Becalmed (Day 63)

We were letting the peace and calm of the wind and seas seep into our mind and body. It’s the Zen approach to being becalmed.

August 6, 2013
Matt Rutherford
The author aboard Ault Matt Rutherford

This last week has both frustrating and rejuvenating. 16 hours after we cut the tow line connecting us to the 48 foot swan our main halyard broke making it impossible to raise our mainsail. The winds were building out of the west which would have normally made sailing west to Bermuda slow and painful because we would have to beat into the wind and waves. To put nicely Ault doesn’t sail well into the wind. To be more frank, going into the wind she sails like a well-trimmed refrigerator. Without a mainsail she doesn’t sail into the wind at all. For four days the wind blew out of the west and for four days we sailed north and south trying to keep from being pushed east and further out to sea. No matter how hard I tried to point into the wind all we did was sail in circles. We had no choice but to wait for the wind to die so I could climb the mast and replace the halyard.

When the wind finally died we were becalmed for four days. Climbing an unstayed mast in the middle of the ocean is challenge I don’t care to repeat. The mast is round like a flag pole and covered in a slippery salty residue. The mast is tapered so as you near the top of the mast it becomes smaller and springier, trying to fling you off with every passing wave. In the future I’ll run the boom toping lift through a block and back to the boom so I can use it as a spare halyard. I should have thought about that before we left but the weeks leading up to the expedition were pure madness.

Fixing the halyard was rather anti-climactic because once we got the mainsail back up all it did was flap around. We were completely becalmed. The air hung still and there wasn’t even the smallest slightest breeze. There are three ways to deal with being becalmed. First, you start your engine and go on with your day. Our engine is broke so we didn’t have that option. Second, you can drift around, hot, sweaty, bored and frustrated. Third, you can keep yourself busy by fixing the boat, cleaning up and like the wind and waves you yourself become calm. So we stayed busy working on the boat and from time to time we would stand out on deck watching the beautiful fluffy clouds pass by. We were letting the peace and calm of the wind and seas seep into our mind and body. It’s the Zen approach to being becalmed.


In all we had not made any progress for ten days when the wind finally started building again. It’s had to explain how good it felt to be sailing in the proper direction at five knots. It’s interesting how in life we can take something that is simple for granted one day and be incredibly thankful for it ten days later. The winds started blowing out of the southeast giving us ideal sailing conditions for heading west. Unfortunately a weak surface low mixed with a complex upper-level low pressure system was in store. This produced an incredible quantity of powerful squally rainy clouds. Each squall hits with gale force winds and torrential rains. For the last two day we have been hit by ten times as many squalls as the first 61 days combined. I can?t complain too much because at least we are still making good progress.

We are currently heading for Bermuda and hope to be there by the 29th or 30th. Bermuda has a very narrow entrance surrounded by reefs and without a motor it’s going to be sketchy getting in. Once we are in the harbor we will drop anchor in Convict Bay and I’ll try to get a new fuel injection pump so we can make it back to the Chesapeake Bay. With hurricanes around its much safer to have a working engine so we can power through headwinds or light winds making our crossing to the east coast as quick as possible. I hope you have all enjoyed following along during Ocean Research Project’s first expedition. Any donations would be greatly appreciated and a big help. We hope to be in and out of Bermuda in a week or less and heading towards the Chesapeake Bay. It’s hard to believe that in a few days we will see dry land once again.

Learn more about the voyage at the Ocean Research Project website.


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