Earlier this week Undaunted and I set out to perform our first real length sail trial October 23rd-26th. As many of you may know by now, the boat cannot go up wind very well at all. And it doesn't have to; it was not designed to. Undaunted is only 3.5-foot boat designed to go down wind along the trade route leading from The Canary Islands off the coast of Africa towards our southern East coast. In reality, trying to beat up wind at the speeds that a 3.5-foot boat can go would be pointless. So for the big trip I already know I will be playing an averages game. If the trade winds shift and stop my ability to go where I want to go, I throw out my sea anchor and wait. With so much sea room to maneuver within I have the luxury. The luxury of patience.
On my test run two days ago out on the limiting size of Lake Erie, I did not have that luxury. . . I took Undaunted out from the inner harbor in Erie, PA on Sunday afternoon. Looking at the forecast, I was betting on a wind shift that would push me out of the bay through the very narrow channel on the East side. However, the wind was not as promised and turned out to be very light, so I hoped to at least get across the bay to Misery Bay, the place where Niagara was scuttled. From there I figured I could anchor for the night and ride out the two days of North wind and then come back in.
I didn't make it. . . not through any failing on my or the boats part, the wind yet again just had other plans.
The wind shifted around between being North, to South, to East, to West for hours. It rained, it hailed at one point, and there was thunder and lightning. It would go from flat calm to gusting up to 15 or 20 knots. At one point it pushed us into the inset corner of a dock, Dobbins landing. While fortunately I didn’t hit anything, I was getting hammered with waves from behind and from two different reflections from the sea walls near me. With those waves hitting me from three different directions in such a confused way I would have assuredly been in a terrible spot. . . With any other small boat. However Undaunted just didn't seem to notice. He just shrugged and grumbled to himself and bobbed up and down. What a champ.
At this point my best option was to anchor to prevent us from getting set down on the seawall and to try to set sail and continue on when I saw my window of opportunity. After going back and forth and anchoring a few times and setting sail several more times after that as the wind continued to shift around, eventually the wind started to come solidly out of the North where it was due to blow for several days. When that happened I made the choice to go in to the dock because I wasn't close enough to a suitable anchorage to ride the weather out in a sea anchor simulation like I had wanted to. So I turned and headed for the inner harbor. . . where I promptly ran aground at the entrance.
Undaunted draws 5 feet, and for a little boat that is a huge amount. He also weighs 1600lbs fully loaded. I couldn't get him to budge. This is a problem that I will have no danger of in the Atlantic until I near the shoreline of the U.S. and by then it hardly matters, we made it. After 45 minutes of trying to get out of the situation, I made the decision to haul up four 50lb bags of sand I had stored in the bottom of the boat that were replicating the weight of my food rations for the big trip. . . and pour them out over the side to lighten my load. . .
This was not an easy choice. That weight is part of my stability plan. While I will be replacing a portion of that weight as it is eaten up on the trip with water to help maintain my stability, in that moment I was worried about losing the benefit of that weight, but right then I knew the wind was going to come on stronger and stronger for the next two days and if I stayed where I was I would have just spent 48 hours getting hammered against the seawall and getting pushed harder aground. I needed to lighten the boat to get him off the bottom. So over the side it went. . . 200lbs. Gone.
Undaunted got real tippy right away. I worried I had made a mistake. Well I couldn't bring the sand back up. . . So I sealed the hatch. . . With me outside on the top of the boat. . . and I started rocking Undaunted back and forth to try to break him free. Naturally he was tippy with me on top and the keel stuck aground on the bottom, but little by little the boat walked its way off the bottom and back to open water. Free again. He immediately straightened back up which was great news. Even with me still on top and 200lbs less of ballast the boat was still safe enough to sail. I then got back into the boat and from there I didn't even bother to set sail again, I just let the boat drift down the channel to the dock.
I tied Undaunted to the floating dock with two big fenders in between in preparation for the blow that was coming for the next two days then dragged my sore, soaked self up to get some food and warmth. It seems in the excitement I had not eaten or drank water all day and night. By now it was Monday at 2am.
While it may not seem like enough of a test to some, for those who have sailed on Lake Erie AND the ocean they know what this lake can dish out in comparison. The combination of the weather changes and proximity to land we managed to pack in so many experiences and conditions I needed to find out about testing the boat into that one day. To me, it was still a mission success because all throughout this experience I was up and down through the hatch, taking in and setting sail, getting soaked and cold. The cabin inside was a mess, teaching some very valuable lessons about the ergonomic situation of the cabin. Access to my equipment in the bilges through my sole boards was a nightmare, especially in an emergency situation where I need to act fast and that needs to be addressed. Having a tiller verses tiller tackle setup, of which I had both, made it obvious that a simple tiller is the way to go and that also having a functioning tiller in the cabin to steer with the hatch completely sealed is a must.
Undaunted and I are now going back to Albany to make all the necessary changes this winter and then it is off to the Canaries for some sea trials and then the big trip.
Thank you to everyone for your support, and please pass on the story and project. We still have a long way to go and need more help and support.