The Fickle Finger of Fate…

Life has a way of surprising us, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in ways we don’t enjoy…

We had planned to be sailing in French Polynesia now, enjoying the Tuamotus and heading to Papeete. We had cast off from La Cruz MX and were headed to FP. After weeks of planning and preparation, we were on our way. We felt great about our progress and were getting into the groove of the open ocean passage.

Fate decided to throw us a curve ball a few days into the passage and we began experiencing electrical issues on-board. Specifically, the capacity of our main battery bank began to diminish. We were outfitted with an 8 battery bank of Trojan 6 volt AGM batteries, installed new in July 2016, that gave us a nominal capacity of 800 amp hours. Our batteries were recharged daily by Solar Panels providing 600 watts and we were confident that this was more than enough to cover our energy needs. Especially with the primary diesel engine and an auxiliary diesel generator as additional power sources.

When we noticed the battery capacity diminishing, we were just passing Isla Socorro, the last sight of land we would have until Nuku Hiva. We initially thought the problem was manageable and if I could identify the failing battery(ies) then I could remove them from the large bank and we would be fine. After some interesting choreography to remove the salon floor while we were underway in pitching seas, which included removing a large settee and other furniture, I was able to access the batteries in the bilge area near the keel. I pulled a MacGyver and built a load tester using cables and a 12v chest freezer that pulls a known load (6 amps) when running. I was able to isolate individual battery pairs and load test each one. I identified a pair of batteries that quickly lost charge with the constant load applied (much faster than the other pairs) and decided these were the culprits and removed them from the large bank.

Feeling good about the ‘discovery’ and the ‘solution’, I buttoned up the floor and continued to monitor the situation. During the day, we were able to run completely off of solar power and charge the batteries with no problems. Night time was the challenge. With the Autopilot running, AIS, refrigerator, freezer, and radios (VHF/SSB), we pulled about 15 amps. Even after removing the suspect cells from the bank, our battery voltage would hold up well from about 4 hours then suddenly collapse from 12.75v to 10.5v in seconds. Running the motor to charge the batteries for an hour would give us another few hours.

We continued on with a schedule of running the motor for an hour at Midnight and again at 4:00am every night. We had plenty of fuel so this was annoying but feasible. As we continued on over the following days and nights, the battery capacity fell from 4 hours to 2 hours, then to minutes, even as we began turning off everything but the AIS and the autopilot at night… It became apparent that if we were to continue, we would have to run the motor each night (the whole night) until the solar cells kicked back in. We had lots of fuel, but not THAT much fuel… The other option was to hand steer thru the night shifts the rest of the way. We still had ~2000 miles to go.

I had to make a decision and though I really wanted to finish the passage, I had the safety of my crew and my vessel to account for. Ultimately, I made the call that we would abort and return to Mexico. It was a hard decision, but I believe it was the right decision. We had sailed 800 miles and 7 days when we did the sad turn back toward Mexico.

Once the decision was made and the turn executed, everyone rallied and we all focused on the tasks at hand, getting back to land. Preferably in a place where we could address the issues and replan our next steps. The 7 days outbound had been downwind and a pleasure to sail, albeit bumpy on a few days. The sail back was going to be an upwind bash and we still had the battery issue to contend with. The winds decided to toy with us a bit and were coming out of the exact direction we needed to go. Close hauled as tight as possible, on one tack we were pointing at Hawaii, on the other tack, we were pointed at Galapagos… I was hopeful that the wind would continue to clock more to the north and on to the west so we settled in and made as much headway as possible East, mainly South East. My bet payed off and the winds clocked and ultimately brought our projected landfall up into Mexico, and seemed to be settling in around Acapulco. The wind continued to clock NW and our projected landfall continued to shift north up the coast of MX. Amazingly, it delivered us right back into Banderas Bay, where we started from 14 days previously. 7 Days out, another 7 days back.

Just to mess with us a bit, when we got within 10 miles of La Cruz, the wind abruptly shifted to right on our nose and stopped us dead. This drove the point home that we were completely at the whims of the wind. Well sort of. I laughed and thanked the wind gods for bringing us this far then fired up the motor and drove into the wind to the La Cruz Marina.

While we were bummed that we didn’t make it to Nuku Hiva, we were happy to be safe and back in a protected, and familiar, harbor. We slept well that night on the hook. 1600+ miles round trip offshore and right back where we started from. Fate? who knows.

Casting Off!

We checked out of Mexico today.  We were one of the first to arrive at the port captain, knowing there would be a long cue of puddle jumpers wanting to go through the process today.  We were right!  It’s quite a process of back forth treks from the port captain to immigration, back again and back again.  It’s a good thing we got there early and had all our paperwork in order.  We were fortunate to also get a helpful clerk.

The weather window starts to open tomorrow and to build on Wednesday.  With that multi day weather opportunity to get us to the Trade Winds, off we go on our 3,000 mile voyage to French Polynesia. We have been in Mexico now for just enough time for it to feel like we are leaving home but we know more grand adventures await. 

This will be our first crossing and we are lucky to have Jeanne Socrates join us.  For those of you who don’t already know, she is a famous solo circumnavigator and such a wonderfully warm person.  Thusly, it is both an honor and a privilege to have her on the boat. 

We expect the journey to take 3 to 4 weeks.  If you would like to follow our progress, you can click the “Where are we” button on the svepiphany.com website. We will also be blogging and posting photos of exploration of French Polynesia on the website as internet becomes available. 

We are feeling excited!

The Big Decision

When we conceptualized our voyage, we always planned for it to be somewhat open ended and expected the routes and destinations to emerge as we progressed. We did set a few markers to provide a framework for at least the initial legs of the journey. We decided to join in the Baja Ha-Ha so we could learn from the collective experience of the fleet and have some timeframes to drive us. That worked out really well and got us into the cruising groove pretty smoothly. After the Ha-Ha, we continued on to La Paz, as did several others from the fleet. La Paz was fun and more educational. While we were there, Life reared its ugly head and threw us a few complications that almost put the entire voyage in jeopardy. Thankfully, we were able to deal with the issues and continue the adventure. 

So, now we’ve sailed on to Puerto Vallarta, la Cruz, and down to Barra De Navidad. The experience continues to be fantastic but now the question has arisen, where from here? Do we hang out around the Sea of Cortez for the summer? Do we join the Pacific Puddle Jump and head to the South Pacific? Do we head south to Panama and cross over to the Caribbean? Each option has it’s own level of attraction… 

We need to stay close to Puerto Vallarta for a few weeks so that we can take care of a few lingering items in the States that require both of us to make trips back. We should have those items addressed by the end of April, but that effectively prevents us from sailing to the South Pacific this year. Our current plan has evolved into sailing back into the Sea of Cortez for the summer so we can explore the many islands and areas that we haven’t seen yet. After the summer, we will head south and decide to go to the Caribbean or to the South Pacific after the storm season has passed. 

We are excited to spend some time exploring the Sea of Cortez and getting in some great scuba diving and fishing. Stay tuned for more updates as we knock out our state-side obligations and head out for the Sea!

On Our Way!

After many months of anticipation and preparation, we finally cast off the dock lines and headed south! We departed Berkeley on Thursday October 6. We had originally planned to depart on October 1, but we decided to hold fast a few days for a better weather window and to wrap up some lingering items on our to-do list.

Our first leg was a short jaunt to Half Moon Bay where we dropped anchor and dinghy’d in to have dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend. We set out early the next morning on our way to Monterey. We made Monterey by sunset and got a slip assigned by the Harbormaster. We were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of sea lions thet continued thru the night.

The next day we set out on our first overnight leg to Morro Bay. We sailed thru the night with a mix of moonlight and fog. I really appreciated the AIS and Radar systems on Epiphany as we sailed thru areas of zero visibility fog banks off of the Big Sur coast. We arrived at the Morro Bay buoy just as first pre-dawn light illuminated our approach. We were able to find a great spot in the anchorage and dropped the hook. We took a rest break then dinghy’d into town to check out the shops and grab some lunch . After some great seafood and a few drinks, we headed back to the boat to rest up for our next overnight leg to Santa Barbara.

When we awoke the next morning, we were surprised to see a large historic sailing ship anchored nearby. It turned out to be the “San Salvador” which is a reconstruction of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s flag ship that he used to explore the California coast back in 1542. It is a beautiful 100 foot full rigged galleon.

We departed Morro Bay mid-morning and headed south to round Point Conception and get to Santa Barbara. Point Conception has a reputation for being very challenging with extreme weather shifts and sea states due to the effects of the topography on the prevailing NW winds. We were prepared for a potentially difficult sail, but were pleasantly surprised to experience flat seas and calm winds. Our experience was even more enhanced as we passed a large number of whales migrating north and super-pod of dolphins also headed north. The super-pod was over a mile long of hundreds, if not thousands, of dolphins. There were so many that they churned up the water for their entire pod length. It was an amazing and awesome experience.

We rounded Point Conception with  no issues and sailed/motored thru the night to arrive at Santa Barbara at dawn. We were able to get a slip assigned by the Harbor Master and pulled in to rest and enjoy the warm and sunny SoCal weather in Santa Barbara. We liked Santa Barbara so much, we decided to stay a while… ultimately we ended up staying a full week and enjoying every day of it!

Planning and Preparation

I’m a big advocate of advanced planning and preparation for any adventure. As we near the departure date for our journey, we’ve been busy identifying all the various things that need to be done and tracking them to completion. While we still have readily available internet access, we’ve been using Trello (http://www.trello.com) to manage our to do lists and tasks from idea to done. It’s been super helpful, but we know once we cast off, our internet access will become intermittent so we will need to use a different solution. I’ll delve into this topic a little later. For now, its much more important to focus on the work that needs to be done prior to our departure.

Going aloft... just another day in sailboat maintenance and preparation.

Marine systems readiness and crew readiness are top of the list. I have been spending the last several weeks inspecting Epiphany from bow to stern to check all systems, ID and address any issues, and ensure that we have what we need to maintain systems once we are offshore. I quickly realized that even though (I thought) I’d been careful to maintain the various systems of Epiphany over time, when I really started to dig in, I found numerous things that needed to be addressed. Some things bigger than others, and a few that decided to follow Murphy’s Law and pop up at the last minute. No worries! It’s always better to have issues emerge at the last minute while you are still at the dock, than after departure when you are offshore somewhere… As an engineer, I’ve always been amazed at the creativity of inanimate objects when it comes to finding the most obscure way to fail. The universe has a sense of humor… sometimes a dark sense of humor, but humor none the less. Fortunately, I enjoy solving problems and fixing things. I am sure that part of my adventure, enlightenment, and growth during our voyages will come from finding solutions for the surprises that the universe will present to us.

While I focus on making mechanical things work, Suzanne has more focus on the human side of the equation. She is preparing us from the mind, body, spirit perspective and putting together our plan for health, nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness.