MAIDEN VOYAGE - TEKTRON 35E
CN Tower to Bermuda
by ALISTAIR WOOD
THE FIRST EUROPEAN specification Tektron 35E looked superb floating by the dock at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club as the delivery crew arrived in Canada for the start of an epic journey to the Mediterranean via the inland waterways to New York. Owned by Katamaran Konstructions GmbH, the Vienna based European agents, Tektron was to undergo the ultimate test: a Transatlantic passage en route for the La Rochelle Boat Show in September of this year.
With warnings of flash storms and 60 knot winds, the Shuttleworth-designed Tektron 35 slipped her mooring at the RHYC at 1340 on 3rd May and motored under the Burlington Lift Bridge onto Lake Ontario. A close reach NNW at 10-12 knots soon saw the CN Tower and the Toronto skyline looming out of the mist some thirty miles distant. Passing Toronto we bore of to broad reach across the Lake at up to 14 knots towards Oswego, over the horizon - some 160 miles away. Only then did the scale of the smallest of the Great Lakes sink in. At dawn we were becalmed and forced to resort to the Yamaha outboards while optimistically awaiting the winds we had been assured of in Hamilton. By mid afternoon the endless mirror became frosted by a light breeze, offering the first opportunity to hoist the asymmetric spinnaker. With the main hanging limply in sympathy, the yacht sliced through the clear waters so efficiently that at times we showed no wind on deck. The sun faded over the horizon together with our breeze so, once more, we resorted to outboard power towards the twin towers of the Oswego Power Station.
New York State Barge canal
After somewhat minimal US Customs formalities in Oswego, the mast was efficiently and swiftly stowed on deck and having been stranded there for a day due to lock repairs, Tektron left her mooring at 1340 on 6th of May. The initial flight of locks No 8-6 lift the Cabal up out of Oswego into beautiful countryside surrounded by dense woodlands. At Brewerton we refueled before emerging under the road bridge onto the shimmering expanse of Lake Oneida, the freedom of an expanse 21 by 5 miles was a welcome relief from the confines of the Canal. Leaving the Lake at Silven Beach we were soon into the long straight wall lined section of the Canal leading to the Mohawk River. With not even a lock to relieve the tedium, this is one section of the journey which soon faded from memory. At Little Falls the river widens, with small islands to pass at the entrance to lock No 17; with a lift (or drop, in our case) of 40.5ft, this is one of the highest vertical lift locks in the world and somewhat intimidating in a lightweight 35ft multihull.
The five locks of the Waterford Flight form the greatest series of high lift locks in the world, with a total lift of 169ft - a great feat of engineering. One after another one enters and slowly descends a 10m-deep damp, cool chamber, while the doors behind creak under the relentless pressure of the Mohawk. Emerging into Waterford there is a sense of relief - after 30 locks you are at last running a steady current on the famous Hudson River with just the Troy US lock (and about 140 miles) between you and New York City. By dawn we were south of Kingston and in early morning light the Hudson is truly majestic. Flanked by high banks with dense, mature trees, the river rolls irreversible towards the sea past fantastic riverside homes. Gradually, the onset of civilisation (or is it decline?) is signaled by ever higher bridges, larger barges and sprawling towns.
George Washington Bridge, New York
At around 1830 the George Washington Bridge emerged from the mist followed by an indistinct, but unmistakable skyline. No matter how one tries to convince oneself that this is just another city, there is something undeniably special about New York. Viewed from the river the scale of the city skyline is breathtaking. As we passed the Empire State Building, the distant, but familiar sight of the Statue of Liberty appeared in the gloom, finally signaling the end of that stage of our trip. Soon after 2200 Tektron slipped into the North Cove Marina - just one week and nine hours after leaving Hamilton, dropped 419ft throughout thirty locks - and rested at her mooring while crew prepared for the next part of the adventure.
With dawn breaking over Manhattan Island we quietly left and after a two hour trip across the Bay we arrived at Lockwood Harbour where the mast was swiftly, albeit expensively, restepped. Again at dawn, on 13th May we left Lockwood and headed out into a fog-bound Rariton Bay. Main and jib set, we cut the engines despite the almost flat calm and relished the silence. As Tektron ghosted around Sandy Hook into one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in dense fog, we were surrounded by the dull resonance of foghorns and the alarming rumble ships engines. Having initially headed east to clear the coast we turned southwest and gradually picked up a light breeze which saw us a mere 85 miles from New York at the end of Day #1. Tuesday brought a pleasant breeze, although were still averaging only 6 knots with the spinnaker. As evening set in the wind died, leaving a depressed crew struggling to maintain boat speed during the night. Perhaps as a result of (or, in spite of) our curses, the wind started to build and veer to the north east - our desired heading.
The wind increased during the next day and we found ourselves beating into increasing waves: as we entered the Gulf Stream the water temperature soared to 20°C. With a strengthening wind over current generating short, steep seas, we took in the first reef early in the morning. This was done early, at about 20 knots apparent, both for our comfort and to reduce the load on the boat which charged on, seemingly unconcerned. In these conditions a heavily laden 35ft cruiser/racer cat is going to offer a wet ride which, while exhilarating, is not conducive to crew comfort. By late evening the conditions had further deteriorated and the second reef was taken. Over the steep waves Tektron would occasionally pitch heavily, although with a minimum of deceleration when the crossbeam buried , with a rapid recovery to a level state due to the vast reserves of buoyancy.
At midnight I was once again called on deck to shorten sails - to be greeted by mountainous seas and howling winds. With a third reef in the main and a reefed jib, boat speed dropped and the ride became considerably smoother, but, with the weather steadily deteriorating the order to drop all sails soon came. With the air full of driving spray we found ourselves sailing in winds of up to F10 under just the wingmast. The boat's behaviour in these conditions was a revelation - we could beam reach at 4-6 knots and close reach at 1.5 to maintain steerage. As none of the crew had previous offshore experience with wingmasts we were all delighted at the calm that descended as we heaved to. With the mast and helm hard over and the daggerboard fully retracted, the 35 settled at an angle of 20-40° off the wind and rode the waves beautifully. If we were pushed back by a large wave, the wing would immediately power us back up. After twelve hours beating into heavy seas it was a great relief to be able to stop the boat, enjoy a hot meal, and re-stow the equipment which was strewn around the hulls. To run 'anchor watches' in storm conditions 500 miles from shore was a strange feeling, but it allowed the crew the first good sleep for several days. The weather raged all through Sunday, but by mid-day Monday it had abated and we awoke to bright sunshine, a light north-westerly and smooth swells. Replacing a damaged halyard at the masthead soon changed two battered crew-members' opinions about the 'smooth swells'.
Locking into the canal
After an afternoon of tidying up the boat and enjoying a swim (in only 4-mile deep water!) we took stock of our position: having drifted south west while heaved to, we were some 1,500 miles from the Azores but only 300 miles from Bermuda. As the wind started to build it swung back to the north east prompting the decision to head towards Bermuda rather than inflicting the discomfort of beating up the Gulf Stream upon ourselves once again.
We set sail with a double reefed main and reefed jib, enjoying a fast broad reach under blue skies, grateful of the reminder of why we go sailing. As conditions improved we carried one reef with bursts of up to 16 knots. By Tuesday evening the wind was rising dramatically again and we found ourselves rapidly changing down through the reefs during the night. By 1000 under just a reefed jib we were making a steady 10-14 knots and surfing to 17. By mid-afternoon, with the log showing a steady 15 knots, the last sail was dropped and we again enjoyed the relative peace and security of heaving-to with the mast. Rather than attempting to approach the treacherous reefs around Bermuda in near gale conditions, we stood off safely to the west to await an improvement. The severity of the weather was brought home to us when an American cruise ship appeared half a mile away through the driving spray: she had been forced to turn away from Bermuda and we watched them taking waves over the foredeck as the props came clear - a sobering sight - but we savoured the relative comfort of our stable platform. The radio operator was somewhat shocked to receive our call but informed us of 70 knot winds and 6m waves with no likely improvement for twelve hours. It was disturbing to think that despite our radar reflector, their electronics, that the ship was totally unaware of our presence.
As the winds abated during the next afternoon, a brief attempt to sail under a reefed jib was greeted by a return to F9 and again we heaved-to with the islands of Bermuda a tantalising 25 miles distant. By early afternoon on Friday, a frustrated crew hoisted the reefed jib yet again and we set a course towards St George's Harbour. By mid afternoon we had built up to full sail and, with brightening skies, had our first sight of land at 1800. With the distant sound of a hot shower ringing in our ears we drove on, enjoying a fine sail. Having received dire warnings of the Bermudian reefs and the danger of approaching St George's at night, we were welcomed by the recently improved channel lights and the reassuring advice of the Harbour Radio operator, who, well used to exhausted yachtsmen, guided us through the maze of anchored boats to the Customs Dock where a relieved crew landed at 0100 on 23rd May.
Considering the sea states and wind strengths which we encountered, Tektron showed remarkable sea-keeping qualities and is a credit to her designer, John Shuttleworth. While a 35ft cruiser/racer would not be many cruising sailor's first choice for an Atlantic crossing, she handled extreme conditions without once giving the crew concerns over their safety. The ride was, at times, extremely wet, with large volumes of green water sweeping across the deck but, the weather always overwhelmed the crew long before Tektron showed any signs of struggling. On the few fine days we experienced she showed fantastic performance and handling for a spacious six berth cruiser - and left the crew looking forward to the remainder of the passage. It couldn't possibly be SO rough again - COULD IT?
[To be continued]