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.

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