Life at Sea

Three days out. It is very hot in the daytime; we are only 70 miles from the equator. But oh, the nights! Cool and spectacularly beautiful in the brilliant full moon. For the most part there is little to do but cook and eat and read books. The sailing is easy and comfortable, and with the help of the favorable current it is pretty fast. Our noon-to-noon runs have been 170, 170 and 185 nautical miles. The last day was a big one because the wind came nearly abeam, which allows us to sail fast.

We are 50+ miles ahead of Tahawus, but they gave us a head start. Just as we came out of the river they found a problem with a halyard, and had to turn back. They ducked back into the calm waters in the river, anchored, and fixed things aloft before setting out again. And then on Day 2 they blew out their genniker, which I imagine is a go-to sail in these light downwind conditions. Maggie had an engine problem that delayed their departure. They had to wait a full day for the tide/current to again be right for them to go. Oh well, there is no hurry to arrive in Barbados.

My day begins with slowly waking from a deep sleep, wondering why there is so much noise of water rushing by. The current in the river at Jacare was strong and audible, but not like THIS. It takes me a minute to emerge from sleep enough to realize we are sailing. I check my iPad to see the time. 6:30…I decide to snooze longer. When I awake again it is 7:30 and starting to get hot.

I tumble out of bed and pull on a bathing suit, the most comfortable outfit in the heat. Tim and Josh are in the cockpit talking. I check the chart plotter to see if we are on our desired course, and are there any ships approaching. After a brief “Good morning!” Tim says we should set the spinnaker. The wind has come aft again; the jib is at times backwinded by the mainsail. It takes us 45 minutes to furl the jib, drop the main, rig the spinnaker sheets, set the spinnaker and get all the lines squared away.

I’m about to get a bowl of granola when Josh offers to make breakfast; leftovers from last night’s excellent dinner, with poached eggs on top. It’s more breakfast than I usually want, but I’m not about to say no to such a good offer! While Josh prepares the food, Tim and I put up the awnings for some shade in the cockpit. We considered leaving them up last night, but if we had some unexpected action in a nighttime squall, they would be a compounding nuisance, or worse, so we have taken them down each night.

At 9 it is radio check-in time. I watch the clock for twenty minutes prior, because twice already we have gotten distracted with boat tasks and missed the call. Today we have good reception, and can hear both boats, although they can’t hear each other. We “relay” their positions to each other. Not much else to chat about except how beautiful the night was, and confirming that we are all experiencing similar weather conditions.

Then time to do nothing until noon. Read. Snooze in the cockpit. Occasionally check for ships. Periodically silence our “AIS Connection Lost” alarm that happens at inexplicable intervals. At noon we set a waypoint on the chart plotter, at our current position. Then we check our distance from the previous noon waypoint. With the wind light and aft, it is our shortest day’s run so far, but still about “average” with the help of the current.

I make wraps for lunch, finally using up the stew Josh made with stock from a fish head. The head was about all we had by the time we reeled the fish in. Something, probably a shark, took two-thirds of the fish along the way! The third we had left was still enough for a baked fish dinner, plus the stew that was dinner, breakfast and lunch. We have been eating very well so far. We still have fresh fruit and veggies, though not for long.

I try to access SailMail on the radio. The nearest SailMail station is in Trinidad. It is still 1500 miles away, but our difficulties connecting are not due to the distance, I think, but rather to the constant traffic that the station seems to handle. Probably it can only service two frequencies at a time; maybe just one. And some of the frequencies seem to be perpetually busy. Yesterday afternoon we got a good connection, and cleared out the backlog of emails waiting for us. Now I’d like to get a wind forecast, but I can’t connect. We will keep trying every few hours.

Mid-afternoon is time to think about preparing dinner. It gets dark shortly after 6, and I like to have dinner served before dark. Also since our night watch schedule starts at 7, it’s nice to digest a bit before trying to sleep. I defrost some chicken…a stir fry over elbow macaroni…with some veggies and a little dried mango and some olives…

At twilight some ugly dark clouds appear to windward. We discuss whether or not to dowse the spinnaker. Tim says yes; I hesitate because no squalls so far have “packed a punch.” But this one is more threatening than any we’ve seen, and in the interest of sleeping well, I agree with Tim. Just as we are bringing it down the wind increases. We get the sail stowed as gusts rise to 30 knots. I’m very happy that we got it down! But of course 15 minutes later the wind is back under 20, okay for the spinnaker, and before long it is down to 14. No matter, where there is one squall there’s likely more, so the spinnaker stays down and we double reef the mainsail for the night.

It is dark well before 7, when we have our evening radio check-in. This can be a noisy staticky intrusive hard-to-make-anything-out pain, or it can be a pleasant chat in addition to the exchange of positions and sharing of weather conditions. Tonight we can barely hear Maggie, and we can’t make out their position. We trade info with Tahawus; they have closed the gap between us a little.

Silence again. Technically Josh is already on watch, but we tend to hang out for a while in the cockpit, letting the night wash over us, watching the moon rise, checking the clouds to windward to see if they are potential squall material. Then I set my alarm to 10:53 and try to settle in for some sleep. Some nights I’m not ready to sleep yet, and I lie awake with my thoughts. When the conditions are peaceful, as they are now, not sleeping doesn’t much matter. I can take cat naps during my watch if I need to. In challenging conditions I would be concerned about not sleeping when I have the chance.

At 11 I’m on deck. The moon is brilliant; the sky clear. The night air caresses me with coolness. The emptiness of our surroundings is enormous. We don’t have nearly enough sail up to move the boat well, and Josh reports that the wind has been light for his entire watch. I don’t want to shake the reefs out of the main, because it would likely wake Tim up. Tim has trouble sleeping, and even more trouble getting back to sleep, so we try to minimize nighttime sail changes. But Josh and I quietly furl the jib and set the big screecher in its place. This gets us moving well enough. When Tim appears at 3am, we shake out the reefs, too. And I get some real sleep until 7 or so.

Last night a “funny” thing happened. We switched on our deck light, just to verify that it was working, and it wouldn’t switch off. It is controlled by a remote, with no direct/manual control. We tested the battery in the remote, and it seemed okay. We pulled out our wiring diagram and found that fuse #24 is for the “spotlight.” So to turn it off we pulled the fuse. It didn’t shut off! I don’t know if “spotlight” is supposed to mean something different, or if the wiring was modified and bypasses the fuse. Tim started shutting off circuit breakers, and the “12V Outlets” breaker did the trick. The control seems to be completely shot; it won’t turn back on. But at least we don’t have to sail the next 8 days with a light shining on our deck!

Another interesting thing happened yesterday afternoon. We saw a 177-foot military-style vessel steaming the other way. But it changed course to head very close to us. I listened on the radio, expecting them to call and “interrogate” us. They did get on the radio, but they were talking with another nearby ship. Still, they were circling up behind us, so I decided to call them and ask what their intentions were. They explained in broken English that they were on a military exercise, looking for a white boat with two {something I couldn’t make out}. Had we seen such a vessel? I replied that I wasn’t clear what size vessel they were looking for. Their response was to take this as a “No.” They thanked us and steamed away, to my relief. But two minutes later they hailed us again, asking where we are registered, where bound, where from. I braced myself for more, but that’s all they wanted, and we were done with our encounter.

Tim and Josh talk at length about politics/economics. I find their talks interesting. Tim of course thinks the ills of our society are largely due to a failed political system. Josh argues that we don’t see any better system, and the problems stem from the people, not the system. When will the rich and powerful recognize that they don’t need more wealth and power? And the problems aren’t so much political as economic anyway. They can both agree that capitalism as we know it in the USA does not work for “the people.”

I agree with Josh that change has to come not through big system changes, which the powerful would never let happen, but through individuals “waking up” and making many small changes that collectively might become a “movement.” It is very hard for me to be content with this approach though. The actions we can take, at least the easy ones, seem so tiny…it just leaves me feeling powerless, and I’d rather focus on something non-political…like sailing… I imagine this conversation will be recurring for me over the coming months, and probably far beyond.

2 thoughts on “Life at Sea”

  1. Hi there in the middle of the vast expanse of blue ahead of you. I know pictures don’t portray much justice…but the cloudless night sky under a full moon miles away from all other distractions is a Godly sight to behold.

    Safe but exciting journeys to you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s