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Joe Harris: Countdown to Completion

Published on May 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 with a detour to Cape Town to repair his energy systems and another pit stop in Uruguay due to hull damage. Joe provides an update on May 2…

It has been a bit tumultuous and somewhat frustrating week of squalls and calms since my last post. I am officially out of the Trade Wind belt, aka “la la land”, and am now firmly back into the reality of the North Atlantic, with all its wonders.

My rite of passage occurred Monday night (Apr 25), as I sailed into what was forecast as a major squall/frontal passage. During the day, the wind was between 15 and 20 knots, and I slowly prepared for the brawl by switching from the larger solent jib to the smaller staysail and then going from a full main, to one reef, to two reefs… so I felt ready for battle.

The sun set with dark clouds obscuring its descent, and as darkness fell, I began to watch the radar for the approaching front. But I did not need the radar to see the lightning begin to flicker on the horizon, an ominous signal to the coming squall. It came up quickly and hit me like a punch in the nose – a major wind shift forward, wind velocity increase from 15 to 30k, and torrential rain and lightning.

Holy guacamole batman – we were very suddenly in a serious shit show. The auto pilot could not handle the sudden wind shift from the NE to the NW, so the jib backed, and I was forced to tack the boat, to head away from the onslaught. We were now on the wrong tack – heading east instead of the desired NorthWest and screaming along at 13 knots.

I knew I needed to gybe the boat around to get back on the other tack but I was not excited about doing it. It’s now pitch black and pouring rain. I’m on my hands and knees in the cockpit, trying to steady my breath. Here we go…runners forward, main in the middle, gybe the main, get the jib around, back on the right tack, new runner on, trim the jib. All good except now I was fully facing the seething maelstrom of the squall.

Thunder cracks and lightning flashes from directly overhead as the rain pours down in buckets and I do my best to control the boat in 30k of wind and a 30° heel angle. I think randomly to myself…The Gods Must be Angry.

I try to sort out the spaghetti chaos of lines in the cockpit and check the radar to see how long we will be in this mess. The radar screen is aglow with the orange of rain – another 6 miles before we can escape. Seems interminable and I hide out under the cockpit coaming, soaked to the bone and shivering. Eventually the squall rolls away, the lightning fades, the rain abates, and the wind goes to near nothing and the sails now slat in the rolling sea.

Wow – what an experience… and all in less than 30 minutes.

So inevitably following a major squall passage like that there is a calm and you sit there with the sails slatting… wondering what just happened. This pattern has repeated itself numerous times over the past week, as squalls have rolled over us and then left only very light airs. These “park-ups” can become very long and frustrating, and it actually can require more effort and attention to keep the boat going 4 knots than to watch it sail effortlessly at 12 knots!

As I look longingly over the vast flat sea, I think back over the many miles sailed, Great Capes rounded, five season changes and two equator crossings I have just been through. It has been an amazing voyage from all perspectives, despite the two stopovers for repairs, which actually became great adventures unto themselves.

However, there is a lot going on with my family at home,and it is after all lacrosse season, and my scheduled March return has turned into May, so it is time to get back to Newport and then home to Hamilton.

Speaking of that, I just passed Bermuda – my old friend – and now have less than 460 miles to the finish line at Castle Hill Light in Newport. Between here and there is a major SW gale forecast for Tuesday/Wednesday and a crossing the of the Gulf Stream. So it looks like one more major test of GS2 and her weary skipper, and I hope I am up to this last challenge.

Both my Adrena weather routing program and Commanders Weather are forecasting a Thursday (May 5) finish in Newport, but as discussed earlier, there may be a calm period after the gales passes, so that may influence the finish time and possibly push it out to Friday.

So keep an eye on the YB Tracker and the count-down timer which estimates our finish time, and come on down to Newport to watch the finish.

Background: As a result of Joe’s 11-day detour to Cape Town (Dec 28-Jan 8), and his 10-day pit stop in Uruguay (Mar 22-31), 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 committed to completing the journey. Website:

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