Through the Gulf of Alaska

So, Victor tells me I’m the only person who would dare cross the Gulf of Alaska this time of year. I tell him, I can’t help it, by its very nature this trip forces me offshore. If I can’t cross the Gulf of Alaska I’ll never make it around Cape Horn. So as far as im concerned this is just practice for the Horn. After everything I’ve been through I’ve become hardened like a boxer in is 50th fight, the ocean can punch me in the face ten times in a row and I hardly notice. Well, at least thats what I tell myself.

This last gale wasn’t very fun. The wind changed direction, not by a lot, but by enough that I had two different wave trains. The old wave train kept smashing into the starboard side of my boat. I was trying to read a book on the history of the Vikings on my Kindle when a large wave broke and sent my Nalgene bottle (full of water) flying across my cabin. The hard plastic water bottle knocked the Kindle out of my hand and crushed it up against the port side of my cabin. I had 39 books on that Kindle. The Kindle is destroyed, I cant tell you how devastating that is. The few normal books I have are saturated in water and black mold. I have to spend the next 6 months alone at sea with nothing to read but moldy books? I cant read them if I wanted to the pages would fall apart.

Also I went to recharge my little video camera the other day and it started smoking. The strange thing is I always keep it in its waterproof housing. So much for my documentary. I guess it doesn’t matter, the hard drive I was storing all the video footage on was destroyed in the knockdown back in the Bering sea. If thats not bad enough my waterproof, dust proof, impact proof camera was evidentially not knockdown proof and it was as destroyed in the Bering sea. Jeff (the resupply guy) was nice enough to let me have his camera. I don’t know how long it will last. I’ve been protecting it like its a holy relic. To top it all off the modem that connects my sat phone to my computer is dying. It was completely dead the other day. I was able to fix but right now its being held together by rubber-bands. If that dies I can still write blog entries through my Predictwind satellite communicator but there will be no more pictures, Q&A and no more contact from anyone. Also my boathook (Assegai) is bent and will most likely break soon. Sometimes I feel like my world is falling apart around me. What am I going to do without books?

The original reefing system on this Vega was a primitive version of in-boom furling. Except instead on being in the boom, the boom slowly spins around, furling the sail. This means to reef I would have to go to the mast and slowly furl the main. That would be dangerous and very,very wet. On my Pearson 323 I have slab reefing. I cant tell you how many times I have had to reef the main and got completely soaked. It got so bad that I used to strip down naked, reef the sail, come back in, dry off, and put on my dry cloths. When redesigning this reefing system I tried to model the way I reef around a boat called Jester. Now Jester was a very different boat with a junk rig but the idea was that I could reef the sails with out leaving the safety of the cabin. I was lucky to be sponsored by Eastport Spars and rigging. John Callawaert has been rigging boats longer then I’ve been alive. John Callawaert is “the godfather” of rigging. So he helped me set up a single line reefing system that would allow me to reef my sails while standing in my companionway hatch, while my feet(and most of my body) are still inside the boat. I can reef my main in 60 seconds which is a huge comfort/safety benefit. Eastport spars and rigging also replaced my standing rigging. My running rigging came from West Marine Rigging. Julian was the driving force behind my sponsorship. He replaced my old running rigging with a new live West Marine Rigging has been carrying Called VPC. The interesting thing is the VPC line has held up better then the running rigging on my 323 Pearson, which is three times as expensive. Not often do you find a product which is both cheaper and better. The Annapolis boat show should be any day now. If you go, Don Backe will be there with some C.R.A.B boats, representing. Tell him I said hi. Around the corner lies the California current then its south, south, south. Warmer weather and good fishing awaits.
FORTITUDINE VINCIMUS
Matt

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Q &A #7: My Plan for the Pacific

I haven’t been asked this directly yet but I figure I will sooner or later so, I’ll explain my “Plan for the Pacific” in better detail.  When I was in Annapolis planning my route for the trip I tried to find info on a boat that had sailed from Alaska to Cape Horn non-stop.  I couldn’t find anything so I pieced together several routes.
1) 44 05N 135 01w (California current)
The idea behind this waypoint was to first sail over the “Great Pacific Garbage Vortex” and ultimately position myself in a favorable current that would help me run south.  There are also good northwesterly winds that dominate the area between Dutch Harbor and the California current.
2) 30 03n 128 09w (Baja)
From waypoint 1 to waypoint 2 I will have good current and hopefully favorable northerly winds. Thats it.
3) 27 12s  110 15w (Easter Island)
This is the longest jump between waypoints, around 3,500 miles separate waypoint 2 from 3.   First off there is a large area of light winds down by the equator.  This area is in the shape of a funnel.  The larger side of this funnel covers central America, the smaller side is in Polynesia.  So I don’t want to be to close to central America because I’ll have light winds that could make life miserable.  Also there are Southeast trade winds off the west coast of south America that I really don’t want to deal with.  I cant avoid these headwinds completely but staying further out to sea will help.
4) 56 52s  068 38w (Cape Horn)
When I get to waypoint 3 I will be right by Easter Island.  South of Easter Island I should start working my way into the prevailing westerlies that dominate the southern latitudes.  Once in the westerlies I’ll just head east and round the horn.  My waypoint is a bit further north than I’ll go.  I don’t care about seeing “the rock” I will probably be 50 to 100 miles south of the Horn just to be safe.

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Q & A

QUESTION

Glad to hear you are a fan. I grew up in Fairview Park but now live near
Port Clinton (Put-In-Bay). It’s astounding to me, and more than a little
disheartening, that many of the locals here are rabid steelers fans. I
don’t know how it happens but they seem to feel it makes sense somehow.
Makes me a little sick, if you want to know the truth.
Anyway, best wishes for smooth sailing till you reach the end of your
journey.
-Joe

ANSWER
If you are from Pennsylvania then I can understand and respect the fact that you are a steelers fan, Just as I can respect a Ravens fan from Maryland, even though they stole our team. A Ravens fan will say “Are team was stolen by Indianapolis, we lost our team for 15 years you only lost yours for 5”. I ask you this, If a man robs you for $100 does it give you the right to rob another man for 50. Unlike the steelers I don’t hate the Ravens, I just don’t like them much. If you are born and raised in northern Ohio and you support the steelers because you like there colors or because they make it to super bowls, then you have no loyalty and therefor no honor. A man without honer is a disgraceful example of a human-being. I wont hide the fact that the browns lose more games then they win. I don’t expect them to go to the super bowl anytime soon. The Cleveland Browns could lose every game for the rest of my life and I will still support them, EVERY GAME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! Thats what it means to have loyalty, thats what it means to be a true fan
GO BROWNS!

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NPR Story

NPR has run a story about the trip you can accesses it at http://www.npr.org/2011/10/01/140974717/sailor-charts-solo-trip-into-the-record-books
The report says I was on anchor…… It was a mistake, I was hove-to a parachute sea anchor, I was not attached to the ground in any way. The integrity of my trip is still intact.
Matt

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North Pacific

I had to time my passage through the Athenian Islands as there is a current that can run at 9kts. Once through the Ungala Pass The winds died down a bit and since they were from behind I thought it would be a good time to put up the asymmetrical sail. Well I misjudged the wind speed and when I started to raise the sail it filled with such power that it pulled me 3 feet into the air. My pocket caught on a mast cleat which prevented me from getting much higher, but it killed the pocket. I got the sail under control and kept it up for the next 24 hours. That was the only light wind I’ve had, since then its been an on and off gale. The winds have blown long enough and hard enough to produce 20 foot seas. 20 foot seas sound worse then they are. In the open ocean, away from opposing currents and multiple wave trains the seas are large but better behaved. Unlike the Bering sea which is like sailing threw a giant washing machine. Once during my first singlehanded transatlantic I had a storm that blew 50 knots for 70 hours and produced 30 foot waves. Now that was a storm!
Before Jeff came out to give me the resupply boxes I asked him if he could grab a newspaper for me. He went to the local library and they gave him a stack of 30 or so papers. They were all two to three weeks old, but its all new news to me. So I’ve spent the last week reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as 15-20 foot waves passed by outside my boat. I read about Hurricane Irene. It sounds like it ripped through parts of the country not used to hurricane damage (Vermont, Connecticut, ect). Unfortunately it will be considered “flood damage” so insurance companies won’t help much. It seems that Maryland was also hit hard, I imagine Martin O’Malley must have his hands full. We think we’ve conquered this planet, but mother nature will alway have the real power.
I ran before the gale force winds using just the head sail for three or four days. The wind finally let up so at 2 or 3 in the morning I went outside to raise the main sail. It was pitch black and there were still large waves roaming around. I was untying a line that was preventing my main from flapping in the wind when a wave hit the boat with enough force to lift me up and throw me over the boom. Next thing I know im hanging onto the lifelines with my backside in the water. I couldn’t help but to laugh, what else could I do? The next morning I woke up and noticed my battery power was surprisingly low. Well, my bilge pump had stopped working and I had accumulated enough water that my batteries were submerged. Luckily AGM batteries are not damaged by being underwater. I have a manual bilge pump in the cockpit but its the strangest pump I’ve ever seen, it works though. I fixed my bilge pump and cleaned my battery terminals, but for a moment it was quite a scare.
The day after that the winds shifted to the Southwest and blew 40+ knots. It was pushing me Northeast and I wasn’t too happy about heading north. I slowed my boat down by deploying my drogue so not to get to far off course. I love my drogue. I could write a Shakespearian sonnet in iambic pentameter about “how I love thy little drogue”. For the record, some people get a parachute sea anchor and a drogue mixed up or they think they are the same thing. My parachute sea anchor is 9 feet across and is deployed off the front of the boat, where my drogue is 3 feet across and deployed of the back of the boat. The para-anchor stops the boat, the drogue just slows you down.
I have spent the last week sailing east southeast to south east around the Pacific high, AKA the great Pacific garbage vortex. I could of tried to sail through the high pressure area and I would of had lighter winds but the idea of sailing threw a bunch of trash is utterly depressing. So I’ve been sailing around it. I’m heading for the California current that will help push me south at around 1kt. My spirits are high but it can be a bit lonely. When I get back to land I need to find a girl who wants to do some blue water sailing. Either that or convince a mermaid to become a princess, or however that works. I have another gale coming, it looks like it will blow hard for three days. At least it will be out of the Northwest (I hope) so I should make good time.
I would like to thank Victor Wejer for all the weather forecasts and good info while going around Alaska. Victor is like a library of knowledge and he can answer any Arctic related question you can imagine. He researches the answer first which is the sign of a true professional, Thanks Victor!
Fortitudine Vincimus
Matt

My plan for the Pacific (roughly)
44 05N 135 01w
30 03n 128 09w
27 12s 110 15w
56 52s 068 38w

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Q & A: Open ocean?

QUESTION

Another vega owner here, wishing you well. On the tracker you are now just a dot in the ocean- for the first time there is no land on the screen- I guess you are out of sight of land now as well which must be a relief in some ways?
With the benefit of more open water, do you anticipate doing less motoring now and putting up with light winds at the cost of lost time?
-Mavanier

ANSWER
Its nice be away from land. You can have strong winds near shore and no wind in the middle of the ocean, or vice versa. There is no general rule of thumb. I am in a area with prevailing North-westerlies right now, which is very helpful. Well, like I said earlier its blowing SE at 40kts right now, but the wind will change by tomorrow.

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Q & A: Sailing direction?

QUESTION
Hey Matt,

I am writing this from the west coast of Canada. I am totally impressed with your voyage and passion. My question is concerned with Navigation. I have been following your course and have been wondering why you are heading so far west towards the coast? I looked at your course and thought it would be best to be sailing 131 degrees south. but you are going so far west? I am asking because i want to learn the answer. Is is because you are just following the winds and that is where they are taking you for now. Is it just a better point of sail for you? Is it because of bad weather and sea’s? Perhaps the currents? It would be great if you could answer that? Thanks and sail safe. -Curtis
ANSWER
I assume you mean east. If I were heading west I would be sailing toward Japan. I am heading toward the California current. In the open ocean you don’t always sail a strait line from point A to point B. For instance if you want to sail from the Chesapeake bay to the Caribbean you must first sail 600 miles ESE to SE before you can head south. I am heading a bit north right now because of gale force southerlies. I will go head in a more southerly direction when I get the chance. Also the Albin Vega is a small boat with very little room inside. Not an ideal live-aboard.

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Q & A: Favorite Sails?

QUESTION

Hey Matt!
It’s Sept 28th, and 16:30 BC time (0100 UT, I think?)
You are nearly at the 49th, I am at 49.001 …
so I just went outside and gave you a big wave and a double-thumbs up!!

You may not have noticed as your still about 1400 miles west of me and my Vega!

I have a question if it’s allowed.. I don’t see why not unless your being sponsored by
a particular sail-maker… What brand is your favorite Main and Jib?? (any “North”? )

Cheers brave fellow!
-Wayne

ANSWER
I have been sponsored by Hyde Sails. I used to make sails for North Sail back about five years ago when they had a loft on Kent Island near Annapolis. I think most of the big name sail makers make a quality sail so it really comes down to details and personal preferences.

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Q & A: How are the Shelf Reliance meals working out?

QUESTION

Matt,
I am going to start marketing Shelf Reliance to marine world. Could you give me an update on how its working out? Do you find it easy to use? Is it meeting your nutritional needs? Have you lost/gained weight? Do you think you have enough for your entire trip? Any suggestions for anyone that is going to stock up for a trip. I realize that you were very limited by weight requirements, so I don’t know how else you would have been able to have that much food in any other form than freeze dried.
-George Hall

ANSWER
I think that shelf reliance is a great product for any cruising sailor. Whether you use it as a back up emergency food supply or eat it on a regular basis. The food is working out fine and its very easy to use. I save a lot of fuel because I don’t have to cook it, all I have to do is heat it up and eat it up. It seems to be meeting my nutritional needs, I also take a one a day multivitamin. I have lost weight, I think its mostly due to the fact that in the Arctic I didn’t sleep much and was cold all the time. My body was burning a crazy amount of calories trying to keep up with the conditions it was under. I would suggest the creamy cheesy white soups as they taste great. I would also suggest the TVP products as they are good and cheap. I also love butter powder. Yes, I think I have enough food for the whole trip, Carol did a great job planing my food regiment. To be honest I don’t know what I would of done without the help of Shelf Reliance. It was the only way that I could of had enough food for the trip. On top of that the food is of the highest quality and I’m not just saying that because they sponsored me.

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Q & A: Shorelines a big fear?

QUESTION
Hi Matt — Incredible blog. I find myself wondering how you’re doing quite often. Two questions (if I am permitted!): Aren’t shorelines a big fear during storms? I was puzzled by you seeking shelter in bays and coves using your sea anchor. At least at sea you wouldn’t run aground on the open sea. What am I missing?

Second: How does one make the transition from day sailor to cruiser — more specifically, how did you learn about navigation that day sailors don’t really have to worry much about?

Thanks!!
Ariel, Mountain View, CA

ANSWER
You are better off being in a storm far from land. I was not seeking shelter from a storm when in Unalaska bay I needed two days to repack the boat after the knockdown. Plus it was beautiful there so I just wanted to hang out. The bad Storm never came but my plan was to go to the south side of the island. The winds would of been out of the north so I had thousands of miles I could have drifted south. I explained my reasons for the other times I’ve used a para anchor starting at the entry called Point Hope, read through them and you will understand better.
Buy a cheap chart plotter and some paper charts and just go sailing. You will some mistakes in the beginning but we all do. Just make sure you check the weather before you leave. If your a beginner, don’t sail in more then 25 knots of wind. You will learn over time.

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