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Joe Harris: Second Worst Night

Published on March 18th, 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 pitstop in Cape Town was needed for repairs to his energy systems. But Joe has carried on – here he provides an update on March 18 (Day 113)…

So I think last night ranks as perhaps the second worst night for me on this voyage. It began two days ago when we were becalmed for about 40 hours. I tried to sail for most of it – fruitlessly – but one night I just took down all the sails to prevent them from slapping and chafing and slept for about 5 hours – longest sleep I can remember in a long time.

Although the calm was frustrating, it did give me a chance to dry out the boat and fix a few things. I began with cutting off the torn foot of the Solent jib, which went very well, and the sail seems to be fine with about 18″ less material along the foot. It does look a little funny, but I think it should work pretty well and hopefully stand up to the wear and tear.

I filled the diesel tank with 2.5 of the jerry cans I had lashed on deck and now the main tank is topped up with about 20 gallons – plus 7 more in jerry cans – makes 27 gallons of diesel, which equates to about 54 hours of charging (at low RPM) which should be enough to get me home given my other charging sources…I hope.

I also made new furling lines that go all the way back to the cockpit for both the Solent and the mobile furler that goes to the end of the sprit, so I can furl all the sails from the cockpit without needing to go to the bow and will be able to put light tension on the sheets while furling which should result in better furls and less troubles… I hope.

So after my Mr. Fix-it downtime, the wind yesterday slowly came up to 4kn from the NE and we began ghosting forward again after two days of drifting aimlessly – and it felt really good. The wind speed built as it was forecast into the 20’s and I reduced sail systematically – 1st reef in main, 2nd reef, change from Solent to staysail jib.

At this point we were going hard into 25 knots of wind and building seas, when I hear a sharp bang and looked up to see the staysail jib coming down the stay. The halyard that holds the jib up the mast had just torn – which is a very bad thing – because you have to go up the mast to put a new one in and there was no way that was happening in the these conditions.

So, I thought about it for a bit, and decided to use the spinnaker halyard to hoist up the smaller ORC jib, as I had to have an upwind sail for the night. I changed jibs and hoisted with the spinnaker halyard and everything looked okay but not a real long-term solution.

Wind still rising, I went to the 3rd reef in the main and thought I was ready for the night, with the forecast (and reality) of winds from 25-35kn, with gusts into the low 40’s – dead upwind. Things went okay for a while until the sea state became very steep and short and the boat began launching through the waves and slamming down – rattling everything aboard right down to your molars.

Because I have only one auto pilot now, I am treating it very gently – and it was really struggling to handle the conditions and would either reach off or head up into the wind too far, sometimes causing a wave to push the bow the wrong way and cause a crash tack – which are a real pain in the butt in the middle of the night. I have to put on all my gear, get on deck, release the backed jib sheet and sail the boat around in a circle to get her pointed in the right direction again. Repeat. Until you are quite annoyed!

So I had to stay up all night – either hand steering in the cockpit – getting a regular fire hose of salt water in the face or down below in the cabin – pushing the auto pilot buttons to “port” or “starboard”. Very long and uncomfortable night… brutal in fact… one thing after another… kinda felt like “The Hunger Games”… I was waiting for lightning bolts or sea monsters. If I was a boxer, I might have said “No Mas”- like Roberto Duran! Even my computer crashed and turned off from one large slam – bringing a new meaning to the term “computer crash!”

The northerly lasted till about noon and then the wind has slowly backed into the NW-W-SW, so I am now sailing fast downhill and very relieved. In checking around the boat looking for damage following the “night from hell”, I found the watermaker had torn loose from the floor, where it was glued to a plate so will have to glue that back somehow. The plastic box of flares had also managed to sneak out of the rear compartment and was rolling around in the lazarette, so put that back where it belonged and stitched up the torn lee cloth that allowed the escape. The staysail halyard will have to be dealt with another day.

So… pretty difficult and frightening night, when the boat could not be controlled – like the night in the southern ocean – but upwind this time instead of downwind. The slamming was the worst I have experienced and unfortunately some damage was sustained but nothing that can’t be fixed or worked around. So on we go… feeling a bit fatigued and shell-shocked… I thought the Atlantic was supposed to be the easy part. Hoping for better conditions ahead…

Background: As a result of Joe’s 11-day detour to Cape Town (Dec 28-Jan 8), Joe is no longer 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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