Hello friends, Hello Family!
As you may know, I’ll be delivering a sailboat back from Hawaii. I will send out email updates as I can. Please indulge, ignore, share or discard these updates at your leisure!
I am aboard Indigo, a 49′, 20 tonne cutter of the cruising persuasion, sailing her from Honolulu to Victoria. The crew are: Kerry Outerbridge (Owner/skipper, MD, all around nice guy), Findlay Gibbons (Engineer, pragmatist, Scot), and myself (Naviguesser, youngest by 40 years, eats most the food).
Arrive Kahului, Maui. Hotel, sleep… Nothing to speak of.
So, I just arrived in Maui last night and today we will go meet up with the boat and start preparing. We plan to leave by Saturday from Honolulu, but a lot depends on how tropical storms Howard and Ivette develop. They will likely die off long before making landfall but if not we will have to postpone departure. Further, complicating this trip is the behavior of the North Pacific High, which is sitting very far North, potentially increasing the length of our trip…
Tasty breakfast and quick taxi to sugar beach. Findlay and I spot Indigo anchored in the calm waters and drag our dry bags down onto the sandy foreshore. A brisk wave hails Kerry who sweeps in on the dinghy to pick us up right off the beach. Minutes later, after introductions and greetings are complete we weigh anchor and set a course for Molokai with 25-30 knots of tropical Tradewinds on our quarter… Ahh it feels good to be back!
There is a timeless beauty in watching boats at sunset, this is especially true if one is resting at anchor in Kaunakakai with a beer in hand and the boats in question are Polynesian outriggers racing around like so many water bugs. And so it was that my day aboard faded into night.
Another great sail! Slipping away at daybreak we reached Honolulu by early afternoon with big breeze behind us. Oahu’s stunning windward coast and the imposing presence of diamond head leave no ambiguity as to ones position. Let the provisioning begin.
To the uninitiated, the obsessive, fastidious labours a sailor takes when readying his craft for the sea may seem excessive and tedious. But the satisfaction one feels in having been through every inch of the boat, traced wires, tested capacities, fixed plumbing, checked the rig, packed and stowed food and gear, tweaked, tightened and touched up all systems is invaluable and does much ease the jitters of heading out into a vast ocean on an entirely self sufficient tiny little piece of wood, alone in the abyss. There is so much to do and all the while we have one eye on the weather data streaming in, waiting for a window.
Our window has arrived! Between post tropical storm Howard and tropical storm Ivette is a nice calm patch allows us to motor out on the windward side of Oahu and catch the south westerlies associated with Howard before the trades fill back in behind the system. This helped us get some “easting”. In fact once the wind did fill back in it was a rather nasty affair with confused seas in excess of 2 metres which meant hatches closed and no ventilation. Sea legs are forthcoming… There are always a couple days of adjustment and so as we settle into the night, I agree to the second watch and brace my bunk against the driving waves
Dolphins! They really do seem to turn up 100 to 200 miles offshore. These are little guys surging about us in their playful, charging way. Always feels like a good omen, even for those of us with no superstitious tendencies whatsoever. The flying fish too cheat gravity and seem to hover over the waves fleeing unknown terrors in the deep.
Life aboard begins to take shape: the vague nausea subsides, the imbalance begins to correct, and a routine is quietly established. Also, the fishing gear is set. Waves are still a bit smashy but the weather files show disconcertingly light wind ahead. When you are sailing these distances, even half a knot of extra speed could trim a day off the total passage time. And so we trim the sails, chasing the increments.
As usual, the appointed hour offers us assorted libations: rum, vodka, gin, tequila, scotch, and beers are in healthy supply but one or two is usually plenty.
I get the first watch tonight and what a night! The last remnants of Howard are far astern and a clear night sky, rich with stars, quickly displaces the setting sun. I had forgotten the immensity of the cosmos – light pollution is a one of those insidious byproducts of civilisation that one tends not to notice until well clear of it. As if to confirm these musings, or fact abruptly interrupt them, a massive meteorite arced right across my line of sight. It burned metallic orange/white larger, from my perspective, than a flare then broke into several smaller pieces which seared downwards before extinguishing leaving their image dancing on my retinas. It was a hell of a shooting star.
More great sailing. 10-15 knots just ahead of the beam. We have to run the generator twice daily to keep the batteries charged and this is also good time to make water. We have enough diesel on board to motor for 2 weeks straight so this is of little consequence but these balancing energies always seemed odd to me. We turn diesel into motion, motion into electricity which is then stored in batteries, electricity back into motion driving a pump which forces saltwater through a reverse osmosis membrane. The practical upshot of this wild dance of physics is a few gallons of fresh water. But hey it works like a hot damn.
Great food, great company, and great sailing. What beats this?
Not much else to report other than more light winds forecast ahead.
August 9 (later)
Been playing with the GoPro, hopefully some good footage.. We are working our way north but the Grib files show a massive high pressure system spreading east to west across the pacific… Right in front of us, which will likely mean no wind for a couple days. Oh well, good time to do some laundry and wash the boat. For those interested check out http://www.windy.ty for a great weather viewer.
Extrapolated some more info on the boat. Indigo is a 1987 Bristol 49′ centre cockpit Bermudan cutter… With a centreboard!
Fairly uneventful day though – just more pleasant Tradewinds sailing! Flying fish on deck in the mornings, poor bastards. Too small to eat but we are eating well: Squash soup and beer bread make a fine supper. Basically, all is well aboard.
FISH ON! Big thrill of the day was seeing the flash of a Mahi Mahi on the end of our line! We quickly hauled it aboard and were eating fresh sashimi within the hour! There is nothing like fresh Mahi… Seared Mahi fillets for dinner with cherry tomatoes and a lime balsamic reduction! It’s amazing how simple life becomes out here. Days flow together as our little craft rolls along on its slow, plodding course trending generally northward.
The wind has packed it in all together so we’ve given up motor sailing and pointed about 020*True under power alone. Navigation is astoundingly simple: go north and turn right as the wind allows. We have to interpret weather data sure, but, having no meteorologists aboard, we make our decisions based on weather models which we hope are accurate. So far they have been right on the money. Indeed there’s precious little to see and even less to run into out here in the North Pacific, no islands, no ships…yet. We keep our tight watches and will be extra cautious though as we cross the Yokohama shipping lanes sometime in the next few days.
I think I mentioned the tracker came back to life. Please let me know if it is working https://share.delorme.com/Kerry
August 11 & 12
Currently 34*38’N 155*58’W
Days begin to blend together… As there are only three of us, we take night watches of three hours each. 2100-0000, 0000-0300, 0300-0600. We rotate daily to keep it fair. This means of course that ones sleep schedule is necessarily irregular, but nobody minds. If you get tired during the day, simply lay down and sleep! And thus one day bleeds into the next. Day and night retain their qualitative differences only, and the boat trundles on, straddling the boundary between two fluid masses, each many miles thick.
We saw our first ship today! A bulk carrier that passed only a few miles astern. I radioed the bridge and the officer of the watch confirmed that we were well visible to them on radar and AIS (automated identification system) long before line of sight visual contact was made. This is reassuring as we near the Yokohama shipping lanes!
We also saw a seabird today, a gull, some 750 nm (1,365 km) from the nearest land! How do they live out here in this watery desert?
Flotsam is becoming more prevalent and I see styrofoam daily, tainting the ocean surface. We are not so far from the great pacific gyre and will see more and more if I remember correctly. It may surprise people to learn that, beyond 25 nm from land, it is normal practice to throw overboard all metal, paper, and glass products, but never plastic. Metal and glass are sunk, to corrode and erode respectively on the sea floor 6000 metres below. Paper quickly disintegrates. Human and kitchen waste go back into the food chain. But plastic we of course keep aboard. It is sad to see so much of it out here, but I am glad that general awareness of the gyre or ‘plastic island’ is becoming more widespread. Google it if you don’t know what I’m on about.
Anyways on a more prosaic note, we are steaming ahead at 6 knots under power alone as we transition out of the Tradewinds, up onto the back of the great pacific high, and hope to catch a couple low pressure systems to the north. A large depression in Alaska seems to be pushing the high southward which is great for us. We expect only another 24-30 hours of motoring before the westerlies fill from behind.
Well that’s enough verbiage for one day, indeed two.
Currently 36*44’N 153*55’W
Awoke to a mirror flat sea of glass. Deep ocean swells heave slowly about like some psychedelic dream but not a breath of wind nor ripple break the surface. This was the hottest feeling day so far as we punch through a severely distorted great pacific high, whose odd shape means we only need to spend 1.5 days motoring… Not bad considering There are wind holes out here the size of Mexico!
Took the opportunity to do laundry, fill the fuel tanks from our jerry cans on deck, and generally laze about watching the odd flying fish or stormy petrel. The few seabirds we do encounter are highly curious of our boat and swoop about us playing in the disturbed area of wind from our sails and showing off their remarkable aerobatic prowess.
It’s early am Sunday now and the wind if filling in from behind just as predicted! We shall fly the big spinnaker tomorrow and try to break the 200nm/day barrier in the coming days… Looks like fun sailing ahead; enough of this light feeble stuff – into the westerlies!!
Currently 37*48’N 151*37’W
Just as we ordered, the wind came up behind us this morning, 10-15 knots with French fries and a coke! Doing steady mid 7s autopilot but can coax her to 9 knots on a wave if you take the wheel… Not bad for a 52000lb boat in light wind! This is plum sailing; after a night of intolerable rolling with no sails up motoring, today is a cruising dream: big spinnaker, bright sunshine, easy seas, and ice cold beers. We’re coming up on the halfway point, too.
Broke out the sextant today, calibrated, took some practice sights.. Forgot there is art to this science… Going to do noon sights from now for good seamanship and basically really guilty for how ridiculously easy it is to do an ocean crossing in the gps era. Honestly, we get highly accurate weather models for the whole pacific, plot a course for a few days to take advantage of the best wind in the surrounding few hundred miles, feed that data into the chart plotter, press the AUTO button, and our boat steers itself along that course within a few metres of accuracy. Just a few clicks. Never even need to touch the wheel. We have AIS and radar to warn us of collisions, major government bodies keeping us abreast of hurricane danger, and redundant technology on board that more or less guarantees rescue in even a worst case scenario! I’ve been reading Mutiny on the Bounty, Bernard Moitessier, stories of early navigators, etc. and I find myself feeling sheepish for standing on the shoulders of such giants and failing to honour their massive legacy and service to humanity by over reliance on electronics. And so I’ll practice astro navigation.
For those who don’t know what I’m moaning about, until say, the 1700s ocean navigating was a dodgy affair, for Europeans at least (Polynesians had their own highly effective system). There was really no accurate way to find ones longitude and many thousands deaths can be directly attributed to this problem, not to mention cartography woes. When the modern sextants and marine chronometers became commonplace, all of this changed and navigators could find their position with reasonable accuracy, using a just clock, a device for measuring angles and some simply math. This still took training, practice, pride, and skill with which those great navigators (Cook, Vancouver, La Pérouse, Bligh, Shackelton, Slocum) accomplished incredible feats. Up until quite recently, maybe 30 years ago, your average offshore sailor still knew how use these tools and techniques, and indeed could not cross an ocean without them. Now these skills are atrophying and going the way of the dodo and morse code. GPS, AIS, weather routing, autopilots, etc are amazing and make the seas so much safer… but when they fail, our dependence leaves us vulnerable. Ok I’m done. A nice rant now again is good for the spirit!
Pitch black now doing 8-9 knots on kite by moonlight alone on deck wind building… This is the best.
Currently 42*26’N 147*41’W
Well we had two glorious full days under spinnaker and spent today wing on wing as we try and get north to avoid the high again as it creeps westward toward us. We are even having to edge back west to avoid the doldrums, which is always galling as eastward progress is precious at these latitudes. Constant game of “dodge the wind holes” but there are gales out here to be taken advantage of.
The seas are closer to 2 metres now and right on the quarter making for a rolling, yawning, uncomfortable ride that kills the flow in the sails unless we have at least 15 knots. Ended up having to change course just to keep moving. I’d still rather go northnorth west at 7 knots into good breeze than rhumb line it at 5 into the great nothingness. We’ll turn back toward Vancouver when the wind allows, hopefully tomorrow.
Finally got a good noon sight and shot Polaris too. I must say trying to get an accurate sextant sight on a small sailboat in ocean swell while she rolls through 40* and yaws through 20* is damn challenging. I can only see the horizon at the top of a wave for a moment as we pitch about… Lucky to get within 5 miles.
Shit. Oil pressure light and battery alarm just went off. Ok better switch to generator till we investigate… There’s always something.
Currently 44*33’N 148*14’W
Well the gamble paid off and the .grb files (visualised / animated weather data) were accurate. We are heading due north again having sailed wing on wing (mainsail and foresail on opposite sides of the boat for you non sailors). As we stepped back into the breeze, the seas have increased with our proximity to the associated low. Heaving rollers 8-10 feet slowly lift us to their crest then let us slide gently into their trough where even standing on deck some 8 feet above the waterline, the horizon is totally obscured and we languish momentarily in the lazy embrace of these heaping masses before rising again… Over and over, all day long. We have 15-20 knots though and Indigo is riding well, stoic as anything.
Many ships popping up on our AIS so we must be in the shipping lanes. Finally worked out the HF single side band radio and have found some entertaining ham radio nets to eavesdrop and also the UTC time signal, which was very useful for today’s sun sights. I got a clear shot at local noon, and after applying all the relevant corrections (wave height, eye height, sun diameter, sextant error, etc.), worked out a fix. Checked against our gps I was within 20 miles! Still needs improvement but considering the big seas and my inexperience, I was very pleased. There’s a weird comfort in knowing precisely where you (literally) stand on this planet, especially in the lonely expanse of the sea, and a very special kind of satisfaction when it’s derived from only the heavens, a watch, and some mirrors.
Another day or two and we can turn right, heading directly for the straits of Juan de Fuca. Feels like the home stretch is nigh!
Miss you all.
Currently 47*01’N 147*09’W
Lost second pair of orange glasses to the depths. Dammit!
Tried to take noon sights but too cloudy. Dammit…
Wind and speed down; moist, cloudy day. Dammit.
Everybody is distinctly restless as we’ve pretty much explored every inch of this boat for excitement and mystery. Our living space probably comprises the square footage of your average bedroom and it is at this point in a trip on a boat of this size that differences in character can begin to grate and irritations mount. However, all hands are amiable, patient, and have done this before. The point is, navigating personalities on an ocean passage is far more challenging than navigating the boat! We are confined to this little piece of driftwood with nothing else in any direction. That’s the weird bit. Sure we’re 1000 miles from land, and there’s sky above, but it’s the 3-4 more miles of utterly mysterious ocean beneath that really twists yer jib.
Pro tip: For a long trip like this go to your favourite Thai restaurant and get them to pre make, package and freeze like ten curries. Heat and serve. Amazing.
We’ve all read most of the books on board (Findlay is on novel number 8) so if you have any news of the world, yourself, or even just the latest breakthroughs in insect biology please share it! We need fresh gossip and debate fodder. We have emails but no internet access.
Reminds me, it’s so reflexive to google something now when one is unsure of a fact. Today for example we were arguing over whether carbon fibre conducts electricity but couldn’t get anywhere as no one could verify (or really remember) which it was! Beer to whomever can tell me first.
Well seas have calmed down and tomorrow we will reach the 48th parallel; high or no high we are turning due east for home.
Currently 48*06’N 143*50’W
Day in the life:
Wake up in my hammock / pipe berth. There are other sleeping options but I like the perch. Blearily, I grope for the cereal and a cup of hot tea. Thus revived, I check the sails. No change, bearing north. Download the latest weather files, review, groan at prospects of of light wind conditions for the next 500 miles. And stomp off to wash. The morning sun dances crazily across the bulkheads, up and down with the motion of the boat, refracted slightly through the weatherbeaten Perspex.
Findlay and I decide it’s time… Full 90* right turn, pop the chute, and away to the East! Finally we are pointed homeward and every mile sailed is a real mile gained toward our destination. In sailor speak: our ‘velocity made good’ is improved and our ‘course made good’ lines up with Vancouver Island, this vastly increases our moral made good, which is conducive to bacon and eggs made good… Let’s eat. 😉
Slowly, almost without our noticing, the fog closes in. How can there be this much fog 800 miles off shore? It’s thick too, we can barely see half a cable distant. Oh well, I turn the radar on and set proximity alarms for MARPA and AIS targets. Shrouded now in all encompassing dampness and an oppressive veil of grey, I sit at the wheel and read a cheap thriller. Muffled silence, but for the occasional flap of the spinnaker. All is calm and tranquil. Then: a burst of sound from the fog, and I jump up looking around. Nothing on the radar. I peer into fog feeling tense… I can see large currents stirring around the boat flattening the waves. What is that?
And the all of a sudden, WHALE! Now I’ve seen humpbacks breaching, orcas spy hopping, dolphins charging about, but these were three massive Minke whales swimming right up, around, and under the boat. They rivalled us for size though I’m told they reach about ten metres. They were within jumping distance of the boat and I could watch their great bodies glide under us only a few feet below the surface. For at least 20 minutes they played, all around us, surfacing to breath with that distinct whooshing blow. It one of those speechless moments. They were so curious, like dolphins, but huge, grey and smooth, with white underbellies and easy power. What a treat! And then, just like that, they are gone, vanished back into the mists from whence they came.
3am, on watch. I glance at the chart plotter. AIS and radar clear. Sails are rolled away and we make a steady 6 knots under power. The reassuring grumble of a Yanmar diesel at 1800 rpm makes me sleepy sitting at the chart table. As one cant see anything in the foggy night, there’s not much point in sitting up by the wheel, so I’m downstairs at the Nav station with one eye on the instruments and the other on “the 12 volt bible for boats”. Keep reading, keep learning. Nothing else to do out here. Except, perhaps, make another cup of tea? Yes I think so. I’ll just go pop on the kettle then.
Currently 48*08’N 139*45’WThe forecast is grim. The great zone of high pressure (read: light wind) is lurching about the pacific like a drunken amoeba trying to get home after an unsuccessful night out. It’s latest deviation has been an wild eastward slide with on arm reaching up to an beyond Haida Gwaii. This would all be fine if its eastward progress didn’t coincide almost exactly with ours, which it does. Also the wind just swung round onto our nose unexpectedly forcing a sunset spinnaker douse and after dark gybe. We are now sailing happily along at 6 knots in entirely the wrong direction. Sigh.
On the bright side I managed to wire a laptop up to the stereo system and watch Tom Hanks shoot stuff for a while. This once again reminded me that there is every conceivable amenity on board… And well hey as nothing particularly interesting happened today, let me tell you about the boat. Disclaimer: If you don’t perk up excitedly when someone says ‘masticating water pump impeller assembly’ or ‘cold molded epoxy hull construction’, you might just want skip this one…
Indigo Spec Sheet
From the top. Indigo is a 49′ centre cockpit cutter rigged sloop built using approximately 20 metric shit-tonnes of fibreglass and resin. The rig is 60 odd feet high with a main and two headsails (jib and staysail). She has a skeg rudder with fin keel and, oddly, a tilting centre board. The sails are roller furling and we trim them, hehe, with a 28 volt Milwaukee high torque drill with a winch fitting star drive bit. The practical upshot here is that I can do sail changes, reefs, adjustments, and fully stow the sails without ever leaving the cockpit, exerting any real effort, or indeed even putting down my gin and tonic. Highly cruisy. Anyway, her lines are fine, her stays robust and the teak decks add a touch of maritime class while also being lovely underfoot. We have two chart plotters (at the wheel and the Nav station downstairs. Both display info from the wind instruments, speedo, gps, auto pilot, radar, AIS, sounder, etc. And are the brains of our navigation equipment.
We use predict wind to get our .grb files downloaded via the iridium low earth satellite network and I get the UTC time signal on the SSB at 5, 10, or 15 MHz 24/7.
Sleeping can be accomplished in the v berth, after berth, settee, or pipe berth, and given the right wind and wave conditions, sometimes is! There are also two comfy swivel chairs and a large folding galley table.
In the power department, she has a 115 hp diesel yanmar stern drive with feathering prop. We started with 750 litres of diesel aboard and have about 400 left… The boat has no less than 4 top of the line AGM batteries, one for the engine, two for the house, and one up front for the anchor windlass – somewhat overkill. There are TWO alternators too, the stock one charges the engine battery and the double belt balmar charges the house batteries. There is also, of course, a generator, inverter, voltage regulator, and probably a tiny Elon Musk down there somewhere trying to sell us on lithium polymer batteries. We have full 120 ac with household outlets around the saloon, galley, and berths. There is a stereo set, microwave, fans, air conditioner, tv, two showers, hot water, a reverse osmosis water maker, toaster, fridge, deep freeze, and the list goes on. It’s absurd! Being offshore we don’t use all these luxuries of course but even so we need to run the generator daily to keep
the batteries and water topped up. The electrical breaker panel looks like something from the cockpit of a Boeing 747 and the wiring behind it like an H.R. Geiger painting!
Safety and communication: now this is really the area that should make or break a decision to go offshore in a particular boat. If you are thinking about doing a passage and the question “where is the life raft stowed?” elicits a blank stare from the skipper, run. Run fast. Luckily, as you can imagine, Indigo is stocked! We have a 6 person life raft. Oh, *pro tip here: life rafts are affectionately known as vomitrons for their tendency to wrench seasickness out of even the most stoic of salty veterans. Therefore, we tether ours to our dinghy, which in turn is tethered to 50 litres of fresh water in jerry cans. In the event of abandoning ship, we first cast over the water, followed by the dinghy, then the life raft. Water to survive, the dinghy for comfort, and life raft for shelter. The water jugs also act as a kind of sea anchor. We have waterproof grab bags with flares, food, spare sextant, compass, gps, vhf, etc. Back on board we have an EPIRB, multiple vhf radios, a hf/SS
B/ham radio for long distance communication, Delorme tracker, iridium go mobile satellite communicator hub, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and so on. God it must cost a lot to kit out a rig like this for ocean sailing… $30k? $40k? I don’t really want to know. And to think, captain Bligh sailed 3,600 miles in an open rowboat overloaded with 18 people, and navigated with sextant and memory alone from Tonga to Timor… It belies all imaginings.
What more can i say? There’s like 3 bilge pumps, 19 through hulls, every spare part known to man, and a small library of fiction and non fiction… This may be the ideal offshore sailboat. I have doubts about the roller reefers in survival / hurricane conditions but that’s what storm sails are for anyways 🙂
Well the sun has risen, winds up, and as I’ve been writing this I’ve been lifted almost back onto course. Now close hauled, beating to windward with full sails, crew fast asleep and I’m all smiles. Forecast be damned!
Reporting from the foredeck,
Currently 48*07’N 137*31’W
Becalmed again. The sea resembles an undulating, hallucinogenic mirror softly ballooning and stretching but never breaking its oily facade; the gentle swell ever present. 36 more hours of motoring and we will finally, finally reach the Northwesterlies which should catapult us toward Vancouver Island and into the Straits of Juan de Fuca. We could make landfall thursday morning, but may not be at the dock until late, depending on wind strength. Home stretch!
Fishing line is out but still no luck since that first mahi. We’re in tuna country now so I’m still hoping for a little bonito! Pacific sashimi – fresh as can be.
A perfect day to practice sun sights: calm seas, crisp horizon, and few clouds. I got much better shots, and, in the end achieved a fix within 1’ (1 nautical mile) of our gps position! This makes me feel a lot more confident about the whole business… let’s see if I can maintain that consistently.
The clear skies persist into the night and I have have first watch. Dead calm, inky black seas give way seamlessly to the spiraling cosmos above. It’s moments like these, as I sit on deck gazing enraptured up into the heavens, alone with my steaming night drink, that I remember why I came out here in the first place. All the petty discomforts, frustrations, and boredom fades with the twilight and the cold embrace of nightfall leaves one stranded on a metaphysical precipice, staring wild-eyed into the gaping maw of infinity. The great sweep of the milky way is so bright and vivid that its light is reflected upon the water as though it were the moon. High magnitude constellations too, ripple in the flat waters and one feels suddenly weightless, lost in space, on, as Carl Sagan so elegantly mused, “a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam”.
Currently 48*19’N 133*42’W
Mac products have all stopped charging for some reason and our email capabilities are thereby hamstringed. I’m sending this out on our last iPhone.. Log postponed until I can figure this out. Currently 350 mm from Juan de fuca. Looks like landfall sometime Thursday morning. All good. Dolphins on bow today. More updates to come…
Still motoring… just passed an ODAS (ocean data acquisition system) super bouy. I think we may have had the least wind of anyone ever doing this passage – it’s absurd! We have endured 3 separate manifestations of this confounded high pressure system that cut our progress to 140 miles per day, limited as we are by fuel capacity. I came out here to sail not motor… Frustrations like these though are short lived as one’s surroundings are just too placid to sustain any real irritation. However, there is a more general restlessness mounting, an anxious feeling, as old as marine history, that pervades a ship when landfall is approaching after a sea voyage. In the pre gps era, this had as much to do with uncertainty of one’s exact position as anything else, but even now with all our gadgets I can’t help but keep a sharper watch. Good seamanship amounts to a healthy, conservative fear of the sea: the crash of breakers on a lee shore, the horror of falling overboard, the gut-feeling of when to shorten sail, and the knowledge that although often amiable, Neptune can swallow you up at anytime if he so chooses. As a staunch atheist, this is about as close to religion as I think I will ever get! Anyways, the entrance to Juan de Fuca is one giant bottleneck and I have had alarming close quarters situations there in the past. The August fog that lays heavy on the region can further complicate matters and necessitates radar.
I almost forgot! Today we were quite suddenly accosted by a frantic pod of very tiny dolphins, no more that 5 feet tip-to-tail, grey/white/black with distinct shades separating their dorsal and ventral sides. They were endlessly playful jumping so close to the bow I could have touched them by leaning over the side and indeed nearly did while holding the gopro. They stuck around, doggedly keeping pace for half an hour or so and then, as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone. The resulting footage turned out to be fantastic!
All is well, my shift half done. A cup of tea and an audio book now – the best companions on a lonely night watch!
Currently 48*24’N 128*56’W
And at last it has come to pass. We found the Northwesterlies, in all their steely, ragged dependability. We now have 20 knots on the beam charging along at 8-9 knots SOG. Feels good to be back in the breeze and it is rising… actually it’s rising a lot, we need to reef! That’s better, staysail, double reefed main and jib still doing good speed but without it sounding like the rudder stock is going to shear off at any moment!
And as though on cue, our chartplotter is suddenly full of other vessels: AIS targets represented by little grey triangles teeming with information about their destination, speed, heading etc. We are nearing the Juan de Fuca bottleneck and will have to start thinking like coastal navigators once again; no more reading novels at the nav table! Our plan is to stay south of the shipping lanes until we reach Cape Flattery, then quickly cross to the Canadian side, spending as little time in the firing line as possible.
Wind and seas still building… better go lie down before my shift.
Currently too tired to bother writing down coordinates but about fifty miles from Cape Flattery
Last night turned out to be the worst night of the trip. The breeze never exceeded 25 knots but it managed to kick up 10 foot breakers that just smashed the boat about all night, and, combined with a squeaky jib car, deprived all hands of much needed sleep. I had the morning shift and I was a sad sight at the helm as the wind peaked and I braced my haggard form against the coaming trying to find a more comfortable point of sail.
After some breakfast though, and a midday nap, we were treated to some of the loveliest sailing of the trip. The wind eased back to a relaxing 8-10 knots, the seas dissipated, and the wind backed North just far enough for us to pop the asymmetrical spinnaker on a hot reach, boosting our speed back up to the high 7s and 8s. Now the last smudge of dusk is fading in the western sky and still the kite flies! And look, LAND HO!!!!!! Just caught a glimpse of Vancouver Island shrouded in cloud looming on the horizon! That is a sweet feeling, and comforting as night falls. I can smell seaweed and seagulls are showing up. The coast is close…
It feels like we are on a marine highway, surrounded at all times by commercial traffic, flowing in and out of the straits, the ceaseless pulse of global commerce. And to think, they were once all sail driven cargo ships!! Tea clippers, coastal schooners, barques, and the great 4 masted iron square riggers of the late 19th century that ushered in the age of steam with their cargos of coal, a bitter irony that flavoured the very end of the golden age of sail. I have to actively stop myself from romanticizing pre-industrial revolution technology – but there was an undeniable beauty in the craftsmanship that modern economics seldom allows for. To pick my favourite examples: the sextant, the chronometer, the compass, the wooden sailing ship. These were the culmination of centuries, in some cases millennia of human knowledge. Now I know this all smacks of eurocentric nostalgia, but allow me to indulge my affections in the beautiful side of that heritage. We can’t of course forget the scurvy, the lashings, the early deaths, disease, lack of basic human rights, or the whole colonial enterprise in general, but goddamn those ships were pretty! Sailing, as a way to move about the earth transcends cultures, societies, and civilizations – and I love it! Especially on a calm, clear night doing 8 knots under full spinnaker as the stars begin once again to wheel across the sky.
Sitting on my balcony as the dry August heat wafts in through the trees, rich with scents and sounds of the city – I am happy to be home. Our last day at sea more or less characterized the whole trip: serene and relaxed. I woke up just as we were passing Tatoosh Island off Cape Flattery and entering the shipping lanes. The wind had died abruptly at the end of my shift and we motored the last 150 odd miles. In the straits, ship after passed us in either direction, planes soared overhead, humpbacks, orcas and porpoises played in the glassy water, and we sipped cold beers, each quietly reflecting on the trip and happily soaking up the bustle of our home waters. BC is so amazing and I think we all felt distinctly aware of how just lucky we were are. The long, slow putter down to Victoria then up and around to Sidney was such a contrast from the previous few weeks that we were all on deck just basking, profoundly glad to be in the company of other people, if only from a distance. There is something comforting about a busy harbour – the boats, floatplanes, whales, birds – like a living cell with all its various organelles; messengers whizz in and out of a semipermeable membrane with fuel, food, instructions, and above all, LIFE.
Anyways, customs was a breeze, requiring only a 10 minute phone call, after which we sidled quietly over to the private dock where Indigo ties up. Bosa was waiting on the edge, looking gorgeous, resplendent in a bright summer dress and smiling as we glided in and tossed the dock lines. And the sun was just dipping behind the treeline; perfect timing to button up a long trip as it could just as easily have been 3am and raining…
Lines made fast, engine off, hugs, kisses, handshakes, and a glass of wine… all the stuff of reunion and celebration. Another adventure behind me only rekindles my thirst for more. It’s a valuable thing to leave civilization behind now and again, entirely self-sufficient, far from the comforting safety net of society. It balances one’s ego and flips a sort of internal reset button. I feel genuinely lucky to have been included in this trip and, hey, the boat will need to be delivered to Australia at some point…
Thanks for sharing in the fun. Until next time.