After a lot of consideration, and based on my goals for this project I’ve decided to purchase Russell Brown’s personal boat, the lovely and proven ocean proa, Jzerro. Some of this is in part my own aversion to boat building, as I really consider myself a sailor and boat de-bugger first. I have lots of successes and failures in both categories, so feel I know my bearings there. However, I have had no successes or failures on launching a prototype hull#1 as skipper, and clearing the slate of those features will allow me to go down a path I’m far more familiar with. The other factor I like about Jzerro, besides the very high build quality, is the fact that she’s four feet longer than the 32′. I’ve seen this over and over with offshore boats, where more mass equals more ability to deal with waves. Being fast in flat water is a great feature, but once offshore, you are always dealing with a sea state in combination with the wind. Waves slow boats down. Upwind, reaching, and even downwind in many cases, the larger you are in proportion to the wave allows you more margin to play with and demands less of the autopilot. So bigger is better, even though in the world of ocean racing we are still firmly on the small side. But, that is the nature of this project, and a role I am comfortable negotiating.
I took delivery of Jzerro on the 25th when Russell and I arrived in San Francisco Bay after an easy and quick delivery from Port Townsend, WA in 3-15 knots of wind. Having sailed with him weeks earlier I knew I would only feel better about the boat as I gained experience under his guidance, and by the end of the trip was happy to sail her on my own terms and loved seeing her gobble up miles at 10-15 knots under spinnaker. Having Russell on board was the key to this handoff. It wouldn’t have felt grounded for me to sail off without him onboard for the first passage. I couldn’t have asked for a better host or “in-law” for this part of my project.
I came away with a work list for the boat that I want to have finished by my departure from San Francisco in
December, where I’m sailing Jzerro from SF to Panama for my first solo passage on the boat. The big items for Jzerro as I see them are more sophisticated downwind sails and a full NKE instrument and autopilot package. Since Jzerro has only been a high-speed cruising boat, her only downwind sails are a cut down J/105 spinnaker from 100 years ago and a big fat white spinnaker I had cut down to fit a mini, which I used in the 2007 Bermuda 1-2 race. These sails (especially the white one) are not designed for boats as fast as Jzerro, as she accelerates much more quickly than the sails can handle and collapse once the boat starts surfing at all. It’s too much to ask of an autopilot to steer out of those situations, and we definitely need some flatter spinnakers for high apparent wind sailing. To put it in perspective: Jzerro averaged 11 knots downwind in 13 knots of wind during our trip. That roughly means slowing to 8 knots in the back of waves and accelerating over 16 knots down waves. We need something different hanging off of the bow to deal with those apparent wind issues and I have some ideas for sure.
All of this means, I’ll have a busy two months leading up to my departure, not including the Pensacola to Havana Race which I’m co-skippering with Gulf Coast Bank president and 2oceans1rock.org sponsor, Guy Williams.
I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead of me and am very eager to see how a boat like Jzerro and a sailor like myself respond to each other’s demands. This is the forming of a new relationship in a very unexplored region of performance singlehanded passage making, as there is very little data on using pacific proas in the way that I’m planning. Hopefully I can do the concept justice.