We Were Smoking!
Leaving North America Behind
Reindeer's 1976 Transatlantic Voyage
June 13, 1976
Blog Entry #5
On Tuesday, June 15, Reindeer departed St. Johns with the wind astern and her spinnaker flying. We had heard the weather reports about some of the transatlantic soloists being dismasted, lost and dropping out of the England to Newport race. Icebergs had also been sighted and reported south of us. The updated weather forecast was calling for gale force winds - Force 9 or 55-70 knots per hour...close to hurricane level.
Within 5 hours after we left St. Johns behind, the winds started to increase. Little did any of us young hands (Lewis Smith 19, Hank Smith 16, Toby and Paula Garfield in their 20's and me 26) really have any real understanding or experience sailing in such severe ocean conditions. We were about to get an education.
I remember Newbold reminded us of general practices during the storms ahead and while we we on watch on deck. He first made it clear we were not racing so we could take our time completing any task. This was a relief, but as I would eventually discover, completing any task in severe conditions would be at best a snail's pace. Especially when much of one's strength went to holding onto something.
Newbold's other reminders:
- wear a harness at all times when on deck. We were reminded that a harness does little if it isn't snapped one of the two jack lines.
- If we needed more hands than two on watch, we should not hesitate to ask for assistance.
- Any emergency or significant sighting wake up Newbold or Orlin immediately.
- Wake the upcoming watch at least 30 minutes before so they have enough time to get their foul weather gear on.
- Always heat some water for the oncoming watch.
- Keep the log book current by the hour so the next watch can see what has happened.
- Always keep a lookout ahead...waves, weather, icebergs.
Referring to chapter 4 of Newbold's book, Down Denmark Strait, he wrote,
"Once out of sight of land, the wind backed to the sou'east and down came the chute. The wind and sea gradually began to build, and the temperature of both air and water plummeted, the water in the low forties and the air to about 36 degrees F. It felt very cold, and it stayed cold for a week. For four or five days, I never removed my heavy woolen trousers, even when getting into the down-filled sleeping bag. I remember taking draconian measures just to prevent the slightest piercing draft of air from coming into the bag and down my neck when I was trying to sleep. While it was both wet and cold on deck, we kept warm reefing the main and changing headsails to meet constantly changing wind conditions."
This was my experience as well in trying to stay dry and warm. I will describe my bunk experience in an upcoming blog entry. However, Newbold next adds in his book that...
"The main cabin was comfortably warm by virtue of a charcoal fire in the compact little fireplace."
This was inaccurate as the coal stove never worked. In fact, it was so poorly designed and pre-tested under sailing conditions that when we finally were able to get a fire burning, it very quickly smoked almost everyone out of the main cabin area. Our only escape was up on deck to breath fresh air.
The chimney may have been too short or the draft from above too strong for the fire to draw properly. Opening the hatches to release the smoke only made the situation worse as the added draft only stoked the fire. The whole incident actually kept us warm, at least temporarily, by having us suit up to escape topsides. It was after all no easy task to don foul weather gear in foul weather while riding a roller-coaster. With Reindeer feeling like a roller coaster, getting dressed usually took at least a half of an hour.
Of course, I can only speculate about why coal stove description was left out of Newbold's description, but I suspect it was omitted to save some embarrassment for designer, installer and approver. It was a great idea as an alternative, backup heat source - something needed when the boat entered the Arctic Circle or whenever running the engine for heat became an issue. We soon surmised there was no easy fix and the benefit of a half ton of coal stored was was only added ballast. I am not sure if the coal bin were still full upon return back to the states, it might have been a source for some embarrassment. Not sure if the stove was ever fixed for the future legs; maybe it was after I left the boat in Norway.
In his book Newbold is more accurate when he describes how else we kept warm.
"Occasionally, when we ran the engine for battery charge, the radiator along the cabin sole (baseboard heating) also put out some heat. With air temperature below 40 degrees, and the sea water not much above that, we kept the hatches closed except when cooking."
Actually, besides the body heat from our exercise with our 3-4 layers of clothing (thermal long underwear, sweater and foul weather gear) and wet down sleeping bags, this was our only external heat source. "Charging the ship's batteries" took on newer meaning. We now despised listening to the drone of Reindeer's engine, but we so appreciated the baseboard heating.
More about keeping warm in a wet bunk in an upcoming blog entry.