June 18, 2011
Dawn Star is in the water at the Hinckley Marina in Portsmouth, RI as we work on preparing her for the race. Bill and Paul have spent the better part of the last two weeks getting her ready, including the installation of a water maker, a full set of new AGM batteries, and a high output alternator on the engine to provide power and charging capacity for the new equipment.
Bill, Lee, Jay, and Henry have arrived to lend a hand and today was spent getting her organized, some rig work completed, and a innumerable small jobs done so we could spend the afternoon sailing and checking out our two new jibs. The engine tachometer was calibrated, the alternator output verified with an ammeter, one of the winches was re-installed after servicing, and lots of items stowed or taken off the boat. After a full morning’s effort, she was ready to take to the water and we left the dock in the early afternoon.
We had a lovely moderate sea breeze and the day’s full sunshine sparkled off the water. Dawn Star is well-balanced and the wheel handles lightly, at least in these conditions. I’ll have to see how she feels in a blow, though Will and some of the crew are well-versed in this having completed a blustery Sidney-Hobart race at the end of last year.
After a bit of rig tuning and sail trim testing, a sudden cry of “Man Overboard!” sounded as Jay was at the helm. Paul, our resident mentor, trainer, and all around “old salt” had thrown a weighted boat fender over the side to start a simulated MOB (man overboard) drill. The crew responded well and a quick stop maneuver was successfully executed on the first attempt and the fender was back aboard safe and sound. One by one, each of the crew got a turn at the helm and made a recovery. While it’s nice to know your shipmates can handle a boat to come back and get you if you’re ever unfortunate enough to wind up in the drink, let’s hope we never have to test that theory at night in bad weather.
Back at the dock, we finished a productive day and headed off to see Newport in full summer swing. The streets were crowded with people seeing the sights, having dinner on the dock, and enjoying the balmy evening. All in all, a good day on the road to the starting line of the Transatlantic race.
June 19, 2011
Today was spent in the classroom and in the pool. Cameron and Samantha had arrived the night before, joining Jay, Henry, Lee, and Will for the official Safety at Sea class that Paul was giving especially for our crew. This course is required for at least 50% of every boat’s crew, and we were going for 100%. It’s a practical course that requires, among many other things, you to actually experience dealing with a life raft in the water, while you’re wearing your foul weather gear and a life jacket. Righting an overturned life raft and climbing into it isn’t that easy in a pool, just image what it might be like in real life conditions in the middle of a severe storm! The goal of the course is to acquaint you with the practicalities of these types of things so it won’t be your first time if you ever have to do them for real.
Over the course of the day, we practiced getting an injured crew into the life raft, swimming “alligator style” to keep together when in the water, setting off flares, how to survive a hurricane, and how to fight a fire. Overall, it’s a great way to experience all the things you hope you never have to deal with, in a setting that allows you to learn from your mistakes. Thanks to Paul for a great day of training.
To all our Fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day!
June 20, 2011
We spent today continuing to prep Dawn Star for the coming race. More winches were serviced by Jay and Will, Henry came back with new halyards and sheets, while Cameron and Paul worked over some of the boat systems and installed new running lights. Jay got the BGAN satellite system working after a firmware update and the Raymarine GPS input set up on the backup navigation program. We’re going to be given the latest Expedition software a trial run during this race and that’s going to be installed and configured in the next day or so. Late in the afternoon we motored over to the West Deck Marina, which is right in downtown Newport and within walking distance of the Hubbard house. This is much more convenient than having to drive about 1/2 an hour to get to the Hinckley marina, though we don’t have the full service and chandlery we enjoyed there. At this stage, we shouldn’t need that anymore as we’re just getting the final details in place. We’re in good shape with a few more days to go to continue to prepare.
The other good news today is we passed our official safety inspection, which is a majoe step in getting ready for the race.
After a long day’s work, we enjoyed a nice meal at the West Deck Marina Restaurant and will be back at it tomorrow morning. They don’t call Dawn Star a “winch farm” for nothing…
June 21, 2011
Jay’s been working on the email system for the boat and this is a test of emailing a blog entry to the blog.
We finished servicing the last 6 winches today. One had some broken parts so it just goes to show you it’s good to do this periodically, especially before a big passage.
More velcro was put on the headliner panels to help them stay up when it gets bumpy. The engine oil was changed, and a myriad of other jobs were taken care of and we didn’t get off the boat till sundown once again.
After a good pasta dinner, we hit the sack, dreaming about another day of prep tomorrow.
June 25, 2011
This is going to be a cold race, as we’ll most likely be sailing up near the ice line in order to sail the shortest route, though the weather may change that to some degree as we’ll want to find the best wind. To stay warm in our bunks, we needed to get three more sleeping bags for the crew. THe mother of one of the crew graciously volunteered to go shopping for the bags.
The three bags showed up at the boat, and everyone had a laugh as all the bags were Transformer themed. There was a bit of a discussion as everyone wanted to have one, but that was settled quickly without bloodshed.
While this was going on, it occurred to Jay that Transformers were less an adult theme (though you wouldn’t know it by watching the crew haggle over the bags), as a kid’s theme. This led to the thought that the size of the bag might be in question. Jay unrolled a bag, stepped into it, and another big laugh was had by all as the bag barely came up to his chest. Another quick round of discussion was held, as the new bag owners desperately tried to trade the new “shorties” for the remaining full size bags. There were no deals to be made and it looked like the unlucky three were in for a half-cold three weeks in the bunk unless the Transformers could somehow transform the short bag into a full-size bag.
As luck would have it, Walmart was happy to trade the small bags for full size bags, and all the crew can now sleep warm in their bunks. The best part of all? THe full size bags where cheaper than the kid’s Transformer bags and we came away with a $14 store credit!
June 25, 2011
The last couple of days have been a blur of activity. Cam and Samantha (“Sam”) have been out shopping for provisions, Jay’s been busy setting up two laptops (the main boat laptop plus a spare) with navigation software, email, and multiple connections to the AIS, GPS, and spare GPS units, Will and Henry have been updating the boat’s rigging and everyone has been fixing, organizing, cleaning, and stowing all the stuff it takes to sail a boat across an ocean. The to-do list keeps getting shorter, then longer, then shorter again, but we’re in good shape overall.
Last night was the New York Yacht club at Harbour Court’s gala kickoff for the race. Blue blazers and ties for the men and dresses for the ladies was the order of the day. All the teams were introduced during dinner, and each were given a round of applause by the enthusiastic audience. Team photos were taken alongside the ornate silver trophies, some dating back to the 1800’s. Afterwards, the crew hit Newport for a last night of carousing before getting serious about heading out tomorrow.
Right now, the weather for the start is looking mild, with light winds, and the rain clearing out during the day and more sun. Sun is something we haven’t had since last Sunday, so it would be a welcome change to the overcast, rainy grey days we’ve had all week. However, after the weather clears, high pressure will build in and that’s not a good thing for a quick start on our race. We might get started, then get stuck with light winds, which would give the faster boats that start later in the week a chance to catch us right away. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
June 27, 2011
Dawn Star slipped her dock lines at 11:50, not to return to the United
States until some undetermined point in the future. Friends and family
were dockside to cheer us on. To start our voyage off, a short ceremony
was held in the cockpit and tot of rum was poured over the side to toast
Old Man Neptune, who we hope will speed us to the finish ahead of our
After a safety briefing and a review of the medical supply kit, we set
the main’sl and got under sail at last. Weeks of preparation are now
behind us and the only task at hand is to sail the boat as hard and as
best as we can for the next few weeks.
The weather was sunny and bright, spectator boats of all shapes and
sizes crowded the starting line as the preparatory gun fired at
precisely 13:50. The port side of the one was heavily favored and the
fleet jockeyed for position as the minutes ticked by. It became clear
that everyone wanted a port tack approach and as the committee boat gun
fired the one minute signal, boats were wheeling about to begin their
final approach to the starting line. We spun the boat about and found
our lane just above the British Army’s boat, but they had more speed and
came up underneath us calling for us to keep clear. We let them go by
and settled into our own lane, hitting the starting line on time but not
quite up to full speed. As the fleet left the starting area, Carina had
won the favored end, with the rest of us nipping at her heels.
As the afternoon wore on, the winds became lighter and a fog bank rolled
in, cutting off visibility to a mere 200 yards. And so we’ve begun our
voyage; fair and sunny one moment, and gray and gloomy the next. As
long as we have enough wind to keep Dawn Star moving, we’ll make The
June 28, 2011
Last night was a mixed bag of fog, no air, light air, swells, and clear night sky. We either drifted slowly along, or made reasonable progress, but every hour brought something a little different. Most of the night was foggy, but after midnight the sky cleared for a couple of hours, giving us a nice view of the Milky Way and the thinnest sliver of crescent moon.
We set the big light air kite, and it got us going while there was light winds, but when the air dropped to almost nothing, it draped the bow like a huge wet towel, covered in dew from the foggy mist. Thus ensued our first spinnaker change, as we switched to a smaller, yet still light kite. We’ve changed kites two more times since as the wind in this high pressure system is light and variable, and it appears it’s going to be with us for another two days before a low comes through and gives us some real wind to work with.
Though the sailing has been slow going, the crew is in great spirits.
Last night’s quiche dinner was delicious, and after today’s morning fog had burned off, we’ve had bright, sunny weather and balmy temperatures.
Everyone is getting good rest on their off watch as Dawn Star gently rocks and rolls you to sleep when you go down below after a chilly, damp watch trying to sail her with the barest minimum of wind.
The afternoon surprise was a number of breaching wales around us, none very close, but the large tail flippers and tall water spouts could be easily seen as they lazily rolled and dove. A mom with her little one spent a while practicing breathing on the surface a few hundred yards away. There’s always special moments when you spend time on the ocean and this was a good one.
While sharing some sliced oranges this morning, one slice got away from on of the crew and fell down a port hole, disappearing somewhere in the vicinity of Bill’s bunk, where he was enjoying a good sleep. A game of “find the slice” ensued as each of the crew went down to look for it, the challenge being not to wake Bill. The slice evaded capture for about an hour, before being spied in a clever hiding spot – inside Bill’s shoe, almost under his bunk. How it managed to get in there while probably never be known, but Bill will also never know it was
there unless someone reading this blog tells him. Shhh! What happens
offshore, stays offshore, and you blog readers are part of the crew and hereby sworn to secrecy.
June 28, 2011
We’ve spent the last three hours sailing along pretty well. The night
has been perfectly clear through 02:00, but some fog is rolling in at
the moment. The wind has been light but reasonably steady at about 9-12
knots. We’re reaching under the smaller light kite and making some miles.
We’ve seen a couple of shark fins lazily swimming past Dawn Star, one
quite large, the other smaller. No one has gone swimming since then.
At night, we’ve had a bird of some type flying around the boat, at one
time it dive bombed Sam while she was trimming the spinnaker.
Tomorrow looks like the lightest air day so far, we’re working hard
thinking about how to navigate through it. In the mean time, we just
need to keep sailing the boat hard and fast.
June 28, 2011
Dawn broke slowly as the fog we’ve become accustomed to engulfed us once
again. The wind grew extremely light and we ghosted along in our own
gray bubble; as best we could tell, the edge of the world was only one
hundred feet away in all directions. If the world had been flat, we
could easily have sailed right off the edge without ever seeing it.
We found the magic sail combination with our lightest spinnaker, set at
close reach, with the main over trimmed to help the kite breath. Dawn
Star is a heavy boat and while it takes her a while to get going, she
also loves to coast along even when the wind dies. This is extremely
helpful in conditions like the ones we’ve had since the start of the
race. Driving with only a finger tip in the wheel, and concentrating on
staying one step ahead of the wind in the sails allows us to make 3-5
knots of speed in only 3-7 knots of wind. At times the boat would coast
along at 3.5 knots when the wind dropped to 1.5 knots.
The day became sunny for a while and the wind cooperated nicely, giving
us better speed than we’d forecast last night. So far we’re making good
headway on our chosen course. What happens next will depend on how well
the forecast plays out. Our northerly course above all our competitors
should see us in better breeze sooner than the rest, but only time will
Besides sailing the boat, we’ve had some other unexpected projects to
take care of. While heating water for hot drinks, the propane valve
decided to quit and we had no stove at that point. Not a good thing
considering all the frozen and other food we’re carrying that needs to
be heated or cooked. Cam and Will got that resolved by hunting down a
bad circuit connection and a blown fuse. Despite all the winch
maintenance before the race, one of our running back stay winches had
started complaining and on breaking it down, Jay discovered a broken
roller bearing cage. That was resolved by packing a piece of nylon sail
tie around the bearing shaft (see picture) and a prayer that this jury
rig will keep the cage from working under load. Only time will tell…
Next, we discovered that the fridge wasn’t running. A bit more trouble
shooting by Will and Cam to find the control box wasn’t turning on. We
suspect the culprit is a frozen relay, and I do mean frozen as all the
dry ice in the box probably seized it up. We hot wired around the
control box for now, perhaps it’ll start working in a few days when the
dry ice dries up.
Trying to get a little shut eye on the off watch can also be hard when
there’s a coast guard jet buzzing your vessel trying to see if you’re a
yacht they’re looking for. We got on the radio with them to confirm our
identity, luckily, we weren’t the yacht in question. They raced off to
continue the search and we heard them check in with our competition
somewhere else. We hope they find the yacht they’re looking for and
everything turns out all right. At least we know it’s not a vessel in
We spotted dolphins and tuna but the most curious thing was an upturned
sea boot, floating along on its own. There wasn’t anything in it so
hopefully the seaman that owned it is still on a boat somewhere else.