Thursday, May 7, 2015

Day 24: Southbound, Upwind

I've written before that cruising is not life as a Corona beer commercial, the way people often mistakenly assume it is. It's akin to an early American pioneer's way of living, simpler and more elemental than conventional modern life. Don't get me wrong, this reality holds a strong appeal; I believe that ferrying our fresh water aboard via jerry cans instills an awareness and builds character. But I hoped that at least our passage from Mexico to French Polynesia would offer the kind of languor that some imagine our entire cruising life to be. I had reason to think it might.

In "The Water In Between," writer Kevin Patterson describes the languor I'm looking for:

"Languor is underrated. It is not possible to be immobile in modern urban society except by dint of constant effort. Holding on tightly to the riverbank and fighting the current is not languor. Nobody likes that. But bone-lazy idleness, hours and hours spent staring at the sky and remembering books and birthdays and great kisses: this is a pure pleasure that eludes the productive in all their confident superiority."

And then Patterson describes finding and appreciating this languor aboard a boat on passage:

"Long sea passages have the attributes of being both profoundly idle and of providing the illusion that something is still being done. When I have been idle without any purpose whatsoever, I have not been able to read--the immobility gave rise to agitation, and agitation does not much lend itself to making one's way through Tolstoy, for instance.

"A principal pleasure of making a long ocean passage lies here, in the opportunity and the mental inclination to be able to just read and read, without guilt or distraction or lingering anxiety that something is not being tended to. A glance at the sails and the compass establishes that all that can be done is being done."

Doesn't that sound like heaven? It was.

"I've heard about this," Windy said sometime during the first week or so after we left Cabo, "about sailing for days on end on the same tack, comfortably, the boat in a groove--yet I don't know if I really believed it. This is awesome."

I felt the same way she did, like I'd found my inner Moitessier, home at sea. Neither of us was in a hurry to arrive anyplace and this passage could take 40 days and that would be fine; we didn't want it to end.

Then we hit the doldrums. It was just as yuck as similar-sounding words it evokes. Old. Mold. Cold. Conundrum. Dolt. It was maddening to be caught in contrary currents, to be tossed around in big seas with not enough wind to sail, and to be too fuel-poor to do very much about it. We began longing for the conditions we'd loved in the northern trades--and they were there, just the other side of this band of unsettled or opposing conditions, just ahead, in the southern trades. So many times, the grib files showed us just on the edge of this yuck, about to break out, our hopes raised--maybe by tomorrow morning. Two days later we'd still be fighting.

Then we made it. It was obvious. The wind wasn't quite astern as it was up north and the seas were still uncomfortably big, but this was the start. It would only get better. The wind will clock around. The seas will flatten. Things will change.

They haven't. Our progress has been good in these southern trades, but my inner Moitessier has gone missing. It's not been pleasurable. For the past 60 hours, the wind has blown in the low 20s (apparent)--often peaking higher--and we've no choice but to claw our way the most southerly direction possible with the wind forward of our beam. This puts these tall, steep swells on our port side, smacking our hull hard, rolling us 30, 35, and sometimes 40 degrees onto our starboard side. The windward portlights and hatches have to stay closed. Our sleep is unsettled. It's cooler topsides than down below, but sitting up there means getting occasionally soaked. We go out only to check the horizon and to toss back the flying fish and other sea creatures that get washed aboard.

So our sails are deeply reefed and we're uncomfortable, pleased that our passage will not be 40 days. As I type this (4:00 pm on May 7) we are 365 miles from Fatu Hiva. Maybe the final day or two will be different. We'll see. We've certainly got it better than some. Folks behind us broke their boom a few hundred miles off Cabo and turned back for Puerto Vallarta to effect repairs. We just learned that another couple behind us lost their autopilot, then shredded their main, and now are having trouble steering with their wind vane. And really, it's all relative--like the t-shirt says: "A bad day sailing..." Regardless, landfall will be welcome.


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  1. I have to tell you, Rick and I both kind of smiled in sympathy, and he said: "I remember that!"

  2. So much fun (?). I check your blog daily. And enjoy watching your family grow and experience new and exciting things. Okay, a trip across the Pacific can be less than that.
    Me? I am retirement age, tried it three years and it fell through - crappy business deal.
    Today? I rebedded a leaking salon window. In Maine. In 82°F outside, no telling what the under the tarp temp was. BUT! I plan to head South in October. By Hook or by crook.
    Good on ya! Thank you sincerely for your inspiration.
    Maybe someday I'll head across the pond - you have to have a goal, you know.


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