Monday, April 16, 2012

What Do You Do Out There?

April 12-Day 4

People back on land watch TV or stream movies for entertainment. Out here, we watch the waves and wildlife. This morning's entertainment has been watching the boobies trying to land on our spinnaker pole. One of them succeeded in landing on the spinnaker halyard (a line holding the pole out and away from the boat), but since it was still attached to the pole (sans sail,) it was an almost vertical perch. The booby looked uncomfortable clinging sideways to the halyard for dear life, and it finally gave up the ghost and flew off. Several boobies succeeded in landing on the spinnaker pole itself, but since the pole is so big and round, with a slippery aluminum surface, they cannot hold on for very long. The boobies finally decided the bowsprit was an acceptable perch and are now playing "King of the Hill," defending their territory on the bowsprit and warding off would-be newcomers.

Today was a frustrating day of light airs and many sail changes. We put up the asymmetrical spinnaker, but because the whisper light winds were constantly changing direction, we ended up hand steering and not making much progress. We then motored for three hours. We finally got the boat moving around 4:00 p.m., when the wind came up enough to sail wing and wing.

We had sun showers in the cockpit today.

Friday, April 13-Day 5

A Good Watch

As my skill as a sailor grows, I am growing more capable of keeping a good watch. To me, a good watch is defined as being able to keep the boat moving on my own in changing conditions, keeping the motions of the boat predictable and not chaotic, and keeping the noise made by the mast, boom, and sails to a minimum. The reward for a good watch is hearing the heavy breathing of my off-watch partner asleep down below and knowing I have done nothing to alert him to the fact that there may be something amiss with the boat, sail trim, or course. Keeping a good watch also means knowing when to wake my partner if changing weather conditions deem it necessary to reduce sail for the safety of the boat, if the course of a vessel spotted at night is unclear to me, or if changing wind conditions call for a major sail change.

During our trips up and down the Pacific Northwest coast, we had a lot more wind to contend with. We ended up motoring at night when we could be sailing, or using a conservative sail configuration, partly because the boat was new to Patrick, as well as to me---and doesn't sail like his trimaran of thirty-two years did---but mostly because Patrick was concerned about my ability to keep a good watch. The light airs we are sailing in now are a perfect environment for me to experiment with the sails and sail trim on my own without risking damage to the rig. We also have systems in place to prevent shocking the rig. A bridle attached to the spinnaker pole keeps the pole from swinging too far forward or aft. "Preventers" attached to the boom prevent the damage from an accidental gybe. (For the non-sailors out there, a gybe happens when the wind from astern moves to the other side of the sail, either planned or accidental. If it happens accidentally, when the wind pushes the sail in the opposite direction, it causes the ship's boom---a heavy metal pole about head height---to swing in an uncontrolled manner from one side of the boat to the other. An accidental gybe also stresses another vital piece of equipment for adjusting the mainsail known as the traveler.)

Tonight I had a good watch. I kept the boat moving at about two knots in very light airs of four to six knots. When I came on watch, we were traveling wing and wing and making about three knots, but the wind continued to lighten. Finally, the mainsail began flogging so much, I decided we weren't getting anything out of it and put it back on center. I adjusted the main sheet and topping lift and secured the boom to eliminate the noise of its constant popping and snapping. I made small adjustments to the headsail trim to get the most speed out of what little wind there was. In the silences between the small breaths of wind, I could hear my partner's deep breaths below and felt satisfied knowing he was resting well.

We started the engine in the morning because the wind died completely, and we motored all day in the flat calm. It was so calm you could see the few puffy white clouds in the sky reflected on the sea like images of cotton balls. Now that we're offshore in sunny conditions, the sea is an amazing shade of blue. It's a shade of blue seldom seen on land: It is glimpsed in the neck plumage of a male peacock (although the sea is not so iridescent.) or in a blue tablet of Easter egg dye mixed with vinegar. I could stare into that blue all day.

It was so calm, the boobies were able to maintain their hold on the spinnaker pole, and we had three to four boobies perched up there all day traveling with us, as well as an additional booby on the bowsprit. Their slapstick antics are most amusing as they miss the spinnaker pole while trying to land and hang their necks on the pole instead (no harm done) or land on a sheet by mistake and swing wildly for a few minutes like trapeze artists, before flying off and circling the boat for another attempt.

We took advantage of the time spent motoring to do some chores easier done in flat seas. Patrick chased down another oil leak in the watermaker (masked by the oil leak he had just repaired in Nuevo Vallarta) and fixed it. I baked a level loaf of bread. (Baked goods at sea can sometimes resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame if they are baked on a heel and one forgets to rotate the pan.) All in all, it was a peaceful day, but disappointing because we didn't sail.

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