ISBJORN Trans-Atlantic p. 6 // Turn the Wind On!

27 Feb

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Note: The title – and gist – of this post will come back to haunt me in the next installment…

So much for the January Trades. Shortly after my birthday balls celebration the weather pattern took a turn for the weird. A not-unheard of cutoff low spun up at the tail end of a strong cold front much farther north and began meandering around to our north, just west of the Canary Islands, disrupting the classic easterly tradewind pattern we were so very much enjoying prior. By sunrise on the 25th, the wind had started veering into the SE, then S, and getting lighter…we dropped the spinnaker that evening as the apparent wind moved forward, and have been fighting for every mile since.

We finally gave in and motored through most of the night on the 26th/27th. I would have otherwise been content to sit and wait for the wind to fill back in, but there was a large, long swell working down from the far north and bouncing ISBJORN around relentlessly on an otherwise glassy sea. Mia & I dropped all sail and with a little forward momentum from the diesel were able to dampen the rolling and continue on our way.

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I had had two goals for this passage – sail the whole 3,000 miles of it; and do a big chunk of it navigating purely on celestial. Well, goal #1 was shot only a third of the way into the trip, so we’re refocused goal #2, the celestial one. As of noon on the 27th, when we took our last GPS fix, we’ve gone ‘dark’ onboard, switching off the electronics and bringing out the sextant and the books. I’ve even gone so far as to synchronizing the old Hamilton Railway Special mechanical pocket watch that former crewmember and watch guru Rob Miller got for me back in 2017 to UTC and using that when we take our sights. We’re still transmitting on AIS, but have turned off the screens that receive it, instead relying on RADAR to get us around any questionable traffic.


‘Stig,’ as we’ve tentatively named our RADAR, got us through and around a myriad lightning squalls last night. The evening was beautiful, with bright stars and a half moon and towering clouds all around but not over the boat. Big, snaking lightning strikes flashed around us on all sides, followed shortly thereafter by long, rumbling thunder, the kind you’ll only hear out on the plains of the midwest (or indeed on the plains of the mid-Atlantic). The sky emitted a guttural rolling thunder, which kept on rumblin’. But the lightning never came close enough to affect us, and Stig was very comforting in identifying the very isolated storms and indicated clearly that they’d go around us. We hardened the sheets and headed up to the SW at one point to avoid a particularly large, looming thunderhead just in front of us. But Stig said that was was rambling along at 20 knots to the NE, so even if we’d tried, I don’t think we could have avoided it. We’d gotten lucky.

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Mia HATES lightning, so having Stig the radar there to keep her company through an otherwise lonely night watch was welcome.


The Southern Cross is visible in the middle of the night low on the southern horizon. Etta has brought along a handy star identification book, which we referenced this morning to confirm that yes, that cross-like constellation we’re seeing to the south is indeed the famed Southern Cross, and yes, in the tropics you can indeed see it, even in the northern hemisphere.

David & Etta worked out their first full sun-line this morning successfully. We’ve not gotten a fix since noon yesterday, but they’re morning LOP went smack through our DR position. So while that proves nothing, it’s a good sign. We’ll bide our time and wait for local noon today to get our latitude from the noonsite and cross it with our advanced morning LOP to get a new running fix and start the DR track anew again.

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Navigating by celestial gives a good sense of purpose to the crew on what are becoming hot and lazy days. This little disturbance in the trades is lasting longer than anybody wants it to. The first 1,000 miles were a downwind sleighride, classic tradewinds sailing, a combination of flying the chute in the lighter winds and rockin’ and rollin’ with a poled out genoa when the wind got up a bit, eatin’ up the miles day after day and bang on course. We’re still making westward progress (mostly) under sail, so I can’t complain, but it’s not been that classic ride you read about in the magazines since my birthday.

That said, it has provided an interesting break to the monotony of downwind sailing. We’ve been able to practice sail trim instead, coaxing ISBJORN along in the lightest of zephyrs, amazed at how this old heavy girl will match boat speed to wind speed when the wind is forward of the beam. To watch the wind instrument register just 6 knots from 60º apparent and see our boatspeed at 5.5, well that makes me happy and proud.

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The Swan 59 should be arriving into Antigua this week. Needless to say, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the big boat, having had ample time to do so. (Incidentally, my iPhone has started telling me my weekly ‘screen time’ since it’s latest software update. I got a notification from the phone yesterday morning that said something like ‘your screen time is down 99% in the past week, averaging 20 minutes per day.’ Back ashore, what with email, social media and other temptations of the Internet, it was closer to 3 HOURS per day. Travis Rice, famous snowboarder-turned-sailor said it best in ‘The 4Th Phase’ movie, saying something like ‘I could shut myself off on shore like I do at sea, I just don’t have the discipline to do it back home.’ My thoughts exactly).

ISBJORN & ICE BEAR rafted up in Antigua! Two boats is real!

ISBJORN & ICE BEAR rafted up in Antigua! Two boats is real!

Anyhow, ICE BEAR. I’ve waffled often about whether we’ll keep two boats running, and obviously not having even seen the 59 yet, I have nothing by theories in my head to go by. But with time and space to think, as each day passes I’m getting more and more excited about the new challenge that will entail, boat as skipper of a bigger boat, but also in terms of expanding the business. I want to hire Liz for 2020 to be the permanent mate on ISBJORN and take a bigger role in the business, and we’re hoping to sail both boats across the Atlantic next year by different routes. It’ll be fun to talk to Paul when he gets to Antigua to race with us to hear his thoughts and see which trips he wants to take ISBJORN on into the future.

We’re getting a new spinnaker for ICE BEAR that’ll be black with my 80 NORTH tattoo in white. Not sure yet if it’ll say “ICE BEAR,” “59 NORTH”, OR “HOLD FAST” in the text, but man that’s gonna be badass! When the time comes to get a new one for ISBJORN, it’ll be the same, but a white sail with black graphics. Yes.

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This article was syndicated from 59º North Sailing // 59º North Blog


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