Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Into the South Atlantic

Sailing is Serious... so am I

Black Browed Albatross and a Fairy Prion

It's not always cold


I'm going to be putting up some pictures and video from the trip over the next few days:
Cape Horn

Looking forward

Albatross at Sunset

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


It's really nice to be back ashore again - so far I've been sleeping, watching terrible television with my darling mother, and eating anything and everything I can get my hands on that isn't out of a can.  So far I don't feel quite as much of a culture shock as when I came into shore in Chile, but I also haven't really been outside the house much either yet - still just sort of adjusting and recovering.  I can't really focus on the trip as a whole yet, I'm still too focused on enjoying flushing toilets, showers, dishwashers, and clean sheets to be particularly interesting.

Monday, July 23, 2012


5PM Position: 33 45' N, 118 15' W, SOG 0, COG 0, Day's Run 90nm.   Docked.  240 days at sea, 28,000 nm, average speed 4.6kts.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Noon Position: 32 11' N, 118 42' W, SOG 5.8, COG 010, Day's Run 100nm.
I'm settling in for the last 100 miles or so to LA, trying to get a lot
of sleep today since I know I won't tonight. In a lot of ways, being
out at sea is a lot easier than being inshore, even in a gale, as
there's nothing to worry about hitting. From just after Cape Horn until
I was in the trades in the South Pacific I saw no ships, the only thing
I had to look out for was a single iceberg. Now i'm seeing a few ships
a day, and aware of far more just over the horizon with AIS. I think I
was pretty lucky with weather this trip, despite all my moanings and
whinings about being becalmed - in all those miles in the southern ocean
and a close encounter with a hurricane in the north pacific I never
really had sustained wind over what I estimate to be force 9. There
were certainly dangerous situations, but never really what one would
term "survival" storms, the kind of weather that is a very real
possibility on this route. Jesse Martin, who until a few years ago was
the youngest nonstop solo circumnavigator, was knocked down 5 times in a
row in while enduring something like 48 hours of force 10 wind on his
approach to Australia, The Moitessiers had to run under bare poles, hand
steering for 6 days before a succession of monster gales en route to the
horn, the Smeetons were pitch-poled end over end by a huge breaking
wave, even W.A. Robinson was nearly pitchpoled on board his much larger
(~50 tons) Varua. I took 3 knockdowns before I learned to be very
vigilant and aggressive in keeping the boat before big breaking seas,
and despite steadily worsening conditions escaped further damage after
my third roll in the Indian. Sometimes it really does seem that some
sailors attract storms and some attract calms, despite the apparent lack
of logic of such a statement.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Noon Position: 30 46' N, 119 39' W, SOG 4.9, COG 040, Day's Run 107nm.
One of the ways I've entertained myself in the last few weeks has been
to think about the creation of the "perfect" boat. Clearly perfect is a
bit of a silly term, but my thoughts lie towards a 35-40 foot ocean
cruiser, optimized for single and doublehanding from the tropics to the
high latitudes. I won't bore you with all my maunderings, but a few
characteristics spring to the fore, namely - Dry: I fantasize about a
metal boat, with everything welded, no leaky through bolts, so I could
sail upwind without a little puddle on the floor as a constant
companion, and books and clothes in various lockers wouldn't
mysteriously emerge soaked and moldy. To take it even further, said
boat would have a far more spray-proof companionway than Odyssey, and
when shut up would be totally watertight, able to be rolled 360 by a
breaking wave without leaking. The other characteristic that I would
love is strength, and by association, stiffness, so that going upwind in
25-30 kts of wind as I am right now I'd slow down for my own comfort,
not out of concern for the boat and rigging, and could face big breakers
without too much worry. These, of course, come on top of good sailing
qualities, a boat that could be operated essentially as if it didn't
have an engine, saving that grumbling goblin for maneuvering in and out
of tight docks. I've drawn and written out pages of thoughts and goals,
but in the end it's really a futile exercise. I'd rather be out sailing
now on my 35 year old, leaky, bendy, boat, than spending the next 20
years in a cubicle farm in Albany or Secaucus, slaving away while
dreaming about sailing away some day. The world is full of sailors and
would be sailors doing just that, and there are countless dream boats
lying half finished in yards across the country, sad monuments to dreams
deferred. Better to be wet and nervous and uncomfortable, but on the
ocean, than looking at pictures of tropical islands while slowly dying,
day by day, in the snakepit ashore. Still, while I'm out here doing, it
doesn't hurt to dream.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Noon Position: 28 34' N, 122 43' W, SOG 4.5, COG 090, Day's Run 84nm,
Week's Run 587nm. As I sailed south in November, each day I listened to
the radio, as first the FM college radio stations dropped out, then the
stronger FM broadcasts, then last of all the AM news and talk shows and
I was surrounded by the silence of the sea. Now, sailing back towards
shore, the reverse is happening - for a few days now I've been able to
receive AM stations on the SSB's big antenna, and last night for a few
hours I picked up my first FM station on the stereo - Santa Barbara's
KTYD. It was an exciting moment, far more so than just hearing
different music for the first time since January could account for, and
I capered around the boat, sang along, and tried to come up with good
slogans for KTYD ("Easy listening for easy living"). Just as the
euphoria of this tangible proof that I was once again approaching land
was wearing off, and, incidentally, the signal was starting to fade out,
I heard one of those noises that sailors dread to hear - A
SPROING-DOINK-Doink-doink.. kind of sound. Hopeful, I pretended that it
was just a fork or a knife leaping from the galley counter in a
spectacular fashion, despite the fact that I had carefully put
everything away as the wind picked up yesterday afternoon, but my hopes
were quickly dashed as the boat lurched, luffed up, and tacked, then lay
quietly hove to. The clutch pin for the windvane's wheel adapter had
finally broken, doinking it's way across the cockpit, and in the process
disconnecting the self steering from the wheel. I guess I should be
grateful that it waited until this late in the trip, particularly as
Odyssey pretty much sails herself close hauled, making the windvane a
mostly superfluous luxury so I can adjust course without leaving the
cabin. Still, I continue to be not particularly impressed with the
rugged construction (or lack thereof) of the Monitor. It certainly has
taken a lot of abuse, and I don't know that any other commercial vane
would be in as good of shape, but the welds that broke last night looked
like they were initially only made about 1/2-way around the pin, not
taking full advantage of the available surface area. After gybing back
on course and getting the boat close hauled again I broke out the stumpy
emergency tiller and rigged the windvane up to it with a gorgeous
kludge-y spiderweb of rigging across the cockpit, so I've got full
steering capabilities again, although I suspect that because of the
shortness of the tiller the windvane isn't going to be able to steer at
low speed as well anymore. I continue to regret not just ripping the
wheel off before I left and installing a proper tiller, but there was
only so much time and far more work to do than time to do it in.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Noon Position: 27 10' N, 26 29' W, SOG 5.2, COG 010, Day's Run 38nm.
Yesterday I felt like I was sailing at Tufts. I normally record changes
of course and speed in the log. Yesterday, after discovering that I had
tacked 10 times in the last hour, and gained 1 mile of distance, I
decided to save the trees and just gave up. The weather continued like
that, constant 45-130 degree wind shifts, puffs, and flat calms, until
around 6 am this morning when the breeze finally filled back in. I was
actively sailing, tacking on every header until I went to sleep, and for
about 10 hours of almost constant effort gained about 10 miles. Last
night I pretty much gave it up as a lost cause, only getting up every
hour or so to tack to try to keep moving, but didn't really get anywhere
until this morning. It seems like I've finally gotten a bit of a lift
today though, so hopefully it'll last long enough to get some mileage.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Noon Position: 26 31' N, 122 35' W, SOG 3, COG 330, Day's Run 80nm.
Beautiful, Sunny Southern California has extended all of it's very best
attributes 500 miles out to sea, just for me! Gloomy, overcast skies,
chilly water, and no wind makes me feel like I'm already back on shore.
I hoped that when I escaped the doldrums I had seen the last of the
drifter, but its yellow and blue stripes are slowly drawing us along. I
guess I should be grateful that I don't have smog, traffic, and strip
malls springing up all around on top of the weather :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Noon Position: 25 26' N, 120 40' W, SOG 4.5, COG 320, Day's Run 72nm.
A few days ago I dug some .txt and .pdf ebooks out of the carcass of my
old laptop, and have been devouring them in all-day reading binges. In
the process, I have been reminded of the best feature of my deceased
kindles - the screen. Reading all day on my laptop's lcd leaves my eyes
bloodshot and dry, trying to crawl out of their frazzled sockets,
throbbing and clawing at my eyelids when I go to sleep. After two
nights of bleariness I've finally given in and gave my eyes a break, and
today am re-reading some paperbacks (for the second time...) just so my
poor eyeballs stop trying to escape. I wonder if this is in part due to
having gotten LASIK - I don't remember computer monitors being quite so
brutal with glasses. In the last seven days I've only gained 470nm
towards LA - about 68 nm made good per day.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Noon Position: 23 50' N, 122 10' W, SOG 2, COG 325, Day's Run 108nm.
Unfortunately, instead of giving me the wind shift I was hoping for, the
passage of Hurricane Emilia seems to have just sucked away all the wind,
so we're slowly drifting NW. We left the tropics today, and for the
past few days it has been noticeably cooler - the water has a bit of a
nip to it, no more do I swelter in a puddle of sweat through the middle
of the day, and I've even had to break out a big wool blanket for
sleeping at night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Noon Position: 20 59' N, 120 18' W, SOG 5.7, COG 330, Day's Run 122nm,
Week's Run 615nm.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Noon Position: 18 13' N, 117 36' W, SOG 5, COG 310, Day's Run 98nm.
The final beat against the trades has begun - about 930nm to go,
straight upwind. Fun. For those of you who are interested in such
things, I should have an article about rounding Cape Horn coming out in
the August issue of Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine (www.seafaring.net)

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Noon Position: 15 22' N, 115 59' W, SOG 6.2, COG 345, Day's Run 140nm.
WARNING: Those of you who are easily offended by the throwing of wild
animals may want to find a different blog to read today. We had a good
ride through Daniel last night, with the breeze slowly building and
backing as Daniel (finally declared a hurricane last night) passed north
of us. Most of the night was spent tearing along in force 8, with
several hours of force 9 winds. The seas surprisingly didn't get
particularly big or steep, never seemed to get over about 10 ft, and
didn't ever start breaking really heavily, just sort of crumbling aboard
and alongside as they went by. I didn't end up getting to sleep until
the breeze got back down to force 8 around midnight, and was up a lot
through the rest of the night, so this morning after dropping the
staysail and setting part of the jib I went straight back to sleep.
About an hour later the breeze had dropped some more, and I woke up and
went into the cockpit still groggy-eyed, to unroll the rest of the jib.
I was reaching for the furling line when I realized that there was a
brown fuzzy ball sitting on top of the jib sheet and furling line on the
bench. Now, I would like to tell you how, being the hardened,
adventurous seaman that I am, I calmly assessed the situation and
reacted with dignity and aplomb. Unfortunately, I screamed like a
little girl and jumped back below, now fully awake. I slowly peered
back around the edge of the companionway and found myself staring into
the sleepy eyes of a brown booby. I quickly withdrew. About a minute
later I peeped out again and it was back asleep, head tucked under it's
wing, but still standing, wobbling back and forth on it's stumpy little
legs like some sort of giant fuzzy toy egg. Occasionally the boat would
take an extra big lurch and one leg would make a little stutter-step for
balance, then gently resume rocking, all without blinking an eye. The
booby didn't seem particularly disturbed, so, I slowly pulled the
furling line out from under its tail and set the rest of the jib and
then, inspired by its example went back below and to sleep. The next
time I came on deck there was a lovely stream of grey running down the
seat from the booby. Enough, I decided, you may be tired from the
hurricane, but that gives you no excuse to make a mess upon my decks,
and I picked the booby up, eliciting nothing more than a groggy blink as
it pulled its head out, and unceremoniously dumped it overboard. The
wind had eased by this time, so after scrubbing the deck I went to set
the main. Just as I was finishing up the booby was back, landing this
time on the cabin top, butt poised dangerously over the topping lift.
Scrubbing the deck is one thing, but cleaning liquified fish off of line
is entirely another. Still, I felt a little sorry for it - I was tired,
and I had been able to get some sleep last night, whereas I imagine it
had been airborne in the thick of the storm. Finally I picked the booby
up again and put it on the floor of the cockpit under the wheel, where
theres a steady wash of water from the cockpit drains, so that anything
unpleasant gets rinsed away before it has a chance to stick. As I write
this the booby is still sitting there, eyes closed, rocking back and
forth. I wish I had sea legs as good as his.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Noon Position: 13 05' N, 116 22' W, SOG 5, COG 045, Day's Run 42nm.
Wednesday afternoon the trades came back, and I had a glorious 8 hours
of sailing on smooth seas before I decided to heave to, due to the
approach of Daniel, which can't seem to make up its mind whether to
become a hurricane or not. So, instead of making two good days of
sailing, I spent 30 of the last 48 hours hove to, just waiting, and
finally this morning was able to start sailing north again to pass up
the backside of Daniel as it passes north of us today. So far the
weather has been decent - 25-30 kts of wind, 8-10 foot seas from all
directions, which makes for a bumpy ride, but nothing real big, and not
enough wind to make anything really start breaking. We may see a bit
more breeze tonight as we get a bit closer, but we're now very much on
the right side of the storm.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Noon Position: 11 44' N, 116 32' W, SOG 3.5, COG 320, Day's Run 49nm,
Weeks' Run 335! At sunrise this morning I looked down into a glassy sea
of blue stars, tiny glints reflecting the light, slowly receding into
the depths. Here and there an upside down jellyfish swam by - not an
actual Upside Down Jellyfish, which live in mangroves, merely a
jellyfish which was upside down - swimming slowly back to deeper
waters. For all but one day in the past week I have been visited by
dolphins, at dawn, at dusk, just after dark, or some combination of the
three. Alliterative creatures, these dolphins of the doldrums.
Yesterday afternoon I had an exciting hour and a half of sail changes as
I sailed through a rain squall, from drifter to jib back to drifter,
then as the wind went aft I tried adding the jib poled out to windward,
then I dropped the main, then I reset the main, then I struck the jib,
then got the spinnaker out to set, but realized that I would have to
gybe, so struck the drifter, set the jib, gybed, the set the spinnaker
and struck the jib. The spinnaker took advantage of a moments
inattention and light wind to tie itself in a knot around the forestay,
and by the time I got it sorted out I was streaming sweat. I couldn't
swim, so I ended up just sticking my head in a bucket of rainwater I'd
caught that morning a few times then dumping it over my head. Just as
my body temperature was starting to return to something approximating
normal I happened to look astern and in the water, just a few feet off
the windvane, were five green-blue shapes, swimming along in our wake,
with shimmering iridescent blue fins and bright yellow tails. More
Dolphins! (of a different sort - Mahi-Mahi are sometimes called
dolphinfish). I felt a little bit guilty for thinking about trying to
eat these gorgeous creatures of light, but in the end tossed in my
lures. I shouldn't have worried - after a quick initial spurt of
investigation the mahi patiently ignored both my green and purple squid,
despite all the jiggling I could muster to make them look enticing.
Later in the afternoon the breeze shut off again and I struck the
spinnaker and slipped into the water to scrub the bottom, gently easing
in fins first to not spook the fish if they were still around. They
still were - just astern, just behind where one of my lures was slowly
sinking, the mahi were still languidly following me. Another Mahi swam
up from behind and went straight towards my lure, and I realized it
wasn't a Mahi - it was a shark! It took a chomp at it, decided it was
no good to eat, then vanished back to where it came from. It wasn't
much bigger than the mahi, which didn't seem particularly disturbed by
it's presence, and I am much larger than a Mahi, so I stayed in the
water and cleaned the bottom. Still, every time I looked around as I
was scrubbing and caught a bit of movement my heart raced before I
resolved it back into a mahi, patiently circling the hull.
Just around sunset we started sailing again, mahi bunched up tight
against the stern, chasing us now, occasionally breaking the surface
with the tip of a tail, and mammalian dolphins swam up for their daily
check-in. One leapt a few times astern, another slapped the water five
or six times with his tail like some sort of oceanic beaver, and they
passed by, swimming near Odyssey for a few minutes before heading back
to wherever they came from. While they were alongside I heard a faint
questioning whistle from down below and went and listened - the dolphins
were talking! There was a series of who faintly whizzing rising
whistles, repeated probably 10 or 15 times, then they were silent again,
and when I came back on deck they were swimming away. I've never heard
dolphins before - always wondered if there was something wrong with my
ears, or if I was just associating with the wrong dolphins. I'm still
not sure, but some sort of cosmic confluence connected their chirps and
my ears.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Noon Position: 10 10' N, 116 02' W, SOG 2, COG 330, Day's Run 48nm. I
just sailed past, in succession, a red bottle with two tiny fish hiding
under it, a booby sitting on the back of a large turtle, with a gannet
floating alongside, and finally a fishing float with 5 or 6 medium sized
fishing hiding in its shade, and a little turtle that went scurrying
away across the sea as we sailed by. The fish were, unfortunately, not
tempted by the oh-so-delicious looking purple and green squid that
mysteriously passed them just a few seconds after the boat did.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Noon Position: 9 27' S, 116 25' W, SOG 4, COG 060, Day's Run 50nm.
There are times you wonder if the wind will ever come back, or if you
are doomed, like some seafaring Tantalus, to roast forever beneath the
blazing tropical sky, teased by patches of rippled water that wander by,
just out of reach. You know the wind will come back, it always does,
but still... You recall stories, horrible stories, of sailing ships
becalmed for weeks in the doldrums, until water runs dry, fresh food
runs out, and when the wind at last returns the scurvy-ridden crew can
barely trim the sails to escape with it. You wonder what the crew of
the helicopter that circles you thinks, seeing you sitting there,
panting in the tiny patch of shade under your tarp, as the wind whips
the shirt sleeves waving out the open door. You wonder what they would
think if they pass over again on their way home and see you sitting
there on the motionless sea, under the same tiny scrap of tarp, reading
the same book, roasting in the same sun. Will they wonder if they've
flown into some sort of time warp, a Bermuda triangle of the pacific?
You swim, you tease the pilot fish, scrub at grass and algae and
insatiable barnacles. You sit and sweat, and swim again, diving down
into the cool shadow of the hull, looking up at the totality of your
world, rolling in the swell. Just for fun you tug at the bow with your
fins, towing it to point North, then kicking hard to tow it to face the
sun, trying to give yourself as much shade as you can when you get back
aboard. By the time you're dried off and looking for shade the boat has
spun again, another cycle in its aimless circle out here on the sea.
You chase the shade, moving from one seat to another, as the sinking
afternoon sun creeps beneath the edges of your canvas. You watch as
rain clouds mushroom up over the sea, thick gray cylinders topped with
white cotton candy, an stationary example of the water cycle at work.
You watch, hopefully, wondering if that cloud is moving, moving towards
you, away from you, it doesn't matter, movement means wind. But the
clouds keep watering their little plots of sea, relentlessly determined
to desalinate their little piece of the Pacific. Finally, just as you
resign yourself to another windless night, the sun sinks below the
horizon and there's something different about the boat, noticeable by
its lack. Then you realize - the main has stopped it's flapping, the
mainsheet has stopped creaking and clanking on the traveller, and the
boat has steadied, quieted. And you go on deck and are greeted by a
breath of cool night air, moving across the sea to brush your cheek. As
you unroll the jib and trim the main the boat gathers way, becoming once
more a living being, awakened from a hot and sullen sleep of creaks and
groans to the almost inaudible gurgle of water along the hull. You knew
the wind would be back, but still, you want to shout for joy, shout for
salvation, "Wind! Wind! The Wind is back!" Still, even as you slide
softly over the sea, you know that next time you will once again wonder
if the wind will come back.