Sailing Reports

Sailing Through the Bermuda Triangle

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So where to start?  Oh yes…  How about 5 AM about 100ish miles out from Bermuda in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?  It was the middle of my first night watch when I noticed that the true wind speed and true wind angle numbers on our chart plotter would disappear for a few seconds and then come back.  I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but we still had apparent wind information, and the numbers came back eventually, so I didn’t stress about it too much.  We were in the Bermuda Triangle after all and as long as we weren’t sinking I counted ourselves lucky.

Things settled down for a little while and the horizon started to lighten, which made me feel a little bit better.  Having things go wrong in the complete blackness of night is rather unsettling, but the same problem during daylight feels a bit more manageable.  That feeling didn’t even last long enough for the sun to peek over the horizon as all of a sudden, the true wind speed info cut out and didn’t come back.  I knew that the transducer in our port hull was the instrument responsible for sending the data our Raymarine system needed to calculate true wind info, so I made my way down, opened up the bilge and checked the connection.  It looked good, but just to be safe, I undid the connection and plugged it back it.  When I checked back at the helm, everything appeared to be back online.

Crisis averted, or so I thought…

A little while later, I noticed that not only was our true wind speed info cutting back out again, but our apparent wind speed info started failing as well.  I could roughly guess true wind info as long as we had apparent info, but without either, we’d be sailing “blind” which is only inviting trouble.

It was at this point that my muddled mind decided we may have a serious issue and tried to wake up.  I knew that our apparent wind info was delivered from the anemometer at the top of the mast, so I stepped out on the deck and looked up only to find that it was still there.  When I stepped back inside, there was more bad news.  Our autopilot had stopped working, AIS was no longer appearing and the rudder indicator was beginning to go out as well.

Oh uh…  Crisis getting worse!

Without an autopilot, I had to start hand steering, and rather than panic about wasn’t working, I took stock of what was still working.  All we had were GPS coordinates, Speed Over Ground (SOG), and Radar.  Not a great situation, but at least we weren’t sinking.  However, in order to start doing some serious troubleshooting, I needed to wake up Amy so that she could take over steering the boat.

At this point, I would like to mention what an awesome woman I married.  After being awoken from her off-watch time and told that pretty much all of our systems were failing, she calmly started hand steering the boat.  There were no “oh my god, we’re going to die!!!” moments, and we just got to work trying to solve the problem.  We did discuss turning around and heading back to Bermuda, but in the end, decided to keep going as we have a Para-Anchor on board which we could deploy to give ourselves a break from hand steering if needed and enough electronic backups to get us to the BVI’s if our entire Raymarine system failed on us.

We’re very fortunate in that we’ve made a lot of good contacts who help provide lots of support when we need it.  I sent off a couple of emails, but it was still pretty early in the day back in the States, so I knew we had a while to wait before hearing back.  There was a 65’ monohull that had slowly been overtaking us during the morning, so we hailed them to see if they had any Raymarine experts on board.  They were nice enough to reply and inform us that they were actually taking on water at the moment and the crew was presently indisposed.

Freaking Bermuda Triangle!

As bad as our situation was, at least we weren’t taking on water so we offered any assistance they might need, but were told that they had things under control.  But that did mean I was on my own to start troubleshooting.

My first step was to try the same unplug/plug the transducer that had worked previously.  No dice.  So my next step was to go through all the different connections and make sure everything was plugged in correctly.  This involved opening several panels inside the boat to get access to where the Raymarine network connections were located (Pro tip: make sure you know where these connections are in your boat!) and determining that everything was connected as they should be.  It was at this point that I figured out why radar was still working.  It has its own separate cable running to the back of the plotter so it isn’t tied into the rest of the Raymarine network.  The GPS coordinates and SOG were calculated thanks to the GPS internal to the plotter so I was getting pretty sure that the problem was some component on the network.

By the time I had run through all the connections, the business day had started on the East Coast of the US and I was hearing back from some of our contacts.  Our boat guru Pat put us in contact with Phil, his Raymarine expert, and I also got a call into Paul, who did the work in Miami for us and has helped us out several times since.  Our sat phone connection was a bit spotty, so I was able to explain our problem to Paul and then we followed up via email, while I was able to talk to Phil for a while longer.

Phil walked me through a reset of the system, and when that didn’t work, they both suggested disconnecting component by component in order to figure out which one wasn’t working.  Since we lost true wind information first, I started by disconnecting the transducer and viola, everything else came back online!  A closer inspection revealed a small crack in the connector, which apparently was enough to short out the connection and eventually bring all other components down with it.

Crack in Connector
Crack in Connector

While I would like to think I would have gotten to that troubleshooting step myself eventually, I am immensely thankful for both Phil and Paul helping us out.  It was very comforting knowing that even though we were out in the middle of the Atlantic, we had people who were willing and able to help troubleshoot.

In addition, neither Amy nor I panicked and made the situation worse.  We’ve come a long way in the year we’ve lived aboard Starry Horizons, and we were both confident that we’d be able to come through the ordeal just fine.

The rest of the sail was pretty uneventful but was pretty rough as we were close-hauled/close-reaching the whole way with waves on the nose.  I was looking forward to a nice relaxing entry into the BVI’s, only to discover that the generator wouldn’t start when we arrived and tried to make water, thanks to a busted impeller, AND our chain counter sensor wasn’t working, thanks to a loose wire, so we couldn’t tell how much chain we were putting out.

Freaking Bermuda Triangle!

Watch the Video

Nov 6th:  I’m Beginning to Believe

I’m beginning to believe in the Bermuda Triangle.

This morning David woke me up just as the sun was rising. Our electronics were on the fritz. It started with our true wind speed going blank and ended with our rudder indicator, apparent wind angle, apparent wind speed, depth sounder, and autopilot not working. None of those was enough to make us turn around (yet) but we were definitely concerned about the autopilot.

I hand steered while David made phone calls and did some research. Since it was still early in the states we didn’t get a hold of anyone right away, so our next choice was to hail the large sailing yacht a few miles away from us. Well, they were taking on water, so they had their own problems to deal with. Bermuda triangle, right?

For the record, we hailed them as they were disappearing from our view and they said they didn’t need any assistance.

Eventually, David got our autopilot up and running. Something is wrong with our Airmar transducer that was screwing the whole system up. So we are thankful to be up and running again. Our plan if we couldn’t get it running was to keep going but put our sea anchor to good use for us to take breaks from hand steering. I’m glad it didn’t come to that!

We are anxiously awaiting the BVIs…

Nov 9th: Taking I-64 Southbound

Written by David

Bermuda is pretty much directly north of the BVI’s so during our sail south, we have been consistently within the range of 64 deg W Longitude the whole time, hence we’re taking I-64 Southbound.

Part of the attraction of heading to Bermuda straight from Maine, rather than making our way south along the East Coast, was the idea that the sail straight south from Bermuda would be easier (ie smoother) than fighting the headwinds we’d likely encounter during a sail from a more southerly East Coast departure point. Well, that was the theory at least…

We picked our weather window based on the trade winds (which generally blow east to west) filling in, which would give us a pretty awesome beam reach all the way down to the BVI’s. However, for some reason, the wave swell has had a south-north component to it, which means we’re sailing almost directly into the swells. Being able to sail at 8 or 9 knots isn’t as awesome when waves crash into the bow and then fly over the whole boat. Needless to say, it’s been a pretty rough ride.

The sails have been deeply reefed the whole trip, but we are still on pace for our fastest passage ever, and it’s looking like we should easily be into the BVI’s tomorrow before dark. Now if only the Department of Transportation would get out here and smooth out all these damn potholes!

8 Comments

  1. Dave,

    Wow. First of all, I am glad you and Amy are safe and sound. The Bermuda Triangle thing has to be real right? Looking forward to seeing you guys sometime next year outside of the Bermuda Triangle!

  2. Awesome blog entry David – you do a great job of conveying the urgency combined with calm. I guess this is what adds spice to the journey?

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