Donna Lange: a break from heavy weather

Posted By on February 8, 2007

Donna Lange's position 2-8-2007
I feel fortunate to be communicating daily with Donna Lange and I enjoy including posts about her … and from her on my blog as she sails her way NNW heading for home. Although home is a long way off, about 6200 nautical miles, from her log and emails I can tell that it is tugging on her. Nevertheless, she is ‘living in the moment’ … and her form of therapy seems to sit well with her — as she often says, “all is good.”
Donna Lange on deck in 2006The last couple weeks have not been easy for Donna; she has battled some of the most challenging weather and sea conditions her round the world voyage has dished out. Her experience, solid boat and life and death determination played a huge part in her ability to protect her boat and gear. I’m going to highlight sections from Donna’s log below (beware, its longer than usual) for those wanting to understand what sailing in a small sailboat in a vicious ocean is all about.

I’ll start with something from today’s log entry — “Peace at last,”.

1131UTC 0831Local 0631NY 0031NZ Feb 8,2007

I had my breakfast sitting in the companionway,
the doors open at last. It has always been a barometer
of my sailing that if I can sit and enjoy my meals
in the companionway, life is really pleasant.
I am so very tired but recovering quickly. I made
started on some repairs last night, fixing the
steering vane sail with spare sailcloth. The starboard
jib sheet block sheave blew out yesterday in a
backwind of the main in the declining seas. As
I was removing the car from the track to find a
replacement sheave, I gave a nudge to the car and
unexpectedly it flew off the track, plunk…gone.
Luckily, I was able to fashion a spare jib sheet
track car I had with a bit of filing to fit the
old bronze tracks I have. Fit on a spare block
and within an hour I jibed the jib onto the starboard
side. I still have repairs to the dodger and then
to really rebuild the bottom 2 feet of the genny.
With light winds expected in a few days, I am
motivated to get to it. Weather isn’t quite naked
weather but certainly pleasant on deck. Hoping
the rains will stay at bay. I need to get up the
mast too and replace the jib halyard. Soon come.

I realized today that there are no albatrosses
swooping in the sky this morn. I may have found
my way north of their habitat. I will miss them.
The stormy petrels and silvery terns still play
in the breezes and there is a new bird, more brown
and white, lithe and pretty, appearing on the waves.
An somewhat familiar world, The South ATlantic
Ocean ahead. A new season. I feel deep wells of
gratitude toward the flows of the southern ocean
for sharing with me a life experience that has
changed me so. Those I have met in her community
have had depth of kindredness I will miss them,
yet have them in heart. I am blessed above all
imagination. Thank you Southern Sea. big hugs
and loves xoxoxo d

To gain some perspective, one needs to realized what the last couple of weeks have been like aboard her 28 foot boat; the sailboat’s name, Inspired Insanity, seems appropriate. She describes her environment as a poet … or musician. (oh, that is what she is!)

Feb 7,2007 – The fury has finally stopped.
position: 42*33’S 44*21’W (these tracks are spirographic)
winds:SSW 20-25kn (furied to 50+ before it finally
started to ease)
seas: As if massive celestial horses had just
trampled the seas before me. 15-20′)

The southern ocean seems to be holding on to me
for some reason. I can’t get away. I am beat. I
feel trampled too. The sea conditions were just
incredible. I was sailing off cliffs of water,
hitting the ocean with such force, it was as if
a bomb went off. How can this boat take this abuse
endlessly? Especially when I know she has already
beaten for months to wind in the past. The dodger
is hurtin. The wind just tore the last of the
seams holding the frame to the cloth, which is
really on its last legs, original for the boat.
I’ll stitch it back together over the next few
days with the old genny. The steering vane flag
also is shredded. the wind was wild. Once the last
fury began, the seas turned to monster chop and
I had to turn downwind. It meant sailing back into
the front but the front was moving faster than
I. I had no choice. The boat would explode if she
had to keep hitting the sea, the sea hitting her
that hard. I reduced sail just to leave enough
to keep steerage. At this point, i have no need
to go fast backwards. I tried to rest, but though
I layed down, I was just thrown too hard to sleep
at all. My back was a mess. Shooting pains of
sciatica. No way to be comfortable. To get up
and try to move around was to be thrown around.
Finally, well after dawn, the winds clocked to
SW and the seas began to even out, though still
15+’, winds gusting to 30+kn. I got up and raised
the main and changed the sail pattern to a downwind,
with pole so i could steer more dead downwind,
finally on course. The sun shining, wind still
25kn or so, not pushing to go fast so as to keep
the boat steadier, i went below for rest. I didn’t
want to miss checking in, but i dozed off waking
just 1020. Bob had offered to leave his radio on
longer for a checkin so I found he was there offering
encouraging words that the winds should be settling
down soon and the temp rising. Though I knew this,
it was good to hear and release some of the pent
up ‘story’ wallowing in my mind and to get some
sympathy. I am tempted to call my self a ‘woman’
in that need, but I dare say that any man who had
the nights of late that i had had would also be
anxious to tell the tale and have an ear to listen.
Then I bend your ears too. I am spoiled. I keep
hoping that I have come through the last southern
ocean gale and that life will ‘settle’ into a more
moderate routine. Maybe now. Truly, to leave this
Southern Ocean is a real time of reflection for
me. My entrance was just before the big ‘Cape
Hope Storm’. I was still deep in another space
of fighting off anger and the long history Ihad
been replaying in my mind. It was these last 6
months on the southern ocean that broke the spell,
the chains, the anger, the hopelessness that seemed
always to hold me. I first sang ‘Peace still the
raging storm” and peace was there. It has remained.
Even in my frustration these last 2 weeks of gales,
I never had the hopeless paradym return. Now deep
happiness is so near my surface that it finds its
way to the surface quite quickly. The pain in my
back may take a while to heal. Life is grand!!!
I need rest. I need sail. The wind is lulling.

The previous day (Tuesday) was stressful just to read, and I can’t imagine what the ride was like. Gulp.

Feb 6,2007 Tuesday

This last 24 hours has been very interesting.
Crazy breakages, repairs, as if everything, me,
the gear, the boat, the weather is tired and ready
for the change to a new sea. I have been spending
some time on deck in the warmer temps, just being
with this southern ocean sea. We have had an incredible
experience together. I should say, she has allowed
me an incredible experience in her presence and
I am so changed and utterly grateful for the privilege
of the journey. But we are all tired.

I have to admit that I totally gave up trying
to sail this storm and just let it sail me. I relented.
Accepted the winds coming directly from my course,
on the nose, for36 hours, 20-30kn. Those of you
who were with me when i crossed the north atlantic,
going SE againt the NE tradewinds and current,
tacking N on the SE winds, S on the Ne to try to
make the easting across the current and against
the seas. I averaged 2-3kn for literally weeks,
tacking across 35N 5 times. It was actually the
reprieve of the extratropical storms that came
from the SW that brought the westerly winds that
got me across, down and then to the west of the
Cape Verdes, to arrive in calmed winds right on
Christmas Eve, as I had 2 years before. Today,
I knew it was only to be 36 hours of NE winds and
it just wasn’t worth the trauma to boat or me to
try to close haul it and drive the boat closer
to course.

The day disappeared into the crashing of seas,
occasional flight of some container or souvenir
that finally let go after hours of being tossed
in its place. I was content to have the grib file
and forecast from Bob. It was too rough and the
tack meant i had the lee board up. nothing would
stay on the bed. It was too rough to fuss with
faxes. I was tired. I hadn’t eaten much al day
and couldn’t bring myself to try to cook a soup.
I nibbled some cheese.

In a way she has recovered as she wrote the above log entry … you’ll get the point in this longer narrative called the “Sinking Story.” Oh the challenges of solo managing a small boat on a large ocean … Donna is an impressive lady.

It was sunset, 0800orso when i realized that
there was an edge of water up along the salon floor,
port side. i was taking on water somewhere. it
had appeared to fast. First thought, the bilge
may be too full. we are taking ocean fulls of
water over the port deck with each wave. Water
was finding its way through the lazarette and ????
it just does. I flipped the bilge pump switch.
Sure enough the water seemed to receed. I sponged
up the left water out of the locker, moving cans
and jars out of the way. But I had noticed that
the water was also bubbling up farther forward
at the corner of the floor where the teak edging
was long gone. Water was coming from farther forward.
For whatever intuition, i decided to take a look
in the bilge. How much water was coming in? First
thought was the stuffing box on the transmission.
I had run the engine earlier. Had it leaked more
than usual? Did it need tightening. Sure enough,
it was dripping a good amount. I grabbed at the
big lock nut and opened it easiley. I could tighten
the big nut by hand a bit but it was still leaking.
I went for the small pipe wrench Ptarmi found for
me that just works for this nut.; it is a tight
spot. I managed to get a half a turn, enough to
stop the dripping. I emptied the bilge again?
But,there was still a good amount of water filling
the bilge again. I emptied it and watched the water
rush back into the bilge. The very stern of the
bilge is a small area, filling quickly, then the
bilge opens up to a larger area which would not
show the rise so quickly. but even there, i could
visibly see the water level rise. I had water.
I could be in trouble. That sick feeling came bubbling
up in my stomach. I had to move all the mounds
of accessible ‘stuff’ from the head area so I could
see under the floor. How far forward was the problem.?
MY mind is visualizing every space. Seacocks.
They are old and I have rechecked the hose clamps
but didnt’ actually take them all apart in the
refit. I can’t be the deck hull. I have it all
exposed. I would see that kind of water. it has
to be below waterline. Seacocks. But they were
all closed. The head hasn’t been used since that
day before I bought II when i stepped on her into
2″of water and found that the head pump rubber
valve was rotted and allowed the water to come
back into the boat. since then, i put an additional
ball valve in that line. It is all closed. I was
pulling everything out of the head when I did a
double check of the deck hull joint behind the
head cupboard. no water. dry as a bone. Then i
thought of the little seacock, ball valve under
the sink for the shower sump which i have just
as a backup pump if the water ever got that high.
As I stooped to look into the area under the sink,
the ‘driest spot on the boat and where I store
all my power and large tools, it was dripping with
water. It was coming from above and not the cupboard.
The sink. Yes. As i moved the duffel of clothes
on the sink, it was full and overflowing with each
heel and pound into the waves. flooding. Alot of
water. The seacock must have somehow stopped working.
Yes scary. The sink seacock in the galley did the
same thing at the beginning of my sail from RI.
I could handle it the same way. I felt great relief
to have found the problem, I gathered a wooden
plug and screwdriver to take the hose off the bottom
of the sink and plug it, tightening the hose clamp,
adding a second one for security. I pulled on
the plug. it wouldn’t come out. Phew!! Sigh. I
go back to the bilge and flick the switch. the
bilge was quite full again. The water receeds,
but damn, there is still a flood of water coming
back into the bilge and it seems to be faster than
before. Where in the hell is the water coming
from? I had already replaced all the clothes,
bins of foods, storage of packs of electronic gear.
all back in the head area. I would have to pull
it out again and keep looking. There was some water
coming from the stern, but it was a small trickle.
The sea was still rushing along side the boat with
every wave. surely that was coming in from the
lazarette. It wasn’t a river. I turned to look
again. I just stared at the water. bent down and
got my head down trying to get a look farther back
in the bilge, nearly impossible, the engine hanging
over the top of the bilge area. The water was actually
rushing around down there. I grabbed the hose attached
to the bilge pump and lifted it out of the water.
I had just replaced the old check valve as I suspected
it was allowing the hose to lose it’s prime allowing
the water to flow back down the hose. The pump
always had to work hard to reprime the hose at
the initial pump of water. The valve was new though.
Yet, as I lifted the pump it was flowing with water.
I mean flowing. With the boat so heeled over and
plunging into the sea with each wave and move forward,
it was forcing water back into the out put hole
for the pump. EVen siphening water in. I grabbed
the pump out of the bilge, always covered with
grime no matter how i seem to try to keep the bilge
clean. The fresh repair of the check valve, the
new black tape all visible. I undid it all and
pulled the valve out, blew back through in the
direction in which it was suppose to be preventing
flow and sure enough, I could blow right through.
It must be dirty, something preventing it. As
I looked carefully at it I saw that it was a cheap
piece of plastic. Maybe even the petroleum based
diesel and oil had damaged it. I would be lost
if I couldn’t fix it. I washed it. poked at it.
over and over, it was still letting air by. I
just kept looking at it over and over. there was
a shiny area on the black seal. I washed it again
and again. Sitting on the floor, trying not to
sit in a wet spot. Near to midnight. I had suddenly
remembered the check in with Bob. it was 2345.
I switched on the radio and made a call out. no
answer. I must have just missed him. the check
in was at 2330. I was only 15min late, but he
and Kym must have had a quick weather check and
chat and turned right off. Shoot. I would catch
him in the morn. I was fine with the forecast I
had. building winds to 35kn on the nose by the
next night. 24 more hours of beating into the waves
and going no where I wanted to go. It didn’t matter.
I didn’t care. I was up to my ears in greasy pumps,
rusty tools and all my powertools were probably
lost. I wouldn’t be able to clean them well enough.
What a mess. I would have to drag them all out.
rusty as hell. the sink must have been spilling
water, but in smaller amounts a while as we weren’t
heeled this way so hard. All this, my energy sapped.
I hadn’t eaten. I was tired. My emotions raw as
I had been thinking on the past reading this book.
I had even spent a few hours writing my self. I
was calm. I washed the check valve one more time
and sure enough, the shiny bit moved. It was a
small piece of broken plastic that had gotten caught.
I got out the tweezers and was able to get it
out. I took a blow back into the valve and my breath
would not pass. I had fixed it. The bilge was
a dirty place. It was a risk. it could get clogged
again. It would only be critical when i was heeled
over like this. I would have to be leary of it.
Yet even tonight, i was exhausted and i needed
sleep. I got the pump back together and set it
down into the bilge. flicked the switch. listened
to it run. but the water wasn’t going out. Shit,
now what. I pulled it back up, took the out hose
off the pump, put the pump in my sink bucket with
water in it. turned on the pump. Water came barrelling
out of the pump back into the bucket. It wasn’t
the pump. something was hindering the water from
getting up the hose. I blew back into the hose.
there had been some resistance. I put the pump
back on the hose. back into the bilge. When I first
got this pump, I had like problems. It seemed
to have trouble initiating the movement of water
up the hose. to much friction in the hose? but
it finally would work. but this time it wasn;t.
i pulled it up again, took the hose off and blew
back again. tried again. no luck. one more time.
The story of my life. just try one more time, Donna.
Keep trying. This time I took a wire tie off the
hose that was keeping it out of the way of the
turning shaft cuppler which had chewed up the hose
once. I changed the angle of the hose and sure
enough the pump was able to prime the hose. i
secured it this way. Finally, I could put the engine
hold slats in place and get some rest. I had also
decided to start the engine earlier this day in
the calms before the storm. I had ended up finding
the new CAV filter full of water again. That is
twice in just 36hours of engine time. It had been
a long day. My hands, which i had commented to
myself as to how clean they were that morn, were
now a mechanics hands plus calloused like a sailor.
The wind was gusty but not really building, yet
suppose to increase. I decided to drop the main
and ensure I didn’t have to do any more sail changes
that night. I didn’t care if i fell off to the
west. I needed rest. At least I was heading out
of the storm. If i tacked, which was on my mind,
i would be sailing SE putting me back into the
stronger wind of the storm. I wasn’t moving that
fast anyway. I was hungry, but not going to cook.
I ate a quick cheese cracker and had a cup of
tea and crawled into my bed. It wasn’t that rough
as I had fallen off the wind some, let out . I
fell sleep. it was 0300 UTC. midnight. When I awoke
it was 0600UTC. the winds had not escalated. In
fact, they had calmed a bit. There wasn’t enough
sail up. I got up and hauled the main back up,let
out some jib and then took a look at the course.
I would tack and see how I lay on the port tack.
If I was too far SE, I would have to tack again.
But i was hoping it would work. It would be so
much more comfortable to take the lee board down.
The tack left me with a COG 100 or 110 though
with gusts it would come up to 070 nearly. i was
still under powered really, but again the wind
is suppose to build. I didn’t care. It would be
fine and later on the wind would back somewhat
to North, to NNW. I would have to tack eventually.
I climbed back into my bed. I fell asleep, again
underpowered and falling off my course some,but
it was comfortable. I was safe. I wouldn’t worry
about the bilge pump on this tack. The boat was
still dry. I tossed through my mind the events
of the night. 3 very substantial leaks all at
the same time. If the sink leak hadn’t got me
looking for water, I wouldn’t have found the problem
with the check valve and if I had gone to sleep
with that flooding the bilge, I could have woken
up ‘sinking’. I would have gotten the water under
control, but it would have been a trauma and more
difficult to find the problem. It would have taken
hours just to empty the boat. LIfe is amazing.
That is the 3rd time this old boat has been rescued
from sinkin. LIfe is good. All is as it should
be. I slept again and really, too long. I didn’t
wake up until 1230UTC. I had missed checking in
with Bob and the Patagonia net. Bob would be wondering.
in fact. i need to finish this story and post
this so bob knows i am ok. A really long story.
LIfe is lots of long stories.

All is well. Wind is still building but it is
all good. big hugs oxoxoxo d


Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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