Longitude 180

We are two days out from Wallis to Tuvalu. We’re sailing northwest, back toward the equator, and about to cross from 180 degrees west longitude to 180 degrees east longitude. Kind of like crossing the equator — fun to watch the chart plotter climb to 179 59.999W and then it will start counting down with 179 59.999E. You’d expect this crossing to also advance our date to the next day, but both Tonga and Wallis already use the advanced day. At least it will be less confusing to clearly be over the dateline and not be trying to figure out what day it is for us versus what day it is for other boats at other islands.

Last night we had an impressive show of lightning to the north, in the distance. The wind was blowing 20 and we were going directly downwind, surfing down waves — at one point we hit 15 knots. We were on track to achieve the elusive 200 mile day, and we decided to leave the big spinnaker up as it got dark. Always risky…

We tuned the settings on the autopilot earlier in the day. It’s been doing a much better job of keeping us on course, and thus keeping the spinnaker from collapsing. But it is still “on the edge” when waves are pushing us around. I find that I’m staring intently at the wind instruments, watching the boat yaw in the waves. As it comes close to where the spinnaker will collapse I find myself trying to WILL the boat to turn back. And then as it yaws in the other direction I am again trying to mentally/psychically bring it back on course. I’m busy trying to keep the lightning far away, too! This is tiring, and obviously ineffective. So I try to practice relaxing. “Wiggle my toes, and breathe.” Trust the universe. Respond when needed to actually steer back on course, but relax and enjoy the ride when the autopilot is doing the work. I do a pretty good job of this — relaxing and taking in the wonder of it all.

Two hours later it was suddenly blowing 30, and I was yelling, “All hands! Wake up!! We need to get the spinnaker down NOW!!!” The autopilot couldn’t keep the spinnaker from collapsing, so I began hand steering. Bill turns on our deck light so he and Bob can see the spinnaker lines, but that blinds me so all I can do is stare at the wind direction indicator and try to stay dead downwind. My fear was that the spinnaker would collapse and flog itself to shreds or ‘explode’ when it filled with wind again. Also on our minds was whether Bill and Bob would be able to pull the “sock” down (a sleeve that furls/contains the spinnaker) in a 30 knot wind — a question we had wondered about from time to time. Answer: one person is not enough (he gets lifted off the deck rather than the sock coming down), but two can do it. Good reason not to be single-handing…

Ten minutes later the squall had passed. But we were happy to let the 200 mile day go, and continue at a relaxing 6 or 7 knots under jib alone. The sky cleared; the stars were magnificent; the lightning to the distance continued unabated. What a place to be! We haven’t seen a ship or another sailboat at sea for weeks. Endless waves. Can you imagine the early explorers who had no chart, and never knew what lay just ahead, if anything? We know exactly where we are, thanks to the miracle of GPS, and I’m pretty sure our charts are complete and reasonably accurate. And still there is an overwhelming feeling of awe. Are we really rolling along from an island I had never heard of before this trip to another island I’d never heard of before this trip? Three odd ducks on a catamaran? Wave after wave welling up out of the blackness behind, raising our sterns, pushing us forward, and melting into the blackness ahead… Sailing through the eerie night toward foreboding flashes of distant lightning? Or is this all a vivid dream and I’ll be back in the office in the morning?

5 thoughts on “Longitude 180”

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