One Week Out
Distance run: 1279nm Current position: Lat- 39 deg 27.73’N / Long- 145 deg 46.72’ W
You may be wondering what happened to us but worry not we are still here, steadily making our way towards Victoria. In fact today we crossed the halfway mark and are now closer to Canada than Hawaii.
The trip started like most other longer ocean passages with some apprehension of what was to come. Imagine, you’re on a boat setting out with almost complete strangers, having never sailed much, if at all, not knowing if seasickness will kick in and right now all the lines and things onboard are just one huge jumble of random names. That is a little how some of our guest crew felt. So with a day sail in the near shore waters of O’ahu to get a feel for helming, to practice maneuvers such as tacking and jibing and to do a man over board drill, we aimed to put some of the nerves at ease. Then early in the morning of the 22nd we took the plunge into the unknown and set sail. It seems so long ago now.
The weather as predicted brought nice breezy tradewinds and with an upwind course we bounced our way North towards the well known North Pacific high, to many also known as the North Pacific Gyre. The waves were relentless and since our sea legs hadn’t fully formed yet many of us had a bought or two of seasickness. Quickly, those new to sailing realized that minimizing time below deck where you are not horizontal in your bunk is key. Prime activities to send your head spinning and stomach swirling are things like doing a logbook entry, going to the heads (loo) or cooking in the galley.But while you may feel like death itself for a while the ‘good’ thing with seasickness is that for 99% of people it passes. And so within a couple of days everyone had color back in their faces and spirits lifted significantly.
But before I carry on let me introduce everyone quickly: Andrew: high school photography teacher currently on a year long sabbatical. Sean: student of future materials and fellow Brit. Chip: formerly in the Navy and now an audiologist. Chris: professional photographer and videographer, possibly known to some as the creator of the film Albatross. Megan: just about to start uni and so the youngest on board but with lots of tall ship experience. And of course yours truly the crew, Eric (captain), Shanley (first mate) and me, Meret (deckhand).
The contrast between the rough first few days and the high was stark. The wind vanished, and with it the swell and waves. Suddenly, days from any land we were in waters that reminded more of a lake than the middle of the Pacific ocean. It’s a bizarre feeling. The calmness also increased the sightings of plastic floating past us: bottles, buoys, crates, jerry cans, pieces of rope and general bits of plastic or styrofoam. With these sightings and the calm weather we started our daily manta trawls. The trawl, a big cone-shaped net with a very fine mesh to catch all the tiny pieces, is rigged on the spinnaker pole keeping it a few meters off the beam (side) of the boat. We trawl the net for half an hour before we pull it back in and see what our haul of the day is. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t surprised by the quantities of plastic we find in each trawl. The further into the gyre we venture, the fuller our sample pots get. I have done a bunch of these trawls before in paces like the Arctic but even I am astonished once again by the sheer quantities of fibers, colorful fragments and even nurdles. These trawls often prompt moments of thought and discussions on the plastic problem: What is the general level of the awareness? What is the biggest part of the problem? How do we move forward and what solutions are there so far? How does media and language usage surrounding the issue influence the general knowledge of plastics, waste and recycling? Where in our daily lives can we and should we make an effort to avoid plastic? Who are the responsible parties to solve the problem? Each person on this boat has their own stories, experiences and thoughts to share.
On to life onboard more generally: Do we have enough food, you may ask. Let me assure you in the food department we are spoilt. Even now as our fresh vegetables start to run low we are having lasagnes, tofu tacos, curries of all kinds, brownies, fresh bread, coleslaws, guacamoles, stir fries and much more. But best of all the snack cabinet is still brimming with crackers, granola bars, nuts and dried mangoes!
How do we pass our days on such a long passage? Well, the days are structured around our watches which are 4 hours on and 6 hours off. We are split into 5 watch teams of 1-2 people. So you always have at least two other people up on deck with you. Then there are the meals (lunch and dinner), which we have on deck all together. In the 6 hours off you mostly sleep but if you are feeling active and well rested you might read or bake a cake or just enjoy the scenery on deck. This group loves taking pictures of the sunrises and sunsets. After one of the trawls we had a swim stop. Engine off, floating rope and fender to grab onto off the stern, swim step down and ladder on and we‘re all set. Some in snorkels and fins others just in swimming costumes it’s time to hop off the leeward side into the still surprisingly warm and refreshing ocean. It’s an odd sensation knowing there are at least 5000 feet of water below you.
Wildlife sightings have kept us on out toes lately. It all started with a stand off between Eric and a red-footed booby. With an utter lack of wind the booby had decided the wind indicator on the top of the mast was going to be its perch for the night. Eric was less than keen on this idea. He did not want bird poop all over the main sail and deck in the morning. But no amount of shouting, reasoning, or driving loop-de-loops could get the bird to change its mind. Leaving Eric in a right old huff. Eventually after much annoyance the booby did decide the constantly spinning wind indicator was not the most comfortable spot and shifted to the bow. From that moment a treaty of peace and acceptance formed between the two. Eric did still have to scrub poop off the foredeck in the morning, which he did cursing lightly under his breath.
A black-footed albatross came to say hello during the swim stop. What majestic beautiful birds! Watching them glide along on their great wing spans is mesmerizing.
Several pods of dolphins have come to tease us at a distance, none quite wanting to come close and play. But even at afar we can see them hurling themselves skywards and crashing back down with a giant splash. Then the other day as we came out of a rainy squall with an unusually intense rainbow, I spotted a sail boat. No, no, a lighter patch of cloud? Or a could it be a whale? A quick glance through the binoculars confirmed a huge spout far away but dead ahead of us. Whales!!! While that particular whale did not grace us with its presence and instead dove down into the depth of the ocean, we did have an amazing whale encounter the next morning. A pod of at least 8 sperm whales just milling at the surface poking their snouts out of the water! Maybe 30 meters off the boat they were being generally very log-like with their flat heads and brownish skin. Their spray spouting off to the side at a 45 degree angle due to their off centre blowholes. What a joy to see them! And well worth being cold for as most of us had run up on deck only in their life jackets and jim-jams (pyjamas).
Yes, indeed it’s getting steadily colder and since we‘ve left the high it’s become increasingly grey and rainy again. While we complained about the heat just a short week ago and wished for the cold, it still came too soon. Nobody was quite ready for all the layers that we need to put on for every watch now. But it’s nice to know this time next week we should be back on shore and exploring Canada!