Joe Harris: Just Deal With It

Published on March 2nd, 2016

Aboard his Class40 GryphonSolo2, American Joe Harris departed Newport (RI) on November 15 in a bid to break the 40 Foot Monohull Solo Non-Stop Round the World Record. That plan, however, got derailed when a stop in Cape Town was needed for repairs to his energy systems. Here’s an update from Joe on March 2…

Slogging along out here in the Southern Ocean with the far-away goal of rounding Cape Horn staying elusively…well…far away.

I am now about 1,500 miles out but still weaving a zig-zag downwind gybing course with the westerly wind directly behind me on my easterly path. This causes me to sail extra miles from a straight-line path and therefore daily “distance made good to the mark” is about 1/3 less than actual boat speed average would indicate. Such is life. Another 7-9 days.

So Monday (Feb 29) night I experienced some of the worst conditions I have ever encountered and am still trying to assimilate the learning. The forecast was for a steady 35k wind gusting to 60 for a 48 hour period – a long time to be under such an assault. I had 4 reefs in the mainsail and the storm jib up – as little sail as possible to keep steerage – but the boat became increasingly hard to steer in the large and confused seas.

When a big puff came, the boat would naturally head up – and then the pilot would over-correct back – causing the boat to teeter dead downwind. If a wave kicked the stern the wrong way, the mainsail and jib would backwind and attempt to gybe the boat. I had both a vang and a preventer so the boom really couldn’t move, but the sail would backwind and it was just not a good thing.

So I sailed a bit higher course and turned the auto-pilot up to its highest setting to prevent this over-correcting but before long the auto-pilot alarm went off with the message “Rudder Drive Unit Failure”. Shit! I quickly switched from port to starboard pilot systems, and crawled back into the aft steering compartment to see what the problem was. I found a bunch of water and hydraulic fluid sloshing around…. not good.

I grabbed my bucket and sponge, and laying on my belly, mopped up the mess while becoming covered in the slime. I could not identify the source of the leak but suspect the drive unit over-heated and may have blown a seal in the hydraulic ram unit. I am not sure if it is toast or if it might be usable on the mellower settings – TBD when (or if) it ever calms down.

Being down to one auto-pilot unit sucks for sure and I am pissed because the unit should not have failed, as it was brand new before the trip, and should be able to handle these conditions…. but what are you gonna do…. just deal with it.

Meanwhile, on deck, the storm raged on. Wind gusts to 65 and completely chaotic sea state, I’m just hangin’ on and hoping nothing more breaks before the storm abates. Not fun. Luckily nothing more did break, and eventually the wind and seas came down. I thought we were okay, I collapsed in my bunk for 6 hours – completely exhausted.

So…my take away and strategy for the next gale – which is due tomorrow night – might be to take the mainsail down completely (or as far down as a square-top main will go) and try to use the larger staysail to keep the boat tracking better downwind. That way I won’t have to worry about gybing the main and possibly damaging either the sail or the traveler or whatever. I guess it’s a bit of a laboratory out here and I’m always looking for solutions when things don’t go as you hoped or planned.

On to Cape Horn!

Background: As a result of Joe’s 11-day detour to Cape Town (Dec 28-Jan 8), Joe will no longer be able to officially break the existing non-stop record of 137 days, 20 hours, 01 minute, 57 seconds – set by Chinese sailor Guo Chuan in 2013. However, he remains hopeful to unofficially better the mark. Website:

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