Old Tricks, New Dogs
"Hmmm," said Troublé, scratching his head thoughtfully. "The shaft is turning. It looks like we've lost the propeller."
So there we sat, with more than 600 miles to go to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas; there was no wind, and we had no other means of propulsion. At moments like that you want a cool hand at the helm, and for all his excitability in other, less trying times, Bruno proved a trouper. He adjusted his tortoise-shell spectacles, scratched his chin, and announced, "We'll do it the old way."
So began four days of blissful sailing through tempests and calms and everything in between, under a sky of glimmering planets and falling stars, with a sliver of vaporous, silvery moon in the west to start our long night watches and a late-arriving sunrise to close them out. Back home, it was bitter nights and gray days as the winter solstice drew nigh. Out here it was T-shirts, bare feet, and flying fish.
The first order of business was to escape the Bermuda High, which wasn't easily done. Troublé had contracted with Commanders' Weather in New Hampshire to route us, and the company was forthcoming with regular e-mailed updates, but it didn't send promising news.
The bottom line was that until we reached the easterly trade winds at about 30 degrees north, hundreds of miles south of where the three-bladed, adjustable, folding, bronze Gori prop lay gathering crust, we'd fight for every inch.
It pays in such times to have a sweet-sailing vessel, and Wanaka proved to be all that. With full North main and a genoa or code zero, the big sloop, built in New Zealand during the 2003 America's Cup, could make her way in almost nothing. Still, it was painfully slow going. One morning, Troublé harrumphed up the companionway from the navigation table that we'd made good just 12 miles in the previous 12 hours. Ouch.
The breeze generally died in the daytime, leaving sails banging against the rig. At one point, the aggravation grew so onerous that we dropped all canvas, but then the boat rolled horribly in the swell. At night the zephyrs steadied a bit, settling mostly in the southwest, and our two-hour, two-person night watches went by smoothly.
Late one evening in this painful exercise, a bank of clouds appeared to the south. "There's our trade wind," said the skipper. It struck like glory at 14 knots and swiftly built to 16, 18, 20. Wanaka heeled to the pressure, scampering along at 10 and 11 knots. In short order, our leader went from worrying about making too little speed to fretting about making too much.
"We cannot approach Marsh Harbour in the dark," Troublé said. "There are no navigation lights there. We must arrive in the daytime to find a way through the reefs and shoals." But he conceded it wasn't in his nature to slow down. "I don't think like that," he said. He went below and e-mailed his son, America's Cup bowman Roman Troublé. "He knows the boat better than anyone," said Bruno. "I ask him, 'Where is zee brake?'"