Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 7

We’ve just completed our 6th day and have covered over 900 miles. We have 2100 still to go. She’s fast, even when she’s loaded down. I love the performance I’m getting out of her. Yesterday we changed headsails (what a nightmare that was in 15 knots of wind without the engine on). With this younger and larger headsail, I’ve yet to post a speed under 7.0. This is going to be a most expeditious passage. I’m predicting my Mother’s day gift to dear Jere Mae will be landfall on May 13th.

I didn’t play the Mahi Mahi (I’ve changed names from dorado since I’m headed to the SPac islands) well enough and my 40 lb test line parted before I could land him. He was a powerful fish. He launched himself 3 body lengths into the air. He’s the one that got away. He’ll remember me too, since he has my favorite lure in his jaw. Most days it just seems like too much work to fish, especially when we still have all this fresh food that needs to be eaten. Lately though, all the strenuous activity has reawakened my hunger for fresh meat. Life as a savage - I love it. My tan is darker than it was in Mexico and my hair is growing back and lightening with the sun & salt. I wouldn’t even shower if Suzi didn’t insist.

In the mornings I sweep the desiccated flying fish off the deck, patrol for signs of chafe, and squint into the rising sun through heavy cumulus clouds. At noon I lead a radio net with 5 other boats. We set it up before we left. The goal is safety and strategy. The safety part is obvious, the strategy is really for the following vessels so they can decide which lead boats they want to emulate. In the evenings we play cards, read, run the generator to replenish the batteries for the night and offer praise to Otto. Who’s your best friend? A long haul sailor will answer that question only one way, “My Auto Pilot”. This 3 week journey would be an entirely different experience without Otto. Thank you Otto.

Since the swell is running beneath us faster than our speed and because the wind and waves our on our stern quarter, Barraveigh yaws and dips and tosses us around a considerable amount. It would be stupid to try and eat off a plate. Bowls only. Suzi has her two step crab shuffle perfected, and we both show off our bruises. I couldn’t help but smile when she took a tumble after a big roller and she declared at the top of her lungs, “Ow! My arse bone!” So cute. She was able to laugh about it today.

It’s a routine, we’ve found a rhythm, it’s trying and rewarding. It’s sailing.

Captain B

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Next Stop: French Polynesia

I think I may have spoken my final words of Spanish. I’ve got less than 30 days to learn how to make those French noises. It sounds to me like “Z’s” and “F’s” with a heavy nasal murmur. I think I’ll opt for faking it by speaking Spanish with a ridiculous accent.

We left the Galapagos island of Isabela April 24, 2007 at 11:30 am. No wind and calm seas with a 6 second swell from the south. The conditions haven’t changed in 12 hours, except for the heavy cloud cover that now blots out the stars. Suzi is sleeping. I’m pulling the 10 to midnight watch. We’ve caught a favorable current and are riding along at 7.1 knots with only 1500 RPMs. My strategy is to head more south than west in hopes of finding wind. I’m still too far east to drop straight south and catch the trades so there needs to be some westing in my trajectory. I’m hoping to shave a week off the 30 day passage. Wish us luck.

Did you know that there are penguins at the equator? They are absolutely adorable, too buoyant for their own good, and fast under water. They are good friends with the seals, and can often be seen playing around the anchored boat. I called to a seal one day and he swam over and tried to jump aboard. He was inches from my face. Other yachties have had to shoo them out of the cockpit. This morning as I was underwater scrubbing the prop I felt something behind me. I looked over my shoulder to find a small seal, submerged, yet vertical, with curious head cocked and gazing at me, wondering how I was going to eat that piece of metal.

I saw enough tortoises to last a life time. They live so long it’s possible that some of the ones I met may have met Darwin.
And yes, they are gigantic.

The marine iguanas are as black as the lava rocks they lounge upon. They’re perfectly camouflaged, with a face that looks stern and dignified even though their pajamas don’t fit quite right. Sometimes you’ll see them lazily swimming across the bay, late for a nap.

The Galapagos Islands consist of 19 islands with about another 100 islets. Only 4 of the islands are inhabited. 30,000 people live there. There are discos, bars, restaurants, home appliance stores, jewelry stores, art boutiques, and more tourist boats than Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan combined. The infrastructure is excellent and the science centers are free and very well done, but despite its isolated location, the place is highly developed and expensive. If you are planning a trip there, do it sooner than later.

My mom was born on Bastille Day. I think of it now, only because it’s one of the few French words I know and Barraveigh will be my prison for the next 20 - 30 days. Let the stir crazies begin.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax Day?

A pint of bleach and a dozen rags, and I can clean anything. Trust me. I just lived through an effluent nightmare. There is a one way valve inside my nemesis, and it’s called a “joker”. It’s aptly named, as it’s the only humor in the whole procedure. I am, of course, referring to the pump I had to dismantle, that evacuates the holding tank. That’s black water. Not so nice. I’ll stop with the details immediately, but suffice to say, it was the worst chore I’ve performed yet on Barraveigh. It was one watermelon seed that was my undoing. Can you believe that? One watermelon seed. We now joke that we need to chew our food a bit better.

Sorry – but you need to know that it isn’t only a life of extroverted sea lions circling the yacht as we sip sundowners with ice. Sometimes the black tip reef sharks appear in the form of a clogged head. But – there really are black tip reef sharks that swim our perimeter hourly. Cool huh!

Prior to writing this dispatch I went back and read the very first one from over 16 months ago. I was at 30 degrees north by 116 west. I’m envious of the later. I’m currently at 90 and won’t reach the Marquesas until I hit 138. I’ve got a long trip just to get back to the westing I had when I left San Diego. We are only 10 days away from the beginning of that voyage. 3000 miles. That’s 3 times the distance we just pasted onto our charts. We are standing on the edge of an abyss called the Pacific Ocean. I will never forget these days.

I also don’t think I will ever forget the level of consciousness one attains when at sea. It’s a level of awareness that I (and I can only speak for myself) never approached when I lived on land. The music that the water makes as it fingers the hull, and what its changing octaves mean in terms of acceleration and heel. I can accurately guess the speed of the vessel within a tenth of a knot from the sound alone (as I lie sleeping, no less). I am deft at spotting the “cat’s paws” on the water, and how to pursue the elusive zephyr. I have a special relationship with the clouds now, when never before did they reveal their intentions to me. I’m a palm reader if you don’t believe, but if you’ve been out here, and lived this existence, than you know it’s not snake oil I’m selling.

My cousin Don recently emailed me and he wrote of planting bird seed millet and getting the corn crop in the ground. He’s the real deal; a farmer in Nebraska. That’s a man that has an intimate relationship with his surroundings and the forces upon them. I’ve spent the majority of my life in cities of over 3 million. And most of those cities never had 4 seasons. I was detached from the rhythms of the wilderness. I was an uninvited gate crasher when I stuck my toes in the big salty to test the waters, and I am just now beginning to feel like I have the playbook for this Sunday’s game. There is a brotherhood between those who depend on the weather. Tonight I’m lifting my drink to the dazzling array of brilliant stars that can only be seen from the outskirts of civilization.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Latitude 00*00

Let me tell you about a very brave woman named Suzi Roberts. She took a leave of absence from her career, rented her flat in Brighton England, said good bye to all her friends and family and flew to Panama for a completely different life. And she did all this in spite of the fact that her sister, just a year younger than her, was killed only 6 months ago in a horrible accident in Africa.

She worked long hard hours, full of frustration, without speaking a drop of Spanish, just to get Barraveigh ready to cross an ocean. And she did it all on someone else’s boat with a stubborn captain who likes to make rules. Up until departing Panama she had never done an overnight passage, let alone a 1000 mile journey that would have her all alone, at night, in the cockpit, with total responsibility for this 12 ton beast, as she raced full nose ahead heeled over making 8 knots. She was then allowed only 2 hours of sleep before having to do it all over again and again. She was scared, and she was alone, and she cried, but she never quit, and she never so much as missed a watch, and if she had to wake me to help with reefing the sails when the wind went over 20 knots she would let me sleep an extra 20 minutes to make up for it. On top of it all she cooked and cleaned and wore that bulky harness/PFD, with clacking carabiners without complaining every night.

She is now about to cross the equator. In sailor jargon, that means she is about to graduate from “Pollywog” to “Shellback”. It’s a big deal for any sailor and Suzi Roberts takes the titled on her first over night passage. You want to talk about courage, about tenacity of spirit, and having a never quit attitude – That’s my Suzi! None of it has been easy. She’s exhausted and in need of a real shower, but she dug deep and she overcame. Victory to you Suzi Roberts! You are only a day away from anchoring in the Galapagos.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

What an Anniversary!

It was 1 year ago today that Suzi and I met. We decided to celebrate by going to the middle of nowhere and to deal with 20 knot headwinds and 5 foot swells. We know how to live it up.

We are now 300 miles from the Galapagos Islands and 600 miles from Panama. Yesterday a US drug spotting plane flew above, circled twice, and wished us well. Apparently we don’t fit the profile of drug smugglers. He did tell us the whereabouts of our friends who are ahead of us. Good to know the Norwegians without the radio are ok.
The weather forecast calls for more of the same for the duration of our trip, but with increasing swell size. Fun. What’s even better is that the swells are about 8 seconds apart so it’s a constant hobby horsing effect. That really made Suzi’s omelet appealing this morning.

I can’t complain too loudly. Yesterday we watched Finding Nemo in the cockpit and laughed about Suzi’s new approach to the toilet. It’s still a dream and we are still making 4 knots. At least I didn’t report to a cubicle today (sorry Mike).

Captain Salty

Random Clearing House (France, Albania, USA, Colombia)

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