Big Seas Little Seas: Leander Atlantic Crossing Day 13

Leander is at 19 10 N, 45 32 W, sailing at 6.5 knots on a course of 270 magnetic. After a rough ride yesterday afternoon and early evening, the wind and seas have again moderated. We are on a dead run 18 knots of following wind just now. These conditions have been relatively steady for the last 18 hours.

We didn’t think that we were going to have a good night. At about 6 p.m., the seas came up very quickly, without much warning. A cross swell set up with one large swell coming from the due east and second coming from the north east. They were sweeping west, forming moving “V’s” in the place where they met up. Leander quickly began to surf down this swell, sometimes registering nine knots. At one point, the auto pilot quit, because it wasn’t able to keep up. With the waves sweeping by the boat so fast, the rudder couldn’t get traction in the water to control the boat. And as the boat pitched down in the wave, the relative wind angle and wind speed would change such that the boat would get pushed strongly to windward, as the wind caught the headsail. The boat would then begin to turn sideways, sliding down the wave and curling into the wind. The rudder was unable to do much to correct this until the wave had surged past, but by this time the boat would be sideways to the seas and wind.

We turned off the autopilot and hand-steered for a while. When I first took the wheel, I thought that the rudder or steering may have been damaged because the boat was so unresponsive. But it was just the speed of the boat and the following seas were so close — the rudder couldn’t grab the water when the seas were moving at the same speed as the boat. We thought that part of the issue may also have been that the batteries were at the bottom of their charging curve. So we turned on the engine and motor-sailed for a while. This gave us another 1.5 knots of boat speed, which made the steering more responsive. We hand-steered for about three hours, during which the seas moderated. By midnight, the wind had come down a little, the seas too, and the night passed uneventfully, with the refreshed batteries and rested auto pilot handling the conditions just fine.

Today has been warm and sunny. We’ve still got a good roll going in moderate seas, but we’re used to it now, and are all comfortable. The wind is supposed to pick up tonight, to about 22, and stay that way through Sunday. If if stays in that range — 22ish — we should be fine. But we’re hopeful for wind not much stronger than that, as that could lead to a return of more challenging sea conditions.

We again sailed 159 nautical miles during the last 24 hours, for a total of 1,953 miles done, and 956 to go. It feels good to get the remaining miles under 1,000!

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