INTO THE WASHING MACHINE.
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.