Day 6 to Cape Horn - with a probable brief diversion to SF...

Saturday 27th October 2012

The wind picked up later in the night.. from 6-8 kt near midnight to 20kt on the nose by 4.30am, as rain came in, along with a drop in pressure from 1020 to1017 hPa. Two reefs were tied in ....but with wind direction still from WSW we were able to keep heading pretty well due S for most of what was quite a foggy day - not dense but definitely making for very reduced visibility. Conditions stayed like that all day, the wind easing a little to ~16kt by nightfall - so we continued heading into weather, with seas from SW up at 2m or more every 4sec - another bumpy, uncomfortable day!  

DMG to 2300GMT(1600PDT): 107 n.ml. Strait of Juan de Fuca: 334 n.ml; San Francisco: 438n.ml; Coos River (Oregon) due East, 180n.ml.  

I commented in passing that I had a problem early on Friday. In fact, what had happened, very unfortunately, was that the liferaft decided to jump ship from its position in a cradle on the pulpit (above the stern). Clearly the strapping holding it in place had not been secured well enough, for which I blame myself for not thinking carefully enough about how the heavy canister could move within the cradle when under sail, heeled over....  

We had tacked around onto port tack in bumpy conditions, heeled over as usual, being very close-hauled in a short, southerly swell. I went below to contact the Gt Northern Boaters Net around 8am and, soon after, noticed our speed had dropped dramatically from around 6kt to 3 kt or less! On going up on deck, I couldn't believe my eyes - there was the liferaft, trailing along behind us, nicely inflated, with its light winking away on top of it, acting as a drogue. It eventually caused us to head downwind ... I had no choice but to cut it away.... Now what to do?  

The immediate problem was to alert the US Coast Guard of the empty liferaft, drifting towards the Columbia river over 150 miles to the East, but with no missing persons overboard to worry about... I radioed the US Maritime Mobile Net on 14300kHz - I knew there's always someone listening out 24/7 on that frequency - and passed on my message for them to relay to the CG. Propagation wasn't very good, so later I emailed a friend to confirm my message had been passed on - it had. (They kindly offered to retrieve it and return it, if at all possible!)  

After thinking hard about my options in the situation, not feeling it to be sensible to continue RTW without a liferaft, I later emailed John Reed, Secretary to the WSSRC (who are validating my RTW attempt) to arrange a phone call discussion on Saturday - TG for satellite telephones!  

My eventual thoughts were that if I could pull into San Francisco Bay, with a replacement liferaft organised in advance, then it could be fitted to the pulpit (securely!) and I could then sail on again. Clearly, Ithis was a safety issue, not one of repairs to the boat, so my 'unassisted, solo' status should be intact, so long as no-one helped me in any other way, other than to fix the liferaft in place..... Also, I would have to anchor off or pick up a buoy in the Bay, not come into a marina - all under sail, since no engine is available to me... (That could get interesting!!) On speaking to John Reed later, he confirmed that my plan would be acceptable so long as no-one else boarded or assisted me - this would be an allowable emergency stop within the rules. Relief!!  

I'll have to be careful approaching SF, with the shallows just outside, and also on passing through the Golden Gate with its strong tidal currents. I spoke to a friend in SF who will try to help me on Monday, when people are in their offices.... Amazing how often recently things have occurred just as a weekend was imminent, to prevent immediate contact! But since I can't possibly reach SF before Thursday 31st Oct (Hallowe'en!), there's time in hand.  

Radio propagation just now is mostly very bad and it was difficult making my usual contact in the late afternoon with the Pacific Seafarers Net. It was good to hear Randy, KH6RC, back on air (I finally met him when in Kona, Hawaii, in July) - he always has such a good signal - but he struggled to copy my report, although Gary, ZL2GLM (in New Zealand!) was just able to do so.  

Amazingly, with being on the same tack all day long and no sail trimming needed, I suddenly realized I could relax and read - most unusual! From the next few days' weather forecast, it seems we'll be on this same port tack in WSW-SSW winds, sometimes light, until close to SF. So I might yet get in some more reading which will make for a nice change from the norm. And I cooked a nice, creamy pasta dish, which will last for another day easily.