Ravishing Is In the Eye of the Beholder
Hand Steering

Casey at the Helm

Or not.

We call our auto-pilot Casey. When La Luna is steaming along a reach, she reminds EW of a locomotive. (He even got an engineer's hat back when we were in Maine. It was his favorite sailing hat for a time.) For years, I loved Casey. I believed in him. When we were in that storm off Cape Fear back in 2010, Casey never faltered in 36 hours of beating with 40 knot gusts. He never faltered.

Casey failed us as we set off for the Azores last year, requiring us to hand steer back to St. Martin and spent another week and another thousand repairing him. After that, I lost my faith in Casey. This is not good. EW has taught me that you must trust your boat. Of course in order to do so, we must repair and maintain La Luna and her bits and bobs. We do. EW is an excellent captain and knows boats, and he can repair most things on board. Still, I stopped trusting Casey. It didn't help that he failed us a few times at sea, causing a couple of unintentional gybes. That's a bad thing. One ripped out a section of our aluminum toe rail.

It also didn't help that I didn't discuss this lack of boat trust with EW. Instead, I've awakened him with various worries while he was off watch. Last night the wind shifted and strengthened. Instead of heading directly to our goal, we were aiming for Venezuela in 20-25 knots of wind with 30 knot gusts. The third time I woke EW, he agreed we needed to hand steer. What I didn't understand is that -- while the problem is Casey --- the problem only occurs when we are sailing down wind. For this entire sail (until today) we have been just shy of heading directly down wind. Casey cannot handle that well in strong winds and contrary seas.

We gybed the boat to head northwest (on purpose and carefully) and steered in one hour shifts all night long. Yes, it was exhausting. It was also beautiful. There was no rain, there were no squalls. We had fluky winds, going from 14 knots to 25 in a heartbeat, and correspondingly fluky seas. I didn't enjoy myself. But I wasn't scared and didn't hate it. Here are a few observations and lessons from the last 24 hours at sea.

1. When steering downwind at night I can let my mind wander and still pay attention to the wind indicator, making sure that I don't unintentionally gybe the boat.
2. However, I cannot "write" an article in my head. Doing that causes me to lose too much focus on the task at hand.
3. I am always in awe of how fast 6 knots feels when one is sailing at night surfing down waves. It feels as though we are hurtling into a void. Again, I'm not frightened by it, but I am in awe of the power of the sea, and of the strength of our boat.
4. Having ample opportunity to think while on watch, I was able to better articulate my feelings about Casey and how they have led me to not trust our boat. More important, I was able to express this to EW and we had an excellent conversation about auto-pilots, wind vanes, boat balance, and the fact that we have done more downwind sailing in the past year than in all the other 12 years we've had the boat.
5. As a result, when the wind shifted this morning and we gybed back on course, to find we were on a reach to our goal, EW activated Casey, and I began to trust again. Now, eight hours later, we are sailing on a reach in 15-20 knots with gusts to 30 and Casey is doing his job with skill. That's a good thing as we need our sleep.

I'll be sending this off shortly after 1800. It's 1630 now and we are located at 15 degrees, 14.962 minutes North, and 070 degrees 17.79 minutes West.

EW is off watch for the second time today, and I have had not reason to disturb his sleep. BREAK BREAK! Just as I finished that sentence, I heard an engine. We have seen no other boats for 3 days. We have seen one -- just one -- "target" on the AIS and that was 2 days ago. Hearing an engine was disconcerting to say the least. I knew right away that it was a plane and sure enough, I got on deck in time to see a plane with a radar disc going low past our starboard side. As they circled to come back again, I woke up EW, sure he'd want to see it. (I was right.) It was smaller than a P3 and had a blue strip similar to the US Coast Guard stripe, with smaller red stripes on the outside of the blue. They do not show up on AIS.

Life sure is interesting at sea.


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