Apr 3, 2014

Pacific Crossing Week Two: March 28 - April 3 - How Many Shades of Blues?

The only thing worse than being bling is 
Having sight but no vision.
Helen Keller 

Dancing in and out of squalls
Day 8 - March 28 - Would I Have Done This 3 Years Ago?
Mileage: 154 nm
Position: 12.51.8 N and 121.50.5 W
Total mileage: 1,109 nm

Our best day so far.  Winds have gone as far up as 27 knots, waves 10 feet, and our quickest ride down a wave, wing-on-wing, was 10 knots. We have passed the 1,000 mile mark at 1,110 miles, an average of 138.75/day - but who's counting ;-) We will be ½ way there in another 200-250 miles. With that many miles west, we entered a new time zone, quickly approaching the famous ITCZ (Inter Tropic Convergence Zone).

Our daily morning round brings up many more night casualties with several squids and flying fish dotting the deck.

Three years ago if I would have been asked to join this crew I would've given a categorical NO, too afraid to attempt such an exploit. Learning to sail over the last 2 years has significantly changed my views.

Port was starboard, tack was jibe in the mind of the person who, in fear, over-analyzed rather than felt what the boat needed. Fear would paralyze me in the mode of thinking too much, my nemesis. Now, unlike much of what is taught at school and at work, I let my instincts guide me and I feel the better for it.

The waves were only as large as my fears, growing larger as I was more petrified. Thankfully most of my fears have abated.

It's too easy to overly depend on dials, gauges, instruments, facts and figures rather than understanding what their numbers mean in terms of moving the boat efficiently. I'm learning to make better use of my intuition because I trust my overall knowledge more and more.

Newly installed AIS (to make you aware of other vessels in the vicinity if they also have the device) seemingly becomes inactive and right away we bemoan its lack of cooperation and usefulness when, in reality, we didn't use to sail with it just a short while ago. How quickly we would rather use computer programs instead of counting on our senses.

Many newcomers to the world of sailing only know sailing with autopilot, safely ensconced in their canvassed bubble. It's a pity many don't get to feel the message brought by the shifting winds they would otherwise feel on their faces. In that comfort zone comes isolation from the environment that is moving them. Should these instruments fail, the lack of understanding of the basics: speed, angles, waves, currents, sail trims, etc makes it very difficult to sail.

I was asked why I hadn't trimmed the sail a certain way at sundown when we first left land about a week ago, more than 2,650 miles from our destination! Why I wasn't staying closer to the imaginary rhumb line. My mind, actually, had a very difficult time even computing this simple question. For me, it was about getting away from land as soon as possible and, in the most comfortable way. Something that sailing without a motor for 2 years had taught me.

Our ways of sailing is quite tainted by what we have learned over time but I hadn't fully thought of the possibility of other ways. We sail more intuitively and less by numbers and machines. Now we merge, what I hope is the best of both worlds.

Well enough of this…

Off to make meat loaf in the pressure cooker… Yummy

All is well

Nightly weather and email check
Day 9 - March 29 - How Long is This Passage Going to Be?
Mileage: 167 nm
Position: 11.02.1 N and 123.59.2 W
Total mileage: 1,276 nm

Our best daily mileage yet, a new record for Music! Speaking of record, we also broke her fastest Speed Over Ground (SOG), previously at 10.4 knots, it is now 12.7 knots. That was quite a surf down a nice wave in the middle of the night. Winds are staying between 15 and 28 knots from the NNE - nearly identical as yesterday. We are still wing-on-wing heading approximately to 10 N and 125 W where we'll decide our next move across the ITCZ (Inter Tropic Convergence Zone) where tropical circuits N&S meet along the equator and usually where you find little wind between squalls.

A nice rainbow opens the day before everything gets cloudy and dark. We had rain for the first time during the night. We are dry in our little cockpit cocoon.

So how long is this passage going to be many ask? It depends on the size of the boat (larger ones go faster), whether you motor during calm times or not (many don't carry the necessary fuel to do so and end up bobbing for a while), and what winds/currents/counter currents you come across.

Based on our current speed (average 142 miles/day) we should make it there in about 18-19 days but it could be longer if the winds die and probably not shorter for we are going about as fast as Music can handle comfortably. This is not a race and not about breaking anything on the boat. Some boats we know have done it in as little as 15 days (large catamaran), and others in as long as 38 days (that boat was 24 feet). There is preparation, watching for a good weather window, but a lot of good old LUCK is also involved.

A passage this long is lengthy enough:

§  To give you time to ponder about the journey rather than only focus on the long awaited arrival.
§  To question why and have the time to think and reflect on the answer. The end is not only what counts.
§  To value the true effort to get there, to matter, and not be undertaken lightly.
§  To feel the sweat equity that goes into this. Nothing worthwhile doing is free.
§  To make it accessible to very few to embark on.
§  To lose sleep over it before you pull anchor but to go with the flow once you're underway.
§  To know the ones with you as well as yourself much better.
§  To give you a sense of accomplishment
§  That only cooperation and give and take can make it work. Egos have no place.
§  To learn to say NO much more carefully and YES more promptly, less guardedly.
§  To appreciate the ones who ventured here before without the modern paraphernalia of computers, motors, gizmos, etc.
§  To understand the true vastness of the Blue Pacific Ocean which covers about 30% of mother Earth.
§  To be in the moment for real.
§  To change your view/definition of time, distance, space, comfort, fear, enjoyment, etc.
§  To be grateful for what is left back 'home' waiting for your return.
§  To say I LOVE YOU without distraction.
§  To share beautiful, yet simple, memories, sunsets, sunrises, storms, sights, etc.
§  To have friends and family question your sanity, your state of mind, your goal.
§  To notice small things you normally would not i.e.:
·         Flying fish, when they are only 1" long fly like butterflies, willy-nilly, mostly guided by the winds.
·         Flying fish, when they are 2", fly like dragonflies, somewhat leading their own way but still fleeting about.
·         Flying fish, when they are 3", fly like curious and playful swallows, ricocheting against the higher waves.
·         Flying fish, when they are larger, fly like winged torpedoes bouncing off the water like flat round skipping stones.

All is well
Day 10 – March 30 - Everything is Relative
Mileage: 164 nm
Position: 9.01.6 N and 125.52.7 W
Total mileage: 1,441 nm

Another great sail keeping us wondering when we'll balance this with a slower day. We are nearing an area called the Clipperton Fracture.

Total 1,440 miles (6 miles/hour or 144 miles/day!) meaning that in the last 24 hours we passed the halfway point and were at the furthest point from land in all direction (except below where land is approximately 3 miles deep)…

Part of our daily routine is to enter our coordinates, wind direction, cloud cover, wind speed, etc in a log. Should instruments fail, we would have an idea of our last position and direction and deduce from there where we are going… These entries sound easy, and they are, but it's amazing how three people can see things differently. What I may see as 6 foot swells, someone else may see as 3. Cloud cover that appears to be 30% to you may be 50% to another. Fear may color the size of waves while extensive sailing experience lets you see them as tame.

Even instruments, calibrated slightly differently, may have dissimilar readings for water temperature, wind speed, wind angle, etc. Of course entering this data in the log is more about looking for trends than precise measurements i.e.: is the barometer going up or down, are the clouds getting thicker or not, is the wind abating or getting stronger? And it's a trick to keep you awake on your night watch ;-)

We are beginning the lull of this portion of our voyage. We had a crescendo at the beginning with all the preparation and provisioning madness. We will have another climax when we arrive. Right now we have somewhat run out of stories to share, things to laugh at, ideas to explore. We have run out of projects other than daily chores. We are quietly enjoying the respite before we touch land again.

All is well.

Pink clouds
Rainbow cloud
Day 11 - March 31 - Surrounding Squalls
Mileage: 146 nm
Position: 7.11.3 N and 127.19.7 W
Total mileage: 1,587 nm

Probably our last fast day for a while since it seems we have finally entered the 'ITCZ' - an area generally littered with squalls followed by doldrums, and dark clouds peppered with lightning and thunder. The ITCZ moves up and down along the equator and we managed to catch it early at 7 N rather than the about normal 3-5 N. People always hope to catch a 'skinny' pass through the ITCZ as it changes shape and position - it doesn't look like we'll be that lucky.

After so many days of even sailing on one tack or another for long periods of time, one never knows what to expect here. Last night, we had squalls after squalls (I made it happened for I just finished laundry and was about ready to hang it up) enhanced with thunder and a lightning show. A little nerve bending but we managed. We were cooped up in the cockpit enclosure with steamy windows on all sides feeling like we were in a lush greenhouse. Winds easily switched 90 degrees dipping to 11 knots and climbing back to 30 in the time it takes to snap your fingers. We are currently motoring while we make water, top off the batteries, and await better winds.

We have encountered our first litter flotsam since leaving Mexico. A long bamboo pole - - - even the lone boobie in the area had to come investigate. So far from everything where could it have come from? A flying fish made it in the cockpit during a night watch. It certainly woke someone up desperately fluttering about to escape…

Radio propagation is getting more difficult as we are away from land so don't be surprised if you don't hear from us for a short while and please do not worry.

All is well
Day 12 – April 1 – Are We Purists?
Mileage: 81 nm
Position: 5.53.0 N and 127.42.0 W
Total mileage: 1,668 nm

81 miles of using fossil fuel, something we are not accustomed to – sad…

The most asked question sailors have when they find out we do not have an engine aboard Déjàlà is "Are you purists?" By purists, we assume they refer to burning the fuel needed for motoring i.e.: are we trying not to add to the green house effect?

The answer is NO. How can we be purists about the usage of hydrocarbons when we use computers, solar panels, fiberglass, Marblehead Dacron sails, plastics, and more, all partially oil based. We are not purists and neither do we regard people with motors as non-purists. While the benefits of a diesel auxiliary are nice, Déjàlà will subsist on photon drive! We came here with an open mind about the possibility to change but nothing has convinced us as of yet - it may be yet to come.

There is a subtle shift to the mindset without a diesel backup. We feel we experience much more out of sailing. We are more aware of, and sense the subtleties of our surroundings. We appreciate more what we have. We also get an additional feeling of accomplishment when reaching our destination aided only by wind, if and when we reach it that is! Sometimes the destination is dictated by the winds, not our wills, and that is when it becomes an adventure rather than a sailing goal. There is something to be said about not always be in control and trusting the universe although it is heavily ingrained in all of us. Motoring seems to be somewhat numbing, a new thing to experience.

Wear and tear of the last 1,600 miles is showing. The mainsail halyard has worn through its outer layer and has to be replaced. The spinnaker halyard has also worn right through. The mainsail's top batten has broken and will not be replaced. All things considered these are very minor but we will soon be running out of spare halyards.

We saw four shooting stars last night, one of the small things that make us happy.

All is well
Day 13 – April 2 - Regression to the Mean Sucks!
Mileage: 94 nm
Position: 4.55.9 N and 128.33.9 W
Total mileage: 1,762 nm

A second day below 100 miles; much more of a psychological goal than a meaningful measurement. Another day dodging clouds with windless pockets hidden under their darkening bellies, preceded by sneaky high winds easily veering us off-course 90 degrees to them, just as quickly, returning us to our chosen heading after a wild sleigh ride. Larger swells slowing down our progress since we no longer have them behind us, helping safely surf rather than uncomfortably roll us side to side.

Then the stops or slowdowns to fix broken items or retrieve a submerged spinnaker. Our average has gone from 144 miles/day to 135 miles/day; making our arrival perhaps more in the range of 20-21 days although it could still be 19 should we start picking up consistent winds in the right direction. Regression to the mean sucks but it was nearly inevitable.

While surrounded by squall clouds all around, our unbroken 360 degree view seems atrophied, shrunken to just a few miles and we feel small and nearly claustrophobic. As the skies open up our horizon does the same, expanding to a 10-12 mile circular panorama and we feel taller among the waves and swells of this forever moving seascape.

We had purchased 'quick and easy to make' food items just in case we couldn't cook from scratch. We were told by so many how 'impossible' it was to do so underway. So far, even under 30 knot winds and 2 to 2.5 meter seas we have been able to cook normally and safely.

We are glad to be done with the 13th day and April fool's day, of our trip after just about losing a boat hook, having the spinnaker in the water, breaking 2 halyards, nearly chafing through a third one as well as losing a pin on a major block and braking a mainsail batten. Not sure who the cause is: Day 13 or April 1? For a while it felt like we were in the Bermuda Triangle of the Pacific Ocean. At least it is not an autopilot, a transmission, a water-maker, or an engine.

We are glad that everyone is safe and that the useful winds are back.

All is well
Day 14 – April 3 – What Would Eskimos Call These Clouds?
Mileage: 118 nm
Position: 3.5.5 N and 129.14.7 W
Total mileage: 1,880 nm

Considering we are in the usually calm ITCZ, it is very good progress. We are less than 1,000 nm from Hiva Oa, our entry point in The Marquesas and less than 200 miles from the famous 'zero degree' latitude of the equator.

Our VHF radio clock says it is 26:14h Greenwich Time instead of 02:14h, a glitch in the twilight zone of electronics and their instantaneous around the world communications!

Another dodging-the-squalls day thankfully filled with winds this time. We cannot make use of the spinnaker now that it ate two precious halyards. The halyards have been fixed but we have to find the cause for such quick chafing, which entails going up the mast at anchor or while becalmed, before we can use it again. We are left with wing-on-wing or the Genoa when going downwind, making our options a little more limited. So - again, thanks for good wind in the right direction even though we are in 'the zone'.

Squalls are fascinating critters. One minute your eyes and radar alert you of a huge 6 miles x 6 miles cell only 2 miles ahead of you. By the time you travel those 2 miles, expecting the worse, hoping the best, the cell has completely evaporated like magic. The reverse is also just as amazing: you are moving along minding your own sailing business under sunny or starry sky, nothing of interest ahead while suddenly you feel a slight change of humidity and temperature in the shifty air and, you are now in the middle of a cell that materialized out of the thick warm humid air. Winds pick up or die, change direction or not. You have to plan for all possibilities, there is not only one way to approach them. You are washed in nice cooling fresh water then you are back on the other side of a cell that is vanishing as fast as it was created.

On the horizon we are flanked on all sides with towering cumulus changing size, color and shape while getting painted by partial or complete rainbows as if part of an orchestrated show just for our benefit. There are three distinct layers hovering above us, one going with us, one staying still, the last one moving in the opposite direction. While Eskimos have dozens of words to describe snow, I could see sailors spending countless days at sea having numerous words describing clouds, waves, swells, and weather. So many variances when one takes the time to observe.

We were visited by pilot whales this morning and about 15 miles away a Japanese fishing boat is plying the waters, and the first boat we have seen in over a week! The pilot whales are probably moving away from this boat.  Over the radio we hear of a large earthquake in Chile and of a possible tsunami. Our instruments show a row of very sudden and large influxes of water going under our keel. It just felt like slightly larger swells but must have been the tsunami.

We've had no distinct smells in the air, even after rains. We are used to the creosote bush or ozone smells awakening after a good desert rain. Something seems amiss.

Time to fish again since our big eye tuna went to good use in feeding us four great meals.

End of week two and we have covered 1,880 nm.

All is well

Week Two:
By the time you read the numbers below Music has gracefully glided over many more waves but, for consistency, we keep these updates 24 hours apart.

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