Singlehanded to Hawaii by Ken Rupp - Part 1
THE FIRST TWO DAYS (Gale Winds)
The first two days of the singlehanded race from San Francisco to Kauai proved to be much rougher than any of the racers bad expected, and certainly rougher than some were prepared for. By the end of the second day, six of the fourteen boats to start in the first division (under thirty feet overall) had turned back, due to bull failure, rigging failure or skipper failure. One sailor returned to S.F. on the second day to proclaim that he was "wet, tired, seared and miserable, and intended to spend the rest of his vacation on the Sacramento Delta fishing." We in the first division had started at 1300 hours on June 15. Four days later the second division started (thirty ft. and over) under much more favorable conditions and only one of them was forced to turn back because of a badly leaking hull.
After the two day beating, Nereid had suffered blown-out seams in her main and genny some sheet and hank chafing and, most seriously, a damaged self-steering wind vane. But the boat and rigging were sound and the question of continuing or turning back was never entertained.
Entry from Nereid's log, 2nd day, June 16:
"...dawn still finds the Nereid in gale conditions, 35-40k winds .... can't help wondering how the others are doing. Nightfall, conditions are moderating a bit but still very big seas..."
Entr 3rd day, June 17:
"It was a wild, screaming night. Nereid surfed through heavy seas at hull speed and better under the light of a half moon."
By mid-afternoon of the 3rd day (June 17) and about 280 miles from San Francisoo, weather conditions began to ease and the Nereid scooted along comfortably for the first time since the start in 15-18k winds. I went to work mending sails and repairing my broken self-steering vane.
Entry, 4th day, June 18:
"1800 hrs. and so far the self-steering vane mend has held. Been under self-steering since this morning. Winds have been brisk all day (15-20k) and right on the beam (a Tritons best point of sail). Have not seen fit to hoist the chute yet ... I think Nereid has been moving near hull speed all day without it,"
Entry, 5th day, June 19:
"Hit the trades this morning. Holding the same heading of 210, winds shifted from the beam to the stern quarter - so up with the chute. The spinnaker reefer is a jewel. When I first set the chute, in 18-20k winds, it was the same old b ... s... for the Triton; swing to port, swing to the starboard, dip one rail then the other. The self-steering vane just couldn't keep pace. All I had to do was pull the right line and down came the reefer leaving me with half a chute - for these conditions, just enough."
Entry, 6th day June 20:
"For over 14 hrs. now, Nereid has been surfing (near and occasionally over hull speed) through lively, beautiful, slightly cresting seas. The log reports over 140 miles over the last 24 hr. day."
Same day, later:
"Much of the fresh food will probably go over board. I should mention that cabbage keeps, (and keeps and keeps) but I don't care who you are, you can only eat so much cabbage. I'm either cautious, anxious, greedy, or just have bad judgement because I brought enough food to feed fifteen hungry people. If I don't win the race, it's because Nereid is too heavy."
Entry, 8th day, June 22:
Nereid crashed through surfing waves in 20-25k winds all night. The moon made brief appearances, giving everything an unearthly, wierd quality - then it would disappear and all would go dark, save the glow of phosphorescence in the breaking waves and around Nereid's hull. Only the sounds of the roaring seas and the wind whistling through the rigging, and the incredible sensation of wild speed ... what if something breaks or lets go now? How would I ever fix it (even find it?) in this darkness and this confusion?"
The spinnaker reefer proved to be very practical and effective in moderately heavy weather, but early in the morning (around 0500) of June 23rd a near disaster occurred. Nereid was hit quite suddenly by some squally conditions and began to bridle out of control. I winched the reefer down over the entire length of the chute; in effect dowsing it. This throw the sail plan badly out of balance and Nereid rounded. The spinnaker had been transformed into a long, heavy and unmanageable tube which wrapped clockwise around the forestay. As I tried to get it off, the up-haul line for the reefer whipped around the whole mess binding it tighter and tighter. It took me nearly forty minutes to get the thing on deck. Stories raced through my head about sailors who had to cut wrapped spinnakers away and there were moments when I seriously considered getting out the knife. For the rest of that same day, I ran under full main and small jib, winged.
Also on that same day the first episode in what was to become a continuing battle occurred. Blood and Guts Racer Kent wanted to got the chute right back up, as the squall passed, but Cautious Careful Kent, worrying about damage and knockdown, asked that we wait a bit and see what develops.
Entry, 9th day, June 23:
There in poetic justice; wild mannered Cautious Careful Kent was getting his ass chewed by Racer Kent when another squall struck ... Nereid ran before it beautifully under full main and small jib. It would have been a mess maybe even a disaster, if the spinnaker had been reset." Also on this day, Nereid arrived at the halfway mark and I opened the envelope from the Triton bunch to receive their most welcome "best wishes and good cheer." Had a shot of Jack Daniels."
By mid-afternoon of the 24tb the weather was building into what was to be the roughest two days of the race.
Entry, 11th day, June 25:
"I know I keep repeating the same thing, but last night was the wildest. Seas are getting pretty big and very steep and winds are -continuing to pick up. Nereid now takes a sea or two right over the stern ... I mean the seas are coming aboard and breaking right into the cockpit. I look back at the self-steering gear, and it is completely submerged in a frenzy of white water. I wonder that she continues to hold together. Winds are around 30-35k, but so far it hasn't seemed necessary to reef the main. With just the small jib winged, Nereid is handling very well...
Later that same day:
"Nereid certainly ran her beat day today. She was surrounded by a wreath of white water as she crashed at bull speed and better for the entire 24 hrs. to log 150 miles."
I had a chilling experience on this same morning. About 0800 hrs. I came up on deck with a cup of coffee and took the usual look-around. Nereid was moving a good six knots in very brisk winds and a lively following sea. There, just off the port bow and no more than a hundred feet away was a huge metal oil drum about 7/8ths submerged. A solid collision with such a "dead head" in such strong conditions would certainly hole the Nereid. I would think it would completely wipe out one of the untra-lights. Shades of SPIRIT.
Entry, 12th day, June 26:
"...it's Monday alright. Winds almost blow themselves out last night. By 0600 hrs. it was only blowing about 5k. Up with the chute. I'm beginning to develop a strong love-hate relationship with the spinnaker (leaning towards the hate side). For a single hander its much worse in light air than in heavy; it leaps and gallops and waltzes all over the goddamn, place; it wraps and rewraps the forestay (or any other thing it touches); it droops and sags and then pops. By noon I was ready to go overboard and swim."
On that same day, I made what was for me on important entry: "One thing has made itself evident to me since the start. I mentioned to a friend before the start that I harbored a very tiny hope of getting to Kauai first. But as Nereid and I had sailed along out here day after day at what must be almost maximum performance, (i.e. hull speed) the realization strikes me that Nereid is helplessly bound by her hull speed by her full keel, her 21 ft. waterline and her 19 year old design...SHE CAN'T GO ANY FASTER. So, with this simple almost rhumb-line, downwind course, the ULDBs must be days ahead. I don't feel badly or disheartened by this. The Nereid in an absolutely superb boat. She handles so well and she keeps her skipper dry and comfortable. (Besides she has a good handicap - 252 seconds per mile)."
The following entry may be of some interest to any prospective single-hander, or perhaps any prospective ocean sailor:
Entry, 15th day, June 29:
"It doesn't seem possible that I've been out here for 2 weeks. The time has gone by quickly. Amazingly I've suffered little to no sense of loneliness. In fact, I'm only anxious to get to Kauai because this is a race. Otherwise I'd be content to sail on like this for some time yet."
During the next two (the last two) day the running of the boat was relatively routine. Nereid encountered several squalls as she approached the islands but none was serious. They all packed more rain than wind. Basically they were a royal pain in the ass because they came in from about 20 degrees off the prevailing winds and always left a lee in the aftermath, in which the boat would wallow in messy left-over seas. Spinnaker handling was probably the major challenge during the squalls.
THE APPROACH AND FINISH
Objectively and in retrospect there seems very little worth mentioning about the final day. But in terms of my personal inner turmoil, the last day marked the most intense and dramatic part of the race.
Celestial navigation was new to me. Because I was practicing it for the first time and because I had no index against which to measure my grasp of it, 1 accepted the results of my sights and computations more or less on faith. The true test came only at the end of over 2100 miles of open water sailing. Would I hit Kauai or wouldn't I?
According to my morning and afternoon LOPS (lines of position) which gave me a longitudinal position, it seemed that a reasonable ETA for the finish should be about 1800 hrs.-1900 hrs. July 1. Visibility was mixed; there were high cumulus formations under which were scudding low surface clouds. Large holes in the cloud formations, however, allowed for a pretty good view of the horizon. Kauai, with its 5,000 ft. summit would certainly be visible by 1600-1700 hrs. I began looking in earnest at 1500 hrs.-nothing. 1600 hrs.-nothing. 1700 hrs.-nothing. Because of the south latitude, (north 22 15') noon sights yield very unreliable latitude LOPs, and because of cloud cover at sunset the night before, I was unable to get a Polaris sight. So I wasn't that sure of how far south or north I was, although I was confident of my East to West position.
As time pushed on and as the horizon refused to display any sign of landfall, I developed some concern (I don't like to say I panicked). Shortly after 1700 hrs. I took two sun sights. They confirmed my DR calculations; Nereid was going by Kauai. But was I north or south? I went below and quickly went over the navigation of the past four days. I did have one period (3 hrs.) when I slept too long, where I might have headed too far south. Because the compass indicated that Nereid was heading too far south when I woke up and I had compensated for an entire day with a slightly northerly heading...I must be too far north. It seemed right, although I was far from certain. I pulled in the spinnaker, put up the genny, hardened up and put Nereid on a heading of 180. Within an hour I began to make out what seemed to be a faint sign of land mass. Then I picked up some radio communication from Trans-pac Committee and I knew I was close to having it made.
Making an unfamiliar landfall at night and in a rain squall can be a challenge. Against a background of flickering shore lights, I was looking for one tiny, white four-second flashing holly light which marked one end of the finish line. A handheld compass (gift from the crew of the Wisdom III) saved the day. Out on the north-east point of Kauai and approximately six miles east of the finish line, is a large and very visible light beacon. I kept this to Nereid's port bow quarter until I was close enough to the beach to make out some distinct features. Hanalei Bay is protected from the east by a small peninsula beyond which extends rocky reef formations in no more than two or three feet of water. The finish line lies just outside the reef, in fact, the bouy marks the reef. I made radio communication with the race committee, which I had raised earlier and which was now standing by on the finish line, and asked them if the peninsula was dark or well lit. Race committee reminded me that this was a race, and that it was my responsibility to find the finish line by myself. They did mention, in passing, that there was a large hotel on the peninsula. Using the hand-held compass, I took an azimuth on the light beacon and then on the lights of the hotel. The intersection gave me a good position. I was five miles off-shore and about two miles east of the finish. It was about 2200 hrs. when I radioed race committee and told them I'd be there in one hour. One hour later Nereid finished; 16 days, 11 hsr. and 54 minutes, for a third place in division II and a fourth place overall.
The committee boat escorted me in to Hanalei Bay and pointed out the anchorage. I turned down an invitation to go ashore, suddenly feeling very happy, very relieved but safe and secure to a degree that is difficult to describe."