May 21, 2012

southern ocean teaser video + captain's report

by James Burwick

We arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 12 May 1012 after 30 days from Simons Town, South Africa.

Boat preparation was long and detailed.  This was to be one of those trips where it was better to send a report in after we arrived safely, not before.

It was late in the season for sailing in the Southern Ocean in many minds, but not mine.  I felt I could go above 40S, avoid ice, and avoid low pressure cells dropping off of the Indian Ocean summer cyclones. Leaving in mid-April just meant more darkness.   Well, it always seems to happen at night, so with longer nights, maybe the possibility of more bad stuff to deal with.

After approximately 1200 hours of boat preparations by myself, after sailing solo 32,000nm and with the family aboard 13,000nm, I felt the risk could be managed.

We left at 9 pm April 12.  I left some of the dock lines on the dock and rest of the lines went to our friends who let us stay on their boat while Anasazi was out on the hard.  I love to do this, leave at night, and leave the lines. 

Three hours of motoring got us to the Cape of Good Hope at midnight, Friday 13th of April.  I pushed hard as the family slept below to get in front of a fast moving low pressure system forecasted by Brynn Campbell at Commanders Weather.  It was uncomfortable with the wind still in front of the beam, but we made it, and soon were going diagonal to 40S.

I cut the corner of the Agulhas too tight and the seas were just a mess of confusion along with one close call with a freighter coming up from deeper than I could understand.  Fortunately, that was the last of the ships we saw for the next month.

The idea for making it across was to keep the highs on our left and the lows on our right.  Just once did a high slip under us and it was not pretty, giving us three days of Easterlies.  Our choice was to go south with it all on the beam, which is not on the beam on my boat, it is in your face as the apparent goes forward fast. 

The Easterlies eventually passed and the cold fronts progressed.  Snow was forecast for down south and rain for where we were.  We had dark long nights, and our typical sail combination became a norm of 3 to 4 reefs and only my storm jib, which is full spectra with full battens, and all white.

The storm jib is called a "Tormentina” in Spanish.  Before my daughter was born, I called it my white wedding.  For the first time, I had my Tormentina on deck and my other Tormentina (3 ½ years old) down below, who was aboard with her brother Raivo (1 ½ years old), which is a Finnish name meaning “fury.”

We passed below St. Paul and Amsterdam just in time, as a 982mb low we were surfing finally caught up with and rolled over us.  We were 100 miles past the Islands when the gusty shift nastiness of SW air came and we gybed port tack.

In the dark (always), I made the one big mistake of the trip.  My daughter fell asleep on my lap at the nav station bench. I picked her up and swiveled around to set her in the quarter berth.  A rogue wave knocked on us, and my knee hit the main battery switch.  

All the power went out. The boat rounded up and laid on her side. The Espacher heater didn't like it either, and filled the cabin with smoke.

This was not the first time I have been on my side at night in the Southern Ocean going backwards with 1700 liters of ballast in the side, but it was the first time with my family.  Fortunately Tormentina and the rest of the family were safe in the berths before we were on our side.  Everything was in order so nothing flew anywhere.  I couldn't open the door so I cracked it a few inches and turned on the fans.

I felt like such a loser and looked at my sleeping family.  Somira said, “We trust you,” and winked at me.  I got on my foulies, boots, headlamp, and harness & entered the world that I felt comfortable in.  The world where I never think about money.

Was it cold?
NO.  Down below, I wore bare feet with Crocs, no gloves, Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight underwear on top, Capilene 4 Expedition weight on the bottom, and a Nano Puff pullover.  On deck I used Gill foul weather offshore bibs, a Patagonia M10 jacket used for alpine climbing, and a light weight hat.  That's it.  I spent most of the time down below.  We ran heat 50% of the trip.  We brought minimal clothing.  We shipped our shore clothes and many spares to Fremantle.

What did you eat?
Korean Ramen noodles, oatmeal, granola, canned fish, crackers, cheese, canned and dried fruit.  Got to take those prunes always.  We also had a 10L Seal Line treat bag we let the kids go into once a day and sometimes if it was really rough, twice a day.  For drinks we had tea, Milo and a sports drink that we call “bug juice.”

What did you use in your galley?    
One-burner Origo alcohol stove, one MSR Classic Alpine cook pot, one stainless steel tea pot for boiling water, 2 GSI Fairshare Mugs, and 4 spoons.

Did you get scared?
Fear drives me to tighter risk management which means more thinking before action and slowing way down.  I see this as a healthy and helpful emotion.

What activities did you do with the kids in a confined space?
We had movies on hard drives, art projects (construction & drawing paper, scissors, tape, colored pencils, markers, crayons, beads, string, felt, needle & thread), lessons, and a few books.  They each had one stuffed animal for toys, no more.  Somira told them stories.

What did you use for navigation?
One large scale paper chart, and once a day made a mark.  I used electronic C-map for grib files and Maxsea software.

How is sailing with kids?
It is awesome if you sail within your comfort zone.  Way below that zone and stress levels increase.  I just spent an uninterrupted month, 24/7 with my children in the most pristine environment that I know.  It also in the place I feel most at home. AND with the one of a kind partner that I dreamed of having.  Somira will be sainted someday.

Where to next?
Right now we don't want to ever sail again.  But in a few more days we will be plotting another voyage.

May 20, 2012

southern ocean / 30 days: simons town to fremantle

by Somira Sao

We departed the dock in Simon's Town at 9 pm on Thursday, April 12th 2012.  With the kids tucked warmly into the port side berth, me squeezed in beside them, and James on deck sailing in the dark, we rounded the Cape of Good Hope around 12 am on Friday the 13th.

James asked me if I was superstitious as we were about to begin our biggest family passage through some of the most radical ocean on the planet.

No, I was not, but I was certainly feeling an elevated sense of apprehension and excitement.

When Anasazi Girl was on the hard stand at the South African Navy Dockyard, we stayed on our friend Dale Smyth's boat, Shining Star.  It had every comfort that Anasazi Girl didn't - a four-burner gas stove + oven, soft berths with sheets and blankets, a saloon with soft cushions, floors, opening port-holes, boxes full of toys, and a huge collection of sailing books.   The kids were very excited about all the toys and we ate well & slept comfortably the three weeks before we left port.

I read Derek Lundy's Godforsaken Sea for the first time while were staying on board Shining Star.  Although this was the most extreme version of the Southern Ocean we were about to sail, I wondered if we were totally nuts for getting ready to make this passage with our kids on board.

The entire time we were in South Africa, James and I had agonized together and separately about the upcoming voyage.  Up until just days before we departed, I wasn't even sure we were going to do it, as we had gone back and forth so many times about whether or not we would make this run as a family.

We were leaving later in the season, which meant longer, colder nights, but less risk of cyclones, hopefully less need of having to run super deep down south, and less risk of bergs.  We knew that no matter how much preparation, care, and caution we had taken to get the boat and ourselves ready, we always had to contend with chance and the risk of the great unknown. 

We thought about South Africa and all of the other dangers of the world and wondered where we had the greater chance of getting hurt - staying there on the land or going out into the Southern Ocean.  In the end, we decided we were ready to manage the risk of being at sea, and that we would sail this stretch of ocean as conservatively as possible.  James’ previous experience in the same stretch of ocean put me at ease, especially as he had made it into the port of Albany unassisted with a broken rig during his solo circumnavigation in 2007.

We departed the Cape of Good Hope with an enormous amount of trust in the strength of our carbon composite home, Anasazi Girl, as well as trust in our own strength as adventurers, sailors, and parents.

As captain of the vessel, James had the biggest weight resting on his shoulders.  He did all of the really hard work: all of the boat preparations in port, checks and maintenance while underway, sail changes, weather forecasting, and navigation decisions.  He was always on the night watch, and his objective was to keep us sailing safely, conservatively, and as comfortable as possible.  He kept us moving constantly in the flow eastward, maintaining the boat between the latitudes of 37°S and 40°S, and avoiding any big low pressure systems that could wreck us.

My primary responsibility was to keep the kids safe, fed, clean and healthy while underway; secondary was to be supportive to James; third was to be a photographer. 

The voyage turned out to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done - a huge test of physical and mental endurance as well as patience.  It was right up with there the last week of being pregnant and the intense labor of giving birth - only it was a sustained effort for 30 days straight.

During our one month passage, the kids and I were literally on deck for only four days out of the thirty.  Many times, when the seas were very aggressive, we were bound to our berths all day, sometimes for two to three days at a time.  Conditions were so rough at times, that we were not even able to boil water on our one-burner alcohol stove.   To top things off, the second week into the trip Tormentina got sick with a nasty cold bug that we had picked up in South Africa.  Raivo got sick second, then myself, and James – so the voyage was extra challenging as we nursed our coughs and runny noses for nearly three weeks under extremely tough sailing conditions.

The kids were unbelievably patient, present and positive - with endless stories, movies, songs, lessons, art projects, bird-watching, and games to keep them entertained and cabin fever at bay.  They were also incredibly brave, as we got hammered by several powerful gales and had huge waves that often knocked us on our side.

Raivo really started talking during this trip, and some of his frequently used phrases were :   “boat, loud!” and “wow, big kaboom!”

Tormentina at age 3 still had her tantrum“time-outs” in the sail locker, but always with James or me to keep her company, as it was rather scary up there alone.

My level of respect for James and all of the solo sailors who had ever made this passage had been enormous while reading Lundy's book.  But after our own trip across, my respect for the Southern Ocean and any sailors who had passed through it (solo or not) shot through the roof.

Thanks to James’ incredible ability as a seaman and our strong boat Anasazi Girl, we arrived safely in Fremantle on May 12th, 2012 at 9:30 pm.  We tied up to the dock, extremely relieved from the pressures of the passage and very grateful that we had made it in safely and with no damages.