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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Kirsten. Again, beautifully written. I wonder what kind of fish the "behomoth" was? And, how big the fish behind it!?

    I am always thrilled when I have my morning cup of coffee in hand, and I open your blog to find a new post. Keep them coming. I am going to forward your blog address to Holly. She requested it.