viernes, 11 de julio de 2008

Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea

It's a warm, humid Azure Vista morning as I sit at my desk overlooking the Pacific. And thus the transition is made back to the life of a landlubber, looking out upon an ocean I've called my home the past two and a half years. After 26 days at sea "Avventura" sits securely in a slip in San Diego Bay, motionless and making a transition of her own to the life of a daysailer. Last night was the first night I've spent away from her in over six months, and my first six hours of uninterrupted sleep in 26 days. Now let me go back some 48 hours to where I left off.
July 9 provided perhaps the most enjoyable day of sailing of the entire trip. With a WNW wind varying from 8 to 15 knots we sailed towards home wing-on-wing, surging down the faces of the six foot swells. I spent hours sitting at the end of the bowsprit peering into the thick overcast, trying to raise the form of land while knowing it was still too far away, the surges from each passing swell lifting me high in the air before shoving me down towards the green-gray surface of the sea. In the early afternoon we were greeted by two massive blue whales not a hundred yards off our port side. The behemoths blew a few times, slowly slithered aft looking like the Lochness Monster sliding across the surface of the sea, before disappearing astern of us. My father was left peering in our wake, certain the graceful creatures were hell-bent on ramming "Avventura." Soon after the whales disappeared sea lions began popping up here and there to take a look at the unnatural intruder. They'd look at us, give a little bark of disgust, and return to their realm (or was it a bark of "welcome home"--I've lost my ability to understand the dogs of the sea). Just before sunset a single whale spouted just once in the distance as if warning me things wouldn't stay this perfect much longer, and sure enough by sundown (not that the sun ever showed her face in the overcast fit for the Pacific Northwest) the wind had disappeared and it was time for the return of Mr. Drone the diesel burner.
As my final night at sea wore on the seas began to smooth out, and by the time I emerged from below to take over on my night watch I rose to find the lights of San Clemente Island off the port bow, seven miles away across a silky smooth sea. I passed much of my watch belowdecks, enthralled by the sounds of once-familiar radio stations, and emerged for one of my regular scans of the horizon to find a small fishing boat two miles away and coming right for us. I followed his course on radar and by sight and new we were heading for a collision. Looking at his lights I knew it was my right-of-way; but if cruising teaches you anything it is that the only "rule of the road" is might, combined with speed, makes right. Sure enough the guy never altered speed or course and I was forced to turn behind him, passing a few hundred yards astern. When I was relieved of my watch I gave thanks that my final close encounter had been dealt with without incident, and slipped into the deepest sleep of the voyage. Soon my mind began to wander and I found myself immersed in a nightmare unlike any I'd had in years. I was running somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles, listening to my Ipod and minding my own business when a silver truck pulled up beside me, passenger's window rolled down. The passenger pulled a gun and aimed it directly at me. Before he could say anything I had turned in my tracks and begun to run away, and in seconds I was being shot at. That was when my father woke me up: a hint of wind had arrived; should we set sail? So what's my take on the dream? My subconscious mind was perhaps warning me that despite all the places I've been I'm returning to what can be the most dangerous area of all--Southern California. (For a little back story to aid in the dream, the silver truck I saw I had encountered before back in 1999. I was skateboarding along the street I live in a half mile from my home, heading to check one of my favorite surf spots when this silver truck slowly pulled up from behind. I was with a group of friends, but as usual was bringing up the rear. The passenger window of the truck rolled down halfway and a big Mexican guy looked right at me, rested the barrel of a silver handgun on the edge of the window, and said in a low tone: "You better run motherf..." I'd never come across the man before; just some punk gangster out to scare a 15 year old kid.) Not the kind of welcome home dream I was hoping for!
When I emerged from my dream I found that a southerly wind had indeed started to show and before long we were motorsailing along at six knots. This breeze proved to be persistent, though light (7 knots), and in the end we were able to motorsail with it all the way into San Diego Bay. July 10 dawned brighter than the previous handful of days, and there was immediate hope that we might actually see the sun. In spite of clearing skies the horizon remained hazy, and it took until we were 16 miles away, just after 1100 California Time, for me to give the shout: "Land Ho!" The next few hours were almost torturously long. The bittersweet landfall I had anticipated turned out to be far more sweet than bitter, and I found myself unable to sit still, leaping around the boat in excitement, a smile beaming across my face and my eyes permanently fixed on the growing familiar form of Point Loma. Kevin said I was like a "little puppy," and I felt like I was floating on the surface of the sea--riding a high aided by prolonged sleep deprivation and 18 months of travel away from home.
By the early afternoon the sun was out in full force and I could feel my nose beginning to burn. To hell with the sunscreen, that meant spending time below, one last burn won't hurt me. We neared the point and a submarine came up from astern, passing far to starboard and guiding us into the familiar channel to San Diego Bay. By 1600 the point sat abeam of us, we were inshore of the kelp beds, and my cellphone was back in use. Moments later we slipped past the Point Loma Lighthouse, with Ballast Point falling by the wayside soon after. Once past the bait barge we turned up into the wind and took down the sails one last time. Then, at 1630, I nudged "Avventura" alongside the Harbor Police dock, shut down the motor, and the voyage was complete. 16000 miles and I was home again! All I could think of was the Robert Louis Stevenson quote:

Home is the sailor, home from the sea!

--July 11, 2008. Noon. In my room overlooking Garbage; Azure Vista, San Diego, California.

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miércoles, 9 de julio de 2008

Land Near; Not Quite Here

Dawn continues to reveal plenty of signs of land, though home is still over a day away. Clumps of kelp have been drifting by for the second straight day and this morning sea gulls have been flying awkwardly by, a poor imitation of the graceful sea birds we've seen the past weeks. One thing hasn't changed: it's freezing! If this is a San Diego summer I want out. Skies have been a San Francisco thick overcast for four straight days, and the temperatures are reminiscent of Seattle. And the water? A toasty 59! And to think, not a month ago I was surfing a fun south swell at Ala Moana Bowls in 78 degree water with sunny skies and gentle trades. I only hope things warm up as we close with the coast, and we find our way into the inshore eddy where the water temperature heats up.
The good news is we've had wind off-and-on for the past day. We're sailing now, and have been since 2300 last night, with a light WNW breeze. Jib is poled out to port and we're making a slow 4 knots, but just a couple hours ago we were cruising along at close to 7. Fickle conditions. Before this batch of wind we had been motoring for six hours, but before that there was another five hour stretch of sailing. After this bout I'm much more confident that we have the fuel to make it home; and it looks like we should be arriving sometime in the early afternoon tomorrow. 150 miles to go.

July 9-0640
33.01N by 120.06W

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martes, 8 de julio de 2008

"Dove," "Avventura," and the Path Less Traveled

With my voyage drawing to a gradual close it seemed only natural that I flip through the pages of "Dove" one more time. The book had changed the course of my life since the day I first picked it up and fanned the flames of my sailing dreams. I had already read it three times (more than any other book), so I figured I'd just flip through it and revisit my favorite passages already underlined in blue ink. I started with the first few pages, and in minutes I was hooked once more. In a matter of days I had read it cover to cover once more.

"Sailing already meant much more to me than 'mucking about in boats,' as the neighbors used to call it. It was the chance to escape from blackboards and the smell of disinfectant in the school toilet, from addition and subtraction sums that were never the same as the teacher's answers, from spelling words like 'seize' and 'fulfill' and from little league baseball. It was the chance to be alone and to be as free for a while as the sea gulls that swung around Morro Rock."

While my true introduction to sailing had come much later in life, I was quick to find this same quality in sailing and the sea. It provided the chance to get away from the rat race of modern society, to escape the conveyor belt that guides the masses through 17 years and more of schooling and on to comfortable 9-to-5 jobs that their piece of paper helped them get. But best of all sailing provided a window to the world--a means by which I could see faraway lands and gain a true and simple education at hands of life herself. While I've never been able to provide a clear and concise answer to the modern age's favorite question ("What are you going to do to make a living?"), I've long known I wouldn't fit the standard mold and would fall off the conveyor belt long before reaching the promised land. With that in mind I decided to jump off early and see what direction fate would pull me. Never once have I regretted my decision, and while some may say I've fallen behind my peers by not pursuing an "education" I say I've received a better education than any college could hope to impart. I've visited distant lands and befriended people from a number of distinct cultures. I've learned more about meteorology, geography and oceanography than most students forget they knew. I've multiplied my experiences a hundred-fold through ravenous reading and voracious living. And I've come to know myself; what I'm capable of mentally and physically, and how I can persevere through tough situations. No, I wouldn't trade places with the average college graduate even if I knew it would lead me to a life of leisure swimming in worldly riches. I'll take a wealth of memories, a bundle of friendships, and a close affinity with Mother Nature that will last a lifetime.

"At eight o'clock...'Dove' nosed into a berth at the Long Beach Marina. I threw a line. 'Dove' was tied up. I'd circled the world....
"'What made you do it?'
"There were many reasons. I didn't like school--but that's not unique. I wanted to look at the world, at people and places, without being a tourist. I wanted personal freedom. I wanted to know if I could do something alone--something really difficult. But somewhere deep in my mind I felt there was another reason and that it had something to do with fate and destiny. How could I phrase that? How could I tell these newsmen that I had sailed across the world because I had to do so--because that was what I was meant to do?"--Robin Lee Graham, "Dove"

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."--Mark Twain

"To the hunted, not to the hunter;
To the passage, not to the path."
--Sterling Hayden, "Voyage"

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Will the Diesel Last?

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be returning home on fumes, but that prospect is looking more and more likely now. The source of our woes dates back to the seventh day of the trip when the trades failed us a couple degrees south of where I anticipated they would. Then the Pacific High decided to form around us, forcing us to burn diesel and head for its northern edge. After five days of motoring (three more than I had anticipated) we picked up the first traces of a southerly breeze and continued to ride it northeast, skirting the edge of the high. When a low pressure system began to churn west of us it became clear the high would break down and we could begin sailing a direct course for San Diego. Before long the low brought us gale conditions and unfortunately we weren't able to make as much easting as I had hoped. Thus when the low moved on to the east the Pacific High started to rebuild around us. This necessitated another two days of motoring before we reached the east edge of the high where we were assaulted with near gale conditions. Again we weren't able to make as much easting as I hoped during the heavy blow, leaving us with 275 miles to San Diego when the wind failed us this morning and I was forced to fire up the diesel burner. After checking to see how much diesel was left in the tank, and dumping in the 20 gallons we had left on deck, we now have approximately 40 gallons of fuel to cover the final 275 miles, which would leave us with nothing more than fumes (at best) on arrival. Thus we continue to pray for winds while at the same time enjoying the ease and comfort of smooth seas after a rough couple days and trying and clean up/dry out the disaster that has become our home. We haven't seen the sun for days, and the overcast is so thick I can't imagine it breaking up before we reach the coast. As always this has put a damper on my mood. Perhaps more than most people my emotions and moods are tied to the weather, and prolonged periods of gloom lead to unproductive, lazy days for me.

Last night brought about perhaps the longest night watch of my life. As soon as darkness descended on the scene our dying breeze began shifting westward, making it all the more difficult to keep the sails full. Kevin was struggling a bit and largely to make up for my missing the first 90 minutes of my morning watch, I took over the helm more than an hour before my watch was set to begin. All was well for the first couple hours as I alternated between hand-steering in lulls and using the autopilot during the light puffs of wind; but after my first two hours the autopilot lost power and refused to turn back on (only after my watch did I realize I had run the batteries to such a low voltage the autopilot couldn't function). This left me with two hours of hand-steering on a slow broad reach with an obnoxious cross-swell leftover from our last bout of wind. During the first half hour I was able to stay awake by finishing up my fourth read through of Robin Lee Graham's "Dove" (a book that was in part responsible for this voyage); but once that was done the wind decided to fail me further and I battled through a long, bitter cold night. As my father climbed up the companionway to relieve me at 0200 the first signs of a grey dawn were creeping into the eastern sky (we remain on Hawaii time for now), and in large-part to save him the misery I had just suffered through I started the engine, magically bringing the autopilot back to life. A few hours of tormented rest followed, and by the time dawn arrived I had yet to get any proper sleep. But alas, signs are everywhere that land is close by, and that thought alone will allow me to suffer through a couple sleepless nights, my sights firmly set on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (in this case a motionless bed and a full night's stress-free sleep). The VHF has sparked to life with a constant barrage of chatter from various coast guard stations along the coast, in addition to that of a few naval vessels carrying out live munitions practice today. Last night I listened as the Coast Guard tried to help a boat that had somehow run into the jetty up at Morro Bay and tried to conceive of how such a mishap might happen in this electronic age. (Not the brightest captain, or mechanical failure I suppose.) Daylight has brought my first glimpses of kelp in years, and with it I know my childhood playground is close at long as the fuel holds.

-July 8--1045
33.34N by 121.53W

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lunes, 7 de julio de 2008

You Know You've Been at Sea Too Long When...

You wake up from a miserable couple hours of sleep (countless angry swells had kept you from a deep sleep, including one mother that decided to unleash her fury over the entire boat and deposit a gallon in your lap thanks to a bloody skylight that won't seal), make for the head and go about your usual morning routine, and end by sitting before the computer to start the day with a position report, and perhaps an e-mail and a blog. You spend an hour typing away, followed by thirty minutes figuring out why the e-mail modem won't work and fixing the problem. And then you father looks at you and asks, "Do you want me to go relieve Kevin?"
"Why? He seems to be doing okay."
"Isn't it your watch?"
A quick glance at the time. 0930. Is it my watch? You'd figure after 22 days this would be well-engrained in my thick skull; but sure enough I've been dilly-dallying around for the first 90 minutes of my watch and happy-go-lucky Kevin has been enjoying his battle with the swells too much to let me know. Such are the strange occurrences that let you know you've been at sea too long. Time falls away and you become so tired that even after waking your mind can't process time and turn the day into a reality just yet.
Off watch now and we're moving along at a good clip again, thanks to a full jib and double-reefed main. Wind is easing, but swells persist. Forecast looks bleak with but little wind called for, and my thoughts are already back on our dire fuel situation. Surely we won't be forced to drift offshore after some 25 days at sea.

July 7-1125
33.45N by 123.58W

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Two for One Special

Well it looks like gale warnings come cheap these days: 2 for 1 this week. We are now emerging from the second one after 24 hours of hellacious conditions. The remnant swells remain over 12 feet and the wind continues near 20 knots and it feels like a ladies breeze compared to late yesterday. Coast Guard forecasts were calling for 20-30 knots and we had exactly that. What was worse, I had stopped listening to the CG voice forecasts since my GRIB files showed noting over 20 knots and there weren't any lows near us, so this one snuck up on me. Only while in the thick of it did I learn there was a gale warning for our are and it would persist for 24 hours. But we've survived the worst of it once again, and today are entering into the lee of the California coast where conditions should continue to improve and not come back up this much again. Soon I fear we'll be trying to coax all we can out of every puff of wind; but for now we are cruising along.
Conditions began coming up on Kevin's 2000-2300 watch Saturday night when I put a third reef in the mainsail, and they continued picking up for the next twenty hours, peaking at the start of my evening watch last night. In the worst of it we've switched to hand-steering, finding that easier than helping the damned autopilot, which just can't handle these massive swells. And, of course, hand-steering with no stars to guide your way makes for a long night. Every now and then the swells would combine just right to lurch up over the windward side and dump their contents across the length of the boat, rewarding the helmsman with a shower of freezing California Current saltwater. In the night we sailed with less jib than I normally would to keep things more manageable, and as a result we made just 103 NM yesterday. With the coming of dawn I've furled some more sail out and we're moving along again with 360 miles left. Skies remain a thick, ugly overcast, and the water remains its ugly shade of dull blue/grey (which must be caused by a plethora of nutrients because the phosphorescence coming off our bow wave and churning in our wake has been splendid the past 2 nights). We have begun picking up the Coast Guard on the VHF, so land must be getting near. Anticipation is building.

July 7-0850
33.46N by 124.14W

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domingo, 6 de julio de 2008

Plenty Wind, Sloppy Swells

This isn't exactly what I was expecting to have today weather-wise, and I must say it's quite unpleasant. Forecast called for 18 knots and we've got closer to 28. Blowing straight down out of the north, and since the wind came up quickly the swells have come up into short, choppy little devils whose goal is to knock us as far of course as possible and see how far underwater they can bury our lee rail. If you want to look on the sunny side of things we've averaged over five knots the past 30 hours, and our speed remains over five so the miles are ticking away at a reasonable rate. But these sloppy seas have me feeling traces of seasickness once more, have made sleep nearly impossible, and make watchkeeping much more intense with the need to constantly monitor the autopilot, and often help it steer. It has been 24 hours of adjustments--adjusting to our new-found wind, adjusting to the fact that for the first time this trip (and in quite some time for me) we're heeling to starboard on the port tack, and now adjust to more sloppy seas. And in the midst of it all the water temperature has plummeted since daybreak, falling from 67 to 61. What is it in San Diego, 51? Wind is forecast to keep up as is for twenty-four hours, then slowly subside and shift northwest before dying out altogether. What we need is to make enough mileage before it dies that we can motor the rest of the way home if need be. For now it feels like victory at sea, and I can only hope the weather forecasts are prolonging the agony more than will actually be the case.
Fishing report: Threw back an albacore last night since nobody was willing to fillet yet another. Now have no line out since we wouldn't be able to pull in a fish in these conditions, and no fish left on board for the first time in a while. And yet I'm not the least bit saddened by that.

July 6-1120
33.50N by 126.01W

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sábado, 5 de julio de 2008

A Birthday Present from Mother Nature

Right on cue Mother Nature has delivered. The morning of my 23 birthday dawned with our first traces of wind in a couple days, and before 1000 we were under sail, conserving our precious diesel and feeling somehow much closer to home. With the arrival of our first pod of dolphins in a week I knew the wind would stick around for a while, after all these splendid creatures seem to always be harbingers of good conditions and happy days. With the wind the clouds have rolled in, but I'll trade you clouds for wind any day of the week. With our 7 to 10 knot northerly breeze we're making 5 knots on a peaceful beam reach. The sea gently slides past the hull and from the cabin it feels as if we're sitting motionless.
The 4th passed windless, sunny and warm and saw us catch a pair of small albacore to supplement our diet. As usual, the fish bookended the day, and when the second struck just after sunset as I was finishing up my last bites of the morning's catch I reached for the pole and reeled in my first of the trip. Somehow the allure of fishing for me isn't in the sport of doing the actual catching. It's enough for be a witness and take credit for the catch as skipper; but with this being the most prolific fishing trip of my life I would be remiss if I didn't land at least one. Once the fish was filleted and put in the reefer (one benefit of motoring) the sunset began to fade into another spectacular star-filled night, starting with the first appearance of the moon in days, a thin crescent sliver low in the western sky, and ending with the Big Dipper sinking into the sea on the northern horizon.

So this marks my third straight birthday spent in different countries (or lack thereof in this case), surrounded by three different languages, in three distinct climates. It is the first in that stretch in which I haven't been able to catch a couple waves; but with San Diego drawing me inexorably closer this is of little consequence. Besides, if I can't be surfing there isn't much I'd rather do than spend the day sailing before a gentle breeze in the deep blue Pacific along with my dear friends, the dolphins, and with my father along for company. 23 years, 17 countries, and nearly 30,000 sea miles. I can only hope the next 23 bring me such good fortune.

July 5-1300.
33.56N by 128.18W

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viernes, 4 de julio de 2008

Ho-Hum; Another Day of Motoring

Blue skies meet the deep blue of the Pacific in a near seamless transition this morning. There's not a cloud in sight, and the sea is as calm as it gets hundreds of miles offshore. The good news is that the ever-so-slight trickle of wind is now coming down out of the north, where I expect our breeze to eventually fill in from, though I fear it may take another day. Thus my birthday wish: All I want this year is a breeze to sail home by (and I'll gladly take my present a day early). Our day has already started off nice, with the catching of another football-sized albacore not thirty minutes after sunrise, right as the ship's clock struck 0400. The clicking of the reel roused me from a semi-deep sleep, and I was greeted with the chance to fillet a fish bright and early. Even so I was back in bed within the hour for a bit more sleep. Such is the sailor's life: stand watch, read, write, eat, sleep, and repeat process again and again. After 19 full days I've slipped into a routine, and am still loath to change our clocks off Hawaii time though the sun now sets at 1800 and is up before 0400. Just another benefit of being el capitan--I get to choose the time.
Last night was the first truly clear night this trip, and the stars were out like I'm sure many of you have never seen them before. With the nearest lights hundreds of miles away, and the moon away on vacation for the time being, Jupiter became the brightest object in the sky and actually cast a glare across the surface of the glassy sea. Over in the southern sky we watched as Scorpio gently laid down from an upright position, his heart (Antares) burning an extraordinary red all the while. And above, streaking from horizon to horizon in a thick swath stretched the dim cloud of the Milky Way, terminating in the northern sky just east of the Dipper's ladle which spent the night gently pivoting till the spoon was lying perfectly flat just above the horizon. Far above, a good deal higher than I've grown accustomed to, Polaris stood alone on her northern perch, guiding these sailors across the sea like she has so many other throughout the centuries. Every now and then a bright streak shot across the sky as one of the holes to heaven slipped from the sky, and I swore one was going to make it to the sea (though of course it never did). Nature's magnificent display was almost enough to keep my mind off the bone-chilling night air. Those same blessed clear skies allowed the earth's heat to dissipate into the atmosphere and it was by far the coldest night I've experienced in years. But now the sun is up and in the absence of any wind it will surely become another hot day.
This clear fourth provides a perfect window into the past, and my thoughts can't help but return to the various baseball fields (in godforsaken towns such as Mira Mesa and Ramona) I spent this same weekend at many years ago; rarely a participant, but usually a happy patron of the snack bar while watching as my brother lit up the stage and carried his All Star teams to many a victory. Sunshine, dirt, junk food, frog hunting, and baseball--what better way for a kid to spend a summer day? Well perhaps with a dip in the Kuntz's pool or a quick game of volleyball for me to lose at. I hope your 4th is as beautiful a day as it is for us, and that the June gloom of Point Loma has dissipated enough for the fireworks to shine bright (at least I hear they still have fireworks shows; though I haven't actually seen one in 4 years now). Aloha and Pura Vida to all.

July 4. 0800
34.03N by 131.04W

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jueves, 3 de julio de 2008

Beware the Sleeping Giant

One of the sailor's biggest fears on passage comes not in the form of bad weather, bad fishing, or even the odd period of dead calm. It comes in the form of massive hunks of steel moving across the seas at speeds exceeding ten knots: freighters. If you hang around a port long enough you'll hear the whining begin: "I was nearly rundown, and the SOB never even deviated so much as a degree. I yelled at him through the radio, flashed all sorts of lights, and still nothing. They must have been asleep." I've never had one come closer than about a half mile at night when it wasn't the fault of the boat I was on (see the Atair), so I was always skeptical about the sleeping freighter theory, figuring surely it would be too costly for the ship's company to have to explain away the wreck of a sailboat and potential loss of life of its crew. After last night my thoughts have changed, thanks to the "Counter Unity" if I heard the name right. Luckily (I suppose) the debacle occurred while I was on watch and I have nobody to blame but myself (and that damned freighter). Perhaps after weeks of no close encounters I was lulled into being too carefree, and despite it being the second ship I had seen on my watch I paid little attention till it was clear it was going to come very close to us. By the time the end of watch came around at 0200 he was just two miles away, and though I was quite sure he SHOULD pass to starboard of us he still seemed to be growing and the drone of his engines were getting louder. My numerous calls over the VHF went unanswered, so I started the motor and followed my first instinct to turn to port and get the hell out of his way. Perhaps it was just my imagination but he was STILL getting bigger and closer. My heart was pounding, I was sweating despite the cold night air, and I feared for the worst. By this time I had turned the strobe light on to complement our running lights, and my father was downstairs repeatedly calling the freighter. Finally, after closing to within a half mile of us the freighter seemed to stop in her tracks and began falling away astern. It seemed somebody had finally woken up and spotted us, probably jolted awake by our repeated radio calls. Moments later a reply came over the VHF in heavily accented English. I finally learned that he did indeed see us on his radar and he would be maintaining his course and speed; we were okay. I said a few choice words thanking him (dripping sarcasm) for his quick response, and learned his ship's name and that they were a container ship heading from China to the Panama Canal (an 18 day trip), no doubt with the cheap junk to fill your local Walmart, and the various shops of Europe. The encounter left my heart racing, and it took a solid half hour to unwind from the stress of it before I could consider fading away to sleep.

On a lighter note, we've now lost our wind. The breeze had been faltering all afternoon and into the night last night, and by this morning it was on its last legs. I did all I could to keep the sails full, going as far as sailing wing-on-wing for a bit, but to no avail. At 1030 we decided to haul in the sails, and before turning the motor on we all leapt into the sea to take a quick saltwater shower in the chilly 65 degree Pacific. We're now back under power with fuel enough for four and a half days (under 500 miles), with 782 miles left to go. Thus the search for wind is back on and we hope to find more in a couple days as we leave the confines of the Pacific High which has built back up around us now that our friendly low is long gone. All else is well on board though the Atkins boys are longing for a big helping of salad to be followed closely by a massive fruit salad. Canned food and fish is growing old.

Somebody let Antl and Graveyard know I say Happy Birthday; and Happy 4th to everyone.
July 3-1245.
34.03N by 132.42W

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miércoles, 2 de julio de 2008

Bananas and Foul Lines; Why You Don=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=92?=t Monkey With Superstitions

Baseball and sailing. Taken at face value the two have nothing in common. But just beneath the surface lurks a deep-seated similarity. Both are deeply rooted in tradition, which inexorably leads to both being governed by certain iron-clad superstitions. Next time you watch a baseball game count how many players step on the foul line. Odds are none, and if there is one he will step on it every time as the contrarian who flies in the face of all superstitions. Next time a pitcher carries a no hitter into the late innings watch how he and the players around him react. He will follow the same exact routine after each half inning, and his teammates will stay far away, not wanting to jinx the no-no. Sailors, like ballplayers, are a superstitious breed. Most of these superstitions are so deep-rooted in the history of seafaring that their origin eludes me; but I know them, and I go out of my way to follow everyone, especially these big three.
1. "Never start a passage on a Friday." To show the quirkiness of sailors there is no better example than this superstition. The purist will adhere to this edict as if it's a natural law. Most modern cruisers, however, have invented little ways to sidestep the rule. A passage requires an overnight trip, many say, so you are free to change anchorages and make short daysails on Friday. Others say all it takes is a 360 degree turn to port upon leaving the harbor to reverse the jinx. As for myself, on the rare occasion I have set sail on a Friday (only for daysails) my logbook marks the day as Thursday +1.
2. "No bananas." This superstition applies more specifically to fishermen, but most sailors abide by it at least to some degree. As for me, I won't pass up a good batch of bananas, but I also won't go out of my way to procure them. And, looking back, each time I've brought bananas I've had a rough, fish-scarce passage. To wit: upon leaving Fanning Island the locals gave me two massive bunches of bananas which served as the bulk of my diet for the nine day sail to Hawaii. That passage was plagued with unusually squally weather and the worst sea conditions I've encountered over an extended period. And, by the way, I didn't catch a fish until the afternoon before my arrival, six hours after I had consumed my final bananas.
3. The popular adgae: "Ask and ye shall receive," or the sailor's version, don't ask and you won't have to deal with it. Never mention the desire to encounter bad weather, even if just to see what it's like. Never be ashamed to answer the inevitable "have you hit any bad storms" with a nonchalant, "No, I've been really lucky weather-wise thus far." For proof of why this is you need look no further than this very passage. As Avventura's crew sat together in her cockpit admiring one final Hawaiian sunset, Kevin ventured the statement, "I hope we come across some weather just to see what it's like." My father and I quickly convinced him he didn't really want to; but alas, it was too late. Two weeks later we found ourselves in the midst of a late-June winter low pressure system in the North Pacific. We were in the heart of a gale in a place where the pilot charts declared there is, historically, a ZERO percent chance of encountering such conditions in June! "Ask and ye shall receive."
Needless to say Kevin has learned a valuable lesson, and though we can joke about it now, I venture to say he won't be wishing for bad weather or lugging bananas on board or shoving off on a Friday or even stepping on a foul line anytime soon. No matter how you feel about karma, superstitions, jinxes and the like one important thing to remember is they have been around for generations, and continue to live on for a reason. So, even in our technologically advanced age, you don't monkey with tradition or defy superstitions—especially not before facing a 2500 mile voyage.
(Credit for the idea of this blog goes to my father. Please remember I've been at sea for 18 days now and have gotten very limited sleep the past 3 days, so the writing may be lacking a bit.)
July 2--1300
34.31N by 134.35W

PS Has been a nice day of sailing thus far. We've had 15 to 20 knots of wind since yesterday and it has slowly shifted from the SW to the S. The miles are drifting astern (139 yesterday), as the water temperature continues to dip (65 now). Our fishing luck has persisted, but shifted forms, as we've caught two tasty little albacore in the past 24 hours-one in time for dinner last night, and one early this morning. One thing remains the same with our fish-they hit at the most inopportune times. Both the last two hit as light squalls descended upon us, leaving me to fillet them in the rain. But our diets remain fish-heavy, and our lockers remain filled with largely untouched canned goods. Autopilot is struggling, but holding in there. All else is going good.

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martes, 1 de julio de 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

Wow! Now this is more like it! Just one day removed from a full-fledged gale and we have twenty knots of southwest wind wind six foot seas from the same direction and are screaming along at over 6.5 knots at the moment with gorgeous sunny skies scattered with cumulus puffs reminiscent of our days in the trades. Must say my spirits have been lifted just watching the miles tick away. We are now under 1000 miles from home after having somehow salvaged a 104 NM day out of the past 24 hours. That means everyday but one thus far has been over the 100 mile benchmark I set as a daily goal, and that day (#15) was 97. Not bad.
So what do I have to complain about today? Well our primary autopilot has pulled up lame and despite two days worth of attempts to fix it (including one that looked very promising today) it looks like the motor is at fault and we are limping along with the back-up at the helm. Problem is the back-up has a very sensitive off-course alarm and seems to have trouble holding a steady course, so the person on watch has to help it by babying the wheel and every ten minutes or so we hear the beep, beep, beep, beep of the alarm. Must say it is annoying come nightfall; but so long as she holds up it is still a hundred-fold better than hand-steering full time.
Not much else to report. Surfing down swells with conditions quite similar to those we faced off Baja on the sail to Cabo. The boat is drying out quite nicely from the storm and while everything still feels damp and dirty it is a vast improvement over yesterday's pig stye. Now we just need for the winds to stay from a favorable direction for another ten days or so and we'll be home free.
Enjoying the speed, and preparing to take a much-needed bucket shower in the all-too-cold 66 degree water. Better cold than stinky though. Aloha.

July 1. 1500.
35.25N by 136.34W

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