Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hawaii to Sitka. Days 7-11: The Canned Chili Card

Since I last posted, not much noteworthy has happened; but for the few people back home who may be wondering how we're doing, I thought it was time for another post. So let's talk about what people always talk about when they have nothing else to say: Let's talk about the weather.

We have been busy trying to keep the boat going in challenging conditions. After three nights in a row of fairly nasty weather, we have been enjoying the last two nights of drier, calmer conditions in the cockpit. That was not true a couple of days ago when I played the chili card...

It's not a card I play lightly. I pride myself on providing tasty and nutritious meals while we are underway and on trying to keep variety in the menu for interest's sake. But on every passage, there comes a time when I pull from out of my sleeve and play: the canned chili card. It happened on Day 9 of this passage. Day 9 was the day I felt conditions were too rough to cook, that I could not deal with hot water, hot oil, or sharp culinary instruments, and that all I could manage was to open a can and heat up its contents on the stove. We had canned chili for dinner on Day 9. That evening's offering was the Cattle Drive Gold brand, purchased at Costco in Kailua-Kona, but we also like Stagg brand canned chili.

The forecast low pressure system (1015 hPa) passed over us on Days 7 and 8, bringing sustained winds in the low to mid-twenties and 33 hours of rain. The rain, if not torrential, was at least driving, and it sometimes tapered off to an icy mist. While we cheered the arrival of wind, the angle of the wind was such that it forced us off course; so that even though our boat speed was five to six knots, we were only making three nautical miles (NM) per hour towards our destination. Then the wind almost died, and we either ghosted along under sail or motored for a period, also making slow progress.

Day 9 brought the high pressure system following the low. We had winds of 18-25 knots into the following day, for a total period of about twenty-six hours. Again, there was no lack of wind to sail, but since the winds were contrary and the seas large, we were only making two NM per hour---at best---or less than one NM, at worst, towards Sitka. We watched with dismay as we crossed 157 degrees of longitude, getting pushed further to the west when we wanted to head northeast. The seas were big and sloppy, occasionally hitting three meters (about ten feet) in height. When the boat smacked into a large enough wave, it would shudder and come completely to a stop before recovering and soldiering on. {The valiant Silhouette always soldiers on!) Although the rain had stopped, we were taking water over the dodger right and left, and the cockpit was still very wet.

To non-sailors, all of this sounds pretty bad, I'm sure. But fellow sailors realize that these aren't truly bad conditions; they're just uncomfortable ones. We have never been exposed to 50-knot winds at sea. We have never even been in sustained 40-knot winds. In those conditions, you can't even play the canned chili card. You might be able to grab a protein bar if you're lucky. If you're unlucky, you might be too green to eat at all. For us, these uncomfortable conditions just mean the difference between a fast, easy passage and the kind of passage we're going to have: a slow, tenacious one, in which every mile under the keel is hard-won.

Conditions have moderated during the last day and a half, with lighter winds and smoother seas. The barometer has reached a high of 1030 hPa, up 15 points. Although we are still hard on the wind and only traveling at three to four knots, our miles made good now almost match our boat speed. The angle of the wind has also shifted enough to allow us to get back on track and make our course. The sun even came out this afternoon. These are big improvements over the last several days, and we'll take them, thank you.

Dinner tonight was clam spaghetti with a crunchy vegetable salad. The clams came out of a can, yes, but they were sauteed in butter, parsley and garlic. Water for noodles was boiled on the stove, and no one got burned. Fresh zucchini, red pepper, cucumber, celery, tomato, radish---and yes, even some cilantro that by some miracle had escaped becoming slimy---were all chopped by hand with a knife to make the salad. I'm happy to report that all the clams stayed in the pan, my fingers remained intact, and none of the veggies ended up on the cabin sole. And the canned chili card? You never know where that thing is going to turn up. It's tucked in my hat band for another voyage.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Unwanted Hitchiker and other Trying Conditions

Hawaii to Sitka, Passage Days 4-6

It was the evening of Passage Day 4, just after the wind had died and we'd made the decision to start the engine, I looked over the stern and saw what looked like a huge gray animal following the boat. It looked like a dolphin, except for a huge trailing lobe on its tail which was more reminiscent of a shark. What's more, the animal appeared to extend directly under our boat, where I saw a flash of green---a dorado! My brain was telling me that I was seeing a shark or dolphin following our boat, chasing after a huge dorado under our stern. But my gut was telling me that we've never seen a shark following the boat and I didn't know if dolphin chased dorado. "Patrick!" I called for the second time, "Come see this thing! This thing following the boat is huge!"

Patrick came and peered over the stern. "Uh, I think we've snagged something," the Voice of Reason said, as he reached over to take the engine out of gear. Sure enough, as the boat slowed down, I could discern that the flash of green I saw was actually green netting, and the large gray animal was comprised of other black and white portions of a large piece of discarded fishing net, including one of the bridles.

Of course, I wanted to get in the water right away (with a safety line attached to the boat), because that would have been the quickest way to remove the piece of net and examine the prop. The sea was calm, and as there was hardly any wind, we were barely moving. We only had about a half hour of daylight left. The Voice of Reason spoke again, saying that we should exhaust all our other options for removing the net first; but I personally did not relish the thought of our other options failing and having to wait for daylight in order to get into the water. Since there was no wind, we couldn't sail; and since we were dragging a large piece of net, we couldn't use the motor: that meant drifting for twelve hours until daylight. However, since the Voice of Reason belonged to my skipper, I had to comply.

We hauled as much of the net as we could onboard and tied it off to the winches with lines. The net was home to dozens of small crabs, which scuttled all over the deck. While hanging over the side, Patrick said he could see that the net was caught on our rudder---probably snagged on the shoe that supports the bottom of the rudder---and he could see it wasn't tangled in the prop. With the saw blade on his Buck knife, Patrick cut free the huge chunks of netting we had piled on deck. For the next step, a machete would have been handy; but since we didn't have one, Patrick attached his Buck knife to the end of a boat hook with hose clamps. Dusk was falling as I held a big spotlight over the side, while Patrick tried to cut free the remaining piece of netting still snagged on the rudder. Some strands were cut, but then it proved too difficult to see what he was doing with the swell moving both the boat and the spotlight I was holding up and down.

Patrick said, "There's not much left, I'll bet if we motor ahead, it will just stream out behind the boat. I don't think the piece of netting remaining is long enough to reach the prop." I still wasn't convinced there wasn't a piece we couldn't see already caught on the prop. Patrick asked me to put the engine in gear, and I tentatively did so. "Give it a little gas," he said and I did. "Give it some more gas."

Finally, I heard Patrick say, "It's free!" The movement of the boat through the water, combined with the severed strands, had removed the final stubborn piece of netting from the rudder. I looked at our speed over ground. At first it seemed slow, but as I brought the throttle up, I realized we were moving at our normal speed. There probably wasn't any net caught on the prop after all. That was Day 4.

The hitchiker onboard
Backing up a bit, our passage slowed down to a crawl after our exhilarating twenty-four hour period of sailing on Day 3. We sailed ourselves into an area of light and variable winds, in which conditions changed on a dime. A rain squall passed over us, and the wind changed direction from southeast to west in a heartbeat, sending the boat off course and us scrambling to get her back on course and re-trim the sails. Or the wind speed increased from five knots to 17 knots in a matter of minutes, plunging us from motoring mode into sailing mode. Then, just as suddenly, the wind would die again. We've done a lot of setting and furling the jib in the past couple of days.

Most recently, we've had no wind at all and have been motoring in fuel conservation mode, keeping our rpms low, and consequently, so too our mileage made good. Our daily mileage for the past three days of motoring interspersed with sailing has been 91 nm, 82 nm, and 79 nm, not all of it in the right direction. At least we have been making forward progress, if at a slow pace. This afternoon, we shut down the engine and just drifted for four hours in the sunshine and a rolling, long period swell. Patrick wanted to cool the engine down so he could check it and check the oil. We are motoring again, but the weather forecast predicts that we will get some wind tomorrow.

The wind will be associated with a low that will be passing over us. On our weather files, this area appears jet black, meaning it will bring precipitation with it. Lots of precipitation. We can expect torrential rain and a wet cockpit starting tomorrow afternoon. This is one of those occasions when you look forward to the low, because at least it will bring some wind with it. And if we remain patient with what will hopefully be the last of these trying conditions, we will emerge into some strong, usable wind surrounding the high pressure system that awaits us on the other side.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio. Photo added after arriving in port.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hawaii to Sitka, Day 3: The Musicians Seamounts

About 280 miles north of Hawaii, on our third day out, we are passing through the southern end of an area of underwater landforms which on our chart are labeled "The Musicians Seamounts." Did you know Debussy has his own seamount? For those unfamiliar with the term, a seamount is an underwater mountain whose top used to be above sea level. Eroded by wind and waves, the top was flattened, and the sea level rose above the former mountain. Think of a flat-topped mesa, rising up from the desert floor, only underwater. Due to their shallow relief relative to the ocean floor around them, seamounts are usually teeming with life, and fishermen love these things.

I probably never would have known about the existence of the Musicians Seamounts had we not been sailing over them. In this part of the ocean, most of the great classical composers have a seamount named after them: Tchaikovsky, Mussorgski, Dvorak, Mozart, Ravel, Chopin, and Stravinsky all have seamounts in their names. Wagner, Verdi, and Rossini each have a seamount. Handel and Haydn, Gluck, Brahms and Liszt are represented. Schubert, Mahler, and Mendelssohn have seamounts. Today, I found myself wondering if Rachmaninoff, whose dark moods sometimes reflect the mood of the sea, had a seamount named after him? I went to the chart: Rachmaninoff has a seamount.

There are some notable absences from the procession of seamounts. Bach does not have a seamount named after him, nor does Beethoven. There are no seamounts named Strauss or Puccini.

Gaps, too, in one's musical education, are suggested by the names of some of the seamounts. For me, these include the work of Shostakovich, Kern, Paganini, Donizetti, Khachaturian, Prokofiev, and Grieg. Grieg?

I wonder what nation originally surveyed this area and what whimsy caused them to name this sunken archipelago after the world's great classical musicians?

Our passage has gotten off to a good start. We made slow offing from the island of Oahu, because the winds were light and still more from the northeast than we'd hoped. We were on a beat to a close reach the first day and moving only at about three to four knots. However, the seas were settled and we had a nice, calm ride for our first day out at sea. Getting our sea legs back was easier than adjusting to the rude interruption in our sleep schedules when resuming watches after five months of sleeping through the night.

On the second day, the wind shifted to the east and came around to our beam. We sailed along on a beam reach, still averaging only about four knots, as the wind strength gradually built throughout the day. By evening, we were doing five knots; and by this morning, we were flying along in twenty knots of wind at boat speeds of six, seven, even eight knots---and having great fun!---until the sea became too boisterous with the building swell, and we had to slow the boat down by putting a reef---and then another reef---in the main. This evening, the wind came around to the south. After dinner, we put up the pole and are now sailing wing and wing downwind. From midnight last night to midnight tonight, we did 143 nautical miles! That's close to as good as it gets on Silhouette.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Getting underway

Silhouette sails for Sitka, Alaska today.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Molokai Meanderings

We have been in the Ala Wai Marina on Oahu for over two months now, which means a post about Molokai is long overdue.

Small boat harbor across from the anchorage at Kaunakakai

The anchorage

We initially dropped anchor in Kaunakakai. The anchorage there is across the channel from the small boat harbor and is extremely shallow. With our draft close to six-feet, we were positioned ideally in the deeper water just forward of the first channel buoy. The bottom is soft mud, and there is a large, shallow reef directly west of the anchorage; we ended up dropping a second anchor.

There is not a dinghy dock per se, but there is room to tie up your dinghy in between some of the boats at the dock. What appears to be a dinghy dock is actually kept very busy with the comings and goings of small fishing boats. The inviting sand beach you can see from the anchorage is on private property:  If you ask the canoe club, you may receive permission to land your dinghy. We never tried it. 

A long walk down the wharf brings you right into town, where a Laundromat, fuel (via jerry cans), and grocery stores are all within the first couple of blocks. Hanging out at the local gas station (further down from the Chevron) and kitty-corner across from that, you will find the town’s two tour drivers in their big white vans when they are not on a tour. They are good resources for information. The woman who runs the bookstore on the corner is also a wealth of knowledge and local history.  


The best kept secret

I would say that Molokai is “the best kept secret” in the Hawaiian islands, except for the fact that its least-developed state is deliberate, not a secret. The residents of Molokai protect it fiercely from developers and big tourism---and while one can imagine that there is some dissention about that issue, and that island politics are probably fierce---as visitors to Molokai, we could enjoy the result without having to be party to the process. Molokai is not only the least developed but the least populated of the major Hawaiian islands. The people on Molokai are friendly and helpful, and the pace of life is slow and mellow. 

Our Lady of Sorrows church set against the background of central Molokai
The island is a mélange of diverse habitats, all with striking topography and lush vegetation. A barrier reef rich in marine life extends along most of the south coast of Molokai.

In the center of the island is a Forest Reserve containing rainforest. We didn’t get to visit the reserve, because it requires a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to any of the trailheads, but we did see some examples of healthy forests near the Kalaupapa overlook. This ironwood forest looked like it had been there forever, but we were told it was planted as a Public Works project.

Patrick in the ironwood forest, on the trail to the Kalaupapa Overlook
Molokai forest---I'm not sure what trees we are seeing here
Another forest view on Molokai

We visited Molokai's phallic rock, a sacred spot where the Hawaiian god, Kanaloa, is honored. Kanaloa is associated with the ocean, the winds, and with sailing voyaging canoes. Together with his traveling companion, Kane, Kanaloa is also important for locating sources of fresh (drinking) water. I'm not sure where the phallic symbol comes in, but which island's monument to Kanaloa do you prefer?

Offerings are left at the base of Molokai's anatomically correct phallic rock
Maui's Io Needle (left)
We also saw some of the oldest stands of O’hia lehua trees that we saw anywhere in the islands.


The north shore of Molokai, like the windward shores of most of the Hawaiian islands, are distinguished by dramatic pleated cliffs, or pali in Hawaiian. Rivers travel from the backs of the fertile valleys between these cliffs---where waterfalls cascade hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet, feeding the streams---before they meet the sea. The anchorages on northern Molokai are tenuous at the best of times, and winter is not the best of times. Unfortunately, we did not have a spell of unbroken weather long enough to explore the Wailiu Valley or the Kalaupapa anchorages. The mysterious heart of Molokai---its indescribably gorgeous north shore---haunts my imagination.


River mouth at Halawe Valley:  This picture does not really show the pali

Headland on the northeast shore of Molokai

Molokai Zen

The top and west sides of the interior contain a patchwork quilt of ranchland. The fences on Molokai were a thing of beauty. Wooden, made from the twisted trees found on the island, they weren’t hewn or planed into perfect posts and planks and were covered with a patina of lichen:  They looked like they belonged there. Cows ambled through the ranchland with cattle egrets sitting on their backs. The west coast of Molokai sported one of the longest, cleanest sandy beaches I have ever seen. The golden color of the volcanic sand making up the beach gave it a warm glow, even on the overcast day that we were there.

Papohaku Beach on the west coast of Molokai
Surf on Papohaku
Another visitor to the beach
A perfect day for a beach walk

History preserved 

Along the protected south and southeast coasts are some of the best preserved of the ancient Hawaiian fish ponds.

The entrance to the fish pond is located between the two rock pillars
Another view of the fish pond giving some idea of its large size
The concept behind the design of these fish ponds is that the young fish enter when they’re small. The ponds provide a protected nursery area in which the young fish feed and grow without large predators. However, by the time the fish are ready to leave the pond, they have outgrown the entrances they came in through and are trapped in the pond. The ancient Hawaiians harvested fish from the ponds when they needed it or wanted it for a feast. Like many things in ancient Hawaii, the fish ponds belonged to royalty.

We also visited a relic of more recent history on Molokai, a restored sugar mill.


Former sugar (and coffee) mill on Molokai

The sugar press:  A mule harnessed to the wooden beam walked around the cement platform in circles to turn the press, while a man fed sugar cane between the two metal drums for crushing
The boiler (aft) and steam engine (foreground) used to generate electricity to run the sugar mill

A centrifuge seperated molasses from sugar:  The molasses was drained into a vat through an opening in the floor
Evaporation pans where the sugar slurry dried and sugar crystals were formed
In a nod to cultural sensitivy, the sugar mill also advertised itself as a cultural center. It housed a natural history museum with an extensive shell collection, a small demonstration garden of the plants that Polynesian seafarers brought to the islands, and rotating art exhibits. It was at the "sugar mill and cultural center" where we saw an excellent photography exhibit on Kalaupapa and gleaned some of the information reported below.


The Kalaupapa peninsula and the legacy of Father Damien

Molokai is perhaps best known to outsiders as the site of the former Kalaupapa leper colony. Although the term “leper” has gone out of use and is considered offensive, that is what Kalaupapa was called for many years. Since 1980, the colony has been called the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement and National Historical Park. The leprosy settlement is located on a flat peninsula (the Kalaupapa peninsula) on the north shore of Molokai. Anything outside the leprosy settlement is referred to as “topside” on Molokai.


The Kalaupapa peninsula:  You can see a hint of the pali at right

The proper term for leprosy is Hansen’s disease, a communicable disease caused by bacteria. Its transmission is believed to be through respiratory droplets, but Hansen’s disease is not nearly as contagious as was feared at the time King Kamehameha V enacted an isolation law to prevent the spread of the disease. Starting in the mid-1860’s, sufferers of leprosy were forced to lived in exile on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Thousands of leprosy patients lived and died on Kalaupapa.

Originally, the leprosy settlement was at Kalawao, on the windward side of the Kalaupapa peninsula. It was eventually moved to Kalaupapa, on the leeward side, because it is a more protected location. The people who lived at Kalawao and Kalaupapa were forced to leave their homes, friends, and families, and move to the leprosy settlement. In the early days, the afflicted were brought to the leprosy colony by ship, thrown overboard, and forced to swim to shore. We read that in later days, nuns at the leprosy colony were instrumental in fishing people out of the water. 

Although we didn’t tour the settlement, we heard about some of the other abuses to human rights that the sufferers of Hansen’s disease faced. If two patients chanced to fall in love and marry on Kalaupapa, any offspring they had were taken away from them. Their children were removed immediately after birth and sent to a family on topside Molokai to raise. And even though the antibiotics used to treat and cure leprosy started becoming available in the late 1940’s, the isolation law wasn’t removed by the State of Hawaii until 1969!

Untreated, Hansen’s disease is a disfiguring disease which attacks the nerves and skin. Many sufferers from leprosy had unsightly skin lesions, lost their vision, or lost extremities due to lack of sensation in their fingers and toes and repeated injuries. The social stigma accompanying leprosy is perhaps the most painful thing for the residents of Kalaupapa to bear, because even today, lack of information about the disease causes people to be afraid.

When the isolation law was repealed in 1969, many former patients left the colony. Some who had been at Kalaupapa since they were children remained, because it was the only home they knew, and some were concerned about how the outside world would perceive them. Some of those who left came back, because assimilating into the outside world proved too difficult. Even though they were cleared of the disease and no longer contagious, people would stare at the former Hansen’s patients or ostracize them, even members of their own families.

Originally from Belgium, Joseph De Vesteurs was ordained a priest in Honolulu in 1864. In 1873, Father Damien (as De Vesteurs became known) voluntarily came to live at Kalaupapa to help those suffering from Hansen's disease. With his arrival, conditions for the leprosy patients dramatically improved. Prior to Damien’s arrival, the residents lived in caves, rock shelters, or rudimentary huts made of sticks and leaves. Damien appealed to the outside world for help and built homes, churches, hospitals, and schools on Kalaupapa. Damien also administered to the faithful on “topside” Molokai and established several churches outside of Kalaupapa, such as Our Lady of Sorrows, pictured above. It wasn't clear to me why Father Damien could come and go from the leprosy colony, but the patients themselves could not. In any case, Father Damien was devoted to the patients on Kalaupapa, living and working alongside them for sixteen years. Damien contracted leprosy in 1884, and in 1889, he died of leprosy at Kalawao. To this day, Damien remains the only visitor to Kalawao/Kalaupapa to have contracted leprosy.

Kalaupapa today:  Saint Philomena church (center) was established by Father Damien

Father Damien was not alone in his devotion to the Hansen’s patients, but he was perhaps the most successful in calling their plight to the attention of the outside world. Other priests worked at Kalaupapa before and after Damien. Joseph Dutton (who never took vows and has a colorful life story of his own) joined Damien at Kalawao three years before he died and helped carry Damien's work into the next century. Dutton remained at Kalaupapa for 45 years. Mother Marianne Cope and some of the Sisters of Saint Francis also arrived at Kalaupapa the year before Damien died. Mother Marianne never left Kalaupapa. She died there in 1918 after thirty years of ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of the leprosy patients. Mother Marianne never contracted leprosy. 

Today, visitors to Molokai can visit Kalaupapa on foot, or by mule ride. Both methods require negotiating a steep, three mile trail down the almost-vertical sea cliffs, the same trail on which escapees from Kalaupapa were intercepted. (Escapees were returned to exile and sent to jail.) Whether you visit by foot or by mule, you cannot enter the settlement without a permit (unless you have a direct invitation from a resident) and must obtain the permit through Damien Tours. Tours of the settlement are conducted by the residents and as such, are a rich source of living history. As with World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, the inhabitants of Kalaupapa are dying of old age. As their numbers dwindle, there is the same concern that their stories won’t be told, and that history will repeat itself. After the last resident dies, the settlement will be administered as an historical park by the National Park Service.


Molokai Triptych

When I was on Maui, I walked into an art gallery one day and discovered the work of surrealist painter,Vladimir Kush. I was instantly attracted to Kush’s work. As I said in my post on Maui, Kush’s work is full of images of transformation, hope, and love. Many of Kush's paintings also contain sailing imagery. One of Kush’s paintings became associated in my mind with some images from Molokai.


Original painting by Vladimir Kush

A poor picture of the Molokai Light, on the windswept tip of the Kalaupapa peninsula

A statue of Father Damien, still gifted with leis today

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