Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 22: More Breakage

We've been rocking and rolling like crazy for the past couple days on a beam reach in large beam seas. While we're making good headway, the thick rubber that collars our mast where it passes through the cabin top, is falling--being pushed-down and out, into the cabin. This hasn't happened before. I can stand there and push up on it with my fingertips and, as the boat rocks and rolls and the mast moves slightly from side to side, the pressure eases slightly-here and there-and I'm able to push it up and back into place. All is well, for about 20 minutes.

I pounded some shims upward, between the mast wall and rubber to try and tighten things up, but this approach only buys me about 10 additional minutes before the shim falls to the sole and the rubber falls again. Now I've got two shims in place and a large hose clamp fixing the shims to the side of the mast. This is working better still, but not completely.

And a glass exploded last night. Eleanor was just starting to do the dishes and a drinking glass she mistakenly left on the drying rack (said rack was on the windward side) slid into the sink, a 6-inch fall. These are hearty, tempered-glass glasses that have been with us for miles and miles and which have met the sole on several occasions. Well, with little provocation this one literally exploded. Bits of glass few over Eleanor and across the cabin. I went to the sink and all that remained was a neat pile of tiny bits of glass, nothing bigger than a square centimeter--no indication it was ever a drinking glass. It was really odd.

And my throat hurts. We were all hanging out in the cockpit last night, watching the moonrise, when it occurred to Frances that because we are so far from nowhere, there was nobody to alarm if she screamed.

"Oh please can I scream, as loud as I can?"


Which turned into a screaming contest to see who could scream the loudest. Let me assure you, if there is one thing a 9- or 11-year-old girl can beat her parents at, it's a screaming contest. Their little voice boxes reach a pitch and volume I can't get close to.

As I type this (4:00 pm on May 5) we are 615 nautical miles from Fatu Hiva.


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Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 21: SoHem Sailors

I think it was Woody Allen, or one of his characters, who said that there are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who do not (I'm among the former). On the oceans, tradition holds that there are two types of sailors: those who've crossed the equator and those who have not. Unlike the Neil Diamond distinction, the sailors' equator distinction includes labels: trusty shellbacks have crossed, slimy polliwogs have not.

At about 10:20 p.m. last night, May 3, 2015, Del Viento sailed across the line into the Southern Hemisphere and all four of us transitioned from slimy polliwog to trusty shellbacks--and not without ceremony.

Since at least the early 1800s, mariners have turned the line crossing occasion into an initiation rite. Hazing is probably a better description. Stories of line crossing ceremonies include accounts of shellbacks forcing polliwog to climb through large tubs of rotting garbage, crawl around on hands and knees aboard non-skid coated decks, eat food slopped onto said decks, and kiss the axel grease-coated belly button of a designated shellback. Historically, polliwogs have been locked in water coffins, pelted with rotting fruit, beaten with boards and wet ropes, and drug behind the ship. Then the battered sailor is awarded a certificate proclaiming their status as shellback.

Remember the boat Darwin sailed aboard, the HMS Beagle? I don't know the details of the line crossing ceremonies held on the Beagle, but I know her captain, Robert Fitzroy, thought the ceremony beneficial to morale. "The disagreeable practice alluded to has been permitted in most ships, because sanctioned by time; and though many condemn it as an absurd and dangerous piece of folly, it has also many advocates. Perhaps it is one of those amusements, of which the omission might be regretted. Its effects on the minds of those engaged in preparing for its mummeries, who enjoy it at the time, and talk of it long afterwards, cannot easily be judged of without being an eye-witness."

As on most cruising sailboats these days, our line crossing ceremony on Del Viento last night was a rather pleasant affair. As we had no shellbacks to officiate, I stepped up as the elder polliwog and indoctrinated Windy, Eleanor, and Frances, in turn. In each case, sitting in the cockpit under a full moon on a warm tropical night under sail, I proclaimed they'd spent their entire life in the northern hemisphere but that now, having crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere aboard this sailing vessel, the status of shellback is hereby conferred upon them. Each was then handed a shot of rum from which they were instructed to drink their fill before offering the rest to Neptune. (The girls were very generous in their offerings to Neptune; "Yuck, it tastes like mouthwash!"). Then Windy inducted me.
Today we're enjoying celebratory brownies and movies as we get closer and closer to making landfall.


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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.


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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.


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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?


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.


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.


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