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.


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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Day 12: Encounter

About 9:00 a.m. this morning, Eleanor bolted up from the settee pointing out the companionway, "A plane!" Windy figured Eleanor was over reacting to a commercial airliner passing overhead, but dutifully turned to take a look. She heard it at the same time she caught sight of a red fuselage very low and close. She and the girls raced up the stairs into the cockpit.

Windy said a small red and white helicopter finished a tight turn around Del Viento and then hovered off the port beam so close that if it wasn't for the roar of the rotor blades, she felt she could have called out to the two guys in the cockpit and had a conversation. As it was, they were trying to communicate. Windy picked up the cockpit VHF remote and motioned to speak. They shook their heads and the pilot made a thumbs-up gesture and then shrugged as if to ask if everything was okay. Windy gave a thumbs up and then the pilot and co-pilot waved and banked away-quickly disappearing over the horizon.

"Why didn't you wake me?!" I asked when I heard the story upon rising at 11:30 a.m.

"There was no time, it all happened very fast."

"Was it military? Was their writing on the side?"

She said it definitely wasn't military-shiny red with white accents and a swooping logo that was a bit like the stylized kangaroo on the side of every Quantas jet. There was no writing except for the registration numbers and she didn't note which letter they began with. She said it was a small helicopter.

We're literally 1,000 miles from anything. Helicopters don't have very impressive ranges. It had to have come off a boat nearby. I didn't see anything on the AIS until about noon, when a ship named Salt Lake City passed north of us, heading north, about 9 miles away.

There is not much to see out here, so that was pretty exciting, even for someone who slept through the event. We also saw dolphins today, which is a first for this passage. The only other living things we see consistently out here are boobies (mostly white ones) and tropic birds (the ones with the distinctive long tail feather trailing behind) and flying fish. The flying fish have been unusual for their size, smaller than we've ever seen, some only an inch long. The largest has been about 8 inches long and I'd say the median length is probably 3-4 inches.

That's all. We're deep into squall territory, getting hit left and right. We batten down, sometimes we heave to, and listen to the torrential rain pound the cabin top as one passes overhead. Our progress is a bit slower now because we're constantly reefed to some extent, but so far we haven't seen the winds die completely. The seas are still big and confused, so between squalls we're always wanting more wind to keep the sails filled.

I think tomorrow or so we'll reach our halfway point.


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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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