THE RETURN HOME
Because Nereid is such a fine, seaworthy little boat, much of the trip home was relatively routine. The twenty-five day passage was full of rough weather and heavy seas, but the day by day accounts read with so much similarity as to be monotonous. So I've skipped over much of it and hit only the highlights.
Nereid and I left Kauai under hurricane alert. We'd been waiting for three days for the weather to get better, but strong trades and tropical disturbances looked as though they would go on indefinitely. I was anxious to get going, so, at 1930 hrs. on July 13 after the very strong afternoon trades had subsided a bit, I set sail for home. Winds were close to 30 k and seas were big and well developed.
Entry, July 14:
'I'm letting the boat dictate the course. Winds and seas are really too much for the Nereid to work against and she sails so well on a beam reach, that even though it takes me west a few degrees more than I would like, I think a reaching course will get us to the north trades safer and sooner than trying to sail too close. (Course: 360)."
For nine more days Nereid sailed north on a beam reach. Conditions varied some, but the trip up to Latitude 43 involved nothing more challenging than a few squalls, which Nereid handled with ease. Ten days on a starboard beam reach, with the rhythms of the sea intertwining with the rhythms of the day, seemed to suspend all time and motion ... I had to remind myself that I was coming from one place and going to another. All past and future were remote.
At approximately 0200 hrs. on the 26th of July, Nereid was hit by a fairly severe squall which marked what was to be over three days of nightmarishly difficult conditions and circumstances, and during which Nereid and I found ourselves in a fight for survival. Squalls at sea strike with unbelieveable suddenness and are followed just as suddenly by what is often a more disagreeable aftermath.
Entry, July 26th:
"...zero wind and Nereid is wallowing helplessly in huge left-over seas. Had boom triple prevented and sheeted down to keep it from banging and whipping. Not enough! At 1000 hours a big breaking sea caught us broadside and rolled Nereid on her beam and. As she righted herself the boom and mainsail whipped and the boom broke in two. While lowering the main and trying to clear the mess, the gooseneck also broke."
I sawed one of the batch covers from a forward berth into long strips and hammered them into one and of the broken boom, leaving about half sticking out, Then I drove the other piece of the boom over the protruding plywood strips. I bolted the broken gooseneck back together and by 1400 hrs. and in a very slight breeze, had the main reset and we were under way once more.
What little wind we had in the afternoon of the 26th disappeared by early evening and the big seas just kept coming. The main had to come down to prevent the mended boom from breaking again. Double headsails were set with the hope of catching any passing zephyr and the Nereid continued to pitch and roll.
Entry, July 27, 1600 hrs.
"These seas with almost no wind create the most uncomfortable conditions I've ever experienced. For over 24 hrs., the boat has pitched and yawed, rocked and rolled heavily (I mean rail to rail). I can't sleep or eat or read and it's tough to write, There's just got to be some wind soon, before I lose my ever-loving mind!"
There was wind alright. In the early morning hours of July 28, we felt the beginnings of what finally developed into a full Pacific storm. My only index for measuring it's intensity is my past experience, and I can tell you it made the coastal gales of the first two days of the race, the Pacific squalls and the Hawaiian tropical disturbance seem like rowing weather on Lake Merritt. The storm rolled in over the still substantial seas that had been plaguing Nereid for over 24 hrs., and it came from an almost 90 degree angle. As the two wave trains mixed the seas became chaotic and incredibly steep, In the log I wrote, "the water looks like it's boiling."
Entry, July 28, 1030 hrs.:
"...every so often a group of 3 or 4 really big waves hit in succession, breaking over the Nereid and sending her reeling on beam ends. If you can imagine, waves have been breaking clear over the cabin top, completely burying the boat."
After more than 12 hours of this incessant beating, I developed a pretty solid trust that the boat would be able to withstand the punishment. What was a constant source of worry for me was the self-steering vane. There were many times when the movement of the boat and the direction of a wave made for a collision of unbelievable intensity. The noise and sensation of the impact made it feel as though Nereid had struck a concrete breakwater rather than a wave. With a sickening crash, the boat's motion was suddenly stopped dead and she would shudder under the impact. I always stuck my head up through the main hatch fully expecting the self-steering to be broken away. I was just lucky, because during the race, one of the Monitor vanes (Nereid's vane is a Monitor) was so badly bent by an even smaller wave, that it was useless.
Throughout the storm, Nereid punched away under small jib alone, with her beam to the main wind and wave pattern of the storm. In less than 24 hours she covered over 150 miles.
Entry: July 28, 1600 hrs.
"If only the wind and the sea would subside together! Even though winds are still around 20k, the seas are to large and confused that the Nereid rolls from rail to rail, often being caught in mid-roll and whipped violently back again. On a boat filled with cans, bottles, tools, extra fittings, not to mention the standing and running rigg , the noise and confusion is unreal. It's not unlike what I would imagine the Chinese water torture to be and it inspires in me a feeling akin to panic - panic because there is no way for me to stop it and there is nowhere to get away from it."
The storm's aftermath lasted another 24 hours. I reached a point where I understood that I was undergoing the most strenuous and difficult challenge of the trip.
Entry, July 28, 1600 hrs.: "One would think a trip like this would be a challenge to one's courage, skill, stamina, resourcefulness, ingenuity, etc., but for me those are nothing compared to the psychological strain of the past 72 hours."
In all of the literature and lore on the subject of ocean sailing, I don't think I've ever read anything on the hazards and dangers of a storm's aftermath. Nereid was taking far more punishment in the huge seas after the winds passed than during the height of the storm. The motion was violent and unrelenting without the stabilizing effect of wind in the sails, and the time stretched on and on and on. I was beginning to fear that Nereid would tear herself to pieces. On July 29, she almost did.
It started with a relatively innocent little thunking sound, which I thought was probably a loose can of stew or the like. But the noise grew louder as the hours rolled on. A search of the boat failed to turn up the cause; it must be something structural! But what?? I opened the engine cover to get a better look into the back of the bilge and to my horror saw that the engine itself was loose on the pads and the mounting bolts had been torn out. Four hundred pounds of iron (or thereabouts) was shifting from side to side, straining against the shaft, the thru-hulls and the fuel lines. For a few seconds I thought, "its all over." Then mother nature translated my fear into action and I started sawing up plywood hatch covers again. This time into wedges to drive between the engine and the bulkheads on either side. After this was done, and the engine seemed well shored-up I got all my life-saving gear together and rehearsed the procedure for inflating the raft and abandoning ship. But the engine stayed in place and slowly my concern began to ebb.
On the evening of July 29th, after nearly four days of heavy weather trouncing, an incident occurred which made me realize that I had become dangerously fatigued. I had slept very little and eaten practically nothing since the wee hours of the 25th, and oddly enough I felt neither tired nor hungry. But I noticed that I was having very distinct audible hallucinations. A male voice with an English accent kept calling my name from somewhere out at sea. I accepted this as hallucination and found it amusing and rather entertaining. But then the whole phenomenon took on a more frightening dimension. I was in the cockpit pumping the bilge, when right behind me-I heard with crystal clarity, a woman's voice. Not more than two feet behind me she said "Kent" and then followed it with something that was at once absolutely clear but unintelligible. I turned and was very surprised to see that no one was there. I became confused for a moment and had to remind myself that I was alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This shook me a little. I told myself that I would now eat and sleep. I fixed 'some hot food and forced myself to eat every bite. Then I wedged myself in my bunk and slept for nearly six hours.
The boom had broken again during the storm, so when I awoke from that much needed sleep, I sawed more wood and put the thing back together again. For the next four days sailing was beautiful and we logged about 120 miles a day. Then:
Entry, August 4, 1300 hrs.:
"..it's not really a gale, but it's one hell of a blow."
Entry August 6, 1600 hrs.:
"Why no entry for August 5? Nereid has been up to her jumper struts in a gale since about two hours after the last entry. Perhaps it's because I'm so near home, but I must confess I'm more psyched-out with fear and fatigue (than during the big storm) even though this isn't as treacherous and awesome."
"...Nereid is completely engulfed in breaking water and as she goes down I find myself wondering "will she come back up?"
The boom broke again, but it stayed together with a short elbow in it. I was going to take down the main, then I saw that although it looked funny as hell, it seemed to be working just fine on the beam reach. So, I figured that as long as Lowell Jett didn't see itm it would be alright until I got home.
By 1800 hrs. the conditions eased and life was beauriful again. It was to be my last night at sea (on this trip). KKHI was coming in loud and clear with a Rossini opera and I had Ravioli for dinner. At 1930 hrs. on August 7, Nereid passed tinder the Golden Gate Bridge. I experienced quite a flood of emotion. Because of Nereid's condition (and my own for that matter), I a was happy and relieved that we had made it." But I was very sad that a magnificent voyage was at it's end.
Kent Rupp Neried, Triton #254 August, 1978