Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Photo Essay: Marquesas Passage and Landfall

This photo essay accompanies the text from our Passage Notes and the Landfall at Hiva Oa blog posts. (Some of the initial photos appearing below have a blurry spot on them. Sorry:  I guess the lens needed cleaning.)

Passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas

Dorado killer

I shouldn't look so happy to be taking another life, but this was the first mahi-mahi I ever caught! The fish also represented fresh meat on a trip in which, due to a variety of circumstances, we left port for a three-week passage with only two packs of frozen chicken in the refrigerator. (We had plenty of canned meat, just no fresh stuff.)
Wing and wing downwind sail configuration

The headsail is poled out on the left and the mainsail is on the right. What's all the spiderwebby stuff? Some of it is the standing rigging---stainless steel shrouds, or shadows of them seen through the mainsail. Some of it is the running rigging (lines) such as the spinnaker halyard (holding up the spinnaker pole at the far left) and the topping lift (behind the mainsail at the far right.) Some of it is made of the very thin lines comprising the lazyjacks, a sort of scaffolding that the sail collapses into when we strike it. 

Mainsail clew
The clew is the corner of the sail that attaches to the aft end of the boom.
Sailing downwind
Even though we were on a broad or beam reach 80% of the time during this crossing, all my pictures seem to be of running downwind. This picture shows a reef in the main. The baggy fabric at the bottom of the sail represents 40% of the sail area. We reduce sail when there is plenty of (or too much) wind in order to keep the boat stable. Even with the reef, the inclinometer over the companionway entrance probably shows an angle of heel of about 15 degrees. Reefing often (but not always) results in very little reduction of speed.
More wing and wing

This picture shows another downwind configuration with a reef in the main. I'm guessing we soon shook out the reef from the sail in the picture shown above. You can see that the headsail isn't full, and there are no white caps on the waves, meaning that the wind is probably under ten knots:  one of our few periods of light air on this voyage. 
Spinnaker Interlude

Cloud formations

These clouds haven't become squalls yet, but they're starting to get that flat-bottomed "squall line" look.
The co-pilot gets ready for night watch

This is the "airvane" part of our self-steering Monitor windvane. The wind pushes it. The airvane, in turn, is connected to a rudder-shaped paddle in the water, which steers to follow the wind. If the wind shifts, the windvane continues to steer to the wind and can steer you right off course---so it requires attention and periodic adjustments to the control lines affecting the angle of the airvane---however, it saves us from having to hand steer under most conditions. We also have an autopilot which can be use while motoring and in some conditions, under sail. But the autopilot is electronic; while the beauty of the windvane is its simplicity of design.

One way of collecting water

Yes, you guessed it. Another picture of the downwind configuration with a reefed main. Only in this case, we also have a reef in the headsail (it is partially furled) because we were sailing through a squall. If you compare this picture to the sunny picture titled More wing and wing above, you can see that the red logo in the lower corner of the headsail is missing (that's because it's rolled up) and that the overall area of the sail is smaller. The reason the mainsail is so baggy in this picture is because the reef caught a lot of water during that squall!

Landfall at Hiva Oa 


A clearer look at Hiva Oa, Marquesas

Rounding Cape Matafenua on the northeast corner of Hiva Oa

A jagged ridge connects the main island with the cape

Approaching Puamau near sunset
Tropical green:  safe at anchor in Baie Puamau

Sunrise over the Land of Men

Close-up of sentinel at the entrance to Baie Puamau

Broad reach to Atuona

Mohotani and Terihi as seen from the south side of Hiva Oa
Silhouette bringing it in
Salt crystals at the end of a voyage

The white, lichen-like spots you see on the plexiglass of the hatch cover are salt crystals. If you look closely, you can see a couple of large crystals on the varnished forward edge of the hatch cover, too. Every surface of the boat is covered with these after a passage.
Approaching Atuona
Mont Temetiu overlooking Tahauku Bay
Welcome to Paradise, you have arrived

Friday, June 15, 2012

Landfall at Hiva Oa

June 13, 2012:  The day started off with a dolphin escort. While Patrick and I were having bowls of cereal in the cockpit, 100 or more spinner dolphins showed up, approaching the boat from both the port and starboard sides. Spinners are famous for their acrobatics, and we soon saw why. Some of the dolphins were joyfully leaping clear of the water by at least ten feet, traveling in a long arc through the air before submersing themselves back into their water world. Some of the dolphins were practically doing cartwheels in the air. It was as if the dolphins were saying, “Today is the day you make landfall. We’re here to help you celebrate!”

12:00 p.m.:  After about half an hour spent studying a cloud on the horizon and trying to discern whether it was a cloud or land, I decided land would show up sooner if I lay down for a nap. My strategy worked, and at 1:00 p.m., I was rewarded with the call of “Land Ho!” from Patrick. I hustled out of the pilot berth and into the cockpit. Now before me was the definite form of an island:  Hiva Oa. We faced its eastern end, a massive rock buttress---though we couldn’t tell that at the time---and could see the northern side of the island extending back into the distance. The island was still 28 miles away.

At the same time the previous day, the chances of making landfall during daylight hours the following day seemed slim. The wind had lightened to the point where we were only making three to five knots instead of five to seven knots. During the night, however, the wind speed rose dramatically to 14-20 knots. The next day the hearty wind prevailed with an invigorating 16-20 knots. I could feel Silhouette’s spirit surging onward, renewed by the fresh breeze.

Even with all that wind, the chances of making it to the anchorage at Atuona before nightfall were nil. We had lost too much time the day before. We didn’t want to take Silhouette into an unfamiliar anchorage---one that we knew was small and crowded and required both bow and stern anchors---in the dark. We discussed our options. Stay offshore and tack back and forth all night? Heave to and wait until dawn? Circumnavigate the island and approach Atuona from the opposite end as it got light? None of these sounded appealing in the building wind and seas. Then we hit on this option:  the anchorage at Puamau. On the lee side of the island, there is an anchorage that is closer than Atuona. We could make it there before dark. We couldn’t officially check in to the country at Puamau, but we could anchor there for the night and head for Atuona in the morning. Our South Pacific Anchorages book said the anchorage at Puamau is “impossible” with swell from the east, so it was a bit of a gamble. The wind and swell were predominantly southeast, but the wind had tended to shift more to the east during the nights of our passage. We decided to give it a try and if it didn’t work out, to continue on around and circumnavigate the island.

Rounding the east end of the island in massive swell, the day closed down with perfect symmetry, ending as it began. We were met by another huge dolphin escort! They were spinners again, this time leaping out of the water and spinning through the air in barrel rolls before diving back under. One dolphin whose dorsal fin was damaged did the move made famous by the old “Flipper” TV show, in which it stood on its tail and traveled some distance that way, standing vertically out of the water. “Welcome to Hiva Oa!” the dolphins seemed to shout with their movements.

The “lee” side of the island was not very sheltered from the wind, despite the massive volcanic walls rising above us. As we made our way to Baie Puamau, the wind was blowing 17 to 20 knots with gusts to 24. Watching the whitecaps sweep into the entrance of the bay, it was difficult to imagine that sheltered water lay within, but we continued on.

The scenery around us was jaw-droppingly beautiful. The entrance to Baie Puamau is flanked with dramatic rock formations on either side. The bay extends a long way back into a lush valley whose steep slopes are a verdant green. It wasn’t until we got close enough to anchor that we realized that the foliage on these volcanic slopes was almost all palm trees. Nestled behind a lava breakwater, was the small village of Puamau, and, we knew, also an archaeological site that was currently hidden from view. We would have to come back to visit the archaeological site because we couldn’t go ashore until we were officially checked in.
There was calmer water within and we did drop anchor at sunset. In 23 days---exactly the same amount of time  it took us to get from Mexico to the Galápagos---we had made landfall at Hiva Oa. The only difference was that in this twenty-three day passage, we had traveled over 1,000 miles more! We sailed 2922 miles, in total, from Isla Isabela to Hiva Oa. It’s amazing what a little wind in the right direction can do.  

We were even fortunate enough to stay the night at Puamau without having to pick up our anchor and leave due to the swells created by the high gusts of wind from the east. Luckily, the gusts remained periodic and not sustained; nevertheless, we spent a rolly night there. It wasn’t a comfortable anchorage, but we certainly got more rest than if we’d spent the night trading watches at sea. It was also much more satisfying to be anchored at Hiva Oa than standing offshore at Hiva Oa waiting for daylight. In terms of scenery, Puamau was stunning, evocative of myths and legends we have yet to learn.

We are now safely anchored on the other side of the island near the town of Atuona. In this anchorage, we are again surrounded by spectacular scenery, and hopefully, in a day or two, I will let some pictures speak for themselves. Although we are in French Polynesia, the Marquesans have their own language, and I learned my first word today:  Ka-oh-ha. “Hello.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Signs of Land

Galapagos to Hiva Oa, Day 21

Today, either a brown or juvenile red-footed booby landed on our solar panel. We also saw our first boat in thirteen days!

I made my first authentic Indian curry tonight, based on a fellow cruiser's recipe. Some substitutions for fresh ingredients were required, but overall, I had most of the necessary spices on board. Although chicken curry (using canned chicken breast) is a mainstay of the underway diet---making an appearance on the menu at least bi-weekly, if not weekly---I try to mix it up. Mango chicken curry, Thai chicken curry, and now Indian curried chicken. Yeah, baby: Still keepin' it fresh in the galley after three weeks at sea.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Passage Notes: Galapagos to Marquesas, Day 20

Spinnaker Interlude

We knew it had to happen. Our good fortune couldn't hold out forever: The wind had to die sometime during this passage. Die, it did---for a day and a half---on Days 18 and 19 of the journey. Of course, "dying" is relative, and in this case, on this passage, it meant we logged our lowest noon-to-noon mileage of 105 miles yesterday. 105 miles is far from being a bad day; nevertheless, we were chagrined as the electronic chart plotter added an extra day to our ETA at Hiva Oa, French Polynesia.

However, less wind means smoother seas, and by yesterday afternoon, the ever-present swell that has been with us almost since leaving the Galapagos had gone down enough to keep the spinnaker full. (We had tried raising the asymmetrical spinnaker in the light airs the previous day, but only kept it up for forty minutes because we were just beating up the sail in the huge swell.) Yesterday afternoon, the conditions were ideal for a spinnaker run. There was a nice, steady breeze of nine to ten knots and the swell, while present, was regular and only a couple feet high. For a brief interlude, the rocking and rolling of the boat was replaced with an almost level movement and only the soft shusshing of the hull through the waves. When the wind gusted up, the spinnaker only slightly lost its shape---like a partially deflated balloon a child has stuck their finger into from one side, in order to see the latex-covered form emerge on the inside of the balloon---instead of the sail wadding up and wrinkling completely like the pathetic corpse of a fully deflated balloon, past any notion of buoyancy. The spinnaker rose and fell quietly with the gusts, like a giant lung inhaling and exhaling, restoring itself to conformity without any intervention from us and sans the snap and rat-a-tat-tat of the spinnaker struggling in too large a swell. Despite the peace, quiet, and relative calm, we were making between 5.5 and 7 knots. Our spinnaker interlude lasted from 2:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.

When I came on watch at 10:30 (Patrick and I have switched watches, and he now has the first watch), Patrick said he thought it was time to consider a change in sail configuration. The wind had been gusting up to 16 knots during his watch, and later, when we downloaded the weather files, we saw the forecast had been upgraded from ten knots to 15 knots. I agreed that it was time to douse the spinnaker; so we did and raised a reefed main and full headsail instead. We ran on a broad reach all night with 12 to 17 knots of wind. Sunrise brought 18 knots with gusts up to 21 knots. It looked like the trade winds were back in business! This morning, we replaced the port tack sail configuration with the downwind configuration of running wing and wing with a poled out headsail and single-reefed main. We're doing 6.5 knots right now with 13 or 14 knots of wind.

2498 miles sailed, 424 miles to go!

The Boobies Are Back!

Or at least one of them. You can tell we're getting closer to land, because we've spotted our first booby since leaving the Galapagos. For the last three days, at about the same time every day, we've had a "fly by" by a juvenile masked booby. You can tell it's a juvenile by the brown spots on its white back, like the markings on a Pinto pony. The booby hasn't tried to land on any part of the boat; we haven't seen it dive for fish; it just quickly soars over the waves---circling the boat several times before disappearing again---as if to check on us and our progress. I am grateful for the company because in this region of the sea, the spirit dolphins have not been paying their nightly visits.

Botulism Blunder?

Most cruisers we know---due to either limited or non-existent refrigerator or freezer space---have experimented with some form of food preservation techniques. One of the techniques we have experimented with is home canning, primarily to extend our meat supply. While a variety of good quality canned seafood, as well as chicken breast, is available, tinned meat in the United States has the tendency to taste like one might imagine dogfood tastes. For our initial attempt, I canned several batches of ground beef and cubed beef during the provisioning stage of our first cruising season. I used a pressure cooker to can the meat in pint mason jars, following the guidelines in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Home Canning Guide (downloadable as a pdf). When I run out of new ideas for dinner at sea, I pull out a jar of my home-canned meat. The beef cubes make excellent one-pot stews, and the ground beef is good with any kind of gravy and vegetable served over mashed potatoes (fresh or instant).

The other night, I was getting ready to try a chipped beef recipe I'd found with an interesting twist: olives mixed into the sauce. The addition of olives---we had some kalamata we hadn't opened---sounded like just the ticket to remove the "bland" from the dish, and I planned to serve the chipped beef over quinoa. As I opened my jar of home-canned beef, I checked it for signs of spoilage. Color change? No. Concave lid? Yes. Vacuum seal? Yes, though maybe the lid came off a little easier than on prior jars, or maybe that was my imagination. I looked on the underside of the jar lid and saw a black substance. I'm still not 100% sure that it was mold: There weren't noticeable spores and none of the black substance was on the actual food, just the lid. But what else could it have been? Overheated adhesive from the jar lid? Blackened mineral oil from the pressure cooker gasket? Those explanations didn't seem likely, and since I hadn't seen the black substance in any previous jars of meat that I'd opened---and since botulism could be the consequence of a poor choice---I decided to play it safe and discard the jar's contents into the sea. Patrick concurred with my decision. I selected another jar of beef to replace the one I'd discarded, opened the lid, and...saw more mold. Three out of the four jars of beef processed in that batch contained the mysterious black substance. I threw the fourth jar's contents overboard anyway, because it had been processed in the same batch. Clearly, some kind of contamination had occurred during the processing of that particular batch of meat.

We had our chipped beef with olives, and it was delicious. We had to use home-canned ground beef because the last of the home-canned stew meat was tossed overboard. I am still enthusiastic about home canning, but advocate following the published steps to check for spoilage every time you open a jar of home-canned food---and erring on the side of caution.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"W" Stands for Wind

Wind is the order of the day, and for the past three days, we have had a steady 15-20 knots, with a few gusts in the low twenties. It would feel like nothing if we were sailing dead downwind, but since we have been on a beam or broad reach most of the time, the ride can get to be a bit rough. We have had to carry a double reef in the main and sometimes, partially furl the headsail, in order to keep the boat not only from heeling too far, but from crashing about too much. At night with the bulkheads creaking, the gimbaled stove squeaking (despite generous applications of lube), and the off-watch crew member trying to sleep, we try not to push the boat too hard. There is a cross swell out here that occasionally slaps the hull as if the boat were hitting a solid object. Then, the boat shudders momentarily before it heels a little further to starboard and surfs down the wave in a rush of spray at a speed one or two knots faster than it was previously going. We have been making over 140 miles per day for the last four days and with any luck, may actually make it to Hiva Oa inside of the next week!

There is a price to pay for all this speed though, and my body looks as if I've been the guinea pig for a phlebotomy techniques class. I'm bruised, battered, and fatigued---either from being flung across the cabin and crashing into something, or from leaning into something so hard that I'm kept from being flung across the cabin. There is also the whiplash effect of grabbing a handhold in time not to be flung about, but of coming to a sudden, jerking stop instead.

It is my birthday at sea today, and thoughtful Patrick tried to bake me a cake. We didn't have the right sized pan, and although the batter fit in the pan we had---and would have baked just fine on land---some of the liquid cake batter splashed out of the pan and all over the oven door. This type of incident happens about fifteen times a day out here and can lead to our use of some pretty colorful language.

The swells have been so big the past few days, I haven't bothered with fishing. Today, I put a line in the water at sun-up. The last time I checked it, both my wire leader and tuna feather were gone! Must have been another big one that got away...I have a lot of tuna feathers left, thanks to a generous gift from Bob Ferran, but I'm running out of hooks!

The sea under sunny skies is the color of blue jean dye, embroidered in whitecaps whipped up by the wind. For the time being, we inhabit a world of indigo and lace.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Passage Notes: Galápagos to Marquesas, Day 12

I'm on the early morning watch. It's about 4:30 a.m. My fingers smell like fish because as I was making a logbook entry down below, I heard another flying fish land in the cockpit. I went up and threw it overboard. I washed my hands but the fishy smell remains. We are currently sailing downwind, surfing quietly over the swells while clouds (of the non-threatening variety) scud overhead, illuminated by a three-quarters full moon.

The Trade Wind Reach

So far, this passage has been flying by. We have fallen into a rhythm of chores, naps, radio schedules, and watches, and one day flows seamlessly into the next. The sailing has required much less effort and concentration than on our passage from Mexico to the Galápagos, because the trade winds have kicked in and we found them immediately after leaving Isla Isabela. We were on a port tack for over a week after leaving Isabela! I wouldn't say we didn't touch the sails---like I've heard from other trade wind sailors---because we did have to reef and shake out reefs from the sails. However, we did not have to make sail changes and adjustments to the sail trim were minor. We are averaging 128 miles a day made good, with our lowest mileage being 107 miles; while our best day yet on Silhouette was 153 miles.

Time for Projects

Not having to work so hard at sailing has left us time for other projects, and we have accomplished some of the minor repairs and mini-boat projects on our ever-present list. And of course, there are the daily chores. I mentioned on our first passage that the reality of life at sea is different from what people imagine. "What do you do all day?" friends or family members might ask, picturing a lack of stimulation or boredom. "I'll bet you have a lot of time to read," they might suggest. People don't picture the endless daily tasks that life at sea actually involves: tasks like turning over three flats of unrefrigerated eggs every day or two in order to keep them fresh, or baking bread every few days so that you always have a supply; tasks like turning on the bilge pump on a daily basis to monitor the amount of water in the boat; tasks like inspecting the rigging for signs of chafe or towing a line against each side of the hull of the boat for an hour every day or so to discourage gooseneck barnacle growth. Doing the dishes, cooking, and maintaining the head all take longer than they do on land, due to the constant roll and heel of the boat. We do a limited amount of laundry at sea, but that also takes more time because it is done the old fashioned way: Wash and rinse cycles are done by hand in a bucket; then the laundry is hung with clothespins to dry on the boat's lifelines.

Boat Yoga

Now that I have lived on a boat for awhile, I have a good idea of how not to design a galley. While on a port tack, I frequently find myself in two positions in the galley due to poor design. One, I'll call the "mountaineer's stance;" the other, the "flamingo pose." I assume the mountaineer's stance when I am chopping or mixing things at the galley's small countertop above the refrigerator. I bend my forward knee into a lunge position and extend my other leg straight backwards in a brace. I lean into the counter like some big dogs lean into your legs. I do this to keep from falling backwards and losing all my work when the boat rolls. Our galley does have a cook's harness, but it's set up to secure the cook in front of the stove and not at the food preparation station. Another thing I've learned about living on a boat is that I seldom want to stand directly in front of a gimbaled (swinging) stove that often has boiling hot liquids on top of it. Go figure. Why don't we simply just move the cook's harness? It's on the list.

I assume the flamingo position while washing dishes. Silhouette's sink is to the port side as you come down the companionway and faces aft. On a port tack, I am constantly being thrown against the companionway bulkhead/rails. Facing the sink, I have to brace myself with my left leg; because that is the direction I am forced by the boat to lean. But guess what? The fresh water foot pump is also installed on the left side so that, in order to pump it (while continuing to brace myself with my left leg), I have to bend my right knee and cross it over my left leg, working the foot pump with the ball of my right foot. Fellow boat yoga enthusiasts, be advised that Flamingo Pose is for advanced practitioners!

Balancing Act

For his part, the maestro (Patrick) goes about his chores performing a delicate daily balancing act that keeps the boat going. He checks the output of the solar panels and decides when we need to run the engine to charge batteries and meet our power needs. For a sailboat, we use a surprising amount of energy. We use power to run laptops, lights (both cabin and running lights), a small refrigerator, fans, navigational instruments, the GPS chart plotter, the radar, camera and drill motor charging units, and even a coffee grinder. (We have a manual coffee grinder as a backup, but it takes up a lot of space and we have nowhere to leave it set up permanently.) We conserve by leaving these things switched off when not in use. If we were purists, we could do without a lot of these creature comforts altogether, but they make life easier, safer, and more comfortable out here, as well as provide us with a certain level of entertainment. We don't carry DVDs, but we do use our laptops to keep in touch with friends and family, as well as view navigational charts and download weather files, and we do occasionally listen to music with an i-Pod or use a Kindle to read on watch at night.

Patrick also checks the oil in the engine and decides when to add more, or when to transfer fuel from the jerry cans on deck or bilge fuel tank to the cockpit fuel tank. (That's not happening much on this leg because we're doing very little motoring; however, we used almost all our fuel on the way to the Galápagos.) We both keep an eye on the water tank gauges to determine when we need to use the water maker to make more fresh water from seawater in a process known as "reverse osmosis," a process which itself requires energy from our stores.

Part of the shipboard balancing act is keeping equipment from interfering with other equipment. The refrigerator interferes with the radio, so we turn the refrigerator off when sending or receiving information through the Pactor modem (and we're usually pretty good about turning it back on!) We've also learned that the electrical charge from the seawater pump in the galley interferes with the autopilot. If we have the autopilot on, we have to check it frequently if someone is rinsing or washing dishes---because it is likely to shut itself off---resulting in the boat veering off course.

Changes in Scenery

In my first post of this leg, I mentioned that this passage feels different without the land looming large to port. Other changes indicate that we are farther from land as well. We have completely lost the various species of boobies that accompanied us all the way from Mexico to the Galápagos. I saw one albatross shortly after leaving Isabela, but the only birds we see now are a variety of petrels and a white bird that looks like it's in the gull or tern family. After seeing no whales between Mexico and the Galápagos, we have seen several whale spouts, and I looked up from the cockpit the other day just in time to see a large fin or Sei whale traveling in the opposite direction as Silhouette. The whale was only about 300 feet from the boat, but I couldn't make a positive identification. All I could see was its long black back, falcate dorsal fin, and sizeable blow.

At night, new constellations appear in the sky. We have been seeing the Southern Cross since shortly before we crossed the Equator, but what surprises me about it is what a small constellation it is. I have always heard about seeing the Southern Cross when you reach the Southern hemisphere, and I was expecting a grand, sweeping constellation like Orion. The Southern Cross is demure; yet once you've identified it a single time, you cannot fail to spot it immediately the next, shining out from its berth in the night sky. The Southern Cross looks like the four points of a Christian cross without the cross-beams. To the west of it, an almost identical, yet larger constellation, "the false cross" appears. Not all of the Northern hemisphere constellations have disappeared, and on clear nights, Silhouette finds herself flanked by the mileposts of opposite hemispheres. On our current course, heading west, the Southern Cross, to the south, and the Big Dipper, to the north, shine above Silhouette's port and starboard sides, respectively, like silver medals on the shoulders of a highly decorated hero.

Fish Report

Polarized sunglasses are amazing. They help you see things more easily through the glare of the ocean's surface. Things like a piece of longline trailing behind your boat. Or like an entire school of fish swimming alongside your boat. What? That's right; I said an entire school of fish! One morning, I was staring at the mesmerizing blue of the water when I noticed a school of fish running along with the boat. From above the water, they appeared to be an iridescent purple with streaks of silver, although I'm sure their coloration probably looked much different out of the water. They had black fins. Their torpedo shape and forked tail probably placed them squarely within the tuna family. On this particular morning, Silhouette was moving very quickly---making 7 or 8 knots---with some help from the current, we suspected. The "torpedo fish" were simply rocketing alongside her.

We were already trolling at the time, but Patrick suggested I try my pole as well. I sprang into action and put the pole in the water. I tried every lure we had but did not get a single bite! The tuna feathers-and even a diving plug---were skipping maddeningly out of the water at Silhouette's high speed. It was so frustrating seeing dinner right there and not being able to catch it!

The fish stayed with the boat for an hour and a half and then suddenly, were gone. After a break for lunch, Patrick helped me add a weight to the trolling line, which still kept the tuna feather near---but just slightly below---the surface of the water. Late that afternoon, we were rewarded with our first Dorado! The Mahi mahi was a spectacular fish. As we brought it alongside, we noted its beautiful colors: an almost chartreuse yellow-green body and a royal blue fin dappled with specks of blue-green. Its brilliant colors faded sadly in death, like the courtesy flag of a sailboat that had stayed too long in a foreign country. Though no trophy fish in size, the edible portion of the Dorado was about two feet long from the back of its blunt, bulbous head to the beginning of the fork in its tail, and it provided us with two generous meals.

The next morning, the "torpedo fish" were back. But I was helping Patrick set up the spinnaker pole for a downwind run, and I couldn't take time out to put a trolling line in the water. Once the change in sail configuration was complete, the fish were gone.

We haven't seen them since, but we have caught three more Dorado, which appear to prefer the sunset bite. Our most recent catch was yesterday.

A Good Day at Sea

Yesterday was a good day at sea. Silhouette was rushing along in a deep aquamarine sea in an invigorating wind of 15-18 knots. White caps and white and gray puffy clouds accented the blues of sea and sky, while flying fish sprayed out to port and starboard sides. A ten foot swell lifted the boat, and from the top of a peak, you could see the lines of swells that had just passed under us, heading endlessly northwest. As the afternoon wore on, we were socked in by low clouds as the swells continued to march by.

I woke up from a nap at 5 p.m., ostensibly to cook dinner. "The wind's shifted more to the east," Patrick informed me from the cockpit. "We're heading almost dead downwind and we need to put up the pole." He had partially furled the headsail during my nap to quiet the wild roll on our port tack. We'd already been carrying a single reef in the main for two days and a night, so our speed had slowed considerably with the headsail now furled. I went up to help Patrick raise the spinnaker pole---which amounted to me standing by at the helm and handling the sheets, while he negotiated the unwieldy pole to the rail and raised it using the staysail halyard (we are having a chafe issue with the spinnaker halyard.) We sheeted out the headsail on the port side to sail wing and wing with the main. As I was heading down below to start dinner after the sail change had been squared away, I heard Patrick say, "What do you want to do about the fish?"

"We have a fish?" I turned to see him hauling in our trolling line. He handed the line over to me. It was our fourth Mahi mahi. Since the last two had "self-released" from the hook while we were debating whether or not to keep them (they were on the small side, though definitely big enough for dinner) ---and this one looked larger---I said decisively, "I want to keep it." I filleted the fish in the cockpit and put the cleaned fillets in a Tupperware for the next night. The sail change and fishing operation had delayed the start of dinner and night watches were approaching. I stuck to the quick taco menu I had in mind for that evening.

After dinner, the swell had gone down considerably, and the seas were smoothing out in the last of the sun's rays. As I stationed myself in the cockpit for my first watch, I was amazed by the panorama around me. To the east was a rainbow, set against the dark gray rain clouds that had helped create it. Off the starboard bow, a large school of dolphin was leaping high out of the waves in the sunset. Suddenly, to port, a behemoth of a fish flung itself six feet out of the water, somersaulting away from whatever was in pursuit of it like an expert in martial arts. It was a very good day at sea.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio

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