Annapolis to Bermuda 2016 story by Brian Gray, Trouble No Trouble

July 15, 2017

I'm not very good at writing stuff and even worse at social media.  I pay my daughter to go on Facebook twice a year and see if I have any friends. Thankfully, my #2 is my future son in law and he is a millennial.  We have a Facebook page for our boat.  It's Trouble No Trouble USA 831 or something like that - please be my friend!   I wrote up a bit on my qualifier and it is posted there.

 

I bought the mini in late summer 2015 from a guy that used it only for a couple races and moved immediately up to a Class 40. The boat was a bit too small for him. Minis are a bit too small for anyone, except small athletic Frenchmen and little people. But they sure compensate for it on the Fun scale.

 

TNT's first big race was the A2B last June.  We prepped hard and felt we were pretty ready for it. Because they are only 21 feet, their boat speed is about half of the big guys and they also don't go to weather very well.  Throw the TWA off the beam and it’s a different story. Minis are also incredibly sturdy and seaworthy. Long ago I realized I would probably never get in to my life raft, because you're supposed to "step up" and a mini just won't sink. You can cut it in thirds and it will still do better than your raft. 

 

The A2B plan last year was to double hand down and have me solo home. The trip down took 7 days. We got hit with some big storms and then had a spin pole failure while in the Gulf Stream. The bobstay snapped while sailing at 12 knots with the Code2 up. The pole dropped immediately, pinning it and the chute and the now unfurling Code 0 under the boat.  The sails and all lines wrapped around the keel and rudders.  We recovered only to find ourselves in an 18-hour hole of no wind.  No wind like Walden Pond. We finished our trip to Bermuda in a gale with grins from ear to ear. 

 

Return Leg:

The return was a different story. I spent three days prepping the boat in Bermuda but was most concerned about the solar panel, which I had rewired due to line corrosion. (As an aside,  mini's only have a dinky outboard for engine power. All electronics are run off 2 marine batteries, powered by the solar panel and a back up fuel cell.  The fuel cell, which was causing our REAL power issues on the way down, was in the process of full failure. It runs on methanol and breaks it down to electricity and steam.)

 

I left Bermuda on a Monday afternoon with high hopes and an 8-9 day return plan. Power though, immediately began to drop on the second day. By the end of Tuesday I was down to one full battery. Assuming I had messed up the solar rewire, time was spent alternating between sailing and doing another complete rewire of the solar system, thinking the fuel cell was fine. By Wednesday I was fully conserving all power and steering by compass. 

 

Then the storms hit. Gosh, they were epic. This was the same system that caused a full one third of the Newport - Bermuda racers to drop out before even crossing the start line. I had three days and nights of kick the snot out of you, 40 on the nose wind and water. And that's when my plan started to fall apart.  (Mike Tyson lent me the best quote for those moments: "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in there face.") Mostly, my sleep plan of 20-minute naps fell apart. With minimal power for getting information, no autopilot, no real way to lash a tiller (2 tillers make that a very difficult task), and no pole for any big head sails, I was left to my own devices.  So I sailed long hours, poorly.  Sleep deprivation resulted in hours of heaving to or dropping all sails to catch up on much needed rest. I'd sail by compass, generally "sun at the back in the morning, sun at the front in the evening". Some days I'd pat myself on the back for cranking off 80 good miles, not knowing I was in an eddy. In essence, sailing from 3 to 9 o'clock on the dial, then dropping sails and drifting back around the clock to somewhere around 2:30. My only remaining comms were the battery charge remaining on my IridiumGo! satphone and my 2 handheld VHF radios.

 

At this point it is worthwhile to note that I personally was completely fine with my situation.  I had 3 weeks of water and enough freeze dried to feed a summer camp of teenagers.  I would use the satphone to check in twice daily or more, relaying coordinates to my wife and a friend, Vernon Hultzer, who acted as my shepherd on the return. Never once did I feel threatened or in danger, but, sadly, I forgot that the darn Yellow Brick tracker was sending my every numbnut move out to the world...ugh. This caused much consternation, concern and a bit of hand - wringing amongst those on shore, living the vicarious adventure from their couches. 

 

After getting hit with daily afternoon and evening storms I made landfall on the 11th day, thinking I was up near Fenwick Island. I was close enough to shore that I could see the cars on the road, but without power, nav or anchor lights, I was blessed with the gift of one more storm. Turns out I was further south than expected- Chincoteague. I got a tow in to Ocean City to end the Odyssey the following morning. 

[I'm leaving a lot of other details out of this tome - like passing cargo ships, a night visit with a Coast Guard helicopter, bountiful and beautiful sea life, shooting off a flare at Chincoteague only to have the passing party barge think it was early 4th of July fireworks, the occasional visit from non existent friends (um, yeah that really happens after a week or so alone on the water), and having my poor wife worry.  During my adventure her mom had emergency back surgery, her office caught on fire, and she got a sat phone call at 2 in the morning from a Pakistani cargo ship captain.  By nature I'm an adventurer; solo mountain summits, wreck diving, Ironman, etc. so she knows I have a good handle on my limits.  But by the end of my return, she was rightfully worn down by all the calls from concerned friends, well wishers and those folks that like to slow down for car accidents to get a better view.]

 

Brian Gray

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