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[Story] [Energy Saving Techniques] [Lessons Learned]
Just when you think you are prepared for anything, Wham!, something completely unexpected happens.

I was finally living up to my name, Long Passages, as we left Academy Bay in the Galapagos Islands for a 3,000 mile non-stop journey across the Pacific Ocean to the Marquesa Islands in French Polynesia.  Bob and Judi were still talking about their fabulous 10-day stop in these beautiful islands, which included a 4-day tour on a luxury motor launch swimming with sea lions and visiting many islands.  I was left safely anchored with two anchors and under the watchful eye of our cruising friends on Solitaire.   I guess they were trying to let me rest for the long journey ahead. 

We were motoring along, since there was no wind, when suddenly a swarm of hundreds of wasps, trying to fly upwind of the fires on Isabella Island, decided to take refuge on ME!  They coated the rigging and decks and after some tense moments, Bob and Judi realized that they were exhausted and were looking for a place to rest.  By the next morning they were gone or had died. 

Later in the next day, a breath of wind came up and the skipper called for the light-air sail to be flown, so he and his best mate went forward to put it up.  False alarm - so back on with the engine and they again went forward to take the sail down.  As they were doing this, I got very excited and upset since I noticed that SMOKE! was coming out of my companionway - definitely not a normal occurrence!  I kept wondering what the hell they were doing up there and what was taking so long, but they continued to dawdle, fold sails, look at dolphins and chit-chat.  Finally, when they did get back to the cockpit - panic ensued as one of the sailor's and boat's worst nightmare is a fire at sea.  Bob yelled for Judi to turn off the engine as he raced below to find out what was happening.

The smoke seemed to be coming from the engine compartment and once opened, Bob found the source - a burned-out starter.  He had noticed some time back that there was corrosion on the engine ignition switch in the cockpit and had sprayed it with lubricant - that fixed it temporarily but it was not enough.  So, when he turned on the ignition key, it stuck in the start position and caused the starter to remain engaged, overheat and melt.  Fortunately, there was no fire and no other damage.  We were now faced with a decision as to what to do.  Should we try to sail the 150 miles against the prevailing winds and currents back to the Galapagos to make repairs, or continue to sail the 3,000 miles to the Marquesas?  After some consultation (I was not included), they finally realized that - Hey!- I'm a sailboat, so they decided to go for it. Yeah!

This decision called for some real energy-saving measures, as they were not able to start the engine to charge the batteries.  Fortunately, they had decided not to use the refrigeration for this leg of the trip, so they did not have to worry about that.  Bob had provided me with several alternative energy sources, though, in the way of 2 solar panels and an Ampair wind generator, so we were all confident that this would be enough.  Boy, were we wrong!  It turns out that when you are sailing west, solar panels only get exposed to the sun for half of the day before the sun moves across the horizon in front of the headsail.  So we have the wind generator; but when you are sailing downwind in light airs, as I was, there is no apparent wind to turn the generator, so we were totally reliant on the solar panels and my crew had to continually move them around to catch the most sun possible.

The energy saving techniques we applied  included:
  • Turned off all instruments, except wind instrument.
  • Left GPS off until we made a log entry.
  • Turned off all navigation lights at night and kept a really good watch
  • Used windvane for steering
  • Radio was used only once a day to check in with our friends
  • Interior lights were used sparingly
  • Compass light kept off and the course was checked using a flashlight
  • Used Walker Log for speed and distance.

So, day after day, mile after mile, we sailed on for 30 days.  I performed flawlessly as my double headsails picked up any zephyr to push us along.  I averaged 100 nautical miles a day in no more than 8-10 knots of wind and my slowest day was 50 nm, but there was less than 5 kts of wind that day.  On May 29, 1994, we made landfall at Ua Pou island.   I was ready to keep going, but the crew would have mutinied, so I relented and let Don, skipper of my sailing buddy, Solitaire, tie their inflatable dingy alongside my hull and power me into a nice secure spot behind the breakwater.  My crew dropped our anchor and the crew of my other pal, La Chaumeire, took out my stern anchor and there we were in French Polynesia.  We had sailed all the way and still had enough residual power left to run the radar and radio!  So, Bob and Judi popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and toasted themselves for all the work I did.

Lessons Learned

  • Have mechanical windvane unless you want to hand-steer for 3,000 miles.
  • Have alternate sources of energy such as solar panels and wind generator.
  • When sailing downwind, the apparent wind can be very light or non existent.
  • When sailing west, the boat loses the sunlight once it moves low on the horizon and in front of the headsail.
  • Always keep a good watch at night, especially if you have to turn off navigation lights.  We saw several ships and fishing fleets at night on this passage.
  • If you have an integrated instrument arrangement, make sure that you can disconnect or turn off instruments that are not needed and keep on those (eg. wind instrument and/or knotmeter) that are needed.
  • Fix problems when you first see them. We had noticed the corrosion on the ignition switch, but, other than spraying it with WD40,  did not correct the real problem: the ignition key is a different type of metal than the switch and we had left the key in the ignition all the time, and saltwater set up electrolysis between them. We have since completely enclosed the instrument panel in a weather-proof housing.
  • We were happy that we chose not to use refrigeration, because we would have had throw a lot of food overboard.  It was very easy to do without and the only thing we missed were cold drinks.  Instead we used the "fridge" for dry storage of canned food items.
  • Perhaps carry a Walker Log - we did and used it to determine distance traveled and speed through the water.

[This next story was a real close encounter]


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