There are lots of things that can go wrong on a boat and, short of a dismasting or a major leak of some sort, I had all of the big, scary ones happen on this passage: A fire, an engine breakdown, and a steering failure. When you're a thousand mile from land, there is only one thing to do: fix the problem and keep sailing. And thats exactly what I did.
On this occasion, it was pretty easy to figure out. Instead of tipping to starboard, we were tipping to port, which is an odd change to have happen without me affecting it. I climbed up into the cockpit and found that one of the windvane steering lines was totally slack. The Rascal did the right thing by heaving-to when this happened (thanks to her traditional design with a bit of weather-helm) which stopped her in her tracks in a safe position. The pulley had been making an odd squeaky noise for a couple thousand miles, but it was actually the lashings that held it to the boat that failed. I laced some new ones in, and we were back on our way.
The Rascal is a very sturdily built ship and there aren't many things that could sink her. I'm pretty well convinced that even hitting an iceburg or a container wouldn't put a hole in her. Losing steering would be really bad news, but I could jury rig something to send her in the right direction. A dismasting would also be a big problem, but I've always got the engine, and I'm sure I could figure out how to rig a shorter mast sufficient to send me to my destination. At least I've still got the security of the Rascal to protect me from the elements. A FIRE, however, is a much bigger problem. A fire very likely means abandoning ship and ending up in a life raft (if the fire hasn't already roasted it) and I'm left without much in the way of food, water, or shelter.
When I saw those flames, I nearly shit myself. My eyes got as big as dinner plates and I let out a frightened shout. I immediately reached over and grabbed the fire extinguisher that is mounted above the stove and blasted the engine compartment with a ferocious stream of powdery extinguisher juice. That was enough to quench the blaze, but something was still sparking away, so I turned my attention to the battery switches. I wasn't sure why the fire had started, but I knew some sort of electrical issue was the cause, so I turned everything off at the main. Next, I sent my brother a message so he would know something was going on in case a fire blazed back up. After all of this was accomplished, I sat down on my bunk and realized I was trembling. I was about a thousand miles from the nearest land, several days from any potential rescue, and decidedly shaken. Luckily, however, the fire was out, I was safe and sound with plenty of food and water, and the Rascal didn't seem to have any critical damage.
I was faced with basically the same problem that I had in the Galapagos, the copper cooling lines didn't want to slide into the heat exchanger and seal off. I decided that some sealant (which is actively discouraged in the shop manual) was my only chance at keeping them leak-free. So I gooped 'em up, shoved 'em in, and gave them a few hours to cure. I filled the system, and to my great joy, everything held water. I ran the engine and all was well for a few hours until I heard the scream of the high temp alarm again. I've gotten really severe headaches (migraines I suppose they'd be called) once every 2-3 years since I was in high school and as I cut the engine, one of these brain assaults began. When it rains, it pours.
I decided there were four things I could do with varying degrees of risk and varying degrees of fixedness. The first was shoving the keystock further up into the hole, and using little bits of stainless wire to take up the slop that had developed in the joint. Low risk, but not totally fixing the problem. This I decided to do immediately, because I knew it was unlikely to make things worse. In fact, I sailed the boat like this for several days without problems. The second option would be injecting metal-epoxy into the joint to totally solidify it, but I was unsure if this would also eventually crack and fail. The third option was drilling a hole through the casting and rudder-stock shaft and through-bolting them together to remove all slop and make the keystock redundant. I was a bit leery of drilling holes in anything, for the chance of weakening it beyond functionality. The fourth option (if everything went to hell) was to rig a new rudder system with the fiberglass floor of the Little Rascal and the spinnaker pole.
When I first left Mexico and started these longer passages, I decided to split up my day into four blocks of six hours each (midnight to 6am to noon to 6pm to midnight). I generally send a location point to Porter at the start of each block and make notes about mileage and navigation to keep track of how much distance I'm covering and what my plans will be for the next block based on expected weather. Having these blocks provides some nice structure to my day and breaks up the monotony of passagemaking nicely.
I've always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise sort of fellow, and I typically get up around 5 just as light begins to play along the horizon. First I check the iPad to see what the boat has been doing while I slept. Often times, the wind will have shifted or changed speed and I'll go up on deck to get the Rascal back on track. Sometimes I'll stay up on deck and watch the sunrise if it looks promising and the weather isn't too fierce.
Once my belly is good and full, I typically curl back up in bed to do some reading or listen to a book on tape. Sometime around mid-morning, I'll get an in-reach message from Porter (my brother) with a weather forecast. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and planning around the weather. Each forecast is eagerly awaited and once I get it, I spend some time plotting out new courses, thinking about the implications of what sails I'll put up, and when I'll make certain maneuvers. Sometimes I'll send a couple of messages back and forth with him to clarify, get news from home, or just shoot the shit. Having some sort of contact with the outside world (even if it is only 160 characters at a time) makes a big difference and really helps to keep me grounded and happy (and sane?). Porter spent a lot of time putting the forecasts together and it would've been a much harder passage without his help. I'm lucky to have such an awesome brother.
I think it’s just the greatest thing that I can sit around reading all day if I want to. I'm of the opinion that reading is a tremendous luxury and while I'm on land its rare that I ever set aside more than an hour for reading each day. I love a good story, but I also try and use my reading time as a tool to learn new things. During the course of this last passage, I've been able to read about Chilean history, wine cultivation and production, modern nutrition and food systems, the history of Cape Horn, a treatise on art, math, music & artificial intelligence, as well as the lives of a couple of different classic authors via their autobiographies. It would've taken me years to read and digest that much knowledge if I was working a full time job. In a way, its somewhat like being in school, except I've got no homework and all the classes I take interest me greatly.
Last, but certainly not least, I bring you the glory that is the Capri-corn-dog.
I realized I would be crossing the Tropic of Capricorn a week or two after I arrived in the Galapagos and I knew immediately that I'd have to do something really special to commemorate the occasion. The only suitable option would be a feast of boundless proportions. After a couple of weeks at sea, my larder was substantially depleted and lukewarm, but I had summoned my reserves of willpower and had cheddar-wursts to spare. Thus, the concept of the Capri-corn-dog was born.
When you're crossing the Tropic of Capricorn without refrigeration, make sure you've got well sealed food-stuffs or they won't go the distance. Johnsonville's finest cheddar-wursts kept nicely. A grill would've been a nice tool to have, but when you're bouncing around at sea, its tough to grill, so I started by pan frying it over high heat to build a little char (and protect myself from the ravages of undercooked, possibly-spoiled sausages). As for the "corn" portion of the Capri-corn-dog, some corn masa flour I had leftover from Mexico was just the thing for the job. I mixed up a thick batter with water and plenty of seasonings. I was planning to batter it by dipping, but the greasy surfaces of a freshly roasted cheddar-wurst are tough to adhere to, so I had to drizzle the batter instead, which worked beautifully.
I've been having the time of my life in Chile so far and I'm planning to spend the next couple of weeks exploring around Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas before I start diving into the fjords to the south. Stay tuned for a post with my first impressions of Chile in the next week or two.