An eventful transatlantic crossing continues


The Med: 2010 – 20?? Falmouth to the Azores – Day 9, Tuesday June 15, 2010, 37° 53’ N, 49° 45’ W. Well, we’ve put a third notch on our spinnaker pole, having offed our third major meridian: 70° W, 60° W, and now 50° W.

Figured out last night that the trip – as the crow flies from Portland – is 1,900 miles, and that we were 1,100 from Horta. But, if you figure out how far it really is or us, I’m sure we’re past our own halfway point. But, we’ll make it official today when we have less than 950 to go.

Now that we’ve experienced full cycles of good/bad/good/bad weather, I’m reminded of how the rhythm of the boat changes with each. We were lucky to start off on a good foot, but I don’t think it matters. When things are going well – the sun is shining the wind is blowing, the boat is dry – there are no worries. The crew moves around the boat with agility, things get done, food gets eaten, jokes made.

When the weather goes bad – especially in the beginning of the trip – it all changes. No one wants to be in the cockpit where it is wet and cold and listing; hell, there isn’t enough room for all of us up there anyway when it comes to bracing feet across the cockpit so you don’t get ejected into the drink! But, no one wants to be down below where it’s clammy and no air moving. So, everyone kind of moves in a slow choreography of sitting, staring at each other, getting up, putting on foul weather gear for a stint in the cockpit, etc. And, if seasickness is involved, the energy/caring level goes to rock bottom.

Then, when it passes and sun comes out, the mood swings even higher than the high last time, because the cessation of head-banging-against-the-wall is so much more appreciated!

But now that we’re into our second gale, it’s clear that the oscillation of the “downs” move up as well. This is underscored by a few notable events: despite being advised over the last few days by single sideband weather guru Herb to head south to below 36 north to avoid the worst of the gale (25 knots vs. 40’s), we all eyed the cold eddy running in our favor at 38 north, and said let’s go for it! This complicates life a bit in that Herb expects you to listen and obey him – after all, why would you be calling him? So I have to… fudge… my positions a bit with him when I call in. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, as the boat can only go so far, so fast, in any direction. I have a much greater appreciation for Donald Crowhurst, the Rosie Ruiz of the first Vendee Globe Race who radioed in false positions around the world while actually hunkered down off the coast of South America. Anyway, he came to a demise of his own making – I’m not actually feeling that guilty yet.

The other indication of this “down upswing” pattern is that we’re in 35 knots of wind on the beam with big, rolling seas, and we’ve got music playing below and in the cockpit. There’s no seasickness, and everyone is conversing, writing, reading, whatever. Down below, we calmly accept the drawer that pops open and spews cutlery from windward to leeward side; Lincoln doesn’t need to say anything as I pick up the stuff that’s rained down on me at the nav station and hand it back to him for re-stowing; the scenario’s been played out all too often. John says “even sleeping is a calisthenic exercise”. So, while we can’t move around on deck and marvel at the sun-soaked ocean, there’s little of the suffer-in-silence stuff that we started with. And, after that last blow, 35 seems like nothing… we’re waiting for the real stuff!

The last few days have been great. We got the boat dried out – including all the salt water puddles in the drawers and cabinets. Clothes have been hung out to dry, and orders issued for all crew with foot odor above a certain level as established by the captain to wash their innersoles in fresh water, and apply foot powder. Clothes beyond easy rinsing and cleaning are mandated to garbage bags – sealed. There’s no end to the improvement in morale with the forceful application of these rules.

We’ve also done some significant repairs to the boat, including gluing up all sorts of carpentry ripped out by fear-driven, desperately grasping hands as bodies fly from one side – or end – of the boat to the other. And, after 8 years, we finally moved the mainsheet on the boom so that it doesn’t catch on the life raft and try to toss it overboard every time we tack or jibe. And even though we lost a spare main halyard – which wiped out the entire Dutchman furling system in its gyrations, and then wrapped around the roller furling and the main halyard, naturally – we managed to get it back, with all attendant Dutchman detritus. Meaning I didn’t have to go aloft (always a difficult thing, since I hate doing it, but hate ordering someone else to do it even more)!

The crew continues to coalesce in ways that always amaze me. Four guys who basically didn’t know each other (other than me), find out what they are good at, what they enjoy, and – most importantly – how they can contribute. Lincoln amazes us with his rock-solid performance, and his feats of long-term steering, which he actually loves! You can’t stop John in the galley (though the 3 rotating galley cleaners marvel at/fear his Jackson Pollock-like style of cooking), who at this minute sautés leftover fillet mignon for Philly Cheese steak sandwiches in a gale while strapped in to a wildly gimballing stove. Gibb provides the assists or initiation of every goal of reefing, cleaning, morale-improving task. I just get to watch it all happen!

So, we continue on today, moving very, very fast for the old girl – 183 miles in our last 24 hours, a new record for us. While we may be sailing under the radar as far as our relationship with Herb is concerned, we are happy with our own choices, and with our willingness to pick the harder, riskier, and more exhilarating route.

Day 1-2 Run (Mon-Tues): 130 miles
Day 3 Run (Tues-Wed): 130 miles
Day 4 Run (Wed – Thurs): 128 miles
Day 5 Run (Thurs – Fri): 104 miles
Day 6 Run (Fri – Sat): 174 (!) miles
Day 7 Run (Sat – Sun): 129 miles
Day 8 Run (Sun – Mon): 114 miles
Day 9 run (Mon – Tues): 183 (!!) miles

By Ocean Navigator