Saturday, May 2, 2015

Day 19: No More Fun the Second Time

I should have asked my grandmother to crew for us. She's in her 90s, but she still sews like a demon and has a workhorse sewing machine I'd have requested she bring along. This would have saved me all that trouble last week, having to sew by hand what seemed like miles of UV covering back onto our jib. And, I'd not have missed my nap time today.

Today I again hauled down the jib, dragged it aft, lugged it down the companionway, and spent a couple hours sewing by hand (fortunately, none of it in the same places). The sail is 37 years old and in terrific shape (it was long stowed in favor of a genoa), but the thread of the UV cover we paid to have put on two years ago, is apparently not UV-protected.

We lost some time to make miles, but otherwise we're still zipping along, headed in about the right direction. As I type this in the late afternoon, we're about 94 miles above the equator. The GPS is finally showing a "1" as our degrees latitude. Windy wants us to cross before we get to 130 degrees west longitude and I think we're gonna make that happen.

Spirits aboard are renewed with the improved winds, though perishables are disappearing quickly. Since I last did an accounting, we've eaten the last of our Mexican tortillas, tomatoes, oranges, avocados, sweet potatoes, and celery. Carrots are probably the next to be exhausted.

Like others predicted before we left, receiving emails from family and friends has become a highlight of each day. Windy reads each one allowed in what has become an evening ritual. Then, sometimes, she reads them again.

--MR

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Day 18: We Broke Through

We actually said this a few times during the end of the past week: "Hey, I think this is it…we're sailing nicely now, the wind's shifted…I think these are the southern trades!" Thirty minutes afterward--sometimes the illusion would persist for a couple hours-the wind and current would go to hell and we'd know we were still not there. When everything changed before sunset yesterday, neither of us dared to suggest we'd made it past all the yuck. Though we zipped along at six knots on a close reach, the apparent wind in the high teens and our course matching the rhumb line to the Marquesas, there remained squalls on the horizon and we fully expected the good times to end. They didn't.

When I handed the watch over to Windy at 4:00 a.m., there was no longer any question we'd reached the southern trades. There are fewer than 1,000 nautical miles (FYI, equivalent to 1,152 statute miles, the kind of miles represented on your car odometer) between Del Viento and Fatu Hiva and we've been eating them up steadily over the past 24 hours. We're still on a close reach, but we expect that to clock around soon.

Also yesterday afternoon, we had our first non-flying-fish visitor. A black bird with a very stern face and long beak landed on our aft solar panels. The wind was in the high teens and the boat was rocking and rolling; for about 30 minutes we all sat in the cockpit watching him struggle to keep his balance and preen at the same time. Finally, I reached out and slid my hand under him, at his knee level, as you would a caged pet bird. He climbed right on and I brought him down, setting him on the cockpit seat next to Frances. He seemed happier there and eventually sat down. He stayed there all night long, flying away unceremoniously at 8:30 this morning.

He was about the size of a small gull. Windy looked him up on an app and decided he's a black noddy tern. According to what she read, they aren't usually more than 50 miles from their nest. Hmm. I've got an email off to an ornithologist friend to see if our ID is off, or the description is wrong.

We should cross the equator in the next couple days. Party plans are underway. I've been asked to make brownies and our sole bottle of champagne has been moved to the fridge. Not one of us has ever set foot in the southern hemisphere, which means there is no one aboard to play King Neptune. We'll see how four slimy pollywogs indoctrinate ourselves as shellbacks.

--MR

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day 17: Earning It

Before 1947, when Chuck Yeager flew a plane faster than the speed of sound, that threshold in the sky was called the sound barrier. Several lives and planes were lost trying to break through that wall in the sky. As I understand it, there is a drag coefficient that increases exponentially as a plane approaches the speed of sound, but that once you "break through" it's smooth sailing, so to speak.

Boy, does that ever sound like the "equator barrier" we have to break through to get to the southern hemisphere and the trade winds that are calling like Sirens. First we faced doldrums and squalls in the Monsoon Trough, and then in the ITCZ, and then the Equatorial Counter Current. (The last one was a doozy; why didn't anyone warn me of Equatorial Counter Current?)

Imagine trying to get to French Polynesia. You're halfway there, 1,300 miles away. It's still southwest of you. Imagine for days and days you've had every sail plan up and down and back up and down again, just trying to make miles. It's no fun. Imagine today the winds blowing directly from the southwest. So you tack and sail due south. All looks good on the magnetic compass, but then you see that your true heading is 25 degrees east of south. Yikes! Reticent to give up any of the westerly miles you've made, you tack over to 260 degrees, just south of due west. But in these seas and light airs, that isn't tenable, even with the motor going. You point, point, point and finally get her sailing at about 280, just north of west. You're slowly giving up your southerly progress and your speed over ground is almost zero (yes, the Equatorial Counter Current). Obviously, you were better off on the other tack-even given the easterly component--because that one at least helped you get south, out of this ocean river and closer to the elusive southern trades. So you tack again, only to realize that the wind has now dropped several knots and you really need the motor to assist, to keep both course and momentum in the large, steep, colliding chop of these confused seas. Of course, you only carry 50 gallons of fuel and you've already used a bunch motoring south through the doldrums, so you keep the RPMs low, just what is required, nothing more.

Down below, you study your new track on the iPad. The easterly component hurts, but you take comfort that you are moving south--though only at 1.9 knots. You check the fuel tank gauge and feel a tad anxious. How long will this go on?

You pull out the blender and the vacuum, taking advantage of the power that the engine is providing. You've finished your smoothie and vacuumed half the sole when you realize the motion has changed and you dart back to the cockpit.

After messing about with things for 20 minutes, you face the fact that the motor sailing isn't working out as well as it seemed when you went below. It would be nice if you could increase power, but you really can't. You shut down the motor and raise the code zero. You're pointing and the wind is light, but these conditions otherwise do not resemble any in which you've flown this sail in the past. An hour later, during which time you raised the code zero, unfurled it, furled it, dropped it, and stowed it, you realize the winds are just too light to sail upon these seas.

Maybe they're just enough to heave to?

Yes!

Ahh, that's a bit better. You go below and check the iPad. You're moving three-quarters of a knot heading E-NE-back to Mexico.

Mexico.

Why did you want to leave Mexico?

My friend, Behan on Totem, says that longer passages remind her of her pregnancies. She said they, "begin with discomfort and a new reality, transition to a spectacular adventure with a natural high, and eventually become something I'm just ready to put behind me." That seems like a good analogy, but during which trimester does an expecting mother face the Monsoon Trough, the ITCZ, and the Equatorial Counter Current?

Behan also said that, "Just as the pain of childbirth is quickly forgotten, any tough days on a passage are quickly lost to memory."

I sure hope so. We're on track to log the longest passage in recorded history.

--MR

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Day 14: Hot and Motoring

We're 5 degrees above the equator heading due south. This isn't a heading for the Marquesas, but a heading on the shortest path out of the area of unsettled weather we need to cross to get to the southern trade winds. Today it's 94 degrees Fahrenheit in the cabin with blue sky overhead and dark-bottomed cumulonimbus clouds in every direction to the horizon. Many of these seem perched on black smears that indicate heavy rainfall beneath. There is hardly a breath of wind and we've been motoring slowly (about 3.5 knots, to conserve fuel) the past 24 hours on still-lumpy seas.

Though we'd rather be sailing, it's not all bad. Between sleep we've been cooking (Windy made yogurt and black beans this morning, I made plantains and a cabbage salad this afternoon) and reading (Windy's cracking up over Lost on Planet China by J. Maartn Troost and reading aloud the interesting passages--even suggesting we consider moving to Hong Kong), and writing comic books (this is how the girls spend a lot of their time).

Yesterday afternoon, though the seas were less settled than now, we stopped Del Viento and Windy and I took turns jumping in to bathe. It was heaven. The water temperature and color were both magnificent. We rinsed off with a bit of fresh water from the deck wash and now we both feel like new people.

It kind of feels like ground hog day out here, again and again. We don't leave the boat. We have no social plans with others that differentiate one day from the rest. We have nothing but landfall to look forward to. Sure, we read different books and eat different foods and have different conversations and see different sunsets and read different emails, but all in a very small environment. I looked forward to this passage for just this reason, to see how this astronaut-like existence would feel. It's not unpleasant. None of us are climbing the walls and tempers aren't rising or anything. If I had to use only one word to describe these days, it would be peaceful.

--MR

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Day 13: The Good, the Bad, the Dead

The Good: Lots of good to report. Spirits aboard remain high. It's body cleaning day--Windy is washing the girls' hair as I type. We've been smelling pretty ripe. I plan to go on deck later and take a proper salt water shower. We're looking forward to a Thai peanut curry dish tonight, with brown rice and fake meat. Found some additional frozen bananas at the bottom of the freezer, so chocolate-banana smoothies are still on the menu. Windy was looking for something in the nether reaches of the forward hanging locker and came across the long-lost bag of 6 pounds of non-spaghetti pasta (I don't know if she found what she was looking for in the process, but that's how it goes).

The Bad: The first reefing line broke sometime during Windy's watch early this morning. It's a pretty heavy line (7/16"), so I was surprised. It broke right where it does a 180 degree bend through the reefing clew. There was no sign of chafe, but it's a high-stress point and the line is probably pretty old. Fortunately, it broke only a foot away from where the bitter end attaches to the boom, so it was easy to pull in the slack and reattach. I fear my computer is on its last legs. It's doing weird things, like the previous one did just before the mother board gave up the ghost. Before writing this post, I finished backing up everything to an external hard drive. This computer isn't even two years old, but it is a cheapo. We've not seen the sun or stars for the past few days, nothing but overcast skies in this gloomy ITCZ. It will be a thrill to emerge from the far side of this. And we've been moving pretty slow in lighter airs. It will be this time tomorrow before we're at the halfway point of this passage (in terms of distance).

The Dead: Daily we meet the foggy gaze of one or more unfortunate fish on deck. Eleanor noted that it's natural selection in reverse. Most of the flying fish we've seen on this trip don't soar more than 2 or 3 feet above water. But these super-able flyers who successfully rise to the level of our deck, die.

--MR

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