underway

We are OF the * * STARS * *

Give yourself to the moment, and watch the magic unfold…

 

On duty at the helm…

After leaving Puka Puka, we moved somewhat quickly through the atolls, sailing over a thousand miles in two months with only four stops. Going with the trades was blissful after all the upwind miles we’d previously covered.

 

We could have waited on the parts to fix the windvane or autopilot somewhere, but rather I proposed it might be interesting to steer full time, having (thankfully) never had to do it. And seeing as there were two of us to share helm duties, it would be much more feasible than when I was single-handing.

 

I noticed right away that an obligation to steer let me witness more of nature’s magic. It wasn’t as if I never stared at the sea and sky when the self-steering worked, but I could easily be distracted. Now I was glued to the wheel, and an active participant in the scene, as I surfed Swell down the following seas. The waves flowed past the rudder, pulling the wheel right or left. I gazed out at the ocean panorama: ever-changing, ever-wondrous.

 

Day or night, there were marvels of light to behold…At every incline of the sun, the rays played on the water in their own exceptional way. Sunrise and sunset usually stole the show, but mid-morning’s fresh light uplifted, high noon’s radiance overwhelmed, and mid-afternoon’s bending yellows soothed and foretold day’s end…

 

Dusk had it’s own charm, too. Shades of gray lined the sky from horizon to horizon, while new stars appeared gradually, as if coming on stage. And when the last remnant of the sun’s glow disappeared, perspective shifted…we were suddenly sailing through the Universe! From horizon to horizon the heavens blazed in all their glory…Perpetual, Supreme, Infinite…

 

I’d cover the GPS and practice steering by the stars, aligning them with the masthead or halyards. Hercules, Scorpio, or maybe the Pleiades…the chosen star cluster of the hour would hover around the mast as I pulled the wheel back and forth. Cloudy evenings made it more difficult, temporarily hiding the celestial chart. I’d maintain our angle to the wind, checking the compass every now and then…When the winds were light, I might lay back and steer with my feet a while to watch for shooting stars. And If fatigue got too distracting, I’d wake Raiarii and we’d switch for a while…

 

Despite being rather exhausted, I loved that being present at the wheel for so many hours acquainted me with new-found subtleties of the sea. Plus, I felt closer to Swell than I had in all the voyage. Nothing seemed more effective in learning her quirks, than holding the wheel and letting her tell me herself! Constantly applying my mind to sea, vessel, and sky 12 hours a day, I came to appreciate just how intimately and intuitively the ancient Polynesian navigators would have known their seas.

 

In the moments where no guidebook or Google or a GPS can tell us what to do, we must blur the lines that separate ‘Me’ from ‘That’. We must Feel as much as reason…Listen. Be Present and Ready…Open and Humble. For the Voice within speaks to all of us, though it’s sometimes hard to hear in our distracting modern world. Nevertheless, it’s always there waiting to remind us that We are of the Stars…

 

We had lucky timing at a few of our stops!

 

 

 

Never know what you might miss when you’re not paying attention!

The Navonics charts had great detail for navigation in the atolls!

Sad to take this beautiful female mahi, but what a blessing her meat was for us and the islanders at the next stop…

 

Brief renions with friends broke up the passages…Maheata always has a warm meal and smile waiting!!

Airborne Popcorn and Free Showers at the Aquatic Rodeo: Passage Part 3

 

No lines for the 'free showers' at the aquatic rodeo! Yeeee haaaaaaaaa!!

The fourth night was sleepless again. I rose constantly to check the wind direction—still ENE!!?!? Swell bashed into the waves more than I’d have liked, but we really needed to make some distance. If the weather panned out as now predicted, there were howling easterlies on the way. If we didn’t make it before they set in, we’d surely be blown west of our destination.

Day 5–>

Finally, after dawn the wind gradually shifted down into the east and miles started to melt away on. My mate was clearly back among the living and things started looking up. I cooked some pasta, read, but couldn’t get myself to fall asleep with the boat leaping and crashing around like she was.

 

Around 10pm, the predicted easterlies set in with a vengeance. I shortened sail over and over until we were left with only a 3rd reefed main and a little swatch of jib. For the third night in a row, I couldn’t get my body to sleep. With the creaking, moaning, bashing, and the howl of the wind I’d have had as much luck falling asleep on a rollercoaster.

 

Day 6–>

At 5am I gave up resting and climbed up into the cockpit. We’d deviated badly off course in the last four hours. The horizon illuminated slowly in the east, revealing the enormous mountains of water bearing down upon us one after the next. I’d taken down so much sail in that we were only going about 2-3 knots. We had 150 miles to go and were loosing ground quickly to the west.

 

Raiarii emerged from the cabin. “What is it?” he asked. I must have been wearing the anxiety on my face.

 

“I…I…I don’t know if we’re going to make it…” I replied. “We’re so close, but in these conditions it’s really going to be tough.” I was thick and slow with fatigue after days without sleep and the thought of the ensuing battle was more than I could bear.

 

“I’m going to hand steer,” he declared. “Let’s put some sail back up.”

 

His determination fueled my own. We rolled out more jib. In order to point into the wind, we needed more speed. He took the wheel and I went down and tried again to rest. Swell was launching over wave crests and exploding into the following trough with sickening air-drops. Imagine trying to sleep while your buddy crashes your car into a wall over and over…

 

I finally gave up and went to check on the pilot. The seas were enormous! The sky was dangerously blue from horizon to horizon. Wind drove the crests furiously off the wave tops. They tumbled toward us, often colliding just at the right angle to explode over us. Despite my offers to take over, Raiarii held the wheel for 7 hours straight. Swell was taking some blows, but we made forward progress. I slammed into walls and corners while fetching items below. Halfway through cooking popcorn, Swell made such an appalling ‘drop-roll-slam’, that the pan went flying off the stove. Kernels exploded across the cabin and the oil spilled into the flame as I leapt to cut off the gas…

 

Needless to say, it was crackers and cheese again…

 

Around midday Raiarii reluctantly handed over the wheel. His eyes were beginning to cross and he was crusted white with salt. He poured a bottle of water over his face, and collapsed in the corner of the cockpit in his wet clothes.  Some of the towering seas stole my breath as they approached. It looked like they might just swallow us whole, but despite my white-knuckles, Swell climbed up and over each wave face. Steering required constant maneuvering and anticipating the sea’s next move. But time and again, an unscrupulous wave mafia would gang up and send a rush of sea over us and on down into the cabin.

 

We carried on like that into the evening—switching off at the wheel–and made significant distance until a squall from the NE swallowed us. At the same time, I was trying to decide whether to carry on to our destination—89 more miles upwind, or cut north to an island a little farther away but at nearly at a beam reach to the wind. We were both hungry, exhausted, and badly wanted to make port—any port!–the following day. The squall made it easy to decide, pushing us off to the north, and we quickly agreed to shift our destination to Ua Pou, rather than Fatu Hiva. Raiarii’s seasick ‘patch’ stated being effective for ‘3 days’, meaning the following day it would start wearing off!

 

With our shift in direction, the wind was dead at the beam, making for a MUCH smoother ride. I managed to sleep nearly two hours after our dinner of Ramen soup and took the wheel at 10pm feeling quite refreshed. Raiarii had steered most of the day, and crumpled into a deep sleep on the floor of the cabin. I held the wheel through the night. I turned off the GPS, steering solely by the compass. With Zen focus, I was determined to keep the bow aligned within the two glowing lines that marked our course. There was only blackness all around and a burning in my arms and shoulders from fighting Swell’s starboard pull towards the wind…but with the wind at the beam, we were now cutting cleanly through the nasty waters at 6-8 knots! I ignored my aching muscles, the occasional wave in the face, my thirst and hunger, and my cold wet feet. There was only one thing on my mind…get there, just get there!!!

 

By the time Raiarii woke, Swell and I had put 50 miles behind us.  My eyes blurred. I was soaked, salty, and shivering. My back and arms burned with fatigue. I fetched two pairs of socks from below and put them on my chilly pruned feet and laid down in my foulies, poking my nose into the fresh air out of the hood of my NanoStorm Patagonia jacket because the cushion stunk so badly of mildew. But mildew or not, I closed my eyes knowing we would make landfall by the afternoon…We were 35 miles away!

 

I awoke after two real hours of sleep to see Raiarii’s face glowing out of the blackness by the light of the compass. His face was stoic, focused, but riddled with fatigue. We switched off again…

 

Day 7–>

In the light of dawn, a squally morning was upon us. Weaving in and out of the rain for a few hours, suddenly something could just barely be made out behind the clouds…A craggily rock spire emerged before us, revealing what we so desperately longed to see—an island!! A real-live, dirt, rock, flower, and tree-covered island!! Oh the joy!! We passed a tiny village on the southernmost point, and sailed north, finding a deserted bay and snagging a tuna on the way in…

 

LAND HO!!!!!!! Oh the blissful sight....

 

The tall surrounding cliffs, the sprawling green valley sprawling , the awe inspiring rock spire atop the mountain, the waterfall pouring into the sea at the mouth of the bay, the echoing bleats of baby goats high on the cliffs, the round black stone beach, and the river running out along the cliff…I was overwhelmed! I find it amazing how the excitement of arrival can so quickly wash away the pain of a torturous ocean passage!

 

We made poisson cru with the tuna, which seemed to immidiately restore the vitamins we were lacking after 6 days of eating soda crackers, plain pasta, and popcorn. I felt a surge of energy–enough to haul the soggy cushions, clothes, books, foulies, towels, etc up into the sun.

 

“That was one hell of a maiden voyage,” I told Raiarii. He’d exceedingly proved his worth and courage, even in the thralls of seasickness.

“I loved it!” He declared. Either he was nuts, masochistic, or both… The makings of a great sailor!

“This just might work out,” I thought.

We laughed, still hardly believing we’d really arrived. Then I curled up in a dry, shaded corner, and fell into a long, healing sleep…

 

We made it!!!!...I guess that's one way to test out a man: bring him to sea on a 7-day hell mission and see what happens!?!

 

 

 

Greenhorn meets the ‘Isles of Disappointment’: Passage Part 2

 

Double Rainbow!!!!!!!! What does it meeeeeeeeean?!

Day3—>

 

An uneventful night had allowed for a bit of sleep. But not long after shutting my eyes for a nap around 10am, I heard Raiarii call me. I sat up straight to see a double rainbow arching off our stern. I rubbed my eyes, “DOUBLE RAINBOW!?!?!! What does it meaaaaan!!?!…Thanks for waking me up! It’s beautiful!”

 

“Oui, mais regarde devant…(Yeah, but looks what’s ahead…)” He said.

 

I turned to face the bow. A sinister line of dark clouds stretched completely across the horizon.

 

“Oooohwww, so that’s what it means…”

 

I shortened sail and we soon found ourselves amidst frenzied, white-out rain and gusty winds. The wind shifted to the north-northeast, so we set the sails in heave-to position, figuring it would soon pass and we’d be back on our way…

 

Unlike normal hit-and-run squalls, it didn’t clear for more than an hour…

 

“Weird,” I thought.

 

When it finally cleared, it left behind a ripped up sea and persistent northeasterly wind. Ugh, we were off-course by 15 degrees…Odd, there wasn’t northeast wind in the forecast? I managed to download the most recent weather report and send Swell’s position to my father. The new report showed that the low below us had deepened and shifted more south than predicted, and the new forecast called for mounting ENE winds, strengthening out of the east in a couple days.

 

Hmmm…we were too far out to turn around, and there were no islands nearby to seek shelter…So we plowed on–preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

 

The wind stubbornly stayed ENE longer than forecasted. I decided we should tack off to the southeast, shorten sail, and wait for the wind to turn back into the east. All the forecasts called for east winds in the next few hours, so we bobbled along making reverse progress, but at least firmly holding our easterly position. We waited, waited, waited…but the wind stayed ENE all night!? I didn’t sleep a wink…By morning we’d made a giant figure eight on the chartplotter.

Same as the day prior, we were 15 miles from the ‘Isles of Disappointment’…

 

Day 4—>

 

“All too fitting…the Disappointing Islands!” I whined. We should have been arriving that day, but there we were barely over halfway and going backwards!

 

Around midday the wind was still too northerly. Tepoto and Napuka were just a stone’s throw off the bow. We spotted a white house and a tempting white sand beach, but neither island offered any sheltered anchorage—which may have been the origin of the archipelago’s name…?! Despite the taunting tranquility of the palms, we bucked on until deciding to tack back, even if we’d be off course.

 

Wet and tired of moving away from our destination, we came about, managing to move ahead not too far off course. Finally, the ‘miles-to-go’ started shrinking rather than growing! But by late afternoon, I had another worry–Raiarii was sicker than ever. I started to fear dehydration, as he hadn’t been able to keep a sip of water in his stomach since the day prior. He was prone in the cockpit, weak, and wet from the water that was spraying over the deck. He couldn’t go below to get dry for fear of being sicker. He hadn’t eaten much since our first day’s meal, and nothing I mentioned appealed to him. And I could relate, I wasn’t feeling all that hot myself…

 

Desperate not to kill my new mate on his first ocean passage, I dug through the medical bag…

 

“Skin Infection…No……… ‘Diarrhea…No’……….‘Cold/Flu’…No………..‘Stings/Itch’…No… ‘Sea Sickness’….There it is!” I pulled out the Ziploc and began shuffling through its contents…

 

I thought I’d tried them all. Nothing ever seemed to help me, but amongst the Ginger pills, Dramamine, Bonine and pressure point wrist bands was a little white envelope that read, “Transderm Scop: Contains 1 Patch”. It was one of those scolpolamine patches that you stick behind your ear. Katie had left one aboard Swell in 2008 and I figured he might as well give it a try? He stuck it behind his ear and returned to his wad in the corner.

 

Three hours later, the greenhorn Tahitian was behind the helm again, steering Swell amongst the rowdy seas!?!  The patch worked a miracle!!

 

“What should we eat for dinner?” He grinned.

 

Relieved Cappy and the Greenhorn just after the seasickness patch started taking effect.

‘Lowered’ to the Occaison: Passage Part 1

 

Dreamy 'Day 1': Swell wearing all her canvas! Photo: Courtesy of Francois on 'Apaiti'

 

Day 1—>

After hopping upwind through the atolls little by little, the Marquesas Islands finally sat at a reasonable cross-angle to the prevailing easterlies. With typical trades, Swell would be close-reaching. With anything but northeast wind, and it was likely to take about 4 days to make the 550-mile trip. And with new, able-bodied Tahitian crew aboard, I was less intimidated by the stretch of water ahead. All weather forecasts showed the wind turning east/southeast for the next week, blowing between 10-15 knots…just right! It looked like the moment to head out.

 

I was getting itchy to see green, fruit-laden mountains rise from the sea after all that time in the atolls! We hauled the dinghy aboard and Swell rode the outgoing tide out of the lagoon’s pass…

 

The open sea welcomed us with blue skies and 8-9 knots of steady wind. Swell sliced gracefully through the gentle lumps of sea, flaunting all her canvas, and trailing a foamy white swirl among the endless spread of glittering neon blue. Raiarii delighted in hand steering, looking all too comfortable at the helm nearing sundown. A sailor’s dream day!

 

I finally put the wind vane to work as the air grew cool and crimsons swirled in the west. We ate polenta cakes with lentils and chopped cabbage, munching away as Taurus and Orion greeted us in the east…

Day 2—->

A wet, windless squall enveloped Swell around 2 am.  I motored through it until the wind returned, but by morning, high horse tail clouds and confused seas revealed change in the weather. The wind increased gradually by early afternoon. We’d shortened sail, but held our course and speed. By afternoon we’d made good progress, but Raiarii wasn’t feeling great. He’d lost his lunch earlier in the day, and wasn’t looking all that excited for our next meal.

Suddenly, Swell rounded up into the wind, sails luffing wildly…I looked around for what had gone wrong??

…Aft of Swell, I noticed something flashing in the water…

The wind vane rudder had sheared off at the post and was dangling behind!! Luckily, it was tied to Swell with a security line. I hauled it up and examined the break. While I searched for the spare parts for the wind vane, Raiarii managed to remove the broken stainless tubing from inside rudder’s shaft. Amazingly, I found the part we needed. We secured it to the rudder, but how were we going to get the rudder back onto the wind vane?

 

The sun had just set, and the seas were big enough that getting in the water seemed out of the question. Raiarii hadn’t eaten since our first evening meal, and Swell’s movement had turned into drunken lurching with the sails down…

 

I shimmied over the stern, dangling down toward where we needed to insert the rudder arm, but my arms stopped a full foot short…

 

“Hold my feet, I’m going down.” He said.

 

“But…!?” Before I could finish he was dangling headfirst over the stern with the repaired rudder in hand. In less than a minute, the piece was back in place and I passed him the stainless pin. He aligned the holes, pushed the pin through, and secured it with a ring on the exposed end…He came up, red from the blood rush to his head, but soon pale again from Swell’s wretched rolling. But it was fixed! So I put the tools away, and got Swell underway again…