Lessons Learned
The Trans-Atlantic Cruise in 2005 was another great experience.  Here are some lessons, in addition to those from the 2001 Bermuda Cruise, that I learned from this cruise.  Some of these lessons would appear obvious.  It's amazing how you can rationalize bad judgment in the face of conflicting priorities.  That's why we sailors will continue to make mistakes no matter the extent of our experience.  I will have truly learned these lessons if I avoid repetition, but I know there are many more lessons to learn.
Lesson What I Learned
Screw Pin Shackles During an extended ocean sail, you should expect that any and all screws will back out and constant checking and tightening is required.  In particular shackles with screw in pins are very vulnerable.  During this cruise I lost about five (5) D-Shackles when the pin backed out and the shackle came loose.  The pins in these shackles could not be easily secured with wire as there was no hole in the pins for the wire.  Even pins that were screwed close with a wrench managed to come loose.  I replaced the lost shackles with ones with a hole in the pin handle to allow them to be wired shut.  Here is the list of lost shackles:
  • Main sail clew (two shackles lost)
  • Main sail tack
  • Genoa tack
  • Mizzen clew
Using the Generator to Charge Batteries and Run Refrigeration Because of the age of the main engine on Sarah (27 years) I had planned to use the 4.5 KW generator for battery charging and refrigerator operation when under sail.  I expected this would both reduce the number of hours on the engine during the cruise and reduce fuel consumption.  Both of these expectations were achieved on this cruise, but not to the extent I had hoped.  Those shortcomings were due to design of the battery charger and AC refrigerator compressor installed on Sarah, and not the generator. 

The battery charger is a Xantrex 40 amp charger.  This unit was chosen because it is one of the few in the U.S. market that can work on both 50 and 60 hz power, a necessity for a North American boat cruising in European waters.  This is also a high-power charger, which I thought would quickly re-charge the batteries when the generator was running.  Unfortunately this charger is designed with long term connection to shore power in mind rather than short term operation with power from a generator.  It took a lot more generator running time to fully re-charge the Rolls 4D batteries than I expected.  Typically we ran the generator for about six (6) hours each day in three (3) intervals, once during mid-day and twice during the night watches (when battery power usage was the highest).  I had hoped to require no more than one 2-hour charge period to maintain battery power.  I expected the refrigeration to determine the minimum amount of generator run-time required each day. 

Even with this extended generator running, I still achieved significant fuel savings over what would have been required to maintain batteries and refrigeration using only the main engine.  However, I would still like to reduce the amount of generator time required.  This may require an additional 120VAC/60Hz charger that can produce the same rapid charge as a high-output alternator.  I'm not sure that product exists.

Because of the slow charge rate on the batteries, the refrigeration operation was rarely the factor that determined when the generator should be run.  By turning the thermostat control on the AC compressor to the maximum, both the freezer and refrigerator temperatures were maintained within the run-time required for battery charging.  However, if I am successful in reducing the amount of time required for battery charging, refrigerator operation may become the determining factor.  For AC operation I use the Sea Frost Shore Assist III compressor.  This works fine when connected to shore power, even with the marginal insulation on the ice box.  Sea Frost makes a larger compressor (BD-1000) which is designed to running under generator power and is a more powerful compressor.  That probably would have been a better choice for Sarah than the SA-III compressor.  Unfortunately the holding plate plumbing must be changed in order to replace the SA-III with the BD-1000.  So I will be staying with the SA-III for as long as the compressor still works.

SSB Weather Documents This was my first cruise with a HAM license and a SSB radio set up to retrieve weather documents.  Prior to departure, I spent a lot of time reviewing the documents available from the Winlink and SailDocs libaries and setting up a schedule of documents to be used during each leg of the trip.  As it turned out I attempted to use far too many documents than the SSB bandwidth can support.  On top of that my radio installation had a number of short comings that I was not able to effectively address until we got to the Azores.  The result was the creation of a large number of weather documents in my Winlink queue that I was not able to download.  Since Winlink sorts the output queues by document size and then by First In, First Out (FIFO), the most recent weather documents were at the end of the queue, and I spent much of my connect time downloading out-of-date documents.

The lesson-learned here is to request the minimum number of documents necessary.  For me this was finally reduced to one surface analysis chart, one GRIB file, and one narrative document per day.  This still required about 20 minutes of connect time.

For the return trip to the USA from Portugal I did develop a document retrieval strategy that was fairly effection.

Speed vs. Comfort I am sure if we had pushed the sail plan a little harder we could have completed each leg more quickly than we did.  Mike and I informally initiated a process by which we discussed the sail plan before the start of the night watches.  If either of us felt that a reef might be needed during the night we put it in while it was still light and didn't wait to see if it would be necessary.  This stood us well on several nights when the apparent wind increased to over 20 kts and we comfortable sailed through the night without having to go on deck in the dark to reef the main sail.  Conversely there were an equal number of nights that the wind never increased and we sailed most of the night in the high 4's and low 5's when we easily could have been doing 6's. 

For us the trade-off on speed vs. comfort was acceptable, and I would follow the same approach on future off-shore sails.  With just two persons in the crew it can be very tiring to interrupt your off-watch rest for a sail change.  For our entire trans-Atlantic trip, from the Bahamas to Portugal, we never had to bring the other on deck to help with sail changes during the night.  Now some of that was good planning and routing to avoid bad weather and more of it was just plain good luck, but it is an approach I will follow in the future.  We might have arrived at any of our destinations a half day or more sooner, but we didn't really care.  In any case we made respectable time on each of our legs.

This is a unique Lesson Learned - one that confirmed my course of action rather than changed it.