Passage Notes

Passage Notes

I keep teasing about writing that book, of all the things I saw and experienced but for reasons that were relevant at the time, decided not to publish. Trips gone sour, boats that should not have been built, people stories that would make you laugh or cry...Yeah, I keep thinking about it. After all, I kept all the notebooks from the beginning, and it is fun to pull one out at random and experience it all over again.

The comments in one notebook reminded me of the realities of offshore passagemaking, at least for me at that point in time on that boat on that ocean. So sit back as I offer excerpts directly off my notes...

A bit rolly today, swells coming up from astern and passing underneath the boat. No big deal, although the large ones tend to skew us off course, and the occasional swell gets the boat really rolling, despite the Naiad fin stabilizers, which work great.

Slowly the four of us transition through the cycles of day and night, on watch and off watch, three meals a day, to a constant state of unstructured activity, only disciplined by our watch schedule. If you are tired, and not on watch, you take a nap...no matter what the hour, or what routines you might normally have back in the world.

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The owner suggested this be Monday Night at the Movies, and I volunteered The American President, which I'd brought along and no one else has seen. Oops, the speakers don't work in the entertainment center, another thing for the list.

This part of the trip is getting old, still 300nm from the halfway point, yet the rolling seas remain 5-8 feet from the port quarter and astern and the ride continues on the wild side. We alter course 15 degrees to starboard, further west, which made the motion a little more comfortable, at least for now.

Anyone who would do this trip on a small boat is crazy. Over 1,000 miles from anywhere, there is no control over the winds and waves, absolutely none. While we can alter course to square off the seas, it is all we can do. I have tremendous respect for the early sailors and explorers. So I go to my cabin to get in a catnap, and we push on to the halfway point.

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Our weather forecaster tells us we will have more of the same for the next two or three days. Funny, the effect on the crew is different from what I expected. Instead of glum comments and depressed frustration, it was instead a release of sorts, and we all got happier as a result. Conditions would get no worse, we now knew with some certainty, and somehow each of us were getting used to the trip's corkscrewing, or at least made peace with it.

 I once read that it's easier to ride a horse in the direction he's going. Never was a statement more fitting to a situation.

After a nap, I took a relaxing shower, then did laundry of clothes and sheets. The difference between camping and living aboard...ahh, it's all in the details.

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A passagemaker like Steve Dashew's Beowulf might be the boat for the future. Reduce the draft, drop the rig and rigging, and fit a saloon with nice windows. Such a design would allow pulling a dinghy up on the aft deck. And with a full stern engine/machinery room with standing headroom, separated from living quarters, perhaps an aluminum hull and deck. (This comment was made way before Dashew even considered the FPB!?!...BillP)

Stabilization remains a key requirement, but would it be more effective with a long, slender boat? Is there some way to simplify the fin system approach?

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While I slept this morning, an alarm went off on the stabilizer control unit, indicating an overheating condition. Apparently, as we travel south, the rising sea water temperature, now above 77 degrees, set off the sensor alarm.

We finally reached the halfway point on our journey, but after the lumpy ride last night, I think everyone is ready for a break. The seas and winds are mercifully reduced this day, and I pray the roller coaster of the last week is over. The 25 knots of wind are down to 16 knots, and waves are confused, but more in the 4-7 foot range. Today, each of us is going to find and stay in our own "happy place." We are sleep-deprived, and it doesn't help that we have another hydraulic leak. We need a break.

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It is Friday, and the general attitude is subdued. We are a tired lot. But conditions this morning are mostly sunny, warm, and humid, and the following waves are either going down in size, or we're getting used to them.

It's the two-thirds thing all over again for me, that point in a running race when you feel out of steam and must dig deep.

"Another ditto day," the owner reports, adding that at our present speed, we'll need another week to reach landfall. Near dawn on my early morning watch, I saw several birds flying circles around us, something new on this trip. For whatever reason, we are very much alone out here.

No matter how stabilized we are, a boat at sea will get that occasional wave train that rocks even the most stable boat, setting up a series of end-to-end rolls that unleash any objects not stowed properly. What a freaking mess, and the sound of things crashing makes me cringe. Trust me, an 0300 roll from gunwale to gunwale is something to experience.

A common issue on boats these days is the use of domestic refrigerators and freezers. And when the boat rolls more than you imagined possible, these doors open and contents fly out in all directions, making a slippery mess. A proper shakedown cruise may or may not uncover this weak link. And there are lots of weak links on a new boat.  

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I saw a rainbow this morning, so bright that it spanned the horizon from one side of the ocean to the other. Stunning.

And while I was making lunch, we got a visit from a whale, right alongside the boat. Maybe 30 feet long, its light gray image just under the surface is electrifying as it came right next to us then went under the boat to surface on the starboard side. We scrambled to keep it in view, the hell with lunch. Magnificent.

Today is why I came on this trip. Exactly as I imagined.

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Just days now from our landfall, two of us wash the salt and crustiness off the boat, as the watermaker is running great and we can afford the luxury. It is especially appreciated to be washing the slimy smear marks off the saloon windows from the hundreds of flying fish who crashed into the sides of the boat.  Some just bounce off, still in flight. Getting rid of slime is good.

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At 1730 local time, we drop our anchor in this beautiful bay. We made it. Not one boat, ship, or aircraft did we see in all that time. Just us...and the great Pacific Ocean.

People often ponder what it is like crossing an ocean. All I can offer is commitment, a sense of adventure, and a certain romantic view of life to see past the less-fun aspects. And, of course, it takes some learned ability at creative handiness. Because no matter how idyllic the dream, how big the budget, the reality will require that you know how to think on your feet, be able to turn a wrench, and have the spares and tools on hand to remain self sufficient.

If that's not your cup of tea, I suggest you take a rain check until another time, and keep the fantasy alive by reading and learning.

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