Joe Harris completed his solo circumnavigation at 08:27:48 EDT, Thursday May 5, 2016 off of Castle Hill in Newport, RI. Total time at sea excluding 2 stops for repairs: 152 days, 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 24 seconds. We are processing photos from his arrival but the first set can be seen on Facebook >.(View all/old updates on Facebook >)
Where do I pick up the story? I think in my last transmission Gryphon Solo was locked in mortal combat with Artforms as we struggled to get around the notorious Cape Sable at the Southern tip of Nova Scotia before the tide turned against us and flushed us up the Bay of Fundy. The lead had already changed hands between Artforms and Gryphon Solo a half-dozen times as we match raced and each boat enjoyed a slight advantage at various times in the variable wind conditions. The wind was very fluky, we would get going well and then it would just shut off, causing the boat to wallow around until a new breeze would fill in and get us going. We had one squall come through where it rained very hard and the wind went through three 360' degree swings so we essentially drove the boat in circles without trimming the sails or tacking!! As we were in thick fog, it was easy to get disoriented and Brian and I had some funny discussions where we would each point in the opposite direction claiming that was our Eastward course!
We finally crept around the corner but were very close in to shore where the currents are strongest. When the tide was going out, it pushed us around the corner at nearly four knots! However, with a wind shift in to the north, we found ourselves at midnight Tuesday right off Cape Sable, inside Brazil Rock and ghosting along in about 7 knots of breeze. We were in the swirling current listening to the mournful foghorn from the Cape Sable Light House blowing its ominous message to mariners. It was eerie, spookie, and creepie. We were sure the wind was going to shut off and we would be left tide-bound, very close to the rocky shore. Luckily, the wind held and we cruised through the passage and up the shoreline under our Code Zero light air sail. I don't plan on rounding Cape Sable in that manner again any time soon!
We were neck and neck with Artforms as we separated just North of the Cape and then we lost them during the night. We were concerned they had taken another route and might have snuck ahead, but when dawn came, they were just to leeward of us, about dead even! The wind had come forward a bit so we were now going dead upwind with about 80 miles to the finish line. I knew from my Transat Race experience that Artforms was very quick to windward and I was concerned that we were about to get dusted. However, in the flat water and utilizing our new dagger boards, we stayed even for the next 40 miles. At that point, the wind kicked up to about 20 knots and the seas became very lumpy and Gryphon Solo began "pancaking" or smashing down hard on the waves that slowed the boat dramatically. We added water ballast to the forward port tank that helped. However, Artforms seemed to be handling the conditions better and legged out, sailed a higher course and a bit faster, on us over the last 30 miles.
As we rounded Chebucto Head at the entrance to Halifax Harbor and headed for the finish line, we were behind Artforms by about three miles and while we closed the gap a bit on the last tack in, we finished behind them by about a half hour at around 3:00 PM East Coast time yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, it was very frustrating to have come so close, trading the lead 7 times, and then lost out as the lumpy, upwind conditions on the last part of the race really favored Artforms. On the positive side, we saw that Gryphon Solo is very fast in certain conditions, faster than Artforms, and that is very encouraging for future races. We learned how important the sail inventory is in the variable wind conditions and that we need to add a spinnaker for sailing dead downwind. We also have to work harder on improving upwind performance, as that is our Achilles heel right now.
All in all, it was a great race with some tremendous match racing against Artforms. Neither boat did well on corrected time against the fully crewed 80' maxi yachts in our class, but that was somewhat expected in these conditions. The Open Class boats are really designed for heavy air, open ocean reaching conditions, which is very different from the designs of the maxis, which are optimized for windward-leeward buoy racing.
So, the next race up is the Monhegan Island Race that starts out of Portland, Maine on Saturday August 13th. After that the boat will go into the yard for a re-fit before we do the delivery across the Atlantic in early September for the Transat Jacques Vabre race from France to Brazil in November. I feel I am making continuous progress on getting to know the boat and how to get the most out of her. I look forward to the long ocean passage of the Transat Jacques Vabre allow Gryphon Solo to show her best stuff. By the time the 5-Oceans comes around in November of next year, we should have boat and skipper fully optimized for peak performance!
Fair winds to all,