Aug. 4/10 0800 JST
Position: 21°16'N, 157°52'W (Honolulu)
Reports and photos have been trickling in from Hawaii that showed how close Saito-san came to losing Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji last week, not to the weather and seas of the moment, but to the extremes the vessel -- and the skipper -- have faced over the past months and years.
There were smaller problems that could be handled, and were, which became known even before he left. During the first sea trial, a scorched exhaust tube fell apart when engine RPMs were applied, and that was the first indication of damage from overheating that occurred weeks earlier from a failed impeller. The tubing was fixed, but then once he was on his way a blockage of the same cooling circuit and the loss of another impeller silenced the engine about 5 days out from Hawaii.
Saito-san has rounded the globe in races four times before sans engine, so that was no great shakes. But then a leak sprung and for a time it appeared impossible to completely close a balky seacock, resulting in the stark possibility that the leak could suddenly become much, much larger. The electric bilge pump that had passed inspection a few weeks earlier had also stopped working, so Saito-san was forced to resort to a manual pump.
And then his back began hurting, and now it had become a cyclical problem, this time involving the most critical "system" on board -- the skipper himself. The more he had to pump, the worse his back. The more he had to rest, the more seawater would collect to be pumped, as much as 200 strokes a session, in the hot, airless confines of the engine room.
The difficult decision was made for a "U turn" back to Hawaii before he had gone too far -- a term that in a sailboat is entirely relative -- as in relative to the winds and seas and currents.
So what had been a nice wind at his back was now a strong headwind, and what had been a virtual bee-line back to Japan became a crabbing, frequently tacked slog against the elements. When he finally did make it back he had sailed three miles for every one in the direction he wanted to go. And the distance of 500 nm that took 6 days to achieve going out required 15 for the excruciatingly slow return.
All seemed fine, regardless, but then the slamming of multiple, half-controlled tacks began to have its affect on the standing rigging. In normal conditions, a skipper yells commands to his several crew, who all have their own jobs to carry out during a tack. The commands ("Ready about!") are signals, actually, to let each know when the helm is to be brought around ("Hard alee!"), then the eye of the wind passes across the bow, the sheets are freed, then tightened at just the right moment, and the jib slips smoothly to the lee side and resumes its job. It's one of the most exhilarating and beautiful maneuvers you'll see on a well-crewed sailing yacht.
All that is the stuff of teamwork, and through the crew's much-practiced effort the sails and rigging are spared most of the slamming forces of the wind. Such tacks are easy and usually problem-free.
But to a solo skipper, there's no such teamwork, and especially when there is no engine to help the vessel pivot through the eye of the wind, there ARE no "easy" tacks. And over time it can take a toll on the rigging, the furling system, the sails, and the skipper.
Tomorrow we'll post some pictures that show the sort of damage that can occur, along with assessments from Team Hawaii, our volunteers there.
Here's one comment we received from Dave Cooper soon after he had brought NBSDIII into port at the end of a "very long" 54 nm upwind tow.
Aloha Hunter, at noon today I visited a much rested Saito-san. He was in very good spirits after the long ordeal of working his way back upwind to Oahu only to be frustrated by the broken backstay a few short miles from the barn.
We traded a big bear hug and hearty handshake. I had thought it was humorous that he hadn’t realized that I was the one towing him in and the boat was Swan Song. He has been aboard her when he was here but of course didn’t board from the stern. That was about the only part of her that he saw for the long tow back! He apologized for not making the connection in his mind. None required!
Tomorrow Ed will bring him to the monthly Hawaii Yacht Club monthly breakfast. Saito, it seems, likes to cruise our waters so what better group to be a part of. Most will be quite surprised at his presence as they aren’t aware of the saga of his return! We’ll take care of that pretty easily though.
Meanwhile he sure has a smile on his face!
So please stay tuned. There's more to follow from Dave, Ed, and Scott over the next several installments of the Daily Log.