Thursday, April 23, 2015

Day 10: Boisterous!

Given our goal to cross this area of squalls and flat calms as quickly as possible to reach the southern trades, a several-hundred-mile-wide ITCZ* is not our friend. We're approaching the edge of it now (at least where it is currently) and we're still 600 miles north of the equator.

And speaking of now, we are movin' and not groovin' in steep 8- to 9-foot swells coming from two directions. For the past 16 hours, sustained winds have been blowing in the low 20s from our aft quarter. We're headed SSW at 6 knots under a fully-reefed main. We're alternately getting pounded on the side and rolling deeply from gunnel to gunnel (and if you've seen our high freeboard, this is unusual for us) and surfing down following seas. We aren't very comfortable. The only thing that would be worse is entering the ITCZ, losing these northern trades, and being left to wallow in these seas with no wind to fill our sails.

Otherwise, all is good aboard. Eleanor continues to impress with her attention to dish duty, despite the motion. Frances, who normally exhibits a bit of mal de mer, has remained her perky, hungry self, seemingly cured. Del Viento is still holding up well. Recent casualties include the cockpit-mounted inclinometer (smashed by a line wrapped erroneously around the mainsheet traveler car) and two fender whips (which I had to cut after they got tangled up in the water generator tow line).

* inter-tropical convergence zone--a varying area near the equator where the prevailing winds of the northern and southern hemispheres converge, producing unsettled weather

Produce exhausted at Day 10:


Produce remaining at Day 10:

Sweet Potatoes


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day 9: At the End of Our Rope

So you'll recall a couple days ago we had to take down our jib for repair. At the time, we were scooting downwind in big swells and the motion was nice. As for all foredeck activities, Windy had us talk things through ahead of time--about how we would accomplish the job, anticipating problems and aligning our thinking. Then we got started.

I was at the bow, wrangling the sail down and Windy was at the mast, slowly releasing the halyard.

"Faster!" I called back to her. The sail dropped and then froze. I tugged at it and then turned. Windy was still at the mast, but hanging on for dear life to the bitter end of the halyard, which she'd grabbed as it whizzed by her.

If you don't sail, it's hard for me to relate how absurd this is.

"What in the world?" Windy asked.

"I have no idea."

I kept looking up, then looking at Windy. I wanted to see a problem--maybe a big knotted bunch of line she'd allowed to whiz past, maybe she wasn't holding the halyard at all, maybe…? I couldn't make sense of the situation.
Finally, I ran back to the cockpit and grabbed a line we could tie onto the end of this one, so we could at least drop this partly-lowered sail and figure out what the heck was going on.

"Did you cut this halyard?" Windy asked.

"Of course not." Seriously? She's asking me if I cut our halyard?

"I just have this faint memory of you telling me you'd trimmed it, that there was too much line."

"No, no way."

But a tiny bell was rung. Her memory did not sound as foreign as I wanted it to. I thought back to the last time I'd lowered this sail. It was January, when I'd spent all the time on the phone with the Profurl people, determining which model furling system we had so they could send me the correct lower bearings. Windy was up north and she brought the bearings back down with her. When she got back, I replaced the bearings, did some other maintenance, re-hoisted the sail, decided that this halyard was way too long…

I'd gotten out the hot knife and cleaned things up, ship shape.

Uhg. It's still unbelievable to me. If anyone happens to come visit us in French Polynesia, please bring a spare halyard. I used our previous spare for the second spinnaker halyard I rigged just before we left.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 8: Southern Cross

I saw it at 2:00 a.m. last night, for the first time. I was in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt in the cockpit. A sliver of a moon had just set. We rolled gently in following seas. It was unmistakable, right there, due south of our heading and about 10 degrees above the horizon. That was it! I got really excited. I found the CSNY song on the iPod and listened closely, I got a bit emotional.

Only then did it occur to me that I wasn't sure this was the Southern Cross. I glanced at our latitude-still 14 degrees above the equator-and isn't that constellation a southern hemisphere thing? I opened up the Starwalk app to see what I was looking at.

Crux--commonly known as the Southern Cross!

I listened again to that song I've heard a billion times before on classic rock stations. I knew it was about boats and sailing, but never noticed it's about the exact passage we are on:

"Got out of town on a boat, going to southern islands
Sailing a reach 'fore following seas
She was making for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete
Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas
We got 80 feet of waterline, nicely making way…"

It was all sublime. I woke Windy to share the experience with her and to start her watch.

Stay tuned; tomorrow I'll share what may be the dumbest thing I or anyone else has ever done aboard a cruising sailboat. Dumber than what's been recounted in two of my favorite such stories I can't link to now: Bumfuzzle motoring for hours before realizing they were in neutral and Galactic persistently confusing forward and reverse while leaving a marina. I've topped both of them, hands down.


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Day 7: Our Days

The days pass swiftly out here, surprisingly. Here's a glimpse of how they tend to go by.

About 1 hour after sunset, Windy and the girls are ready for bed and all pile into either the v-berth or Frances's aft stateroom berth. Windy reads aloud for about 20 minutes and then it's lights out for them. The only light below is a red light in the main cabin. I can see its glow from where I sit in the cockpit.

I hang out in the cockpit by myself for the next 5-7 hours. Mostly I just recline with the iPod, listening to music or This American Life podcasts. But I also go below to use the head or check our course on the iPad or grab a snack. Around 3:00 a.m., I wake Windy.

"Is it time?" she always asks.


She heads straight for the stove to prepare coffee for herself and I strip down and climb into the warm spot she's left.
I don't know much about what happens over the next few hours, but when I wake around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., Windy and the girls have eaten breakfast and are playing a card game or doing schoolwork or something.

I'll make myself a snack and then look for something to do, maybe put away the dishes Eleanor washed and left to dry or fix something broken, such as Frances's fan. Around noon I'll make a lunch for everyone.

Windy is in bed reading herself to sleep very soon after she takes her last bite. The girls and I hang until she wakes a couple hours later. An hour or so after she rises, I'll crash and take an afternoon nap. When I get up, it's time to start making dinner. When dinner is over, Windy gets on the radio to check in and check email and send this blog post. Eleanor does the dishes. One or more of us watch the sunset. We all clean up. Then Windy rallies the girls into bed for reading time and I climb up into the cockpit with the iPod.

Today was the exception to that schedule. We noticed a strip of UV cloth coming off the bottom of our jib and wrestled the thing down, brought it below, dug out the sewing machine, broke all three needles for that machine trying to go through too many layers of cloth, and then spent 3 hours hand stitching 8 linear feet before raising the sail again. Windy had half a nap, I had none--the night is beginning. We have plenty of Coca-Cola and coffee aboard.


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Day 5: Litterbugs

I'm among the first generation raised on the televised PSAs of the 1970s.

Smokey Bear made it clear I was not to play with matches. An owl taught me to give a hoot and not pollute. And then there was the crying Indian. He stood on a hilltop overlooking a freeway and the smog-choked basin of refuse it passed through. Akin to the Catholic guilt of original sin, he inflicted me with the knowledge that I was born a guilty member of a culture whose every action soiled our beautiful planet.

The consequence is good. It's easier for me to punch myself in the face than to toss trash from a car window, for example.

Except that here we are now, a floating island 500 miles off the Mexican coast and slowly sailing farther into the Pacific. Our destination is a group of small islands that don't want our trash. What to do?

We're cleaning and saving the plastic waste we make, and stomping the aluminum cans in hopes they'll be of value to someone somewhere. Banana peels and apple cores go over the side easily, a flick of the wrist. But the other things, the things I would never throw out of a car window to save my life, these things aren't easy to dump onto this pretty landscape, despite it being the right thing to do.

As far as my eye can see is the clearest, prettiest water I've ever seen. On this bright, sunny day, this vista is unspoiled and pure-except for the bag of spent toilet paper I just emptied over the side, except for the empty steel can of artichoke hearts, it's paper label still showing as it disappears into the deep.

It's a reminder that none of the waste we make disappears, it all has to go somewhere. The best solution is to try and make less. I grew up with the crying Indian, my girls are growing up with parents who are leaving a 3.000-mile wake of refuse.

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