Antigua - NYC, Overwhelmed

Sincere apologies for vanishing for two weeks. It's been a rollercoaster ride (but not of the Coney Island variety!) and I'm not even sure of where to start. If I wrote everything now, it would result in a novella, so I'm just going to finish off the Antigua to NYC log now, and save the rest for later, when I can collect my thoughts. Thanks so much for all the comments in the last post! Day 13

The wind swung more NE overnight, meaning we're actually sailing direct to NY, and around 3kts. We're still hitting the swell quite hard, but at least we're going in the right direction! 654nm to go, which is still six days of optimal sailing. I estimate another 8-9 days out here. I initially said that I expected the trip to take 21 days, but I didn't really expect that to be a reality ... I have my fingers crossed for W or WSW tomorrow. It's noticeably colder with the north component to the wind. A catamaran just sailed past, within 300metres, and I don't think either of us noticed each other. I attempted to get her on the radio, but no luck. By 6pm we were becalmed, which I hope is the beginning of the westerly wind...

Day 14

Last night I woke up to silence, which was unusual, since the mainsail should have been slapping in the completely windless conditions. However I went outside, and found a north westerly breeze. I hoisted the genoa, set Windy and went back to bed. I woke up to see us on a perfect heading at 3.5kts. By late afternoon the wind was dead west, and Constellation struck up the pace to 5kts. This is probably the fastest we've gone in nearly a week since 27degrees north. Every mile since has been a struggle... By 7pm I had to reef the main, and tried to sleep. The motion was quick, and I didn't sleep very well.

Day 15

We flew overnight, but I hardly slept due to the slamming and speed. Days are so boring now, due to the lack of good books and food. I'll be looking forward to my siesta today! Visibility is very poor, there is an odd haze in the air. I'm also quite certain I can smell land in the air, which I guess is possible, considering its a NW wind (blowing from land). If smells wet, sweet and smoky. Throughout the day an incredibly eery fog descended, and the wind has died right down, which is a terrible shame after the incredible run we just had. As of this evening, we're doing 2kts or less, but I believe at 35dgrees north, we'll get the illusive WSW's. I hear a front is coming, and sincerely hope its nothing bad, as I approach the Gulf Stream.

Day 16

I'm becalmed again. I spent the morning cleaning, the cockpit was beginning to look like a teenagers bedroom. And for anyone that knows me, that means a right chaotic mess. While outside watching the mirrored calm, I caught a glimpse of a fish out of the corner of my eye. I quickly launched a lure, and slowly reeled it in. Calmly following it was an enormous Dorado, nearly a metre in length. It was absolutely stunning, glistening in the light. I quickly brought the lure in so as not to catch it - It was far too big, and far too beautiful for me to eat. I spent half an hour motoring to charge the batteries, for lack of sun, only to notice the Dorado was following me! Right up at the bow, sometimes even jumping! The fish ended up following me the entire day, which was amazing. The last calm I was in, a school of six dinner plate sized fish were toying around near the Windvane. I dropped a lure in and instantly caught one, and then another - These calm periods have shown more sea life than at any other time, and I'm beginning to enjoy the quietness or the whole situation. We have 497nm to go, and it's amazing now that we're doing 2kts, how fast it feels after sitting in mirrored waters for 12 hours!

Day 17

Overnight the wind slowly veered to south west, and I was up and down trying to capture every last gust throughout the transition. I payed the mainsail right out, and ran the genoa off the end of the boom through a block. This configuration doesn't allow for true downwind sailing, but the boat is stable and relatively fast, and what can't be made for heading, can be made in speed. I also believe a north wind will develop next, which will allow me to make up for any course inconsistencies. We're now at a nice 3kts, the only sound is the swish along the hull of the sea, and the odd creak from Windy. This is the nicest part of sailing, when recovering from a calm, the wind picks up but the sea is dead flat - You glide over the water, as if your keel were a hot knife through butter, and the quietude is stunning. I enjoy offshore sailing more and more, and how my jaunt down the coast of Europe would have change if I were to do it again! Well, maybe not so much, since I really wanted to visit most of the ports I stopped... It's much nicer watching the fish, trimming the sails and reading my books, than dealing with the irritations that magnetise themselves towards groups of people. I say all this now, but the amazing forgetfulness and adaptability of humans will have me back to enjoying the spoils of civilisation within a matter of weeks. Visions of following fish and still moons will but but a distant memory, triggered only by reading this very passage.

Later in the evening, out of nowhere came strong winds. I would estimate 35kts, at which we were nearly knocked flat. I put two reefs in and dropped the genoa at pace. Right now we're hove-to, while I wait out to see what's going on. I hit the jackpot and found four boxes of macaroni in a cupboard, so while this storm does what it wants, I'm going to whet my cheesy pallet with a change of dinners. The sunset was very ominous, and bright red. What is it, 'red sky at night, sailors delight?' It certainly doesn't seem like it... I'm terrified! (Two hours later): Wow, steer clear of Better Valu Macaroni - What an absolutely loathsome culinary experience. Talk about genuinely disappointed. Back to rice and chilli sauce. While thinking (uh oh), I wondered, can you claim parts of the sea, like squatters rights on land? If so, I'm going to invest heavily in building a series of floating QuickStops along this route, selling tax-free diesel, fine European chocolates and DVDs. I'd make an absolute killing. Every purchase gets you a free two day forecast too. Oh, the opportunities!

Day 18

Last night the wind didn't die down, but rather steadied. I knew were were going to have a full night of good wind, when the sky to the NE cleared (the direction of the wind), which indicated it wasn't simply squall generated. I shook out a reef and put up the jib, and we were off on a bumpy overnight jaunt towards the Apple. I didn't sleep very well, and as such, have spent most of the day energy-less, reading a Flaubert novel or simply lying with my eyes shut, the odd wave crashing over the cabin roof. During the night the mainsheet worked itself loose, and I woke up to fix it, dodging the chilling spray. What awaited was utterly surreal: To the stern were multiple banks of clouds, full of electrical activity, firing like ships cannons in a dense fog. To our port side, the moon was surrounded by a deep red hue, just about to set on the horizon. The scene was without doubt the most amazing display of sky-bound phenomena I've ever witnessed. Being out here in variable latitudes for such a long time, has been quite an experience. Unlike the Atlantic which mostly consists of setting your windvane and eating noodles for a month, everyday out here brings something new. Whether that be a new species of bird, a curious fish, calms, excessive wind, mirrored seas or water bounding over the deck. The sky seems to double in magnitude every night, bringing squalls, electrical storms or cumulus bound sunsets. There is no constant in this region, which is why I believe it has such an eery reputation; and rightly so.

It's calm now, the genoa is back on centre stage, we're doing 2.8kts steady, and there is 378nm to go.

Day 19

The wind yesterday and last night was a steady NE, which meant were were on a reasonably good NW tack to NY. At 3am it swung to the north, and started varying. I couldn't sleep, because every 10mins the genoa would back itself. I kept making course alterations to Windy, but it was pointless. For the first time on this trip so far, I got angry and frustrated. I just wanted a good sleep, and it was rolling like made. I yelled at the horizon as the cover of darkness was evaporating to a new day, pulled the genoa down and hove-to. I tried to sleep but everything was annoying me - The ballpoint pen rattling on the chart table, the kettle moving inside the sink. I threw the kettle into the cockpit, and cleared the chart table onto the adjoining bunk in frustration - I was furious! Eventually I put some calming music on, and fell asleep for an hour... Until the hot sun seemed to intentionally focus its full strength onto my face, and I woke up. Realising the futility of it all, I got up and raised the genoa, and sailed west. I still have a headache and remain very irritable, but I think I'll sleep well tonight. Oh how I wish the damn wind would settle itself from the west!! It's been N, NW, or NE for days... We've been virtually close-hauled the entire time. Beating sucks. I'm going to invest the millions I'll make from the QuickStops in making an upwind Spinnaker!

Day 20

I was woken up at 2am by the noisy mainsail, to see the #1 reefing line had snapped clear through. It was old anyway, but I was still annoyed. I have one reefing line left, which means should anything blow through that requires the second or third reefs, I'll have to tie the line up when needed. As the wind was picking up, I setup reef #2 and tried to sleep. By 03:30, still without sleep, I watched the GPS as we began averaging 6.5kts. I can never sleep if we're doing 5.5kts or more, and this was no exception. At daybreak (04:30), I changed down to the jib, getting completely drenched on the bow. Still we were too fast, and now headed NE. I figured we might have hit the Gulf Stream already, with the wind howling from the NW. By 9am after sitting in my bunk listening to the terror going on outside, I couldn't take anymore breaking waves in the cockpit, and changed to reef #3 and put the storm jib up. I hailed the cruise ship 'Explorer or the Seas', which I saw in La Coruna (Spain) for weather advice, to which the watchman gave me a 96hr report. He was 12hrs out of NYC, and had already covered 200nm. I told him it had taken me a good part of a week to get that mileage, to which he laughed, and said he had 100,000 horse power onboard. I said I had 10 horspower, and no fuel, which he thought was very amusing. At 1pm a haze descended, with the smell of smoke. Ensuring first that I wasn't on fire, I presumed there were large fires in the USA, but I wasn't entirely sure. At 3pm through limited visibility, I spotted the ghost-like sails of another vessel in front of me. I hailed them on the radio, but they couldn't see me. I had contacted the Challenger 67 'Discoverer', recently up from the ice pack in South America. He had Inmarsat C onboard, and gave me a forecast, and we chatted for awhile. I was confused about the Gulf Stream, but he confirmed that we were in the grips of it, and said he'd radio with a latitude when they escaped the east-going current. I heard him later in the evening on VHF, but he was too far away to receive my signal... I need a bigger boat, so I can have a bigger mast for the antenna! The stream has pushed me way off course, with 'Discoverer' headed for Boston, I thought maybe I should just go to Boston too... I'm very tired... I hope tonight is trouble free, I just want some sleep, we've been pounding like heck, and I haven't slept since 2am.

Day 21

Last night after the very bumpy Gulf Stream, we became becalmed, yet again! I woke up to no wind, and having nothing to do, cleaned the boat up, mopped up the floor and soaked up the wet spots around the windows. When I get to NY, I'm going to fix every damn leak on this boat, if its the last thing I do! It's quite cold now, I had no idea the effects of the Stream would be so apparent, so fast. The water is green instead of blue, and the water actually smells like the sea. There are different birds hanging about, and I even saw a moth this morning. It was a nice suprise to find an Australian radio station on shortwave too, having become thoroughly annoyed (and quite disgusted) by the fundamentalist Christian radio - They have the most powerful transmitters, along with China Radio International. Propagandists have all the watts. I can never seem to find the BBC, which along with Radio Canada and ABC Australia, are the only voices of reason which are transmitting into the stratosphere. In other news, ramen noodles have become a delicacy of days past, and the chilli sauce has nearly run out. I did open a carton of milk though, now that its a bit colder, so its nice to have tea with milk for a change. I'm glad I'm not a fussy eater, I'd most certainly have perished out here at least two weeks ago. I do however look forward to a bagel with cream cheese and salmon, I must admit... My first stop on land will be to the very first metal-clad diner I see, for which I will request one of everything on the menu. I've lost weight, I can tell - Another kilo off, and I will have shrunk enough for Constellation to appear considerably larger than she is.

A fly just landed on the tiller. Tony tells me there is a whale alert for this area, which is why I'm out in the cockpit. I have a harpoon ready (my dinghy oar), and I've stoked the coal in the boiler for the oil extraction. My port & starboard lamps need refilling, and I wouldn't mind some light for this evening, in order to finish Voltaire. Not to mention the lads in Nantucket, who might jeer at me for arriving with nothing from my travels, having only a piece of seaweed and one shilling I won from an arm wrestle with an armless fishermen in Portugal, I'd be laughed out of the tavern without at least one whale to speak of!

While at the tiller, I can't help but to sail up to any strange things I see floating in the water. For example, today I came up to a floating peanut butter jar, and a piece of wood that looked like a set of deer antlers. Minutes later, a shiny object was spotted, which turned out to be a toy helium balloon! What an amazing thought to be able to find the little kid that released it, and tell them what had become of their silver balloon!

Day 22

Last night Merv the Mer-Veille picked up a Coaster headed straight for us. I could hear the hum of its engines, and see its nav lights dead on. I radioed to no response, but five minutes later and to my great relief, the vessel slowly changed course, and I stayed becalmed overnight. I had numerous reports from SMS's that I was going to be hit by a front, so in the morning I called Commanders Weather to see if I was in for a pummeling - No, no front was going to hit me. Later in the afternoon, what little wind existed died out completely, and a large swell came out of nowhere - It must be a result of strong winds further NW kicking up the sea. It's rolling hard now, and still there is no wind. It's very irritating and makes me feel somewhat queasy. I really just want to get into port now, it's kind of ridiculous in terms of calms and unhelpful wind. The swell is very confused now and completely non-directional, this is really, really weird.

Day 23

I'm in a very, very bad mood today. I didn't sleep all night due to the rolling, and am just fed up with the lack of wind. The swell didn't die down at all, but rather increased, and still there is no breeze. I had the mainsail up to keep the boat steady, but we still rolled like crazy. It must be terribly bad for the rig, but its either that, or we go rail-to-rail with no sail up. Not a chance. We're at 38deg31N / 69deg53W and the GPS has gone mad. We're only doing about 1kt into a NW wind, but the GPS can't figure out which direction we're going, and misreports speed. We must be in a strong current - I've given up on the GPS, and am now steering by the compass. I tested my position with a backup GPS, but still it's all strange. We're clearly in a strong eddy or something. I'm confused. (1 hour later): Confirmed, we're stuck the SW portion of an eddy. I'm doing about 3kts through the water north, and actually heading SW at 1kt.

Day 24

I couldn't sleep last night, worried I would be dragged back into the Gulf Stream and start riding it east. I sent a message to Marty, to pass on to Tony about my concerns, and at 2am I received the eddy location, and rotation info. I had assumed the eddy ran clockwise, because I know Newport/Bermuda racers try to find the SE meander, which wouldn't be possible for a counter-clockwise rotation. I was heading west, hoping the current might take us W/NW... Tony confirmed this, and I was very relieved to have someone else help me out - I thought the eddy phenomenon was an unusual occurrence, and hadn't been too concerned about it. Apparently it is not to be messed with, and is a genuine concern for small boats without good engine capability. At 3am after plotting out the eddy on the chart and thinking through everything, I could finally sleep. I got up at 07:30 to a little bit of wind, and barreled west at 6kts (3kts of current). This lasted only a few hours, and now we're becalmed again, but heading WSW at 2.8kts from the eddy. Prediction of flow is S,SW,WSW,W,NW - Like being on the edge of a circle (which we are). Commanders Weather updated Tony on the current, and confirmed that going west was the only option. They also predict Saturday to provide nice SW winds which will carry me into NY - Please be right! It's hot again and the sea is back to be beautiful blue. The Gulf Stream at work! I spotted a whale at 38deg00N 70deg56W.

Day 25

Last night a brisk NW wind kicked up, and we were finally heading to NYC at 6kts. By 01:00 it had shifted NW, and we were beating into chop. I reefed and put the jib up, and proceeded (pushed by the eddy) NNE until this morning when it all died out. We've only 160nm to go, and today was predicted to be 15-20kts of SW wind, which is incorrect, as usual - I've not had an accurate forecast for weeks. Not even predictions for the conditions of the day have been correct. I've had enough of sailing right now. I feel like sitting in a decrepit bar, drinking, oblivious to my own thoughts. My sailing gusto will return en force, but after the Atlantic, less than a months rest which included over 300nm of sailing in the Caribbean, and then another month out here - I'm tired. And for what? I'm not in a race. I have no idea why I'm pushing so hard. I should have stopped months ago and made some real money so I can enjoy things - It sucks buying a chocolate bar and then feeling guilty about wasting money. If I had any sense, I'd go back to Europe and work. Anyway, this is the end of my complaining. Sorry. (2 hours later) Wow, I'm so fucked off - We're doing a complete circle in the eddy, now going SE. We were supposed to go NW, but now I'm in the northern portion of the eddy system. I was going to blow the remaining fuel I had on trying to get out of it, but the engine has just stopped working. Suspected fuel filter. This is driving me insane. (1 hour later): I took out and cleaned the fuel filter in Turpentine, bled the fuel system and August the mighty Yanmar is happy. A light SW wind has started while I was working, and we're now countering the current - Not making progress, but not going backwards either.

Day 26

Last night the SW wind died at midnight, and turned to NE. The damn eddy continued its grip on us, and without wind we are being pulled east. Any ground I made yesterday has just all been lost overnight. I can't believe I've been caught in this thing for so long. I called the Newport - Bermuda racers on VHF, and suprisingly they could hear me. I asked when the eddy would stop, since they were actively looking for it. They said about another 30nm. I hope I see the racing fleet, but as to why someone would actually want to 'race' in this area is beyond me - There ain't no wind! This whole situation is very difficult on my mind, because every mile made in a small boat is one fought for... Being becalmed is one thing, but when you've spent days and nights at the tiller or trimming the sails to coerce every foot of progress, only to have it wiped out the next day, is very difficult to deal with. Especially when you've already been dealing with calms, and not to mention the fact that I've been out here for over 3 weeks, and we're so damn close to the seemingly unattainable NYC. I can see how one could go mad out here. Already I've been prancing around deck, punching the mast in frustration, or waking up at 3am to see the sails flogging and us going SE at 3kts, screaming out loud and cursing the Gulf Stream.... ARGH!

(2 hours later) This all being said, I must say I feel very much more connected to this area than I did on my Atlantic crossing... Out here there is just so much variance - The Atlantic crossing was relatively simple and uninspiring (except for my sail configuration difficulties, and one or two bad days). The environment in an Atlantic crossing is incessant, whereas out here there is ever constant change. I've also learnt a great deal about sailing, the weather, and the sea in general. If you have the patience to go outside and gaze at the void, you're also bound to be rewarded with some kind of spectacle.

The VHF has just lit up with Bermuda racers, navy warships conducting live tests in my region, and even coast guard warnings of an exploded yacht off Rhode Island, helicopter crashes and reports of a 19ft vessel on fire - I must be getting closer to the madness of 'civilised' society!!

My mood has gone from mediocre to exceptional - We've broken Eddie the eddy, doing 4kts NW on a W breeze. 130nm to go, great day. I could be eating bagels for breakfast on Monday. The weather is colder now, the sea has gone back to being green. That is all.

Day 27

I was woken up by the sonar of dolphins through the hull. I got out of my bunk, and on the horizon were hundreds of dolphins bounding towards me. We're on the continental shelf now, they must be fishing. This is the most amazing thing I've seen, it's almost impossible to believe. The sun is rising, there is the squeak of these most beautiful mammals, and I'm so close to New York City.

(2 hours later). Wow, we were just hit with an incredible squall. The wind speeds may have been the fastest I've experienced. We're hove-to with the last reef in the sail, and even then we're heeling hard, but on a nice angle to the increasing chop. The fishing boats around me are stunned at the suddenness of the squall. They could see it on radar, and I was hoping I'd miss it, but here we are. I'm just sitting here reading a boat catalogue, waiting for it to pass. We're so close now, I don't care about he squall. In fact, it's almost exciting. We're being blown to pieces, but at least I know it'll be over in half an hour.

Day 28

I'm keeping a close watch coming into New York. At 2am there were 6 fishing boats, spaced equally on the horizon. They seemed to move as I approached, to create a path for me. We're going to make it today. I'll be at anchor, I won't know what to do with myself.

An amazing fog has now descended, if it wasn't here, I could probably see land. We're on approach to Sandy Hook Channel now, I can hear the tankers in Ambrose Channel. The gongs are gonging, I can hear fog horns, and big engines. We're ghosting at 3kts, I've chanced a favourable tide, I'm nervous of being hit... A research vessel has radioed me, they know where I am, but I can't see them. I've been told to maintain course and speed to avoid a collision. I can now see the first marker for Sandy Hook Channel. We've made it. We're in the channel, this is the home stretch, I'm starting the engine. A fishing boat just past, I waived, they didn't return it. I can see the sand now of New Jersey, it's a long beach, the fog has lifted slightly, a tug has just past me, the lights are backwards here... Red light returning? I hope so!

We're in. I'm at anchor, I just met Phil, he paddled over with a cold beer and a banana, this is wonderful, I'm in America.