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Logs & Stories - May 2005 - Part 1
Eastern Pacific Crossing
The following updates were received via SSB email
Sunday, May 1, 2005 - Day 7
At 4 p.m. mountain time, we were at 12 30 N 115 W.
We jibed onto port tack today around 1:30, now heading due south, so we can avoid Ville de Toulouse Rock, a particularly remote high spot on the ocean floor found in 1871 by a boat with a 25-foot draft. We're also aiming at the Doldrums, now called the ITCZ (the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone), at the eastern end of what is reasonable to maintain the option of entering French Polynesia in either the Marquesas or Gambier Islands.
The dolphins came back to visit us this afternoon, some of them leaping and spinning in the air.
Monday, May 2, 2005 - Day 8
Right now, we're at 10 25 N, 115 23 W and still heading south, more or less.
This morning, after the Amigo Net we tried to ask Don (the weather guy) for the best place to cross the ITCZ if we were planning on going to the Gambiers instead of the Marquesas. We've seen an analysis Don had written stating the best place to cross the equator on a transit to the Marquesas is around W130. Since the Gambiers are further east and south, further into the SE trades, we were imagining that crossing the equator further east had merit. One of the weather complications, though, is that the ITCZ (and it's challenges with squalls and light, shifty winds) expands northward and southward as one gets closer to W120 or W115, where we are now. He seemed to say (over the SSB radio interference of two Asian-language conversations; it was hard to hear) to head south now instead of later. In addition, at that time, the every-six-hours ITCZ Forecast from the National Weather Service had a hole with no convection (thunderstorms) in it between 114 and 118 west, due south of where we are now. In their latest forecast, though, they went from no convection to a 480 mile-wide strip of convection between 110 W and 126 W. Of course, it could shrink just as fast, but going from having potential squalls several days away to suddenly having them maybe tomorrow is a bit unsettling.
Nothing else new, though. Mostly, we roll along in 12-16 knots of breeze with the vane doing all the steering. We haven't seen a radar target since the first night out, only changed tacks once, and haven't had too much or too little wind --- yet! It's kind of scary, because I know I'm getting lulled into letting my guard down after over a week of this.
Tuesday, May 3, 2005 - Day 9
We've had grey skies and some rain but no squalls. We could see a few flashes of lightning very far away last night (put the PC and the handheld devices in the oven!). Another booby came and sat on our boat for a few hours, but eventually he was chased away (they're not boat-trained, to say the least). The wind has been down a bit this afternoon, so the boat's motion isn't quite as challenging as it has been. I'm not quite sure what it will be like, those first few steps on land...
We're nearing the Doldrums.
It's Tuesday now, and we left La Cruz eight days ago, on a Monday. Eight very nice days, mind you; arguably among the best days of my life. As Garylee Johnson has said, "This can't be any better, only different."
We'd been in Banderas Bay, mostly at La Cruz, for about two months working on final preparations and projects in anticipation of the eastern Pacific transit we're making now. Karryn focused mostly on buying things in town - food, supplies, marine parts, and so on - I focused on finishing up the myriad of little projects that scatter parts and tools around the boat.
Things had come together for us during the last weekend in the anchorage - we'd gotten all the have-to projects done, the boat was fully stocked, we'd put away the tools, gotten out the navigation and safety gear, and reached closure with a few friends we'd connected with on the beach.
We'd been tuned into the offshore weather reporting cycle for about a week, looking for a good opportunity to make our exit from Mexico. A passage to the South Pacific involves four distinct phases - 1) the initial 400-mile passage from Mexico to the NE trade winds, 2) a second segment of about equal distance in the relatively consistent NE trade winds, 3) a third segment, again around 400 miles, through the infamous doldrums (a.k.a. 'the ITCZ'), and 4) a final leg in the SE trade winds, the longest segment at around 1500 miles. (The numbers are a little different if you know you're going straight to the Marquesas Islands.)
The Pacific weather system is, in essence, two huge, ocean-wide spirals, one in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern, that butt up along the equator. Since the two spirals go in the same direction at the equator, the northern hemisphere portion has winds cycling clockwise -- easterly (that is, from the east) at the bottom, southerly on the western edge, westerly along the top and northerly along the eastern side next to the US and Mexico. The southern hemisphere portion operates in similar fashion, except everything is counter-clockwise.
The winds in areas where weather is primarily dominated by these huge spirals are called trade winds, because the reliability of the winds there in terms of direction and strength made it economically more attractive to follow these routes as our planet developed the global transportation network in the 19th century - the name 'trade wind', I believe, is in reference to the development of trade routes.
From a mechanical point of view, it's easiest to go from Point A to Point B if the wind is 1) from behind you (downwind), 2) doesn't stop (leaving you adrift until it returns), and 3) doesn't get so strong it generates scary environmental forces. The 'downwind' thing is a big deal. Because it's hard to go upwind in a sailboat - you can generally only go about 45-degrees from the direction of the wind, and the added impact of the waves pushing against the boat is substantial, especially as the wind blows harder. The trade wind routes developed two centuries ago took this into consideration, creating the awareness that, while a trip from Santa Rosalia (in Baja, a mining town built from Pacific Northwest lumber) to Seattle might present a long, ugly upwind bash, an intermediate trip to Hawaii would turn the whole affair into a downwind sleigh ride with the added attraction of shore leave in island paradise. More miles though the water, but each mile pleasant instead of upwind, bouncing misery.
Unlike the trade winds, the initial segment through Mexican coastal weather can have quite a bit of variation - for example, during this time of year, the wind could be nonexistent, southerly, westerly or northerly. Since our path of travel is to the southwest, southerlies and westerlies mean an uncomfortable, slow slog into the wind.
So, there we were, sitting in La Cruz' rolly anchorage, just having finished things up, and the wind filled out of the north, just perfect for pushing us off the Mexican mainland out to the NE trade wind belt. Just after hearing the morning weather report on April 25, we pulled up the anchor and in the morning calm motored out to the mouth of Banderas Bay, and raised the sails a couple of hours after noon.
They've been up ever since, rarely being adjusted. We only jibed once (turned the boat through a 90-degree arc, away from the wind, and pulled the sails to the opposite side of the boat). Continually using the same two sails, our speed through the water has varied between about 3.8 knots and about 7.4; comfortable speeds. None of the challenges of getting the boat moving again after the wind has shut off, none of the nervousness that comes from too much speed and power.
The wind direction has been amazing, too. Basically, we've been uneventfully, comfortably, lazily reaching for eight days, the wind direction indicator always aft of the beam allowing the waves to push us along, too. Reeling off about 120 miles a day, a five-knot average, the boat, the sails, the wind vane handling nearly everything in a world of surprising calmness. Sailing at its most blissful.
The dynamics among the crew have been pretty good, too. On a functional level, the kids are primarily accountable for watches and dishes during the day, managing to hang out in the cockpit much of the day and work at their studies while watching for freighters and weather changes. Karryn and I have been splitting the night watches.
On an emotional level, I'm in the zone of 'how could this possibly be any better?' Karryn, Jackson and Naomi are absolutely wonderful to be around 24x7. Lots of wonderful stuff, minimal friction.
The initial days brought the typical "setting out" challenges. I rarely get motion sickness, but the first couple of days of our earlier passages typically brought some queasiness for Karryn and the kids, with our typical response to send me below for cooking, cleaning and chart work, leaving Karryn and the kids on the deck to monitor Seafire's progress, calling me up as circumstances warrant.
This passage began like any other, with me down below, putting things away (a larger job this time, due to the expected duration of the trip), passing up food (more than normal this time, because of all or time adjusting to the sea's motion in the rolly La Cruz anchorage!), plotting our progress. After a few days of busy-ness, I'd gotten most of the have-to's taken care of, and Karryn and the kids were still doing wonderfully in the cockpit, so I plopped my butt down in the sterncastle and restfully peered out the window. Two thoughts rolled in: 1- Nice view. 2 - Time for a vacation.
I'll bet I've spent the vast majority of my discretionary time over the past week simply staring out the windows of our sterncastle, relaxing and trying to digest what it is I'm seeing.
The experience has quite the sensation. We'd returned to Mexico in early October with an extensive list of work to do and things to buy. This process had pretty much kept us uncomfortably busy for six and a half months without much vacationing, a couple of extra-busy days as we began this passage, and -suddenly- I'm sittin' on my butt, looking out the window, thinking, "What do I see?"
I've been pondering how to express this, what I see, 'cause it sure as hell isn't much like what you see out your window. I have this belief that if you were suddenly Zapped! into my world, suddenly sitting here next to me as I write this, looking out the window as the liquid world pulses and thrusts, you'd completely freak out. I mean it. I keep thinking things like, "Hey, what if I was an Iowan farm boy living in the nineteenth century, somebody who hasn't even seen a photo of the ocean, and suddenly I found myself on Seafire's deck, what would I do?" Ha! Like I don't know the answer: I'd wet my pants.
So, I've been working on this, pondering how I might most accurately and completely describe the sensation of being here, and I'm a little challenged. It's really amazingly different from being on land, or even being on a boat anchored in a rolly anchorage, as we were in La Cruz.
Do you ever have experiences where there are multiple significant things going on, multiple sensations? And of these various sensations, some strike you in an overt way, as if to say, "Hey, look at me!" Others are subtler, not consciously noticeable until their sensation becomes overwhelming or you discover it by looking within yourself and asking, "Why am I feeling this way?"
The overt sensation here is visual. Looking out my window as I write this, my eyes are bathed in blue grandeur, the edge between sea and sky. In the bouncing middle of my window's image there is a squiggly, pulsing line delimiting dark blue from light. The dark blue in the lower image is the sea, constantly pulsing, throbbing, moving, changing. An endless array of random bumps, a visual image presented for just a moment, then immediately, fluidly into an image that looks a whole lot like on the one before.
The light blue sky image moves as slowly as the sea image does fast, polar opposites it seems. Because of our benign winds, you have to look at the sky for a long time to see the motion in it. At the horizon line, right next to the throbbing dark blue, is an image of softness, clouds in their various forms, stretching out forever everywhere, bits of fluffy white cotton, anvils alternating bright white above and dark grays below, thin bands parallel to the line of the sea. Above that, the sky ascends into deepening blueness as one's eye climbs, the blueness broken up occasionally by sparse images of white and gray.
The subtle sensation is more challenging to identify. You notice it gradually, your awareness of it increasing with time. Initially, it doesn't register completely, but at some point you notice how long it takes to do the simplest of tasks. Making a cup of coffee, getting a bucket of water, going to the transom to check the wind vane, clearing the table or cockpit after dinner. After the first few days of merely assuming you were progressively acclimatizing to the sea environment, you then start getting frustrated with how slowly you're moving around and getting things done, so you start doing stupid things like carrying two cups of hot liquid at the same time, or, in a hurried state, you place a bowl of soup a little too close to the edge of the counter.
Amazingly enough, all that movement in the sea, the pulsing of the waves, the little ones, the big ones, the ones from the left, the ones from behind, the ones that SLAP! against the transom and make the boat slew around, and conspire to make Seafire feel like it's sitting on huge Thorazine-doped mechanical bull: the sea's random motion becomes a convulsing, spastic sensation in my body. There you are, just minding your own business, and suddenly your head lunges forward. You're standing next the galley counter, and suddenly your hip smashes into it. You're walking through the cabin, and suddenly your body bounces off the main strength bulkhead. The little spaces around the boat, the ones that used to make you claustrophobic, now provide comfort, easily enabling you to maintain at least three points of physical contact. You make lifestyle adjustments, spend more time sitting and reading, delay any work on the masthead until you're next at anchor.
I don't know that I could describe to you all the sensations I feel as I'm writing this, the image out the window, now gray under slightly overcast skies, the bob of my body in rhythm with the motion of the boat, the music playing in the background, Karryn in the galley, the kids on watch in the cockpit, but, you know, on the whole it's pretty dang pleasant.
I am, at this moment, fairly comfortable with the circumstance.
The first part of the trip, getting from Mexico to the trade winds, was really straightforward. The wind filled, we put up the sails and sailed in a SW direction, the wind stayed at 10-15 knots out of the NW for five days. On the sixth day the wind shifted about sixty degrees to the NE, we jibed and have spent the last two days heading directly S in winds that have remained reliably, steadily, mercifully in the 10-15 knot range, Seafire languidly flowing through 120-mile days.
We're at a transition point now, though. We're approaching the doldrums, the low-pressure band of rising air spanning near the equator. In the explanation of the major oceanic weather systems I made earlier, I described how winds along the equator, at the surface level, tend to move east to west. There's another effect going on, too. Along the equatorial belt, where sunshine is plentiful, moist, warm air rises and begins a passage across 2000 miles of upper atmosphere, half moving northward, half moving southward, to the high-pressure zones at latitude 30-degrees. (The proper name for the doldrums is the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, a mouthful that's usually shortened to its acronym ITCZ.)
The rising warm air creates two challenges to the sailor. Firstly, while sailboats go pretty well in horizontally moving air, the trade winds for example, rising air can leave a boat with its position unchanged for quite some time. Not motionless, mind you; all the while you're bouncing around in the waves, your head bobbing, convulsions left and right as you pass through the galley on your way to the cockpit.
The location of the band of upward air isn't static. In the area we're in; it moves primarily in the six-hundred-mile zone between the equator and about 10-degrees N, sometimes narrow, sometimes wide, sometimes centered at the southern extremity, other times at the northern, moving, expanding, contracting. The National Weather Service gives updates of the doldrums' location and behavior every six hours. We're headed south now, and we've been monitoring the zone we're about to cross through. In one report we got early yesterday, it was at 5-degrees N, in the next, six hours later, it was at 9-degrees, 240 miles closer to us. Most sailboats move about as fast as we are now; you can imagine a circumstance where a slowly moving yacht just happens to be wherever God places the doldrums over a series of connected moments that culminate in several weeks' experience, all as the ship's resources -- food, water, fuel -- collectively become limited, as the boat bounces, bounces, bounces. Might cause a little discomfort, huh? It can get worse, too: what if you don't like the folks you're with?
Okay, now onto the second challenge that warm rising air presents for the sailor: thunder squalls. Lightning. Forty-knot winds. Horizontal rain.
Back in Baja, we went through a series of storms called "Chubascos". In the first, we got hit by lightning. In the next five, I was alone anchored in Bahia San Carlos while Karryn and the kids visited Maine. In the first one, when we got hit, there were only a couple of jolts, no big deal, and we were unlucky enough to get hit by one of them. Winds were maybe in the 30's. Fairly high on the oh-shit-meter (due to the electronics damage), fairly low on the terror-meter (the worst of it was over in a heartbeat).
The other five, all by my little lonesome as I was anchored in Bahia San Carlos, were quite another experience, blazing skies as arcs of electricity rained down in more shapes and variations than I'd have imagined possible, blasts of air moving at up to 80-knots for just seconds, long enough to turn the aquatic world around me white under the flashing illumination of the sky, hard enough that I believed I could be blown off the deck. Each experience lasted around five or six hours, typically in the middle of the night when the visibility of the lightning flashes were particularly vivid as the storms approached in the darkness.
And now we're about to sail into a squall zone. Because of the lightning experiences two years ago, we're a bit overly sensitive about thunderstorms. A doldrums squall probably isn't nearly as a bad at a Chubasco, though. When I made this transit with my family aboard Sorceress, thirty-five years ago, we spent two weeks in the doldrums, and I don't remember any of it being scary. A little tense, maybe, focusing your mind on preparedness and anticipation, but not fear. The various weather resources we have say that these squalls should last about half an hour and have winds of no more than 40 knots.
Wednesday, May 4, 2005 - Day 10
Our noon position was 07 28 N, 116 05 W.
At the moment (4 in the afternoon), it's a lovely day, lots of sunshine and a few rain clouds. We're going a bit too slow at the moment, maybe 2-3 knots, but that's ok -- this morning, right ahead of a squall, I was on watch when the boat surfed to 10.2 knots. The wind had shifted east, but the main swell was still coming from behind and we caught a few big ones.
We did experience our first squalls last night, but so far we've only encountered ones with lots of rain, not lots of wind. The wind does increase a bit ahead of the squall and there's generally more wind on the upwind side (and sometimes none immediately downwind or in the middle). However, I would have to say the most wind we've seen was around 20 knots.
When the first ones starting showing up yesterday, I was nervous but relieved that our first ITCZ squall experience would be during the day. Of course, after Bill hanked on the smaller jib (it's still there, tied to the deck), nothing came close to us during the day. Instead, we experienced several during the night -- in fact, we rode with one for several hours, either in front of it, behind it or in it. Needless to say, the decks and sails are very clean. Twice I got Bill up while he was off-watch because a squall was about to overtake us and the wind was increasing; both times, the rain came in but only with a little extra burst of wind shortly before the rain got to us.
It's the first time we've both had to be up at the same time at night, which means we've been pretty spoiled. We need to catch up on sleep again, just in case there are more squalls tonight.
Thursday, May 5, 2005 - Day… 11?
Day 11 -- noon location 06 01 N 116 28 W.
I think. I'm doing the just-woke-up-from-a-nap-stupid thing right now, so excuse any trains of thought that obviously got derailed. Bill often asks me about the book I'm writing -- Blonde at Heart.
Our night watch schedule has evolved into something like this: dinner around 8, I crash for a nap right after while Bill is on with the kids, I wake up 1-2 hours later and put the kids to bed and Bill goes to sleep, Bill gets up 2-3 hours later and I crash for 3-4 hours, I get up between 3:30 and 4:30 and am on until morning (and usually don't sleep again until an afternoon nap, thus the stupid phase right now).
Last night, I came out to find the cockpit strewn with stuff -- boat cushions, pillows, camp mats, blankets, sleeping kids, etc. I put the kids to bed and began cleaning up everything else -- I don't like the clutter (particularly with the rain squalls) and have found that comfort (pillows, blankets) between radar checks, etc. can mean I fall asleep and don't wake up when the kitchen timer goes off. So I dress warmly enough and make sure I'm not too comfortably positioned.
Right as I was zipping up my foul weather jacket (pants already on), it was starting to sprinkle. About 60 seconds later, the big faucet in the sky opened up full blast and in around ten seconds I was soaked. Soaked as in I could not have been wetter had I been standing, fully dressed in my foulies, in a pool up to my neck, with someone pouring water on my head. After a watch spent wet, Bill got a dry cockpit (the skies had gradually been clearing), lots of stars to look at, etc. About ten minutes after my second watch started, it rained again!
I told him I felt it was unfair to give me the wet watches. Jackson is still miffed that the downpours only happen at night and he keeps missing out.
We had our first light-to-no-wind experience this morning, and it didn't last but a few hours. The wind has gradually filled in and shifted to SE, so it's possible we are already in the SE trades. We're hoping so but won't know for sure unless it lasts. Our destination depends on how much south is in the SE trades; the Gambiers if we get some more easterly winds, the Marquesas if it's all SE (sailing upwind on the ocean is sort of a constant amusement park ride experience). The pilot charts for the route we're on show that the winds are split pretty evenly between E and SE this time of year, so it's all up to the wind gods and goddesses.
It's now late morning, right around 11am and we're moving along slowly at about two and a half or three knots, headed due south in an easterly wind. Our location is N6-degrees W116-degrees. Ha! -- like that means something without any context.
So, here's the context: - We left La Cruz, about ten miles west of Puerto Vallarta, which is about six hundred miles due south of West Texas. - The location we're in now is due west of Colombia, due south of Las Vegas. - At this point, we believe we're headed to the Gambier Islands in far, far eastern French Polynesia, due west of northern Chile, due south of Juneau. I added the notion of "belief" there because the weather could dramatically impact our plans and make the Marquesas, a shorter and more downwind passage, more attractive. Very different places, I think, but more on that later.
Last night, compared to the night before, was uneventful. Our schedules were back to the normal pattern, and the weather was more settled. Yesterday afternoon the wind filled in from the east, and the horizon generally showed the cruddier weather behind us and nice, puffy, friendly looking clouds in front. Over the course of the day we'd gotten good about looking ahead at the largest clouds, those that can be seen from conceivably fifty miles away, and altering Seafire's course to avoid them. Sunset brought a number of active squalls behind us and clear skies ahead. Most of the night was uneventful, as gentle, easterly winds prevailed. My longest watch, from 1am to 5am, was particularly spectacular, the moonless, clear sky ablaze with stars.
Karryn's morning watch brought the big event of the last ten days: the wind shut off completely for a brief period of time. If this had happened at noon, we'd have dropped the sails and jumped in the water for a swim in the bright blue, ten-thousand foot deep water. As it was, though, it was about 6am, and the edge of a squall had moved in overhead, dropping rain on her in the darkness. She started the engine and moved us forward long enough to find a place where the rain disappeared and the wind filled.
This morning's sail has been extremely pleasant, easterly winds continuing, a few light squalls dispersed enough to make avoiding them simple. The wind over the past few days has shifted from NW to NE, and now continues the expected gradual shift to E and then SE characterized by the trade winds south of the equator. Among the various nautical tools at my disposal are a series of large maps called Pilot Charts, which show the probability of experiencing various winds (directions, strengths, probability of calms) in an array of 600-mile square zones going across the oceans. The area we just passed though has about twice the probability of experiencing a calm than the area we're just entering (10% and 5% respectively). As we move southward, the likelihood of getting a calm reduces to the 0-1% range. In an area known for becalming other boats for uncomfortable periods of time, we've been able to experience consistent winds light-to-moderate easterlies, briefly punctuated by moderate north-easterlies during the little squall activity we've seen. Geez... seems like when I was a kid, we spent two weeks dodging squalls, went swimming when the wind shut off.
It's completely possible we've had our experience with the doldrums, that the wind will gradually and uneventfully veer down to the SE.
I ain't complain', though. This is amazingly pleasant.
It's later in the day now, at the end of the day, really: around 7pm. We're close reaching in an seven or eight-knot southeasterly, making about 3.8 knots though the water. The anvil shapes in the sky have disappeared; all around us are friendly puffs of white. We're at latitude N5-degrees 30-minutes, far enough south that I can imagine that the SE trades may have lightly filled in. Are we out of the doldrums? Maybe so, but just a few days ago sequential six-hour weather reports jumped the band northward 250 miles in one hop. We're at the southern end of where they're most likely to show up, though, and the weather ahead looks pretty clear. The high, puffy clouds we're seeing on the horizon are further away than we can sail between now and sunrise.
Friday, May 6 - Day 12
No entry -- see subject of Day 13...
Saturday, May 7 - Day 13
Squalls, squalls, we're sick and tired of squalls...
The night before last, all day yesterday, a little bit last night and most of today we've either been trying to avoid them, deal with them, look out for them, clean up after them, worry about them... And we're all sick and tired of 'em! We've had windy ones, although probably not much over 25 in the gusts, mostly in the high teens or so (deck level, mind you, which is always lower than masthead wind speeds). Jackson finally got his experience with the downpours. He says now that he likes rain better when he's either at anchor or in a house. Me, too...
Our current position is 03 27 N 117 59 W (6 p.m. PDT). You'll notice that we've gone a long way west. This was not in the plan, but yesterday's squalls were all from the south, so it was either sail west or east. We went west. Today's squalls didn't send us quite so much west. Plus last night and today when the wind went light we motored or motorsailed due south. I really would like to see the end of the ITCZ, and so would the rest of the crew (which is why Bill decided being a sailing purist wasn't required, especially if it gets us south faster).
Sunday, May 8 - Day 14
|Last night we sailed SW under mostly clear skies with no squalls. This morning, it was apparent that we are in a different weather system -- little puffy trade wind clouds, 15-20 knots out of the SE but a bit bigger wave / swell combination than we were expecting. So it's still pretty difficult to get around. We're not that far past a beam reach, so every now and then a larger swell comes along and pushes the transom over and suddenly we start to scream along. The self-steering does a good job, though, so shortly we're back on course. However, it's still a tad boisterous for me, and I'm hoping for a bit less wind and smaller waves tomorrow. All in all, though, I would have to say that getting through the ITCZ was a pretty good Mother's Day present!||
Toward the end of crossing the ITCZ
We passed another sea turtle this morning, and there were dolphins playing around the boat shortly before sunrise (with phosphorescence!) Plus schools (flocks? flools?) of flying fish racing away from the boat. They can go quite far (hundreds of yards) and sometimes the wind picks them up 10-12 feet in the air.
Our noon position was 02 35 N 119 19 W. Unfortunately, the trades are a bit south of SE, so we're heading mostly SW or a bit W of SW. I'd really like to cross the equator and was hoping that tomorrow was the day, but it will be at least Tuesday if not Wednesday.
We're bopping along here in the SE trades, just cruisin' along at 5-6 knots in about 12 knots of wind. Our current location is at about N2 W119.
We're sailing with the staysail and the main alone. The wind and swells are up enough, now that we're in the trades, that the motion and stress levels on the boat are lowest if we're under-canvassed. Actually, we've generally been sailing with the working jib and the main, but got chicken yesterday afternoon when we were transiting a squall, took down the jib, put up the staysail, and we've just been truckin' along since.
We were thinking we might get out of the doldrums two days ago, but the next night and next day found us still amongst the columns of blackness. You know, during the whole time we were in the doldrums, I never felt threatened by the wind overpowering the boat; it never seemed to get over about twenty, and at that point we were either going downwind or, in one case, motoring upwind under main alone to avoid the face of a particularly nasty squall.
Actually, I think in retrospect, that one was the only squall that struck terror into our hearts, Karryn and I simultaneously. There we were, sailing along nicely, headed due south out of the doldrums. It was about ten o'clock at night, and Karryn was just coming up for her watch. I'd been watching these clouds form in front of us, pondering altering the course to go along the back or eastern side. Since the easterly winds had been prevailing, we headed due south and the squalls would drift from left to right across our field of view; usually, if we just aimed at their current location, they would be somewhere downstream by the time we arrived.
This one was a little more interesting than that. I'd been watching this spot of darkness, not an impressive cloud at all, gradually get a bit bigger immediately in front of us. Because the rain in squalls shows up on radar, we'd gotten used to using the radar to track the squalls around us at night, many of them avoidable with foresight.
This is a little aside: I remember squalls as keeping us alive when we did this trip on Sorceress in 1970. I read that section of my Dad's book, and he said we were in the doldrums two (two!) weeks. Harsh. Anyway, I remember catching a great deal of water in buckets and dinghies. In fact, I remember my brother, Joe, and I standing out in the rain, under the main's gooseneck fitting with a bucket of water in hand, 'cause that was where the biggest stream came down. Well, on this trip we haven't caught any water because we haven't needed it: that water maker is quite the contraption. More on that later, I'm sure
Back to the squall... Karryn comes on deck, does a radar check maybe 20 minutes after my last one, and OH SHIT! this monster squall has formed in a big curved line, maybe 15 miles long, and we're immediately downwind of the north-most mile or so of it.
So we're looking at this thing, quite concerned because of the length and blackness of it in the moonless night, impressed by the image we're seeing on the radar screen, and suddenly FLASH! a shot of lightning goes off.
You know how we feel about lightning.
We quickly turned on the engine, dropped the jib, turned the boat completely around 180-degrees and high-tailed it northward, backtracking. The damn thing continued to grow in front of us, northward. We weren't in it yet, it was still a mile away, but the visual and radar images were getting progressively more impressive.
Once we entered, it turned out to be not too big a deal. The lightning activity was minimal, the wind didn't give the boat much trouble and the engine worked wonderfully the whole time. The only scary part was when Karryn had to go out on deck to release one of the running backstays so we could let out the mainsail (I was driving, so she had to go). She was harnessed in, of course, but on the downwind side of the boat, at the aft outside corner, generally the place that we feel most uncomfortable about going to. The rain was doing its best to keep me from seeing anything, including whether or not she was still on the boat. It was probably no more than 30 seconds between when she was climbing out of the cockpit to when she was climbing back in, although to both of us it seemed quite a bit longer.
We actually chose to motor the whole night after that. Once we cleared the clouds, the sky opened up with stars. We were at the south end of the range the Doldrums normally reside, and figured if we motored until the wind filled, it was possible the filling wind might be the SE trades. We ended up motoring 14 hours in total (7 gallons of diesel out of a total reserve of about sixty gallons).
One of the amazing things about this whole experience was been how well the boat has handled things. We've actually had pretty wonderful weather, with the wind generally aft of the beam. We're going the direction we want to go and the wind has been consistent and moderate. The most amazing thing is how well-balanced the boat has been with the Donald Goring-made main. Things are so smooth that the wind vane and trim-tab combination have no trouble steering the boat. Mostly, it's been an exercise in hanging out, keeping an eye on things while the boat steers and propels herself.
The winds are still SE or maybe a bit S of SE, 15-20 from 4 or 6 a.m. to early afternoon, then they back off to no more than 15. So we just finished taking showers. The grownups feel better, Jackson thinks it was a waste of fresh water and Naomi isn't happy because she has yet to finish combing her hair. Amazing how, with the boat underway and moving around (even changing our heading downwind 10 degrees to ease the motion!), getting myself and the two kids thoroughly shampooed and bathed is a major project for the day.
I don't know if we've settled into a routine so much as we keep figuring out how to work things out better. Daytime naps are crucial for good nighttime watches, we know that now. If we get too busy and don't nap, we pay for it at night. Jackson does much of the cockpit work during the daytime with Naomi assisting, Naomi does most of the dishes and generally we all try to keep things picked up. Ok, so Bill does, and we help him. I can't believe we left two weeks ago, that it's been that long since I've been on a stationary surface! We all still fantasize about being still just for a few minutes, but I think we're just going to have to be patient and wait.
There are still rain squalls here, but they only have a little tiny bit more wind and not the torrential downpours of the ITCZ. We saw a fishing boat (large) last night (on radar and by eye), along with a smaller radar target and two strobes, which we assume were the ends of the net, and possibly also a smaller fishing boat.
|We crossed the equator this morning at 07:53 PDT; our longitude was 122 30 W. Everyone got up to watch us cross the line, and I took the obligatory picture of the GPS with all zeros in the latitude field. Last night was beautiful, lots of stars, no radar targets, no rain. It's still a bit chilly at night; sitting in the damp for several hours at a time doesn't lead to a lot of body-generated heat. I'm still wearing my Henry Lloyd foulweather gear with polartech underneath, although admittedly I am barefoot!|
Watching the surface of the water is fascinating. It's like being out on the prairie, but the prairie is alive. The waves are always changing, with bigger ones rising out of seemingly nowhere only to crest briefly and then sink back down to the average height. Most of the swells are in the 4-8' range, with the bigger ones probably 12 and over -- but they're so long and large that they're more like small hills than short, steep waves. And, so far, the boat rises up with each one, something that makes the whole thing a bit less stressful.
The wind has been a bit less yesterday afternoon and today, so we've been able to point higher. So the Gambiers are not yet ruled out, at least by wind direction. We figure we have to make a decision around 5 or 6 S. Until then, we keep reading the guidebooks and checking out our sailing angle on the charts. Nothing like taking the cruiser's planning rule -- "plans are cast in jello" -- to the point of not knowing exactly where we're making landfall!
Our noon position was 01 33 S, 123 47 W.
It looks like we're heading to the Marquesas, as the Gambiers involved too much tight reaching or even being close-hauled. Right now we're going a bit deeper than the rhumb line from our decision point to Nuka Hiva, as there is a NOAA weather buoy smack dab in the way. I put a waypoint about 12.5 miles off to one side, and we're heading for that (and actually going a little further away from the weather buoy at the moment). Of course, we'll be passing the buoy in the middle of the night!
With the change in course dictated by both the weather buoy and the decision to give up on the Gambiers, the ride has gotten a lot easier. The motion is smoother, although the odd wave can still cause one to be launched in one direction or another. Having three points attached to the boat at all times is a really good idea, like two feet (on the floor) and a hand holding on, or two feet and a hip braced against a wall or two feet and one's stomach leaning against the counter while doing dishes... So far we've only gotten a few minor bruises, but last year people ended up with cracked ribs and other, more serious injuries.
It's really amazing to sit and THINK about just where we are in relation to land, other people, etc. Quite the trip, both figuratively and literally, to be so far out. The weather seems to be the most important factor in my comfort level, and right now life is pretty enjoyable, even if the laundry is piling up and the menu is getting repetitious.
Noon position: 02 00 S, 125 20 W
I spent the afternoon doing laundry and bathing children, so there isn't much to report. Well, other than the fact the weather is obviously changing; the winds are very light (I think we've been sailing 3-4 knots much of the afternoon, although since we decided to head for the Marquesas our course has been more downwind as well) and there are stratus clouds filling in, not the usual bands of puffy, trade wind clouds. I'm not sure what this means, maybe a warm front passing over? More research to follow.
So, with not much new to report and a late start to e-mail -- this is it...
We crossed the equator two days ago, just before eight in the morning. A bit of a milestone. We didn't do anything too strange or ritualistic - we acknowledged the moment in the cockpit as Karryn took a photo of the GPS reading Latitude 00.00. Actually, most of us didn't do anything strange or ritualistic; Naomi smeared shaving cream all over her body. This, apparently, was her response to the report of a friend's crossing aboard a navy ship three decades ago, where the ritual was to make the uninitiated kiss some fat guy's stomach as it was covered in shaving cream. The whole thing sounded like too many males in one place to me.
Now, it's about 9:30 at night. We're gently sailing along, Karryn is in bed in the sterncastle, the kids are asleep forward, Norah Jones is playing on the CD, and we're just sauntering along at four knots or so, pretty comfortable.
The new moon was a couple of days ago; now it manifests as its brightened underside, just starting to emerge from the darkness and turn on the glow, 16% illumination according to my Nautical Almanac. When I leave the cabin and go outside into the cockpit, the view from the companionway overwhelms me with stars on one side, moon on the other. Upwind and to port, the lights of the Southern Cross, the glow of the Milky Way. Downwind and to starboard, the beaming band of the moon, its luminescence bouncing off the glitter of waves and swells, sparse clouds making a patchwork of dark and light spots. The scene is startling in its beauty, particularly in the moments we rise on top of a large wave and the panorama expands before me.
The daytimes have a similar feel, as though we were in the center of this huge, grand, spectacular room, this peaceful, beautiful, graceful, stunning, overwhelming place. I have this continual sense of being dwarfed by it, awed by its timelessness, caught up in the immensity of it, captivated by how absolutely fortunate I am to be here.
The nights have presented a visually dynamic landscape, though, as the phases of the moon cycle -- full when we left eighteen days ago, dark just a few days ago, now growing nightly.
We're approaching longitude W126, a long way due south of Cape Flattery. It's pretty quiet.
Last night was one of our more adventurous. Fifty miles east of here, at W125, there are a series of weather buoys. We were aware of them, but the location data we had was stale. We were able to get more accurate coordinates via e-mail from my cousin Tor, who called NOAA at Sand Point in Seattle. Pretty cool. Anyway, about the time we were fairly close to one of the weather buoys, about four fishing boats show up. Because of their bright lights, it was possible to see them visually from around 15 miles, sometimes before their radar images were apparent, and dodge them without much effort.
Tonight, thought, it seems pretty quiet. Winds have been light-to-moderate and steady (like most days), no traffic and no squalls showing up on radar.
We think we're about a week or ten days from landfall, a time simultaneously too short and too long. This trip has been just wonderful, made so by the delightful companionship and the amazingly cooperative weather. We'd been debating between two landfall alternatives, one, the Gambier Islands in the far eastern Tuamotus, the other the more conventional path through the Marquesas Islands, nearer the equator and further west. Yesterday, the winds helped us decide to aim at the Marquesas; the Gambiers were beginning to look like a thousand-mile upwind slog. Even with choosing to go the Marquesas, though, the question is "where to go, what islands to visit?" There are two possible ports of entry in the Marquesas.
Moonset happened just now, a little after 11pm. Quite spectacular, the bottom band of the moon, sort of shaped like a smile, descending through layers of clouds, parts disappearing, then reappearing a few degrees lower. I watched it through the binoculars, able to see the orange edge of the orb made fuzzy and darker by the increasing gap of atmosphere the moon's rays had to travel through as it moved lower. In the end, the moon's light disappeared entirely and the stars, still remaining, shown more brightly in its absence.
It's now 5:30 in the morning. I got up about an hour ago, Karryn spent a few minutes eating cereal and cuddling with me, then headed off to bed. It's really dark outside, no moon, but the Milky Way stands out in all its brilliance, this bright band of sky overhead, looking like a glowing cloud. There are a number of constellations buried in it - about a half an hour ago I found Scorpio and Sagittarius.
Waking up in the sterncastle, like I did an hour ago, can be quite the sensory experience. As it turns out, not all places on the boat are equal. The sounds, the motions, the amount of fluid hitting the boat, can all vary quite a bit with where you sit on the boat. Obviously, weather, waves and wind direction have a huge impact, but it's amazing how climbing around the boat can be quite the tour.
The motion alone is amazing.
I've got the boat loaded pretty well. It's heavy now, loaded for our long passage, probably three or four thousand pounds heavier than when we were in the San Juan Islands, so it generally has a more pendulous feel, less like that buoyant, popping, cork-like sensation it has when light. I've been careful about where I place the weight, recognizing that centralizing the heavy objects (putting canned goods, fuel and water low in the middle of the central hull) can enhance the boat's motion and structural safety.
Seafire's pitch-center, the center she moves around, is right about where I'm sitting as I write this, at the forward end of the aft cabin -- the forward dinette, galley, cockpit's aft end, where we spend most of our time living. In these locations, the central ones, you're up in the middle of the boat, away from flying water, away from sounds.
I came back from a cockpit check, just now. We have a kitchen timer we set for short intervals, fifteen or twenty minutes, between radar and visual checks. Ding! The thing goes off, you pop up, turn on the radar, and while it's warming up, scan the horizon in the darkness. Last night, as I said, this produced a lot of objects to look at - Karryn got squalls, I got fishing boats. One of the interesting things in this exercise is how to treat your optical nerves. I mean, the image can vary quite a bit, creating ambiguities. In a fatigued state, you're staring at the starry sky, and suddenly there's this Flash! of something! What was that?! A strobe? Or did I just blink? You stare into the darkness for a while, minutes, wondering, "Was that real?"
Since the pitch center is in the middle of the boat, the middle of the boat moves the least and the extremities move the most. The sterncastle, at the very back of the boat, is one of these extremities, really the only one of these extremities any of us goes into. The bows and outsides of the boat present safety and comfort issues - you can get nailed by a splashing wave, and the potential for falling overboard is nagging. The sterncastle, the aft end of the main cabin at the transom, is safe and dry, completely enclosed except for the hatch overhead. But the motion can be quite wild as waves interact with the transom, causing it to dramatically slew around.
The noises are amazing, too. Seems like everywhere on the boat you hear some form of gurgling, water rushing by the hull, getting caught up in turbulence around the centerboard, through-hull fittings, splashing against the under-wings. The sterncastle, with the rudder and trim-tab hanging on the back end, has particularly amazing, amplified sounds. Over the course of a day, I spend quite a bit of time back there. I don't easily get motion sickness, and even though the motion back there is frequently intense, I find the place pretty comfortable. It's kinda become my private space.
Waking up in the sterncastle, though, can be quite an experience, coming out of a deep sleep and finding yourself in this bouncing, churning, loudly burbling world. One immediately thinks, "Why are we going so fast? What on Earth are they doing in the cockpit?!" A hop out of the bunk, a quick look out the cockpit window at the knot meter, and then the realization: we're only going six knots.
It's now 6:15; the sky is lightening to the east in preparation for sunrise. The sunrises and sunsets have been amazing. At sunrise the sky turns from one of stars and blackness to lightening shades of blue, on to orange, red, yellow, pink. Monochrome to Kodachrome.
Our speed through the water has been an interesting experience in perception.
You know how with racing, you're always trying to go faster, and with cruising in the San Juans, you're always trying to get there? This deal is different, for me more like being at anchor. You are there. I'm sitting in this boat, and mostly it's taking care of itself. One of us is always on deck, keeping an eye on things from the cockpit (the kids have been really terrific about keeping good watches during the day). There are a finite number of events that actually make you have to do something -- alter the direction we're going or change a sail: 1) Traffic appears and we have to alter course to avoid them, 2) The wind direction changes enough that we need to change direction and adjust sails, and 3) The wind speed changes enough to necessitate a sail change.
Changes in wind speed obviously come in two flavors: up and down. Higher winds potentially mean putting on smaller sails, but lower winds don't necessarily mean bigger sails. It depends on how relaxed you feel. The big variable is the self-steering: is it working?
Basically, our self-steering is a fairly simple mechanical device with two pieces: 1) An air vane that senses wind direction, and 2) A trim-tab, a rudder-like blade which is used to steer the rudder (it looks like a mini-rudder, about 5' tall and 4" long, attached to the back of the rudder so it pivots, and it's controlled by two bicycle cables attached to the air vane).
The basic idea is that the air vane steers the trim-tab, which steers the rudder, which steers the boat. The starting linkage is with the air vane steering the trim-tab, and this is where the light-air challenge comes in: the air vane needs enough wind to control the trim-tab and overrule the effects of the waves pushing on it. If the wind dies suddenly and there are still lots of waves leaping around, the boat will only self-steer down to about 3 knots of speed through the water. (We do have an autopilot that can also steer the boat when motoring or in light winds.) In calm conditions, though, with minimal interference from waves, the boat will self-steer in less wind, down as low as the boat moving about a knot.
So you're rolling along in the trades, things are going just fine and -suddenly- the wind lightens and the boat slows down to 3 knots. You look around. Geez... do I really need to change sails? It's a bit of work, probably twenty minutes in total, with all the details. But the boat keeps going straight and you think, "It's okay, maybe the wind will fill." And it usually does.
So far, we've only used three sails: the working jib, the staysail and the main. We have a light wind genoa, but the wind hasn't really been light enough to trouble with it. We have a spinnaker, but again, the wind has been good enough we haven't needed it. Even so, I'm not sure I'd want to put it up out here, shorthanded and remote.
Actually, I keep laughing about the sails we're using: they're the smallest ones we own. The boat is designed to have a 600 sq ft genoa and a 400 sq ft main, a total of 1000 sq ft. The working jib comes in around 450 sq ft, and our teeny little main at 260 sq ft, making our largest set about 70% of plan. About five days ago, we took down the working jib and put up the staysail, about 160 sq ft, with the main close to 40% of plan, pretty teeny. It was a little breezy when we made the change, and the boat moved really well with the smaller sails.
It's just after 7am now. The sky has lightened, but it's still before dawn. The dominant color of the sky to the east is yellow. There are puffy clouds scattered along the horizon.
Since it's turning to day outside, I thought I'd stop writing, see if I can edit this soon and send it off. I'm having a terrific time, out here with Karryn and the kids. It's a pretty intimate experience, being around each other 24x7. It's all been pretty nice, low friction, lots of warm, fuzzy moments. A really nice experience.
Noon location: 03 13 S 126 53 W
Bill switched back to the bigger sail this morning (sort of a cross between a working jib and a 100% jenny, about 450 square feet). For quite a while it kept us going pretty fast, but this afternoon the wind went light and we've been lazing along for the past few hours between 2 and 4 knots. However, a large pod of dolphins went by; there were so many, it took at least an hour for them all to pass. It was late enough in the day that, when sitting on the weather side, we were in the shade, so we could see quite far down into the water and watch them swim by. Once of these times, I'll grab a camcorder, but not today.
Yesterday's clouds all dissipated by dusk, and last night was pretty nice. I was up from 11:30 to after 5 (on watch from around midnight to just before 5), letting Bill catch up on sleep. He has been letting me catch up, and I have to say that night watches are a lot more fun when I'm not dog-tired. Of course, the weather is the most important factor, along with the lack of radar targets. Nothing like something to watch on radar to get the adrenaline pumping.
1240 position: 04 25.4 S 128 18.2 W 740 miles from Nuka Hiva
Another exciting day of showers, shampoos, laundry, nagging the kids to wash the dishes, trying to come up with something interesting to eat (other than cookies and candy bars, things which I seem to have bought a lot of). I tell you, every moment's filled with breathtaking excitement out here - NOT! Actually, a commonly held view of ocean sailing is that it's either boring or terrifying, and I, for one, prefer the boredom. It's not boring in the sense that there's nothing to do; on the contrary, there is always quite a lot to do, and many things (studying French, for instance) aren't getting done enough. It's just boring in that, apart from the occasional dolphin pod, there isn't a heck of lot to report on.
Except, maybe, on the provisions front. By now, we have only the following fresh things left: Key limes, jicama, onions, garlic and potatoes, and there are only two of the last item. We have many things left that are non-perishable: cookies, pancake mix, rice, flour, canned chicken, candy bars, nuts, dried fruit, canned produce, crackers... You get the idea. Plus some actually interesting things, like gnocchi and pesto (goes well with the ubiquitous chicken), and some Thai peanut sauce mix that with rice and the ever-present chicken is heavenly (we had it for lunch and dinner yesterday, as the kids don't like it and one can of coconut milk makes four servings - one of the inconveniences of no refrigeration is a limited time to consume the contents of a can once it's opened).
Bill was eating mostly mixed nuts or cashews and dried apricots for his nighttime watch snacks, but decided to spice things up by making his own mixture. He included the mixed nuts and cashews, but he added cut-up Oreos and Chips Ahoy cookies, walnuts, granola bars and Milky Way bars. It's more interesting, but I prefer my walnuts and beef jerky (not together!). The kids got the early morning watch, and I think they ate all the remaining chocolate items out of the jar. My personal favorite for when I'm falling asleep is the plain granola bars one buys at Costco (Health Valley brand, two each in the shiny green wrapper); I have found, however, that they're much more interesting when slathered with a layer of Nutella (a chocolate/hazelnut paste concoction). We're almost down to our last jar of that, and it would be good to have Bill hide it (he's the only one not addicted).
I think it's time for a snack!
Quite the name, isn't it, 'Nuku Hiva'? Sounds so much more exotic than our alternative destination at the beginning of the trip, the Gambier Islands. I'll probably fill you in more on this topic in a couple of days, just before we arrive, if things continue to go well. Our days are full enough, with watch keeping and daily chores, that if anything additional pops up -- a series of squalls, fish boats - I get too busy to write much.
I wanted to finish writing about what it's like to be here. I've spent a fair amount of time talking about things external to the boat - the sky and the sea. There's a lot going on in and on the boat, too.
I'm actually amazed at how at ease I am out here in the ocean, a long way from anywhere. I think it's due to a combination of things - my experiences sailing this passage as a kid, my comfortableness with the water and ability to swim, 30 years of experience with Seafire, over two decades sailing with Karryn. The two most dominant things for me here - the boat and Karryn - have been in my life so long, I have a hard time comprehending who I am in their absence.
We started building Seafire in our backyard when I was fourteen; I'll turn 45 this year. I'm not sure if I now resemble who I was then, if at all. I recall being a handsome young man back then; Naomi now tells me that while my body looks pretty good, I'm a bit ugly from the neck up. This from the mouth of a nine-year-old. In the future I'll have to take passengers with lower standards for beauty.
Sorceress, the boat we took on this passage thirty-five years ago when I was Naomi's age, was incredibly similar but we had a far more challenging time, in part due to the weather, but to a large measure due to the fact that this device has had a few enhancements to make it more appropriate.
In 1968, when I was seven years old, we bought Sorceress, a Piver-designed Victress, like Seafire a 40-foot trimaran made of sheet plywood. A year later my family (father Bob, mother Yvonne, brother Joe) moved aboard. The boat was moored on the east side of Seattle's Lake Union, just down the hill from Seward Elementary, where my brother and I attended school.
It was quite the community then, Lake Union in the days before the place got cleaned up, houseboats dumping raw sewage into the lake, Gas Works as an eyesore before it was made into the delightful park it is now. The community was full of diversity -- hippies, communists, students, drunken sailors, middle-aged recreational fishermen, even a mature, blonde French woman, perhaps in her late 40's, who captured the attention of the men around her. We'd left the black-majority neighborhood of my infancy, where the activities of the civil rights era seemed to dominate the social nexus, for the western slope of Capitol Hill, full of students and their anti-Vietnam war concerns. A few feet down the dock was a WWII wooden minesweeper, a huge motionless hull that now housed perhaps a dozen people, mostly students and counter-culture types. My brother, Joe, and I tended to gravitate in that direction in the afternoons after school when we weren't hanging out with our friends from school. Quite the education. America was going through a transition then, passing through the experiences of the 1960's. I remember going to the Freeway Sit-In, a major protest that involved thousands of students walking onto the freeway just north of downtown Seattle to stop the traffic exiting the city and register their objection to the war in Vietnam and the draft. I remember the draft as being pretty scary: bad grades could get you shipped out to Southeast Asia, a gun in your hands. What was it, fifty or sixty thousand Americans, mostly young men, who were casualties in that war?
We spent a year living on Lake Union and then left for the South Seas in the summer of 1970. My parents took the boat down the coast in July with a couple of friends; the experience for them was awful, made horrific by weather, gear complications, injury, seasickness, fear, physical and psychological limitations.
We had a nice time in Southern California. The sailing world was equipment focused, as though your selection of craft was representative of your inner self, and a particular device brought a community with it. The multihull (trimaran, catamaran, proa) community back then had this 'fringe' sort of feel, like the folks that gravitated that way were more radical than the folks that chose the other alternatives - motor boats, traditional wooden sailboats, modern fiberglass sailboats. In part because we had a trimaran, in part because my father seemed to collect interesting people, our world was full of colorful characters, wonderful, entertaining people, who invited us into their lives.
We left for French Polynesia in November of 1970. It took us 32 days to get there, the first week upwind, the next two weeks in the doldrums, the final ten days or so in the SE trades, where we are now. I remember Joe and I being so seasick, during that first week of going upwind, that we couldn't keep down any food. At one point we started puking yellow fluid. Thinking it was urine, that we were dying because our innards had ruptured, we were afraid to inform our parents. When we finally worked up enough courage to tell them that we were dying, we were told that the fluid was bile, some sort of stomach fluid, and that we'd probably make it through the experience. Around that time, I recall having a "why are we doing this?" conversation with Dad. I'd assumed we had to sail to French Polynesia because we were too poor to afford plane tickets. Not so, Dad told us; it costs more to take a sailboat there. "Huh?" Ever been seasick for a week, your nausea overwhelming your existence? Ever had one of those moments when you thought your parents were completely insane?
We got there alive, made landfall at Nuku Hiva, where we're headed now, spent a month in the northern Marquesas, then moved on to spend another five in the Society Islands near Tahiti, six months in the South Pacific in all. After that we headed to Hawaii, dismasting when we were about a week away from Hilo.
The dismasting was quite the experience. The boat was mostly solidly built, rigged as a ketch with the main mast forward and a mizzen at the aft end of the cockpit. Sorceress' biggest weakness was the main mast itself, made of wood with a stainless steel sail track, in eight-foot sections, up the back to attach the main sail. The mast's cross-section was too small, and the rigging wasn't set up to halt its movement fore and aft. In a breeze, as the compression loads increased, the mast would press forward in the middle, its bending causing the stainless track to kink at one of the section butts. To make matters worse, as the boat went upwind, the mast would pump, the middle section pressing forward a few inches as we pressed into a wave or a gust hit.
On the day of the dismasting the weather had gotten worse, the kinked track wasn't letting the main down, and the pumping was getting more amplified, so Dad decided to go aloft to see if he could get the sail down. Mom and Joe were up on the foredeck, assisting Dad as he dangled in a bosun's chair. I remember being at the helm motor-sailing, trying to keep the boat feathered into wind to relieve stresses, Dad about mid-way up the spar. Then something happened - I'm not sure what - perhaps we pushed into a large wave, perhaps a gust came in from a more sideways direction, perhaps the loads were pushed past the breaking point by Dad's weight. Ever had one of those moments when the universe goes surreal on you?
The mast and my father were suddenly no longer above us. All over the deck and in the water were sails, spars, rigging. Where was Dad? He'd only been about halfway up, and the boat was 22-feet wide, at bit of a stretch to reach the water. For a few moments I surveyed the scene, looking for signs for life. Then his head popped up, perhaps twenty feet from the boat. There he was, surrounded by white sails, his face covered in blood. You can image what was going through my head; because I'd been driving, I felt responsible for the rig falling down.
But he was okay and climbed out of the water, and we got on with it. We cleaned up the mess, and took a break, two days as I recall. What do we do now?
This whole offshore sailing thing seems dependent on a finite number of importantly functional questions: 1 - Are we floating? 2 - Do we have water? 3 - Do we have food? 4 - Can we steer? 5 - Do we have propulsion?
#5 was obviously our big issue. We were about six hundred miles out of Hilo, too far to motor with the fuel we had available. This was in the old days, mind you, before anybody had SSB radios and EPIRBs to call for help. We were out in the middle of nowhere, 2500 miles upwind of the Marshall Islands. Quite a way to drift, not a lot of real estate. What to do?
The main mast had exploded in the lower half, so the upper twenty feet was still largely intact. We managed to raise the stump, and a day or so later, Mom came up with the idea of hanging the jib sideways, making a sail that was tacked to the bow and sheeted as far aft as possible. The new rig worked amazingly well, and the trip into Hawaii was uneventful after than. I recall having one of our best days ever in terms of distance - about 180 miles - under this configuration.
We ended up staying in Hawaii for a number of months, and then returning to Seattle via jet. My parents kept the boat in Hawaii a number of months, discussing whether we should try to keep cruising the Pacific or return permanently to Seattle. Our pocketbook made the decision: Dad needed to return to his job at Boeing.