, hit up West Marine and the grocery store, studied the tides and currents, dined with friends on Goat Island, and of course, attended to more "real life" work--an activity that was made sublime by the sound of "yazz flute" being played somewhere in Newport.

Friday, July 24
The New England Solo/Twin Championship  

70 miles around marks in the Rhode Island Sound, overnight, single-handed.  After some last minute rigging, I headed out to the start around 1100, just on the other side of Goat Island.  At 1200 (30 minutes before my class start), the light northerly was still holding despite the forecast for a late-morning southeasterly.  So I readied the kite for the start.  My class consisted of me, a Pearson 33, and a 50-foot Hinckley Sou'wester--despite being 12 feet shorter than the Pearson 33, Abilyn rates the same.  With the pole fully articulated in the pre-start, I hit the line on time and immediately filled the large Code 2 kite, well before either of my competitors knew what was going on.

Gybing down Narragansett Bay in light air and heavy powerboat traffic proved...frustrating.  But I powered through each solo gybe, kept the boat moving, exited the bay in first, and even managed to catch up to Frogger, the other Mini sailing in the event (albeit in the double-handed class that started ahead of me).  As I passed Castle Hill, I took a brief moment to appreciate that I was sailing my boat for the first time in this storied bay, and then quickly switched from downwind mode into upwind mode as the northerly shut off and the southeasterly filled in.  Kite down.  Genoa up.  I sailed the six-hour leg from Castle Hill to "1BI" just off Block Island in pristine upwind conditions, 10-14 knots and flat seas.  Calling it a beat seems improper.

Shortly after rounding "1BI", I again popped the Code 2 and headed downwind to Buzzards Bay Tower at 10 knots of boat speed.  However, the swift transit across Rhode Island Sound I had hoped for needed to be put on hold because what I saw rolling over the race course--a cloud formation that looked like the hand of the Devil reaching out of the clouds to taunt unsuspecting yachtsmen and flick off masts.  Boats ahead of me were dropping sails.  I immediately did the same.  One competitor radioed the fleet, letting everyone know of the reports of hail, lightning, and 50-knot winds to the north.  Spinlock PFD, on.  Helly Hansen Aegir ocean gear, on.  Tether, clipped in.  

As the cell moved south over Rhode Island Sound en route to Block Island, the skies opened up, bringing rain, thunder, lightning, and a very brief period of 25-knot winds.  Not before too long, the cell cleared me astern.  I felt comfortable re-hoisting the kite, and resuming the leg to Buzzards Bay Tower, which, given an unfavorable wind shift, was now directly downwind.

Buzzards Bay Tower

Buzzards Bay Tower

Abilyn hates to sail directly downwind.  So, as night set in, I found myself gybing back and forth across the shipping channel, picking off other race boats and avoiding commercial traffic.  Abilyn and I were dancing--a single unit silently moving in unison through each maneuver.  Every gybe felt more satisfying than the last, and the light of Buzzard Bay Tower kept getting brighter with each passing minute.  

At around 2200, I rounded Buzzard Bay Tower next to three much larger boats, and began the upwind leg back across Rhode Island Sound.  For the rest of the night, I played wind shift after wind shift to minimize my distance to the finish.  Given the shifty conditions, I dared not sleep.  But maintaining wakefulness and alertness proved difficult, although not unexpected.  Before the race, I stocked up on something called Military Energy Gum, which packs 100 mg of caffeine per piece.  The instructions were straightforward:  Chew the gum until it tastes bitter.  If you don't feel alert in 15 minutes, pop another one.  Rather than going down below to brew some coffee with the JetBoil, I popped some MEGs.  Two pieces set me up nicely for four hours.   I was good for the rest of the night. 

Saturday, July 25
Turn and Burn

After battling an ebb tide in light air, I crossed the imaginary finish line off Castle Hill at 0714 Saturday morning--first in my class to finish the 70 nm course, second on corrected time (that Pearson 33 got me).  Rather than ignite flares as perhaps my European Mini-sailing compatriots might have done, and no doubt will do after completing the upcoming Mini Transat Iles De Guadeloupe,  I opted instead for a GoPro selfie to mark the occasion.

Finishing the 2015 New England Solo/Twin Championship, 2nd in class.

The next part of the plan was simple:  sail back to the Newport YC dock, pick up a crew member who traveled all the way from Tacoma Park, MD (via an overnight train to Providence and bus to Newport) for the next leg of the journey--one whom I had never met--and then turn and burn.  Within three hours of finishing the Solo/Twin, and with zero sleep the previous night, I once again sailed out of Narragansett Bay.  The next stop for Abilyn was Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY--135 miles away--and the start of the Around Long Island Regatta (ALIR) in only five days time. 

With a quick tutorial, my double-handed partner learned Abilyn's systems and tendencies quickly, so I felt comfortable putting up the big Code 2 kite.  Although weary of an unknown sailor taking the reigns, I had no choice.  I needed to sleep.  So I crawled into Abilyn's belly and settled into the Fatboy beanbag chair for a decent nap.  Without faltering, Abilyn gracefully carried us down the Rhode Island coast under spinnaker towards Point Judith, and then on to Montauk Point and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Newport to Sheepshead Bay.  Rounding Montauk Point.

By late afternoon, we had passed through the fishing traffic off Montauk point and entered the ocean.  Over the course of the night, we stayed relatively close to the southern Long Island shoreline, in part to keep away from commercial traffic entering and exiting New York Harbor.  My partner and I settled into our three-hour watch cycles, and were each able to keep the boat moving towards Rockaway Point, utilizing every combination of sail that we could set on Abilyn.  

Sunday, July 26
Brooklyn Arrival

As the sun cleared the horizon on Sunday morning, we found ourselves motor sailing to keep boat speeds above six knots.  Plus, I wanted to catch Frogger, the other Mini Transat 6.50 that left Narragansett Bay three hours before us, and whom we'd be battling in the upcoming ALIR.  By 1300 Sunday afternoon, after sailing and motoring through unfamiliar, shoal-lined channels in the very shallow Sheepshead Bay, we were tied up and offloaded, trying our best to tolerate the land sickness ashore.  My regular co-skipper, Sam Cox, who was unable to sail the leg from Newport to Brooklyn because of his own "real life" obligations, picked us up in his vintage Toyota FJ cruiser.  Speeding down the Belt Parkway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway without a wind shield marked a nice finish to a successful delivery.

Monday-Wednesday, July 27-29
More Life

Non-sailing responsibilities.  Family.  Work.  More 3 AM nights.  

Thursday, July 30
The Around Long Island Regatta  

A race around the largest and longest island in the contiguous United States, the course takes competitors 190 miles around the island, with an ocean start and finish in Long Island Sound.  It was an early morning as I was on breakfast duty--my identical 5 1/2 year-old girls demanded chocolate chip pancakes.  After they were squared away with adult supervision, I cabbed it to my co-skipper Sam's apartment in Park Slope, and together we Ubered to the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club, where Abilyn had been moored since arriving via Newport.  Sam and I didn't talk much.  He was checking business e-mails.  I was on an hour-long conference call.  When we arrived in south Brooklyn, we immediately got the boat race ready, including rigging up all three reef lines as we were expecting 25-30 knots at the start.  But first we had to get to the start.  

Leaving the mooring field, the serenity of the light zephyrs in front of the yacht club gave way to a brick wall of breeze--25 knots right on the nose.  Coincidentally, we were able to make only 2.5 knots speed over ground with the 2.5 hp short-shaft Yamaha outboard hanging off Abilyn's transom.  We needed to maintain 2 knots SOG to get to the starting line on time, four miles away.  No rush.

But as we headed toward open ocean, to an area of the bay not shielded by Rockaway Point and its southwestern breakwater, we were met with steep 3-5 foot waves.  Our SOG dropped to under a knot, and the water intake on the outboard regularly surfaced out of the water causing the engine to scream bloody murder.  Our start was in two hours, but the starting line was now more than four hours away.  I was visibly frustrated, not because of our current predicament, but because it could have been avoided if we simply arrived at the boat earlier in the day; after all, we knew the breeze around the time of the start would be on the nose coming out of Sheepshead Bay.  

With the boat not making much headway, we seemed to have only two options:  Hoist the main and try to short-tack the narrow channel lined by a beach on one side and a reef on the other, or reverse course and take a much longer route out of Sheepshead Bay, but one that we likely could sail.  We chose option three--attempting to flag down a bigger boat for a tow.  

A few boats that passed by us did just that, passed by us, without even an acknowledgment that we needed assistance.  One boat that we flagged down was comprised of sailors that know something about assisting others in need--the sailors aboard Tenacious, representing the U.S. Naval Academy.  After they accepted our request, we maneuvered close enough to receive a tow line, and then secured the tow line to Abilyn's mast.  

Abilyn catching a lift on the Navy 44, Tenacious.

Tenacious engaged and began pulling us through the nasty sea state.  We were getting slammed with green water while trying to steer just off Tenacious' aft starboard quarter.  But within an hour, and about 45 minutes before the gun, we had arrived in the starting area, had our sails up, and were checked in at the RC boat.  I was overwhelmed by the Navy sailors' exhibition of Corinthian spirit, not to mention skill and patience in such difficult conditions.  And what luck to have Navy sailors nearby when we needed assistance!

2015 ALIR Start.  Photo Credit:  SeaCliff YC

As the gun sounded for the start of our division, we crossed the line to windward of our competition, the Mini 6.50 Frogger, sailed by friends Josh Owen and Miles Abrams, and began the reach towards Montauk Point on starboard tack.  With the breeze holding around 23-25 knots, both Minis started with a double-reefed main and 110% jib.  Feeling underpowered, we shook out a reef and quickly pulled away from Frogger as we jib reached at 100-110 TWA at 9-11 knots SOG down the southern Long Island coast--my second transit of this coast in five days.  

For the next 30 miles, with Frogger behind us but still in our sights, Sam and I had an ongoing discussion whether or not to launch a kite.  Our TWA was much too close to the breeze to put up a kite in this wind strength.  But, as Sam occasionally saw 125-130 TWA when he glanced at the instruments, he pushed for the kite--nearly berating me into seeing his view of the world, which is to say, opportunistic.  In business, Sam is an entrepreneur and has a healthy appetite for risk.  I, on the other hand, am naturally risk averse, hence my decision to become a lawyer in "real life."  With none of the boats ahead of us going for kites, I wasn't quite ready to give into Sam's faux-bullying.  So we held off until reaching Fire Island where we were able to bear off a bit and open up the TWA, putting us well into kite territory.  

Upon confirmation from Sam that he was ready on the tiller and mainsheet, I hoisted the masthead halyard locked into the Code 5.  As I hauled on the halyard from pit, I reminded Sam NOT to trim the spin sheet.  MADE!  Kite trimmed.  Jib down.  Baby stay set hard!.  Side note:  In retrospect, we should have set the kite sooner.

Hoisting the kite in this breeze is like adding Liquid Schwartz to the gas tank of a flying Winnebago.  13 knots of boat speed.  14 knots.  15 knots.  Space tracks.  On Abilyn, you can determine downwind boat speed based simply on the symphony of harmonics she generates off the breeze.  When Abilyn is on the verge of planing, her keel generates a low-pitched, dull buzzing sound, indicating about 9-10 knots of boat speed.  At this tone, you can sense Abilyn's frustration as she desperately wants to escape the prison of displacement.  When that buzz transitions to a buttery smooth high-pitched tone at the border of human hearing, her bow has lifted and she's now surfing at 14+ knots, free.  

I am Abilyn's Pavlovian dog--the sound produced by her keel when it reaches an almost inaudible frequency induces a change in my mental and physical state.  I feel physically lifted, mentally invigorated, awakened--feelings that no doubt are the result of the bartender in my brain serving up a potent cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and other endorphins.  This is Abilyn's siren song that keeps luring me back after enduring miles and miles of slogging upwind with horrendous tacking angles.

Sam navigated the sea state brilliantly, keeping the boat powered up and surfing under Code 5 and single-reefed main while at same time keeping her from getting pinned in a trough with low boat speed, which would have the effect of inducing a nasty broach.  I suffered this fate--the one broach we had on the outbound leg.  

Then, the gust.  The 23-25 knot breeze quickly shot up to 30 knots.  At the same time, we picked up a wave and shot forward, hitting our record high of 17.4 knots.  Two words: holy shit.  I'm kicking myself right now for not grabbing the GoPro, but I was busy ensuring that the boat didn't blow up.  With Sam in helmsman heaven, I cleaned up the cockpit, which is important not just on a Mini, but on any boat--but more important on a Mini.  I flaked every line, which was now ready to run at a moment's notice.  I also tweaked the adjustable bob stay on the pole, raising its outboard end to prevent the pole (and kite) from nose-diving into the back of a wave. 

Managing a Mini in breeze is exhausting.  As Sam is the better downwind sailor between the two of us, we decided that he would continue to drive as long as the breeze hovered around 30 knots.  As Sam said, "I can do this shit all night!"  Interpreting this to mean he had the boat under control, I went down below and tried to sleep.  But even with an eye mask and ear plugs, sleeping while Abilyn surfed at an average speed of 15 knots was impossible.  Not only was the sound down below deafening, but I couldn't shut off my brain.  Anticipating the worst, as I always do when conditions become boisterous, I interpreted each of Abilyn's sounds as shrieks and groans of pain, signaling that, any any moment, she would disintegrate.  But Abilyn wasn't in pain.  With all her lines and gear in working order, and with Sam skillfully guiding her, it became more apparent as dusk gave way to night that what I heard as shrieks and groans was actually the roar of Abilyn's battle cry, simply masked by my own concern for her well-being.  Indeed, Abilyn was purpose built for these conditions.   

Sam called me on deck around 2100.  "Breeze is down to 23 knots.  Your turn to drive."  Once on deck, we shook out the reef in the main and switched to the bigger kite as our downwind angle had widened.  You can't peel on Abilyn.  So I hoisted the jib to keep the boat powered up before dousing the Code 5 and putting up the Code 2.  We sailed as deep as we could, but with the breeze clocking slightly, we were being drawn deeper into the ocean and away from Montauk Point.  

The next tactical decision was when to gybe back towards land.  I checked the iPad, where I'm able to analyze GPS, AIS, and all of Abilyn's instrument data thanks to my DMK Box.  I noticed that we were in the company of some larger and well-sailed boats, including the Columbia 32, Weegie.  So we decided to continue on starboard, sailing our most optimal angle.    

Friday, July 31
A New Day.  A New Breeze.

July 31, 2015, 0108 EDT.  Gybe to port.

At 0108 Friday morning, when were able to lay Montauk Point, we gybed onto port and powered on towards our turning mark in a diminishing breeze. At around 0715, in heavy fog, we called the RC to let them know that Montauk Point bore 270 degrees magnetic.  I learned later that Warrior Won, the XP44 that walked away with the regatta's top prizes, and is consistently raced well by a great group of sailors, rounded only about two hours before we did.  Comparing apples to apples, Frogger, the other Mini 6.50 sailing in the regatta, didn't round Montauk until about 1430 on Friday, seven hours after us.  That night on the ocean was one of the most thrilling runs we've had on Abilyn.  But the forecast called for conditions to change entirely, and the race was far from over.

In the early hours of the morning, the breeze continued to clock until it was out of the WNW, and had dropped to about 8-10 knots, well below the 30 knots we saw on the ocean.  This required that we drop the kite and switch from the 110% jib to the larger 140% genoa.

Our next tactical decision was whether to re-enter the Sound via Plum Gut or Race Rock.  We were laying Race Rock, and were currently being pushed at about 1.5 knots by the current produced by the strengthening flood tide.  Given that the forecast called for the breeze to lighten to about 2-5 knots, we obviously needed to avoid adverse current.  And because the adverse ebb tide kicks in at Race Rock later than at Plum Gut, we decided to continue on towards the Race.  Ultimately though, this was not the correct decision; going through the Gut and staying close to Long Island was the play all the way to the finish.  

But sailing through the Race had its benefit--another encounter with a vessel manned by members of the U.S. Navy, this time a partially submerged submarine coming out of the Naval Submarine Base in New London, CT.  

Port to port with a partially submerged submarine.

For the rest of the day, with each watch cycle, we battled light air and struggled to push through the extensive tidal gate that extends well west of Race Rock.  After yet another breathtaking sunset on the water, our Friday culminated when the breeze died completely off Stratford, CT, and we were forced to drop anchor to prevent our VMG from going negative.  The regatta had transformed from a downwind screecher to a drifter, which was by no means unsurprising.  But hey, that sunset!

Sunset.  Long Island Sound.

Saturday, August 1
The Final Push

As July turned into August, we did what we could to slow the bleeding, and keep us from losing ground.  Once the breeze filled in--six hours later--we began the final push to the finish, tacking down the CT coast, but favoring the middle of the Sound where we could.  Weight to leeward in light air.

The final push.

The breeze held consistently at 9-12 knots from day break through the late morning.  But it wouldn't be a race on Abilyn unless the breeze died as we neared the finish.  With less than five miles to the finish, the the breeze again shut off, leaving us without any option other to pray to Neptune.  I summoned the god of the sea, and humbly requested a small hurricane to get us over the line.  In return for not forsaking us, I offered Neptune what was left of my stash of ProBar energy bars.  

Neptune responded, and didn't make it easy.  Before we knew it, it was blowing stink just outside of Hempstead Harbor--13-15 knots with gusts ranging from 18-20 knots.  To get across the line, Neptune made us work--we reefed the main and then spent our last hour on the race course constantly easing both main and jib, and then retrimming, to respond to the gusts coming from the direction of Hell Gate.  I will be more careful the next time I attempt to conjure a god.  

We finished at 14:29:34 with Neptune's assistance (which to my knowledge is not a violation of the RRS).  Unfortunately, we were knocked out of third position by Condor, a Beneteau 38 First that rates the same as Abilyn.  Condor, with its taller mast and longer waterline, is better suited to the light, upwind conditions that dominated the second half of the race.  That said, better tactical decisions, including not favoring the CT coast Friday night, would have put us ahead.  But that's racing.  More importantly, we beat Frogger, and secured bragging rights among the local Mini 6.50 fleet (of which there are four actively sailed boats).  Frogger, for his part, made up considerable time on us after rounding Montauk Point.  Where at one point Josh and Miles were seven hours behind, they finished within three hours.

Soon enough, we had Abilyn back home in Larchmont Harbor, and immediately headed to the bar for a round of Montes--a fitting end to my three-weekend adventure covering a total of 588.45 nautical miles, all logged via my Delorme InReach SE satellite communicator.


One of the many pleasures of sailing is making landfall.  And one of the many pleasures of making landfall, at least for me, is this:


Upon returning to shore, and with the combination of dark rum and spiced rum expectantly amplifying my land sickness, I tried to reflect on my nearly 600 miles on the water over three weekends.  But I found myself either chasing after my girls on the LYC lawn, or staring blankly into the harbor as the setting sun lit the waters to the east, pleased simply to have spent some "spare time" participating in the activity of sailing.  

As I reflected beyond the immediate gratification of having sailed hard, and further considered Jesse's comment that, at least in his view, I was the "ultimate weekend warrior," I've reached the following conclusion:  Three weekends of outright dedication to sailing does not a weekend warrior make.  Being a weekend warrior is a way of life, with passion being its most distinctive trait.  What these three weekends confirmed for me is that my passion for sailing is real, even though I've been known on occasion to become overtaken by the "burning desire to be at home, on the couch with my [5 1/2] year old girls, watching the Disney movie du jour" rather than sailing.  (See Into the Washing Machine, Sept. 2015).  

I'm convinced that if I continue to pursue this passion I have for sailing by striving to maximize the amount of "spare time" I can dedicate to being on the water, and striving continuously to reach new goals, I will be able to stand with those who truly live the way of the weekend warrior.  Only then will I be worthy of this badge of honor.  And only then will I be able to prove Jesse right.

See you out on the water--well, next season.  As of the date of this post, I'm only three days post-op from surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus.   

And please support 13Fifty Racing.    

A Brief Glimpse Into The Gulf Stream

Anybody going to Bermuda?

One of the aspects of distance sailing that truly interests me is navigation.  And although Abilyn will not be sailing to Bermuda in 2015, I'm still very much drawn to how the ever-changing Gulf Stream current is shaping up for this year's Bermuda 1-2 competitors, and how it will impact the course to Bermuda.  For the uninitiated, Frank Bohlen of the University of Connecticut provides a great primer on the Gulf Stream here.  It's definitely worth a read.  

Frank, and anybody else with experience navigating to Bermuda, will advise that the prudent navigator studies the Stream's evolution months in advance to develop the most optimal strategy for crossing the thermal boundary.  To that end, I created the video below, which compiles NOAA images of near-realtime satellite altimetry derived surface currents based on the OCCAM XBT model for the period of February 2, 2015, through April 11, 2015--spaced out in 4-day increments.  In my view, the altimetry data provided by NOAA is one of friendlier ways to observe the changes in the Gulf Stream.

You can clearly see in the video the development and movement of various eddies in and around the main stream feature.  Some of the more interesting features, at least to me, include the large meander shown in the February 18 image located west of the rhumb line, which appears to bring the Stream nearly back on itself for about 200 miles (to the SW); and the eddy-ridden region west of the rhumb line in the March 26 image, which appears to show no semblance of a major stream feature.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the Stream develops in the 53 days between now and the start of the Bermuda 1-2.  For comparison, here's how the Stream looked around June 19, 2014, for the start of the Newport-Bermuda Race versus how the stream looked around April 11, 2015.

Bermuda 1-2 Update: Abilyn a No-Go (This Year)

After much internal debate, and discussion with my wife, co-skipper, and friends, I've decided not to pursue the Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race this year, despite qualifying this past September with a 205-mile, 29-hour solo offshore voyage to the edge of the Continental Shelf and back.  Although I am certainly apprehensive about taking a 21-foot pocket rocket across the Gulf Stream, I am not deterred as I'm confident enough in my sailing, safety and survival skills such that the reward of undertaking the adventure greatly outweighs the risks based my assessment.  Some will certainly say (and have said) that my calculator must be broken--e.g., my mother.  Nope.  It rivals the TI-86 and is working just fine.  But fear is not why I'll be watching the triangles of the Yellowbrick tracker this go-around rather than being one of those triangles.  Neither is my autopilot, although I've previously written about my efforts to exorcise the demons from my tiller ram and course computer.  I'll be sitting this one out for the same reason why many of us aren't able to get out on the water as much as we'd like...work. 

In two weeks time, I'll be transitioning companies, and my instinct is telling me to set the adventure aside for a brief period of time to focus on solidifying myself in my new role and building the same level of trust and goodwill that I have built over past 5+ years at my current company--elements that will be essential when I inevitably say--"Hey, so I'm going to take off the month of June to sail my 21-foot sled to Bermuda and back."  Indeed, taking into account planning, sailing both legs, and the fundamental dedication of your cognitive faculties to engage in the pursuit both safely and effectively, the time requirement for the race is about four straight weeks.  Unfortunately, this is far more than I can dedicate right now (even if I fly back to NYC between the first and second legs).  It's just not the right time.

That said, Abilyn will still sail this season and will get some more miles under her hull.  We are hoping to pursue a schedule that includes some weekends of offshore training, local day races, and the following local longer distance races:

  • Storm Trysail Club Around Block Island Race
  • Storm Trysail Club Block Island Race Week
  • New England Solo/Twin
  • Seacliff YC Around Long Island Regatta
  • Ida Lewis Distance Race
  • Stamford YC Vineyard Race

Plus, I'll be participating in Larchmont Junior Race Week in July to give a presentation on the Mini Transat 6.50 boat and some of my experience, and hopefully give some of the juniors a pretty cool ride.

I'm of course saddened that Abilyn will not be participating in this year's Bermuda 1-2, especially given that four other Mini 6.50s are committed to the race:  CAN 175 (Pogo Logo), USA 806 (ex-Open Sailing), USA 702 (Frogger), and USA 837 (Wichard Ocean Racing).  Although it's a long shot, we're going to try to gain entry to the 2016 Newport-Bermuda Race.  If that doesn't work, we'll fly the Jolly Roger and sail the course anyways. And then, banking on the prospect that the 2017 America's Cup doesn't actually happen on account of other competitors taking Luna Rossa Challenge's lead, we'll plan on the 2017 B1-2.

See you out on the water soon enough.  It feels like Spring.

In 2015, Resolve To Thank Your Significant Others For Putting Up With Your Crap

As sailors, especially sailors with their own boats, we have a lot of crap--sweaty base layers, salty boots, cans of acetone and other toxic solvent, and a lot of frickin' rope.  If you're smart and didn't throw all your sailing budget into offshore safety gear, you might have saved enough to commission the boatyard to strip your boat of its goodies and store them for you for the winter.  Or, if you're like me, you stripped everything from your own boat, and then brought all your gear into the home you share with your spouse.

At the end of the 2014 season, my plan was to strip Abilyn of all her gear, and bring it to my Brooklyn apartment so that I could clean and organize every last item before transporting the load to offsite storage.  Unfortunately, I lack that thing that some of you have in the suburbs...what's it called...the thing with the flippy door?  Oh yeah, a garage.

So what made this possible?  Simply put, an extremely, absurdly, obscenely understanding wife.  I mean, I used her shower and candle-lined bath to clean about 150 pounds of line, foulies, gear bags, and life vests before overtaking the outdoor common space in our building to dry everything out.

What we sometimes take for granted as sailors is that it's the people at home who support us in our adventures that make our sailing possible--not just our crew, riggers, guys at the boatyard, and local beer distributor.  In 2015, I resolve to thank my wife more for supporting all that I do, on and off the water, and welcoming me (and my sailing gear) back into our home after time on the sea.  Without my wife, none of what I do (or try to do) would be possible, or worthwhile.  

I encourage all you sailors out there to resolve in 2015 to be more appreciative of your wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, and anybody else who puts up with your sailing crap.

Happy New Year!

Into The Washing Machine: My First Solo Offshore In A Mini 6.50

On Thursday, September 18, 2014, I set out on my first solo offshore adventure in attempt to qualify for next year's Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race--a 1,300 mile race comprising a single-handed leg from Newport, RI to Bermuda, and a double-handed leg back to Newport.  The qualification requirement for Mini sailors, as specified in the Notice of Race (NOR) is sailing 200 miles offshore for no less than 48 hours--all other eligible boats have a qualification requirement of 100 miles / 24 hours.  I sailed offshore technically for 29 hours before heading home, and clocked in nearly 205 offshore miles--most in between 17 and 28 knots of breeze, and while bashing through tall, steep, short-period waves that, more often than not, would break over the deck of my diminutive 21-foot Mini Transat boat.

Although I did not technically qualify as I was not offshore for 48 hours, my adventure was by no means a failure.  As some have reminded me, I went FAR outside my comfort zone, returned home safely (and with no breakages to report), and with an additional 205 miles of well-earned and hard-fought ocean sailing experience--nearly 176 of which were achieved in 24 hours.  

Before I try to describe the journey in some detail, let me first thank everybody who tracked me online, and offered amazingly reassuring and positive feedback as I sent some alarmingly negative sat comm messages when conditions became toughest.  Although I did not receive your comments while underway, I looked at each message when I got back, which helped get my psyche back to equilibrium.  Thanks especially to former colleague on the bow, Guy Rittger, for putting things into perspective.  I'm no Webb Chiles, but yes, even after getting bounced around in a washing machine for the better part of the trip, and suffering from a bit of seasickness as a result, I finished with a Code 5 asym and full main, and surfed my way home between major shipping lanes in 20 knots of wind speed and upwards of 12-13 knots of boat speed.  I could have gone faster with the full genoa and Code 2, and a better trimmed main.  But, as my good friend Peter Beardsley reminded me before I left Larchmont, I didn't need to be a hero out there.

Here's how things went down.  Scroll to the bottom if you just want the synopsis.


Back in August, I made the decision to tackle my first solo offshore some time in September, when the breeze was stronger and more consistent, air temperatures were not too cold, and when water temperatures were still relatively mild at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  At the end of August, I began watching weather systems developing in the North Atlantic, including daily analysis of isobar charts and forecasts from PredictWind.  I also used PredictWind's weather routing tool to find a course that would allow me to reach as much as possible over the required 200 miles.  All models predicted a weak low-pressure system moving across the east coast near the waters south of NY Harbor on Thursday, September 18 through Sunday, September 21.  This system would bring northwest winds to start, which would then clock (move clockwise, i.e., to the right) to the east and then to the south as the system moved past.  I made the decision to head out into the ocean in connection with this system, which I determined would provide me with my desired reaching conditions.  What I didn't anticipate was how much this breeze would kick up the sea state on the continental shelf that makes up the New York Bight.

At the same time I was analyzing weather, I prepped the safety gear, food, water, and layers I would need for two days offshore.  My principal safety gear consisted of my Spinlock Deckvest and 2-clip / cow hitch safety line, which allowed me to clip into any number of hard points on the boat as well as my jack lines.  In addition, I had a safety package provided by the safety experts at Landfall Navigation that included:

Safety gear

With food, I tried to keep weight to a minimum, but pack enough to keep my energy up.  Other than the homemade turkey and roast beef subs made by my ever-so-understanding wife, I loaded the boat with Hershey's dark chocolates, Clif Bars, Clif Shot Bloks, Starbucks Via coffee, Twinings Earl Grey tea, and some dehydrated meals from REI--Mountain House breakfast skillet, AlpineAire pepper beef and mesquite BBQ chicken, and MaryJanesFarm Outrageous Outback Oatmeal.  With water, I brought 4 gallons assuming I would consume 1 gallon of water per day and built in a buffer just in case.

Selection of layers was made easy, thanks to a kit supplied by Helly Hansen.  Offshore foulies were obviously a must.  I brought with me my Helly Hansen Aegir ocean jacket and pants.   HH's new line of ocean sailing gear was developed with Team SCA--the same Team SCA competing in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race.  So I had no doubt the Aegir gear would work well for me 100 miles offshore in the North Atlantic.  But, as you read below, these pieces only work if you actually wear them!  In terms of base layers, I brought with me a pair of HH Warm pants, my HH Warm Freeze 1/2 Zip top, and a backup top.  For mid-layers, I had my HH Crew Vest, H2 Flow Jacket, and slightly heavier HH Crew Midlayer Jacket.  

Other essential items included gloves, a fleece beanie, merino wool socks, and ocean boots.  If you want to know more about how my co-skipper, Sam, and I dress, check out our "How to Dress a Sailor" video, here.


I keep Abilyn at Larchmont Yacht Club in the Western Long Island Sound during the season.  There are two ways to get to the ocean from here--80 miles east out of Long Island Sound, or 40 miles west and south down the East River and out of NY Harbor.  I opted for the shorter route, which required that I fastidiously honor the currents in the East River, which can get as high as 4 knots.  According to AyeTides, my handy iOS app, the current at Hell Gate would be slack at 0638 EDT on Thursday morning.  Given that my outboard has a short shaft, it wouldn't be able to handle the standing waves that develop in Hell Gate at max current.  Yes, shaft size does matter.  So I decided to hit Hell Gate at slack before ebb based on advice from fellow Mini sailor, Josh Owen.    

Given this time frame, I departed Larchmont at 0230 EDT and arrived at Hell Gate--14 nm away--about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, which gave me a slightly foul current, but nothing unmanageable.  Once past midtown, I was motor-sailing at speedy 7-knot clip all the way past the Brooklyn Bridge and the Battery as the ebb tide produced an increasingly favorable current.

If you haven't already done it, I highly recommend transiting the East River at sunrise.  The city is absolutely beautiful.

I arrived at Liberty Landing Marina across New York Harbor in Jersey City at 0830 EDT, where I was able to regroup, rig up some additional lines and my passive radar reflector, and get a couple hours of shut-eye before continuing on to the ocean.


At 1300 EDT on Thursday afternoon, I hoisted the main and pulled off the slip.  Although the breeze hadn't filled in quite yet, I wanted to be in the ocean, ready to clock miles by the time that it did.  So I made what some might consider a bone-headed decision to try to navigate the flock of commercial traffic that regularly conducts business on NYC waterways, including barges, tugs, the NY Water Taxi, the Seastreak, the Circle Line, Statue of Liberty cruises, and, of course, the Staten Island Ferry, with a tiny outboard and variable breeze.  Most of these vessels carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders that provide vessel information including, for example, vessel name and size, speed over ground (SOG), course over ground (COG), and destination.  Here's an AIS view of what commercial traffic in New York Harbor looked like at lunch time Thursday afternoon.  

AIS overlay in iNavX made possible using iPad, onboard Standard Horizon Matrix VHF radio with AIS, and DMK Box supplied by Seattle-based DMK Yacht Instruments, which converts instrument data (including AIS) to WiFi for use with mobile devices.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

The path to the ocean from New York Harbor involves navigating both the Upper Bay and Lower Bay, which are separated by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  

The Upper Bay is marked by the aforementioned commercial traffic as well as massive barges and other ships that are simply anchored in the Bay, often waiting for a pilot.  The Lower Bay is marked by the relatively narrow, shoal-lined Ambrose Channel with Staten Island to the west, Sandy Hook to the South, and Coney Island to the east.  

Lower Manhattan and the Freedom Tower astern.

Large cargo ships in Ambrose Channel.

My transit from Larchmont, NY to Jersey City, and then to the southern end of the channel in New York's Lower Bay--a distance of about 40 miles--required only 2.5 gallons of gas.  Each hour, I would perform 16-20 hand pumps from my jerry can through a fuel line into the 0.25 gallon gas tank built into the outboard, which allowed my engine to push me along at an average of 4 knots when the breeze had completely shut off.  The process was slow-going.  The lack of speed, however, allowed me to appreciate the City before it eventually faded to a speck of light in the distance.

As I exited Ambrose Channel, and passed by some rather massive container ships, the variable breeze became a consistent 9-11 knot south-southwesterly.  I shut off the engine and lifted her out of the water.  At about 1630 EDT Thursday afternoon, I was sailing under clear blue skies, and clocking miles towards my goal of qualifying for the 2015 Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race.  


After exiting Ambrose Channel and avoiding packs of anchored behemoths, my goal was to hit the northernmost "Separation Zone" that provided a 1.5-3 mile buffer between commercial traffic heading inbound from, and outbound to, Nantucket Shoals. 

This target coupled with the consistent south-southwesterly allowed me to jib reach at a true wind angle (TWA) of about 90 degrees.  I rigged an outboard lead on my 140% genoa and, under full main, made my way into the ocean at about 7.5 knots of boat speed in breeze that had built to about 10-13 knots. 

Gimbaled JetBoil bracket mounted to mast.

"Enjoying" some dehydrated beef and rice.

At around 1830 EDT, with the knowledge that the breeze would be building considerably later in the evening as the forecasted low pressure system moved through, I prepped dinner in Abilyn's gourmet kitchen, which consists of a JetBoil stove mounted to a gimbaled stove manufactured by UK-based Safire Associates.  

On the menu was AlpineAire dehydrated pepper beef and rice.  Normally I would dine on a sous vide meal prepared by my co-skipper (and master chef), but he was busy making chedda elsewhere in the world.  Food prep was quite efficient.  The JetBoil boils 16 ounces of water in 2 minutes flat.  After 12 minutes of soaking the dehydrated beef and rice in the boiling water, I had a hot meal that I ate out of a GSI Outdoors Fairshare Mug that I picked up from REI at the suggestion of fellow Mini sailor Tony Leigh.  The pepper beef and rice tasted...okay.  I couldn't complain though.  I was offshore having re-hydrated food on a Mini Transat boat with a titanium spork!  Pretty cool.

After dinner, I checked the instruments and noticed that the breeze had clocked more to the west, which opened up my sailing angle, and allowed me to set the kite for the first time offshore.  Heeding the wisdom that I didn't need to be a hero out there, I opted for the Code 5 and not the much larger, and fuller, Code 2.  The kite went up cleanly (as it always does...I'm a bowman at heart) and I was able to keep sailing in Separation Zone and away from any potential commercial traffic while maintaining boat speeds of around 7-9 knots.

As I played with sail trim, I set up the autopilot and locked her into a groove where she maintained course without rounding up with each puff.  Being able to trust my autopilot in these conditions allowed me to sit on the cockpit floor, lean my head against the bulkhead, and get a few minutes of rest.

All was well and I was able to send home a preset message using my inReach SE:  "I am alive and okay."   

The kite stayed up until about 2300 EDT.  What prompted me to take it down was when I looked back against the still-bright lights of Coney Island and the Rockaways and noticed a distinct cloud line that paralleled the coast.  I knew this was the low, and I knew it would bring bigger breeze from a different direction.  I've learned from more than a few accomplished offshore sailors that anticipation is one of the essential skills for racing safely and effectively offshore, and I put this skill into practice Thursday night.  I was also approaching a group of fishing boats, and decided that the best thing to do was gybe away.  Not wanting to gybe for the first time offshore at night with the kite up, I doused and tried to get away from what was turning out to be rush hour in the ocean.  


Not too long after I had gybed onto port (at around Friday morning at 0150 EDT), the cloud line overtook me.  It brought 17 knots of breeze to start and a 90 degree shift from the west to the north, requiring me to fall off dramatically.  Since the windspeed jumped nearly 100% in a matter of seconds, I made the conservative decision to put a reef both in the main and the genoa.  Reefing the genoa was accomplished from the cockpit.  However, in pitch blackness (the moon had not yet risen) and 40 miles from land, I left the security of the cockpit and, led by my tether, moved forward to the bow to tie up the foot of the genoa with sail ties.  I could see nothing but blackness ahead of me.  

The Grand Dahlia.

The Grand Dahlia.

With the boat under control, I took the helm and proceeded to hand steer through the night as the wind rose to around 20 knots and held steady.  But, to maintain my reaching angle, I was being pushed farther south than I had intended, and directly towards the Panamanian-flagged Grand Dahlia, a container ship measuring 656 feet long by 106 feet wide (and massively tall) that appeared to be drifting towards New York--her SOG never reached more than 1.3 knots.  Yet, I was finely attuned to the possibility that she might pick up her pace at any moment, and not be able to get an echo on me--not that it would matter if she did; it was my responsibility to avoid her.  So I tried to stay as far away as possible, first sailing above her as the breeze clocked to the right, and then below her as the breeze oscillated back to the left.


As I was playing keep-away with boat having a gross tonnage of 59,217 tons, the breeze began to pick up into the low 20s and clocked from the north to the northeast, which again forced me slightly farther south.  Other than the lights of the Grand Dahlia, I couldn't see anything in front of me, due in part to the waning crescent moon, which illuminated only 27% of the "moon disc".  But I knew that sea state had built considerably since the low pressure arrived earlier in the night as I was now regularly surfing down waves, listening to the keel sing, and hitting boat speeds of above 10 knots, even with just a reefed main and reefed genoa.  All the while, I was able to look up to see a crystal clear sky painted with a universe of stars--something you don't normally see in New York City outside of a planetarium.  It's both glorious and tragic that there is really no good way on a pitching and rolling boat to capture the night sky in an image to send back home.  I took a mental photograph, and filed it away to be accessed some day in the future likely at my desk at work.  

But, as much as I just wanted to look up and gaze, I needed to keep the boat moving.  

The Grand Dahlia continued to stalk me for hours.  Ultimately, I passed her to the southwest at around 0530 EDT Friday morning at a range of about 4.7 miles. 

For another hour and a half, I continued along on port tack with my bow pointed towards Santo Domingo some 1,200 miles away.  As the sun rose, I began to see what I would be facing for the next 100 miles when I planned to turn the corner and make my way back to New York Harbor:  steep, short-period, breaking waves approximately 10 feet tall from trough to crest, moving swiftly from multiple directions including predominantly northeast and east--conditions slightly more challenging for a 21-foot race boat weighing in at around 2,500 pounds than for a larger race boat or heavier passage maker.  I went to turn on the GoPro to memorialize the moment, but the cam had run out of juice.  This is the only image I was able to snag of that early morning sail.  

Seas building.  Breeze building.


At approximately 0700 EDT, I turned the corner, and immediately felt the effect the northeast breeze, which had now built to about 22-23 knots, had on the sea state.  In an instant, everything became wet.  As I began reaching on starboard tack to maintain a reasonable angle relative to the northeasterly breeze, I wrestled with the waves and green water that began breaking over the side of the boat.  Exhaustion set in after an hour.  The last time I had more than a few minutes of sleep was at Liberty Landing Marina 19 hours earlier.  

I also realized that I needed my Aegir ocean jacket on me immediately.  Overnight, I had removed it to keep from overheating as temperatures remained mild and the boat remained dry.  Bad move.  Now that I was experiencing 20+ knots of much colder air from the northeast, and an increasingly wet boat, I desperately needed that jacket.  Waves were breaking over the side of the boat from from the forward quarter, abeam, and aft quarter.  As the bow dug into waves, gallons of green water rushed back over the deck into the cockpit.  When I tried to hunker down in the cockpit, waves broke over my head.  My head and torso were soaked.  I could have quickly jumped down below to grab my jacket.  But I didn't trust my autopilot to hold a course given the wave state, and seasickness began to set in, all but obliterating any desire to move.

It was 0808 EDT when I communicated home that, yes, I was in a washing machine.  I was cold.  I was wet.  I hadn't slept.  I was seasick.  I was hungry.  I didn't want to move.  I wanted out of there.  


Sailing in this state made me question what I was doing.  Why was I out there, by myself, on such a small boat?  It didn't make sense to me, as I my mind was overtaken by the burning desire to be at home, on the couch with my 4 1/2 year old girls, watching the Disney movie du jour, or chasing after them as they scootered masterfully down the streets of Brooklyn.  Why did I decide to leave my family to go sailing in this shit, and at the same time put my own life in jeopardy, I asked myself.  So my ultimate goal changed from qualifying for the Bermuda 1-2, to just getting home, at which point I felt that the original reason for being out there was all but lost.  

At 0900 EDT Friday morning, home was over 95 miles away.  So I set the autopilot on deck to steer a TWA of about 85-90 degrees, and went down below for some rest.  Not more than 5 minutes after I actually passed out down below, the sound of water bashing against the hull stopped, which was an odd feeling. I felt the boat change direction.  Shit, the boat was falling off course and the AP wasn't correcting.  I leaped up out of my bunk and lunged for the autopilot ram on deck to detach her from the tiller as the boat continued to fall off.  But, I was too late.  The main snap loaded and the boom swung across the deck, crashing against the heavily tensioned starboard runner.  Abilyn had crash gybed.  My first concern was the rig, which could have easily been lost.  But, when I looked up, my masthead was just where I left it.  I quickly tensioned the port runner and eased the starboard runner to free the boom, which flattened out the boat.  Once I trimmed the reefed genoa on starboard, I was able to make headway and soon tacked back on course.  Although disaster was averted, the continued frustration of not being able to rest continued to hinder my forward progress.

After the incident with the autopilot, I hand steered some more and continued to watch the reading from the masthead anemometer.  The breeze had risen to a consistent 26 knots by mid-morning on Friday, so I set a second-reef in the main and switched out the headsail to my storm jib.  Putting a second reef in the main was easily accomplished from the cockpit, except that I needed to go forward to attach a ring on the luff of the main with the J-lock on the boom--Abilyn has only single-line reefing.  I then went forward to douse and detach the genoa, stuff it below, and then hook up the storm jib.  Because of limited practice with the storm jib, I hadn't devised a way to keep the genoa hooked up while engaging the storm jib at the same time given that both sails utilize brass hanks.  In de-brief with my co-skipper, he described to me basically stuffing the luff of the genoa as far down the forestay as possible and then hanking on the storm jib overtop the genoa hanks.  This will certainly be a focus of more practice in the future.

Once the double-reefed main and storm jib were operational, I grabbed the helm and sent the autopilot to timeout for a few minutes for not having good manners with that whole crash gybe thing.  Not too long after, I quickly realized that I was now exponentially more exhausted than before.  I couldn't continue without rest, so I trimmed the storm jib on the windward size, eased the main, and set up the boat to lay hove-to.  

With the the satisfaction that the bow would lay about 30 degrees to the breeze for as long as I wanted, I went down below for some rest and to change my HH Warm Freeze 1/2 Zip top, which was now saturated with salt water to a point where I was consistently shivering.  As I began changing out my gear, I noticed that my only other base layer had fallen into a pool of water.  Ughhh...throw me a frickin' bone.  My mental fatigue and frustration deepened, which led me to text an alarmingly negative message from my satellite communicator at 0959 EDT Friday morning: 

"B 12 off.  I am not an ocean sailor.  Boat goin up [for] sale when I get back."

Sometimes you're the hammer, and sometimes you're the nail.  At this point in the journey, I was the latter.  But although I was getting beat up, I needed to get home--and before that, I needed sleep.  So I donned by HH Crew Jacket and my Aegir Ocean Jacket (which I should have been wearing since sunset the previous night), crammed a Clif Bar down my gullet, and passed out, but not before checking to see if there were any nearby AIS targets.  Clear.  

What amounted to 25 minutes of sleep felt like mere seconds.  Upon awakening, my mind felt slightly rejuvenated, although my body was still reeling from seasickness.  I climbed up on deck, clipped in, freed the backwinded storm jib, and set a northwesterly course for home, and out of the washing machine.  Not feeling up to steering (or really doing much of anything), I set the autopilot and trimmed the sails to hold a reach (85-100 degrees TWA), and then hunkered down in the cockpit to try to let my body recover.  


Surprisingly, the autopilot performed magnificently as I reached along at 7.5-8 knots under double-reefed main and storm jib.  The breeze continued to build and maxed out at 28 knots, although Abilyn never became overloaded.  The waves continued to crash over the deck, but my Aegir ocean kit kept me dry.

For the next 6 hours, I sailed with this configuration, adjusting my course as the breeze clocked from the northeast to north-northeast.  During the afternoon, I made considerable progress--not only in terms of miles covered, but also in terms of bodily recovery.  The seasickness began to subside despite the sea state being at its worst.  Nearly every wave was a breaker.  And, more than once, I was hit by a wave that came directly from abeam and lifted Abilyn up and pushed her sideways and over as the wave broke on top of us.  Yet, she (and the autopilot) never faltered.  As the day went on, I became more and more reassured that Abilyn, indeed, was an oceangoing boat.  In August 2013, when I competed in the Stamford Yacht Club Vineyard Race, I got a glimpse of Abilyn's strength as we battled upwind in 22 knots of breeze off Block Island.  But I was now in the open ocean, conditions were much more severe, and I was much farther away from assistance.  

Later in the afternoon, as the breeze abated to 17-22 knots, and I felt a resurgence of energy, it was time to make my final push towards home.


Even as my mental state improved, I never wavered from my decision to "put the horse in the barn" as soon as I returned to New York Harbor rather than turning around and staying offshore for another day and a half to meet the durational requirement specified in the Bermuda 1-2 NOR.  The ocean introduced itself to Abilyn, and me as a solo sailor, and we were happy to say, "Nice to meet ya.  But, peace out for now."

At around 1700 EDT Friday afternoon, I shook out both reefs, and sailed deeper as the breeze had clocked more to the east.  I sailed for about 15 minutes before deciding that I had enough energy and mental acuity to go up with the kite.  Out came the Code 5 again.

Once the kite filled, I was carving waves like Kelly Slater, riding up to about 115 degrees TWA to catch the wave, and the dropping down to about 130-135 degrees TWA to surf--all the while staying within the Hudson Canyon Separation Zone.  The Grand Dahlia was nowhere to be found!  

I contemplated taking the kite down when the breeze rose to a sustained 22 knots.  But, the rudder was never overloaded as the main was well eased, and taking the kite down would have meant wiping the grin from my face as the speedo regularly showed 12-13 knots.  Plus, with the kite up, I knew it wouldn't be long before I was back in New York Harbor, which was now my ultimate goal.  

By sunset, commercial traffic picked up considerably as I closed in on Ambrose.  So I doused the kite and ended my sleigh ride.  The video below gives a brief glimpse of that sleigh ride, but by no means does it justice.  

By 2230 EDT Friday night, I was back in Ambrose Channel, now only a few hours from a decent night's rest.


Entering the channel, I still had a considerable distance to cover before I could tie up in Jersey City--about 14 nm.  And now, the breeze was directly astern and hovering around 9 knots.  The relatively light air made for a tough transit because the sea state was still kicked up.  I did my best to gybe back and forth up Ambrose channel and avoid the usual suspects.  I had one or two vessels tag me with spotlights, which would have hurt my night vision except for the fact that the bright lights of Coney Island had already done just that.

Soon enough though, I had reached the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the breeze had picked up once again to 17-20 knots from the southeast, which actually allowed me to plane a little bit as I sailed into the Upper Bay.

I grabbed the rest of the sandwiches my wife had prepared, and, along with some coffee, had a nice meal that restored a sense of home to my body, and to my mind.  

But that didn't help me from experiencing some rather interesting visions as the bright lights of New York City played tricks on me.  I could have sworn that, right in the middle of the harbor, somebody was constructing a giant, illuminated T-Rex art installation.  Okay, I needed to get to my slip...immediately.  

At 0113 EDT Saturday morning, Abilyn and I were at rest.  


After I read through my synopsis, I had to remind myself that I spent only 29 hours offshore--even though I spent a total of 78 hours on the water to be able to get that 29 hours (and over 200 miles) of offshore sailing.  Irrespective of how long I was out there, it was still extreme for me.  28 knots of breeze and tall, steep, breaking seas might be within the comfort zone of some.  But, until this experience, I would not have characterized my comfort zone as being comprised of those elements.  Moreover, the fact that this was my first time sailing single-handed offshore served to amplify the magnitude of each moment, both positive and negative.  At the very least, I pushed my limits.  I have a new comfort zone.  And, more importantly, I'm able to reflect on this experience so that it propels me forward to the next limit, and a new comfort zone.  I recognize what I did right (including returning home when I did), what I did wrong, and what I can do to improve.  For all these reasons, absolutely nothing about this adventure can be considered a failure. 

After a decent night's rest at Liberty Landing, I returned to the boat the following night to deliver her back to Larchmont with the assistance of a work colleague.  Given the tides, we left Liberty Landing Marina at 0100 EDT Sunday morning, and hit Hell Gate at slack tide.  After hooking back up to our mooring at about 0630 EDT, we had a couple of Brooklyn Lagers for breakfast, and to celebrate--not just the offshore aspect of the adventure, but also (1) a successful boarding and safety inspection by the United States Coast Guard on the delivery back to Larchmont, and (2) a successful transit past the United Nations the same night, which included a USCG escort for about 20 city blocks since the General Assembly was in town.  The rifleman manning the M240 machine gun was a nice touch.  

Receiving my "Boarding Inspection Report" from the USCG.  Of course we passed.

Going forward, I'm not ready to give up on my goal of competing in the 2015 Bermuda 1-2 Yacht Race, and not ready to sell the boat just yet.  I have one more opportunity this season to sail offshore, and likely only one additional opportunity next spring before the big race.  These opportunities will only benefit me as I move forward to June 2015.  After that, who knows. 

See you out on the water.



Total distance covered (mooring to mooring):  273.28 nm
Total elapsed time:  3 days 6 hours 8 minutes (78 hours 8 minutes)
Total offshore distance covered:  204.45 nm
Total elapsed time offshore:  1 day 5 hours 41 minutes (29 hours 41 minutes)
Top boat speed:  12.1 knots SOG (to be confirmed)
Top observed wind speed:  28 knots (northeasterly)
Average wave height during toughest conditions:  4.5-5 feet (9-10 feet from trough to crest)
Best 24-hour offshore distance:  175.66 nm (7.3 kts avg.)


Below is my offshore track from the Lower Bay into the ocean.  The track also shows how close I came to reaching Hudson Canyon proper and the edge of the continental shelf, which might have provided some relief from the short-period, steep waves kicked up on the shelf by the northeasterly and easterly breeze.

What I did right:

  • Adequately planned the route so that Abilyn would not need to beat--a point of sail that she and other Mini Transat boats try to avoid.
  • Anticipated changes in wind strength and direction based on daily weather analysis leading up to the time of departure.
  • Planned transits to and from Larchmont, NY, and New York Harbor by adhering to tides and currents.
  • Packed sufficient food and water to account for 2+ days of offshore sailing.
  • Sailed conservatively with the wisdom imparted from a good friend that I did not need to be hero.  During the first night, I doused the kite well before the anticipated wind shift and increase in pressure.  I reefed the genoa early at 17 knots under reaching conditions.  I put a second reef in the main and switched to a storm jib early enough so as to not be overpowered when the pressure maxed out at 28 knots.  I also did not shake out the reefs until after the breeze abated to a consistent 15-20 knots.  
  • Recognized when I absolutely needed to sleep, and did what was necessary to rest, which at one point meant heaving-to.
  • Remained clipped in while on deck, at all hours of the day.
  • Kept my head both inside the boat monitoring AIS targets and outside the boat to monitor potential traffic without AIS transponders, and remaining vigilant to keep clear of all traffic, including by sailing in the Separation Zone, not in the shipping channel.  
  • Communicated regularly with my family to let them know I was alive and okay.  

What I did wrong:

  • Did not do a good job of taking care of myself.  Sleep - leading up to this journey, my sleep was sporadic and irregular.  I slept for 3 hours Wednesday night before delivering Abilyn to Jersey City.  10 hours later, I caught 2 hours of additional sleep at the dock at Liberty Landing Marina.  Then, during the entire 29 hours I was offshore, I might have slept only for about 30 minutes.  Food - I needed to eat more regularly, and needed to consume more calories.  The only "meal" I had during the 29-hour offshore was at the start of the voyage--and that consisted of a 680 calorie pouch of dehydrated food.  The only other food I ate offshore included Clif Bars, Clif Shots, and some chocolates.  Water - As with food, I needed to drink more, and more regularly.  This was apparent when my urine color was more amber than clear.  Gear - I let myself get wet, and cold.  I was then forced to focus on staying warm, instead of sailing the boat. My full ocean sailing kit needed to stay on at all times while on deck.
  • Did not appreciate the sea state on the continental shelf that would accompany the 25 knots of northeasterly and easterly breeze.  
  • Did not bring my scopolamine transdermal patch, which I bring on ALL my offshores.
  • Did not set short-term goals, which would have helped me remain positive, and would have kept my mind active as conditions deteriorated.

What I learned:

  • Although I knew this theoretically, I now have the experience to say it:  solo offshore sailing is f**king tough.  The physical aspects of sailing solo are one thing, but the mental aspect of sailing alone in the open ocean is another thing entirely.  
  • Abilyn is tough, and is, indeed, an oceangoing boat.
  • I should have looked after myself better.  I am extremely detail oriented and should have had a list in the cockpit of each task I needed to complete at regular intervals.  This would have kept me busy, thus preventing my mind from wandering to more negative thoughts.  I needed to focus more on sleep, food, water, and keeping my body in tact.  
  • I should have worn my offshore jacket AT ALL TIMES, and did what I needed to do to regulate body heat WITH MY JACKET ON. 
  • Before the low pressure system arrived Thursday night, I should have pre-made meals so that no cooking was necessary when conditions were at their worst.  Thanks to co-skipper, Sam Cox, for that tip.
  • I should have packed a spare set of base layers sealed in a plastic bag in case of emergency, such as when I went down below to change layers and found my second pair in a pool of water.
  • I should have practiced more with the storm jib.  Fully removing the genoa before hanking on the storm jib was risky.  I could have lost both sails overboard.

ALIR Starts Tomorrow - A Lone Mini (not Abilyn) Set to Compete

I'm unexcited to report that Abilyn will not be participating in this year's Around Long Island Regatta. I'd love to blame this on life and work just getting in the way, but that's simply not the case.  Up until a couple of days ago, I expected to be in California for "real work."  But that's not what's causing me to miss the regatta.  The issue is that I failed to plan for the contingency that my "real work" would be pushed off (more than a mere possibility in my line of work) and thus failed to plan for the race.  This included failing to give potential alternate co-skippers (Sam is out of the country) more than a moment's notice to decide if they wanted to come aboard as guest co-skipper for the race.

As they say, prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance.  But prior proper planning sometimes prevents you from even having the opportunity to perform, as is the case here.  Yes, I could probably get to the start line.  But I'm loath to rush.  And it wouldn't be safe.  So we learn from our mistakes, and move forward. It's all we can do if we want to get shit done, and be happy.  Yes, I quoted Kanye West.

I am happy to report, however, that Josh Owen, skipper of Frogger (USA 702), a Manuard-designed Tip Top Mini, will be representing the Minis in this regatta.  Frogger has a chance to do well considering the forecasted conditions, which call for relatively light breeze, but predominantly reaching conditions. I've personally slicked along at 6.7 knots of boat speed in about 7 knots of breeze at 100 degrees TWA with a reaching kite up, and I know Josh can do the same.  He also has the benefit of a Code Zero, which is a key weapon for cracked off, light air sailing.  We wish Josh well, and will be tracking Frogger along with the rest of the fleet at the Kattack Live site.  

As I mentioned to my wife (who was encouraging me to try to do this regatta, even last minute), the ocean doesn't close.  Being able to do something like the Bermuda 1-2 is about time on the water and miles, not how many races you enter.  Take VOR teams Alvimedica and Abu Dhabi as an example; while Team Brunel and Team SCA recently sailed in the Marina Rubicon Round Canary Islands Race, Alvimedica and Abu Dhabi squared up for an unofficial race across the Atlantic, clocking up another 3,000 miles of training and added experience.

We're focused on miles, and are planning to crush some (phrase stolen from Josh Owen...not sure if I like it) in the next couple months--although nothing in terms of VOR miles.  Let's be real.  First on our list is what we hope will be a 300-mile training exercise that will combine legs from ALIR, Vineyard Race, Around Block, and the Offshore 160 in what hopefully will be a hell of a long-weekend training session.  Although we won't cross an ocean, we'll sail through three sounds and a small chuck of ocean, and will finish in New York Harbor.  See below.  

Abilyn Racing proposed 300-mile offshore training exercise

Maybe ol' Fortenbaugh will let us tie up on the cheap at North Cove upon our return.  After all, I was a decent fleet captain at Manhattan Sailing Club back in the day.  

As we build toward this offshore exercise, we'll be out on the water, continuing to practice and hone our skills.  Hope to see you out there (if you're not already sailing in ALIR).