April 27, 2010

Stormy Adventure

Unfortunately Amelia had written this blog but in all the chaos and clean-up it is gone. It was really good and much shorter than this wordy version you will get from me. She just didn't have the heart to re-write it.

Day 1 and 2 at sea were picture perfect. Things were really good and then on the early morning of day 3 the rain began.....

The wind shifted from behind us to just off our nose. The waves were also coming right at us, along with the current. The wind would build and gust up to 30 knots and then ease back to 20 knots and then the pattern would repeat itself over the next 48 hours.

We are all use to squalls on Artemo which are basically fast moving weather. They come in and knock you but they move off quickly. We weren't so use to storms. The whole sky turns dark. Everywhere you look is dark. We tried to avoid the darker patches of sky but it all seems for not. The rain was torrential. I have never seen it rain so hard. It reminded me of a snow storm. It came down so hard we had zero visibility.

We learned how to sail Artemo, hour after hour in this weather. We moved out of the soaked cockpit and stood on the stairs under the dodger cover with the door in and our heads popped up. We even got to the point that given we couldn't see anything anyways we needed to rely on our AIS and radar to let us know if anything was around us and also to make sure that we didn't run into Gromit or lose them.

Surprisingly all of this was manageable. It wouldn't of been a year ago but it was now. Artemo doesn't do well into wind but we still managed to move forward, all be it slowly. None of us, especially me felt the fear that usually grips us in situations like this. We took turns on watch and tried to get some sleep. We all got a little sea sick but gravol helped. Amelia was the only one to actually throw up. The kids slept through the worst of the storm, especially the lightening and loud cracks of thunder.

Now to the unmanageable part. During this soaking we now understood exactly how leaky the decks were. Every bed was wet, some more than others. Water was actually pouring in the navigation tables electronics and caused a small fire (more smoke than fire) in the middle of all the chaos. Another near miss though. The kids and I were on watch on deck in our rain gear and the doors and hatches were all closed up tight. Graham was asleep on the navigation bed, right next to the smoking wires. Luckily Amelia decided she needed a drink and we slid open the hatch and smelled the horrible stink and saw the smoke. We yelled at Graham to wake up and he bolted upright and in seconds he had flipped all the breakers off. It was shocking how quick he moved out of a deep sleep. He had to sit up on deck for a while to breath some clean air. Once he was able to go down below and assess the situation he found that the entire 12 volt system was down. Water had gotten into the 12 volt power converter. This meant that the AIS, SSB, heading sensor, VHF radio, the water maker and the list goes on, were all not working. Thank goodness though that Graham had the foresight to have spare parts on board. He was able to install a new smaller 12 volt power converter that we could make do with for the time being. He did all this during the storm. In amongst all of this the floors were all slippery wet, the sheets were all wet, the towels were all wet...you get the picture. Reality was setting in for Graham and I but we didn't really speak about it. We were dealing with the here and now. After about 30 hours and hardly any progress. We all decided it was decision time.

The weather was going to continue. Wind at our nose and current against us. We knew we didn't have enough fuel to motor at high rpm for many more days. Our options were 1) Heave to (basically stop at sea) 2) Head to the Colombian coast and anchor and wait for good weather 3) go on a downwind sail back to the Las Perlas islands.

We (Gromit and Artemo crew) decided to have our family meetings and then regroup on the vhf. Once we had all sat down around the table and remember up above the rain, wind and weather is continuing without us, Graham and I looked at each other and we both already knew what we were thinking. Graham spoke first. He said, "Guys over the past couple of days as I have been standing watch in the storm, struggling to sail Artemo into the wind, dealing with leaky decks and electrical fires I have been looking at all of you and asking myself if the price is to high to sail across this ocean right now".

We gave each of the kids the floor to give us their thoughts and ideas on options. The first words out of one of their mouths was something like, "What will people....". I stopped them right away in tears and said, "This is about our family of 4. No one else. There will be no factor that weighs into this decision regarding what other people will think."

Amelia spoke first. She said that she wanted to continue to Galapagos. That she couldn't imagine leaving Gromit like this. She thought maybe we could try and patch the decks as we go. She said why don't we heave to and think some more about it.

Alex spoke next. He said that he didn't think there were any options. We had to go back and fix the decks. The boat wasn't livable when it rained. He said since the next port where we could do any substantial work would be New Zealand, that we needed to turnaround and get the work done. He said, "It is so strange that 2 days ago I was asking myself how I could of ever thought I didn't want to go across the Pacific Ocean and now just as I am ready we are considering turning around. I know that it makes sense but it still feels strange."

I was next. I said how proud I was of how we had all handled the weather so far and how far we had all come as a family but that I knew we had to turn around and have the decks redone.

Graham said that he also felt this way and that he agreed with Amelia. We should heave to and give it some more thought.

We called Gromit and they said they were going to give heaving to a shot. Winds were between 23 to 25 knots and gusting above. Rain was still torrential and we were all about to perform a maneuver that none of us had done successfully in our boats.

Graham and I said we would try first. We had our reefed ginny out and our reefed main. We started into a tack and backwinded the ginny. We hardened the main and turned the rudder in the opposite direction it wanted to go. Artemo stopped but we stopped with the massive waves at our beam. Didn't take us long to call that try quits.

Gromit called and said that since they had only their reefed main up they would try and give it a go with just the main. Unfortunately another miss.

We both had the same book on board titled "Storm Tactics" by Lin and Larry Pardy. We read through how to heave to with a ketch and Gromit agreed to go first. The book said to use only your main and missen and both should be hardened. You should then come into the wind and then turn 100 degrees off of it and bring your rudder back 15 degrees and then tie off the helm.

This worked perfectly for Gromit and then Cornelia instructed us on exactly what they had done over the vhf and Graham and I performed it on Artemo. Finally we were both hove to at sea, going zero knots but unfortunately the current was still moving us 2 knots towards the Columbian coast.

We all got some sleep and food. We talked some more as a family and even Amelia realized that as hard as the decision was it was the right one. It was time to call the Gromits and let them know.

You can just imagine how sad this vhf call was. Everyone was in tears. It was difficult to even speak. Often times we say or hear the word standby, as the person talking needed a moment to collect them self. It was so hard to say good bye at sea like this. Able to see each other from a distance rocking back and forth in the weather but not able to give each other the hugs we really needed.

The plus side was that we all know that we will be friends forever and neighbors. We wished each other well and said we would call once we had Artemo ready to go. Graham went to the bow of the boat to ready the lines and check the rigging and to his horror he found the anchor windlass ripped up from the deck. Basically a huge gapping hole in the front of the bow on the deck. Luckily it was hanging on by 2 bolts. This totally cemented our decision for us. We took off the anchor and hoisted it into the locker (all in the weather) and then we prepared to leave. Away we sailed at about 10 pm, back to the Las Perlas watching the Gromits light getting smaller and smaller.

Rain continued for the next 24 hours. You might think that our drama was over but there is one more near catastrophe to be had. The wind shifted yesterday from behind us on our Starboard side, to behind us on our port. We needed to switch our pole out to the other side. Alex and Graham had their harnesses on and were at the bow switching it over when Graham noticed that the swivel point on the end of the pole was cracked and not useable. I was in the cockpit and just couldn't believe it. How could our luck be so bad? I went forward and asked to see the issue. Graham said he would have to lower the pole to show me. I said it wasn't worth it but he thought he should show us, so he pulled the rope to lower it and from about 12 feet above the aluminum pole came plunging down. Thanks to our guardian angel the pole just missed Graham and Alex's heads and actually landed in their arms. It was really quite remarkable. We all just stood in shock, at the reality of how bad that could of ended. Also, if he hadn't lowered it, it was just holding on by a thread and it would of come down on Artemo and hard. OIY.

Now you might be feeling sad for us, that our dream of crossing the South Pacific ocean is dashed for the moment but please don't be. Our dream is the adventure itself and let me tell you our lives take so many twists and turns that this adventure is better than any book I have read. We all seem to take these turning points in stride now, just part of the cruising life. We are excited about what tomorrow holds. The kids love having a voice in the decision making and realizing that there are options is exciting.

We hope to arrive back in the Las Perlas islands tomorrow morning. This will be 6 nights at sea. It is true what they say, you do get use to it. You slowly start returning to your regular life. This morning the sun came out and we had pancakes, eggs and bacon for breakfast. Graham and I had a shower on the back deck, Alex lounged, fished and read and Amelia is making cookies. All of this as the boat rocks back and forth. Oh it's not all roses though, I just remembered that last night Amelia made a batch of butter tart squares. We had them in the oven and we were all up on deck playing "Family Trivia" and I went down below to pull them out. I put them on top of the stove and went to close the oven door and at this moment a wave hits and the butter tart squares fall behind the oven. Like I didn't have enough to clean inside the boat right now! Anywhoo....not all roses :-).

Stay tuned for what tomorrow brings


  1. The Acreage - Fort MacleodApril 27, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    Totally impressive - even more so to us because of wwhat we have learned about the sailing life. Walk (sail) proud - all of you!!!!

  2. Wow! The adventure continues. Didn't understand much of the sailing jargon.....so I'll just imagine that it was bad. I can't wait to phone tomorrow and hear Millie's perspective first hand.

    Good for you guys for staying positive through it all. I'm trying to imagine what it must have felt like to be constantly wet and having no place to dry off. Yuck. Even wet bedding. Eww. But you've made it through another crazy adventure. 15 years ago did you ever in your craziest dreams imagine this would be the life you are living!? Wild!

    The fun is in the journey! Your journey certainly is exciting and fun to follow!

    Glad you're back to sunny skies and smooth sailing.

    So I guess you be back to living in the sunshine and fixing the boat again. Look on the bright side, you won't have to buy groceries again for almost a year :-)

  3. Believe me I am not sad for you, I am so glad and relieved that everyone is OK. I shutter to think of all the "could have happened things". Thank God for your two children, being there to take care of things. I love you all. Enjoy the sunshine and dry out.

  4. Well I just read the blog to the kids and they all say to just move back here and homeschool with us :-)

    Katie said that all these things are happening for a reason. You should come back to Alberta and live here! So what do you say? Our TV room is empty now that Jason moved out....

  5. Yikes. Scary and exciting at the same time! I will try your cell on Wed and Thur.

    Talk to you soon.


  6. For some reason, my past comments never showed up! I don't know what I am doing wrong, but I am trying again..

    So sorry to hear that your plans have to be postponed again, but really glad to see how positive you all are. You are a great team, and you can handle anything - but it's so good to see that you can keep everything in perspective, and know when hard decisions need to be made.

    Hopefully getting work done on the decks will go smoothly - we are keeping our fingers crossed for you!


  7. You are so right when you say its all in the adventure. I felt terrified when I read that story. I couldnt imagine how you all felt. Your adreniline must have been just pumping.You were so right telling the kids notr to worry about what other people would think. You have to make the right descions for you at the time.
    I think turning around was a good one. Hopefully Gromit makes it safe and sound and they are out of the storm soon.

  8. Well here I sit at work with tears in my eyes. Why tears i dont know. Or i do but there are just so many reasons for them.You are a brilliant writer Julie and had me gripped through the entire blog. I am so very proud of each and every one of you, I admire the strengh each of you have, I envy your journey, i am grateful you are all ok and that there is someone out there looking out for you, and i am so very sad for the way you had to say goodby to Gromit!!! WAY TO GO PERRY FAMILY!!!! XoXo